The Movie Waffler Waffling With... <i>INSECTULA!</i> director MICHAEL PETERSON | The Movie Waffler

Waffling With... INSECTULA! director MICHAEL PETERSON

We chatted with Michael Peterson, director of Insectula!, a loving homage to the B-movies of the past.

Interview by Benjamin Poole

Firstly, may I congratulate you for the fantastic design of Insectula!’s creatures. What a menagerie Insectula’s home world is made up of! I especially liked the dragony one with compound eyes - but all of the monsters would make great toys. I was wondering if you’d like to talk a little about the design of the creatures, and also how you went about realising Insectula within the film? Was it all CGI or were practical effects involved?

Thanks! I firstly had to figure out how I was going to realize the main creature. The basic ways were stop motion, puppet or CGI. With stop motion (which would have been my favorite) it would have been expensive creating the articulated monster and all the miniatures that it would interact with, plus we had many destruction scenes. Stop motion isn’t the best way to handle destruction of buildings etc., and I would probably still be working on it. With puppets it’s hard to make them look real and not a joke, so CGI was the best way to go. Unfortunately I didn’t know how to do it so I had to learn from scratch.
At the time I made the movie I knew no one that could model in 3D, so everything is off the shelf. I wanted a giant mosquito demon hybrid and low and behold I came across a perfect one made by George Lippert, who I contacted and he was excited we were using it. The multi-eyed creature was designed by Les Garner (under the name Sixus 1 Media), and he also created the creature in the volcano shot. I’m going to hopefully be working more with Les in the future as he likes some of the same ideas I do.
I really wanted to have an appearance of Harryhausen’s Cyclops, but I was unable to find a good model and would probably have run into rights issues.
I built practical parts of the creature for some scenes, like when its claw would burst through something, and of course the baby creature was practical. 

I found it amusing how generally useless the men in Insectula! are, and as I wrote my review, I began to think that the only character who shows heroism and efficiency with any consistency is Insectula itself. Lost in a world it cannot understand, backed into a corner and fighting back: in short, Insectula is the hero of the film! Is this a fair reading? What was the thinking behind making Del and co such liabilities?

LOL, in a way yes. In my mind all the men in Insectula! are older and creepy or annoying, and the women are all movie stars! I tried to make Del kind of pathetic and whiny and try to resolve himself by the end. In Kempler I tried to make him a bit more interesting and then turn the audience against him in the hive scene. The monster is a fairly smart animal and is just going by its instincts and natural food supply, neither good nor bad…just that its methods aren’t very pleasant to us.

The tone of Insectula! is pretty tongue in cheek, but there are moments in the film which are actually rather unnerving (I’m thinking of Eleanore in the woods). How challenging was it to manage these shifts in tone?

I like cheesy tongue in cheek movies, but I equally like more scary pictures. I came to this as it being my one chance to throw everything I like into one movie. I tried to put in equal amounts of gore, cheese and scares, thinking of it more like a roller coaster ride. The trouble is that people’s standards are very different for each of these elements…gore hounds may be used to far more gore, while for people into cheesy movies it may be too much. In the end I just tried to put in what would satisfy me, figuring anything I like, thousands of others would like too.

It’s clear that the pastiche of Insectula! is coming from a true aficionado of the genre. What’s next for Michael Peterson? Would you be interested in doing, say, a kaiju take off, with enchanted kids and three headed dragons? Or something completely different?

If we could break even I pretty much have the sequel in my head. However I have another more straight horror idea I would like to do, partially because I know how it could be done fairly cheap but look great. Anything I did on my own would have to live up to my fun threshold, as I think films should be fun above all else. I like cool creatures and I love the aesthetics of the older films, not necessarily the cheesy thing but the look, the colors. I dislike some of the standards in lighting and am more impressed by older films with the rich lighting they had vs the natural methods now. I want it to look like a film, not so much like real life.

If a cinema/festival was to programme Insectula! with room for three other films on the bill, what three movies would you recommend play alongside it and why?

Evil Dead II was my fav, as well as Carpenter’s The Thing, and last but not least Hammer’s Dracula. If we are talking newer films, I liked The Babadook, Insidious II and Woman in Black. I think a good one that is underrated is Exorcist III. It had some great moments that stuck with me. I’m very impressed however by some of the TV series like Hannibal and Penny Dreadful. I’m also trying to keep my expectations in check for the Evil Dead series coming up.