Jeremy Sumrall, the Beast of Houston Horror
Jeremy Sumrall is a rarity on the local film scene in that he is arguably our own true horror icon along the lines of Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. In 2009 he played The Beast in Stacy Davidson's gorefest Sweatshop, as well as serving as associate producer on the film. The hulking, masked, hammer-wielding maniac was an unforgettable killer who left an increasingly deep pool of blood and body parts across the running time of the movie.
Photos courtesy of Jeremy Sumrall
It's in his behind-the-scenes work, though, that he truly makes his mark. His latest film, The Pick-Axe Murders Part III: The Final Chapter (there are no other parts), is a love letter to the best of '80s slasherdom featuring Joe Grisaffi (In a Madman's World) and Roxy Vandiver (Spirit Camp). Outside of a couple of minor pick-ups and insert FX shots, the film has completed principal photography and should be finished in January.
Like many filmmakers, Sumrall found himself drawn to Robert Rodriguez's book Rebel without a Crew, which detailed exactly how he managed to pull off the classic El Mariachi on a budget of $7,000 that he raised by volunteering for medical experiments. Sumrall, who was a musician at the time, liked how Rodriguez made it seem possible that a regular man could get into film while living in Texas. A few screenwriting classes at Rice University and Next Actor Studio later, Sumrall was honing his skills and learning the ropes with other auteurs in the city like Davidson and Josh Vargas.
Sumrall says what he mainly likes about his work is "seeing a creation come to life." "As a writer/director, if I think of something completely insane and off-the-wall, I'll write it into a script, and then work with the various department heads to pull it off. When we all come together to pull it off, and an audience buys into it, that's a magical feeling."
He makes it a point to hang out with as diverse a crowd as possible, and is a natural listener. He takes tiny pieces of the world as it is related to him through friends, and then allows them to form into scenes. Especially in the bathtub, where he does most of his writing.
Rodriguez and his maverick style are Sumrall's muse, but his personal film hero is John Carpenter. He rarely lets a week go by without watching a Carpenter film, or a film where Carpenter was cited as an influence on the maker. He also owns a huge amount of Carpenter memorabilia, including a blade from the helicopter that appears in The Thing.
Sumrall lives in Willis, about an hour's drive outside Houston, saying it's close enough for him to be connected to the arts in Houston, but without the busyness of a big city. So it's a little surprising when he says that if he weren't living in small-town Texas, he'd want to live in New York City.
Sumrall as The Beast
"NYC is bustling, and booming, and you can literally do whatever you want at any hour of the night. Plus, I have a network of friends and filmmakers there, so I'm sure I could find some work if I really wanted to," Sumrall says.
Since he was six years old, Sumrall has been involved in music in some form or another. He grew bored and disheartened with the scene in the past decade, and is now much happier as an audience member than as a creator. Still, it's always waiting for him if he wants to return.
Next up on his to-do list: "I have a few scripts I've been working on, including a very dark, horrific, dramatic story called Iso, which I've been fighting to get right for years. I'll write on it for two months at a time, and get into such a dark headspace that I have to take a break from it. I'll physically get ill working on it, and I keep having to rewrite, re-create, etc.
"It's a story that deserves to be told, and when I have a little more creative and financial freedom to tackle it, I will do so. It's the darkest stuff I've ever written. Very Hitchcockian. I actually describe it as 'If Hitchcock and Clive Barker were to ever work on a film together.' But before I tackle that, I'm finishing up a script that will hopefully be my next film. It's about strippers and Bible-bashers uniting to battle satanic snot-monsters called Another Night at Beaver's. It's a cross between The Thing and Assault on Precinct 13 mixed with some Demon Knight but set in a strip club on Christmas. Over-the-top boobs and blood. You know: a real feel-good, family-friendly flick."