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'Mortal Remains' Is a Throwback to Horror's Golden Years

The directors of horror “shockumentary” Mortal Remains talk lo-fi horror and a new VHS release.
November 14, 2015, 1:30pm

Last year, the film Mortal Remains made waves in the horror festival circuit. Shot like a documentary, the movie follows its real-life directors Mark Ricche and Christian Stavrakis as they investigate the myth surrounded a cult filmmaker named Karl Atticus. In the process, they uncover secrets and get into pulse-pounding trouble. Last week, the duo—who also head up the production company Cryptic Pictures—announced that they’re releasing the movie… on VHS. The Creators Project caught up with Mark and Christian to talk about their lo-fi aesthetic, making a DIY horror movie, and releasing the film on a dead format.

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Stavrakis explains the formation of Cryptic Pictures: “Mark and I had been making little YouTube videos long before YouTube existed… just because we loved to make movies and watch movies. We tried a couple of times to make a feature, and then The Blair Witch Project took off in the late 90s and Mark and I looked at each other like ‘Why didn’t we do that?’” Mortal Remains, based on an original screenplay written by Stavrakis, was originally pitched to producers and was met with enthusiasm, but the duo soon realized they had to make it on their own. “In the 1970s,” Christian explains, “you’d show someone a script and they’d say ‘here’s a million bucks, go make it.' That doesn’t happen anymore, now they say ‘great, go make it, then we’ll talk.’”

So why, after a successful production and rave reviews in the festival circuit, release the film on VHS? As Ricche explains, “We’re not trying to release the film quite yet, but the demand is so high from our fan base to get a copy of any sort out there that we said we’ll go ahead and release it on VHS.”

“That said,” adds Stavrakis, “I collected horror movies on tape for 25 years. There’s something about the grain in the picture, it adds a grindhouse feel to whatever you’re watching. That appeals to me as a viewer and a fan. And even though we shot the film in high-def, I always wanted to dump it to film and degrade it. Because if you watch something like Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Zombi, the cleaner these movies look the less the magic works. I feel bad about it because so many people are responding ‘Wow! I no longer have a VCR.’ Maybe we should release the film on BETA [Laughs].”

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“Growing up,” Stavrakis adds, “going to video stores, you’d walk over to the horror section and you’d see an array of artwork. There was one I remember, it was a really cheesy movie called Microwave Massacre. It’s a really stupid movie, but the cover design made you pick it up and give it a look. There certainly is a lost art there.”

“By doing this,” Ricche explains, “we’ve created this mystique around the film.” Along with the documentary footage, the two created archival footage—movies from the 70s, newspaper clippings—to breathe further life into the film. And the icing on the cake is the truly vintage-feeling artwork for the film’s poster and VHS cover (all created by Stavrakis).

So, what have we lost by moving away from analog and into the world of high-def, high-tech filmmaking? “There was a certain thing you used to get from the video store model that isn’t true for DVD,” says Ricche. “When you pick up a DVD you think to yourself ‘There’s probably something digital about the film.’ And of course I know, back then, it wasn’t real either. The Ark of the Covenant wasn’t real, the Delorean didn’t really go back in time, but for me they were tangible set pieces that you could touch and play with.”

As Stavrakis puts it, “It really did feel like magic. Back then you always asked yourself ‘How did they do that?’ Now, we all know how they do it. They do it with a computer. So a certain magic has definitely been lost.”

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“And that,” Ricche tells us, “gets to the point of why we wanted to make this film. It could have been any film, but we wanted it to feel like the old magic that we used to love.”

Learn more about the filmmakers by clicking here.

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