This past weekend I was fortunate enough to check out a magnificent independent found footage horror film at the Landmark Regent. The film was The Black Tape written, directed, and produced by Ramone Menon. It is advertised as a film created by it’s sadistic titular character, the Black Tape Killer and includes the tagline: “Shot by Me, Cut by Me, Music by Me, Murder by Me, Now Watch Me.” The Black Tape is far from being a mere found footage horror film, Menon takes it to whole other level, adding an artistic profundity lacking in studio found footage films.
The Black Tape is a magnificent slow-burner that is more concerned with the tone and atmosphere it so patiently creates. The film’s methodical and deliberate pacing leads towards an exciting third act, in a film where the denouement is the ultimate pay off. The Black Tape plays off a Hitchcockian voyeurism, also akin to Michael Powell’s “Peeping Tom,” where the viewer is practically implicated in the murders as much as the character in the movie.
Furthermore, the film does something completely unique by placing “the black tape killer” and making him the star. The film’s tagline is no hyperbole, our killer navigates through a home, where he terrorizes a family, recording the family in the process and compiling a movie that is edited together– almost like a performance-art piece– with Bob Dylan-esque title card sequences.
As the night inched towards 2am, and the marquee lights were shut off, I had a chance to have a short chat with Ramone Menon after the midnight screening of his film.It may have been an interview in the shadows but Ramone Menon illuminated the conversation as a film aficionado– with a modest and humble demeanor– who had a lot of interesting things to say about horror, found footage films, and the movies and directors that inspired him.
WAIH:Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Ramone Menon: My name is Ramone Menon and I am originally from Bangalore, India. I’m a big film fan, and a big horror fan, world cinema fan as well. What I wanted to do for my first feature is do a film that would standout and yet also pay tribute to the midnight movies of the 70s, like “El Topo” and “Eraserhead” because I thought, while I’m young I can still be immature and midnight movie is definitely an immature conceit. I thought what better way to start up. I’d hate to start out with something more commercial then become the immature filmmaker. I thought let’s do it the other way.
WAIH:What are some of your favorite horror films
RM:Favorite of all time I would say Psycho and in recent times I would say Scream is definitely up there and I’m a big fan of Insidious
WAIH:I did get the Hitchcock voyeuristic vibe while watching your movie with the point-of-view of the killer which is also the point-of-view of the audience. Anyway, how did you get on this project?
RM:Well, it’s a script that I wrote. I was always interested in doing a murder mystery. I’m a big fan of Agatha Christie. I read a lot of her novels and I was thinking wouldn’t it be interesting to do a murder mystery now, but in the found footage genre. It started like that and then I realized, I really like Scream, maybe meld those two ideas together, Scream is a murder mystery, a great murder mystery, just using the slasher conceit. So, let’s meld that together with a genre I’m not really fond of, the found footage genre. But I decided, for a first film let’s attempt a genre that I do not like at all. So, I thought, let’s turn this genre on its head and go in a totally different way. We sell it like it’s a horror film, but at the heart it’s a murder mystery.
WAIH:How do you feel about the found footage film, which I feel is really popular, and you used that format. But what was very interesting, was that most found footage has a supernatural element, this was more realistic, something that could actually happen. I know you already expressed how you feel about the found footage subgenre, can you delve into that a little bit?
RM:Yes, the thing that I am not the biggest fan about the found footage genre is, certain times the logic of it. ‘Why don’t you just put down the camera, run.’ I like The Blair Witch Project because of how new it was at the time and what it did for horror. I did not like the fact that it did not answer the logical question of why isn’t this person just putting the camera down and running. Same thing with Cloverfield. It’s a good movie for what it is, but it just never addressed why this guy is running around with his camera when there is this, twice the size of Godzilla monster out there. So, that was also a part of my idea of let’s just make the killer the guy carrying the camera because then we will get rid of that problem altogether.
WAIH:And The Black Tape Killer becomes the artist of the whole thing by participating in every facet of the actual tape he compiles which is supposed to be this found footage which I thought was great.
RM:Oh, yeah, thank you. Basically, I had never seen a film where the character has actually edited the film. I’ve seen a lot of films that show footage that they’ve shot and it’s all piecemealed by the omniscient editor, the actual film technician. But we’ve never seen a film that would be told from a character’s point-of-view, literally with the edits, with the sound, with exactly the timing of cutting away from a scene, cutting to a scene, and it’s almost like this mischievous playful nature that I thought, you know, that’s why it ties in with the whole midnight movie conceit. This killer can literally cut to any scene he wants, it may annoy people at times, but it’s his way of creating the suspense and doing his time jumps throughout the film.
WAIH:How do you feel about independent horror today?
RM:To be honest, I love it. I think it’s going in a way that can really push the limits. For instance, recently we saw a film called “Starry Eyes.” Even though the story wasn’t the freshest story, there is something about the tone of the film and the way it’s shot. And I was, ‘Damn, independent horror has stepped up its game. I feel like it’s a great challenge for the rest of the filmmakers as well. One guy steps up his game, the other guy has to step up his game. Each filmmaker is encouraging the other guy, ‘this is what I got, what do you have?’ And the other guy comes in with his masterpiece. It feels like horror is best in the independent level just because you don’t know what to expect. It’s almost like the directors can actually make a film that they want to make. The great thing about the horror genre is that you can play with the genre more than any other genre and the audiences will go with it– to a certain point– but they will still go with it more than a western, than a rom-com, more than sword-and-sandal.
WAIH:It takes a lot of creativity to make a low budget horror film, if you go back to Evil Dead and a lot of the stuff Sam Raimi did to have convincing effects and it works. It’s low budget, it’s obvious but everything just works and comes together. I wanted to ask, in the 21st century with the world of the internet and video on demand, do you think it’s an easier way for up-and-coming filmmakers to shoot something and get it out there for people to actually see?
RM:Yes, I think it’s easier to get people to see, the exposure becomes a little easier. But, I am not the biggest fan of that model. I still feel if you can get your film into the cinema, even if it’s one or two cinemas, just get out there because there is nothing like the experience of sitting in the theater in the dark with a big screen and being absolutely terrified and going with a story. It’s almost like nowadays it’s too easy to get ahold of a film. The most recent experience I had was, The Human Centipede 2. Of all the movies, that film would have been really hard to get ahold of in India. When I lived in India, to get ahold of these random rare horror films, it was a big deal when you got a hold of something. I had the hardest time finding Once Upon a Time in the West in India so when I got ahold of it after three years, and Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia same thing, I got ahold of it after four years of looking for it and I was so happy. It was an experience and a reward. Now, you can type it in and boom.
WAIH:There’s no sense of discovery.
RM:It’s too easy. I remember someone telling me a tale about Steven Spielberg when he made E.T. he went into his friend’s living room and it was sitting there on VHS and something about that pissed him off. It was so easy, he spend so much time on this film and it’s just there– months down the line on a VHS on his friend’s coffee table. Make them wait, build an anticipation and that’s what’s missing today. That’s why I’m not a big fan of the VOD and even if you put it out on VOD, put it out for two-weeks and take it off and build the word, like El Topo.
WAIH:As a director what are some of your influences?
RM:Oh, definitely Hitchcock. I would say number one, I feel that man did everything and he’s my favorite director along with Sergio Leone. I think Sergio Leone is a director’s director, this guy is the complete filmmaker. Other directors I really like are Sam Peckinpah. I know these are western directors but I can’t help it, I love these guys. One day I would love to make a cool modern day western, and in the modern times I would say David Fincher. I definitely have to give a mention to Jean-Pierre Melville this guy is a huge influence on me.
WAIH:Did he do Army of Shadows
RM:Yes, he did Army of Shadows, Le Samourai, Le Cercle Rouge. Check out all his movies because it’s almost like The Black Tape does have a lot of Melville in it, like the pacing.
WAIH:It’s definitely very paced. I really enjoyed that because it builds up to the end and the payoff is better, it feels more satisfying. Any new projects you’re working on or are you just focusing on promoting this film?
RM:I am working on a very dangerous project, it’s going to blow the lid off a particular social topic and it’s going to get people talking about something. I can’t say too much but it is a very dangerous film. It’s got a bit of horror, but I would say it’s a siege-hostage film– it’s got funny elements. You’re definitely going to hear about this one.
WAIH: Speaking of funny elements, I liked how the Black Tape Killer had a sense of humor throughout. I feel like he was showcasing himself and flaunting himself, cutting in between with him holding up those cards, which reminded me of Bob Dylan in that music video with the cards.
RM:It’s so funny you mentioned Bob Dylan, I’m a [D.A.] Pennebaker fan as well. Don’t Look Back, it starts with that switching the boards in the music video. I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be cool.’
WAIH:Lastly, what advice would you give to up-and-coming directors, writers, producers– anyone trying to break into making movies?
RM:First of all, make a film–everyone says that– but definitely go and make a film no matter how small it is, whatever you can do use your resources, your friends and family. This film was made on the goodwill of other people. I give my friends and family just as much credit as anyone else. I would say use what you have and remember to make whatever you have look legit. Like if you only have a car and a tree, make the best car and tree movie that you can. If you have a one-legged lesbian on a wheelchair make the best one-legged lesbian film you can. That’s the way to do it, if you try to make it look like it’s a $90 million for $90, it’s not going to happen. Try to make the best use of what you have.
Don’t forget to check out the important links below where you can follow all thinks Black Tape and be sure to keep an eye out for any screenings in your area. We will leave you with the trailer one more time.