GUY’S GUY: An Interview with Gian Keys of THE LOVE WITCH

thelovewitch_kingofficeInterviewee Gian Keys (above), appearing as Detective Griff Meadows in Anna Biller‘s latest film, THE LOVE WITCH. / Image rights belong to respective owners and not DRC.

The Love Witch marks filmmaker Anna Biller’s triumphant return to the spotlight, after previous genre hit Viva. Find screening dates here.
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With an incredible Rotten Tomatoes score of 95%, The Love Witch “offers an absorbing visual homage to a bygone era, arranged subtly in service of a thought-provoking meditation on the battle of the sexes.” — Rotten Tomatoes, 2016. 
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DRCYou’re no stranger to genre acting. Heading into the new year in the coming months, we are seeing a gradual push for independent cinema becoming the norm. What’s your take on the current state of mainstream cinema?
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KEYSFirst, I’d like to say, ‘Thank you,’ for giving me an opportunity to be a part of DRIPPING RED CINEPHILE.  It seems the big studios do a lot of comic book movies and sequels.  I’ve heard it’s because there’s less risk involved, which makes sense from a business standpoint.  Although, it could mean fewer original movies being made, which can be frustrating to those of us who enjoy a great story surrounded by beautiful cinematography and fantastic performances.  I’ll admit, I do enjoy my fair share of car chases and crazy CGI effects, but I usually prefer a film with more substance, layers, a message, and not simply loud noises to distract me from everyday life. 
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DRCAnna Biller is quite the powerhouse filmmaker. The Love Witch brings a new type of narrative to audiences potentially unaware of the forgotten genre films of the 1960s. What was your initial reaction after reading Ms. Biller’s script for the film? Tell us a little about the creative process with her.
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KEYSWell, I wasn’t sure what to think, because I’d never read anything quite like it. So, I had to read it again.  I definitely liked the character I played — Detective Griff Meadows — because I can relate to him on so many levels.  I spent four years in the U.S. Air Force, so I’m familiar with the idea of having strict rules to follow and being a rather straight-laced kinda guy.  The more Anna and I talked about the project, the more I could see what she was going for.  Initially, it’s difficult to see how all the colors were going to come into play, but Anna had a  clear vision of what she wanted and she explained it very clearly.  I wasn’t overly familiar with movies from the ’60s and ’70s, so Anna gave me a list of films to watch.  This played a big part in helping me to understand how she wanted Griff Meadows to be played.  I’d say we worked very well together.
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DRCGriff, the primary male-lead in The Love Witch, arguably represents the power of masculinity and the early-1960s fear of challenging the patriarchy. His character initially reinforces the stereotype of men being dominant over women, but later changes in the second half of the film. How did you mentally approach the role? In your opinion, what does his character represent?
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KEYS:  I’ve learned a lot from my acting coach, Joe Palese. He talks about how important it is for characters to have a an arch during a film, instead of being one-note throughout the entire piece.  So, things that happen to Griff Meadows need to affect and change him in some way.  He’s a dominant male from the ’60s, but he’s also quite human.  I wanted to combine how men were perceived on film during that era, but also include the human aspect that exists in all eras.  I think he represents a certain type of man — the rugged, masculine, guy’s guy who was raised properly and taught the importance of being honest and doing the right thing.  He also represents the traditional male who’s in charge and probably uses the philosophy of, ‘It’s my way or the highway.’
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DRCThe Love Witch directly challenges the very concept of sexuality, in its unabashed disconnect of sexual physicality and actual romantic connection. Tell us a little about what the character of Elaine, the witch herself, represents, to you, about ‘sexuality.’
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KEYSAh, yes, sexuality.  Well, sexuality can be weird, awkward, and uncomfortable at times.  Elaine is young, and she’s simply trying to figure out what works for her.  Men and women are quite different, so I think it’s great she’s trying to understand how men tick.  However, in the process…she ends up killing a few.  Uh oh, is that a spoiler alert?  Elaine may have underestimated herself.  I don’t believe she needed any ‘love magic’ to attract Griff Meadows. 
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DRCThe film has been getting insane press and amazing reviews in the past several months. With a bigger spotlight being placed on indie genre cinema, what other types of ‘genre film’ would you like to see hit the big screen? Any dream roles or types of characters you’d like to play in the future?
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KEYSI’d like to see more Film-Noir.  I recently saw La La Land, which I really enjoyed, so maybe a bit more from the Musical genre.  After seeing Ryan Gosling in La La Land, I think it’d be a heck of a lot of fun to learn to sing and dance for a musical.  I took several months of voice training for The Love Witch, so I’m well on my way to singing. Ha-ha!  I’d also like to do a gritty Western, like some of the old Clint Eastwood movies.  I took four lessons on horseback riding for The Love Witch, so I’m halfway there to ropin’ and ridin’.
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DRCYou recently co-created an original series — F***in’ Actors. Obviously a comedy. Tell us a little about the series, and how we can surely get hooked. Where’d the initial concept come from, and what can we see from your character on the series?
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KEYSWell, F**KIN’ ACTORS was originated by myself and my friend, Ashton Bingham.  Ashton’s great with comedy.  We were both in the same acting class, and I approached him on putting together some short comedy scenes, so I could put together a comedy acting reel.  He then got the idea  that we do more with it and possibly create a series.  Actors, and many of the things actors do in order to be successful, are quite bizarre, especially to those who don’t know exactly how the industry works.  We essentially set out to make fun of ourselves doing the varied things actors do.  Ashton and I are very different.  We’re similar to the characters Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum play in the Jump Street movies.  A bit of the blind leading the blind.  My character, Chase Anderson, is very high-strung and intense.  He’s like the bull in the China shop, whereas Ashon’s character is far more mellow. We decided to enter our series into a few film festivals, and the next thing we knew, we’d won six awards for Best Web Series.  It blew our minds.  Our main platform is YouTube.  If you type in ‘F**KIN” ACTORS,’ all seven episodes will pop up. 
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DRCWhat can we expect to see from Gian Keys in the future? Any other upcoming projects we’ll get to see on the big screen?
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KEYSGian Keys is working his way up the Hollywood acting ladder.  The Love Witch is the biggest role I’ve had, and it’s leading to some wonderful connections and opportunities.  It’s a bit early to mention projects, because I don’t want to jinx myself.  Ha-ha! Not that I’m superstitious or anything.  Later today, I’ll be doing an interview with Huffington Post about The Love Witch and my career, so I’m quite excited about that.  Gian will continue to pound the pavement and beat the bushes, in order to become a super successful actor.
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DRCLastly, we have to ask — if your character in The Love Witch were to get involved with magic or witchcraft, what would his spell be? To go a step further, what would Gian Keys’ spell be, in real life?
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KEYSGriff Meadow’s spell of choice would be a ‘truth’ spell.  He’d like to be able to tell if anyone is lying, which would help him put away the ‘bad guys.’  Gian’s spell of choice would be a fountain of youth spell — which probably isn’t a spell — but then, his family and friends would be around forever.
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To follow Keys’ career, be sure to check in with his Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram/ DRC thanks Mr. Keys for his time, and wishes him a long career filled with success.

LURKING IN THE SHADOWS: The Return to SUBSTANCE in Horror Cinema

DRC writer Tyler Keeton voices support for the current state of horror cinema, in this never-before-published essay. His argument examines two of the most substantial recent genre offerings — Jennifer Kent‘s The Babadook & The Soska Sisters‘ American Mary — and offers hope for a return to merit and credibility within the realm of horror. Read on below.

☣ Any screen-cap images used within the body of the essay belong to their respective owners and not DRC.

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Horror films are undeniably a staple of the American (and arguably universal) cinematic identity. Not only does horror cinema provide entertainment and exciting thrills, but also draws in a massive amount of annual revenue at the box office. This being said, the genre is also greatly discredited. Shelley Stamp Lindsey explains that the genre contains “perverse social relations that breed monstrosity” (280). Conversely, 2014 was a wildly successful year for horror cinema, as it showcased the release of director Jennifer Kent’s independent endeavor, The Babadook. Kent’s film brought attention to a return to the classic era of horror-centered Hollywood, as it contains a deeper commentary on the family structure and maternal identity. The film was made for $2 million and made over $4.9 million in profit. Kent’s name has transcended since the initial release of The Babadook, as she calls attention to the forgotten merit of horror filmmakers in relation to cinematic-societal standing. This examination forces discussion of the efforts of horror filmmakers, especially females (focusing on Kent, as well as Jen and Sylvia Soska), to bring horror cinema to a place of substance and credibility that it so deserves. The academic identity, astounding narrative, and gender roles found in The Babadook (2014) and American Mary (2012) give the genre, in the case of these two films, credibility in relation to film criticism. To begin searching for a regeneration of defining horror cinema, however, one must first address the true identity of what type of individual constitutes a horror fan. Maybe it is the estranged brother or sister that has lost all connection with the family, or perhaps the oddball sitting in the back of an English 200 course, headphones blasting. One might assume a horror fan to be the wacked-out uncle that comes around once or twice a year and hugs everyone for a little too long. Despite popular opinion, the answer is most likely found within the individual diving into this essay. Esteemed writer and professor of literature Carol Clover argues in her critically acclaimed film studies book, Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film, that the horror audience is much broader than one would expect or assume. This audience branches out to both genders – boys, girls, men, and women – of all ages. She explains that horror “theater screenings usually hold a specific division of an audience: male-female couples of various ages, young men, frequently in groups but also solo, solo “rogue males” (older men of ominous appearance and/or reactions); and adolescent girls in groups” (6) that never seem to stop talking. But she also points out that perhaps the largest audience of horror cinema is the average male or female, sitting at home…alone. Horror cinema does not follow suit to implicated limitations placed upon young men and women as to who can or how to watch and understand its works. It is its own entity of celestial misunderstanding. In response to this inability to effectively communicate the power of horror, modern filmmakers, such as Kent and the Soska sisters, are expanding the realm of the cinematic experience for not only horror fans, but also those with little to no interest in the genre. Their works extend beyond the limitations of a “genre film” and cross over into critical analysis territory. No matter what happens to the characters of either film, life must go on, and everyone must face the reality that existence is sometimes grim. One can choose to accept this and tackle the concept of mortality with a toothy grin, or choose to drown in a society of working for an unseen political entity.

Horror cinema (at large) has quite a bit to say about the dynamics of a traditional family structure. While lasting marriage is still commonplace in modern America, divorce rates have been riding the waves of governmental granting and moral understanding for years, and do not seem to be making a departure anytime soon. Single-parenting is also a high-risk concept for all involved; the child suffers the loss of a balanced familial upbringing and understanding, and the single parent suffers the loss of a partner with which to share memories, advice, and emotional (as well as carnal) satisfaction. In his Films in Review article entitled, “Deadly is the Female,” Michael Brashinsky explains that “horror films are to an observer of culture what frogs are to the medical student: dissecting them displays the anatomy of the culture behind them better than with any other genre. Every smart horror film is rooted in the dread of something larger than its screen image” (1). The Babadook, which quite literally brings a grim children’s book to reality, focuses on the relationship of Amelia and Samuel, a mother and son that are both falling apart after the death of their husband and father. The film moves past the initial objective of chilling the audience with its frightening monster, and instead serves as a direct commentary on single parenting and the unhealthy levels of control that mothers might instill within themselves if not careful. Kent was recently quoted in The Washington Post as saying, “I feel like a lot of the people who make horror actually don’t understand its depth and its power. Unbeknownst to themselves, they’re looking down on the genre. I also think a lot of horror is made cynically, and by that I mean that it’s made to make money” (2). While this is true in some cases, Kent set out to do the exact opposite. Her purpose, as also explained by Kent herself, was to “redefine horror” as the extraordinary terror that lies in everyday life – and depict it within an artistic, credible manner.

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The Babadook centers on a menacing children’s pop-up storybook that comes to life. Chapter-books and children’s stories are so often associated with childhood innocence, development, and installation of friendships. In her essay for Metro journal, writer Briony Kidd discusses the meaning of such a creature in modern horror: “The Babadook represents the dreaded unknown, the Other. But at the same time, there’s something very familiar about him, evoking the sense of a communal childhood memory or a half-remembered nightmare” (8). While the origin of Amelia’s deeply-rooted resistance to affection is never fully explained one way or the other (within the confines of on-screen visuals), viewers do know that her current state of depression and longing has to do with the death of her husband and her feeling of guilt in relation to not being able to raise Samuel in the same way his classmates are being shaped and molded. A viewer of the film likely assumes that Amelia’s guilt is a resurfacing of childhood trauma, in which her own parents either fought over how to raise and teach her, or even abandoned hope of Amelia herself having a normal, healthy life. Kent’s choice of direct ambiguity in relation to maternal guilt is nearly a direct reflection on the underdeveloped scientific studies on separation anxiety between new mothers and their babies. While some mothers feel guilty for leaving their children unattended for the most insignificant sliver of time, others become irate at the thought of this new being entering their lives and taking over their own daily tasks and responsibilities. One might make the argument that Amelia sees her own childhood within the pages of “Mister Babadook,” the children’s story she reads to Samuel in the film. The sense of community associated with scary texts and familiar ghost stories as rites of passage is quite a strong force on its own. Perhaps Amelia reminisces on the lack of companionship she herself faced as a child, and seeks out the replacement of a childhood friend in her own son, Samuel. Together, the two bring the story to life. While not a clean-cut answer to the occasion of the film’s narrative, Kent was clear in not limiting her story to one single interpretation. Amelia and Samuel could be undergoing a literal haunting, or one conjured up in the recesses of creative imagination.

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Continuing its argument on the topic of single-parenting, The Babadook depicts its young protagonist, Samuel, stepping up to serve as the other half of the parental unit. At several points throughout the film, young Samuel attempts to save and stop the degradation of his mother’s sanity by tending to his own needs, as well as the needs of his mother. He keeps reminding Amelia of the importance of her sleep, which, in turn, results in Amelia switching into defense mode (heightened by the film’s dark genre, of course) and lashing out at him. Pat Gill writes for the Journal of Film & Video that “the young people” in horror films “are smart, protect the weak, tend to the wounded, go back into known peril to help their friends, and risk their lives to save the group. In short, they are parental” (5). The issue in The Babadook is more complex than a simple misunderstanding of parental roles, however. Carefully wrapped in the delicacy of a brilliant marketing campaign, Kent’s film encompasses the fears of any single parent (or mother, specifically). The Babadook explores the feelings of inadequacy a single parent may have about his or her child having the necessary elements of an upbringing to be deemed acceptable in the modern world and become a functioning member of society. When Samuel and Amelia experience trauma, it is nothing more than a broad hypothetical situation. Childhood trauma is something that is universal and essentially indefinable. “Trauma,” according to the American Psychological Association, is defined as “a direct personal experience of an event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury, or other threat to one’s physical integrity” (463). Perhaps Kent was even going as far as to apply the concept of “trauma” to any negative situation, let alone her specific tale of childhood woe.

The emotional appeal of a film like The Babadook is by and large an essential aspect of narrative storytelling in horror cinema. While serving and functioning as a “horror” film, the film relishes in the traditional tropes of cinematic drama and offers up some refreshing modernist approaches to single-parent life. Scott Woodcock writes that “the appeal of horror may be partially grounded in coping with underlying desires or anxieties for which violent fiction somehow serves as a kind of therapy” (9). The goal of cinema, from its meager beginnings, is to provide an escape to the average spectator or audience. For a brief moment, or an average span of two to three hours, viewers are able to leave their own lives at the theater door and submerge themselves into a completely new world. However, one must not forget the reason why viewers connect to a film in the first place. Storytelling is the most advanced coding system for communication, and adding visuals to a story only provides the listener (or in this case, the spectator) with even more incentive to invest his or her time and concentration. Woodcock also adds that, “viewers find it fascinating how they can become so emotionally affected by horrific imagery” (8). One can argue that viewers are not necessarily affected by the imagery itself, but the idea of placing oneself into the world of the story and calling the shots as to what to do and how to escape or solve the issue at hand. Action/adventure, dramatic, and even comedic cinema have all reigned supreme for years in regards to emotional investment, but filmmakers like Kent are providing horror fans with the hope of redirecting critical attention to the underbelly of horror narrative.

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Equally as important, the 2012 film American Mary, directed by twin sisters Jen and Sylvia Soska, revolves around a failed med student trying to reclaim her life and rise above her deep pool of student loan debt. She begins performing underground body modification operations on the black market to provide a steady income, and, in turn, establishes a name for herself in the black market medical community. Her clients – arguably the most important anti-heroes in recent horror releases – are the outcasts, the freaks. These “outcasts” are the ones society has labelled as “too different.” The film sets out to show the audience that everyone is different – and though we may not understand why they do what they do, it is important to accept each other as individual human beings. The life force that connects us is not merely defined by a surgical snip here and there, but internally, we all appear the same. The filmmakers, Jen and Sylvia Soska, were interviewed by NPR in October of 2012, and explained: “If someone gets breast implants or gets a face-lift, you can say it’s for themselves, and it’s for their self-esteem, but it’s also building into what society accepts as a form of beauty. They’re not doing it just because it’s something they purely enjoy. They’re doing it because they’re fitting into what everyone wants you to look like.” American Mary had a limited theatrical run. The two sisters argue that it is long past due to redefine horror as a credible source of narrative storytelling. And it appears, from critical acclaim across the board – including praise from literary Filmmaker magazine and individual film critics alike – that the sisters are doing just that: turning horror into an exploration of the depravity of society as a whole. Horror is a genre that anyone and everyone can examine, soak in, and enjoy for themselves.

The protagonist of American Mary serves as a femme fatale figure, or even somewhat of a succubus, in that (after a traumatic sexual assault) she uses her physical appearance and presence as a means of elevating herself to the next level of her financial gain and revenge towards her rapist. Professor Mark Jancovich, writing for the European Journal of American Culture, discusses the possible function of a femme fatale character. He explains that “while the femme fatale is often supposed to speak to male fantasies and fears, this figure operates as a nostalgia for something that never existed,” (145) meaning that the “femme fatale” resulted from a lack of feminine independency on the silver screen. As one might know, during World War II, women were forced to take on the roles that were traditionally associated with the work of their male counterparts (factory jobs, assembling positions, etc.). This ultimately opened doors to modern feminism and raising awareness and appreciation of the female power. When the soldiers returned home to meet their busybody housewives, many were afraid of the newly-claimed voice their spouses were so proud to share. Thus, the femme fatale character was inspired: a female, full of power and prowess, which was capable of killing a man with the slightest of ease. While a femme fatale is often used as an antagonist, the Soska sisters do the exact opposite in American Mary. Mary’s physical embodiment of youth and sexual desire leads to a near cult-like following from her medical clients. Her clients look up to her, and one might even go as far as to say that the clients envy her, as they all want to be accepted and treated with attentive respect. Mary has the look, confidence, and admiration (even fear) from others that anyone might want to acquire as a young man or woman – all, essentially, without much force or work. The Soskas’ depiction of a young woman as a promising (and prominent) medical figure also directs viewers’ attention, unashamedly, to the fact that women are working just as hard as men to take over the medical scene. American Mary highlights the efforts of intelligent young females all over the globe, especially in America, to voice their intelligence and, in turn, prove the legitimacy of their studies.

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American Mary directors Jen and Sylvia Soska are, ironically, Canadian born and raised. This makes the title of the film all the more interesting, in determining why such an explicit emphasis is placed on clarifying its setting. One would obviously assume a certain critique of American culture is being made. Andre Loiselle, in a Brno Studies in English article entitled, “Canadian Horror, American Bodies,” discusses comments that the Soska sisters made themselves. In the article, he quotes them as saying, “it’s such a bizarre American thing that you can be rich and powerful and you can have everything but you have the ability to manipulate the way you look. It’s a bizarre value system…it can’t not be American Mary” (133). Any filmmaker knows that he or she must be careful when analyzing and critiquing certain cultural values and habits, but the Soska sisters appear to be opening doors for future filmmakers to rid themselves of fear and hiding behind governmental approval or societal understanding. Loiselle also states that the film “undoubtedly functions as a feminist critique of patriarchy and its relentless distortions of the female body” (133). Setting the film in America and including the nationality of Mary herself in the title of the film directly links the Soska sisters’ push for the value of the powerful female mind with the idea that one does not necessarily need to be from a particular region of the world to raise awareness on its lacking fundamentals of intelligent advancement. The film itself includes several close-ups on American currency, perhaps indicating that the country is too focused on its own financial margin to recognize and acknowledge the disintegration of its national pride. Many individuals, as seen in Mary’s clients, are shifting away from the traditional concept of America being founded upon physical and cultural differences and variety, and rather focusing on the physical transformation one must undergo to be valued as “pretty” or “attractive” in a post-modern melting pot of supermodels and zingy fashion blogs.

Films like American Mary arguably question the sanity and realistic expectations of individuals in a modern world full of pressures from outlets in every facet of entertainment-influenced living standards. Professor Jody Keisner writes in Women’s Studies that “horror movies have become postmodern, in part, because of their questioning of reality; they push viewers to consider their own notions of what is real. Horror films are a simulation of a reality, or fall under simulacra—a creation of a reality that never existed” (416). In the case of Jen and Sylvia Soska, the debate at hand is a simple one: the life of Mary may not even be considered reality. The operations conducted by Mary serve as a means for her clientele to get from point A to point B (point A being the deep trench of self-consciousness and point B being the glory-land of self-gratification and satisfaction). The reality, as one undoubtedly picks up on over the runtime of the film, is that point B is never truly reached. The pressing horror of the film lies within its lurking subtext: Mary is playing God, and by doing so, is assisting dreams of an alternate reality that can never be attained. After all, Mary is simply another human being seeking out acceptance from her peers, and acting out when that acceptance is not realized. The idea of “the Stranger” also comes into play within the narrative world of body modification, in the sense that boundaries are being set between the living world and the living dead (“dead” in the loss of one’s original identity). “The Stranger” is defined by Georg Simmel as “a member which lives and participates and yet remains distant from other ‘native’ members of the group” (4). The Stranger invites a challenging to the concept of the aesthetic or political norm, which directly enters into Soska territory. By Mary crowning herself as queen of the underdog and misrepresented, she directly associates and crowns herself with the title of the Stranger, rather than her clientele.

Sexual encounters in American Mary are few, but pack a major punch. After Mary is raped by her esteemed medical professor and mentor, she turns her rage into action and enacts brutal physical revenge. After dismembering his legs and hanging him from a meat hook, she observes her prey, offering a reverse male-gaze. As the female body is often observed in horror films in a sexual or objectified manner, the Soska sisters show Mary admiring her own aesthetic creation. In doing so, the sisters prove the point that females do indeed have just as much power as their male counterparts.

Conversely, The Babadook also depicts female sexuality in a different light. Amelia is shown masturbating, alone in bed, almost reaching climax, when Samuel comes into the room and breaks her concentration – bringing her back to the suppressed reality of being a mother. Although Samuel is merely a child, he still has the power to deprive her of her sexual power and desire. She then, later in the film, takes back control of her own life in threatening Samuel with a butcher knife. The knife symbolizes Samuel’s own phallic member, thus proving that she has the power to give it right back to him.

The Babadook and American Mary critically and carefully analyze real problems that are typically experienced, at one point or another, by everyday beings in the “real world.” Matt Becker writes that “horror films can be understood as ‘politically ambivalent’” with “an overall sense of hopelessness that can be interpreted in the pioneering elements—conflicted characters, people against people themes, and realistic ultraviolence” (58). The concept of political ambivalence can be explained as a coexistence of conflicting emotions toward a specific person, object, or concept. In the case of the political realm, one must assume that ambivalence means opposing certain standards, but acknowledging (and accepting) that each political law or bill must have a set purpose. In relation to the Soskas’ feminist narrative, it is obvious that the sisters disagree with America’s huge emphasis on aesthetic perfection. However, the medical clinics and plastic surgery centers around the country are here in complete compliance with legal documentation and allowance. As long as something is legal, it is free to build upon itself and spread its wings. Mary’s business brings her a steady and reliable income, thus creating revenue and helping the economy at large. Conversely, Kent’s film offers up a different commentary of sorts: single parents are immediately singled out due to the legal process, involving finances and (sometimes) governmental assistance. While the spotlight being placed on single mothers or fathers that are “in need of help” can be embarrassing or uncomfortable, one must accept that there are legally-approved and placed outlets spanning the country to offer assistance, financial stability, and emotional support to these individuals. Kent’s character of Amelia serves as a direct representation of one in need of all three. Both films, by and large, directly support this idea of “political ambivalence.” The cinematic worlds seen in both narratives are ultimately hopeless.

The business of turning political strife into monetary profit will always be in style. While neither Kent nor the Soska sisters profess to bring their artistic visions to life for financial gain, statistics prove that horror is one of the most profitable, marketable genres in film history. In 2014 alone, mainstream horror cinema grossed well over a collective $254 million (researched by Nash Information Services, LLC [NIS]), making it among the top ten genres to top the box office. Professor and film scholar Brigid Cherry, in her esteemed Routledge film study on Horror, explains the promise of a long, developed existence of the horror genre: there will always be a circulation of the “horror film in response to social anxieties about violence, family breakdown, the war on terror, climate change, and so forth” (19). She ensures that as long as there are social or political issues at large, the horror genre will continue to work its way onto the big screen and into the homes of viewers craving an escape from fears of the changing (and sometimes regressing) world around them. Horror cinema, as its own credible force, is an intricately crafted system of codes. No film, let alone horror, is made simply to be made. Whether or not the filmmaker or critic is conscious of the motivation or occasion through which a film is inspired, any piece of media or entertainment (television, film, or even works of writing) is a direct product of the society in which the creator dwells. A well-made horror film is essentially just as credible as any film that is nominated for an Academy Award or promoted through Criterion as “something you have to see before you die.” Upon deeply analyzing the genre and its cleverly hidden commentaries, a certain formulaic fact is formed: horror is returning from the grave…as the genre that will never die. The Babadook and American Mary have only cracked the door into a Narnia of possibilities.

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Works Cited:

Accomando, Beth. “‘Twisted Twin’ Sisters Hope To Re-Invent Horror.” NPR. NPR, 15 Oct. 2012. Web. 21 Mar. 2015.

American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC: Author.

Becker, Matt. “A Point Of Little Hope: Hippie Horror Films And The Politics Of Ambivalence.” Velvet Light Trap: A Critical Journal Of Film & Television 57 (2006): 42-59. Academic Search Complete. Web. 5 Apr. 2015.

Brashinsky, Michael. “Deadly Is The Female.” Films in Review 47.1/2 (1996): 36. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.

Cherry, Brigid. Horror. London: Routledge, 2009. Print.

Clover, Carol J. “Introduction.” Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. London: BFI, 1992. 6-7. Print.

Gill, Pat. “The Monstrous Years: Teens, Slasher Films, And The Family.” Journal Of Film & Video 54.4 (2002): 16-30. Academic Search Complete. Web. 1 Apr. 2015.

Jancovich, Mark. “Female Monsters: Horror, The ‘Femme Fatale’ And World War II.” European Journal Of American Culture 27.2 (2008): 133-149. Academic Search Complete. Web. 26 Mar. 2015.

KEISNER, JODY. “Do You Want To Watch? A Study Of The Visual Rhetoric Of The Postmodern Horror Film.” Women’s Studies 37.4 (2008): 411-427. Academic Search Complete. Web. 28 Mar. 2015.

Kidd, Briony. “UMBILICAL FEARS. (Cover Story).” Metro 180 (2014): 6. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 1 Apr. 2015.

Lindsey, Shelley Stamp. “Horror, Femininity, and Car­rie’s Monstrous Puberty.” The Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film. Ed. Barry Keith Grant. Austin: U of Texas P, 1996. Print.

LOISELLE, ANDRÉ. “Canadian Horror, American Bodies: Corporeal Obsession And Cultural Projection In American Nightmare, American Psycho, And American Mary.” Brno Studies In English 39.2 (2013): 123-136. Academic Search Complete. Web. 2 Apr. 2015.

O’Sullivan, Michael. “‘Babadook’ Director Jennifer Kent Talks about Women Making Horror Movies.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 12 Dec. 2014. Web. 21 Mar. 2015.

Simmel, Georg and Kurt H. Wolff. The Sociology of Georg Simmel. Nabu, 2011. Print.

Woodcock, Scott. “Horror Films and the Argument from Reactive Attitudes.” Ethical Theory & Moral Practice 16.2 (2013): 309-324. Academic Search Complete. Web. 2 Apr. 2015.

DEATH HOUSE: An Interview with Writer/Director Harrison Smith

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Dripping Red Cinephile writer Tyler Keeton (above bottom right) and featured interviewee writer/director Harrison Smith (above top right), President of Class of 85 film production company (home to four feature films and a Discovery reality series). Smith has found domestic and international success with his work, and continues to build his empire in the genre.

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If anyone connects with and understands the value of the horror genre as its own driving force and entity, it is the brilliant Mr. Harrison Smith. Smith is a recent contact of mine, and has quickly become a close friend and collaborator. The list of credits spanning Smith’s expansive career continues to grow each year. A wildly free spirit, Smith stands firm when it comes to conjuring up new ideas for films that set him apart from other independents in the genre. His most recent feature film, Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard (2015), features performances from Billy Zane (Titanic), Mischa Barton (The Sixth Sense, The O.C.), and Dee Wallace (E.T.CujoThe Howling). The film revolves around “a young militia” combating “a coming dead horde” in a “rural town decimated by the fracking industry” (courtesy of IMDB).  Check out the intense trailer (below).

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A year prior, Smith unveiled his tribute to ’80s camp slashers, with Camp Dread (2014). The film features performances from Eric Roberts (The Dark Knight), Danielle Harris (Halloween 4 & 5Rob Zombie‘s Halloween H2), and Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp). Camp Dread lovingly embraces the tropes and cheese of its important predecessors, while offering a modern take on society’s obsession and love affair with technology and all things “reality.” The film arguably sparked and set the bar for an onslaught of other tributes to the golden age of slasher cinema. The trailer (below) is loaded with screams and familiar faces to any fan of the genre.

Smith is currently finishing work on his upcoming feature, Death House, set to debut later this year. The film’s logline explains: “A secret government facility becomes ground zero for the most horrific prison break in the history of mankind.” No stranger to working with iconic genre actors, Smith is excited to add Danny Trejo (MacheteFrom Dusk Till Dawn) and Freddy Kruger himself, Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise), to his impressive casting repertoire. Both are set to star in Death House, along with returning icon Dee Wallace.

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☣ In this EXCLUSIVE new interview for Dripping Red Cinephile, Smith shares his thoughts on the current state of the horror genre, teases his new projects, and reminisces on his own favorite memories during production. Find the interview below.

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 – DRCThe new year is here and we’re all excited for the upcoming horror releases. Is there any particular release you’re most looking forward to?
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SMITH(Laughs) Death House is the one I am really psyched about.
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DRCWith a new year comes time for your own work to flourish and garner even more attention. Are there any projects you’re currently working on? Any creepy details you’d like to spill?
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SMITHWe have Death House and Love Bites at the top of the list. We are attaching talent and excited about what is coming. There are also things going on with my production company and can divulge some exciting news, once finalized. I am developing a sweet supernatural horror, called Keepsake, that I hope to have going into production this summer. A lot in the air, but again, it’s about bringing a number of things home. You crow when the egg is laid, so I don’t do a lot of crowing until monies have transferred, contracts are signed and things are locked. Then you really have something to report on, you know?
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DRCCamp Dread had you working with genre legends Felissa Rose and Danielle Harris. What’s your favorite memory from set? If you could sum up the experience in ONE Apple emoji, which would it be?
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SMITHWow. A lot of good memories from that set. I will say the night we shot the beach campfire scene….we were racing against time with a storm coming in. It was late and the Doppler radar was giving us a minute-by-minute breakdown of when the storm was coming. We literally could see it approaching on our cells by the mile. And you know what? That thing hit us just when the radar said. The whole feeling of suspense was palpable onset. It was fun…because it was like this monster coming for us. People shouting: “here it comes..!” It was like a living thing bearing down on the beach. And when someone said “here it is,” there it was. On cue. The storm was very punctual. I coulda called “Action!” and it would have started. (Laughs) An emoji to sum up Camp Dread? Hmmm….the coffin.
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DRCTell us about your childhood. What film made you realize you wanted to have a career in film? For me, it was Hitchcock’s Psycho. An utter masterpiece. Is there a specific film moment that stands out in your mind from watching at a young age?
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SMITHJaws was the movie that made me want to make movies. I saw it with my mom when I was 8 in 1975. To see over 200 people scream together, laugh, enjoy and then stand and applaud at the end…I knew then “This is what I want to do.” Jaws was the first movie I saw get an ovation.

As for a specific film moment? Hard to say. I do know that 1967’s Mad Monster Party also had major influence on me at about 4 years old. Francesca was my first crush as a boy. However, the film still holds a place in my heart and sits on my DVD shelf. 

The classic Universal monsters were always a favorite and I would watch them all the time with my grandmother. (Smiles) Bride of Frankenstein still holds up as one of the best sequels ever made. I love it. 
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DRCI give you major credit for standing your ground on cynicism in cinema. Films should not force-feed audiences didacticism in a play-by-play. What made you want to address this in entertainment? Tell us about your blog.
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SMITHWhat triggered it? Michael Caine’s quote for making Jaws: the Revenge. I think that film is the worst film ever made, for a simple reason: it was made by people who knew better. That is the center to my term, “Cynema.” Bad movies can be bad, and sometimes they can be great. But Jaws: the Revenge is not just bad, it’s cynical – because it didn’t try once and as part of a venerated series, is cynical. There was zero attempt to make a good movie. Zero. No one cared. It was about squeezing out a few more bucks to get a Bahamian vacation for the winter. It was about seeing just how dumb the movie goers would be and if they would swallow such garbage. 

My blog says it all, and I have a piece on Jaws 3 and 4 on there. I don’t know if Jaws 3‘s director was cynical. I don’t think he was a “great” director, but he had some cynical people to work against. Yes, it’s about making money, but when you make something with utter contempt for the people watching it…that’s Cynema. 
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DRC(Claps) Lastly, I always like to end interviews on a light and fun note. Let’s say you’ve just been cast as the latest and greatest reality star. Most reality stars have their own hilariously bogus and shallow tagline. Something like, “In this bar, I’m top shelf. Everyone else is cheap vodka.” (Laughs) What would your crazy tagline be, Mr. Smith?
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SMITHSh*t stops when I walk in the room.
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Follow Smith’s work on Twitter, and be sure to watch out for his venture into new and bloody territory in the new year. Dripping Red Cinephile looks forward to working with Smith again in the near future, to discuss his upcoming productions.

WINTER MARTYRDOM: THE FOREST, MARTYRS, AND THE PECULIAR CHILLY SEASON

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Poster artwork for The Forest belongs to Focus Features. © Focus Features / Poster artwork for Martyrs belongs to Anchor Bay Entertainment. © Anchor Bay Entertainment

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It’s no secret — the winter season is rough on the horror genre. With a typically short list of poorly promoted, mostly lower-budget titles, an avid fan is forced to pull the reins on his or her own eagerness and prepare for the worst. Perhaps the reason for the underperformance of these titles has nothing to do with the season — or budget — at all. It comes down to sheer originality. Is there something off-kilter or balance with genre filmmakers in the bleak final months of one year that sets the platform for an even bleaker first month of a new year? One has to imagine more talent lying within the teams responsible for the first horror offerings of a new year at the box office. Quite frankly, one must ask: Shouldn’t a “new year” start with new material that instantaneously ignites a bang?

The outcome for the beginning of 2016 is not one rooted in positivity. If anything, two of the biggest (now borderline infamous) titles of the new year — The Forest and Martyrs — have provided audiences with quite the opposite of originality. The two films slide past without a chance for remembrance.

To play devil’s advocate, I must admit The Forest is not a “bad” film. It’s incredibly well-paced, surprisingly taught with tension – thanks to great performances by Natalie Dormer and Taylor Kinney, and pretty well-written. Where does the problem lie, then? It all comes down to a miscommunication in marketing. While marketing doesn’t determine the quality or credibility of a film, it does create misguided expectations. In no way am I trying to defame or lessen the validity of Jason Zada‘s directional ability, or announce to my audience that this film is a bore. As a screenwriter, I often focus on the dialogue and pacing of a film. That being said, this film is not, and I repeat: not, a horror film. It is, at best, a tense drama. A thriller, of sorts. The Forest 

Conversely, Martyrs quite literally slices its way, immaculate blades glistening, into the horror genre. An American remake of Pascal Laugier‘s 2008 French masterpiece [of the same title], Kevin and Michael Goetz2016 reimagining of the film simply misses the mark. The marketing for this film, ironically, completely worked – in every way. It was hyped for over a full year on horror fan-sites and magazines, and the trailer paved the way for the film to be deliciously dark. The end result, however, is a sticky-sweet, cookie-cutter stepchild of Laugier’s brilliantly artistic entrance into the New French Extremity Movement. While the original 2008 film is brutally relentless, its violence comes with merit and can be respected as a true work of horrific originality. Laugier created a film with no apologies and left interpretation open to each and every audience member. The 2016 remake of the film, in short, has no reason to exist. I will gladly be the first to admit that not all remakes are bad or unfortunate (we’ll return to this concept at a later date), but some remakes simply feel like “fluffers” on an adult film set. The Goetz Brothers’ 2016 entry falls into the latter. The film is problematic in so many ways. From the beginning, we are given better-than-average performances by Bailey Noble and Troian Bellisario. This sets us up to believe the film has potential to be groundbreaking for American audiences unfamiliar with the terrifying original. We have two beautiful young actresses, both known for their roles on mainstream American television, about to slide into psychotic ecstasy — which almost never happens. This leads us to our next issue: the violence. As mentioned earlier, the violence in Laugier’s original film made sense. A shred of a human spirit fights back against her attackers and gets the revenge she so desperately deserves. We are given enough reason (without overly-didactic backstory) to believe, through Mylène Jampanoï‘s stellar performance, the girl’s reason to slaughter strangers (in terms of the knowledge of the audience). The same cannot be said for Bellisario’s character in the 2016 remake. The violence comes, this time, without merit. In conclusion, the film seems to be missing stamina in its onscreen visuals when it comes to bloodshed. The artful cinematography of the original film is what made it so shocking. The remake offers very little new material, aside from a cringe-worthy moment of cheap, underproduced CGI fire. Save this one for Redbox — or a drunken night of binging.

 

PRIMAL FEAR: An Interview with Director Patrick Rea

film club patrickDirector Patrick Rea is a dear friend and mentor to a young screenwriter like myself. He is the mastermind behind the 2013 horror feature Nailbiter, as well as countless renowned short films – the latest of which include “Howl of a Good Time” and “Pillow Fright.” Rea is a friend and collaborator to classic horror icons like Tamara Glynn  (Halloween 5) and Leslie Easterbrook (The Devil’s Rejects), both of whom star in “Howl of a Good Time.” His approach to the genre is a force to be reckoned with, combining elements of nostalgia for diehard fans with a modern take on primal fear – a rich concept steeped in chilling commonality for all ages and audiences. His filmic qualities connect everyone to a force beyond any simple comprehension: pure terror. We all (even those hesitant to admit it) love to be scared, and Patrick Rea understands just that.

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† Before an exclusive screening and discussion of “Howl of a Good Time” and “Pillow Fright” for the Western Kentucky University Film Club led by myself and fellow former club president Amber Langston, Rea spoke with the audience on the future of horror and his mission to carry on the traditions of the greats. He also offered a simple but effective piece of advice to any aspiring artist: “Just keep going. Never give up.” His discussion with the club led to an absolute spark with the expansive group of students that has carried over into the new year, and inspired the club to expand its scope to all genres – not only our favorite. Film is a powerful form of art that rivals even the most impressive of mediums. Rea is an artist, and believes anyone willing to put in the time and effort can achieve his or her own wildest dream.

† In a new interview with yours truly, Rea confirms his dedication to the genre, speaks about his current work and plans for the new year, and speaks on the importance of horror as a credible form of art. Read more below.

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DRCWith a new year comes time for new territory in film. What are you currently working on? Can you spill any chilling details? Horror is quite your forte.

ReaWe are completing post-production on my new feature Enclosure, starring Fiona Dourif, Kevin Ryan and Jake Busey.  Hoping to have it released sometime this year.  Also, just completed a two-minute short film for Eli Roth’s Crypt TV titled “Hoot”.

DRCWhat has been your biggest career moment to date? As in, what specific moment made you realize: “THIS is what I want to be known for.” 

ReaWell, that’s a tough question.  Seeing my film Nailbiter available in the Redbox, and on television, and hearing kind words from people who had seen it felt very rewarding and reminded me of why I’m doing what I’m doing.  I mainly just want to be known for doing quality work, treating people with respect, and having a good sense of humor. 

DRCHorror means so much to millions across the globe. What does horror mean to you? Let’s place your title of writer/director aside for a moment and pretend you’re simply a fan. What is the significance of horror in the year 2016?

ReaI feel like horror allows us to face our fears in a way that is safe.  We all have primal fears that follow us in our everyday life and it’s cathartic to sit back and see a visual representation of them from the safety of a movie theater…or our couch.  Death is going to get all of us at some point, so in many ways I feel like horror movies are, in a way, preparing us for our own demise.  For me, it’s comforting.  I love being scared.  I think, as far as horror in 2016, we may see films that will subtly or not-so-subtly reflect our current state of the world – whether it be war, societal issues, the current election, or even the latest technologies. 

DRCMany would argue horror is a genre void of merit or credibility. Why do you think horror is the genre that will truly never die? Does the genre deserve more attention from critics?

ReaI think horror will always live on because of its target demographic.  Teens love to be scared and they carry those movies that frightened them into their adulthood and eventually pass them on to their kids.  My dad showing me The Exorcist for the first time was an important moment in my life.  I think that making a very good horror film is extremely difficult and requires a lot of preparation….and when successful, critics do take notice.  The recent film It Follows is an example of a horror film that critics really took a liking to.

DRCIf you could name some of your absolute favorite horror films, what would they be and why? It’s always interesting to get inside the mind of a filmmaker. What films have influenced your own style? 

Rea: I love all different kinds of horror films. Some of my favorites are Poltergeist, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Omen, Friday the 13th, and Halloween. The films of John Carpenter, Wes Craven, and Steven Spielberg have all influenced me. I have always appreciated their films stylistically. They were all very smooth and beautifully composed. A lot of these [films] were the ones I snuck around watching as a kid in the late 1980s and early 1990s…so they had a distinct impression on me. 

DRCI love to have a little fun portion to conclude each interview I conduct. Let’s say you’re the latest cast member of a hit reality series documenting the lives of you and your friends/enemies. Every reality star has his or her own tagline. Something shallow, like, “Life isn’t all diamonds and rosé…but it should be.” What would your tagline be, Mr. Horror Director?

Rea: Hmm…that’s a tough one. How about this: “Short, sleep-deprived, and bearded. But tough as blood-soaked nails!”

Patrick Howl

Be sure to follow Rea’s work in the new year, and give credit where it is due. It is not only inspiring to chat with an individual well on his way to being a master of the craft, but exciting to see the horror family coming together to celebrate the communion and fellowship of simply being scared. Check out the trailer [below] to Rea’s 2013 feature Nailbiter, and follow him on Twitter.