Travis and some of his glorious creations
Filmmaker, writer, YouTuber, ‘unhinged bastard’. Travis Betz, 36, is a household name in many indie-horror circles, famous for his films The Dead Inside, Lo, Sunday and Joshua. His films, which can be described as mashups of genres blended into a melting pot of horrific fun, have all been well-received by the public and critics alike, some even considering his films as possible cult classics. His YouTube videos have also created a buzz since his first video, Count Me from 2006, a video Betz explained came to be as a result of boredom whilst working as a receptionist (hence, his YouTube username, The Receptionist)
Growing up with horror films, Betz was attracted to the horror genre early on and enjoys the many ways horror can be used in filmmaking.
“I grew up watching Evil Dead and An American Werewolf in London. My mother used to make me watch horror movies with her cause my dad wouldn’t watch them with her- he’s a big ‘scaredy cat’. I guess what it was about those particular films that made me interested was just the risks you’re allowed to take in horror. There’s so much experimentation with not just the way you shoot something but also the way you tell a story.”
Poster for Lo
In his arguably most famous film Lo, main character, Justin, finds an ancient book his girlfriend, April, left behind after being kidnapped by demons, and using the book he contacts the demon Lo, who he asks to help him get his girlfriend back. The story takes place in a dark room, making the film almost appear as a stage play. In his most recent film, however, the plot, as well as the cinematography, completely changes, as Betz takes on a story about a writer, her husband, a ghost and two zombies in the horror musical The Dead Inside.
Trailer for The Dead Inside (2012)
His films’ perhaps biggest strengths do not only lie in his brilliant writing, beautiful cinematography (courtesy of Shannon Hourigan) and quirky characters, but the amazing makeup and gore that is used frequently in his films and YouTube videos, with the help of Tom Devlin, who has worked on numerous of Betz’s films.
David Lynch, said Betz, made a big impact on him as a filmmaker ever since he saw Eraserhead, and Betz even made a video, ‘Dead Bird’ (as seen below) as an entry in a competition led by Lynch himself, to the song “I Know”.
Besides Lynch, Betz also finds inspiration in both old-school horror directors, as well as up and coming horror filmmakers today. Growing up with watching directors such as Carpenter, Landis, Lynch and Hooper, Betz found classic films such as Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Thing to be films he still considers some of his favourites. Betz has also found an interest in filmmakers today that are not household names – yet.
“I’m loving all the new foreign horror directors, like Alexandre Aja who did the Hills Have Eyes remake, Pascal Laugier who did Martyrs, which is one of my new favourite horror films and Tomas Alfredson who did Let The Right One In. They are directors that I now will seek out every time they do a new film – they are my new favourites in modern horror.”
But with the recent $10,000 research into the link between real-life violence and violent media in the US, does Betz, who uses violence in his films to a large degree, believe their is a link between violence on screen and violence in the real world?
“I look at past history and even things like Rome – I mean , how fucking violent and bloody was that? They didn’t have movies and video games and stuff like that back then. I think a psycho will always be a psycho. If you give him a movie to watch, he might use it as a way to do something versus maybe finding another way to do it. I don’t think horror films necessarily are influencing people to go out and become killers, I’ve done enough research to know that killers are born with missing pieces of themselves and chemical unbalances. What we need to worry about is the health care system more than censorship.”
Betz does feel, on the other hand, that the wave of violence in media that we encounter on a daily basis might still shape us as people, and make us ‘desensitized’. Besides that, Betz doesn’t believe watching and writing violent films will make him a violent person.
“I think I’m an intelligent enough human being to know what’s right and what’s wrong. I have a moral compas inside of me so I don’t need to argue the merits of violent films.”
One of Betz’s most explicit videos, Bone Her (above), was too explicit to post on YouTube, but regardless of the critique he might get for his use of somewhat ‘groteque’ content, Betz still think violence with purpose is fair use of violence.
“I look at storytelling as an artform, so I think all holes must be filled in in if you’re going to make a point. If you’re going to kill somebody, there’s gotta be a ‘reason’ why that person is dying and why that person is killing.”
One of Betz’s most famous YouTube videos, ‘Paper Prometheus’
Betz is currently working on a new ‘genre-bending’ film, set to be shot this year. He was featured in BlackBoxTv’s recent YouTube video (a re-upload), The Girl In The Basement, and also posts his famous ‘paper-shorts’ on his own YouTube channel, The Receptionist.
The rest of the interview will be available on the new YouTube online magazine ‘YouTuber Magazine’ (website coming soon) in May.