A couple of months ago, creature feature QUEEN CRAB released on Region 1 DVD and Google Play worldwide, much to the delight of the horror community, myself included (read my review of Queen Crab). I had the great fortune to interview Brett Piper, the film’s writer and director, about Queen Crab, the process of making the film and which films inspire him as a filmmaker.
What inspired you to write the story of Queen Crab?
I’d always wanted to do a giant crab movie. Crabs are kind of naturals for giant monster movies, and one of my favorite Harryhausen movies is Mysterious Island with its giant crab on the beach. I’d talked about doing one with Fred Olen Ray several years ago and had actually written the script but for some reason the deal fell apart, so I figured I might as well do one with the Polonias. You don’t need a beach for a crab movie, there are land crabs. By the way, when I was writing the script for Queen Crab I made up a lot of “facts” about land crabs, figuring I could go back and correct my misinformation later, but when I checked it turned out everything I’d invented was actually true.
What made you decide to take the route of stop-motion animation?
There was never any question about what technique would be used for the giant crab. Stop motion was what got me interested in making movies in the first place. I wanted to do something like King Kong. (I haven’t, of course, but then neither has anyone else.)
How long did the stop-motion animation process take for the crab’s scenes and which were the most challenging to get right?
I couldn’t say exactly how long the stop motion took. Many months, anyway. I could do a few shots a day, depending on how complicated they were. The most difficult was probably the crab smashing the jeep, because the crab and the jeep models were entirely different scales. I had to shoot them as two separate elements then matte them together, and coordinating the movements and hiding the “blend” was kind of tricky.
I absolutely loved how you brought emotion to Pee-Wee the crab, particularly with the bonding friendship between Pee-Wee and Melissa. Was that a difficult task to work out how to convey it on-screen?
I don’t think it was terribly difficult. For someone who’d never acted before Liberty Asbury was very good at relating to a little crab that wasn’t there. Some of the crabs gestures were “ab-libbed” during animation. Maybe I did too good a job — in a particularly inane review of the movie I read recently the author was disgusted by the “sexual” relationship between Melissa and the crab!
How did Michelle Simone Miller get involved with Queen Crab?
Michelle had actually sent in a resume for an earlier movie Mark Polonia and I did, The Dark Sleep. For some reason I don’t think I got back to her on that one, which seems rather odd, but when we started casting Queen Crab the first thing I did was look through all the old head shots to see if there was anyone suitable. Michelle lives in New York City which is about five hours away so we never actually had a chance to meet, but Richard Lounello (who played Deputy Huggins) goes into Manhattan fairly frequently and he met with her and recorded an audition. We offered her the part and that was that. I think she was an excellent choice. Some of the reviews I’ve seen have singled her out for praise.
Have you any funny stories from the shoot?
Well, the jeep we used belonged to Ken VanSant, who played the Sheriff. I asked Rich if he could drive a standard transmission and he more or less indicated he could, but when it came time to get the jeep into position he couldn’t get it moving and ground the gears until I took over for him — which was exactly when Ken stuck his head out his window and said “Who the hell is wrecking my jeep??” with me behind the wheel. I guess that wasn’t so much funny as embarrassing. AJ DeLucia, who among other things is an expert mechanic and about the same size and coloring as Rich, ended up driving the jeep in all the long shots, and the close-ups with Rich were green screen.
I guess the funniest part of the shoot was when we did the scene with the substitute bartender. The person who was supposed to play the part got sick and we stuck one of the extras, Gino, behind the bar instead. He had no experience, couldn’t remember his lines, but sputtered gamely through the part anyway while the actors struggled to keep straight faces.
Which is your favourite moment from the film?
That’s a tough one. I like the crab vs. jeep battle, that came out pretty well. I actually really like the scene where the sheriff is on the phone and his deputy won’t stop badgering him. I think the actors handled that really well. Some people have called the scene ridiculous. Well, people do ridiculous things all the time.
When it comes to death scenes, do you prefer to play for laughs or go for gruesome horror?
I don’t think I really do either. I’ve never done a movie where I thought the death scenes could be played for laughs, although sometimes they sort of border on the absurd, but I’m not big on a lot of gore either. I guess I just make them as strong as I think they need to be to make the scene play and let it go at that.
Which films do you enjoy and inspire you as a filmmaker?
King Kong, as mentioned, was probably the biggest influence. Harryhausen’s work of course. The old Universal horrors and Hammer films. And a lot of comedies, especially the more absurd ones, the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges, Monty Python and The Goon Show.
What’s next for Brett Piper?
We’ve finished a movie called Triclops, which is very much a throwback to drive-in monster shows of the Fifties, with giants and stop motion creatures and such, and now we’re working on a post Alien invasion movie tentatively called Outpost Earth. Making them is the easy part — it’s getting them out there and seen that’s tough!
Thank you very much, Brett, for your time.