Today, I had the honor of interviewing Hiroshi Katagiri, an incredibly talented special effect master, who once served as the primary artist at the legendary Stan Winston Studios. Katagiri has on movies like Escape from L.A., Jurassic Park III, Blade: Trinity, War of the Worlds (2005), The Cave, Doom, Hellboy, Aliens vs. Predators: Requiem, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Cabin in the Woods, Pirates of the Caribean: On Stranger Tides, Green Lantern, The Hunger Games, R.I.P.D., and Pacific Rim.
Now, Katagiri is making his feature directorial debut with Gehenna: Where Death Lives, which he also wrote. Headlining the cast is award-winning actor Doug Jones (The Shape of Water) and genre legend Lance Henrikson (Aliens). Eva Swan, Simon Phillips, Justin Gordon, and Matthew Hegstrom also star.
Gehenna: Where Death Lives follows a group visiting Saipan in search of a place to build their company’s newest resort. When they find an ideal location they discover a hidden bunker on the property. They begin to explore the bunker and find that curiosity can be deadly. They soon face their darkest secrets and the secrets of the bunker itself in this supernatural thriller.
Horror Fuel: “You’ve had an amazing career in special effects, what made you decide to start directing?”
Hiroshi Katagiri: “I grew up on Hollywood movies, they’re big in Japan. Before junior high school, there was a huge boom in makeup and special effects, with movies like The Thing, and American Werewolf in London, and Michael Jackson’s Thriller. They were featured everywhere. Then I decided to do this, but the reason I chose this career is because I love movies. When I was nineteen years old, I met someone that was going to college and making films there. That moment is when I realized that’s what I wanted to do, not just special effects, but also making movies. I chose this career, but deep in my heart making movies and directing was what I really wanted to do. Back then I didn’t have the money in 1991. Back then if you wanted to make a movie you had to go to college, get the money, get the people. I didn’t realize until 2003, that if you have a video camera and a computer you could make a movie and edit. That made me really decide to start doing this.”
Horror Fuel: “I’m glad that you did. What was the movie that inspired you the most?”
Hiroshi Katagiri: “Gee, tough question. I could say American Werewolf in London.”
Horror Fuel: “That’s such a great movie.”
Horror Fuel: ” Out of all the films you have worked on, is there a certain creature that you created that you love or that is your favorite?”
Hiroshi Katagiri: “There’s one, Pirates of the Caribean On Stranger Tides, there was a mermaid on the shore I made out of silicone and there’s a mermaid in the movie that’s supposed to turn into a creature mermaid. But in the movie, she never changed. Because of that, they couldn’t show much. But it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever done. But the funny thing is, a picture of her because nobody recognized her because she wasn’t in the movie, was in the news that said it was a real mermaid that was found. The news said she was real and she had been found in the Bulgarian ocean. Why Bulgaria, I don’t know. [laughter] It was a big rumor. My job is to make fake things look real, it looks like I was really successful.
Horror Fuel: “I remember hearing about that. I would say you definitely were successful [laughter].
Horror Fuel: “I have to ask this because I’m a giant dinosaur nerd. Can you tell us what you did on while working on Jurassic Park III? ”
Hiroshi Katagiri: “I was part of the team for the Pterandon, there was a man inside. It was a big suit. I was helping to finish it up. I sculpted one of the dinosaur pods, the experiment pods, one of them is mine. The good story is, the studio made a life-size Spinosaurus. It was overwhelming. I entered the studio, they were there already. One was life-size, the other was a miniature. Back then technology was not as good as nowadays, so they made a big form with no detail. Six or seven people were shaping the form and getting it to scale. One day I worked on the scale of the Spinosaurs. The experience was incredible. I believe that is the last giant, physical dinosaur in the movie.”
Horror Fuel: “That’s amazing. I actually have several real Spinosaurus teeth in my collection.”
Hiroshi Katagiri: “They’re big, right?”
Horror Fuel: “They are each a couple of inches.”
Hiroshi Katagiri: “They have to be huge.”
Horror Fuel: “Speaking of huge, I’m a huge fan of Doug Jones who stars in your movie Gehenna: Where Death Lives. How long did he spend in the makeup chair for the film?”
Hiroshi Katagiri: “Maybe like three hours. When he played Abe Sapien for Hellboy, he spent seven to eight hours in the chair, yeah.
Horror Fuel: “Wow, that’s crazy. But he does his job so well.”
Horror Fuel: “You not only directed Gehenna: Where Death Lives but co-wrote it as well. May I ask what inspired the story?”
Hiroshi Katagiri: “I knew it was going to be my first feature and it was going to be super low budget. I started thinking what I could make without a big budget. I knew the people would be stuck in a specific location. That was the first thing. The second thing was I am from Japan, but have been living in America for a long time. I was thinking what could I make that had something good about Japan and something good about America too. I wanted to make it like an English movie. I thought about a location in Saipan, where there was a huge battle between Japan and America. I thought it would be cool if Americans were stuck in a Japanese bunker. That where the idea came from.”
Horror Fuel: “That’s great. It didn’t look super low budget to me. It looks good. The dead bodies look great.”
Hiroshi Katagiri: “Thank you. You know how to make a movie cheap? I work on it [laughter]. I have ability of course.”
Horror Fuel: “Did you have to build the bunker or did it already exist?”
Hiroshi Katagiri: “We had to build it. We rented a warehouse in L.A. and built the set there.”
Horror Fuel: “It looks like a real bunker.”
Hiroshi Katagiri: “I had a great production designer.”
Horror Fuel: “If you had to describe this movie in three words what would they be?”
Hiroshi Katagiri: “Tough question. Unique, scary, Interesting. I didn’t want to make the typical scary movie. I wanted to make it more like The Twilight Zone. I love The Twilight Zone.”
Horror Fuel: “Good choices. Interesting is one of my favorite words when it comes to describing movies.”
Horror Fuel: “Where did the ideas for rituals in the movie come from?
Hiroshi Katagiri: “Some were myths from Sipan, from the Mariana Islands, the Taotaomona god. I used the real story but turned into horror.”
Horror: “I love it when movies are influenced by history and legend.”
Hiroshi Katagiri: “The outside of the bunker is the base of a house. In real life, lots of skeletons were found on the ground by the stones. People say it was a ritual thing.”
Horror Fuel: “Wow. That’s really interesting.”
Horror Fuel: “By any chance do you ever plan on making a sequel?”
Hiroshi Katagiri: “Yes, actually. Some people are talking about it. I’m also planning other movies. I’m very close to having a script done. By the time this film is released, it will be finished.”
Hiroshi Katagiri: “I can kind of tell you the story.”
Horror Fuel: “Please do.”
Hiroshi Katagiri: “It’s in Japan. There is a myth of a mermaid. It’s an actual myth. In the script, there is an America girl who becomes the housemaid for a Japanese family, it’s a father and his daughter. The story is about the maid, the mermaid and the mystery of the Japanese family. It’s kind of a horror story.
Horror Fuel: “Be careful, your mermaid might be mistaken for a real one again [laughter]. Does it have a title yet?”
Hiroshi Katagiri: “Not yet.”
Horror Fuel: “Well, I look forward to seeing it.”
To stay up to date on Hiroshi Katagiri’s films follow him on Facebook as well as Gehenna: Where Death Lives on Facebook for updates and more. Gehenna: Where Death Lives will open in theaters and arrive on VOD on May 4, 2018, from Uncork’d Entertainment.