Christopher Garetano has quite a bit in common with Tobe Hooper, the subject of his graphic novel, South Texas Blues. For as long as Garetano can remember, he has always been enamored with the horror genre. So much so, that when he was fresh out of film school, he helmed the documentary, Horror Business (2005) which was a two-year labor of love.
That effort enabled him to travel around the country and pick the brains of guerilla filmmakers like Herschell Gordon Lewis and Dave Gebroe (Zombie Honeymoon, 2004) about their craft. While Garetano was building his portfolio of work over the course of the decade, he was also nurturing an idea. One that had come to fruition when Fangoria published a comic strip based on his movie concept about the birth of Tobe Hooper’s, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). However, the young director was determined to bring his idol’s saga of creating one of the most innovative genre films of all time to the silver screen.
While he prepared to undertake that venture that had been on his mind ever since 1996, he decided to turn South Texas Blues into a three-part graphic novel. Volume 1 “Of Outlaws and Chainsaws,” was released in October and takes readers on a wild ride back in time to the beginning of Tobe Hooper’s quest to make perhaps, the greatest drive-in film ever made.
We recently sat down with Garetano to chat about his affinity for Hooper’s work, his upcoming projects and his groundbreaking podcast, Off to the Witch.
The Obsession Begins
Diabolique: Thanks for speaking with us, Christopher. Let’s go back in time and talk about the inception of South Texas Blues. This is obviously a passion project for you ever since it was published in Fangoria years ago. Tell us when your obsession with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre began.
CG: When I was a little kid, my parents owned a video store in Northport, New York called Norwood Video. I grew up in that store. My parents didn’t really restrict me from anything so in my formative years I was bombarded with everything from Abbott and Costello Meets Frankenstein (1948) and The Wolf Man (1941), The Little Rascals (1929) to Friday the 13th (1980) to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) all at once. It was weird to have all of those different generations of cinema and genres of cinema available to me.
So, I saw The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as a little kid. It obviously scared me and then I revisited it later on. I don’t know if you remember this, but there was a mail order documentary, featuring Edwin Neal and Gunnar Hansen called Texas Chainsaw Massacre: A Family Portrait (1988). Shortly after I watched it, I started thinking, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if someone made a movie about what happened on that set?”
Throughout the 90’s, this idea just started rolling around in my head. I even coined the title, South Texas Blues when I was in film school in 1996. A little bit later on in 2001, I befriended Edwin Neal on line. I told him about my film idea. He said, “I don’t know if anyone could make a movie about that. Would someone want to watch a movie about that?” I told him, “Oh, no. They would. Trust me.” It took a while to convince him but finally he was on board.
I spoke with Gunnar Hansen a lot in those days. He was on board at first but then I think he wanted to start writing his memoirs so we parted ways respectively. Gunnar did write that book, Chainsaw Confidential: How We Made the World’s Most Notorious Horror Movie in 2013. Honestly, the only person that could be the protagonist or the antihero in the story is Tobe Hooper because he was there every step of the way.
Diabolique: Did you ever speak with Tobe Hooper about South Texas Blues?
CG: No and that was on purpose. Here is why I didn’t speak with him. South Texas Blues is so unique and much of it is based on very precise facts from many people. However, I was worried that he would kind of influence it to be more like a documentary. And I didn’t want it to be that way. I really wanted it to be more of a fantasy picture assuming what goes through the mind of this struggling 30-year-old unknown movie maker.
I felt like I knew that really well because I was that age when I was writing it. I felt it because I was struggling. It’s hard sometimes for horror fans to remove all those years and try to understand what it was like to be Toby who wasn’t the horror movie maker. Who was this struggling 30-year-old guy in Austin who was about to make this movie that no one knows about and no one really cares.
Staring into the Mirror
Diabolique: The parallels between your own career and Tobe Hooper’s are astonishing. Would you say he is a role model of yours?
CG: Very much so. There’s many of them. George Romero especially, I don’t know if you were aware of this but I got to meet George and spend time with him. I have been making this movie, Of the Dead that refers to a lot of that. There’s footage and stuff. It’s really neat. I have this weird connection with George Romero and he contacted me out of the blue after I made my first documentary. A lot of these guys, everyone from Tobe to George to Stephen King, of course and Spike Lee, all of these creators hit me in serious ways.
Again, I don’t want to imitate any of them even though they were all influences on me. I think it’s like deep in the soul. It’s that purest well that you can draw from that is amorphous. You can make it into anything you want because as an artist, you can just tap into it.
Diabolique: The beauty of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is not only did it influence you and people of your generation, it influenced creatives before your generation. Without TCM, you definitely wouldn’t have had the Evil Dead franchise. It influenced Raimi, Tapert and Campbell because they figured they could make a drive-in movie like it. There were so many people in the horror genre that were affected by Hooper’s film including John Carpenter. If you didn’t have this benchmark movie, you wouldn’t have Halloween (1978) or all the slashers that came after it.
CG: Sure. It’s a running subtext throughout the novel. Not to spoil it for you but South Texas Blues doesn’t end at a big premiere. It doesn’t end with everybody jumping for joy because they finished the film. It ends with Tobe Hooper alone, abandoned, sitting at his kitchen table cutting the movie on a Steenbeck, back turned to the camera.
Labor of Love
Diabolique: Obviously, quite a bit of research went into creating South Texas Blues. How many hours did you spend combing through the Tobe Hooper archives?
CG: I spent firsthand time talking with everyone from Jim Siedow to Lou Perryman to Edwin Neal, Gunnar Hansen and Danny Pearl. I spoke with all of those people. And I read everything I could get my hands on in terms of interviews with Tobe including every commentary and every interview dating back to old Fangorias and other magazines.
I spent a good two years, really doing research and taking good notes, absorbing the info and feeling it. You haven’t read this yet but there is a scene where they mistakenly ate pot brownies. I got high when I wrote that scene for the comic. I wanted to feel everything. I wanted to experience it and get deep into it. This wasn’t just a silly little tribute to Chainsaw Massacre. I wanted to feel it.
Diabolique: How did South Texas Blues come to fruition as a graphic novel? I know that you were trying to secure funding for it because originally you were going to make it into a feature.
CG: I wrote the script first. It wasn’t intended to be a graphic novel right away. I spent a good deal of time meeting with people. At that time, I had only made Horror Business right out of film school. To financiers, I was too inexperienced, too green to be a director. There were a few people who were interested in taking my screenplay away from me and doing their own thing with it. It’s not going to happen. This means so much to me, everything has to be right. I’m directing this movie, period. I am the only one equipped to direct this movie.
After feeling frustrated after years of trying to secure funding for South Texas Blues with me as a director, I was like you know what? Let’s turn this into a comic book. I knew Trevor Cook because he illustrated the posters for Horror Business and Montauk Chronicles (2014) so I said, maybe we could work on a comic. So, he read the script and he really liked it.
We had long conversations about it. I explained that I couldn’t just hand him my script and have him go off and start illustrating. I told him I had to work very closely with him.
There will be other artists working on Volumes 2 and 3. I like the idea of having three different interpretations of the chapters.
I’m in a better position now. I made a few TV shows, I have a lot of people that are interested in putting up money to help me make this film as a director. If 2020 didn’t happen, I probably would have been able to finance it myself, you know? But we have to wait and see what happens next year.
Sometimes You Can Make It on Your Own
Diabolique: Would you encourage a filmmaker who is struggling to get a project made to consider turning it into a graphic novel?
CG: Yeah. Here’s the thing. Check this out. My first documentary, Horror Business had a distributor, Image Entertainment. They were pretty big at the time. Image put it out, it was in stores all around the country and the world, they gave me an advance upfront. At the time, I was happy. It was more than what I had spent in cash making the movie. So, it was like, wow, I have a distributor, Fangoria wrote about it and all that good stuff.
But for Montauk Chronicles, I own the license. To this day, I have never had a distributor for it and look at where it took me? In terms of money, I made my money back. I sell copies and downloads to this moment without advertising.
I’m actually going to start advertising Montauk Chronicles again because it is the 5th or 6th anniversary. People are buying it every week so I figure, why not?
So, I would recommend to filmmakers owning your project instead of licensing it to someone else. If the deal isn’t good, the distributor is going to buy the world property from you and they’re going to own it and you’re going to get very little, period. And they’re not going to go out of their way to help you unless its going to benefit them and they’re going to make tons of money. They’re going to make the money and not you.
I would say avoid that and self-publish. That’s where its at. Autonomy is the most beautiful thing as an artist and I want to build White Phosphorus (Garetano’s production company) up to something that is really significant and also for the fans and for people that really want things untouched and undiluted by a huge committee of people. The days of monopoly are over.
Diabolique: Trevor Cook did a marvelous job of translating your vision onto the pages. What about his work made you want to collaborate with him on this project?
CG: I think we worked well together. I’m really precise about stuff. I actually designed the cover to South Texas Blues. Everything you see, I drew in a thumbnail and then Trevor rendered it in his style. Same with the poster for Montauk Chronicles.
Into the Future
Diabolique: When will South Texas Blues Volumes 2 and 3 be released? Where can your fans pre-order them?
CG: I probably won’t take pre-orders until March or so. They won’t be released until June but what will be available is a nicely bound version of the screenplay. You can read the source material before a page of the comic was drawn. It will include storyboards, concept drawings from both Trevor and myself and a foreword. It’s a neat thing to have, I think in regards to this project.
Diabolique: You definitely haven’t been idle during the pandemic. There is another venture that you have been working on, the Off to the Witch podcast. What inspired you to jump into the podcasting scene?
CG: Art Bell, Rod Serling, Orson Welles, people like that. Old radio dramas, I love that stuff. I love storytelling. I grew up listening to Coast to Coast AM, Art Bell expressed interest in doing an interview with me, however he died before that could happen. It was pretty cool to know that I caught his attention.
I wanted to do something different. I came up with the structure and wrote it out and started working on it. It just keeps evolving. I have an idea of how it can be a show, a visual experience as well. That’s where it will go in the future, however, it will never be a SKYPE situation.
Diabolique: Tell us about your upcoming segment which focuses on conspiracy theories and people who believe that Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Puppet Masters are truthful accounts of a hidden alien agenda. I have heard about this idea before. David Icke is one of the more prominent conspiracy theorists who believes that reptilians are actually walking among us. Do you believe any of it?
CG: I’m going to explain my perspective at the end of the show with what I truly believe. Regardless if there are aliens or not, I do believe people can be mesmerized in unison to a certain way of thinking and there might be a puppet master, that is really nefarious at the center of it all.
Diabolique: When will that episode be released? What platforms can your fans find it on?
CG: The new episode will be available on or even before November 30. You can find Off to the Witch on Spotify, Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Stitcher, Radio Public and more.
Diabolique: COVID-19 probably caused you to stop production on your film, IN INK. Any news about this upcoming feature? Are there any future efforts we should stay tuned for?
CG: I talk to the actors all the time and we all want to get moving again on it. The monkey wrench mainly thrown at me, I literally had four network shows on the table. It was a huge development deal and then the pandemic happened.
IN INK is a self-financed picture. I had the budget to continue. Between COVID-19 shutting everything down, and everyone being quarantined, it put things to a stop.
Then when we were in lockdown, that is when I started making Of the Dead. It’s close to being a feature length film.
I have every intention on getting back to IN INK. I want it to be the best it can be. Once the restrictions are lifted, the film will be even more significant because it is dealing with a plague and paranoia of the government. Weirdly, after we started shooting, the virus happened.
I am going to make IN INK first and then I’ll make South Texas Blues.
Diabolique: When can we expect to see Of the Dead?
CG: I should have that ready to be seen by March. I extended the timeline of what is happening in the film, only because it got to be weirder and weirder because a lot of it is reflecting on Romero and what he would have done now.
We appreciate Christopher Garetano taking the time to speak with us. You can order South Texas Blues at the following website.