I Am Not a Serial Killer Q&A with Christopher Lloyd, Max Records, Billy O'Brien, and More! - Dread Central
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I Am Not a Serial Killer Q&A with Christopher Lloyd, Max Records, Billy O’Brien, and More!

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Director Billy O’Brien’s I Am Not a Serial Killer, based on Dan Wells’ book of the same name, follows John, a young psychopath (Max Records) obsessed with the town’s serial killer. John is a misfit, picked on for being weird, a freak, working in his mother’s (Laura Fraser) funeral home. She is protective and does not know what to do about her troubled son.

John, you see, has the Macdonald triad found in murderers, and he talks this over with his psychiatrist (Karl Geary) without too much concern, somewhat bemused. As the movie unfolds and the killer is revealed, John’s razor focus on trying to stop the body count begins to reveal his efforts to try to banish or escape what is seeded in his temperament. What John does out of fear and curiosity, his quest, the killer, manifests a purpose his pursuer may not be able to understand–that is to say, genuine love. A killer is not always a psychopath, and a psychopath is not always a killer.

Before us are the select words of some of the cast and crew with a balance of Dan Wells, the novelist, and a special dash of Christopher Lloyd, who plays John’s next door neighbor, Mr. Crowley, a kind old gentlemen with an ancient past. Interspersed are a few photos from the NYC premiere of I Am Not a Serial Killer, which took place this past Thursday, August 25th, at the IFC Center and featured an in-person appearance from the legendary Lloyd.

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DREAD CENTRAL: Billy, how did this book find you?

BILLY O’BRIEN: The book found me through a person, Irene Ilia’s – her job title’s a reader, which is strange to me, but she goes around to production companies and suggests projects. I’d met her for coffee in Foyle’s Book Shop on Charing Cross Road in London and it was to kind of let her see inside my head, ’cause I’ve got quote quirky sensibilities, and a producer told her to come and meet me because he couldn’t figure out what to do with me in terms of projects. She walked out of that, put her hand in the bookshelf, found the book, emailed me – I bought it the next day, read it, absolutely loved it. I wrote a letter to Dan Wells – and Dan responded.

DAN WELLS: Yeah, we had been trying to shop the book around in Hollywood and not really getting a lot of interest, and then out of nowhere I got an email directly from Billy – it came straight to me rather than through an agent – and it was not just the typical, ‘Hey, I’d like to adapt your book’ – which is what I usually get. This was about two pages long and went into all kinds of different topics, and he talked about Russian literature, and he talked about all these other things – and I knew instantly that he loved the story for the same reasons that I loved the story, which is why I knew that he would adapt it right.

DREAD CENTRAL: What was the heart of the story that you found then, that you fell in love with?

BILLY O’BRIEN: I work instinctively – I think it was ‘love’. This boy, who kind of loved hunting the monsters – killing for love – which might give stuff away, but who cares? –But also it was the wit, it was the humor. I did a very grim horror film years ago, it was called Isolation – and maybe it was a black period in my life – but I just appreciate humor so much, and black humor; it really just gets me going. The whole book is riddled with wonderful wit, and that just excited me. Plus, it’s a film: it’s so cinematic. Strong, interesting characters. I got sent – at the time, especially, I’d get sent so many Hollywood horror films – where they forget about characters. It’s plot and it’s dull. But this was anything but. And it’s that word that the industry seems to hate, which I love, which is it’s quirky. And that’s, to me, everything I do, so…

DREAD CENTRAL: How did the casting happen? How did you find Max Records?

NICK RYAN (producer): I made a short in 2009 that I’d actually produced, in L.A., and we’d seen Max –

BILLY O’BRIEN: –called Blinky–

NICK RYAN: –called Blinky – about a killer robot, who Max wants, more than any in the world it turns out. But basically we’d seen the trailer – Ruairi Robinson, the director for that film, and myself – we’ve made many films together – had seen Max in the trailer for Where the Wild Things Are – and we went, ‘He’s perfect.’ And we got in contact… I’d just made that film, met Billy the following year through Robbie Ryan, the cinematographer, who’s my cousin. I read the script and thought, ‘This is an amazing script’ I think Billy and Chris Hyde had just done a wonderful job on it. And I said, ‘The kid I worked with last summer would be perfect. Probably a little too young.’ – and he was – [To Max Records:] You were twelve then. – So from that process forward we decided to try to get the funding for the film. We made a short, a little promo piece for this in 2011, when Max was 13 or so –

BILLY O’BRIEN: –Basically, Robbie, me, and Nick were developing it – we’re filmmakers more than we’re producers, which is probably why it took so long to get off the ground – and we said, ‘Well we’re filmmakers: Why don’t we go and make a little film that feels like the book?’ Nick had done another short in Detroit, so he knew the area, so we all hopped on a plane. – We had 35mm cameras and 35mm stock – Max flew up from Portland with his dad because he wanted to play in the snow ’cause it’s rainy in Portland. We found this town, Bay City… it was just great. It fit the book and everything, and we just spent three or four days playing in the snow and shot this little – it’s more stream-of-consciousness than anything, or a music video, and that started getting interest then from financiers. And even though Max was too young, he just lit up the screen. And then my biggest problem was, as each year passed and we still couldn’t get it financed, would he still be interested and would he be twenty stone and his voice would be deeper – But no.–

DAN WELLS: My fun story about this as well is that I watched Where the Wild Things Are after we’d already signed the option for the book and thought he was perfect. Thought he was too young, but by the time we raised the money, Max Records would probably be about the right age. So I emailed Billy and said, ‘We have to get this kid!’ And he said, ‘Well, okay I’ll look into it, but my producer Nick has got another kid in mind’ – and it was the same kid! I love the inevitability of that: that we both independently picked – Who would be best? This one! – And we were right.

DREAD CENTRAL: Max, what did you do when you first read the script?

MAX RECORDS: I read the book first.

DREAD CENTRAL: Did you know about the book before you were offered the role?

MAX RECORDS: I’m not sure. My mother at the time was a children’s librarian so it’s totally possible.

DREAD CENTRAL: Did you make any early notes or have any initial insights into your character then?

MAX RECORDS: No, I can’t think that way. It’s all just – it’s in my brain.

BILLY O’BRIEN: I remember directing you and I would go into this big long – I talk so much – I’d go ‘Blurhblurhblurh,’ and you’d go, ‘Sounds good.’ [Laughter.] And then you’d do it your way, and it was perfect! [Laughter.]

DREAD CENTRAL: When was Christopher Lloyd attached to the production?

BILLY O’BRIEN: It was quite close to starting –

NICK RYAN: Yeah, we were in Minnesota.

BILLY O’BRIEN: – Actually the connection there was Robbie; Robbie’s not just a D.P., he read the book, loved the book. He helped out with the option fees. He’s sort of like the person behind us all. He’s at Gersch, and Chris is with Gersch. He just said, ‘We love Christopher Lloyd.’ He didn’t know if there was any chance of getting him. And through his agent we just pitched the script –

CHRISTOPHER LLOYD: Yeah, I just really liked the character, liked that it wasn’t the same as previous roles. If I can backtrack, when you say ‘horror’ I don’t think that really describes it.

BILLY O’BRIEN: It’s a borderline film, covers several things. Could be in the eye of the beholder.

CHRISTOPHER LLOYD: I just thought it was a very intriguing book.

MAX RECORDS: Yeah, that’s what attracted me too.

BILLY O’BRIEN: It’s very original. Not like a lot of studio pictures – not to kill my studio hopes – [Laughter.]

DREAD CENTRAL: You’re independent, man.

BILLY O’BRIEN: Well, so far…

NICK RYAN: And will remain so after this comes! [Laughter.] It’s really original, not like anything else. And in cinema today, there’s not enough of that.

BILLY O’BRIEN: I’ve always loved Stephen King… These characters are living, breathing, flawed, interesting characters. And whenever they do adaptations, you kind of miss that a bit – I think Misery did it brilliant – but you know, films that go, ‘Oh, it’s by Stephen King.’ I watch them and it’s like a bunch of pretty teenagers running around, and there’s none of that [here]. With Dan’s work, it was so from the heart.

DAN WELLS: We had a couple of pretty teenagers. [Laughter.]

DREAD CENTRAL: How did you approach the style visually?

BILLY O’BRIEN: Well, a lot of that would be Robbie Ryan. I was in film school with Robbie and we did all our shorts together, and he did my first feature, Isolation. If you look at a lot of Robbie’s work – he works with directors like Ken Loach and Andrea Arnold – Fish Tank and Wuthering Heights – and it’s very – what you were just saying. And we all agreed… this is a small Midwest town – a paint-peeling, mining town. We wanted to shoot on 16mm from the word ‘go’ because it captures that – Robbie and i just liked that kind of filmmaking, 1970s filmmaking kind of. On film. On location. Available light, and let’s see what we get. So in that sense it is quite documentary. Plus it’s such a small production, we could move fast. If the sunlight was in the right direction, we could get over there and get it. If the snow was falling, we could grab that as well.

DREAD CENTRAL: What was the photo-chemical process that you used to get the beautiful grain and color for the film?

BILLY O’BRIEN: It’s natural. This is what we forget, because everything in digital, you have to do it all in post. But film is natural, so the rushes coming to us from the lab looked exactly like the finished film. We just had to tweak things very slightly. Like, for example, on a digital, look at the reds. They’re always kind of magenta now. We had those 1970s neon reds in the mining town.

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NICK RYAN: Reds are really important in this film. If you look at some of the key scenes, like Max on the phone – the red around that – the lights on the car –

BILLY O’BRIEN: Only film can reproduce that so well. We shot on Fuji, because Robbie always likes shooting Fuji, but they stopped making film in 2013. They closed the doors. So Robbie simply bought enough for two features – one for Andrea Arnold because he does all her films – and then he rang me, and said, ‘Can we store it in your garage?’ Because I live out in the country, I’ve got a big garage. They threw it in the fridges. And so the stock sat there for two and half years while we raised the rest of the funding. My kids’d walk in and out, kind of looking at it like, ‘What’s all that stuff?’ At dinner parties we’d bring people down to see the Altar of Film in the garage. As each month went by, another lab shut. So we had – when we were in Michigan, we managed to process our stock from the trip in 2011 in a local lab – that’s gone. There was one in Minneapolis – that’s gone. There was one in Seattle – that’s gone. They’re all gone. We had to process it in L.A. There’s hardly any left. That was my biggest fear. And Robbie said it years ago: ‘Once the labs start going, you’re screwed.’ There seems to be a little bit of a comeback with Kodak, so even though it’s not Fuji, there might be a film after us, but we’re, at the moment, the last Fuji film.

DREAD CENTRAL: Why was it so hard to raise the money?

NICK RYAN: Yeah. It was really hard, because as [Billy O’Brien] said, we’re a square peg, you know what I mean? It’s really hard to market a film like that. People want it to be – studios like ‘four quadrant’ pictures, so you get everybody in.

BILLY O’BRIEN: If you’re a straight horror film, it’s much easier. But there’s no main hero role. There’s no A-list Hollywood actor in their twenties or thirties that all the financiers were asking about. So it was that we’re not a straight horror film, it’s a bit quirky. The book is well-loved, but it’s not Twilight or The Hunger Games – Yet. [Laughter.]

DAN WELLS: We’ll see what we can do. [Laughter.]

BILLY O’BRIEN: So all of those factors. Plus, as I said, we’re filmmakers. I’d obviously say, at setting it up, I’m not the best at playing the game of getting financing, all that side [the producers] and they’re bloody good at it and I’m not. I’m rubbish… Plus the fact was that at each year, we’d get very close and the snow would run out. With independent financing, they have money at a certain time. They want to invest in film; if you’re not ready, they’ll put it in another film. So it would collapse at around April, and we’d start all over again and get back there. That happened three years in a row, until finally in 2015, we managed to get there.

CHRISTOPHER LLOYD: Also, there are no car chases. There are no big shoot-outs. There’s no huge… I think the studios want something to catch you with. It’s kind of a quiet film.

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DREAD CENTRAL: What was your process of developing your character?

CHRISTOPHER LLOYD: I think the key was that — Max discovers that it was love. Love had sustained this guy’s life, the love for his wife. He never knew what love was until he met her. I just hope that was an interesting thing to play.

BILLY O’BRIEN: Kay [played by Dee Noah]… Yeah, she was wonderful. She did that in her audition. ‘Cause again, the beauty of an independent film shooting in Minnesota was, with the exception of these two [Christopher Lloyd and Max Records] and Laura Fraser, I think we cast everybody else locally, so I could sit in the room with them, which is so rare these days.

DREAD CENTRAL: How did you contact Froud about the demon design?

BILLY O’BRIEN: I live in his [Toby Froud’s] town, basically. It’s the weird little town of Dartmoor… It’s full of writers and artists, and most of them fantasy… my neighbor is Alan Lee, who designed and painted Lord of the Rings – he’s such a lovely gentleman – Brian and Wendy Froud. Toby grew up there, he’s now in Portland. So I’ve just known him for years. And William Todd-Jones was the main link, he’s the main puppeteer – he’s been friends with Froud – he did my short years ago, The Tale of the Rat That Wrote, he was my chief puppeteer, and we became good friends. We ended up moving to that town, me and my wife, because of Todd and the Frouds and everything. So they’re all these friends. We did the whole puppet shoot in my garage.

DREAD CENTRAL: Was the design at all related to what’s in the book?

BILLY O’BRIEN: Dan got to see it: Toby brought the clay sculpt to a comic con in Salt Lake City two months before we were shooting, he flew me over for it, and I remember sitting there in the bar in the Marriott, and he unfolded it, and I didn’t know what Dan made of it, so Dan can tell it – [Laughs.]

DAN WELLS: Even earlier than that, at the time the money finally showed up and we said, ‘Okay, we can make this: All hands on deck!’… I was living in Germany at the time, and he was in England, so it was very easy for him to just pop over. He and James [Harris, one of the producers] came over and stayed at my house, talking through a million different things, and the one that they kept coming back to was, ‘What did the thing look like?’ How did it function, like, biologically?’ And I didn’t have good answers for them –

BILLY O’BRIEN: You’re a novelist; you don’t have to! [Laughter.]

DAN WELLS: Yeah! I didn’t have to! I didn’t care what it looked like! I’d never once described, for example, John. He never gets a physical description at any point in the five books that I’ve written about him. Because that’s just not how I write. So Billy – I just left him hanging. So then Toby came in, and he designed this creature – and honestly I thought it was brilliant.

I Am Not a Serial Killer (review) is currently available in select theaters as well as on VOD and digital platforms from IFC Midnight.  It’s directed by Billy O’Brien from a screenplay by O’Brien and Christopher Hyde.  Max Records, Christopher Lloyd, Laura Fraser, and Karl Geary star.

Synopsis:
Sixteen-year-old John Wayne Cleaver (Records) is not a serial killer—but he has all the makings of one. Keeping his homicidal tendencies and morbid obsessions with death and murder in check is a constant struggle that only gets harder when a real serial killer begins terrorizing his sleepy Midwestern town. Now, in order to track down a psychopath and protect those around him, John must unleash his darkest inner demons.

I Am Not a Serial Killer

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Ash Faces His Greatest Challenge Yet in the Ash vs Evil Dead Season 3 Trailer: Parenthood!

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The first trailer for the third season of STARZ’s incredible horror comedy series “Ash vs Evil Dead” has been released and it’s full of balls to the wall Evil Dead goodness! You’ve got creepy dolls, obscene amounts of gore, vicious iPhone cases, and a Deadite that just so happens to be as tall as a building! Oh, and you’re also introduced to Ash’s daughter, Sandy? Mandy? Oh, yeah! Brandy! You can watch the trailer below. Thanks IGN!

“Ash vs Evil Dead” season three premieres on Starz on Sunday, February 25th.

Synopsis:
Ash, having gone from murderous urban legend to humanity-saving hometown hero, discovering that he has a long-lost daughter who’s been entrusted to his care. When Kelly witnesses a televised massacre with Ruby’s fingerprints all over it, she returns with a new friend to warn Ash and Pablo that evil isn’t done with them yet. But evil will learn to never get in between a papa bear and his cub.

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Brennan Went to Film School: Unlocking the Hidden Meaning in Insidious: The Last Key

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“Brennan Went to Film School” is a column that proves that horror has just as much to say about the world as your average Oscar nominee. Probably more, if we’re being honest.

WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS DETAILED SPOILERS FOR INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY. READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.

Blumhouse had quite a year last year, didn’t they? In addition to having three number one hits on their hands, the racial satire Get Out is their first horror entry to get awards traction thanks to its deeper themes. Now that everyone is starting to take the company and its work a little more seriously, it’s time to bring out the big guns and dive right into some deeper analysis into a much more unlikely subject: Insidious: The Last Key. The fourth entry in their tentpole haunted house franchise might not seem like it at first glance, but it’s the Get Out of the Me Too era, telling a story of women’s struggles while predicting the downfall of powerful, abusive men that started to occur during its production process with eerie accuracy.

No, seriously. Let’s start by taking a look at the villain. Unusually for this franchise, the baddies are both paranormal and human: halfway through the film it is revealed that the haunting victim who has called Lin Shaye’s Elise and her crew is also a sadistic killer who has chained up a woman in his basement. This is also revealed to be the very same thing Elise’s father did many decades before. The film implies that both men are being influenced by the key-wielding demon that inhabits the house.

Key imagery is very important to the film as a whole (I mean come on, it’s literally in the freakin’ title), and its themes of Elise arriving to her childhood home to unlock the secrets of her past. But there’s more than one meaning to that imagery, and understanding those meanings is the key to unlocking the subtext of the film, if you’ll allow me a really obvious pun.


The demon KeyFace might be influencing the men, but they’re still receptive to the idea. That’s because he’s awakening something that was already inside them. Keyface represents the pure male id; the unconscious, animalistic desires and drives that lay buried in the psyche. He’s not forcing them to behave in this way, he’s just unlocking their darker impulses.

It’s no coincidence that the demon’s lair is the bomb shelter basement. The house has now become a road map of her father’s mind, with his strongest emotions (and the literal place where he keeps his abused women secreted away) hidden in a sublevel that isn’t visible from the surface. This is the very same basement where he locked up Elise while punishing her for insisting that her visions were real. He wanted her to keep her psychic gifts locked away, probably so she wouldn’t discover his own submerged secrets.

Elise encounters a variety of keys during her journey that allow her to penetrate deeper and deeper into The Further, the house, her past, and the hideous truth about the men in her life. These keys unlock doors, suitcases, chains, and cages, but the most important unlocks the truth… and turns the attention of the evil upon her and her two nieces.

The probing of these women ignites the fury of Keyface and he takes her niece Melissa into the basement (another buried sublevel that must be unlocked), inserting a key into her neck and rendering her mute, then stealing her soul with a second key plunged into her heart. He is only vanquished when Elise and her other niece Imogen team together and use a family heirloom – a whistle – to summon Elise’s mother’s spirit.

On the surface, this seems like an inspiring story of three generations of women helping each other to face a great evil. This is certainly true, but now we have the key to understanding exactly what’s happening here. When a young woman discovers the abuse being perpetrated in her house, the figure of pure, wicked male desire literally steals her voice, silencing her. In order to restore that voice, another woman who knows the truth must very literally become a whistleblower.

…Did I just blow your mind?

At its heart, Insidious: The Last Key presents a world where women must rely on other women to provide them a voice and their very survival in a world dominated by powerful men and their ugly, dirty secrets. Secrets that they will do anything to keep locked away. There may be slightly more ghosts in Insidious than in real life, but that’s a frighteningly close parallel with the ugliness currently being revealed in Hollywood – as well as the world at large. It probably won’t tear up the Golden Globes next year, but this film is just the next important stepping-stone after Get Out in Blumhouse’s use of the genre to dig deep into the real life horrors plaguing our society.


Brennan Klein is a writer and podcaster who talks horror movies every chance he gets. And when you’re talking to him about something else, he’s probably thinking about horror movies. On his blog, Popcorn Culture, he is running through reviews of every slasher film of the 1980’s, and on his podcast, Scream 101, he and a non-horror nerd co-host tackle horror reviews with a new sub-genre every month!


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The Evil Dead Trilogy Cuts a 72-Minute Super Cut in Black and White

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Evil Dead Ash

While we wait on pins and needles for the third season of STARZ’s “Ash vs Evil Dead” to hit airwaves in February, we can take a moment to appreciate the original trilogy that led us to this incredible show. Starting in 1981, Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead, which Stephen King hailed as, “The most ferociously original horror film of the year,” began the journey of Bruce Campbell’s Ash Williams, an everyday kinda guy who gets caught up in a battle with demonic entities known as Deadites. Packed with humor, gore, and scares, the Evil Dead series has since become a cult classic and is a gem in the horror community.

Jorge Torres-Torres decided to pay his respects to the Evil Dead trilogy by creating Evil Dead Revision, where he took the first films and revised them, “…into a 72 minute, black & white ballet of gore.

If you need to catch up on the foundations of the Evil Dead universe before the return of “Ash vs Evil Dead”, this seems like a great place to start! Oh, and then make sure to binge the show on Netflix.

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