‘Saint Drogo’ Directors Michael J. Ahern and Brandon Perras-Sanchez On Their Chilling Queer Folk Horror [Salem Horror Fest 2023]

Saint Drogo

If there is one thing we love here, it is celebrating Queer indie horror movies. This is why we love festivals like Salem Horror Festival. Each year where we’re guaranteed to find more to feast our eyes on. One of the world premieres on this year’s schedule was Saint Drogo.

In the film:

A gay couple, Caleb (Brandon Perras-Sanchez) and Adrian (Michael J. Ahern) begin having similar, unsettling dreams concerning Caleb’s ex, who had been working in Provincetown for the summer. Under the guise of taking an impromptu respite, Caleb convinces Adrian to trek to PTown in the winter only to find that his ex appears to be missing. As Caleb’s dreams and hallucinations continue plaguing him, he becomes more determined to find his ex. But the longer he persists in his search, the sooner he nears the sinister secret the town is hiding.

Saint Drogo is the sophomore effort of the group that won most of us over with Death Drop Gorgeous. The two movies couldn’t be more different. However, the Monster Makeup crew is behind both and bringing important topics to the forefront. We caught up with writer-director and lead actors Michael J. Ahern and Brandon Perras-Sanchez at the fest to talk about their new movie Saint Drogo.

Dread Central: Of all the saints, what led you to Saint Drogo?

Brandon Perras-Sanchez: Ryan Miller and I were researching Saints that represented the commentary and allegories we wanted in the movie. Ryan found Saint Drogo, and after researching this odd character, I was able to build a mythos around his folklore and deformities. 

DC: Saint Drogo feels like a queer folk-horror exploration of a relationship that isn’t working out. Can you talk about how those pieces all came together as you were developing the script?

Michael J. Ahern: A lot of the dynamics between Caleb and Adrian came from me working through a failed relationship. But I also think the dynamics are things we witness between gay men regularly, and the pressures we feel from homogenized aspects of gay culture. It was important for us that the relationship was depicted subjectively; neither Caleb nor Adrian are in the right, they are just very flawed men who are not courageous enough to extricate themselves from their situation and to their own detriment. 

DC: I know Caleb is looking for his ex, Isaac. However, I also think he’s looking for the parts of himself he’s lost in this current relationship. Like, we all used to be more fun when we were younger, and it feels like the quest to find Isaac is really about looking for an earlier version of himself that he’d like to revisit. If that’s not me projecting, could you elaborate more on that specific theme? 

MA: I definitely think that’s part of his quest! Caleb is a free spirit and Adrian’s needs are very different. There is still a level of co-dependency they both exhibit but Adrian requires more reassurances, or at least a different kind of devotion. For me, Caleb and Adrian are just opposite ends of my own internal struggles with dating.

BPS: That is pretty spot on. That “grass is greener” mentality is quite prevalent in gay culture, I’d even say more so than others. There is this looming pressure/urgency to be in a relationship, but simultaneously, we are conditioned to think that we are constantly missing out on something better, whether it’s someone from our past or the never-ending men we collect on the sex apps that are constantly waiting in the wings of our minds. I think having access to too many people distracts us from really honing in on identifying what our personal red flags are and what we want/need from a partner. Distinguishing love from compatibility takes a long time to learn.

DC: Caleb and Adrian’s relationship is super rocky. Do we think it ever really stood a chance? Or do we think they saw each other as a person to keep them from being alone? For me, it felt like when you watch two people you know date someone who is an overcorrection from the person they just broke up with.

MA: 100%. When I was playing Adrian, I was tapping into a lot of inadequacies I felt from the relationship I just got out of; my boyfriend at the time seemed to be pining for his ex and I felt like I was competing with a ghost. It was very clear we weren’t supposed to date but we weren’t being honest with ourselves. I think Caleb and Adrian would’ve stood a chance if they were honest that they weren’t a fit for one another!

BPS: Spot on again. They are at that weird point where they are just filling an emotional/physical void until someone rips off the bandaid or something drastically changes in their personal lives.

DC: This movie is such a vibe and a half that it’s hard to look away from. What made you decide to do a slow burn set in Provincetown, Massachusetts?

MA: I had visited Provincetown in the off-season and it was such a stark contrast from my experiences there in the Summer. It’s eerie, bleak, and somewhat depressing (or was, now it’s weirdly very popular in the winter in a “post” COVID world.) The prevalence of addiction was also alarming. I knew it was a setting I wanted to explore. Brandon kind of took that backdrop and started sketching an outline.

BPS: Mike had mentioned wanting to use Ptown in the off-season as the backdrop to a movie and was on board. The shoreline is already gorgeously cinematic, especially when you pair it with winter. 

DC: One thing I like about both of your movies is the use of practical effects. The ones in Saint Drogo look so sick! I was wondering if anything learned on Death Drop Gorgeous helped y’all level up in that area.

BPS: We actually didn’t learn much because we lucked out with the people we worked with on Death Drop Gorgeous. Victoria Elizabeth Black and Scott C. Miller were extremely professional and watching them work was inspiring. On Saint Drogo, we then got to work with Joe Castro who brought his own brand of grotesque movie magic. I guess we did learn a couple of little SFX tricks that we could possibly utilize in the future. The teratoma on Matt Pidges’s face was designed and built by Scott C Miller who could not be there for the application of it so he taught us how to apply and remove silicone appliances which was super fun.

I am still baffled by the number of horror movies, especially slashers, that contain off-screen kills or corny-looking CGI. The majority of the budgets of both films were for SFX and that is something that we will never skimp on. The amount of dumb-fun 80’s gorefests that are still being celebrated and re-watched to this day is because of their wild practical effects and makeup.

DC: As independent filmmakers, you all have to wear so many hats in your films. Do you have a favorite?

MA: I really like to write. It’s where I feel most useful. I think because I’m so familiar with our scenes that naturally translates to directing. Acting can be fun, but incredibly frustrating, especially given the difference in tone for Drogo; trying to play subtle but not too subtle is a dance I don’t know that I’ve mastered. I’m also hoping to get a better understanding of editing because I do enjoy technical tasks.

BPS: I love writing, it’s all I do in my spare time outside of the movie. I also really love acting in our films, but it is difficult with a crew this small. We rarely had a director present and it was just the main crew of 4-6 of us doing multiple tasks. I cannot wait until we have a big enough budget and crew where I can just walk onto a set and only have to worry about my lines.

DC: How did you all come together to form your collective? What’s one piece of advice you’d like to give to aspiring filmmakers thinking about following in your footsteps? 

MA: Some advice I’d give, which I’m still trying to learn myself, is to let go of ego and trust that you won’t have all the answers. I feel very fortunate that I happened upon these guys and I’d just encourage other aspiring filmmakers to find your tribe and tap into your community to accomplish your project. Filmmaking is inherently a collaborative effort and I think relinquishing control is part of that creative process. Also, find the folks going against the tide; those are the real ones.

BPS: We came together when we created Death Drop Gorgeous. Chris and I had come up with this absurd idea about a serial killer using sex apps to lure in men. I had met Mike around that time and told him the idea and he suggested making it into a movie. We then snagged my boyfriend Ryan and one of my besties Wayne and we banged out a screenplay and hopped into filming.

My advice for filmmakers is to shoot first and ask questions later- if you have a vision, no matter how big, take it as far as you possibly can. Fuck tradition. We have access to free editing software, really advanced camera phones, low-cost sound, and equipment. You can do a lot of these things on your own. Collaborate/get eyes on your writing! This is SUPER important. Like Mike said above, everyone’s life experience is different. Things that may make sense to you on paper may not for somebody else. Getting that feedback can help you make that “experience” closer to being more universal to other viewers. Also, recognize your strengths and weaknesses. 

DC: What is one thing about this film/process that you want to talk about but no one has asked you yet? 

MA: I’ve been enjoying dissecting Caleb and Adrian’s relationship here! I think for gay men watching this movie, the relationship feels lived in and authentic because it came from very lived experiences. I remember one of our early viewers, who identifies as heterosexual, thought the threesome scene was very sudden, and we were like, “No, it kind of does happen very much like that.”

BPS: We love you and you always ask such fun questions. I wish they would ask more about the symbolism in the film, there are a lot of little clues and treats in there.

DC: Saint Drogo is still making the festival circuit but do we have an official release date? If not, where is the next festival people catch it at?

MA: We hustled to make Salem Horror Fest. Kay has been such a huge support of our work since Death Drop Gorgeous that we felt compelled to get it done. So, we are now applying to other fests that will mostly take place between August to November. We don’t have an official one lined up yet, but I’m sure we will post about it when we do. No official release date yet but we have hopes of its streaming availability maybe by the end of the year.

Watch the Saint Drogo trailer:

DC: What’s next for Monster Makeup Productions?

MA: Around the same time we wrote Saint Drogo, we also completed this other script called Queen of the Rats. It’s kind of our favorite child, low-key, and we really want to nail it and hopefully have a bigger budget for it, as there are aspects about it that will require a good chunk of change. We’re sort of describing it as Green Room meets The Sopranos with a dash of cosmic horror.

BPS: Like Mike mentioned, we are DYING to get Queen of the Rats going, it is going to be such a blast. I also have a book coming out next month, it is a collaboration with splatterpunk master Aron Beauregard who guided me in novelizing one of my screenplays. A late 1800’s body horror called The White Bishop. More info on www.bpshorror.com. We will be announcing release dates and other news soon. My second book will be out in September. That one is just me, it’s a gory horror fantasy called “recessive NATURE.”

Did you catch Saint Drogo at Salem Horror Festival? Then let’s chat about it at @misssharai



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