Richmond Is Horror-Able, Chapter One: Margaret Rolicki, Maker Of Monsters

by | Jul 25, 2022 | FILM / TV

THEM: Why do you like horror movies? Do you think killing and violence is funny? 

ME: Sometimes. 

THEM: Yeah, I’m just not into gore and monsters.

ME: Why do you like Law and Order SVU? Do you think killing and violence against children is funny?  

THEM: That’s different.

ME: Well, that show is based on true stories, right? Chucky isn’t (at least I hope it isn’t).

Hi. I’m Monica Moehring and I love monsters. I love movies. I love scary things. I love making movies about scary things and funny things and sad things. With Aisthesis Productions, I work with other Richmond artists and filmmakers that share the mission of creating art that delivers less bore, more gore — gore being a metaphor for substance… and sometimes not being a metaphor, because we do like to get gory. 

RVA Magazine will be premiering the pilot episode of our series Robot Apocalypse Episode One: The Super Squad in three offerings August 8, 15 and 22. (Yeah we got Mondays, because Mondays are horror-able too, right?) 

Poster by Davis Bradley

Robot Apocalypse is an homage to the zombie genre from the last five decades, with gruesome gore, practical effects, and robots — lots of robots. From Zombie to Resident Evil to Hell of the Living Dead, Robot Apocalypse is a hilarious throwback to poorly dubbed action and horror movies.

It is also an incredible example of different worlds colliding in the best possible way to make a truly independent film. The sum of many different parts, over two hundred people worked on this pilot in some way or other. Everyone involved, from a variety of backgrounds, ages and genders were deeply committed to not only making a great project, but making this project great. 

Artist and fabricator Margaret Rolicki (@maggotgrace on Instagram) was the head of our makeup department. I’m sure you’ve seen her work around town. You know the Cobra behind the bar at Cobra Cabana? Yeah, Margaret made that.

Photo by Margaret Rolicki

Monica Moehring: Who is your favorite Monster from the Universal Monster Movies? [which includes Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolfman, The Creature from the Black Lagoon and in some circles, The Invisible Man]

Margaret Rolicki: Frankenstein. And I LOVE Bride of Frankenstein: the high camp, Dr Pretorius and his homunculi, the ultimate rejection scene. It’s so sad. I love “Creat” too (Creature From the Black Lagoon). I’m really drawn to sad and sympathetic monsters…

MM: Yeah, it’s not their fault. There’s a Creature movie that makes me cry.

MR: It’s the third one where he’s walking around looking extra crazy and sad!

MM: Yes! And he’s wearing a business suit–

MR: He just wants to die.

MM: It’s heartbreaking. So — Let’s talk about you. What’s your ”origin story”?

MR: I was born in Boston, Massachusetts. My dad is from Poland. He immigrated here when he was in high school. He was a product designer for Polaroid until 2001. My mom’s a Benefits Consultant. I have a brother that’s 2 years younger than me and a half-brother that’s 13 years younger. I went to college at the Maryland Institute College of Art, where I studied painting. I lived in Baltimore for several years. During and after college I worked as the manager of The Charles, an independent movie theatre, as well as doing over hire painting work for the scene shop at Center Stage, working on their backdrops and hard scenery. After getting a scenic arts apprenticeship at the Walnut Street Theatre, I moved to Philadelphia. I worked there for 12 years, as well as doing production design and art direction for local independent films.

I’ve been living in Richmond now for 6 years. I started working for GWAR in 2014, following the death of Dave Brockie. For two years, I would commute between Richmond and Philadelphia to work on the props and costumes for shows. I was renting small rooms in both cities, and finally made the leap to full-time [living in Richmond] when the work became more plentiful in the fall of 2016 with the redesign of the mainline characters.  

Photo by Margaret Rolicki

MM: Has “art” always been the thing? 

MR: Yes. Forever. I always knew that I was going to dedicate myself to this. I really couldn’t see my world being anything else. I’ve worked very hard since I was little. That work ethic was put into me very young. My parents supported me in going to art school, but also gave me a healthy dose of reality, like, “You have to get a job that can support this, and you’re not going to be a starving artist.”  

MM: First horror movie?

MR: I want to say The Exorcist, because I remember my mom getting mad at my dad for letting me see it. I saw a lot of scary stuff at a young age because my dad was like, “I’m a cool dad! If you want to watch The Exorcist, no problem!” And growing up Catholic, I thought it was a documentary. “This could happen.” I was obsessed with horror movies but also very affected by them as a kid. I’d have nightmares.

MM: Lovecraft said something like fear was the oldest and strongest emotion. I think about kid fears (great song) and when I was little and trying to figure it all out…

MR: I would turn all my stuffed animals and dolls around because I didn’t want them looking at me at night. I had that fear of them coming to life. Animism? And if I didn’t say “good night” to each thing before I went to bed…! This kind of behavior would only happen if I watched something scary before I went to bed. I’d sleep with the light on in my closet so that my mom couldn’t see it from the hallway. But then I’d go to the library and check out Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, those Stephen Gammell drawings, to this day, I think about. They were very effective; they got me excited about reading and art and storytelling and folklore — I love all of that.

MM: Recommendations for people looking to participate in what inspires you?

MR: I love [Francisco] Goya and his Black Period and Nightmare Illustration Series — that’s horror with really brutal illustrations. Something more fantastical would be Basil Gogos like his Famous Monsters of Filmland covers. He demonstrates how someone can be a very skilled traditional painter and still do something very edgy.

I was obsessed with John Waters, and the Dreamlanders were a huge motivating factor for me. I’m very drawn to collectives. Vincent Peranio was the production designer on all of John Waters films, and I wanted to be Vincent Peranio. I think he went to MICA (Maryland Institute College for Art) too, a lot of the Dreamlanders did, for like a year or two, and dropped out. I was enamored with Baltimore and that whole scene. I like people who work with the same group of friends over and over again. I wanted to make art for film with others before I really understood what that meant. I didn’t have any training, but I was like “a paper mache lobster, yeah!” [referring to Lobstra in John Waters’ Multiple Maniacs].

MM: John Waters film recommendation?

MR: I don’t know, because I feel like it keeps changing. I really love Polyester and Female Trouble. I just love how unabashedly brazen and gross the women are, and it’s just fun and trashy and unexpectedly wholesome at times. You really feel for Francine in Polyester, that’s a testament to what a great actor Divine was.

I also love Jim Henson and the Henson Company, which is, like, the other end of the spectrum. But not really — there’s overlap there. And Pee Wee’s Playhouse. It was a stage production and then got funding for a TV show, and he continued working with the same crew — Wayne White and Gary Panter and Phil Hartman

Photo by Margaret Rolicki

MM: I’m a huge Pee Wee Herman fan too. My dad took me to see Pee Wee’s Big Adventure in the theater three times because I just needed to study it.

MR: That means he had to see it three times in the theater!  

MM: Yeah, good thing my Dad’s a comedy guy. He’s not into horror, except for maybe Young Frankenstein.

MR: I think that what draws people to comedy is the same thing that draws them to horror — you have an emotional response to it. Like comedy makes you laugh. It makes you feel good. It makes you forget. Horror, also — makes you scared, makes you apprehensive, makes you forget, and maybe makes you laugh too! That’s the best horror. It can be like, kind of schlocky. Horror comedy is great, like Terror Vision or Evil Dead 2.

MM: Agreed. 

[Oh yeah — Margaret works with GWAR.]

MR: I’m a fabricator. That can be all-encompassing. I sculpt and mold and cast and paint. I think painting is really intuitive for me, but what I feel more passionate about, maybe, since working with GWAR is sculpting and mold-making. 

MM: When was the first time you heard/saw GWAR?  

MR: In Fangoria Magazine. Seeing the photographs and not understanding them.  I knew the imagery before the music. I thought it was video art? I liked the album Scumdogs of the Universe in high school, but it was always more about the art. It was Slymenstra Hymen and Oderus doing Headbangers Ball, being gross and funny.  

MM: How did you come to work with them?

MR: When Dave Brockie died, I wrote a post about how it was weird to be affected by a celebrity’s death when you didn’t know the person, but Dave was an amalgamation of all the things I celebrated. A monster died. A friend I worked with for a long time in Philadelphia at the Walnut Street Theater was from Richmond and saw the post, and thought I’d make a good fit in their shop. He made the initial  introduction. Working on Dave’s Viking Funeral Ship was my first job with them. I loved the experience and the people, and knew I needed to keep going.

I was there for two weeks. A couple months passed, and I came back to Richmond to work on the fall tour. And then I was just persistent about coming back, every work cycle saying, “Yes, I’m available and I want to do this.” Monday through Thursday, I worked at a place in Philly that made fiber optic medical devices. Thursday after work, I would get on a Greyhound bus and come to Richmond, and then Monday morning, I would take a bus back to Philadelphia. That’s how extremely dedicated I was to doing this. I kept hearing, “There’s no work here,” and “We don’t hire people full time,” and I was like, “You will.” 

MM: My first GWAR show was at The Flood Zone in the spring of 1991-ish? When was yours?

MR: I had never seen a GWAR show until I worked for them. I remember taking the train before I met them and reading the Wikipedia page and being like, “Jizmak Da Gusha…” I think not being a fangirl gave me a leg up, because I was very committed to this type of work with a collective — the kind of punk DIY ethos that they all have. So the shop dynamic — that was where I wanted to be. 

Photo by Monica Moehring

MM: Let’s talk about the creator of Robot Apocalypse, Davis Bradley.

MR: The first time I met/worked with Davis was on Dave’s Funeral Pyre. I’ll always have a soft spot for curmudgeons. He’s like a gentle giant — and he would hate to hear that, and in his New York accent, he’d be like, “Oh, whatever.” We got along right off the bat. We’d commiserate and watch weird movies while we worked. Davis is a great soft sculptor. He’s really good at large-scale soft fabrications. He works very intuitively. He’s very industrious, taking whatever scraps are around him and repurposing it to be the final product.

MM: You designed all the zombies in Robot Apocalypse, but you don’t typically do makeup. 

MR: No I do not.

MM: Then why did you say “yes” when Davis asked you to design all the zombies for Robot Apocalypse?

MR: If I say yes to a project, I’m gonna do it, and I think Davis knew that. I’m good at sculpting and painting, and ultimately makeup is that, but this was a whole new medium that I had to learn. So I did, and I brought in other talented makeup artists to work with me. There’s a lot of trust. 

MM: What’s your sign?  

MR: I’m a Pisces.

MM: Watery.

MR: Emotional. Pisces encompass a little bit of all the signs, because we’re at the end of the zodiac. We can relate to everyone pretty easily because we’ve lived all those lives already. We’re at the end of the cycle. What are you?

MM: I’m a Sagittarius.

MR: I know Sagittarius is supposed to be a very happy sign.

MM: Yes but we tend to run a little hot. So, any other movie recommendations?

MR: I love Black Sunday — witchcraft and women being misunderstood or scapegoated, and then coming back with a vengeance. 

MM: Any recent horror movies that made you say, “Yes! That!” 

MR:  The VVitch. That movie read like a medieval woodcut illustration of witchcraft, and tried to be very true to that mythology of what witchcraft was. The cinematography was beautiful. I think it’s really hard to do a horror movie in the daytime and there’s a lot of daytime in The VVitch. I liked Candyman — the new Candyman, directed by Nia DaCosta. That was the last time I saw a new movie that made me really excited. It was a really good retelling, or rather, re-navigating the story.

MM: What do you think an audience is looking for in their art consumption in 2022?

MR: Folk Horror is making a resurgence right now. I feel like people are hearkening back to old mythology because we’re kind of a lost generation, and we’re looking back to very old ways. I like trying to connect with pagan mythology, and bringing it into the modern world. 

MM: Folk stories are so informed by time and place, and maybe we’re looking for answers to our chaos? 

MR: Maybe.

MM: What would the movie of Margaret be like? 

MR: I really like working with other people and building up projects together. I love collaborating. So I loved working on Robot Apocalypse with Davis — I liked that I was doing something different with a person I had a history of working with through GWAR. It’s his passion project, and he trusted me enough to help him see that vision come to fruition. I’ve done work with Ryan Waste and BAT. I just really like aiding people in fulfilling their artistic visions. So I don’t want a movie of Margaret, just one heavily featuring my work!

Top Photo by Monica Moehring

Monica Moehring

Monica Moehring

Hi. I’m Monica Moehring and I love music. I love movies. I love scary things. I love making movies and art and theatre about scary things and funny things and sad things. I work with other Richmond artists and filmmakers that share the mission of creating art that delivers less bore, more gore--gore being a metaphor for substance and sometimes not being a metaphor because we do like to get gorey. After graduating from the Shenandoah Conservatory, I spent time in Chicago as both actor and playwright. As one does, I found my way back to Richmond and took up with a group of independent filmmakers, Aisthesis Productions. I am a left-handed Sagittarius.

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