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An Interview with Pierce Berolzheimer, Director of Crabs!

Pierce Berolzheimer sits attentively at his desk, surrounded by the dozens of books on the shelves behind him. He’s excited. I’m excited. We’ve been talking back and forth for weeks trying to make this interview happen, and, finally, our schedules have allowed for us to speak face to face. From late August to early September, Arrow Video FrightFest 2021 was held in the UK, featuring a massive array of science fiction, horror, and thrillers that are sure to raise your pulse and tense up your muscles. Among that crop of films, Crabs! stood out as the kind of brazen comedy that reminded me of a cross between the silliness of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes and the absurdity of Sharknado 

Crabs! is Berolzheimer’s first time directing, and from the instant you see the film’s poster, it makes an impression. Anyone considering viewing it knows what to expect immediately, while the film leans into its shlock factor to create a wave of surprises. The film includes references to ’50s nuclear era panic films, ’80s characters, GodzillaJurassic Park, and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Crabs! is a low-budget and lovingly made love letter to the genre, especially through the use of practical effects. You can watch the entire interview below or read transcribed excerpts from the conversation. 

I was able to sit down with Crabs! director Pierce Berolzheimer for a conversation about his new crustacean horror-comedy. I picked his brain about everything from taking part in Arrow FrightFest to the movies that inspired Crabs!, how the film has ties to The Chronicles of Narnia and Humanoids from the Deep, and how he learned to make a movie through trial, error, and persistence.  

The first thing I wanted to know was how the first-time director enjoyed being involved at Arrow’s mega-festival FrightFest. Before speaking, Berolzheimer’s face lights up. “It was amazing. It was really surreal,” he starts. “I’m really glad we got the midnight screening opening night on the big IMAX screen, and I’m really glad we got to go the very first day, so I didn’t have to wait in anticipation. It was like I got to rip the band-aid off and get to see it with everybody and then be like, ‘Okay, now I can just enjoy the festival.’ But it was great, I mean, the FrightFest team was fantastic, the venues were fantastic, and the people were like the nicest people in the whole world that festival.” 

Crabs! was gaining fan support at the event, “This one guy showed up. I had no idea he was going to do this. There was no communication about it beforehand, and every year he shows up in a costume, and he showed up in a crab costume. So, somebody came up and was like, ‘Hey, did you see the guy in the costume?’ I’m like, ‘No, I haven’t seen him yet.’ So, we brought him out on stage when we did like the introduction and stuff. It was amazing. I mean, I have friends for life now in London because of it.” 

The title for Crabs!
Image courtesy of Pierce Berolzheimer.

Being that Crabs! Is the director’s first time writing and directing, I asked Berolzheimer what was it about Crabs! That made him want this to be his directorial debut. “So, growing up, my family would go down to Georgia every year, and we would find the horseshoe crabs on the beach. And you know we’d pick up—like it’s normally the molts—so they’ve already left their shell, and they leave the molt behind. And they’re creepy! I mean, they’re super creepy little animals! But, you know, for college, I was going to write this short—this monster movie short—that I didn’t have the time or budget, or ability to make and that idea, you know? The horseshoe crab always stuck with me.”

The director figured that someone else would come along with a similar idea and turn it into a film, but no one ever did. Berolzheimer decided to at least pen the feature, figuring he wouldn’t ever show it to anyone. When first approached by producers, Berolzheimer was tapped to make a completely different film and even started the process to try to fund it. “I was like, this is not the movie I wanna make. Like, if I want to be spending time on something for years on end, I want to make this crazy crab movie, especially if I’ve only got one shot to make a movie. I mean, if this is like my first film, I want to do the movie I really want to make. So, I showed him the crab script, and they’re like, ‘This is insane for the budget that we’re aiming at, but screw it, let’s do it.” 

Crabs! is a very offbeat movie that feels very loose and fun. I next inquired if anything happened on set that somehow made it into the film. A little surprised, I chuckled when I was told, “Oh, yeah. So, there’s a lot of it.” Berolzheimer basically had one rule on the set after the cast and crew’s first meeting: “If it’s not fun, we’re not doing it.” Berolzheimer explains, “If for whatever reason, something feels like it’s not fun, then either we gotta make it fun, or we’ve got to do something else ’cause that’s the whole point of how to do the movie. So, for example, one of my favorite parts of the whole movie is the classroom scene in the beginning, where she pulls the dead cat out of the formaldehyde. And that’s based on this story that my mom told me of when she was in college, she dissected a dead house cat, and I thought that was just absurd. I mean, like, I can’t believe that somebody would dissect a dead house cat!

So, I wanted to put that in the movie, but we tried really hard to find a dead cat prop, and our prop master ended up getting dead pigs, and we’re like, ‘Oh, that’s a bummer. Pigs aren’t as funny as, you know, a dead house cat.’ And then, the last day we were filming, we got the dead cat in the mail, and somebody pulled a favor through pulling another favor, and that cat apparently is used on the Chronicles of Narnia movie. Like, that’s a prop from Narnia. So, then we wrapped all the dead pigs in, like, fake fur to make them look like cats on all the other tables in the classroom.  But, yeah, I wanted to have every scene be something that was sort of more absurd than the last scene.” 

Pierce Berolzheimer extends his hands for effect during the interview.

Berolzheimer also said that a key scene towards the climax of the film was a sudden lightbulb moment: “The building montage scene, we filmed it about four o’clock in the morning, and we were just grabbing things and ad-libbing from the props that we had just at this location. And then, you know, we’re all kind of delirious. It’s like day 18 of shooting late in the night, and I’m like, ‘Wouldn’t it be hilarious if we did like talking directly at the camera with the camera pushing into the characters? And then holding up the stuff to just talk directly to the audience?’ and we’re like, ‘Alright, well the movie’s off-the-rails enough at this point,’ like, ‘Screw it, let’s do it!’ And it turned out great! I mean, I’m really happy with how that turned out.” 

The ending to Crabs! is so wildly over-the-top that I took this opportunity to ask the director if the film had always intended to go in that direction. “I always knew where I wanted to go,” Berolzheimer says, “but initially, what I wanted to do was a miniature set. I wanted to build a version of the town and then have the final scene be on an actual miniature version of the town, and the reason that—I mean the initial concept actually was—I wanted to hit sort of all the major monster movie genres and put them into one thing. And so, I wanted to pay homage to the old Godzilla movies, and even the nuclear radiation at the beginning of the movie is an homage to that. So, the ending was always going to be an homage to Godzilla, but how we did it changed dramatically over the course of it because, honestly, I had no idea how to do it. I mean, we filmed the entire rest of the movie, including the cockpit—like in the interior scenes from that final scene—and at that point, we still had no idea how to do the rest of that scene. And it took us two years just to figure out, like budgetarily and how conceptually, to make it work, and then it took us another three years to actually implement that. It was a long, long process. 

Having mentioned Godzilla and knowing Crabs! is loaded with genre movie references, Berolzheimer says fans spotting all of the film’s little references has been “one of the really cool parts of this.” Berolzheimer continues, “The people that have seen the movie so far are like my girlfriend/my partner, and my mom, and, like, family members, and they’re not super into the horror genre. They don’t know the horror world like I do. So, getting other horror fans to see it and then be like, ‘Oh yeah, I get that reference,’ and, ‘That movie is being referenced here.’ Like, that has been such a cool thrill, getting to see that—people actually noticing the things that I was aiming at.” Berolzheimer went on to say that Jurassic Park is his “gold standard for filmmaking” but didn’t discount influences from Bad Milo, Eight Legged Freaks, Critters, Gremlins, and Joseph Kahn’s Detention. “There’s also, like, obscure direct-to-VHS movies that I grew up with that I really love. There’s this weird movie called Prehysteria! There’s like three of them, and I loved those as a kid. I mean, those are my jam! And the idea of the little stop motion animation monsters and stuff like that—even I didn’t realize this until I looked up Prehysteria! the other day ’cause I was referencing it, and I didn’t even realize that there’s an exclamation point at the end of the title, and I’m like, ‘Oh sh—yeah, that runs deep.'” 

Maddy's Mother fights off a flesh-eating horseshoe crab

Turning to the casting, I had to ask the director about the array of talented B-movie stars that help make Crabs! Delightful and entertaining. From acting veteran Robert Craighead (Future Man) to up-and-comer Allie Jennings, whom he called the “linchpin that keeps the cast together,” Berolzheimer had nothing but the utmost respect and love for his cast. “The thing that I feel like, if there’s anything that this movie got right or I got right as a director, it was casting. To me, the part that I’m most proud of in the whole film is the casting, and I think that all of the actors are amazing… Jessica [Morris], for instance, her instincts are so good that I probably gave her the least direction that I gave anybody on set, just because she came in and knew the character and knew what we needed…they were all like that. Like Bryce Durfee, who plays Hunter, is probably in terms of credit—like number of credits—is one of the least experienced actors, but his ability to take a note and change it in the next take was like magic.” 

One of the funniest stories Berolzheimer told about the cast literally left me in stitches. “Each of the actors sort of had, like, a different way that directing them seems to work. So, there’s one scene in the movie where they’re all in the classroom, and I needed Chase [Padgett]—Chase plays Radu—and I wanted him to look really uncomfortable. And I gave him a note, and we got what we needed, but it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for. So, then I went to some of the other actors, and I’m like, ‘Okay, your intention in this scene is to seduce Radu,’ and so we had one camera just pointed on Chase and then the other actors because we have to run the whole scene even though the camera’s not on them, right? So, we’re running the scene, and all the other actors, their intention in the scene is to seduce him, and so, I didn’t tell him that note, and somebody, like, touches his leg under the table, and somebody starts flirting with him and giving him eyes, and he just looks confused as all hell. And I’m like, ‘Oh no, that’s what we want!’ So, it was really playful.” 

Referencing user reviews Crabs! has received so far, I noted coming across one that was particularly upset that the film contained no actual crabs. I asked Berolzheimer if he was receiving a lot of flak because of the film’s title. “To me, that’s part of the joke! Like, we knew going in. Originally the movie was called Night of the Limulus, but when I started showing people the script, they didn’t know how to pronounce Limulus. So, I’m like, oh shoot, alright, we gotta change that. So then one of my good friends, who came out and worked on the film, already came up with the idea to call it Crabs!, and I’m like “No, no there’s no crabs in this movie, we can’t do that.” And then I thought about it, and I’m like, “No, it has to be called Crabs! That’s hilarious.’ So, as soon as that idea came in, it was like, ‘Well, we can’t call it anything else now.’ And that’s when I wrote the line in that was like, ‘Well, actually, they’re not crabs, horseshoe crabs aren’t crabs, they’re more closely related to spiders or scorpions.’ To me, that’s just funny.” I referenced to Roger Corman, a director notorious for changing the names of his production to build a broader audience. “Speaking of Roger Corman too, a little Easter egg for anybody who watched the movie. Humanoids From the Deep was filmed in Fort Bragg, California, where we filmed the movie, and they built an island for it called Dolphin Cove. And it’s up the river, basically. It’s just another like hundred yards up the river from where we had our main location where the two boys lived. And so, we have a drone shot that flies over the same Dolphin Cove where Humanoids From the Deep was filmed.” 

The next question was in regard to what the young director learned while making the film, which was met with a resounding amount of laughter. For a first-time director, it was pretty obvious Berolzheimer encountered challenges he hadn’t expected. His quick-witted answer of “How to make an indie movie!” seemed to describe the atmosphere of the interview. Berolzheimer said that he had been involved with a few productions prior to Crabs!, but the scope was not nearly as large. While in college, he had taken a few filmmaking courses that usually involved strapping a boom pole to his back while simultaneously appearing in the film and directing. The director spent about nine months in Vietnam, overseeing the visual effects for the film. There he learned how to essentially cut a movie, add sound design, rotoscope his film in 4K, and so much more. Berolzheimer also said that his film’s first cut was done slightly in the dark because his computer wasn’t designed for the 4K implementations. Eventually, Berolzheimer would bring his movie to another editor nine months later, who helped him finish the film. 

“It has taken six years, and part of that is my inexperience, and part of it is this has basically been my master’s degree in learning how to make movies, and so each of the steps along the way…I, like, I knew we could do it, and maybe that was just hubris, but I knew in my gut that, like, we could get it done, and we could do it. I mean, I now feel infinitely more confident about how to make a movie from beginning to end after having done the project this way. I mean, I feel very confident that because a lot of it I ended up having to do myself, like pieces of, you know—especially the final fight scene—our team was basically like, ‘We don’t know how to do this, either, especially for the budget we have.’ Like, kind of figure it out. Like, go off, and good luck, and figure it out. And we did. I mean, I feel like, now I understand, and there are a million pitfalls and a million things we did wrong, but without doing that, I wouldn’t have known how to do it right now. And I mean the most valuable education I could have ever gotten was failing over and over and over in order to learn how to do it the right way the first time, so, whatever my next project is will be way smoother than this one.” 

My penultimate question continued on the sound design, especially with the sound effects the crabs in the film used. Berolzheimer said that Chase Padgett also made the crab sounds for the smaller crabs, which sound slightly like the assaulting tomatoes in Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. “The medium size crabs and the queen crab are my sound design. So, talk about learning how to do stuff! As soon as I found out that I kind of needed to do that myself, I’m like, ‘Oh sh*t, here’s another thing. I gotta figure this out. I don’t know how to do it!’ So, yeah, I watched a bunch of tutorials on YouTube about how to tweak things in the right way, and then I layered all the different animal noises I wanted and then, like, change the pitch, change the reverb, change the tone. You know? Cut it in like if there’s an intro, little bit of a build-up to a growl, and then like four layers of growl with different animals. I tried a million different variations. That probably took me two months to get all the medium size and large queen crab sounds right ’cause I had to learn how to do it, too. But I wanted them to sound broken, but like broken and wet like each as it progresses. It’s like the radiation has gotten worse, and so their vocal cords, I imagine, like a little crab is kind of like clean-ish, cheery, fun Gremlin havoc-causing crab. And then it gets twisted, and their vocal cords have like holes in them, so it sounds broken.” 

Pierce Berolzheimer talks about Crabs!
Image courtesy of Pierce Berolzheimer.

With that, I asked Berolzheimer about the US release date for Crabs!, which he said wouldn’t be until the new year. The film is currently playing in film festivals around the globe, including Arrow FrightFest back in August, IFI Horrorthon in Ireland, Fantasy Film Fest in Germany back in October, and the upcoming Monster Fest in Australia this December. I also asked Berolzheimer what projects he was looking to do next. “A couple of things: Crabs 2, 3, 4. However, many people might want… I’ve talked to all the actors, and they’re all down to do more if people like this one and it gains some legs, then we’ll do more and continue to go as far outrageous as we possibly can. I kind of like the Sharknado template of trying to one-up ourselves with each one, and yes, I’ve got a post-apocalypse version of Crabs! 2 that I like. It actually seems like a good way to go.

“I also have this other movie that I’ve been working on, it’s called Tithe, and it’s the complete polar opposite, totally opposite direction from everything that Crabs! is. I mean, the way I’m pitching it is it’s like The Raid in medieval times or John Wick with swords. It’s like, I wanted to do something that is…Crabs! is convoluted. I mean, it’s super convoluted. There’s way too many storylines, and way too many actors, way too many motivations, and directions, and things that are happening. I mean, there’s we’ve got four different monsters in the movie and eight characters, maybe? We just got a lot going on. And for Tithe, I would want to do the exact opposite. The basic idea’s just a revenge story with a mostly silent protagonist…I like the idea of doing things that I haven’t done before and things I don’t really know how to do. And so, I want to narrow the focus and tell the simplest story I possibly could as best I could and focus on, like, the absolute fundamentals of storytelling and filmmaking instead of getting lost in the weeds with the excess. Like Crabs! is a lot of excess, and I think it would be good to sort of take a step back now and get the simpler stuff right but do it as well as I possibly can.” 

Poster for Pierce Berolzheimer's film Crabs!


Looking for more director interviews? We’ve got you:

“Grimmfest Christmas Horror Nights: Interview With Black Friday Director Casey Tebo”

“Grimmfest 2021: An Interview With John Valley, Writer and Director of The Pizzagate Massacre”

“So Vam Director Alice Maio Mackay Talks Queer Horror and Future Projects”

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Written by Sean Parker

Sean lives just outside of Boston and loves all things horror.

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