Kool Kat of the Week: Holy Gut Punch! Producer Kendall Keeling Screens Her First Feature THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE at Buried Alive Film Festival 2019

Posted on: Nov 13th, 2019 By:

Kendall Keeling and the poster for THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE. All photos are provided by Kendall Keeling and used with permission.

From festival judge to producer screening her first feature, Kendall Keeling is no stranger to Buried Alive Film Festival, Nov. 13-17, 2019, at 7 Stages. The ‘60s giallo-fueled THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE screens Sunday Nov. 17 at noon. Based on a novella by Thomas de Quincey (CONFESSIONS OF AN ENGLISH OPIUM EATER) and written and directed by Kool Kat Bret Wood (THE UNWANTED [2014]), this incessant thriller subverts the formula of the revenge film, its “hero” Jonathan (Joe Sikes) enacting brutal crimes in the name of justice goaded by the cold-hearted spirit of his dead ten-year-old sister Berenice (Alice Lewis [MALICE OF ALICE photo series]) and also features scream queen Lynn Lowry (THE CRAZIES [1973], SHIVERS [1975] in a key villain role.

A longtime aficionado of horror film of the most vicious variety, Kendall Keeling cut her producing teeth with the extreme zombie short film ABED (2012), from director Ryan Lieske, who she met at Buried Alive 2010, and Bram Stoker Award-winning writer Elizabeth Massie. Next, she co-produced the horrific CRAZY2CRAZY, written and directed by Greg Daniel (currently in post-production). Keeling acquired a taste for producing, and then applied her lessons learned on these films (#1: don’t be afraid to show it, squeamish people can look away if they need to) on THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE. She also contributes movie reviews for new horror releases to STOMP AND STAMMER magazine.

So basically Kendall is a natural/unnatural ATLRetro Kool Kat of the Week, and we were dying to ask her how she discovered horror, why she has a special fondness for Buried Alive, go behind the bloody curtains of THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE, her recent recommended films, and what’s next for this cutting edge horror movie producer!

ATLRetro: What’s the secret origin story of how little Kendall got hooked on horror movies and what are a few films that had an early impact on you?

Kendall Keeling: As far back as I can remember, I have always loved horror movies and scary things. When I was about 6 or 7, I watched Friday Night Frights every week on [Atlanta’s] Channel 17. They played tons of Hammer and AIP films. I remember being obsessed with HOUSE OF USHER [1960] and the other Roger Corman Poe movies. About a year later, my dad found out that Vincent Price was going to be speaking at Emory University. He took me to see Price speak and then took me backstage to meet him after the show. He was just the most wonderful person. After that, the horror compulsion just continued to gain steam.

Kendall Keeling and Bret Wood at Buried Alive Film Festival.

You’ve attended a lot of Buried Alives and even been a festival judge. What stands out about this festival and why should horror fans be sure to attend?

I think of BAFF as family, almost. The horror community in Atlanta is just fantastic and everyone is really supportive of each other. Buried Alive is like the Christmas Dinner of horror. I have met so many amazing people at the festival over the years, most who have become friends. Blake [Myers] and Luke [Godfrey] really have a passion for the subject matter and it shows. They work very hard to keep the line-up fresh and interesting.

We’ll get to your film in a moment, but what else are you most excited about in this year’s festival line-up? Anything you think readers should definitely not miss?

What I look forward to the most every year are the shorts blocks. They are, without a doubt, my favorite thing about Buried Alive. There are always one or two that really stick with me. The features are always badass, but there is something special about seeing a 7-minute film that blows you away.

You’ve said that you only work on “films that leave you feeling gut-punched.” Can you explain what you mean by that?

I watch a lot of horror movies. I like about 70% of what I see. The 10% that I adore are the ones that stun me in some way. If I find myself saying “holy shit!” at any point in a movie, that’s a keeper. A great example of that would be Gaspar Noé‘s work. For all of the work that goes into filmmaking, I wouldn’t want to bother with something that doesn’t at least aspire to disturb or upset people.

Bret now has a number of features under his belt. Did you particularly want to work with him on a project?

Definitely. I first met Bret at a Splatter Cinema screening of Takashi Miike‘s ICHI THE KILLER [2001]. A few months later, we both ended up on the jury for BAFF. We became friends, and it was clear that we shared a taste for subversive films. We first discussed working together when he was beginning THE UNWANTED [2014]. It just wasn’t the right time or fit, so we decided to do something else once that was completed. We talked about a number of different ideas and themes, and then he showed up with a script! And here we are!

Alice Lewis and Joe Sikes in THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE (2019).

The giallo aspects of the movie (cinematography, bloodletting, music!) imbue it with that retro quality that we love while also being very contemporary, delving into returning vet Jonathan’s memories of the Iraq War and Middle East terrorism. Can you talk a little about that aspect and balancing then and now in the film? 

Well, the revenge facet of the story lends itself perfectly to the giallo style. But Bret did a great job weaving in Jonathan’s war memories and their role in the obligation he has to fulfill to his sister. Jonathan wrestles with both his decisions during the war and his inability to resolve his family crisis.

The casting also was spot on—especially Alice Lewis and ‘70s horror demi-goddess Lynn Lowry in the pivotal roles of mercurial little girl Berenice and aging, bitter Justice Merrill. Any anecdotes about how they got cast and working with them on set? 

This was Alice’s first real acting role. Bret found her a on a casting website and she was the only young girl who was scowling, so that was exactly what he was looking for in Berenice. With Lynn, that was a decision made after we started the film. In fact, the role was originally written for a man. Bret decided to rewrite the character for Lynn after meeting her during an interview, if I remember correctly. They were both fantastic to work with. On set, Alice would be laughing and playing cards with Joe (who plays Jonathan) one minute, and then snap right into Berenice and be creepy as hell the next minute. She never got tired or bored or complained. Totally professional out of the gate. Lynn really brought it for every scene she performed. She delivered a nasty, unlikeable villian and I can’t even imagine that role being filled by anyone but her now. And Lynn is so nice in real life that it makes it even more impressive.

Lynn Lowry and Kendall Keeling on the set of THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE (2019).

Loved your cameo. How did you keep your cool, sipping wine casually in the foreground while the film’s two young…er…protagonists…get to know each other?  

I was totally unprepared for that, as you can probably tell from what I am wearing. We had shot the scene with Joe and Rachel a couple of times already when Bret said he needed something in the foreground. That something ended up being me. He handed me his phone to read and I remember being appalled that he had 1000 unread emails—I am pretty neurotic, so that drives me crazy! I also remember that I drank almost two glasses of wine before he was happy with the shot.

How was the film funded and what’s next after it plays Buried Alive?

Most of it was funded through Bret’s company Illustrated Films, LLC. We also raised about $10k through Kickstarter to complete it. We are submitting it to festivals through next spring and then expect a commercial release next summer, if everything goes as planned.

You’re also a film reviewer and you watch an astounding number of horror films annually. What trends and directors are pushing the envelope now, in your opinion? A few film recommendations for our readers?

I mentioned Gaspar Noé earlier, and his film CLIMAX was my favorite one so far this year. And although it was released last year, I have gotten a lot of traction out of Coralie Fargeat‘s REVENGE. I have shown it to a ton of my friends and everyone is always cheering before it’s over. It has a lot of “holy shit!” moments. I still really like anything that smells like French Extreme, but I have also enjoyed some domestic films this year. CRAWL by Alexandre Aja was so much fun. Well, he is French, but the film isn’t.

Kendall Keeling and Angus Scrimm.

You’ve attended a lot of horror cons and met so many of the actors and filmmakers behind horror classics. What one or two encounters stand out and surprised or delighted you the most?

I love going to horror cons and I am a total fangirl. Two of the absolute sweetest guests I have met are [actor] Angus Scrimm (PHANTASM[1979]) and [director] George Romero (NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD[1968]). Angus had each person he met sit down with him and just talk for about 10 minutes. It was so lovely and so wonderful seeing him enjoy all the fans. Romero is such a legend that I was about to pass out by the time I met him. He said that I had a great name and that I should be an anchorwoman. I don’t remember anything else about our conversation, but I was floating on air after that.

George Romero and Kendall Keeling.

What’s next for Kendall Keeling, film producer?

I am currently working on a screenplay for an idea I have had hanging around for about a decade now. I am also thinking about directing a music video for a kind of a horror song I wrote. I play survival horror video games whenever I can, so I am trying to work on these other things when I get the chance.

 

 

Find the full schedule and purchase tickets to Buried Alive Film Festival 2019 here.

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The 2019 Buried Alive Film Festival Raises Hell in its 14th Year and Gores it up with Five Days of the Best Global, US and Local Indie Horror Treasures!

Posted on: Nov 11th, 2019 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

This haunted holiday season is alive and kicking as the Buried Alive Film Festival (BAFF) kills it with another year of hellacious cinematic treats! BAFF is brought to you by Festival Director, Kool Kat Blake Myers and Event Director, Kool Kat Luke Godfrey and a helluva killer team of mad scientists working behind the scenes. Gore it up with five blood-filled days (November 13-17) of film terror, including 8 features, 51 short independent horror films from around the globe, and two extra special events, bringing its sinister shenanigans for a fourth year to 7 Stages Theatre in Little Five Points.

BAFF kicks off Wed. Nov. 13, at 8pm, with the ever-popular BAFF Sinema Challenge, giving local filmmakers the opportunity to bring to life a horror film in 13 days. Production starts on November 1 and films are screened on the festival’s opening night. The contest is judged by co-creator and exclusive programmer for Turner Classic Movies (TCM) weekly late-night cult movie showcase TCM Underground, Kool Kat Millie De Chirico and “Archer” animation director and Atlanta-based filmmaker, Marcus Rosentrater.

Thursday night kicks off with Shorts Program #1: First Shovel in the Grave is always the best!, which includes Ujicha’s [Director of BAFF 2018’s VIOLENCE VOYAGER] TEMPURA (Japan) about man’s best friend; David Bornstein’s UNHOLY MOLE, where selling one’s soul for guacamole is where it’s at; German Sancho’s FEARS (Spain), delving into a little girl’s frightening world; Miao’s I LEARNED TO DRIVE AT THE END OF THE WORLD (China) and so many more! The Opening Night Feature is Michael Laicini and David Amito’s ANTRUM: THE DEADLIEST MOVIE EVER MADE (2018), a film about a cursed ‘70s film that finally has come to light. Watch if you dare!

Tricks ‘n’ treats abound as Friday brings you Shorts Program #2: Grave worm’s Finest, which includes Tyler Martin’s creepy crawly short, HATCH (USA); Jeon Jinkyu’s THE DEATH VENDOR (Korea), with death for sale; get exorcised with Steven Stull’s D IS FOR DEMON (USA); fight for your life with Kate Trefry’s HOW TO BE ALONE (USA) and more! Stick around for the 8pm Feature as punk mutants take on Vietnam vets in Joe Begos’s VFW (2019), preceded by James Sizemore and Tim Reis’s psychedelic short, BUDFOOT (USA/Local), shot at Kool Kat Shane Morton’s Silver Scream FX Lab! And of course no respectable horror film festival would be complete without screening a few horror classics, and ATLRetro loves all the special events chosen this year, including a special screening of Andrew Lemen’s 2005 silent film, THE CALL OF CTHULHU with a live soundtrack by Atlanta-based jazz group Samadha, followed by a special midnight grind-house screening of Ben Winston’s ‘70s-esque biker flick HELL BOUND (2018)!

The heads just keep rolling as Saturday brings you Shorts Program #3: Who Said Robbing Graves Wasn’t Fun! including Neal O’Bryan and Chad Thurman’s tasty TOE (USA); Jill Gevargizian getting twisted with ONE LAST MEAL (USA); Trevor Mirosh’s intergalactic EXHIBIT MAN (Canada); Tony Reames terrorizing the babysitter with PLAYTIME’S OVER (USA/Local); Stacey Palmer’s toothy gore, TOOTHACHE (USA/Local) and more followed by a 4pm Feature, dishing out sex education at its most sinister with Keola Racela’s PORNO (USA), preceded by Elwood Quincy Walker’s KISSED (USA). At 6pm, BAFF brings you Shorts Program #4: Dig the Grave Deep So They Can’t Crawl Out, featuring some #METOO horror with Yfke van Berkelaer’s LILI (Netherlands); Mia’kate Russel’s MAGGIE MAY (Australia); Ferris Wheels and strange creatures with Carlos Baena’s LA NORIA (Spain); Tomi Malkki’s SKELETONS IN THE CLOSET (Finland) and more! At 8pm get ready for another hellacious Feature with Brett and Drew Pierce’s boy vs. 1000-year old witch, THE WRETCHED (USA), preceded by Rich Ragsdale’s THE LOOP (USA)! And to top off the evening, BAFF offers a special treat at 10pm with a screening of Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz’s splatter classic, THE TOXIC AVENGER (1984), hosted by Atlanta’s award-winning Blast Off Burlesque, who will stage one of their signature TabooLaLa events including a performance inspired by the film before the screening! Last but not least is a midnight screening of local Tony Reams’ (et al) DEAD BY MIDNIGHT (USA).

For those early birds, Sunday kicks off with a 12pm feature of Kool Kat Bret Wood’s THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE (2019) [keep your eyes peeled for our Kool Kat of the Week, Producer Kendall Keeling coming soon], preceded by Joshua Giuliano’s IN SOUND WE LIVE FOREVER (USA), followed by a 2pm Feature screening of Sandy K. Boon’s documentary, J.R. “BOB” DOBBS AND THE CHURCH OF THE SUBGENIOUS (USA), exploring the phenomenon of two self-proclaimed weirdos from Ft. Worth who created their own cult following, preceded by Alastar Train’s ALL STRETCHED OUT (UK). At 4pm, BAFF treats you to another feature with Kool Kat Daniel Griffith’s creaturific documentary, MARK OF THE BEAST: THE LEGACY OF THE UNIVERSAL WEREWOLF (USA/Local), preceded by Josh Gould’s MEAT WAGON (USA). Shorts Program #5: The Toll of the Death Bell promises a monstrous good time with screenings of David Oesch and Remo Rickenbacher’s DEAD ANIMALS (Switzerland); Dante Vescio and Rodrigo Gaasparini’s DEAD TEENAGER SÉANCE (Brazil); Charles de Lauzirika’s LOVE BITE (USA), and more! And finally, the closing ceremonies and awards show begins at 8pm!

The 7 Stages Theatre is located at 1105 Euclid Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30307. Individual program block tickets are $12, and five-day festival passes are just $120.

For more information and the complete Buried Alive Film Festival schedule, visit the website here. And view the official 2019 BAFF bumper here.

 

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Kool Kat of the Week: Bret Wood Extinguishes Bloodlines and Thrills Us Yet Again With His Latest Cinematic Venture, THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE

Posted on: Feb 22nd, 2017 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

The last time we caught up with the ever-busy Atlanta filmmaker Bret Wood was before the 2014 Atlanta Film Festival screening of THE UNWANTED, his contemporary take on Sheridan Le Fanu’s vampire novella “Carmilla.”  Bret is at it again with his current independent cinematic endeavor, THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE (TWD2D), a loose modern-day adaptation of Thomas de Quincey’s novella “The Avenger.” Fueled by visions of ‘60s gialli.” TWD2D is a thriller that “subverts the formula of the revenge film,” following its “hero” as he seeks gruesome justice. According to its official description: “Goaded by the cold-hearted spirit of his undead 10-year-old sister Berenice, Jonathan wades into ever-deepening, ethically muddier water—for their plan is to not just punish the guilty, but extinguish their bloodlines entirely.” The film stars Joe Sykes [V/H/S (2012); THE LITTLE DEATH (2010)], Alice Lewis (first starring role) and Rachel Frawley. While Bret has personally funded all of his prior film projects, this ghastly twist of a revenge story is being partially funded by a Kickstarter campaign chock full of enticing perks, including copies of the film upon its release to video (Fall 2018). Be a part of bloody fantastic film history and snatch up a killer perk or two via the crowd-sourcing campaign available through February 25! Check out the full range of rewards here!

A rare and obscure film connoisseur, Bret regularly digs deep into the historic cinematic landscape through his enviable day-job as Vice President of Special Projects with Kino Lorber. On the heels of receiving the 2016 Film Heritage Award from the National Society of Film Critics for his PIONEERS OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN CINEMA (2016) collection, he dove right into his next restoration project, PIONEERS: FIRST WOMEN FILMMAKERS, promising to expose viewers to lesser known, yet significant female film pioneers.

ATLRetro caught up with Bret for a quick rundown on THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE, his devotion to film history’s weirdest and wackiest; and why going with crowd-funding made sense for this project! While you’re takin’ a gander at our little Q&A, why not take a sinister peek at the teaser trailer for TWD2D here.

ATLRetro: The last time ATLRETRO caught up with you was with your take on “Carmilla,” THE UNWANTED (2014). And now we see you’re diving head first into Thomas de Quincey’s novella “The Avenger” with your newest film adventure, THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE. Why “The Avenger” and why adaptations of classic literature?

Bret Wood: I’m a voracious reader, and I usually follow some thread of ideas from one book to another rather than just randomly choosing books from a shelf. It’s a great way of discovering writers I wasn’t previously familiar with. At the time I discovered The Avenger, I had been reading a lot of Gothic novels — specifically pseudo-memoirs from a skewed perspective — things like de Quincey’s CONFESSIONS OF AN ENGLISH OPIUM EATER, Charles Maturin’s MELMOTH THE WANDERER and James Hogg’s THE PRIVATE MEMOIRS AND CONFESSIONS OF A JUSTIFIED SINNER. I think it was Joris-Karl Huysmans’s THE DAMNED (LA-BAS) that started me on this whole journey. I like this era of literature because it’s the kind of thing not many other people are reading, and it’s all in the public domain, so if I do find a story that would work well as a film, it’s mine for the taking. There’s nothing worse than discovering a story that would make an incredible film, but knowing it would be impossible to clear the rights (there’s a William Lindsay Gresham [NIGHTMARE ALLEY] story I’m dying to adapt.)

And with pre-1900 books like these, I’m really adapting the spirit of the work, not the plot. As THE UNWANTED bears little physical resemblance to “Carmilla,” THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE does not replicate the plot of The Avenger. But hopefully both of them capture the emotional essence of what makes both of those stories so compelling, and so troubling.

(l-r) Bret Wood, Rachel Frawley

Why a Kickstarter for THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE? What are the advantages of taking the crowd-sourcing route?

Previously I’ve self-funded all my films, but the cost of indie filmmaking in Atlanta has risen considerably since the arrival of Hollywood productions. It’s become more difficult to secure locations, and we have to compete with major studio productions for crew. Just a few years ago, when filmmaking opportunities were limited, there was an abundance of crew who were eager to take on labors of love in order to get experience and make the kind of connections they could build careers on. Now, everyone’s busy on well-paying projects, and it’s not fair for us to ask them to show up on their days off and work 10 to 12-hour days for the love of the art. Over the course of making TWD2D, we’ve assembled a terrific, very dedicated core crew, but I want to treat them fairly and not burn them out on independent production. We want to leave them willing to support the next grassroots project – to insure that this kind of filmmaking can continue in Atlanta.

There are several great things about crowd-funding. One is that it allows anyone to participate. And the size of the donation is less important than the knowledge that someone out there likes the idea of what you’re doing and wants you to see it through to completion. Another attribute of Kickstarter is that when people make a contribution, there are no strings attached. They are supporting the creation of your work without imposing conditions or restrictions upon the donation. As soon as artists accept money from an investor, they can’t help but begin to think of the film as a business and bear the responsibility of shaping the film into something that will become profitable. You can’t help it. That Hollywood mentality starts to creep in.

Joe Sykes as Jonathan

I’m not saying my vision is “pure” or that profitable films are somehow corrupt. But I am trying to make films from the gut – that evolve and find their own form through the process of collaborating with other artists. THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE is a film that emerges from the process of making a film. Just last week, two of the actors (Joe Sykes and Keith Brooks) helped me re-conceptualize a scene that was problematic, and we shot that sequence over the weekend. Likewise, we try to make sure the set is a place where new ideas are welcome, and we’re not just banging a punch list of predetermined shots.

You’ve put together some great bonuses for investors, ranging from special DVDs and Blu-rays to pass codes to stream your past films to posters and private screenings (Exciting!). What can folks looking to invest via Kickstarter expect to get when they back your film?

I think most people want to get a copy of the finished film, but for those who don’t want to wait the year-and-a-half it will probably take for TWD2D to be completed and then released on video, they can join us for the cast-and-crew screening, get copies of my previous work, two different styles of T-shirt, and I’ve dragged out a few things from my memorabilia closet, including a key prop from THE UNWANTED [Millarca’s severed head] and an original print by David Lynch for any big-money donors out there. Of course the greatest reward of all is the satisfaction of keeping truly independent film alive and well in Atlanta – and you get that even at the $5 pledge level.

Looks like many of your cast and crew are Atlantans or from the surrounding area, including yourself. What can you tell us about your cast/crew and why do you think it’s important to work with local talent?

With Atlanta being overwhelmed with studio production, I think it’s more important than ever that indie film projects ORIGINATE locally. The studios have come here for the tax breaks but quickly discovered what a rich and deep pool of filmmaking talent resides here. I don’t think anyone expected the Georgia film industry to expand the way it has — and you can’t chalk that all up to tax incentives. The problem is that the writers/directors/leading actors of these projects are still almost exclusively brought in from the West Coast. The studios and networks don’t see this as a place where ideas are originated and projects germinated. The most successful content-originators in Atlanta are self-starters — people like Will Packer and Tyler Perry. And we need more filmmakers like that — who are crafting their own unique work, and not asking some corporate entity for permission to make films.

You’re a well-known local film historian, as Vice President of Special Projects with Kino Lorber, and have produced Blu-ray releases for the films of legendary directors Mario Bava, Stanley Kubrick, Jess Franco, D.W. Griffith and more! Which project was the most intriguing? In the grand scheme of things, why do you feel it is important to not only preserve film, but to share these works of art with the masses?

Just as I read books from another era, I’ve always loved watching films from the past. Part of it is my distaste for all things contemporary, but mostly it is the thrill of discovering something new. If you love cinema, then there is a whole universe out there waiting to be explored. And you can’t do it from the convenient portal of Netflix. You’ve got to get up off the couch and look for it yourself. And it’s exciting to go on a quest to track down obscure works by obscure filmmakers that only YOU truly understand and appreciate (or so it seems, until you discover there are others who share your passion for the odd and eclectic). And that process opens up social opportunities and enables you to create new friendships (both real and virtual). Go over to Videodrome and strike up a conversation with whoever’s on duty — you’ll see what I mean. That’s really a snapshot of who I am and how I defined myself during my youth.

Alice Lewis

I try to hold on to that sense of discovery in my day job, as I ferret out lesser-known films and give them the best possible presentation so that they’ll be out there for other cineastes to discover. I produce DVDs/Blu-rays of the classics, but I’m also allowed to slip into the release schedule some truly strange and fascinating films that aren’t on most people’s cultural radar; things like the silent-era drug film THE DEVIL’S NEEDLE, the satanic soft-core film THE LAST STEP DOWN, the 3-D film A*P*E, the oddball noir THE CHASE. I’ve got a full plate for 2017 and look forward to introducing some strange new flavors to people’s cinematic palate.

On the heels of receiving the 2016 Film Heritage Award from the National Society of Film Critics for your PIONEERS OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN CINEMA (2016) collection, you’ve jumped right into PIONEERS: FIRST WOMEN FILMMAKERS. Can you tell our readers a little about this project?

PIONEERS OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN CINEMA succeeded beyond our expectations, and I really felt as though I had helped consolidate and publish a hugely important chapter of American film history. It was unique in that it wasn’t just a “greatest hits” of early black cinema; it explored both the cornerstones of the movement and the virtually unknown work. We included lesser-known films. We included incomplete films. We included films so eroded by nitrate decomposition that they are almost incomprehensible. But these films are important nonetheless. They are the mortar that fills in the cracks of the bricks of black film history. And they would never be released under ordinary economic circumstances. PIONEERS was funded by a Kickstarter campaign and the $50,000+ that we raised afforded me an unprecedented amount of creative freedom — resulting in a collection of films that would otherwise have been impossible, or at least commercially unviable.

Fortunately, I was able to maintain the momentum, launch a second KS campaign, and am now knee-deep in producing PIONEERS: FIRST WOMEN FILMMAKERS, which focuses specifically on women directors of the American film industry in the silent era. Our aim is specific because, as with the first PIONEERS, we didn’t want to make this a “greatest hits” collection [Lois Weber, Alice Guy-Blaché]. We want to show you the works you’ve never seen, and expose you to the filmmakers you’ve never heard of [Gene Gauntier, Angela Murray Gibson, Julia Crawford Ivers, Ida May Park, Marion E. Wong]. And by focusing on American silents, we’re able to tell a fascinating – and ultimately depressing – story of how women were pushed out of the director’s chair and into support roles within the Hollywood studio system.

Can you tell our readers how you got into film preservation and filmmaking?

After meeting film historian Dennis Doros when he came to speak at a screening at the University of Tennessee (where I was a student), I was offered a job at the film/video distributor Kino International (now Kino Lorber) in 1987. I started out doing telephone sales for near-poverty wages but was just happy to be working for a company with impeccable taste in its library of films. As the years passed, I migrated away from sales – which I was never very good at – into design work, eventually becoming the Art Director. I gradually accumulated a knowledge of post-production, film mastering, digital restoration, editing, and became Kino’s primary producer of archival projects. Today, the company is much larger, and I’m one of several producers, but I’m still the archival classics guy. And while I have more freedom in acquiring films and negotiating with the archives and licensors, I’m still a very hands-on producer, writing liner notes, designing packaging, supervising film restorations, cutting trailers. Every day is something different (today I get to work on the Republic serial DAREDEVILS OF THE RED CIRCLE and Josef von Sternberg’s ANATAHAN) and that’s what I love about the job.

You seem to be drawn to exploitation films, with your preservation projects, your documentaries [HELL’S HIGHWAY] and your writing projects [“FORBIDDEN FRUIT: THE GOLDEN AGE OF THE EXPLOITATION FILM” and “MARIHUANA, MOTHERHOOD, AND MADNESS”]. What is the magnetizing power of exploitation flicks? And which exploitation film is a definite must-see for our readers?  Yes, we’re forcing you to choose just one.

(l-r) Alice Lewis, Joe Sykes

Funny you should bring these up. I’m just about to close a deal with Something Weird Video for Kino Lorber to revive their “Roadshow Rarities” collection and carry on the tradition that Mike Vraney began with his VHS releases of the early 1990s. We’re going to perform 2K restorations, launch theatrical re-releases of certain titles, and eventually release them on Blu-ray. What I love is that these films, routinely dismissed a kitschy and naive – that was the whole gist of New Line’s marketing of REEFER MADNESS on the midnight movie circuit in the 1970s – are actually much smarter than we give them credit for. They are playful films made by clever filmmakers who figured out a way to game the system, bypassing the censor boards, defying the studio distribution system, and lining their pockets with cash. They pretended to make films to educate the masses on the dangers of drug addiction, venereal diseases, bestiality, polygamy, and other social problems, but were actually making outrageous films that indulged America’s appetites for these forbidden vices. We don’t think of the 1930s and 1940s as a heyday of indie cinema, but it was, and there is still much to be learned from these films.

A favorite? Definitely MANIAC (1934). It is a psychological horror film made by self-taught husband-and-wife filmmakers Dwain Esper and Hildagarde Stadie Esper that plays like a true crime surrealist art film with dashes of Edgar Allan Poe.

Can you give us five things you’re into at the moment that we should be watching right now—directors or movies, past or present, well-known or obscure.

I don’t want others to rush out and discover them — these are MY current fascinations: 1) the novels of Peter Ackroyd;  2) the music of Jacques Brel; 3) any film by Michael Haneke; 4) Bill Gunn’s 1973 film GANJA AND HESS; and 5) Rouben Mamoulian’s APPLAUSE (1929). If you are determined to watch a recent film, I recommend THE LOBSTER and UNDER THE SKIN.

Getting back to why we’re here chatting you up, THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE and the film’s Kickstarter campaign! Without giving too much away, what can you tell our readers about the film and when they can expect to catch it on the big screen?

THOSE WHO DESERVE TO DIE is a revenge story with a supernatural twist. It follows a war hero [Joe Sykes] who returns to his home town to avenge the death of his family guided and goaded by the spirit of his dead sister, played by Alice Lewis. When he meets a social worker [Rachel Frawley] who treats PTSD and war-related “moral injury,” the character begins to question the purpose of this campaign of gruesome violence, and his whole quest for justice begins to unravel into chaos. We hope to finish photography in late spring, and have a cast-and-crew screening around the end of the year. Festival screenings should begin happening in Spring 2018, with a home video release in Fall 2018.

The Kickstarter campaign ends Saturday February 25, so it’s not too late to score a T-shirt or give us that welcome boost of confidence that comes with ANY donation to the cause! Check it out here!

All photos courtesy of Bret Wood and are used with permission.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Bret Wood Transfuses Fresh Blood in a 20th Century Southern Gothic Cinematic Retelling of CARMILLA at the Atlanta Film Festival

Posted on: Mar 27th, 2014 By:

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

The Atlanta Film Festival kicks off this Friday with 10 days of screenings and events and, as usual, plenty of local talent will have their work on display. Among the screenings is the new Southern Gothic horror film, THE UNWANTED, written and directed by local badass Bret Wood, and playing on Monday, March 31 at 9:30 pm at The Plaza Theatre. Wood has had a long career in and among the movies, finding time to direct darkly erotic features like PSYCHOPATHIA SEXUALIS (2006) and THE LITTLE DEATH (2010) when he’s not knee deep in the business of film restoration and distribution as vice president of special projects at Kino Lorber. Wood also devotes time to researching and writing about cinema history. Among his credits as a writer and editor is an edition of the QUEEN KELLY (1929) screenplay by the legendary Erich von Stroheim; HELL’S HIGHWAY, a documentary about those infamous highway safety films; and a book on exploitation cinema appropriately titled FORBIDDEN FRUIT.

With THE UNWANTED, Wood returns to a world of repressed erotic desire. The story, inspired by a famous Sheridan Le Fanu vampire novella, concerns a young woman named Carmilla (Christen Orr) who drifts into a small Southern town on the hunt for a missing loved one. What she finds instead is a sheltered girl named Laura (V/H/S’s Hannah Fierman) held close by her disapproving father (William Katt, THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO). As Carmilla and Laura become drawn to one another, their passion uncovers a nest of dark family secrets that lead to a bloody, deadly confrontation.

Wood recently spoke to ATLRetro about his new film and his career exploring in the darker corners of cinema.

ATLRetro: THE UNWANTED transplants Sheridan Le Fanu’s classic Gothic novella CARMILLA into a Southern Gothic setting. What does moving the location to the South add to the story?

Bret Wood: The change of setting didn’t greatly alter the tone of the story. Rural 19th-century Ireland is not SO different from modern-day rural Georgia. The key thing is that, in both versions, events unfold in an isolated setting in which the people are somewhat disconnected from the world around them.  That sort of geographic space tends to mirror itself in the psychology of those who live there – isolated, insulated, and not in touch with the world beyond the community. It can be very comfortable to live in a place like that – surrounded by people who share your values – but a certain closed-mindedness is almost inevitable. A suspicion of outsiders, a distrust of those who are guided by a different moral compass, a setting in which a visitor would be immediately viewed with suspicion.

And the ingredients of the Gothic work just as well in the 21st Century as the 19th: themes of a family curse, a poisoned bloodline, dreams haunted by spirits, the sublime beauty of nature, the decaying family estate, the menacing lord of the manor. We just did it without corsets, carriages and candelabras.

Engraving from a 19th century edition of CARMILLA.

Your film takes a very naturalist approach to CARMILLA’s horror elements. Can you talk about the process of adapting the story away from the supernatural while retaining its core?

I love Le Fanu’s story, but I don’t believe in the supernatural – and I didn’t want to make a movie about something that I don’t believe in. So I had to find a plausible variation on conventional vampirism. There’s no such thing as vampires in the sense of a person becoming immortal or being capable of transforming into an animal, but there ARE people who engage in recreational bloodletting. My 2006 movie, PSYCHOPATHIA SEXUALIS, dramatizes two real-life examples from the Victorian era in which the exchange of blood was a sort of sex substitute.

So the challenge was to create a form of emotionally-charged bloodletting that two people might engage in – and this bloodplay could, from an outsider’s perspective, appear to be vampirism. In my version of vampirism, the blood isn’t for drinking. I’ll leave it at that. People will just have to see the movie.

Your film grapples with gender and gay/lesbian themes in the midst of a horror tale. How does the horror genre help you to tackle these types of important contemporary issues?

Even though it does have lesbian/bisexual characters, I wouldn’t necessarily call THE UNWANTED an LGBT film. It deals with a more universal experience:  the choice between staying in one place and following the traditions and values of one’s family, versus cutting the emotional cord and following one’s own path. Conformity versus individuality.

You might say that THE UNWANTED is about the painful process of “coming out” – whether from an emotional cocoon or the closet. On second thought, maybe it’s more of an LGBT film than I thought.

As far as horror goes, I had to tread a narrow line. In CARMILLA, the horror lies in the lesbianism of the two central characters -Le Fanu only suggests that they are lovers. And in my retelling, the father still needed to perceive the lesbian relationship as monstrous, but it was crucial that the audience view the relationship as loving and harmonious, even when there’s blood flowing between them.

For a while, I thought about calling the film WATER AND BLOOD to contrast the difference between friendships vs. family relationships, but I figured that was stretching the blood symbolism too far.

THE UNWANTED stars William Katt in a fairly dark and menacing role. How did he come to be involved in the project and what did he bring to the character?

I met him through executive producer Eric Wilkinson, who had worked with him a couple of times (THE MAN FROM EARTH (2007), SPARKS (2013)), and who told me Bill enjoys working on indie projects. He was very enthusiastic about the script, and had a significant impact upon the role. Originally, the character of Troy (Laura’s father) was an unequivocal villain, whose purpose it was to thwart Carmilla. Bill cultivated Troy’s human side, asked me to write a scene in which Troy and Laura spend time together, so we see they have a healthy, loving relationship. That was the inspiration for the horseback riding scene.

To Bill, as an actor, it was always important that the audience understand that Troy loves his daughter, and loved his wife, and the acts of violence he commits arise from his genuine desire to protect them. This inner conflict really shines through in his performance. And it’s so effective that we decided to further downplay his villainy by removing at least one really creepy sequence – which will no doubt appear on the DVD. We decided that rather than showing the audience what horrors this guy is capable of, we should let them wonder.

You’ve had a role in restoring and championing classic movies through your work at the Blu-Ray and DVD distributor Kino Lorber. Is there an overlooked title you would recommend, perhaps one that would make a nice pairing with THE UNWANTED?

I love classic film – the older the better – and am lucky that I get to spend much of each day mastering, packaging and writing about great films, whether it’s silent American films or European horror cinema of the 1960s and ’70s. I was watching a lot of Jean Rollin while working on THE UNWANTED, and would say that traces of his 1975 film LIPS OF BLOOD definitely found their way into my movie. Bill Gunn‘s erotic vampire film GANJA AND HESS (1973) and Jess Franco‘s FEMALE VAMPIRE (1973) were big influences as well. All of them were made by indie filmmakers with limited resources, but who attempted to dig deep into complex emotions that don’t get touched by the typical horror film. And, lest you think I was only influenced by vampire films, you don’t have to look to hard to find shades of Michael Haneke‘s THE PIANO TEACHER (2001) or Rouben Mamoulian‘s APPLAUSE (1929). Did I mention I love my job?

Bret Wood on the set of THE UNWANTED.

Between THE UNWANTED and your earlier films, PSYCHOPATHIA SEXUALIS and THE LITTLE DEATH, you’ve explored sex on the fringes. What draws you to the subject?

I’m sure the short answer to that question lies in my conservative, religious upbringing.  But let’s not get into that.

Regardless of how I became the way I am, I will say that, to me, the most fascinating thing about sex – in films – is not the nudity or the act of copulation, but the mystery surrounding the act – sex as a revelatory experience – maybe I’m still channeling the curiosity of my thirteen-year-old self. There’s nothing less erotic than gratuitous nudity. There’s nothing more boring than a sexually active character with no inhibitions, for whom sex is simply a physical act of pleasure.  Where’s the drama in that?

I’m fascinated by the psychology of sexuality, by the fringe-dwelling people for whom sex has mutated into something slightly abnormal. By the person who is emotionally tight-wound, who is struggling against their own repression, or struggling against moral oppression, looking for some means by which they can relieve this overwhelming urge that’s gnawing at them from the inside. THAT’S interesting to me. There’s mystery there. And conflict. And tension.

You co-authored a book on exploitation cinema titled FORBIDDEN FRUIT. Exploitation films were meant to be cheap and disposable, and yet they linger on in our film culture. What should we learn from that?

One never knows which films will stand the test of time. Look back at all the lousy Oscar-winners in the past 20 years and you’ll know what I mean. The films celebrated by one generation will be dismissed by the next and vice versa.

Exploitation films of the 1930s and ’40s – sensationalized treatments of hot-button topics like venereal disease, drug abuse, prostitution, polygamy -were crude and, on the surface, badly made. But they were tackling subjects the major studios wouldn’t touch, and they were made with a sort of reckless creativity that is a welcome change from the restraint and technical perfection of a studio film of the same era. In the same way, people who are into horror films are nowadays attracted to the schlock of the 1960s and ’70s, the grindhouse fodder once casually dismissed as garbage. And the same goes for 16mm classroom films of the 1950s – ’70s. Maybe it’s because today’s DIY filmmakers can relate to the struggles of no-budget production, maybe it’s a reaction against the over-produced, over-budgeted, over-hyped films that are suffocating the multiplex.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a paleontologist. Part of me today still thinks that way, I love sifting through film history to see what treasures I can find buried in the mud.

What’s next for you?

I have several scripts I’d love to make – for example, a dark comedy about a womanizing stage magician (IN HER RIGHT MIND), a drama about a psychiatric hospital in the 1960s (THE CONTROL GROUP). And there are others. For me, writing is relatively easy. The difficult thing is raising the funds to actually make something. I usually keep a handful of scripts ready to film, and then choose which project to pursue based on the resources available to me. Right now the front-runner is a grim ghost story/revenge film, based on 19th-century literature, very much in the same vein as THE UNWANTED.

THE UNWANTED screens at the Atlanta Film Festival on Monday, March 31, at 9:30 pm at The Plaza Theatre. Tickets for the screening may be purchased here.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.


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