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Indie Horror Month Exclusive: Zak Kilberg Talks Midnight Son and Alyce

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This week those involved with making the indie horror film Midnight Son have reason to celebrate. Their hard work some three years in the making is finally paying off as the project is making its world premiere this Friday, March 4th, in San Jose at the prestigious Cinequest Film Festival.

In honor of their perseverance in independent filmmaking, Dread Central is putting the spotlight on those involved with Midnight Son (review here) over the next several days to kick off our Indie Horror Month celebration.

For his role as the lead character Jacob in Midnight Son , it was almost like fate knocked on Zak Kilberg’s door one day. The up-and-coming actor was referred by a friend to writer/director Scott Leberecht’s website to check out a possibility of being part of a brand new independent horror film. To Kilberg’s surprise, Leberecht’s artwork had some haunting similarities to his own presence, and the two had never even met.

“When I saw that the lead character looked a lot like me actually, that’s when my interest was piqued for Midnight Son,” explained Kilberg. “I couldn’t believe it – I never met the guy, and yet, his vision of Jacob was me to a ‘T.’ And I can honestly say that I have never wanted a role more than I wanted the role of Jacob at that very moment; it was just so uncanny. I got in contact with Scott, and from there I knew we were going to do something special. He has such a great vision for storytelling so I knew this wasn’t going to be your run-of-the-mill horror movie.”

Indie Horror Month Exclusive: Zak Kilberg Talks Midnight Son and Alyce

Different take, indeed. Midnight Son is anything but your standard vampire tale these days – there are no sparkly vampires, no sexy vampires, no vampire hierarchies in Jacob’s world. Played with an almost meticulous restraint by Kilberg, Jacob is just as confused about his condition as the audience is. He’s been allergic to sunlight since he was a kid, and as the years pass, he has an appetite that can never be satiated no matter what he eats until he discovers the power of consuming blood.

Kilberg said, “I’ve always gravitated towards darker roles, which is probably due a lot to the way I look. So when I read this script, I immediately felt a connection to Jacob – I loved that there was an intensity to him but also a vulnerability as well, and I thought it was the juiciest role I’d ever had the opportunity to read, and ironically enough, I actually read for the part of Edward Cullen when they were casting Twilight way back so that will tell you something.”

“There are times when I read for roles and they don’t even feel within my grasp, but everything about Midnight Son felt so right. Jacob resonated with me especially because he has so much going on which is deeper than you see in a lot of horror movies these days,” added Kilberg.

The actor said much of the power behind Midnight Son was due to Leberecht’s passion for wanting to give audiences an almost voyeuristic look into this world that Jacob gets involved in once he starts to put the puzzle pieces together about his ailment and has to try and cope with what he is becoming. Kilberg said most of the magic behind the project came from their collaborations together while in the early stages of production that helped shape the story into what it is now.

“The first version of the script was much broader (and even included my character becoming a bat at one point), but what’s so great about Scott’s genius is that he realized that this story was more about these characters than actual vampires so we worked together to mellow those things out,” explained Kilberg. “Midnight Son wasn’t about answering questions or taking audiences from Point A to Point B and that was it. It was more about the ambiguity of Jacob’s condition and how it affected his life and the lives of those around him and the uncertainty that everyone was facing because of him.”

Indie Horror Month Exclusive: Zak Kilberg Talks Midnight Son and Alyce

Not ready to settle for just looking the part, the actor set off to embody the character of Jacob through and through. “To prepare myself for the role, I did a fast and lost 20 pounds just so I could be more emaciated like I imagined he would be. When we started shooting, I totally became Jacob, and having four weeks of mostly night shoots really helped plunge me into that lifestyle that I imagined he lived. It was a little unsettling at first to only be up at night and sleeping all day, but I adjusted.”

Even though fasting itself is a dangerous approach, it was actually food that almost did Kilberg in one night while on set and almost completely shut down production entirely on Midnight Son. “This was so surreal – I remember I was still kind of fasting but had to eat something so I had some Chinese for dinner. Right after I ate, I proceeded to shoot a fight scene for 45 minutes which proved to be a bad idea because all I remember was that when we were done, I could barely move and I had to be taken to the hospital. I got there, the doctors ran a bunch of tests, and they told me I needed my appendix out because my white blood cell count was really off. And if that would have happened, production would have been dead in the water because I would be laid out for a few weeks recovering.”

“I actually talked them into one more blood test right before surgery was scheduled the next morning at 7:30 am, and I was so relieved when the tests came back and it wasn’t my appendix but rather just a bad case of food poisoning. I checked myself out of the hospital at 10 am, got some rest, and went back to set the next day,” Kilberg added.

Even though the actor said that sometimes the shoot would become grueling, he never minded because everyone involved on the project was there because they believed in Leberecht’s vision. “Everyone working on Midnight Son was there for the right reasons, and I think that’s what kept us all going. We definitely did something special on this movie because I’ve never seen people come together the way everyone came together on this film, and it inspired me to want to produce movies myself because I saw how collaborative independent filmmaking could be.”


Midnight Son – Trailer
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With Midnight Son set to be unveiled this week, Kilberg said he sees himself working more behind the scenes in the future rather than in front of the camera.

“Right now I’m really focused on the producing side of things rather than acting,” said Kilberg. “I do love acting, but it’s an exhausting process. I love having control over things so I think that’s why I love being a producer. I honestly didn’t realize what sort of resources I brought to the table until I worked on Midnight Son, and I guess I really never knew what a producer did until then.”

“I love working on the independent level of film, too, because there’s something special about people coming together to collaborate outside the system. I’ve come to realize that the key to being a successful indie producer is knowing what your own strengths and weaknesses are and then bringing in the right talent and resources to help balances out both sides. It’s still a learning process, but I am loving the process every step of the way,” Kilberg added.

For his first production, the upcoming twisted thriller Alyce, Kilberg teamed up with writer/director Jay Lee, whom fans may know from his work on 2008’s Zombie Strippers. “Jay brought me the script a while back, and I really liked the ‘cult’ film feel to it. I liken it to Alice in Wonderland on crack meets Taxi Driver. It takes place in Echo Park and starts off as an indie drama, but 30 minutes into it everything starts spiraling out of control, which leads to an insane climax. To say it ends with a bloodbath and a slaughterfest is almost putting it too lightly.”

Kilberg added, “There are some really dark and disturbing elements to Alyce, and Jay told his story in a very intentionally over-the-top way, which I completely let him run with. I will admit I am kind of nervous but also excited to see what the response will be to the film.”

Indie Horror Month Exclusive: Zak Kilberg Talks Midnight Son and Alyce

Look for more from the Midnight Son crew soon, and be sure to stick around all month as we celebrate Indie Horror Month at Dread Central! In the meantime visit the official Midnight Son website, befriend Midnight Son on Facebook, and follow Midnight Son on Twitter!

Heather Wixson

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Hell Night Blu-ray Review – Mischief & Mayhem At Mongoloid Manor

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Starring Linda Blair, Peter Barton, Suki Goodwin, Vincent Van Patten

Directed by Tom DeSimone

Distributed by Scream Factory


1981. Prime time for the slasher film, when studios were more than content to pump out one after another since production cost was often so low. The downside, though, was that many wound up being formulaic and, eventually, forgotten. Time has allowed the cream to rise to the top of that crop and while Hell Night (1981) isn’t among the best it does stand out due to some novel choices made by director Tom DeSimone and executive producer Chuck Russell, the man responsible for some of the most consistently entertaining horror films of the ‘80s. A dilapidated mansion, oozing with gothic atmosphere, stands in place of a college campus or generic forest setting. Characters are dressed in formal costume; a stark departure from typical ‘80s teen garb. The film is half haunted house, half crazed killer and there is a not-entirely-unexpected-but-definitely-welcome twist at the end providing a solid jolt to a beleaguered climax. Fans are rightly excited to see Hell Night makes its debut in HD, though the final product is still compromised despite Scream Factory’s best efforts.

It’s Hell Night, every fraternity brother’s favorite evening; when new recruits are tormented in hazing rituals from, well, Hell. Peter (Kevin Brophy), president of the vaunted Alpha Sigma Rho house, comes up with the brilliant idea to have four pledges – Marti (Linda Blair), Jeff (Peter Barton), Denise (Suki Goodwin), and Seth (Vincent Van Patten) – spend the night in a decaying mansion. But this isn’t just any old house, as Peter regales a rapt audience – this is where former owner Raymond Garth killed his wife and three malformed children before hanging himself, sparing only the life of his son, Andrew, who was rumored to reside within the place after the murders. The pledges enter Garth Manor and quickly pair off, with Marti and Jeff getting intellectual while Denise and Seth take a more physical path.

A few hours pass and Peter returns with some of his bros, planning to initiate a few good scare pranks they set up earlier that week. The chuckles don’t last long, though, because Jeff and Seth quickly find the shoddy wiring and poorly placed speakers rigged upstairs. What they don’t know is that there is an actual killer on the loose, and he just decapitated one of the girls. Leaving the labyrinthine home proves difficult, with Marti & Jeff getting lost within the catacombs beneath the estate, evading their mongoloid menace however possible. Seth, meanwhile, has to scale a massive spiked fence if they hope to get any help way out here. Wait, didn’t Peter mention something about Andrew having a sibling?

The production team on this picture was a beast, and I’m convinced that’s the chief reason why it came out any good at all; specifically, the involvement of Chuck Russell and Irwin Yablans. I give a bit less credit to director Tom DeSimone, who up to that point (and after it) filled his filmography with lots and lots of gay porn; storyline and direction are usually secondary in that market. Hell, they even had Frank Darabont running around set as a P.A. which is just a cool fact because nobody listens to P.A.s on a film set. Music is just as important, too, and composer Dan Wyman is a synth master who worked with John Carpenter on his early films. His score here is reminiscent of those lo-fi masterpieces.

Solid atmosphere and rounded characters make all the difference. Instead of a roster of stereotypical sophomoric faces the bulk of the film focuses on four individuals with personality and a bit of depth. Blair makes a good turn as the bookish good girl type, while Barton is a charming match for her mentally, showing interest in more than just a drunken hookup. Denise and Seth are both superficial, and their interactions inject the most humor into the film. Denise continually calling Seth “Wes” is one example. A good horror film gets the audience invested in who lives and dies, and while I won’t go so far as to say these are exemplary characters the script does make them three-dimensional and not so paper thin.

The 1.85:1 1080p image is sourced from a 4K restoration of an archival 35mm print with standard definition inserts. This is a step up from Anchor Bay’s old DVD but not by leaps and bounds. Colors attain greater saturation and definition is tightened but the picture looks awfully soft too often and the jump between HD and SD footage is plain as day. The print displays vertical scratches and white flecks. Black levels are decent but there is clear room for improvement across the board. To their credit this is the best image Scream Factory was able to produce but fans should temper expectations going in because this is not a pristine picture by any means.

There is nothing wrong to be found with the English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track, which does a fine job of carrying the dialogue alongside Dan Wyman’s sinister synth soundtrack. Direction is limited and the presentation is routine, but no problems were detected and the track capably supports the feature. Subtitles are available in English.

Here is where Scream Factory does their best to make up for the shortcomings of the a/v presentation: a ton of extra features.

An audio commentary track features actress Linda Blair, director Tom DeSimone, and producers Irwin Yablans & Bruce Cohn Curtis.

“Linda Blair: The Beauty of Horror” – This is a recent discussion with the actress, who covers her run in the genre in addition to diving deep into this film’s difficult production.

“Hell Nights with Tom DeSimone” – Shot on location at the Garth Manor (actually Kimberly Crest Estate in Redlands, CA), DeSimone reflects back on shooting the film there over 35 years ago.

“Peter Barton: Facing Fear” – The actor offers up expected discussion, covering his career in horror and navigating the Hollywood scene.

“Producing Hell with Bruce Cohn Curtis” – This covers more of the behind-the-scenes work that went into making the movie.

“Writing Hell” – Screenwriter Randy Feldman offers up some insight into his process for creating the story and writing the script.

“Vincent Van Patten & Suki Goodwin in Conversation” – The two actors, who have not seen each other in quite some time, sit down together for a back-and-forth discussion.

“Kevin Brophy & Jenny Neumann in Conversation” – This is another chat conducted the same way as Van Patten & Goodwin.

“Gothic Design in Hell Night” – Art director Steven Legler talks about his process for turning Garth Manor into how it is seen on film; evoking the right chilling atmosphere.

“Anatomy of the Death Scenes” – Pam Peitzman, make-up artist, and John Eggett, special effects, scrutinize each of the film’s kill scenes and discuss what went into achieving them.

“On Location at Kimberly Crest” – DeSimone guides viewers on a tour of the “Garth Manor” as it can be seen today.

A theatrical trailer, two TV spots, a radio spot, and a photo gallery are the remaining features.

Special Features:

  • NEW 4K Scan of the film taken from the best surviving archival print
  • NEW interviews with actors Linda Blair, Peter Barton, Vincent Van Patten, Suki Goodwin, Kevin Brophy and Jenny Neumann
  • Audio Commentary with Linda Blair, Tom DeSimone, Irwin Yablans and Bruce Cohn Curtis
  • Original Theatrical Trailer & TV spots
  • Blu-ray Disc Exclusives:
    • NEW interview with Director Tom DeSimone
    • NEW interview with Producer Bruce Cohn Curtis
    • NEW interview with Writer Randolph Feldman
    • NEW – Anatomy of the Death Scenes with Tom DeSimone, Randolph Feldman, Make-up artist Pam Peitzman, Art Director Steven G. Legler and Special Effects artist John Eggett
    • NEW – On Location at the Kimberly Crest House with Tom DeSimone
    • NEW – Gothic Design in Hell Night with Steven G. Legler
    • Original Radio spot
    • Photo Gallery featuring rare, never-before-seen stills
  • Hell Night
  • Special Features
4.0

Summary

“Hell Night” overcomes being lumped in with standard slasher fare thanks to dripping atmosphere, unique production design, and characters that elicit some empathy. The a/v presentation leaves much to be desired but a plethora of bonus features softens that blow.

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Video: The Shape of Water Q&A with Guillermo del Toro and Doug Jones at Hollywood’s Egyptian Theatre

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This past weekend at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, CA betwixt a double screening of The Shape of Water and the classic The Creature from the Black Lagoon, the former’s director Guillermo del Toro (and star Doug Jones) sat down to discuss the latter’s influence on the film, Gill-man sex, “one sock movies,” his career in the genre, and more with moderator Jonah Ray, and we were there to film a portion of it.

Our sincere thanks to American Cinematheque general manager Dennis Bartok for extending the invitation.

For more Cinematheque screenings, visit the official website here.

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The Open House Review – Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here

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Starring Dylan Minnette, Piercey Dalton, Patricia Bethune, Sharif Atkins

Written by Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote

Directed by Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote


Mere weeks, even days, after effusively beating Netflix’s original horror content drum (The Babysitter, Before I Wake, Creep 2), I’m here to confirm that The Open House is emptier than an vacant bomb shelter. Cold, unappealing and thoughtlessly plotted to the point where “generic” would have been an improvement. From the moment we’re welcomed into Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote’s scripted imprisonment, it’s nothing but loose floorboards and busted plumbing. The home invasion genre has rarely been navigated with such little attention to detail, asking for our suspension of coherent storytelling early, often, and without earning the right to be deemed mindless genre fun. Not even Ty Pennington could save this extreme renovation disaster.

Dylan Minnette plays Logan Wallace, a track star and student who must find closure after watching his father fall victim to a fatal car accident. It is his mother Naomi’s (Piercey Dalton) idea to spend a little time away from their suburban home – escape those painful memories – so they retreat to her sister’s luxurious mountain getaway. The catch? It’s in the process of being sold and open houses are on the regular, so Naomi and Logan must vacate their temporary premises on certain days. It’s after one of these very showings that Logan begins to notice slight changes around the house, and he fears that an unwanted visitor may be in their midst. Guess what? He’s right.

To understand how little The Open House cares about conscious blueprinting, just read the poster’s tagline. “You can’t lock out what’s already inside” – right, but you could have prevented them from coming in, or checked the house to make sure they weren’t squatting, or explored numerous other possibilities to avoid this scenario. The mansion’s realtor allows prospective buyers to come and go but it’s not her job to make sure no one’s hiding in the basement? Naomi can’t even keep track of the *single* visitor she lets look around the house? It’s infuriating to see so many people neglect safety out of forced coincidence because the script couldn’t rationalize the killer’s entry any other way – a confounding strike one.

This is also a film that admits no reasoning for why its own murderer has targeted the Wallaces, or why he stokes a violent fetish when it comes to open houses. We never actually see his face, just his imposing handyman-looking attire, nor do we savor any kind of tangible backstory (his family died during their own open house and he suffered a psychotic breakdown – just give me *something*). His undefined form never demands curiosity like John Carpenter’s “The Shape” once did, because scripting is nothing more than bullet notes for basic horror movie necessities. Here he is, your bad guy – too bad he’s introduced without fear, handled without originality and unable to characterize beyond torturous kidnapper dotted lines. He’s just, you know, a guy who sneaks into open houses and kills – COMPLETE WITH A FINAL PAN-IN ON AN OPEN HOUSE SIGN WHEN HE MOVES TO HIS NEXT TARGET [eye roll into infinity].

Every scene in The Open House feels like an afterthought. “Ah, we need a way to build tension – how about a senile local woman who lives down the street and wanders aimlessly into frame?” Overplayed and in no way suitable to most her inclusions, but sure. “Oh, and we need inner conflict – what about if the breaker-iner steals Logan’s phone and frames him for later acts?” I mean, didn’t Logan canonically lose his phone even before Naomi’s mid-shower water heater issues – but sure, instant fake tension. “How are people going to believe the killer is always around and never blows his cover – think they’ll just buy it?” No, we don’t. Worse off, his cat-and-mouse game is dully repetitive until a finale that skyrockets intensity with jarring tonal imbalance. This closing, dreadful end without any sort of redemptive quality. More abusive than it is fulfilling.

If there’s anything positive worth conveying, it’s that Minnette does a fine job shuffling around as a character with severe sight impairment. The killer makes a point to remove his contacts as a final “FUCK YOU,” just to toy around a bit more, and Minnette frantically slips or stumbles with nothing more than foggy vision. Otherwise, dialogue finds itself ripped form a billion other straight-to-TV Logo dramas about broken families, no moment ever utilizing horror past a few shadowy forms standing in doorways after oblivious characters turn away. You can’t just take an overused subgenre and sleepwalk through homogenized beats…case and god-forsaken point.

Even as a streamable Netflix watch, The Open House is irredeemable beyond fault. The walls are caving in on this dilapidated excuse for home invasion horror, benefiting not from the star power of a temperamental Dylan Minnette. I have seen most involved players here in far better projects (Minnette’s stock has rightfully been skyrocketing, Matt Angel in The Funhouse Massacre, etc), but this is bargain bin theatrics without a fully formed idea. A nameless villain, doomed nice guy (Sharif Atkins), woefully unaware plot advancement – all the worst cliches found in one rage-quit worthy effort. Anyone who makes it through deserves an award…or a dunce cap.

  • The Open House
1.0

Summary

Unless you’re irrationally afraid of cold showers, The Open House fails to deliver on a premise that can be summed up by no more than two lines of text.

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