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Elegy – Unleashing the Hounds of Love with Melissa Kelly

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Tony Timpone
Tony Timpone

Photo: Jonathan McPhail

When Dread Central chief Steve Barton asked me to revive my old Elegy editorial as a blog for his great horror website, I couldn’t help but think of that Michael Corleone quote from The Godfather Part III: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!

In case you are unfamiliar with Elegy, I penned these editorials for Fangoria from 1987 till 2010, covering everything from ’80s MPAA ratings wars to publicists who ticked me off to my front-row seat to 9/11. After Chris Alexander took over as editor, I briefly transformed Elegy into a blog for Fangoria.com. Now it’s back, thanks to the persistent prodding of my old friend Uncle Creepy.

Over a post-Monsterpalooza dinner in Pasadena last April, I asked Steve and co-chief Jon Condit what a renewed Elegy should be. “Anything you want,” Steve replied. Jon added he would like me to champion future masters of horror and support filmmakers who might get lost in today’s rapidly changing marketplace, where movies good and bad are treated as just more product to keep the theatrical/disc/VOD assembly line rolling along. That’s a gauntlet I am happy to pick up. Having edited Fango for all those years and programmed horror film festivals all over the world (especially, since 1998, Montreal’s Fantasia), I think I have a good eye for identifying new talent.

The best place to scout for the latest horror is at film festivals. Every major city has one, and even the non-genre ones, like NYC’s recently wrapped Tribeca Film Festival, offers a Midnight section. That’s where I caught Australian writer/director Ben Young’s unbearably tense Hounds of Love (review). The movie charts the relationship of a vicious serial killer couple (played by actors Stephen Curry and Emma Booth) who ensnare a 17-year-old girl (Ashleigh Cummings) into their web of terror. Hounds of Love begins its North American release from Gunpowder & Sky on Friday, May 12th, in various cities and on VOD. At Tribeca, I chatted with Hounds producer Melissa Kelly for the skinny on Young’s sensational feature directorial debut.

TONY TIMPONE: As a producer, what attracted you to such dark material?

MELISSA KELLY: Interestingly, when Ben first approached me with the film, I said no. It’s something I’m really not aligned with. But when he talked about the psychology and how he wanted to approach the story, I said I’m in. This is really intriguing and different. And the way he wanted to look at a particular issue and explore it with such balance and in a sensitive way, I was sold on that idea. I had wanted to work with Ben for quite some time, and we’ve been together on this project since the pitch stage, so we went through all the drafts together. I’m fully invested in this film.

TT: What was it about Ben that made you want to take a chance on a first-time feature director?

MK: There’s no doubt it’s a massive risk, but Ben’s ability to understand story and work with actors impressed me. Also his dedication and absolute tenacity made me feel we’d make a really good team. I knew he was ready to make his film.

TT: What is the story’s basis in true crime?

MK: Ben’s mom, Felicity Young, is a crime fiction author, so he spent a lot of time reading her research material. He came across a book about serial killers and, more specifically, about women who kill. He realized there was something intriguing here that other movies hadn’t tackled before. That was the impetus to write a film about a woman who was so devoted to a man that she would kill for him. It’s crazy, right? Ben researched a series of crimes, but it’s a fictional film.

TT: Australia has witnessed a series of gritty true crime thrillers and horror films in recent years, like Snowtown, Animal Kingdom and the upcoming Killing Ground. Why the trend?

MK: I don’t think it is necessarily a new wave, but those stories are interesting. We don’t make many films in Australia each year, and when you are looking for subject matter that sets it apart from other stories, intriguing, character-driven true-crime stories separate them from the pack. These aren’t the only kind of movies we make in Australia though.

TT: But they are easier to sell internationally.

MK: There is no doubt that there is an absolute resurgence of young people being interested in true crime or horror, especially in the US where there is a massive young audience who are engaging with this subject matter, which is really exciting. Our timing with Hounds of Love could be perfect. That’s serendipity.

TT: Your actors are terrific in the film. What did they bring to their roles?

MK: They are absolutely amazing. Stephen Curry is known as a comedy actor in Australia, so it was a really bold move of us to cast him in this role. But when he read the material and showed us his commitment and take on the character, we knew we had the right actor. Emma and Ben had known each other for a long time, so he wrote the character of Evelyn with her in mind. It took Emma some convincing that this was the role for her. We asked her to audition, and she just nailed it. The emotion she brings to the character is incredible. She based her character on personal experiences and relationships she had. She drew on those emotions and let go and gave us everything. Ashleigh is the most beautiful, sweetest person you will ever meet. She recently won the Heath Ledger Scholarship and is a genuine talent. Though she is a little bit older than her character, she nailed the audition. Being older [21] gave her the strength and maturity to handle that very difficult subject matter. Had we cast someone who was 17, they may not have been emotionally ready to cope with that situation. Ashleigh’s maturity enabled her to understand the situation she’s in. Her character has to be very canny under pressure and find a way to escape.

TT: The last 10 minutes are really tense and suspenseful. Any anecdotes of those shooting days?

MK: It was a tough 20-day shoot overall, which is tough on any cast and crew. There is an element of speed in that. We were predominantly based in one location for 15 days. That allowed us breathing space, not having to move trucks around and everything. The last few days of the shoot were very hot and intense. Those sweltering conditions elevated everybody’s performance. We mostly shot in sequence.

TT: The film could have easily gone in a more graphic direction. Did Ben always want to avoid the “torture porn” route?

MK: We had no interest in that. Ben’s directing shows incredible restraint. Sometimes when you don’t show something, your mind imagines something even worse. We knew that would be more frightening. We never intended Hounds of Love to be a horror film. We intended it to be a psychological drama, but I could see how it straddles both. Audiences may interpret it as horror, as the situation is horrific. But in no way is the movie gratuitous; it is very sensitively handled. We have scenes where a door shuts, and your mind will go somewhere far worse than what you can show on the screen.

TT: How rough were those torture scenes on Ashleigh?

MK: They were tough on everybody; you have to get into a particular mindset. Ashleigh used music to get into character and/or to find that space. We created a very strong family unit on set, and at the end of the day it was very important that everybody “check out.” We would go out to dinner and do things that allowed people to wash away the day so they didn’t go home with that horrible situation. It also helped having Stephen Curry there; even though he’s playing a villain, he a comedian. The minute the camera stops, he’s out with a joke, and he brought the whole room back. After the intensity, Stephen’s comedy routines would be very grounding for us all.

TT: Perhaps the most frightening thing about the movie is that the woman goes along with the killings, that whole co-dependent relationship.

MK: That is something Ben wanted to explore. That is a very strange psychology that is repeated in these situations. You have a very charismatic male and a woman who is a little bit broken, and they form a bond. Unfortunately, that devotion and co-dependency have her go to extremes in that relationship and kill for love. It’s tough emotional terrain.

TT: What’s next for you?

MK: Comedy [laughs]. Ben and I are working on an Australian Goonies-style adventure that is a lot of fun. We want to work again together and do something fun.

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Trailer Takes Us DOWN A DARK HALL With AnnaSophia Robb and Uma Thurman

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It was just the other day that we shared your first look at producer Stephenie Meyer (Twilight) and director Rodrigo Cortés’ (Buried) adaptation of I Know What You Did Last Summer author Lois Duncan’s  Down a Dark Hall

The film stars AnnaSophia Robb (The Reaping), Isabelle Fuhrman (Orphan), Taylor Russell (Netflix’s Lost in Space) and Uma Thurman (Pulp Fiction). And today we have the film’s trailer and poster!

You can check out the poster to the right and the trailer below and then make sure to let us know what you think below or on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram!

Down a Dark Hall is directed by Rodrigo Cortés from a screenplay by Mike Goldbach and Chris Sparling based on the book by Lois Duncan and stars AnnaSophia Robb, Isabelle Fuhrman, Victoria Moroles, Noah Silver, Taylor Russell, Rosie Day, and Uma Thurman. It’s produced by Stephenie Meyer, Wyck Godfrey, Marty Bowen, Meghan Hibbett, and Adrián Guerra.

The film hits theaters, On Demand, and iTunes August 17th.

Synopsis:

Kit (Robb), a difficult young girl, is sent to the mysterious Blackwood Boarding School when her heated temper becomes too much for her mother to handle. Once she arrives at Blackwood, Kit encounters eccentric headmistress Madame Duret (Thurman) and meets the school’s only other students, four young women also headed down a troubled path. While exploring the labyrinthine corridors of the school, Kit and her classmates discover that Blackwood Manor hides an age-old secret rooted in the paranormal.

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Tom Six Reveals “Vile” THE ONANIA CLUB…So What?

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Tom Six of The Human Centipede fame is coming back to theaters with The Onania Club, a film he promises will be, “…one of the most vile, inhumane movie experiences of all time.” IndieWire revealed the news, which adds that the film is produced by Tom Six and Ilona Six through Six Entertainment Company.

Details are being kept secret for now but the site says Six will bring a psychological thriller that will feature, “…mostly strong female characters” and that it will, “…definitely pass the Bechdel test with flying colors.” Starring in the film are Jessica Morris, Darcy DeMoss, Deborah Twiss, Karen Strassman, and Flo Lawrence.

Let me try and gather all my thoughts here because this is hitting some notes that I’m frankly not really feeling. I’ll try to organize this as best I can.

…[a] vile, inhumane movie experience…
If that’s what Tom Six is aiming for, my interest has already dropped by a huge percentage. I didn’t see The Human Centipede in theaters but I saw it after it hit home video. It wasn’t a gross movie but it had a gross premise, which I honestly thought made it more interesting. Then came along The Human Centipede 2, which I did see in theaters. I found it to be a brilliant response to those who were disappointed by the lack of vomit-inducing moments in the first film and who demanded it be more grotesque. Once they got it, they felt like it had gone too far, which made me want to point and say, “Trust filmmakers. They very often make decisions because they know how to do it right.” That being said, I think it’s a bad, unpleasant, mean-spirited movie. I never bothered with The Human Centipede 3 because of shockingly bad reviews and even worse word-of-mouth from friends and the horror community.

If Six’s goal is to create a movie experience that will haunt and disgust audiences, then my immediate concern is that there is no story to back up the intention. Hell, the announcement is more focused on creating a spectacle than it is on letting people know what the film is actually about. It’s Marketing 101 and as a horror fan for my entire life, I find it almost offensive that the idea of “gross first, everything else second” is being pushed in the initial blitz.

I have no problems whatsoever with gore, viscera, or shocking scenes. Martyrs, I Saw The Devil, The Thing, and the like are all great examples of movies that push a lot of envelopes but never fail to have fascinating concepts backing everything up. There is purpose in their horror. There is method to their madness. So far, Six isn’t inspiring much faith that The Onania Club will walk down that kind of path.

…[it will] pass the Bechdel test with flying colors…
The Bechdel Test, for those who don’t know, is a test within films that sees if there are two, or more, women talk to each other about something other than men. That’s it. Two women in a coffee shop spend 30 seconds talking about a book? Your movie passes. A group of teenage girls discuss what they’re going to wear at an upcoming high school dance? Pass. Ronda Rousey and Michelle Rodriguez trade barbs before beating each other senseless. Check.

While noble in intention, the Bechdel Test is a shockingly low barometer for movies to be considered women-friendly. It doesn’t ask for nuance or depth. It doesn’t set any expectations for emotion or drive. If Six thinks that his movie is a landmark simply because it passes the Bechdel Test, he clearly doesn’t know that horror has been doing this for a long time. And from reading about Bree Olson’s character in The Human Centipede 3 (the only woman in the IMDb credit list), and taking into account the female characters of the first two films in that series, I think one can understand my lack of faith when it comes to Six and women in his films.

I am fully aware of how negative and critical I sound here and I really do hope that I’m going to be proven wrong. Every film should be allowed the chance to stand on its own merits. Hopefully The Onania Club will see Six give us a film that will generate interesting conversation for years to come. But until more is revealed, my expectations are very low.

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Ben Hanscom Has Been Cast in IT: CHAPTER 2

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Some fun news out of Deadline as the site has reported that Jay Ryan (Mary Kills People) has been cast as the adult Ben Hanscom in It: Chapter 2. He joins Jessica Chastain, Andy Bean, James Ransone, James McAvoy, and Bill Hader, who will be playing Beverly, Stanley, Eddie, Bill, and Richie, respectively. Bill Skarsgard will also be back as Pennywise.

Andy Muschietti will be directing based on a script by Gary Dauberman (Annabelle: Creation) with a planned release date of September 6, 2019, almost two years to the day after the release of the first film.

It was a massive success, earning just over $700 million globally against a $35 million budget. That film starred Jaeden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Jack Dylan Grazer, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Chosen Jacobs, Nicholas Hamilton, Owen Teague, Javier Botet, and Steven Williams.

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