Thursday, November 19, 2015

UNDER THE BLADE: One Of The Best Slasher Films You'll Ever Read

Midway through the first chapter of Under the Blade I kept thinking to myself how much I'd love to see the pages of the book brought to the big screen. Author and longtime contributor to horror mega site Dread Central Matt Serafini has a keen understanding of the slasher subgenre, and that comes across loud and clear on the page. With Under the Blade Serafini crafts an iconic villain and as strong an entry to the “final girl” cannon in the mold of Friday part 2's Ginny.

Under the Blade begins where most horror films end with the sole survivor of a campsite massacre facing off against a hulking, unstoppable agent of death. Serafini's ability to cull from decades of sitting through the best and worst of what slasher films offer and distill that into the action on the page shines through in a section that hooks the reader in right away. Our final girl, Melanie is as quick on her feet as she is scared out of her mind. Each of her choices: from barricading the cabin she's hiding out in, to sending multiple canoes downstream in an attempt to throw the killer off her scent to biting off a chunk of his nose in a desperate gambit to free herself from his death grip, all make perfect sense despite never working out as she hoped. When she finally gets the upper hand on her assailant, she doesn't pussyfoot around while doing her best Big Papi impression on his skull multiple times.

Unlike most horror films, where the viewer never sees the traumatic aftermath of finding your friend strung up by their innards before fighting for one's own life, Under the Blade picks up twenty five years later. Despite her success as a college professor, Melanie still finds herself traumatized by the horrors of the campsite. When a professional setback sends her reeling, she decides to take up a longstanding and lucrative offer to pen her memoirs of the event. Packing her bags and sending her cat to stay with a friend, Melanie Holden returns to Lake Forest Grove to bury Cyrus Hoyt once and for all.

Under the Blade creates a terrific set of supporting characters and whodunnit mystery that keeps the reader guessing and enthralled throughout the book. Three hundred pages of a silent killer stalking prey through the woods would most likely be as boring as fuck, and thankfully the book doesn't go that route. From the moment Melanie arrives back at Forest Grove it's clear that the sleepy burg still suffers from the aftershocks of Hoyt's killing spree. The town's youth remain on lockdown, with staple events like homecoming dances being off the menu for fear that it could raise some bad juju and start a new cycle of killing.

Meanwhile Melanie runs into various degrees of resistance from the town's straitlaced new sheriff Brady, his bohemian wife that's decidedly unhappy about leaving their New York lifestyle in order to return to her boring hometown, her father and the town's ex sheriff along with a slew of other oddball characters that seem to know far more than they'll let on. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that the town's trouble run far deeper than the one time killing spree of a presumed dead madman. Ties to a Jonestown like religious cult come into play midway through the story, and as Melanie inches closer to the truth, she faces threats from both those desperate to keep the Grove's secrets along with a killer that has either taken up Hoyt's mantle if he's not the resurrected man himself.

The four or five hours it takes to devour the novel offers one important luxury over an hour and a half movie. Serafini takes full advantage of the written page in order to develop each of the players of Under the Blade. The reader gains full insight into each character's motivations, fears and doubts. By allowing the reader the time to know the characters so well, it makes the larger reveals and shocking moments all the more impactful when the last fifty or so pages begin to unfurl. Even would-be throwaway characters like a teen couple factor in, offering one of the most stunning incidents in the story. You get to know these characters well enough that when they begin to drop like flies in the last act, you feel genuine remorse. When a person we follow from near the beginning of the tale is killed off in a quick and insanely painful way, I found myself rereading the passage multiple times with the hopes that there would be an “out” that allowed them to reappear again, intact. That's a clear sign the book is working.

With the Christmas season coming up, You're bound to be looking for a stocking stuffer for the horror fan in your life. Whether it's the buddy that has a Halloween sleeve running down his arm, or the friend who devours the novels of Jack Ketchum, for a measly twelve bucks you can pick up the paperback, or grab the ebook for less than $5. It's a great read, and one had me pulling my Friday the 13th DVDs off the shelf for some nostalgic viewing after I finished the last page. 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

4th Annual Shawna Shea Film Festival Kicks Off Friday November 20th At The Somerville Theater

Next week marks the arrival of the 4th annual Shawna Shea Film Festival at the Somerville Theater microcinema. From Friday November 20th through Sunday the 22nd, Cape Cod filmmaker Skip Shea hosts a three day line up of films that “honors the independent spirit of the late Shawna Shea, the daughter of filmmaker Skip Shea, and brings together independent filmmakers locally and from around the world.”

The three day event host feature films, documentaries and blocks of short films from across the globe. With selections in horror, comedy and drama, and women in film, the Shawna Shea Film Fest broaches a wide swath of genres.

The full lineup and times can be found right here. Tasking a look through the lineup there's a number of programs our readers should check out:

Friday kicks things off with an one hour local shorts block starting at 4:30PM. It includes one of my personal favorites, Manicorn, by South Shore madman Jim McDonough. Saturday makes way for a block of science fiction and horror shorts, including Izzy Lee's A Favor and our own Trixie Delight's Penta. That block runs from 630Pm until 830 which then gives way to an Italian Horror block starting at 9PM. That set is highlighted by the feature film A Perfect Husband.

I continue to be amazed at the growth and interest in the Shawna Shea Film Festival and our mission,” said Shea. “It’s become a fantastic and much anticipated annual gathering of independent filmmakers from the U.S and around the world. Shawna loved theater, performing and acting and she would really appreciate this kind of film festival, one that brings together the best and brightest of indie film and showcases innovative creativity in this corner of the film world. It’s the best way we can honor Shawna as an independent spirit.”

Tickets for the Shawna Shea Film Fest are on sale now and can be purchased through Eventbrite. The individual blocks run $10 each while a complete festival pass is $80.

The SSFF benefits the Shawna Shea Memorial Foundation, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that supports young people—especially women—in filmmaking, performance arts and other artistic and cultural endeavors through financial assistance, collaborative fellowships, mentoring and educational opportunities. The Foundation was established in memory of Shawna, a creative and artistic young woman who lost her life too soon and we strive to sustain her legacy of encouraging young people who live in the margins of society and yet have dreams and aspirations in the fields of film and performance arts.

To learn more about the foundation's work and upcoming projects, visit

Tickets for Boston's ETHERIA Film Night In Somerville On Sale Now

On Friday December 11th and Saturday December 12th, All Things Horror partners for the fourth time with the Etheria Film Night. Tickets are now on sale via Ticketleap and can be purchased through the link below. You can checkout the complete lineup, including all the short films, right here.

Also below is the full trailer for Ursula Dabrowsky's stunning feature film Inner Demon. If you'll allow me to speak from the hip here, this is easily the scariest and best feature Etheria has ever shown. While I've enjoyed the three films that preceded this years: the Battlestar Galactica doc We Are All Cylons, the buddy comedy Best Friends Forever and the gothic romance of Soulmate, Inner Demon is more in line with the kind of grab you by the throat horror that we champion on this site.

Dabrowsky takes the viewer on a dark and twisted journey. It's a Grimm fairy tale with no happily ever after, and it had me trying to catch my breath while processing the whole thing after screening it this past fall at Telluride Horror. It's lead actress, Sarah Jeavons, joins the ranks of tough as nails final girls. Jeavons believably manages to fend off and hold her own against a pair of grungy serial killers that show up unannounced on her doorstep one night. Dabrowsky masterful blends home invasion horror with the supernatural, turning Inner Demon into one of the creepiest films of the year. Honestly, the feature alone is well worth the price of admission.  

That said, the short film lineup and another very special section we're announcing next week kick ass as well. Go on and get your ticket before this sells out. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

CONDEMNED: Slums Its With Gross Out Gags And Cartoon Buffoonery

Condemned kicks off with poor little rich girl Maya leaving a palatial, beachfront home in order to escape her parents constant screaming matches. She moves in with her boyfriend Dante, a squatter leaving out of a condemned shit hole in New York's lower east side. Maya's culture shock of leaving the penthouse for abject poverty does not even have time to register before trouble starts to brew in the form of a toxic meth lab.

On that note: Goddamn what a motley crew it is that fills up the dilapidated tenement. Behind every door lives a wretched hive of scum, including hassidic homeboys that pimp out their transexual girlfriends, junkie ex-models with track marks running up and down both arms, a building “super” whose brainwaves have been scrambled since the Carter administration, house bound hypochondriacs left to fill their adult diapers with feces while puking stale ramen noodles up in a black sludge and sadistic leather daddies who reward their musclebound slaves with the sting from their riding crop and golden nectar straight from their cock faucet.

Tying the building together is Cookie, the vietnamese meth cook with that brews up a toxic sludge in the fetid confines of his ramshackle studio apartment. Soon after Cookie dumps the noxious leftovers from his latest batch down the drains into a water supply already contaminated by human and chemical waste, the residents find themselves transformed into rage fueled monsters incapable of feeling pain but obsessed with dishing it out.

Maya's too weak a character to attach too, as she enjoys a naive worldview just over the wrong side of annoying. She's the kind of woman that can tell the woman looking for her next fix that it's okay because “she's a junkie” with all the self-awareness of a Malibu Stacy doll proclaiming “math is hard.” when you pull her string. As Maya may be the most balanced character of the lot, its up to the audience to find something else to latch onto.

Nope, the star of the show here are the special effects and makeup work that dominate the second half of Condemned when the shit (and piss and vomit and blood) hits the fan in spectacular fashion. Condemned apes the claustrophobic confines of [REC] while squaring its aim on the gag reflex of its target audience. Those who have a soft spot for gag-fueled gross out splatter affairs like Street Trash or early the Peter Jackson jam Bad Taste will find a kindred spirit in Condemned. Though there's a few moments marred by the distracting presence of digital blood spray, the practical effects are both plentiful and very well done.

Condemned makes a half hearted attempt at offering a moral quandary when characters debate whether to call 9-1-1 and risk the cops discovering the squat or letting one of the residents bleed out, but by and large the film just wants you to turn off your brain and enjoy the gore. There are no real characters in the film, just a collection of broadly painted stereotypes played for laughs. Or perhaps it would be more apt to describe them as what your ultra right wing uncle from the midwest pictures when he talks about the freaks and weirdoes on New York City.

That said, if you long for the anything goes style of splatter punk played for laughs, Condemned should be right up your alley. It's goofy as hell, and exceeds at turning human flesh into gooey, pus filled bags of gristle, fat and blood. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Interview: The Rasmussen Brothers talk about their latest haunter, THE INHABITANTS (Part 2 of 2)

(This is the second part of a two part interview with The Rasmussen Brothers. Here is part one.)

In terms of putting THE INHABITANTS into the greater context of haunted house films and horror in general, where do you put the film?
Michael Rasmussen: When we sat down to make it, we had THE CHANGLING in mind. We had BURT OFFERINGS in mind. All of these old classics. Also HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL. We wanted to have that throwback feel. That’s one of the reasons we were attracted to that house- it has the old New England feel. It was very intentional that we were trying to emulate those older films, but bring a little more to them. The modern audience is not going to just sit there and wait 90 minutes without even a little bit of the payoff. 
Shawn Rasmussen: I like the throwback set piece, but I think that people want more. There needs to be more than just the haunting of the house. And certainly Ted [Geoghegan] did a great job- those burnt people are scary as hell. It is unintentional to have several of the same times of movie come out at the same time, but I think it’s great. There is room for them, and I think a lot of people are looking for them too.
MR: On an older interview, someone was talking to us about [John] Carpenter. We were talking about these 1970s movies that we saw growing up by [Wes] Craven and Carpenter, and how influential these movies are. We wondered if they had grown up watching the 1950s B-movies. Carpenter remade THE THING after all. A lot of the people our age who grew up on those movies are now emulating the films we grew up on. We are bringing something a little new to them, but it is funny how it keeps repeating itself. 
SR: Also, that was a great time for indie filmmaking. A lot more people were given a shot to make a film with a small budget. Now, the technology is to the point where people can go microbudget. These kinds of films really lend themselves well to that. We are in a phase where there is so much content being created because technology allows it. Just look at the number of people who are making horror films.
MR: I just remembered IT FOLLOWS, which is definitely a throwback to Carpenter. There is this resurgence. I keep hearing “throwback” in so many reviews. 

We are getting back to classic horror lately. Moving away from found-footage and torture-porn.
SR: I was just about to mention that torture porn seems played out. Maybe that will be the next resurgence in five or ten years. 

There are definite patterns in film, and with THE INHABITANTS, WE ARE STILL HERE, and THE WITCH it seems like film is once again looking to New England as a source of horror. What drew you to creating a New England horror film?
MR: We are not from here, we grew up in Texas. We came here after college, and have been here for a while, but that does not qualify us as true New Englanders. We can bring a little bit of an outsider angle to it; an appreciation that someone who grew up here and regularly went to Salem, can’t bring.
SR: Michael did do a decent amount of research in all of the history of witches. We tried to out a lot of that into the story. The sorts of things that people did back then were really creepy. There was this pond where they would throw women. If they drowned, they weren’t a witch, but if they did then they were a witch and they would kill them anyway. It’s lose-lose.
MR: We tried to touch on the idea that she was a midwife. She was going things that may have been considered man’s work, like medicine. The witch in our film is based on Margaret Jones who was the first woman executed in New England, as a witch. She was not part of the Salem witch trials, it was before that. She was accused of practicing the dark arts. I’m sure it was a man that was threatened by this woman doing empowering things. It is neat to see witches making a comeback. I hope they do not devolve into riding brooms or stirring cauldrons. I’m not sure if you could recognize, but when he goes to the museum, that is the house where there is a museum in Salem. We got access to shoot in there from the city of Salem. We had to go before the board and explain our project. They had rejected Rob Zombie’s LORDS OF SALEM because it its take on witches. 

Your ideas for THE INHABITANTS came first from having access to this house, but you made horror films even before you had access to a real haunted house. What draws you to horror?
SR: This is our first film where we did not shoot in mental hospital. We are so happy about that because those hospitals are so creepy. It was nice to be in a place with working plumbing and electricity. This is one of the reasons we wanted to do something there. 
MR: Horror films garner more of a reaction than a drama or a comedy. Maybe it is because we watched them growing up. That’s where my love is. 
SR: We have always loved the genre films. We are fans as much as filmmakers. When you make a movie, you want to know that there will be an audience. 
MR: We have our next three or four scripts in the pipeline and these are all genre films as well. Horror can be so many things. It can be a ghost story, or a psychological story, or a creature feature. It is not that we are going over the same territory. We are happy to keep creating films in this overall genre, but try to explore different areas of it. 

What is coming up next for you?
MR: We were at the Fantastic Fest Film Market two years ago with a project called SUBCULTURE, which we are working to get done. It is THE DESCENT under New York, basically. We are also finishing a script which is like The Little Mermaid, if it were written by Lovecraft. 
SR: Our last two films we produced, directed, and wrote. We are excited about the possibility now of collaborating with other directors who are passionate about it. We are also working on a remake of a Spanish film, but we can’t really announce it just yet. The whole reason we started to write screenplays together is we wanted to make a movie. We have been so fortunate that we have had people like what we have written.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Review: IN THE DARK Offers Chilling But Familiar Exploration Take On Exorcisms

Veronica takes the skeptics approach to her graduate thesis on the existence of paranormal phenomenon. During her initial interview with Lois Kearne, a professor at Columbia and renowned researcher on the subject, she smugly tells the woman that she's “an atheist hoping for a miracle. ” Kearnes has been called in to investigate over 200 possible instances of hauntings, dismissing all but three of them as natural phenomenon. Despite the graduate student's pooh-pooing the woman's infinitesimal rate of proof, Lois insists that true evil exists in the world, with one particular case continuing to haunt her.

Kearnes invites the grad student along for a new case she has just been called to investigate. A mother calls the duo in to see what ails her daughter. After recovering from a car crash that almost killed her, the young woman began to spend all her time in the basement, painting macabre gothic images.

Combining stellar performances from a small cast, judicious use of FX and makeup, and tense showdowns between the afflicted Bethany and the skeptical Veronica, director David Spaltro manages to achieve a lot with very little resources. In her first feature film performance, Grace Folsom delivers chilling moments as the tortured young woman. Folsom brings a feeling of corrupted innocence to the role and her performance draws favorable comparisons to Ashley Bell in The Last Exorcism (which, to me, is still the gold standard for exorcism takes in the past decade).

Exorcism films ca be tricky because the tropes are so familiar, and very few films veer off the beaten path. In The Dark does not break any new ground, but Spaltro does a masterful job in creating and maintaining a creepy atmosphere and in Bethany, a villain that brings a true sense of menace to the forefront.

In particular, In the Dark shines when Bethany, or whatever may possess her, confronts Lois and Veronica with their collective doubts, personal demons and past failures. The girl knows things about Veronica's present condition and darker past trauma that she has no business knowing. Bethany's possessed self has a knack for getting under the skin of others, twisting their worst memories and fears into something sinister, desperate and evil. The best "exorcist" moments have little to do with spinning heads and pea soup and everything to do with confirming that the afterlife might be a real and terrible and inescapable place of unending suffering. 

Spaltro opens the event with a tense, nerve wracking scene where mother and daughter find themselves under siege by the presence of evil. The fantastic use of light and shadow, combined with a mounting sense of dread and Folsom's expressions of pure fear establish In The Dark as unnerving right away. The film continues to build on these moments, and while there are some hiccups in the form of less than good digital effects now and again, the practical and human elements of the film deliver a solid supernatural thriller.

As we move away from faith and superstition and more towards a rational, scientific world, the supernatural and religious horror films need to work harder to have an impact. There is still room for exploration of good and evil and whether otherworldly powers pull those moral strings. In the Dark does it right. It offers a fantastic array of performances and relies on pulling images from the audiences imagination to frighten them, rather than inundate them with effects. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

THE FINAL GIRLS Proves Meta Horror Can Tug The Emotional Heartstrings

The titles that fall under the umbrella of “meta-horror” more often than not have a certain distance to the genre they're offering a critique of. When done poorly, the meta commentary comes off as dismissive pap from someone who believes themselves to be above the genre they're lampooning (see Ryan Murphy and the dreadful Scream Queens television debacle for a recent example of this). There's a number of brilliant, beloved commentaries on horror like Scream and the sublime Tucker and Dale vs Evil but even films fans call a “love letters” to horror, like the brilliant Cabin in the Woods, come at the genre from a clinical angle, offering up academic dissections of what makes horror tick while removing emotion from the equation. The newest entry to the meta horror cannon, Todd Strauss-Schulson's The Final Girls takes a different tact by using the standard slasher film tropes to create an emotional story that pulls at the heartstrings.

American Horror Story's Tassia Farmiga stars as Max, a young woman still grieving the loss of her mother Amanda (Malin Akerman) a year after her death in a tragic car crash. Amanda was an actress that earned minor notoriety for her role in Camp Bloodbath, a cheesy 80's slasher film with a devoted cult following. On the anniversary of her mother's death, Max finds herself in the audience with her friends for a special screening of the film. When a fire breaks out in the theater Max and her friends find themselves transported through the screen and into the film.

The Camp Bloodbath setting offers a clever send up of 80's slasher films. There might be no other period of horror history as fondly remembered by fans, yet even the most strident defender of the filmscannot escape the cheeseball and low rent nature of so many of them. Camp Bloodbath is a lark the Friday the 13th series, with the hulking, machete wielding Billy Murphy standing in for Jason Vorhees (with a totem pole mask subbing on for the hockey mask). The tropes of the genre are on full display in The Final Girls with the dials tweaked past the maximum level. The campers are your standard horndog teens trying to keep their hormones in check, the camp has a cursed history and the movie within the movie dialogue is often purposely cringeworthy. The film adds some nice wrinkles, including a touch where the screen dissolves and color fades to black and white during the flashback scenes, with our contemporary heroes dragged along back in time as well. Strauss-Schulson even takes welcome shots at the rampant homophobia of the era.

The heart of the film concerns Max and her mother's character Nancy, one of the camp counsellors offed by Billy in the film. Max is aware that she's not dealing with her mother, but rather, it's her mother's character of Nancy that's the actual living, breathing person in front of her. None of that matters to Max, as she sees this trip through time and space as the chance to share just a little more time, a few more laughs and a handful more moments with the woman who shaped her, and who she loves and misses dearly. 

Akerman and Farmiga share an almost sisterly relationship when paired on screen, which makes sense since Amanda's character would be about the same age as Max. After only being familiar with Farmiga's work in the American Horror Story show, and not being a fan of the program, I was more than pleasantly surprised with how vulnerable and open she came off as Max. She manages to mix in a sense of hope along with the feelings of hurt she's trying to work through after her loss.

Perhaps one reason The Final Girls succeeds where so many other meta titles fail is that while it uses the horror movie within a movie device as its background, the film is less concerned with commentating on the genre than it is developing that bond between Farmiga and Akerman's characters. The world of Camp Bloodbath is much brighter and colorful than most horror movies, and the climactic showdown between Max and Billy eschews the grim grays and dank reds of horror for something more vibrant and colorful.

Ultimately, The Final Girls care more about making a statement of the nature of moving on past grief, of accepting the past and cherishing the warm memories brought to us by the people we hold dearest. That it attempts to do this within the framework of horror makes it worth your time. That The Final Girls succeeds so well at this attempt elevates it to a must-see status. 

WNUF HALLOWEEN SPECIAL Recalls Nostalgia For Wacky Days Of Public Access TV

Are you old enough to remember the days before cable television was widespread, back when most people had anywhere from six to ten stations to choose from total? Before the rise of national news outlets, your local news team would pull out all the stops in order to achieve local celebrity. One Halloween night way back in 1987, one such news team paid the ultimate price for their attempt to cash in on the dead for local fame and fortune. Broadcast live and unfiltered, the home recorded VHS copies of The WNUF Halloween Special remain the only evidence of the tragedy.

In WNUF, director Chris LaMartina cobbles together something hilarious and nostalgic. Anyone under the age of 30 may not recognize this fact, but the film remarkable duplicates the feel of watching local public broadcasts in the 80s. The concept of local investigative journalist Frank Stewart dragging a pair of kook paranormal experts (and their cat) and a priest to an allegedly haunted house is exactly the kind of shenanigans UHF stations would try in a desperate ratings grab. The WNUF Halloween Special patomines this kind of show, first with its local news telecast filled with special interest stories (a local dentist offering to buy back candy from tick or treaters in one case. In another darkly comic one, a local boy dressed as a GI Joe is mistaken for a Viet Cong soldier and killed by a PTSD suffering vet), advertisements for nearby businesses and cheesy syndicated shows and finally, the actual “special event” where the news crew will tour the home where a grisly, occult fueled murder two decades prior.

What makes the film so much fun is just how shitty and low rent the whole things looks. The footage plays out over a well worn VHS tape, and it feels like a shame to be watching it on a nice monitor. WNUF feels like the kind of movie best appreciated when played back on an old CRT console television with giant rabbit ears protruding out of the back. If you handed this tape to 100 random people and told them nothing about the film, I'd wager more than a handful of them would be gullible enough to believe what they watched was real (and you would get 1-2 who would claim to have seen it when it was first broadcast).

That “realness” sometimes works against the film. After the first twenty minutes I wanted to find the person who came up with the eight note intro track to the news cast and wring them by the throat. Then there's the commercials. There's some hilarious and on point commercials that spoof the 80's “Just Say No Campaign-an innocent game of spin the bottle that somehow ends in heroin addiction might be my favorite-along with jingles for local pizza joints, provocations towards those in dead end jobs to take up trade school and more risque ads for strip clubs as the hour grows later, but at times it feels like there's more commercials than actual movie. The film follows a safe, comfortable pattern where Webber and crew will set up in an area, something out of the ordinary will startle them and then the action immediately cuts to commercial, returning minutes later to display the aftermath.

The time you do get to spend with the crew in the house is a heck of a lot of fun. There's an amateur, dinner party feel to the whole cast but that fits given the vibe of the project. Paul Fahrenkopf is pretty great as the droll journalist Stewart, and you can feel both he and his character smirking at the real and imagined audience throughout the picture. The paranormal husband and wife team the Bergers are a pair of lovely kooks as well.

Even though we're still 51 weeks out, it's never too early to look for films to add to your Halloween party movie rotation. I'm not sure if The WNUF Halloween Special belongs on your primary screen, but toss this on in a secondary or hangout room and I'd put money on the fact that before too long, it would draw more than its fair share of curious eyeballs.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Interview: The Rasmussen Brothers talk about their latest haunter, THE INHABITANTS (Part 1 of 2)

The film had some time from development to release. How did the idea for THE INHABITANTS change through the course of its creation? What was the idea that started the project?
Michael Rasmussen: It is weird, in that, it came together the quickest of any of our projects. It came out of the fact that our producer owns the house. Way back on our very first project, which he produced, we shot in an abandoned psychiatric hospital at night. While we were waiting for shots to bet set up, he nonchalantly that he owns this house and it is haunted. We were like, “Oh right, sure.” Jump forward three or four years…
Shawn Rasmussen: You know what it is like on a movie set- you just sit around. The thing that surprised us about him saying it was haunted is that he is a doctor, as well as a business man. This guy isn’t going to throw out—out of the blue—that something is haunted, but he did. He genuinely felt like it was haunted.
MR: Not haunted like “Woo-oo” [ghosty noises]. Haunted, like my son is around the corner, and he sees something move past him. He just lived closely with this presence. At first, we didn’t know how to take it, really. But over the years we have gotten to know him, and have been to the house. Whether it was haunted or not, it is a really cool setting for a ghost story. We had just sold DARK FEED, and we were looking for what we wanted to do next, and we thought we could shoot something there. We learned so much about what not to do when making a film and we were ready to try it again. We wrote the screenplay in a month or two, and started shooting. It was that fast.
SR: After DARK FEED, a friend of ours who had worked on the film said, “The worst that you can do is wait.” Once you have made a film you need to go out and make another movie. As soon as he said we could shoot in his house we worked quickly and pulled it together.
MR: That is the weird thing. It came together so fast. We shot it in three or four weeks. Then, it was Shawn and I editing and doing all of the post work on our own, and it kind of dragged. It was initially so fast, but then it kept rolling in place.
SR: It is one of the biggest challenges in micro-budget films. After you shoot the film, you are the ones stuck with the editing, all of the post production, and that stuff just drags. We also really wanted to work again with our composer. Then working on music and sound design took a couple years to come together. For every dollar you save on your budget during the shoot, is another week you are going to have to spend to make it work. 

The score is much grander than the film initially lets on. How was working with the composer? Was it a joint creative effort, or did you know exactly what you wanted?
MR: It was a negotiation. John Kusiak is the composer, and his partner Andrew Willis. They do a lot of Errol Morris’s films. They did TABLOID, and John did the HBO miniseries JINX. They do arthouse, highbrow, documentary stuff. We are always amazed that they are willing to slum it [laughs] and come work with us. I think what got them interested in working with us is that like [John] Carpenter, and we’ve worked with Carpenter. When we did this film we wanted something that kind of emulates Carpenter, but also emulates the 1970s grander scores, like THE CHANGELING. We wanted that. I think the composers wanted to do something a lot more musical, pretty, and symphonic. There was a back and forth, and it took some time to get what we all wanted.
SR: It is interesting. For the first film we worked with them, and we really did not have an idea of what we wanted the score to be. They were able to go off and come up with the score that they wanted. It really surprised us, and added a lot to the film, but it wasn’t anything that we had in our mind going in to the film. This time we did have an idea. We went through a couple iterations where we were trying to get that vibe. John and his son Kenny [Kusiak] both love horror films, and they both worked on this one. Kenny did the sound design, and John the score. It was very collaborative.
MR: Andrew [Willis] too. That line where sound design ends and the music begins, crossed over a lot more than they would have normally. There is no silence in that house. Everything is either humming or buzzing. 

The blend of the older haunted house with the more modern technology in THE INHABITANTS is interesting. What made you decide to include these elements?
MR: There is technology in there, but it is VHS, very analogue technology. Going back to THE CHANGELING, there are tapes decks. In THE EXORCIST there is the MRI. I always like a little bit of technology in our horror films. We were trying to do a nod to found-footage, but in a different way.
SR: We talk about this all the time. Found-footage has gotten to the point where it is not really adding to the movie. In JERUZAELM, the Google Glass assisted the story and what they are trying to do. While we love found-footage, we wanted to give a nod to it without actually doing it. I like films, recently like SINISTER where there is footage but it is a portion of the story.
MR: But even there it isn’t digital technology, it’s analogue. There is a subculture of paranormal investigators who use EVP. They listen to static, and watch static to see things in it. I like the idea of the ghost making its presence known through that. Like in POLTERGEIST.
SR: We did like the idea of playing with different types of genres within the same film.
MR: Yeah. We wanted to insert something we hadn’t seen in one of these 1970s ghost stories. We thought: Why not have surveillance footage tangled in it? Initially we wanted it to be much more integrated in the story. In the filmmaking process, making that all work was much more difficult than we thought. All that you see is composited into the monitors.
SR: We did love the idea of the footage being more voyeuristic in nature than it needs to be to tell the story. I like the idea that the husband wanted to explore his voyeurism and through that uncovered the mystery.
MR: There are little voyeuristic nods throughout the film. The former owner of the house, the pervy guy who died, is named Norman, for Norman Bates. This idea of them looking through the wall, and watching the guests in these candid moments was a nod. We want the men in the audience to feel uncomfortable as they are sitting there, watching these women undress on tape. We spent a lot of time in post filming these scenes and to push them. We got a burlesque dancer to do one if the racier ones. We wanted you to feel uncomfortable.

The Horror Community Mourns The Loss Gunnar Hansen

The world of horror icons grew a shade smaller today, as Gunnar Hansen passed away after battling pancreatic cancer. Hansen is best known for his iconic portrayal as “Leatherface” in 1973's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Despite three sequels, two reboots and a sequel that followed one of the reboots, no one that lifted the saw after Hansen could ever come close to duplicating his terrifying powerhouse performance in Tobe Hooper's classic.

A number of year ago I had the joy of attending a screening of Texas Chainsaw with Hansen in attendance for a post showing Q&A. Despite the late hour-the questions began and two in the morning and continued for a solid ninety minutes until theater staff wrapped the event up for fear people would have their cars towed-Hansen handled the evening with grace and gratitude. He was a joy to listen to as he recounted the odd and sometimes harsh conditions while shooting the film.

What struck me about Mr. Hansen was that while he was grateful for the role of Leatherface and the opportunities it afforded him, he didn't allow the role to define him. Hansen was a gentle giant of a man, and a true artist. He settled back down in Maine, his boyhood state, and along with acting, turned to writing poetry and novels along with painting.

Perhaps its the existence of this soft, artistic side that allowed Hansen to garner sympathy for his monster, something that cannot be said for other icons of the day like Michael, Jason, or Freddy. Hansen's Leatherface is a simpleton, a child that has no way of comprehending the horror of his actions. Even the final, famous moments of the film which find Leatherface swinging his saw over his head in anger and frustration share traits with a child throwing a tantrum after losing his favorite toy.

Hansen was 68 years old. He is survived by his partner of 13 years, Betty Tower. Beloved by millions of horror fans across the globe, he will be truly missed.