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That Little Director: Chatting with Horror-Helmer Paul Bunnell

Check out That Little Monster‘s new DVD release and director Paul Bunnell reveals himself as a kind of drive-in-obsessed version of Buddy Holly reincarnate, the kind of cult-and-horror fan in thick-rimmed specs that you’re never quite sure about. We sent Paul a few questions about his career and his cult classic via e-mail, and his caretakers let him have one arm free from his straightjacket long enough to type a few answers.

filmcritic.com: Inquiring minds want to know: What have you been up to since 1994? That Little Monster is your last credit — unless that’s really you as ‘telecine assistant’ on Red Lipstick.

Paul Bunnell: I’ve been very close to doing a couple of projects which have since fallen through the cracks. More recently I co-wrote a screenplay/biopic about the life and fantastic times of singer Tiny Tim. That’s right. ‘Tip-toe Thru’ the Tulips’ Tiny — the eccentric singer who got married on The Tonight Show back in 1969 to the beautiful (& very young) Miss Vicki Budinger. That project took a few years to complete. The script was optioned by Joe Dante & Michael Finnell at Renfield Productions. They are acting as producers. I really hope this one gets made because it’s truly a great story about a wonderful soul. And yes, I am finally getting started (pre-production) on a brand new feature film… The Ghastly Ones (not to be confused with the 1968 film). I can only say that this production promises to take you back to those classic ‘teenager’ movies from the 1950s. I’m very thrilled to be doing this one.

Regarding That Little Monster, is there any bit of you in Wolper? Were you a handful as a child? Terrorizing the babysitter and so on.

The only bit is the voice. I played Wolper’s voice in the film. As a kid I was very shy and kind of lived in a make-believe world of movies. I always wanted to be part of that magical world of show business. I spent many days in the classroom planning out movies I wanted to make and started making films on Super-8 when I was eleven years old. As for the baby-sitter… She terrorized me!

Whatever happened to Melissa Baum, and does she hate you now?

Melissa nows goes by the name of Azura Farren. I’m really not sure why. She is a single parent raising her 8 year old daughter. I know she is still looking for that perfect part to play. Perhaps I’ll give her a small role in The Ghastly Ones as a reward for being patient during the drawn out shooting schedule of That Little Monster.

I compared the movie to Eraserhead in my review and now see that’s a popular analogy. Offended or flattered?

I’m always flattered to be compared to one of my favorite living directors. In actuality I never planned any similarities between Eraserhead and my film. It just sort of came out that way.

Your DVD commentary says the movie took 3 1/2 years to shoot. Why so long? Also, what did you use for a set?

There was no solid budget when we started making the film in 1990. The money was only available as we could save it up. As a result we had to shoot a little here — save money — shoot a little there — save more money. Eraserhead was made much the same way by strange coincidence (over 4 years!). Carl Mastromarino and Cristina Casanova were the prime investors in my film. That Little Monster would not be here today were it not for them. As for sets… We shot in two different houses to composite the Willock’s home, as well as building the baby’s room and the hallway sets on a small stage in Burbank, California.

What’s the secret to spreading the word about a cult classic? (Full disclosure: I just published a novel that I think has cult potential, so this is a somewhat selfish question.)

I’ve always been a bit of a self-promoter. When That Little Monster premiered in 1994 my only goal was to get a directing job out of it. I passed a video tape around to a lot of industry folks. Word-of-mouth kind of grew out of several screenings at film festivals and appearances I made along with Reggie Bannister at sci-fi & horror conventions. So I was always promoting my little ‘monsterpiece’ whenever I had the opportunity. I also made a few celebrity friends along the way who helped spread the word — friends like: Forrest J Ackerman, Angus Scrimm, and George Clayton Johnson, just to name a few. It was Cary Roan who first believed that my film could be distributed on DVD. He kind of steered me in the right direction and I eventually hooked up with Elite Entertainment. I couldn’t be more pleased with the job Elite did. A great big thumbs up and monster thanks to Vini Bancalari and everyone at Elite for producing such a quality DVD!!!

Okay, what’s with the Bob Hope fetish? But seriously, how did you get him involved in the movie?

I have always been a Bob Hope fan. I made some documentaries about Mr. Hope when I was a kid. We stayed in touch throughout the years and he graciously consented to film a few ‘one-liners’ for That Little Monster in January of 1994. And what a thrill it is to have him in the film! I think it’s interesting that Bob Hope appears [in That Little Monster] in clips from his first film appearance Going Spanish (1934) and book-ends the film with a cameo appearance from 1994 (exactly 60 years later). Wow! Now that’s a long film career! I’ll always be grateful for Mr. Hope’s small contribution to my film. I only wanted to make him proud to be a part of my little film. Thanks for the memory!

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