Beware EVIL’s Lair! “Rust” reviewed! (Wild Eye Releasing / DVD)


Hotel Fear is a dilapidated shell of a once thriving horror attraction with labyrinths chockful of replica grisly terrors. Isolated in a rural area outside Las Vegas, Hotel Fear becomes the meetup place for best friends Heather and Morgan who drive to the forlorn theme park to unite with a couple of male friends. However, Hotel Fear houses a notorious urban legend that includes the deranged killer, Travis McLennan, a barbaric, cannibalistic madman who abducts young women for his pleasure. When Morgan is captured and Heather barely escapes with her life, it’s up to a battered and traumatized Heather to return with the police to rescue Morgan from the merciless grips of Travis McLennan.

Can “Rust” be the next much-admired slasher franchise this side of the last ten decade? That’s what will be discussed when analyzing Joe Lujan’s written and directed “Rust,” a survival-slasher surrounding a mute-masked killer named Travis McLennan, birthed by a nefarious anecdotal urban legend of a unhinged boy who murdered his parents and wears his father’s face. Lujan, whose become something of a low-budget horror factory filmmaker with short and feature film credits including “It Followed Me,” “Atelophobia,” and their respective sequels, helms what could be the director’s bread and butter legacy that crosses “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” with some aspects from a Rob Zombie filmmaking handbook. What makes “Rust” unique, or at least in the Wild Eye Releasing DVD, is the feature is comprised of two short films, “Rust” and “Rust 2,” spliced together to make a full length film that would ignite the fervor for third entry, “Rust 3” in 2020 currently in post-production, and all produced by Lujan’s production company, Carcass Films.

Typically, popular slasher will center mostly around the chased protagonists that naturally produces an ominous villain, examples would be Alice in “Friday the 13th,” Laurie Strobe in “Halloween,” Nancy Thompson in “A Nightmare on Elm Street, but “Rust” shares the focal responsibilities between protagonist duo of Heather and Morgan and an antagonist duo of Travis McLennan and his Stockholm syndrome sex slave, Valkyrie. Not only do we wonder about the bloody-cladded rooms of Hotel Hell with Heather and Morgan, but also see some dynamics and curiosities from their stalker. “Hot Tub Party Massacre’s” Corey Taylor and “Afflict’s” Taylor Kilgore become the besties Heather and Morgan and are staple actors in Lujan’s ensemble cache he’s collaborated extensively throughout his career. As an exposed midriff Kilgore loses out on Morgan’s weak character development that’s nothing more than an elevated whimper, Corey Taylor by default lifts up to be a quasi-strong female lead, but neither actress steps into that final girl role and are extremely overshadowed by Morlon Greenwood’s towering-might that converts to being the black-hearted killer Travis McLennan. The Jamaican born, former NFL linebacker has that “See No Evil,” Kane-like violence that bears an austere ravager who would make anybody crap their pants when going into full-throttle chase mode with machete in hand. Lindsey Cruz (“Meathook Massacre 4”), Raul Limon (“The Immortal Wars”), Isaac Rhino (“Blood Runs Thick”), Meek Ruiz, Paul Tumpson, Nycolle Buss, Lordis DePiazza, Brittany Enos, and Brittany Hoza round out the cast.

So, does “Rust” make for good silver screen slashery? One would need to snake between the rough McLennan backstory that doesn’t clearly sink in, the whimsical premise of a teen meet-up and wander through an abandoned horror theme attraction, and the hollow characters to declare that “Rust” doesn’t make the cut across the throat. Finding reasons to be concerned for characters was at a great time nil because of their bland design with nothing to strive or live for in a complete and total arc-less folly of development. Perhaps the purest form of a slasher is in Travis McLennan’s brutality which warrants some positive lighting as a more machine than man killer, wearing a fleshy mask skinned from his father, as he hoards young women for his unknown kicks, but whether the funds weren’t in the budget or an artistic preference was applied, all the kills were mostly done off-screen and implied. There were a couple of knife blows to the head and the neck areas that barely had discernible quality that subjected no veering of the eyes or garnished any dread into the full brunt of the kill blow. Lujan pens an obscured rape scene that has more oomph than the killing itself. We’ve seen box store horror films with scream attractions before, such as like “Hell Fest,” and even some enticing independent ventures, such as “Talon Falls,” both of which have filled the need for urban myth, meta-horror – horror actually happening in a horror theme park – but most of these films don’t pan out as expected and “Rust” simply falls into that latter unfortunate category.

Right on the coattails of a third film comes “Rust” onto DVD home video courtesy of Wild Eye Releasing that’s presented not rated and in a full frame 16:9 aspect ratio that’s varies in quality being two shorts combined into one. “Rust” first half suffers from an extremely low bitrate so much so that you can see pinpoint each frame. The coloring is faded beyond the brown on a Las Vegas desert and, at times, difficult to discern exactly what’s happening mise-en-scene, especially in the darker scenes as you can see in the screencaps. The second half fairs better with a higher bitrate, smoother frame transitions, and a cleaner, less muddle twitching inside the frame. The English language dual channel stereo sound mix also splits the difference, most notably with a shield and muffled dialogue track being drowned out by ambient and the Eric Dryer’s score, a score that’s possibly a highlight in “Rust’s” legacy. Again, audio regains some control over the levels, providing more efficient range and depth but still can’t overcome of the powerful score. Bonus features include an interview with Joe Lujan about the fabrication from beginning to end of “Rust,” the original Rust 1 and 2 shorts, and Wild Eye Releasing trailers. One bonus I was vying for was the Eric Dryer score, but no such luck. “Rust” might be more of tetanus hazard than a budding slasher ripe for the viewing, but director Joe Lujan has the potential if the filmmaker can chug foward gaining experience along the way and, perhaps, recap his Travis McLennan nightmare on a bigger, badder scale with a sharper machete.

“Rust” is included with Prime Video!

 

“Rust available on DVD”

Mom Sees the EVIL in her Son in “M.O.M. Mothers of Monsters” reviewed! (Indie Rights Movies / Screener)


Abbey Bell is extremely worried about her teenage son, Jacob. Worried that Jacob, an intelligent boy with good grades and is a social magnet, is plotting a mass shooting at his school. After countless preemptive attempts to warn authorities and medical professionals of her suspicions of his psychopathic tendencies, Abbey begins recording a diary and setting up spy cameras inside the family home hoping to catch Jacob’s unpredictable and dangerous suggestions and threats on tape. The videos will also serve as blog fodder for other desperate mothers experiencing similar disturbing behavioral issues with their children. As the single mother and her son continue their at home war of bickering words and distraught suspicions, the maternal bond once shared between mother and son begins to deteriorate and evolve into unsurmountable distrust between each other; a distrust that has been simmering ever since Jacob was a toddler stemmed by Abbey’s dark family secret sheathed for many years until Jacob weaponizes it for his utmost survival against his concerned mother.

Before the coronavirus pandemic transformed powerful sovereign nations into panic-induced introverts wetting their pants at the first spray of a sneeze hitting their skin, news medias around the globe delectably ate up headlines of mass shootings as there would seem, at least for a good stretch, to be a sad and unfortunate mass shooting every single day. Tucia Lyman’s “M.O.M. Mother of Monsters” derives from that fearful climate while also purposing another sub-topical issue of a parent’s position in that circumstance. Lyman tackles one fictional woman’s tale of internal turmoil as her directorial debut and the sophomore script of a feature film not in a documentary format, pivoting away from the “Untold Stories of the ER” and “I Didn’t Know I was Pregnant” junk food that consumes about 2/3’s of television comatose Americans. The “found footage” 2020 released psychological thriller is produced by Elain White and Austin Porter whom both have collaborated with Lyman in the past.

While not as sexily depicted and as authoritative as Emilia Clarke is depicted to be the Mother of Dragons in HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” New York City born Melinda Page Hamilton can surely sell a mother of a monster as Abbey Bell, vending sharply laid out doubts and uncertainties with a mountain of convincing circumstantial evidence against her only child. The “Not Forgotten” actress quietly folds into herself as the submissively passive Abbey on a histrionics mission to out her son as a danger to society. Bailey Edwards commands a subversive and rebellious teenage Jacob Bell that can use his millennial powers to steamroll over his mother’s lack-of-assertive powers. This film will be Bailey’s first substantial co-staring venture, along with minor performances in “My Dead Boyfriend” starring Heather Graham and Netflix’s “Bright” with Will Smith, and who will subtly introduce Jacob as some white nationalist, gun enthusiasts who has a gas mask with a swastika insignia, first person shooter gear and video games, and scenes of him walking in front of gun shops. While Hamilton and Edwards dominate the majority of screen time, the short cast list rounds out with Janet Ulrich Brooks, Julian de la Celle, and a special appearance from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s” Ed Asner as a behavioral doctor Skyping perspective therapy with Abbey. Does anyone believe a 91-year-old knows how to use a video chat? It’s a bit of a stretch….

“M.O.M. Mother of Monsters” throws caution to the wind embarking on a viewpoint of how far a mother will go to expose her child’s dissident and, potentially, deadly behavior. Lyman also digs deeper into the psyche of the mother and the child, sticking them with a ticking time bomb that is the heredity factor. Mental illness is a huge underlined theme that Lyman slips into the fold as signs of one person’s erratic behavior can be stemmed from the secrets of little known relatives and their seemingly destined out of control path can no way be influenced externally without reserving counseling, extenuating the age-old debate of nurture versus nature. Lyman’s storytelling smartly preserves an obscured aspect, cloaked by selective denial and tremendous paranoia, that becomes a catalyzing game changer of disturbing consequences. The narrative isn’t at all flawless with weak spots in the character structure that pigeonhole the roles to be stuck inside this cat and mouse cycling mindset between Abbey and Jacob. For instance, Abbey’s an obsessive, 24-hour recording zealot whose documenting never reveals anything else happening in Abbeys life, like work, friends, etc., whereas Jacob’s intermixed recordings with a female friend outside the contentious home reveal a life beyond his skirmish with this mother and his videogame shut-in habitat, but these recordings stick out awkwardly as much of the story’s is from Abbey’s perspective so how did Jacob’s casual conversation videography become a part of Abbey’s cautionary tale for other distraught mothers? Whether intentional or not to exhibit the imbalanced social complexities between Jacob and Abbey’s personal lives or lack thereof, Jacob’s exterior scenes course out of bounds, penalizing portions of the plot.

Become submersed in dark thoughts and monomania with Tucia Lyman’s “M.O.M. Mothers of Monsters” hitting the digital HD VOD platforms soon after premiering at the Los Angeles Arena Cinelounge this past Friday the 13th through Indie Rights distribution. Since this is a theatrical and VOD title, there is no home video release to provide technical specs and assessments; this also includes no special features. “M.O.M. Mothers of Monsters” hammers down the sociopolitical hot topics of mental illness, gun violence, and presumptive fear teeming in America with a spitting image and climate aware psychological thriller bristled with family dysfunction.

When EVIL Gets Tough, You Fight Back! “The New Kids” reviewed!


Loren McWilliams and his sister Abby were both proud of their illustrious military careered father as well as adoring him immensely. When the teenagers’ parents set off toward Washington D.C. to receive a commendation from the President after foiling a terrorist hostage situation, Loren and Abby felt like the luckiest kids alive, but that all quickly changed with a phone call, announcing a deadly accident that killed both their parents. Somber in disbelief, Loren and Abby decide to take up on an offer from their uncle Eddie and aunt Fay who own a gas station and a joint rinky-dink amusement park in Glenby, Florida in hopes to whet the appetites of thrill seeking tourist right before hitting the major league theme parks of Disney. Settling into a new school system is relatively easy for the siblings who’ve often been use to moving from location-to-location with their father in military service, but acclimating to the local drug pusher, Dutra, along with his entourage of subversive delinquents, has placed a target on their backs. A cat and mouse game over dominance ensues with an unreasonable Dutra unable to ever settle the score until his complete satisfaction in punishing the new kids in town has been sated, even if that means Loren and Abby, and those close to them, have to fight for their very lives.

“The New Kids,” aka “Striking Back,” is a horrifying suspense thriller from the original “Friday the 13th” director Sean S. Cunningham and penned by the father of Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal, Stephen Gyllenhaal, and “Visiting Hours” screenwriter, Brian Taggert. Instead of a lurking serial killer stalking and massacring half-naked and carefree camp counselor teens on a secluded camp ground, Cunningham tackles felonious teenagers wreaking havoc on popular outsiders treading on their drug turf, especially those who give a good fight back. “The New Kids” bombards every scene with caustic, no-good trouble and when push comes to shove, the only rational is to give the razor-edge scrap right back in a serrated do or die narrative.

Before the face of the collegiate admission scandal and before being the beloved onscreen mother to twins fathered by Uncle Jess on “Full House,” Lori Loughlin co-stars with Shannon Presby as on the defensive Abby and Loren. Presby slightly overshadows Loughlin as a stronger character or presence on screen. Loren continuously evolves through the storyline beginning as a well-rounded, cool-headed, optimistic son who recently lost his parents and then blossoms through bullying and violence as a mad dog protecting what’s his – family. Abby staggers quite precariously and never quite finds her footing in the grand scheme of things other than being a passive victim of Dutra and his gang. Even the contrast between Loren and Abby’s respective love interests is lopsided as Loren and his girlfriend (“Silent Madness’” Paige Price) dominate the dynamically in comparison to Abby and an underused and very youthful looking Eric Stotlz (“The Prophecy”). The real stud of “The New Kids” is a young, slim James Spader (“Wolf” and “The Blacklist”). Pure platinum blonde hair topping piercing eyes with a pinch of a Boston accent really brought out the villain in Spader in one of his very first feature films. Many other familiar faces in the cast, some familiar amongst horror fans, including John Philbin (“Return of the Living Dead”), the late Eddie Jones (“C.H.U.D.”), and the legendary Tom Atkins (“The Fog” and “Halloween III”) in a brief role. The remaining cast round out with Vince Grant, David MacDonald, Theron Montgomery, Lucy Martin, and Jean De Baer.

On the surface, “The New Kids” might seem polar opposite to Cunningham’s franchise birthing “Friday the 13th” series, but if looking with a keen eye, Cunningham has slapped and slathered his style all over the bullying barraging thriller. Techniques such as the camera focusing on feet that come out from hiding, the sudden appearance of people behind objects, and the menacing atmosphere of being watched are sensationalized characteristics of his camper slasher flick. Also, though the soundtrack is akin to the likes of Harry Manfredini, it was actually composed by the renowned Lalo Schilfrin who more than like was given precise instructions from Cunningham to compose a companion like score with a twist of a new kind of fear.

Mill Creek Entertainment presents Columbia Pictures’ “The New Kids” onto a Blu-ray home video with a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The region A release on a BD25 has a well preserved transfer with little to no damaging issues and lots of good, wholesome natural grain speckling on the solid and wide range color palate. Even the darker scenes have pronounced definition so nothing is obscured from the viewer. The English language DTS-HD Master Audio track is quite robust with no sings of hissing or crackling during the entire 90 minute runtime. Even with Loren is whispering to Dutra in an intense claustrophobic and apprehensive scene, Loren is audible and understood, completing a dialogue friendly release with a, as aforementioned, a baleful score by Lalo Schilfrin. English SDH subtitles are also included. Unfortunately, there are no bonus features on this release; however, the retro style slipcover, where the VHS tape looks to be protruding from the VHS box, is a nice tough by Mill Creek Entertainment, especially with the faux wear around the edges and on the facade. For director Sean S. Cunningham, “The New Kids” steered clear of being a Voorhees repeat, but was certainly a recapitulation of Cunningham’s strong suits and with a strong, confident cast, “The New Kids” is sorely understated and overshadowed and I’m personally pleased that Mill Creek Entertainment delivered a Blu-ray release to the U.S. even if there are no bonus features.

The New Kids available at Amazon!

Evil Will Kill for a Thousand Likes! “Tragedy Girls” review!


A small mid-western town has been terrorized by a string of gruesome murders and two local high school girls, Sadie and McKayla, seek to lure the killer out to not stop his onslaught, but to be put under his machete wielding wing. The best friends use their twitter page, @TragedyGirls, to platform their grisly kills as devastating tragedies and to be supportive outreaches in order to be beloved by all and to obtain social media stardom as a facade over being iconically elusive serial killers, but when their plan to capture a mentor fails, a wedge drives between them when Sadie begins to fall for longtime friend, and video editor for their twitter page, Jordan Welch. That’s all the fuel needed to spark McKayla into a deadly paroxysm in order to get her best sociopathic friend back by her side.

“Tragedy Girls” is the uptempo horror-comedy by writer-director Tyler MacIntyre along with fellow co-writer Chris Lee Hill, both whom previously helmed another horror-comedy entitled “Patchwork” in 2015. “Tragedy Girls” aims to put the slasher genre on it’s head by turning what should be two sweet high school girls into the sadistic hunters instead of the usual genre trope of hapless prey and incorporate the dark side of social media, using platforms, such as Twitter, to gain notoriety through exploitation of others’ very lives, but the use of social media doesn’t sticker MacIntyre’s film as tech horror. Instead, typical ditzy-dynamic adolescent drama is integrated into the gory melee Sadie and MacKayla fabricate for fandom. There’s plenty of blood and death to go around through a mix bag of slaughter with some being inspired by other horror films, channelling such classic as “Friday the 13th” and “Carrie.”

“Deadpool’s” Negasonic Teenage Warhead, Brianna Hildebrand, and Alexandra Shipp, who’s also a Marvel superhero in X-Men franchise as Storm in “X-Men: Apocalypse,” star as besties Sadie and MacKayla. Hildebrand and Shipp are doubly frightening as two sociopathic killers and equally as scary as silver screen teenage girls glued to their phones while keeping up with their good fashion sense, but their pixie cut and cheerleader personas are as embellished as their underlining dark craft to make “Tragedy Girls” over-the-top and shocking on a “Save by the Bell” level. Though the two are stone cold, homicidal maniacs, a love interest is added for Sadie. The “The Hunger Games'” Jack Quaid, son of Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid, fills the shoes of the lovesick Jordan Welch and Quaid does a fine job being the smartest guy in the room, but still being blindly dumb to the situation unfolding around him and Sadie. Surprisingly, a number of various genre vets rear their heads in this film, starting with “The Strain’s” Kevin Durand. The 6’6” tower of pure muscle Durand embodies a Jason Voorhees like villain when masked; unmasked, he’s about as stupid as they come and Durand can do stupid very well. Part of the comedy, of this horror-comedy film, stems from an uncharacteristic role played by Craig Robinson as a very unfit, local firefighter hero, fittingly named Big Al. The “This is the End” and “Ghosted” star bores through his minor role of Big Al with very little dialogue as Robinson is well known for wit, but the comedian has one of the better scenes with a 2-on-1 fight scene with the two demented school girls. The last recognizable face being mentioned flames out as quickly as it’s flamed in from the Sci-Fi genre. Josh Hutcherson, another “The Hunger Games” star, goes James Dean as MacKayla’s emo ex-beau, Toby Mitchell. Hutcherson’s character doesn’t quite fit the “Tragedy Girl” mold that pushes the limits later on in the film and his portrayal of Toby Mitchell is awkwardly misplaced as overzealous and forgettable. Rounding out the remaining cast is Timothy V. Murphy (“The Frankenstein Theory”), Nicky Whelan (“Flight 7500”), Keith Hudson, Savannah Jayde, and Katie Stottlemire.

“Tragedy Girls” will do well as it’s a solid horror-comedy with a la carte gore. None of the characters seize the progression of the trope reversal story and with the exception of Hutcherson’s Toby Mitchell, the actors conform precisely to the animation of their character’s scribed personas. Hildebrand and Shipp are the epitome of that last statement. The pair of actresses have a real life proprietary appearance about them and to crossover those looks and meld them into Sadie and MacKayla will forever establish them as the true tragedy girls. “Tragedy Girls” isn’t just about flip-flopping the genre rear ended up; writers MacIntyre and Hill pen a film that’s also about female empowerment with two strong actresses filling the shoes of two self-sufficient badasses committed to doing what’s conventionally labeled male subversive behavior and accomplishing it on whole other level. Even if on the wrong side of the law, the tragedy girls stick together through the good and the bad to overcome various high school and beyond high school hurdles that attempt to thwart not just their friendship, but their cyberspace popularity.

Gunpowder & Sky proudly distributes “Tragedy Girls,” a film by fresh faced production companies like Its The Comeback Kid and New Artist Pictures, onto VOD now and DVD home video February 6th. Since provided with an streaming link for review, a well-rounded critique on the DVD’s technical specs, picture quality, audio tracks, and bonus features will unfortunately not be commented on, but the very film itself should entice the most casual horror film goer who usually doesn’t stray off the mainstream path. With familiar faces and plenty of bloodshed, “Tragedy Girls” holds water against competitors in a flooded genre. Don’t forget to follow them, #tragedy_girls or @tragedygirls, or else you’ll be next tragedy exhibited in their wall feed!

It’s Bloggin’ Evil Interviews “Love is Dead” director Jerry Smith!

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Horror Film Journalist and Filmmaker Jerry Smith

I would like to start off with the readers receiving some slight background on you. Can you provide us with a short bio about where you’re from, where you’re at now, and what prominently influenced you into the person you are today?

I was born and raised in the Central Valley of California, in a mid-sized City named Visalia. It’s grown into a city without any real film culture or following so I try to stay away as much as possible. I spend my days going back and forth between Los Angeles and Visalia due to my kids.

I came from a really rough childhood. As a kid, I was taken by my stepdad to see “The Accused” in the theater and being around six or seven, watching a film focusing on the gang rape of a woman really affected me. It scared me and made me uncomfortable for both Jodie Foster’s character and myself. That night, when we got home, my stepdad molested me, something that lasted for a good while. It turned a wild and outgoing kid into a scared little boy who was afraid of everything and everyone. He was a real piece of shit and an alcoholic, so my mom would give me enough money to go to the nearby theater to stay there all day watching movies. It was pre-Columbine obviously, so they didn’t give a shit about carding people. I saw “Child’s Play“, the latest “Friday the 13th” and the latest “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and in those films, I found solace in how the survivors would go through hell and come out ahead. It made me feel safe and horror became the love of my life because of it. Seriously though, I love the horror genre as much as my kids. Because I was a horror (and just films in general) fanatic, I would write stories and sequels to films as a kid and I became enthralled with Stephen King and Clive Barker at an EARLY age. I was sent to the principal’s office for bringing and distributing a backpack of Stephen King novels to the kids because one girl’s mom had an issue with “The Tommyknockers.” So I read and wrote and always wanted to be a writer and a filmmaker.


How did you begin your journalistic career toward some of today’s top horror news outlets, such as Fangoria, Shock Till You Drop and being editor-in-chief at Icons of Fright?

I owe my whole career in horror journalism/film critique to Rob Galluzzo (Co-Founder of Icons of Fright and Senior Editor at Blumhouse.com). I had read Icons of Fright for years (it was started in 2004) and kind of became acquaintances with him online via Facebook and at the time he was working at Amoeba in LA, so I would talk to him when I was there for something and he was always so friendly and kind. He’s seriously one of the most giving individuals I know. Well one day, a few friends went to LA and I was stuck in Visalia doing something and it frustrating me that I wasn’t doing anything with my love for writing. I messaged Rob and asked him for advice on starting your own site. He said he would give me advice, or if I wanted to, I could just start writing for Icons of Fright. I was blown away. Here there was a site that I read for years, and now I was getting to write for them. As time went on, I was pretty crazy about being on top of Icons and Rob took a job at FEARnet (RIP), so he asked me to be the Editor in Chief and steer the ship, so to speak, and I did that for five years. It was because of Rob that I began my writing career and it was because of him that I was vouched to Rebekah McKendry (Then at Fangoria, now Editor in Chief of Blumhouse.com) at Fangoria to start writing for them as well and when it was because of Rebekah, that I vouched to Chris Alexander, who not only was running Fangoria at the time but started Delirium Magazine and in time, moved over to Shock Till You Drop. When Rebekah and Rob went to Blumhouse.com, they were nice enough to allow me to write for Blumhouse. So my career has been full of wonderful people. Those said individuals, as well as genre professionals, like Heather Buckley and Ken Hanley, have all been wonderful to me. As far as Icons of Fright, the site is kind of in sleep mode. I was offered the position of Senior West Coast Correspondent for Fangoria and we’re all so very busy with our other professional writing gigs, that it felt like a disservice to pay little attention to it and post stuff here and there, so we kind of just put it in sleep mode for the time being to focus on other things.

Rob Galluzo

Rob Galluzo

According to your IMDB.com page, you’re a self-proclaimed workaholic. Can you describe how you manage your time between contributing, being editor-in-chief, and producing films while juggling, if any, a personal life?

It’s quite difficult to be honest. I’m a divorced father of three (two of my kids live with me), I write for three sites and two magazines and I’m a filmmaker as well. I have three film projects in the works, all with my wonderful collaborators over at Sickening Pictures in Cleveland and one with Turnstyle films helping out. As with any film journalist, we’re sent quite a few films to review, we got press junkets and premieres, conduct interviews, etc. It’s fucking insane, but I love it…and a plus side, my kids love the genre, so they’re always watching the more friendly horror films with me.

What possessed you to pursue your own production company, Dexahlia Productions, in 2010, creating your own pieces of filmic art?

I started Dexahlia back in 2010 and began to make short films here and there, but in all honesty, none of them were that spectacular at all. I just made them with friends and such. The closest to being “happy” with one was one called “Damnation Woods,” which was a relationship drama that had a handful of scenes I REALLY liked in between my incompetence at the time haha. I put a lot of that on hold in favor of my writing career for some time, but after meeting Zach and BJ, decided to just do both.

Can you delve into the personal inspiration behind your current short “Love is Dead” and what compelled you make a film about the circumstance?

Yikes. The inspiration behind the film came from my own life and my former marriage. It was something that began as a really wonderful joining of similar spirits, but somewhere along the way, things got DARK. All on my side of things. I began to drink a LOT and had other issues I won’t list and it made me into somebody who was never physically abusive but angry a lot and I took that anger, which in all honesty was anger that came from hating myself at the time, and directed it at her. Things got crazy and she tried to take her own life and it really woke me up and made me realize that I had pushed somebody I cared about to the absolute brink. I felt disgusted with myself and HATED myself for a long time, something that eventually made things bad. We divorced but remained best friends (we’re still very close) and I wanted to kind of tell the story of that, in a somewhat fictional way. Also, as I’ve said a lot over the years in many conversations with people: John Carpenter is my God, but I also worship John Cassavetes. His films were always so raw and unhinged as if you felt like something was going to blow up at any time. Cassavetes was a major influence in “LOVE IS DEAD.”

How did you approach the creation of “Love is Dead” with the association of BJ Colangelo and Zach Schildwachte’s Sickening Pictures?

There were a few false starts with the film. I did a crowdfunded campaign on Kickstarter and got 95% to the goal but was just short of making it so we got nothing. We went to another crowdfunding venue and ended up getting, I think, 1/4 of the original budget, so I was pretty bummed. BJ has been a really wonderful friend of mine for years now and Zach and I became friends because of their personal relationship, so their professional relationship came into play as well eventually. Zach and I had written a feature script together (which we’re still going to make) and were trying to pitch that around LA for a while. When “LOVE IS DEAD’s” campaign ended, Zach and BJ offered to come aboard and FORCE me to make the film. They flew into LA and we made the film. They were and are two of the most talented people I know and I owe them so much. I love those crazy motherfuckers. Ps- BJ Colangelo is one of the best film journalists around as well.

How did Joanna Angel, Aaron Thompson, and Ruben Pla come to star in this short?

I was familiar with Aaron from his work in the Adult Film Business and, also, I saw him play bass once when he was in the band Fenix TX. He really fit the exterior of what was in my head and I just had a great feeling about the guy so I reached out to him. He read the script and signed on, saying he’d drink a bunch of Jack Daniels and listen to Nick Cave until shooting to get into character hahaha. Ruben did the film almost as a favor to me. He’s been such a huge supporter of my writing and I’ve known him through the horror community. He directed an EXCELLENT short film called “HEAD” (look it up, it’s awesome!) with Matt Mercer and I loved the hell out of that and just loved Ruben’s work in everything he’s been in. The guy can play anything. His work in “24” was great. I remember watching “INSIDIOUS” in the theater and thinking to myself “that guy has a presence to him.” So when it came time to cast the role of Michael, the psychiatrist, I asked Ruben if he’d be down and he had the shooting date open and came and did such a great job and was so very professional. I love that guy. Love him. Originally, we had a different actress cast as Mara and throughout the crowdfunding campaign and right up until three days before shooting, she was attached. There was something of a misunderstanding (nothing bad or drama-related, she’s absolutely great) and so we had to postpone shooting and literally at the same time, I got a text from BJ and an email from Aaron saying we should cast Joanna. Truth be told, I didn’t think Joanna would ever do it, so I had never even thought of asking her. When they mentioned it, I sent her the script, she signed on and we were good to go.

Being an actual couple off the camera, was there some coaching to get Angel and Thompson in the right mindset before the pouring of assorted emotions into the shower scene? Or how did Angel and Thompson prepare for their characters Mara and Peter?

I was worried that they would be able to go to those dark and sad places being that they were (and are) a real life couple. So I was nervous right up until the first take of the shower scene. It took literally ONE take for that nervousness to go away because, holy shit, were they both amazing. It broke all of our hearts to watch them act, they were so passionate and just genuine in their performances. I talked to them here and there mostly about altering the dialogue to what would feel more natural to them, but aside from that, they were all set to get dark right from the beginning. I’m still shocked by how great Joanna, Aaron and Ruben were. I watch the short and it makes me sad, in a good way. They did their job, they destroy the viewer.

I feel like Joanna Angel would be very enthusiastic about an emotional roller coaster of a story of this magnitude and a bit of a change of pace from her staple work. Was that the case along with the rest of the cast and crew being equally as enthusiastic?

Joanna and Aaron were both stoked to do something different and the crew were professional but giddy as fuck the entire time. I mean c’mon, it’s fucking Joanna Angel. There’s no playing around or lying. She’s a legend in her field and as huge fans of everything Burning Angel does, we all were excited to work with them. The best part for me, aside from the actual filming, was the times in which we would take a lunch break and just talk about stuff. We all are into the same things: bands, movies, etc., so it quickly became a tone of feeling more like you were making a film with friends. It led to us wanting to work with them again, which we are going to do.

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Joanna Angel and Aaron Thompson

Ruben Pla is a trained actor whose had roles in major productions such as “Insidious.” How was the dynamic between Pla and Aaron Thompson whose background is comprised of being a bartender, a musician, a screen printing business owner, and, most recently, a porn star?

They clicked right away. We were with Aaron for hours and hours before Ruben showed up for his scenes, so Aaron had all of his questions about the scene already figured out and such. When Ruben showed up, I had to surprise him with the fact that we had to change the scene from a scene of his character leading a men’s group to a one-on-one psychiatrist angle because of one of the actor’s having a heart attack!! Ruben literally took five minutes to alter his script, and was ready to go. He was dialed in and the two of them really just worked well together. It was great.

Even though “Love is Dead” completely tells Peter and Mara’s story in just over 10 minutes, there seems that there could have been an ample amount of content that might have been left untold. Your previous short “The Heart of Evil Things” also focused on problematic relationships. Could we expect another short, or perhaps a feature, in the future that would be a continuation, or as it’s own entity, that would extend more into the enduring human condition of struggling compatibility?

Yes, most definitely. Because of “LOVE IS DEAD,” I’ve kind of become the guy who casts porn stars in non-porn roles. My next two projects have adult film stars leading the cast and one of them is a continuation of the theme of a dysfunctional relationship. That one is more about accepting somebody for who they are and a look at a relationship within the adult film industry. I’m also working on something completely different and that’s probably what I’m going to be doing next. It’ll flip the southern noir thriller subgenre on its head. It’s kind of my cross between “Blood Simple” and “Bound.”

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Aside from deriving from personal experiences, what else drives or influences your creative process?

I’m just obsessed with how people talk and the power of words. That was why I called “LOVE IS DEAD” an emotional horror film. It’s about using words as a weapon and how they could be just as dangerous as knives or guns.

I read your blurb on Icons of Fright that you “adore all things [John] Carpenter,” but absolutely despise the Michael Myers and Laurie Strobe sibling connection in “Halloween 2.” I’m sure fans of “Halloween 2” and of yours could go toe-to-toe in a debate about the Myers’ legacy. Can you elaborate on your disgust with that film and discuss your thoughts on how Myers has progressed, or treated, over the years?

The “HALLOWEEN” franchise is like my baby in a lot of ways. I love it, but sometimes it does things that i don’t approve of or like. It’s like a child. The magic of the first film, which in my opinion is the greatest film EVER made, is the mystery of Michael Myers. He’s a pervert almost, watching the girls, stalking them for no reason other than Laurie dropped the key at the Myers house. It’s terrifying that a stranger would do that, that the person would stalk and kill people with no reason at all. The decision to make Laurie Michael’s sister just takes the mystery out of it and suddenly turns the entire series into that angle. It’s frustrating. That being said, HALLOWEEN 4 is still one of my FAVORITE films of all time, even with it being Michael trying to kill his niece, so I guess I’m a bit of a hypocrite. HALLOWEEN 3 is pure perfection and always has been. I’ve loved it since childhood. HALLOWEEN 5 is 70% terrifying and 30% off the rails crazy and the series never recovered. It just went down and down and down. I mean, in the Producer’s Cut of HALLOWEEN 6, Paul Rudd stops Michael with FUCKING MAGICAL RUNES. I want to start a band called, “Paul Rudd’s Magical Runes,” we’d rock. Luckily, the series is at Blumhouse now and with Jason Blum, Ryan Turek and John Carpenter involved in the development, I’m excited as hell for the next film.

Since you’re a John Carpenter fan, is it say to safe that your top three favorite movies of all time are Carpenter films?

Actually no. “HALLOWEEN” is my favorite film, but the other two go to Wes Craven’s “THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT” and “FRIDAY THE 13TH PT. IV.” Recent films like “BEFORE I DISAPPEAR”, “COMET” and “DARLING” are edging close to the top though.

What’s next on the horizon for Jerry Smith? Are there any future projects on your docket that you can discuss with us at this time? Or is there any projects that you’re not helming that you’re highly anticipating?

Just the projects I spoke of earlier in this interview, the relationship drama and the southern noir thriller. As far as projects I’m NOT helming, there’s a script I co-wrote with Zach Schildwachter that he’s going to direct that I am DYING to see happen. He’s such a talented director and it shows in his films “SCUM” and “GETTING OVER.” It’s another fucking weeeeeeird movie.

In conclusion, is there anything you would like to add or share with your readers, fans, or enemies?

Thank you to everybody who has read anything I’ve written or watched “LOVE IS DEAD.” The reception has been amazing and I couldn’t be happier or more grateful to have so many awesome people tell me it affected them in one way or another. As far as fans or enemies, I doubt I have either. I don’t have any enemies, at least on my part.

Bonus Question: For all those who experienced “Love is Dead,” I’m sure there is a bit of curiosity surrounding one particular scene. Considering two of your three actors, was the shower fellatio scene simulated or did Joanna Angel go full blown Chloë Sevigny on actor/director Vincent Gallo in “The Brown Bunny?”

Funny question that leads to a fun story. When we were filming, Ruben kind of pulled me aside and asked, “So uh, Jerry, I know that Joanna and Aaron are into the Adult Film Industry,…the fellatio scene isn’t going to be real, is it? I personally don’t really want to do porn.” and was so friendly about it but had to ask and I told him the truth, which I’ll tell you now: It’s fake. They’re just great actors and as far as a certain fluid shown in the film…that’s a secret I’ll keep.

I appreciate your time once again, Jerry. We hope to hear more from you and your production company soon in future film endeavors and look forward to reading more of your work as well.