Peter Dukes has been writing, producing and directing for over 18 years. In 2005 he founded Dream Seekers Productions to produce his own slate of independent films. To date, Dream Seekers has produced 14 films.
When was the first time you watched a horror film, and how did it affect you?
PD: The first horror film I can honestly remember is The Poseidon Adventure. The first film we ever ‘rented’ and played on our new VHS player! It’s not technically a horror film, but it scared the hell out of me as a young kid. It had this wonderfully dark and morbid atmosphere that carried the film and kind of stuck with you long after it ended. That instilled in me at a very young age the importance of atmosphere in films. Without it, you’ve got nothing.
What was it that first attracted you to horror?
PD: I’m a storyteller, and I’ve long had a soft spot for stories with ghosts, goblins, monsters and other such creatures of the night. Plus, being scared is one of our most primal emotions and is thus a powerful thing to use in stories. Horror films/books are the perfect vehicle for this. It’s fun and it allows for a tremendous amount of creative flexibility, which I love.
What achievement are you most proud of?
PD: Dream Seekers is my greatest achievement to date. Having put together an indie production company that is able to produce quality films on super tight budgets and shooting schedules, is something I take a lot of satisfaction out of. The body of work we’ve built up continues to draw more talented people to us, and we’re very lucky to have the ability to work with very good people, both cast and crew, despite having, at times, nearly non-existent budgets. To date, we’ve produced 14 films, and I’m very proud of all of them.
PD: At any give time I’ve got more than half a dozen short scripts ready for production. So, at the moment I’m mulling over which project to take on next. Each film I do is a challenge project, and I need to consider in which way I wish to challenge myself next. It’s always important to shake things up and keep pushing yourself in order to hone your craft.
I’m also working hard to market my last three films, all of which are about to enter into the festival season: The Beast, a horror film starring rising horror icon Bill Oberst, Jr; A Goblin’s Tale, a fantasy film starring singer Tiffany Giardina and Laura Kearsey. Finally, The New World, a fantasy fairy tale starring Katy Townsend. I also have a feature script that’s recently come out of option, and I’ll be shopping that around soon here.
Who do you admire in the horror world?
PD: I tend to be inspired more by horror literature than horror film. For authors I’d say Mary Shelley, Ray Bradbury, HP Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson and Henry James. For directors I’d say Carl Theodore Dreyer, Dario Argento, Steven Spielberg (he isn’t really known for being a horror director, but let’s not forget Duel and Jaws!) Tomas Alfredson and John Carpenter.
Do you prefer gore or psychological horror?
PD: I’m not a big gore hound. There is certainly a time and place for it, but I much prefer psychological horror. In some of the most horrifying pictures ever made, the violence and gore was almost totally implied, not shown. It goes to show you that most the time nothing is more horrifying than our own imagination.
How important is it to unsettle a viewer?
PD: Depends on what type of horror story you’re telling I suppose, but for some films, it’s not only important, it’s absolutely vital. To unsettle them and make them want to think and talk about your film long after you’ve left is the main objective! Look at Jaws. It was so effective in unsettling it’s viewers that it continues to keep people out of the water to this day!
PD: My horror tends to be very subtle. I don’t spoon fed my viewers what’s supposed to scare them. I challenge myself on each picture I make to produce something that engages the audience and forces them to pay attention to what’s going on. Usually it’s the implications of what they see and hear that will get to my viewers more so than what’s happening on the surface of my stories.
What scares you?
PD: Time. It’s the one thing we can never outrun or outmanoeuvre and it will eventually win out, in a number of ways that scare me. It’s not something I would consider a paranoia of mine by any means, but I think about it a lot and the theme of time is layered into most if not all my films.
Why should people watch your films?
PD: I work very hard to make films that are challenging and unique. Films that aim to make you question the world, and your place in it, in new and interesting ways. I aspire to produce quality material that reminds viewers how amazing and thought provoking films can be. Whether or not I succeed is up to you ha!
How far is too far when it comes to horror cinema?
PD: Tough question. Being an artist is all about creative freedom, but I strongly believe there’s a great responsibility that comes with being a filmmaker. So, in these matters I can’t speak for the matters, just for me. I’m not at all a fan of what I call ‘torture porn’ (Saw, Hostel, etc) and I’m very pleased to see this fad gradually losing its appeal. I don’t think it’s responsible to film uber realistic scenes where you’re cutting off someone’s fingers or assaulting someone for ten minutes uncut. No thanks. That’s horror at its lowest common denominator. For very specific projects it might be necessary, as there is an audience for it, but for this to have, for a while there, become ‘mainstream’ horror was absurd. Horror is such a great genre with a rich history I just feel that it deserves better than that.
In my years I’ve also studied “banned” horror material. The filmmakers definitely cross the line in those cases. Torturing animals and all the rest. Unacceptable. Just about every banned film I studied was banned for justifiable reasons, and to me, some of those filmmakers should have been jailed. We make movies, we’re not saving lives, so no one (person or animal) should ever suffer or die in order to produce a picture.
PD: Hard to say. Right now it’s all about trends. In the last 20 years alone we went through the teen scream phase, followed by the Japanese phase, followed by the torture porn phase, now we’re in the pseudo-doc ‘captured on tape’ phase. Some might argue we’re in a vampire/zombie phase too. There are other types of horror films out there, of course, but these phases represent the “mainstream” trends. I don’t see this stopping any time soon. Some original and refreshing sleeper hit will come out at some point and spark another trend. So long as horror stays popular, which it always will, things will be all right because there’s always some crazy new idea just dying to break out that will shake everything up.
Recommend a film.
PD: Just one? Good grief. Toughest question yet. Well, one of the best horror films I’ve seen in the last ten years was Let the Right One In (the original). Outstanding horror film. Well crafted, beautiful and, let’s not forget, deeply disturbing. A modern day classic of the genre.