Indie Horror Month Interview: Writer/Director Christopher R. Witherspoon Talks Rage, His Previous Life as an Effects Artist and More - Dread Central
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Indie Horror Month Interview: Writer/Director Christopher R. Witherspoon Talks Rage, His Previous Life as an Effects Artist and More

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For his feature film debut Christopher R. Witherspoon takes to the streets of Portland, Oregon to unleash his own inner demons in the violent thriller Rage, which features anonymous stalker “The Biker”, who hunts down an unsuspecting man after a harmless taunt results in vicious terror.

Writer/director Witherspoon also stars in the flick as the faceless killer, and in honor of his newest project Dread Central caught up with the up-and-coming filmmaker to hear more about his career as well as his experiences working on Rage and what’s up next for him.

Read on for our interview with Witherspoon below, and for more check out the official Rage website.

Indie Horror Month Interview: Writer/Director Christopher R. Witherspoon Talks Rage, His Previous Life as an Effects Artist and More

Dread Central: For those who may be unfamiliar, can you tell us a bit about your background, what got you into filmmaking and your career before Rage?

Christopher Witherspoon: As far back as I can remember I’ve wanted to make films. I love film, it comes in second only to the love I have for my three children. As a kid I was exposed to all kinds of movies, every genre… dramas, westerns, Blaxploitation, comedies and my favorite, horror movies.

I actually started making my first little movies shortly after seeing Star Wars for the first time. It blew me away and impacted me so much that I asked my mother to buy me a film camera and she did. My first camera was a Bolex 280 Macrozoom Super 8 movie camera; I was around 11 or 12 years old and I went nuts filming everything I could and after a while I started scripting ideas and used my family and friends as actors. The majority of my little films were horror and sic-fi flicks; one of these days I have to visit my dad’s house in Los Angeles and dig through all of my old boxes and see if I can find those movies.

Before Rage I worked on many films, in a variety of positions, over the years but one of the coolest jobs was working as an effects artist. Many years ago I met awesome effects guru John Carl Buechler at a Fangoria Convention in Los Angeles; he was one of the celebrity guest there. Anyway, when I got the chance I cornered him I showed him this little puppet creature that I had made and he thought that it was cool enough to invite me to visit his make-up effects shop. On the day I visited his shop, I met Bob Kurtzman, Everett Burrell and Howard Burger who were already working there; I had a great time and by the end of the visit he offered me a job.

During my time there I worked on films like Re-Animator, From Beyond, Ghoulies and many others. They were really cool films to work on but the one that I had the best time working on was Re-Animator, it was a blast. My main job was creating some very low-tech mechanics for the fiberglass under structure of the Dr. Carl Hill severed head; I incorporated some mechanics that gave the head some basic movement- blinking, moving eyes and some mouth movement. I remember it was a lot of hard work and long, long hours but definitely worth it.

After my time in effects, I went on to work on producing and directing commercials and music videos. I also developed a children’s television show called “Hubble” that fell apart a week before it was to start production and that kind of soured me on the business for a while. Several years after that I decided to make a feature called Middle Man, a drama which did the film festival circuit back in 2004, but that was about it. In 2008 I started my company Big Screen Ventures and ultimately made Rage.

Indie Horror Month Interview: Writer/Director Christopher R. Witherspoon Talks Rage, His Previous Life as an Effects Artist and More

Dread Central: So what inspired you to make Rage? Can you talk a bit about your approach to the story and how much did real-life road rage play into this story?

Christopher Witherspoon: The decision to make Rage came about because the project that I really wanted to make would of cost too much money to produce so I decided to make a much smaller film. Working from a very, very limited budget standpoint I understood that whatever film I selected to produce was going to have to meet a certain criteria. One, it was going to have to have a limited cast and two, the story itself would have to take place over the duration of just with the locations being kept to a minimum. Although these three things where very important, they were not the only determining factors but they were some of the most important when budgeting.

For instance, a bigger cast would mean more people to pay and more mouths to feed and having the story itself take place over something like a 12 or 24 hour period saves money on things like wardrobe. Continuity is easier and keeping the production limited to only a few locations is a big money and time saver. A couple of films that did all of this successfully were The Cube and the first Saw film; the only one of these rules that I did not totally adhere to was the ‘limited locations’ rule.

The idea for Rage came from two places but neither was from a real life road rage incident. The first was from things that were taking place in my personal life at that time; for two years my children’s mother and I had been going through a horrible custody battle and anyone that’s ever had to do this will tell you it’s a very, very traumatic process. It was during this time that the idea for Rage started to form.

The second part came from the Steven Spielberg 1971 film classic Duel; the friction between my ex and myself came from the fact that I was having an affair and she found out and that brought about a very destructive end to our relationship. Regretfully our three completely innocent children were the biggest victims of the whole affair and as a filmmaker, the only way for me to deal with what was happening was to write about it.

Also, for me to be interested in a project I have to find some way to connect with it on a personal level so I started thinking about how the decisions that I made caused so much destruction to not only my life but the lives of those closes to me. Also around this time, I was up late one night and Duel happen to be on television so I watched it and was amazed that after all these years it was still such an effective movie.

At that point I had an epiphany, which I believe was very cathartic in retrospect; I took the things that happen in my personal life and formed the majority of the subtext of the film and Duel would serve as the inspiration for the surface story. For example, the idea of being pursued by a faceless antagonist who wants to destroy you for reasons that you are not completely aware of; once I had this concept in mind the script was very easy to write.

Indie Horror Month Interview: Writer/Director Christopher R. Witherspoon Talks Rage, His Previous Life as an Effects Artist and More

Dread Central: I thought it was pretty impressive that in addition to writing and directing, you’re also the killer in the movie. What made you decide to tackle the role and was it hard juggling roles that required you to be in front of and behind the camera simultaneously?

Christopher Witherspoon: I get this question a lot and I always tell people that it’s definitely not a vanity thing or that I’m some kind of control freak. I wear a lot of hats on my films because of necessity; I’ve never had a lot of money to work with so instead of having to beg someone to come on board and perform a job for little or no money I have found it easier to just do it myself. I fit the physical build of The Biker (6’2”, 250lbs) and I’ve been on motorcycles my whole life. Plus I was going to be there every day anyway and most importantly I worked for free.

It wasn’t too hard doing several things at one time because when you love doing something as much as I love making films; it just never feels like work. Doing all of the things that I did on Rage seem natural to me and wearing multiple hats just means that you have to do a lot more prep work.

Dread Central: So how did production on Rage go; any difficulties along the way?

Christopher Witherspoon: To be honest things went pretty fantastic and I believe that was because I had some pretty awesome co-producers in Darrell Smith, Suzanne Mitchell and Shawn Smith. They worked very hard to make it easy for me to focus on just making the movie and I also think it was because the actors and I had a very good rapport with each other and talked at length about their characters before we ever filmed a single scene; this was another big part for why things also worked so well.

Indie Horror Month Interview: Writer/Director Christopher R. Witherspoon Talks Rage, His Previous Life as an Effects Artist and More

Dread Central: A lot of the movie and the marketing for Rage has this ‘throwback’ vibe to it; how intentional was that (and it is all badass by the way) on your part?

Christopher Witherspoon: Well I’d have to say yes, it was intentional because in a sense the ‘production style’ of Rage is kind of who I am; the films that I love the most were made in the 70’s and the 80’s so those films from that era heavily influence me- films like The Last House on the Left, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Halloween, Jaws, Friday the 13th- and the list goes on and on.

Dread Central: Tension was the key to the success of Rage I believe; did it resonate with you while making the movie just how much tension and atmosphere would play into this story or was that something you realized in the post-production process?

Christopher Witherspoon: Yes, even during the scripting phase I wanted Rage to have a great amount of tension and suspense. My all-time favorite director is Alfred Hitchcock and I’ve always been amazed at how he was able create so much tension and suspense in his movies. It is something that I will always try to inject into my films.

And yes the editing process was a great opportunity to enhance those scenes with tension in them; it is very interesting at how a movie gets to its finish product. It is very true that when making a movie you have three periods of great opportunities to drastically affect the overall tone of a movie; the first is when you script it, the second is when you shoot it and the third is when you edit it.

Dread Central: What’s up next for you then? Any plans on staying within the genre in the future?

Christopher Witherspoon: I will most definitely be staying in the horror genre with my next film and most likely every film after that. Next for me is a horror anthology entitled The Twilight Hotel and as I mentioned before, I originally wanted to make The Twilight Hotel before Rage but it would have cost too much to make and I just couldn’t raise that kind of money. Now things have changed a bit.

The idea for this film came out of a question I’ve asked myself for years- what would have happened if Alfred Hitchcock had directed episodes of the Twilight Zone? The story takes place in an old 1920s rundown art deco hotel where people of dubious character check into and must deal with their personal demons, literally. The film will have all the trademark suspense and mystery of Hitchcock and the surprise twist endings and supernatural aspects of the Twilight Zone; it’s going to be a great movie and we’re also hoping to spin it off into a cable series for somebody like HBO or Showtime.

And if there is anyone who was disappointed that Rage didn’t have enough gore in it then they’ll be happy to hear that this film is going to be very, very, very gory. I hope to have funding in place as soon as possible and am looking to start production by the end of the year.

Indie Horror Month Interview: Writer/Director Christopher R. Witherspoon Talks Rage, His Previous Life as an Effects Artist and More

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Check Out the Opening 2 Minutes of Another WolfCop

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It was just earlier today that we brought you guys The Dude Design’s the newest poster for writer-director Lowell Dean’s horror-comedy sequel Another WolfCop.

And now we have the movie’s opening 2 minutes!

The clip showcases the new flick’s villain trying to sell us on his “Chicken Milk Beer” before losing his cool and taking it out the commercial’s crew. We then cut to a ragtag group of criminals, dressed as homeless Santas trying to outrun the cops.

A fun two-minutes if you ask me!

You can check out Another WolfCop‘s opening scene below and then make sure to hit us up and let us know what you think in the comments below or on social media!

The film is written and directed by Lowell Dean, produced by Bernie Hernando, Deborah Marks, and Hugh Patterson, and distributed worldwide by Cineplex.

Another WolfCop co-stars Amy Matysio, Jonathan Cherry, and Serena Miller. The film also features special appearances from Canadian music icon Gowan and legendary filmmaker Kevin Smith. It was executive produced by Sean Buckley, J. Joly, Bill Marks, Brian Wideen, Michael Kennedy, and Michael Hirsch.

The film is slated for a wide Cineplex theatrical release on Friday, December 8, 2017, with the film seeing a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital home entertainment release through A71 and Black Fawn in 2018.

Synopsis:

A month has passed since the eclipse transformed hard-drinking Officer Lou Garou into the crime-fighting hellion WolfCop. Although the Shape Shifters controlling the town have been extinguished, Woodhaven is far from returning to normal. Lou’s liquor-fueled antics and full moon outbursts are seriously testing his relationship with Officer Tina Walsh – the new Chief of Police. An old friend has mysteriously reappeared with a truly bizarre secret to share, and a homicidal new villain has emerged from the shadows looking to finish what the Shape Shifters started. To defeat this lethal adversary, it will take more than a lone wolf packing a pistol.

Prepare for the next chapter of WolfCop that will be more dirty and hairy than the original! Consider yourself warned.

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Reviews

AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters

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Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill

Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk


** NO SPOILERS **

It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.

Spoiler free.

To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.

That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.

Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.

Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.

Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.

Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.

But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.

But let’s backtrack a bit here.

Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).

And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.

Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.

With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.

Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.

I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.

Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!

Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.

Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?

On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.

That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.

In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.

While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.

Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.

Bring on season 12.

  • American Horror Story: Cult (2018)
3.5

Summary

The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.

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The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror

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Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro

Directed by Nicholas Woods


The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).

The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.

The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.

The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.

The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.

The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:

  • Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
  • Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
  • If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
  • “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
  • The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
  • As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
  • “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
  • The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
  • Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
  • The Axiom
4.0

Summary

In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.

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User Rating 3.9 (10 votes)
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