Bloodwork

Eric Stanze is the most successful filmmaker in St. Louis. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Naked woman on a gravel road.

A stunning shot: the soft, round beauty of the woman contrasting with the coarse, gray stone.

Enter a pickup truck driven by a Missouri farmer in a baseball cap. He stops, gets out. Ties her feet to the back bumper, returns to the cab. He starts it up and drives.

The screams of the woman don't slow him down.

For a moment, there's a suggestion that relief will come. The camera will turn onto the Missouri landscape, the images will fade. Cut to the next scene.

But this is an Eric Stanze picture. The truck stops, and the farmer walks back to where the naked woman is now torn flesh, ribbons of blood. He takes a sack from the truck bed, labeled "salt."

Jennifer Silverberg
Angela Zimmerly awaits her demise on a gravel road in Ice From the Sun.
Jennifer Silverberg
Angela Zimmerly awaits her demise on a gravel road in Ice From the Sun.

She writhes as he throws the salt onto her open wounds, first by the handful, then turning the bag over and dumping its contents on her.

The scene still isn't over.

The farmer returns to the wheel, drives up the road a ways and then turns back around. The scene concludes, finally, when he runs over her head. Eric Stanze didn't write the gravel-road scene in Ice From the Sun thinking it would stand out. But when he was on location in the Missouri summer heat, Angela Zimmerly lying on the ground as the crew waited for the light, the forceful impact of those images suddenly became apparent to the young director: "I remember looking at the cast and crew and saying, 'This is going to be the scene that gets buzzed about the most.' And it has."

In the mainstream press, Jami Bernard of the New York Postdescribes the scene, then opines, "It makes The Texas Chainsaw Massacre look like The Sound of Music." Stephen Holden in the New York Times ends his review with a mention of the scene and says nothing more, as if commentary need not be applied to images so gruesome and gratuitous.

But out there on a Missouri backroad, with the sudden realization of what the New York critics, the Webster Film Series crowd or his parents, for that matter, might think about dragging a naked woman down a gravel road -- or what they'd hazard to imagine about the man who concocted that event -- Stanze briefly heard the outraged voices in his head. Then, undeterred, he shot the scene.


There's plenty more where that came from in the ultra-low-budget horror epic Ice From the Sun. The story line is nebulous at best -- something about the Presence, who kills the shit out of people until he's reminded that he has a heart, so he blows up -- but whereas Stanze films are weak on plot and dialogue deficient, his images pack a wallop.

A head explodes, with blood spurting fulsomely from the neck stump. A suicide lies in a bath tainted with her own blood. A man is given a drug that causes him to suffocate on his own tongue, which protrudes massively from his mouth as he collapses into death throes.

A naked man and woman walk on all fours like chained dogs, a priest leading them. They heel as he sits down to an enormous stack of Hodak's chicken in the abandoned Shady Oak movie theater. Meanwhile, in the wings lingers an enormous eyeball with legs.

Then there's the scene in which a man lies strapped to a medical table with a particularly gruesome contraption hooked to his mouth -- like something in a Nine Inch Nails video. The leathery apparatus releases worms into his mouth, which he swallows. After the worms move into his stomach and wreak excruciating pain on his insides, he can't take it anymore. He breaks his bonds and grabs a scalpel, then cuts himself open. The scene ends with his death, a close-up of the worms in his outstretched palm.


Stanze makes movies for a living. He has his own production company, Wicked Pixel Cinema, with which he makes the films "close to his heart," such as Ice From the Sun and Scrapbook. For his New York distributor, Sub Rosa Studios -- which specializes in B-movies, underground films, fetish and porno -- Stanze runs Sub Rosa Extreme, producing five small-budget quickies per year.

Lots of folks make movies in St. Louis. But even though those movies get made, they don't get seen. Rarely does a locally produced film land a distributor, which is what it takes to truly market a product.

Call Stanze's films schlock, horror, prurient and adolescent -- or, better yet, "a furiously pointless punk-gore loogie," which is how Michael Atkinson described Icefor the Village Voice -- but unlike the work of every other would-be director in St. Louis, his films have an audience. People buy them and ask for Stanze by name. His notoriety is international.


Stanze is a good-looking guy with a square jaw and sharp cheekbones. At age 30 he keeps his hair down-to-the-skull short, although in his teens he was known for spikes on top with a blond mullet down his back. He keeps fit on a diet of coffee. His voice is distinctly low, even grave, over the phone. Stanze is short in stature, but he doesn't exhibit the Napoleonic gestures of a Martin Scorsese.

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