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Elegy – Unleashing the Hounds of Love with Melissa Kelly

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Tony Timpone
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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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