An immigrant cabby named Luz stumbles dazed into a German police station, repeating a profane distortion of a religious prayer to a couple of baffled detectives. Meanwhile, in a nearby bar, a forwardly chatty woman is diving seductively into a spiel about her Catholic schoolgirl friend who just recently jumped out of her moving taxicab to a psychoanalysis specialist on the edge of his seat. Drunk enough to take advantage of, the Doctor falls for the woman’s alluring trap, beguiling him to do her bidding as an unwilling host. As the now possessed doctor arrives to evaluate Nora for the police, he instigates a hypnosis recreation of the details events leading up to Luz’s ravings and disillusions. What happens next goes beyond human comprehension and rational as the doctor desires more from the stupefied Luz than what meets the eye.
Undoubtedly a strong skiff of demonic peculiarity weathering forth against an unforgiving maelstrom of spiffy-glamourous and yacht-sized counterparts is Tilman Singer’s memorizing tale of demigod deception in “Luz.” As the German born filmmaker’s first written-and-directed full length feature film, a film school project shot entirely on 16mm color negative, Singer dazzles with a throwback grindhouse glow set ablaze with a neon flare that adds to the perilous seduction and violation of the mind and primal infatuation. “Luz’s” was filmed in Cologne, Germany, where Singer studied film at the Academy of Media Arts Cologne, during the production year of 2018 and saw success at various Germany festivals, including it’s debut at the Berlin Film Festival and the Fantasia Film Festival. The Academy of Media Arts Cologne also serves as the production company, as it was, after all, a school project, and listed as Kunsthochschule für Medien Köln (KHM).
“Luz” wouldn’t be what as staggering as it is if it wasn’t for the invested cast who brings Singer’s vision to the spectrum. Luana Velis’s seamless grasp of the editing has remarkable wealth when playing a disoriented cab driver coming in off the street and Velis as Luz, in the ebb and flow of reality when Dr. Rosinni (Jan Bluthardt) entrances her with a blend of hypnosis and psychoanalysis techniques, sustains character through various transitions present inside a large police board room, reality, and the subconscious recollection of places and events inside her mind that Singer constructions for visualization, not reality. Singer melds together places, people, and events, throwing audiences for loops and casting misleading signals and just where the hell our characters are gathered. Bluthardt is equally captivating post transformation, coming off like a calculated maniac, resolved in his wild role. Perhaps, my favorite of the cast list goes to Julia Riedler as Nora Vanderkurt, Luz’s icy former bedfellow from Catholic School who slithers into Dr. Rosinni’s ear like a bewitching asp while seeming like a normal bar patron, but Riedler’s spin on Vanderkurt breaks the construct beyond that of the sleazy barfly and into something more conniving, wicked, and alcohol infused while still steamy with sexual emissions. All three performances are keystones to “Luz” success while fellow cast mates Johannes Benecke, Lilli Lorenz, and Nadja Stubiger, offer some spot on support.
“Luz” summits fear with intrinsic performance art of hazy, but colorful, atmospherics and off-kilter shapes and lines, making the most routine settings feel unsettling. It’s a strong cinematography showcase by Paul Faltz who was able to frame and fright a scene from a sterile and fatigued, wood paneled office environment; essentially put, Faltz turned coal into a diamond while Singer brought a keg of European horror to the party. Unconventional, of course, with a profound arthouse quality about it, “Luz” is very much inspired by the European masters of horror, but pulls quite a bit from the vibrancy of American filmmaking too, pulling inspiration more noticeably from John Carpenter’s overwhelming sense of apocalyptic doom from such a scale down narrative and the terror looms like a chandelier hanging by a single thread just waiting from the startling crash of glass and metal. There are themes related Catholicism, homoeroticism, guilt, and obsession through the venomous innate nature of demon, as if unknowingly leaving an open invitation for evil by way of spiritual clairvoyance and Catholic defiance. Full of abstract visuals and melodious dialogue, “Luz” still burns the scary story lantern with a flickering of imminent existential combustion.
While the theatrical release has been officially canceled, “Luz” will still live on through the digital world, being released by Sharp Teeth Films, who released the POV slasher horror “You Are Not Alone,” on June 1st in the United Kingdom. With this being now a digital release, critiquing the audio and video quality will be limited to the artistic direction. Video-wise, Singer sought the use of a 16mm film stock with the speckle and grain texture of that beloved, yet enveloping imperfection and shooting in an anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio of 2.35:1, using an Arri Alexa and RED cameras that supported an anamorphic lenses. The result is phenomenal to digest with some serious depth when considering how small the sets are, turning mere pockets of space into the likes of grand ball rooms. The German, Spanish, and very little English dialogue tracks are clear and prominently abutted against a well adjusted ambience mix; in all, the audio package has good depth and range. There were no bonus features included with the digital screener. “Luz” is weird, mystifying, and can wriggle into your favor with a chilling essence taking a leisurely stroll along your back, propping up the hairs one strand at a time. Highly recommended.
In the small rural community of Devil’s Gate, Oregon, a boy and his mother disappear without a trace. FBI Special Agent Daria Francis spearheads the investigating to atone for a regretful previous child disappearance case. She’s accompanied by a local deputy, Colt Salter, to assist her. During her brief investigation upon arriving at Devil’s Gate, Agent Francis comes to the determination that Jackson Pritchard, the father and husband of the missing boy and mother, is directly involved in their sudden disappearance. The investigation turns from a seemingly straight forward, open and shut case to a colossal mystery that’s beyond their comprehension when arriving at the religious dogmatist’s boarded up and disturbing cladded farm house where unearthly forces lay claim to the Pritchard family home for sinister reasons. With one of the beings caged in his basement, the desperate Pritchard seeks an exchange with the creatures he labels as the fallen angels in attempt to regain his wife and son, but as the night falls, trapping Agent Francis and Deputy Salter with Prichard inside the residence, they become surrounded by the fire in the sky creatures aimed to reap not only the world, but their souls.
Like an enigmatic report straight from the non-redacted portions of a nail-biting X-Files case, “Devil’s Gate” is a we are not alone sci-fi horror film from 2017 under the apocalyptic eye of director Clay Staub and co-written by video game plot scriber, Peter Aperlo. The considerably financed project is the first feature film for both filmmakers in their respective roles with Staub having served as an assistant director on other paranormal plotted projects like Zack Snyder’s heavily praised remake of George Romero’s flesh-eating zombie classic, “Dawn of the Dead,” and Matthijs van Heijningen’s underrated “The Thing,” a prequel to John Carpenter’s film of the same title. One quality that we can all can be pleased about is that Staub carries over from his previous experience as a genre filmmaker participate is the use of gore in the “Devil’s Gate” because, honestly just by looking at the cover and reading the plot, the bloodletting expectation was low on the totem pole. Staub doesn’t unload a gratuitous splatterfest of alien and human entrails, but subtly sanctions the right amount of extrasensory chest bursting and finger snapping goo that plays an ill-fated role of circular or motivational circumstances for the characters.
Putting the pieces of the Pritchard mystery together is Agent Francis who is a to the point and tough national law enforcement officer with a bleeding heart complex after her very first assigned case went tragically sour that looms an unexplainable root cause cloud over her straight blonde hair. Desperate to cure her past, Agent Francis rushes into Devil’s Gate, bypassing the notable chicken fried steak meal offered by Deputy Salter upon her tarmac arrival and defying the local Sheriff’s heed to not interview husband Jackson Pritchard, that sorely causes her to land in the virtually the same predicament of just trying to get the right thing done no matter the unclear ancillary evidence. “12 Monkey’s” television star Amanda Schull spearheads the character with the characteristics aforementioned with drab appeal, lacking the emotion and the intensity her character is supposed to be exhibit when trying to solve a case of personal redemption as well as the fear from an higher ominous power that can shoot lightning down from the sky and flash velociraptor toe-claw sized fangs. Colt Salter might be a small time, Podunk deputy, but the born and raised Devil’s Gate officer can match wit with his FBI counterpart. Salter strikes me as a character who doesn’t stray far from home, mentioning various times, in various ways, his parallel path to high school friend Jackson Pritchard. Shawn Ashmore, from Joe Lynch’s “Frozen,” opposites his costar Schull like Mulder and Scully type as well as an all-around good guy who happens to stray from his protocol path once Agent Francis puts her federal fingers into his already investigated investigation. Like his performance in “Frozen,” “X-Men” franchise, and even in FOX’s television thriller “The Following,” Ashmore is a pretty solid actor, showing a range of emotion that transcends him from easygoing deputy to mortality fearing when mankind’s on the verge of extinction comes into the equation. An equally solid performance by Milo Ventimiglia, who recently starred in “Creed II,” really sells the crazy portray by Jackson Pritchard, a God-fearing man with a long lineage of misunderstood family heritage that leads him to the uncanny bombshell that has been bestowed upon his family farm. Ventimiglia, in his roughest, toughest country twang, creates such an anxiety-riddled and frantic character that unravelling his fate is not too clear which is refreshing to be able to retain mystery to a role as we can kind of figure out how Agent Francis and Deputy Salter when fair in the end game. Rounding out the cast is Bridget Regan (“John Wick”), Javier Botet (“Slender Man”), and “Star Trek: The Next Genergation’s” Jonathan Frakes, still sporting that iconic beard even if it has grayed, as the town Sheriff.
In spite of some really cool visuals, especially of the man underneath the mask, Javier Botet, inside a ghoulishly white extraterrestrial suit that only his elongated and thin body (and perhaps also Doug Jones’) could snuggly fit into, “Devil’s Gate” tells a narrative that hails from a lot of re-spun material. Whether intentional or not, viewers more than likely won’t be able to help themselves as they’ll eagerly point to the television screen and say, ““Independence Day” did that first,” or exclaim, “didn’t Donald Sutherland star in the same kind of thing???” I know I did. However, Staub and Aperlo don’t completely ape the concepts that surely haven’t inspiring them, making the effort more endearing, and visually crafted a well-blended plot into an enjoyable and captivating story; a story that has been mostly devoid of underlining messages and symbolism other than the themes of religious zealots are extremely bad for the world and living with past regrets can be hazardous for your health if not properly accessed. “Devil’s Gate” focuses more directly on just entertaining another version of visitors from another world and how those no-so-little-green-men play an assimilating role into humanity.
Umbrella Entertainment releases “Devil’s Gate” onto a region 4 DVD presented in widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The vast Midwestern landscape with the foreboding rolling clouds stretches from top to bottom with an exact sharpness and crisp from the digital picture. The textures in the broad, yet barren-esque fields look especially detailed, more so with the wind and brownish-yellow color. Speaking of color, the hue is a filter of shadowed purple and on a sepia side that works the dread atmosphere. The English 5.1 Dolby audio track has ample range and depth. Lightning strikes boom equally from the five channels, alien shrieks trembles through, and the dialogue is not obstructed. Surprisingly, there are no bonus features with this release as the Stateside counterpart even has a trailer in the extras. There isn’t a static menu either as the film goes right into play feature mode. c
Mike, a mild mannered, middle-aged man, notices a young couple moving into the vacant house next door. His mundane marriage roots out a curiosity infatuation with Jenna, a young and beautiful woman, next moving in. Jenna and her husband Scott, a fast talking exotic car salesman, have recently only have been married for the short time of four months and Mike feels something isn’t quite normal with Scott when he witnesses and overhears violent behavior from his new neighbor toward his wife. Concerned for her wellbeing, Mike, at first, attempts to interject the best way he can without over stepping his bounds by offering to assist with Jenna’s work-in- progress garden or just chatting over the yard dividing wall when Scott isn’t around, but when he assumes things become physically abusive between them, Mike is forced to do more than just mind his own business at the request of his wife and friends. Is Mike willing to risk everything, such as his long term marriage, in order to help a complete and total stranger he barely knows?
“The Neighbor” is a dramatic thriller from the 2011 crime drama “Catch .44” writer-director Aaron Harvey co-written with first time writer, long time editor, Richard Byard. Harvey and Byard attempt to explore the very common situation of what do you do when you’re exposed to marital violence and how much involvement one should put themselves into assisting the battered party. In short, you’re morally obliged to dial call 9-1-1 and report spousal abuse, but to ensure entertainment value for us viewers, the filmmakers pen Mike as something far worse – a concerned spectator. Instead, Mike wallows about by attending to his garden, working on his technical writing from home, or slicing tomatoes in the kitchen all the while being a part of the problem of the domestic violence next door and it’s not as if the violence is even in question as Jenna flat out tells Mike that Scott has a behavior problem whenever he drinks too much. Right then and there, Mike should be ringing the police the next moment a flare up occurs. Mike is the epitomized reason audiences would be vacuumed into the story as each and every one of us could potentially be a passive Mike in a similar situation.
One of the more underrated actors in the industry today, William Fichtner, steps into the comfy slippers of the garden trowel wielding Mike. The “Armageddon” and “Drive Angry” Fichtner’s chiseled and unique facial features typically casts him as hard nose characters – military types, villains, etc., – but “The Neighbor” offers Fichnter a chance to play normalcy. However, Fichtner’s approach to a house husband bears an uncanny resemblance to Michael Myers from John Carpenter’s “Halloween.” With stiff, straight arms by his sides, soulless eyes, and an absent personality, Mike has the gait and the expressions of the William Shatner masked psychopath that’s churns out an awkward performance that blurs the character’s intentions between either being righteous and obsessed. The good looking couple next door are played by Australian born Jessica McNamme and Michael Rosenbaum, also of “Catch .44.” Rosenbaum plays an impeccable dick so well there’s a surefire chance that his character, the fast talking exotic car salesman, will be disliked and as a stark contrast, Namee’s channels a sweet disposition that surfaces the question, why these two are even together? Yet, the Jenna wish-washy stance with Scott makes her frustrating which Mike takes with an astonishing grain of salt. Jean Louisa Kelly, Colin Woodell, and Erich Anderson “Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter” costar.
With a solid cast with a few quirks, “The Neighbor,” under the directorial eye of Aaron Harvey, should have shaped up to be an apprehensive, nail-biting thriller. Instead, some aspects of the Harvey’s film didn’t feel right. For instance, Lisa (Jean Louisa Kelly) and Mike’s marriage was never rocky; the union might have been stagnant from just the day-in-day-out repetitiveness and the longevity of knowing someone from an extended period of time, but there’s a scene when Lisa abruptly decides to throw Mike out of their house. The moment is so random and so unexpected the momentum and the weight of the story changes, pivoting too acutely to compute why Lisa would doghouse Mike over his justifiable concerns over Jenna’s safety without prior marital complexities between them. The entire film almost feels like it’s from Mike’s perspective as everyone, from his friends to his wife and son, seem to unacknowledged his presence whereas Jenna brightens, smiles, and welcomes him in conversation, advice, and even a little intimacy, but that may or may not have transpired.
The Michael Bruce Pictures and Blood Moon Creative produced “The Neighbor” is currently in select theaters from Vertical Entertainment. With a runtime of 105 minutes, “The Neighbor” will drag out under an engaging plot that ultimately goes sluggish at the tail end and even though brilliant and colorful in his prior work, Fichtner is a complete shell of his former characters as a expressionless zombie softly hellbent on saving a train wreck of a young woman from her volatile husband. Overall, “The Neighbor” falls flat to technically write how to right a situation without being caught in the middle of the situation.
Hellbent on being the first to discover something big between 1000-feet, talented marine biologist and ecologist, Olive Crown, constructs a convincing case in a video hiring application to test a deep sea diving suit invented by Dr. Fletcher, but a harrowing encounter with monstrous creature at 2500 feet nearly claims Olive’s life. Blamed for a botch dive and unable to remember the incident, Olive has been fired from her dream position, but when she double checks the dive suit for evidence of what might have happened, she discovers an alien substance, an egg-like object, attached to the outer layer and smuggles it home. The egg hatches to birth a blood thirsty, Cthulhu being that has marked Olive as in a symbiotic relationship as protector and mother. Olive senses everything the creature does, even it’s hunger, and caves in to her discovery’s need to feed with those who antagonize Olive and her creature baby, but at an alarming rate, the life form grows into a mammoth creature and Olive might be losing the perspective of who is really in control.
“The Creature Below” puts a spin on a popularly wild H.P. Lovecraft tale and adds a notch into the belt of the Cthulhu mythos. From director Stewart Sparke in his first feature film comes one woman’s tragically macabre endowment that runs amok through the uninteresting confines of her own life and obliterate it from within. Co-written by Paul Butler, the British Cthulhu feature, “The Creature Below,” melds together a very grand unearthly story into the restrictive walls of an unwanted love triangle Olive’s involved in while dipping toes into also being a pre-Romero zombie film with the automata slave. Though very modest in story and budget, “The Creature Below” is an itsy-bitsy speck in a bigger mythological genre and that’s usually the case for indie Cthulhu flicks, as they should be, because giving a little mystery to Lovecraft’s myth tends to build worlds later, sparks the imagination aflame, and leaves a lasting impression long after the movie is over.
Anna Dawson stars as Olive Crown, creature’s foster parent, and Dawson’s first impression of Olive emits a fierce, go-getter ecologist, looking to make a name for herself in the deep dive exploration field. That egotistical drive tapers off a bit once she’s canned for botched dive, delivering a more humble and reserved Olive Crown, but Dawson puts on the sunken-eyed, icy-cold skin that’s clammy and deadlike in order to fulfill the infant Cthulhu’s bidding. Daniel Thrace embraces the lovably sweet boyfriend, Matthew, whose sensible, charming, and overall nice guy. The pair are complete oil and water, a welcoming dynamic, when Olive’s rationality goes off track. Olive and Matthew are really the only two developed characters as, disappointingly, three considerable major characters don’t build too much of a reputation to warrant their value, especially with Olive’s sister, Ellie, played by Michaela Longden. There’s something more between Ellie and Matthew that doesn’t quite hit the nail on the head and there’s also more to her staying with her sister, Olive, that the audience is not aware of and the scenes where Olive comments on her sister’s freeloading just loses all it’s credibility. The other two actors, roles awarded to Johnny Vivash and Zacharee Lee, are more involved in Olive’s deep sea dive and bring more of a well rounded antagonistic or betrayal personality to the table.
Sparke doesn’t linger too long on the creature, shielding it mostly behind a plastic tarp with a nude façade and that’s, perhaps, more in line with the micro budget constraints. In any case, Sparke focuses the story around Olive’s paranoia and obsession with the creature and with her boyfriend and the bitterness between him and her Sister, Ellie, seemingly toward Olive. Dave Walter has composed from start to finish a low and slow synth soundtrack, that’s familiar to a slowly anticipating heartbeat, and really heightens Olive’s spiraling paranoia similar to that of Ennio Morricone’s work on John Carpenter’s 1982 remake entitled “The Thing” where the eerily sounds of a personified isolation breaches every corner of your body, mind, and the dark room you’re in and all you can hear is that thump…thump…thump in a chest vibrating synchronicity of tones. While the soundtrack is riveting throughout, the story becomes a bit sluggish around the midsection in the sense that space and time don’t exists and Olive’s encounters with Dr. Fletcher, Dara, and various others, are halted to develop any kind of affluence amongst each other or with the audience. Even the ending, which I do adore on a certain level, bares the mark of being incomplete and devoid of substantiating that monolithic ending. There is some post-view satisfaction with the blend of practical and computer generated special effects and as I reflect on the film as a whole, to display a species from birth to adulthood, Sparke and his special effects team had amazing results that are fanned out well enough to leave a lasting impression of the unearthed creature’s visceral and intelligible girth.
Breaking Glass Pictures with Dark Rift Films in association with High Octane Pictures release “The Creature Below” onto DVD. The 16:9 widescreen presentation of this sci-fi horror thriller explores a sleek and clean, with a hint of being just a little hazy, picture that puts forth the appropriate dark grey and blue tone for an underwater or above water creature feature. The English Dolby 5.1 sound’s slightly muffled, but solid. Special features include a behind-the-scenes, deleted scenes, “Rats” a short film, and a Frightfest Q&A. Stewart Sparke’s “The Creature Below” is not perfect and does have appalling, laughable moments, but underneath the surface is a UK film that’s budget-busting bold and aims to be a goliath in an indie market.
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.
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.
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.”
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.