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RON BONK


Back in 1992, Ron Bonk, decided to try his hand at making movies. He knew it'd be hard, but he had the drive to achieve his goals. Now it's seven years later and not only is he directing independent horror films he also runs indie label Salt City who is known by true horror conisseours as the name to look for if you want hundreds of homemade fright flicks.

Most recently Ron directed a little gem of a film called The Vicious Sweet which followed the break-down of popular Scream Queen Tyler Phenix (indie stalwart Sasha Graham) after she's taken captive by one of her "biggest fans".

The Vicious Sweet is basically a lower-scale effort that is mostly two people locked in one room playing head games with each other. However, Ron also throws in some strong imagery; a trip into a zombie film and a heaping pile of guilt and anguish. And all this on a very low-budget.

I decided to ask Ron about his film which is garnering all sorts of critical acclaim with even a glowing review in the "horror bible" Fangoria. Here's what he had to say.


Tell me about Salt City and how it came to be.

Salt City started back in 1992 - I decided, after many false starts trying to find a career (I got an accounting degree, then a criminal justice degree, was set to be a State Trooper), that I would be a filmmaker. I don't know why it didn't dawn on me earlier. I loved movies, I loved to write, when I was younger I had always come up with all these movies ideas. I guess I had just figured it wasn't practical. I was unwilling to move to Hollywood, and that seemed like the only place you could really do it. I knew movies were made outside of Hollywood, but it seemed almost impossible. But once I decided to pursue filmmaking, I was set to try and do it all - I was going to shoot on film, talk to investors, do what I had to in order to get a movie made. But it was kind of scary, because I knew that it would take a lot of money, and if the movie sucked or just didn't sell, then that might be my one and only chance. Then I found out about this whole group of filmmakers making movies on video. I had consider video in college (I took one year of video and film classes), but my teachers and my friends said you couldn't make a movie on video, so I quickly discarded the idea. But then I found out that there were people using it, making the movies they wanted to make, making them the way they wanted to make them, making them as often as they wanted, and some even making a living at it! So I set out to make movies on video. At the time, I was working in the antique business and had committed to a trip to Florida with my father. I was 22 at the time, and I was going to be down there for 5 mos. But I was real eager to start something! I had just bought a new s-vhs camera, and wanted to see what I could do with it. Well, my father had written a book on the antique business and so I took that and shot an instructional video on the antique flea markets. And it sold great - got a lot of great reviews, won awards, etc. But it wasn't a movie. So when I returned home after the Florida trip (it was now 1993), I immediately dove into making my first movie (a real stinker called City Of The Vampires). By 1994 it was finished and ready for release. I only knew of one distributor who handled shot-on-video product, called Tempe Video, and they were in the process of getting out of distribution. So I decided my best route would be to now run my own distribution company as well. Tempe had also passed on Eric Stanze's Savage Harvest, and I had come across another cool movie from Doug Ulrich and Al Darago called Gravediggers (I changed the name to Darkest Soul). So I signed those two movies on as well and started a distribution company. I had known from the start that I might have to distribute my own movies, had planned to one day further on down the line even do that, and I had heard all the horror stories about filmmakers who had gotten ripped off by underhanded distributors, so it wasn't like it was an option I hadn't considered. And it turned out to be good for me in the long run - because even if I drop out of the distribution business, I still have seven years worth of contacts I have amassed to offer up any movie I make to.

How did Vicious Sweet come to life?

It started to come together in 1995. I had only directed two things so far - City Of The Vampires and the "Permanent Waves" segment of Dark Descent. And after I had done those I had been out in Ohio for a year to be director of photography/second unit director on The Sandman and producer/cinematographer on the other segment of Dark Descent, called "I've Killed Before". I hadn't really directed anything for almost two years at that time (it took another year even before Viscious Sweet got started), and was eager to get back to something that was all mine. I figured I would be a little rusty though, so I wanted something simple - one set, a couple actors, something that would allow me to stretch my legs a little before I jumped right back into the fire. City Of The Vampires had been a complete disaster. Dark Descent was better, but not what I had hoped for. I didn't want to be 0-3. So I wanted something psychological, low on effects, something I could totally control and would be under no pressure to shoot quick. That way I could totally make the movie I envisioned from start to finish. Even if something came out wrong, it wouldn't be a big event to redo it - because it was JUST going to be two actors, one set, no hassles. Anyway, I had been going to the horror conventions, and one thing that intrigued me about them were the scream queens that were there. They had some of the creepiest fans you could ever imagine going up to them, drooling over them, telling them how much they loved them. And here where these girls, smiling at every one of them, treating them like a long lost brother. And I started to wonder about what they really thought about all this and what they were doing with their lives. Were they happy with their lives, were they proud? Some of these girls were not that attractive, had only been in one movie, and it was shot on full auto VHS in their backyard. It hardly qualified as a movie, and they were hardly actors. Yet they had this fan base that was extremely dedicated. And these girls would show up at every show, be a star for a weekend, dress in skimpy outfits that left almost nothing to the imagination. And I wonder about what they really did in their lives to get by - were they accountants, were they strippers - what? Then, about the same time I saw an Enertainment Tonight episode that talked about a new book coming out called "Mugs". It featured mug shots of celebrities. Well the author mentioned how he had a lot of shots of actresses he didn't put in the book because they had been busted for prostitution. It wasn't the angle he was going for - it was more of the actors who had been arrested once they had become stars. And I thought about these actress in Hollywood who must be living in fear now - that this secret past of theirs could so easily be brought to life. And from that I came up with the character of a scream queen named Tyler Phenix who had risen to the top of the horror movie industry (like Jamie Lee Curtis), and who seemed poised to jump into "A" movies, yet for some reason was very self-destructive and ruining that very opportunity. And it turns out that Tyler has this hidden past - where she was abused, and did drugs, and was a porn star, and it has been something she has totally kept away from her friends, her agent, her boyfriend. And she lives in fear of it coming out, and this fear makes her very self-destructive. No one understand her anger - they just think she's just a spoiled baby, a hard-ass. But the truth is, she has very low self-esteem. She's ashamed. She is really just a tiny, scared child. And her biggest fan basically knows all this about her, and he takes it upon himself to be her therapist. He's going to cure her. So he kidnaps her and has "sessions" with her in this dark, dimly lit room in the basement of his house. So I had my one location, two actors. But as I wrote the screenplay, it quickly developed into something much bigger. I had many more sets. I had Tyler reliving scenes from her biggest movies - we had a zombie scene, we had a toxic mutant monster scene, we had a demon who stalked her in the room when she was alone and in the tunnels when she tried to escape, we had the walls of her cell room rolling away at one point like everything that was happening to her was just a movie set. We also had her abductor wearing masks from all her old movies, we had her having visions of him from her past - a man who had always been there, watching her, everywhere she had done, only it hadn't hit her until he had kidnapped her. So suddenly it was very big - as I wrote it I just let what was in my head come out without worrying about limitations like budgets and locations. I let myself be inspired on the spot. And when it was done it was a script I was very happy with, something I would be willing to totally submerge myself in, and something I was willing to make. I liked what it had to say.

What made you choose Sasha (Graham) and did you expect such a strong performance?

Sasha actually came in on short notice and kind of by default. I had actually met Sasha at a horror convention earlier that year. She was sitting at the table with me, so we got to talk a lot. I had worked out the basic plot for Vicious Sweet, but I had had trouble coming up with a model for Tyler Phenix. I needed someone to picture when I wrote it. Well, I only talked to Sasha about two hours that day, but I could easily see her being Tyler Phenix - a character who was very pretty and could become a screen queen on looks alone, yet someone who had substance, was genuinely talented and full of energy and fire. But underneath the surface of what the world perceived as Tyler Phenix, there was something else happening there - something dark. This character was far from one-dimensional, far from the bimbo she played in her movies. So on the way home, I started to thinking about Tyler as if Sasha was playing her - and the role developed from there. I had seen her in Kevin Lindenmuth's excellent vampire flick Addicted To Murder, and had liked her acting. So I knew she had talent. But it was what I picked up from her on a personal level that helped me to form the character. The role wasn't necessarily intended for her, but I just knew she could play it and play it well if it did fall into her hands. So I went home and wrote the script in only about a month, and I tried to contact her and I also contacted Debbie Rochon. Sasha never got back to me wanting to know more, so I didn't pursue her anymore than that at that time. Meanwhile, I was holding local auditions, and had really wanted to cast the lead locally. I didn't want to have to pay to bring an actress in, put her in a hotel, deal with all the extra expenses and the restrictions on time, and had also wanted to build up a strong stable of actors that were in my area. I mean, I was considering movies well beyond just Viscious Sweet. But on the audition day, we had few actress in the 18-35 year old group come in. Not thinking straight, I cast the best girl who came in that day for the role of Tyler. But a day later, I changed my mind. I knew the movie depended on this lead role - it would fail or succeed with how it was pulled off. And the actress in that role had to be totally convincing - and this local girl just wasn't going to cut it! So then I talked to Debbie some more and she was cast. But it was a very busy time for her that summer, and she kept delaying her arrival. Finally, with the summer starting to slip away and my window of opportunity to make this movie almost gone, I contacted Debbie and told her I just couldn't wait any longer and I had to let her go. She was really disappointed, because she loved the role, but she understood and agreed. So then I contacted Kevin and asked him about Sasha and if he would call her for me. She called me back within two hours I think. Three days later she was in Syracuse ready to shoot. It happened that fast! She asked my why I didn't call her directly and instead went to Kevin, and I told her about how my other attempts to reach her had gone unanswered, and she told me she never got the messages. So I always thought it was funny how things just came roundabout. Anyway, she had just gotten the script, just committed to this project and just arrived in town, and suddenly she was thrown on set with a bunch of zombie extras in our biggest, most complicated scene. I told her to just trust me at first with what I told her to do, and after a few days the role would start to sink in and she would have it. And it did. I rarely had to say much to her about the character by about our fifth day on set. She just became Tyler and played it great - probably better than I had even hoped it could be done.

I like the film because it's intelligent and bold fare among the indie crowd which takes a lot of guts. Did you have more difficulty with the film than if you made, say, one of the serial killer or vampire movies that seem to glut the market?

Not really - it was a movie about exploitation - and the exploitation fans bought it not realizing that. It wasn't exploitation, but a statement about those kinds of movies and the people who worked in them and the fans who became obsessed with them. But they still responded to it very favorably. And the other fans who bought it, those who sought out quality independent movies, something with a little brains or at least tried to be professional, well they loved it. So it did well. Plus I had been pushing it on the web site for about a year as we made it, so a lot of people knew about it and were eager to see it once it came out. So it did real well right out of the gate. Then as I sent review copies out and word spread that it was pretty decent, it just continued to sell. It has done very well for me. I've even sold the rights to six foreign countries so far. It has more than made its budget back several times - the budget was only $3000 though, so that wasn't that hard to achieve. Even if the movie hadn't been released with any fanfare, I think it would have eventually been found and would have done well. It just would have had a longer, more difficult climb. It is hard to compete with the vampire movies, and the fetish movies. These movies can come out looking like total crap with little production values and no story and out sell a good b-movie from my company 10-1! It's because these movies have a built in audience who don't care about the quality - they care only about the content. Sometimes I think they might even like it to be grainy and poorly done - makes it seem more like a real snuff film or some ultra rare bootleg. So it is tough competition because the fans (and buyers) for quality independent stuff are far less forgiving. But I believe that if you go out and make a quality movie, really put your heart and soul into every aspect of it from start to finish, you can end up with a movie that the fans will find and it will get its day in the sun!

The fact that Tyler's sanity eventually is unable to tell reality and fantasy apart gave you the chance to stage some set pieces (such as the zombie one) during the film. I get the impression it was you saying that her past was coming back to haunt her, is that what you were intending?

Yes, definitely. All the compromises, all the bad mistakes that she had made in her life and knew she was making at the time were coming back to haunt her. When she is kidnapped and held hostage, her cell room becomes like a confessional. So all her mistakes are paraded in front of her and in a sense she has to beg/pray for forgiveness. And her penance is to suffer for these sins. Her abductor, who by the end we learn is actually her biological father, a man she never ever knew, really does love her. He wants to save her soul. But he is so insane and misguided by his love for her that all that about saving her is just surface value - he wants to control her. He wants her to be like his little china doll, that he can dress up, pose, control, stage, and then sit back and admire. He's really sick in the head. So he has all these sessions with her were her acts like he is curing her. And in reality, he is doing good for her in a way, because he is making her face her past and everything she's buried. She is confronting her fears and guilt. But unfortunately, he is driving her insane too, and she knows this and knows this man will never let her go. So she stops caring about life - she figures that he might just as well kill her. So she turns the tables on him. Even though she is handcuffed in a bed, and he is free to come and go, she is suddenly in control of their meetings, and she exposes him for what he really is. And this so embarrasses him that he runs off and leaves her to die a long and painful death alone. And this is when she truly goes mad, dipping into delirium, seeing more of her pasts, her truths. She goes insane, and suddenly she is cleansed, in a sense, because her mind has been totally reduced to that of a child's. She has a clean slate to start all over with again, to relearn everything. Of course, she is so primitive that she is nothing more than a savage animal now. And that's how she is left at the end of the movie - I originally consider having an ending that would show her many year downs the line, normal, happy, maybe still an actress, maybe not (as just a quick aside, another question would be would she still be a good actress or a bad one - since much of her inner anger had driven her characters, and now that was gone?), but finally in a functional relationship, a husband, children, content and no longer guilty. But I leave so much in the movie up to the viewer to figure out, and the line between reality and fantasy always a blur, so I figured why would I put something so concrete in their head in the end? So again I left it open for them to decide what happens to her after that.

What does the future hold for Ron Bonk?

Hopefully, lots and lots of movies. I have a lot of scripts I want to make - and they range from straight out horror to romantic comedy (gag, yes!). Problem now is that the distribution has grown so big and has become so time consuming I find very little time now to make movies. So this year I am working mainly, almost strictly, on making the distribution that much bigger. By year's end I would like to have someone like me hired full time to run the distribution part of Salt City. And it couldn't be just anyone - I would need someone who would attack it as much as I have. And by then I can concentrate 90% of my time to making movies and the other 10% to just overseeing the distribution part of it. I would never completely let it go or not oversee it to make sure it was being handled professionally - my main goal has always been to make as much money and get as much press for the filmmaker's I distribute for as is humanly possible. I will always make sure that they have a strong, legitimate outlet for their product! Also, I have a number of projects now that are shot, or almost shot, but just aren't getting edited and getting done, and I would like to clean them off the slate as well before I ventured into another large production. The only other thing I am working on is a local t.v. show, but that doesn't consume too much of my time. If things work out, I hope to be deep into pre-production on Little Sister by year's end. Little Sister, by the way, is a action horror movie about a female vampire hunter. It's not a sexy movie, but instead rather serious, dark and bleak. Anyway, that's it for right away, and maybe in 2000-2001 I can look at possibly two larger production per year that are all mine, as well as strictly producing more and more projects. So that's what I am working for, but I guess I'll have to wait and see what happens!

What do you see the state of independent/big-studio horror to be?

I think it's pretty good - people worry too much about the current "state" of horror. The "A" studios will find a popular trend and beat it to death. And then the critics say horror is dead. Then someone will come up with a new idea or a new twist on an old idea and the movie will do well and suddenly horror is back up! Well, in the "b" movie industry, horror is never out. It may hit slow periods, but every month someone is making an ultra low-budget horror movie, even if it is shot on video, that is a quality movie that the true fans owe to themselves to check out. Ronnie Sortor's Sinyster and Ravage are great movies, Ravage is not really horror but definitely has horror elements. Eric Stanze's Ice From The Sun is ground-breaking for movies on any level. Tim Ritter just sent me his latest, a pseudo-documentary called Low Down Dirty Cop, which we will be releasing in just a few months. I watched half of it immediately - and it's great! Maybe his best work. Scooter McCrae made Shatter Dead, Leif Jonker made Darkness - both are pure horror, and every fan should see them. I could go on and on and on. Quality horror movies are constantly being made at the b-movie level. Just not all the fans know they are there, or think "b" horror stops with Troma and Full Moon. Like any genre, it's a revolving state, but at the low-budget level it's never on it's death bed. Only in Hollywood does that happen.


If you'd like more info on Ron, his movies and how to get other quality independent fare go visit Salt City. To contact Ron send him e-mail.

Images are 1997 Salt City Home Video.