A grizzled demon hunter (is there any other kind?) played by Dolph Lundgren joins forces with a reluctant FBI agent (Kristina Klebe) to battle an ancient evil that can possess whoever kills it. It’s the latest offering from one of our fave directors, Mike Mendez (Big-Ass Spider, Lavalantula), and a fine return to form in the pure horror genre.
We got a chance to sit with Mike and ask him all about it.
Dread Central: We know that indie filmmakers have projects come to them in a variety of ways – so was Don’t Kill It already a go and you were hired to direct, or did you help develop the script and so on?
Mike Mendez: The script came to me about 4 years ago. At that time there was nothing attached. The producer, Robert Yocum, had found this wonderful script by Dan Berk & Bobby Olsen, but nothing was in place. Robert had seen a film of mine many years ago called The Convent and felt my frenetic energy would be a good fit for the project. I was totally into the concept, but I wasn’t sure if it was ever going to really happen. So began the 3-year process of trying to bring it to the screen. I have to be honest, I wasn’t quite sure if it was ever going to happen. In fact I doubted it quite severely at times. But credit to Robert Yocum, he persevered and he was the one that continued pushing that boulder uphill.
We went through a few actors being attached that would drop in and out of the project. Then I had heard that Dolph Lundgren read it and liked the project. I felt it was a great choice. From there it was still another year before Michael Slifkin & Scott Martin of Archstone Pictures came along and rescued the project. Once they got on board it was a quick run to the finish line. Very quick in fact. Once it was officially financed and greenlit, I would say it went at a breakneck pace.
DC: In the case of Don’t Kill It, you didn’t write the script, but as long time fans of your work, we still see a lot of you in the story – tell us how you do that, while also remaining true to someone else’s vision.
MM: Well I think the script found its way to me because it was up my alley. It was dark but quirky and had a high body count. It rarely happens, but I could see where someone would think of me for this project. Once I got involved, Dan and Bobby were gracious enough to allow me to collaborate with them and tailor it a little further to my sensibilities. I think it was a good combination, but I can’t stress enough that it started with their very cool script.
DC: When it comes to genre, this movie is the first non-sci-fi, all horror, movie you have done in a while… did you miss the giant mutants and spaceships?
MM: Not at all. To be honest, this type of movie is much truer to who I am as a filmmaker. I think it’s very important to try to expand your sensibilities as a filmmaker, and while Big Ass Spider! was a wonderful experience, this is closer to the Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson films I grew up with as a kid. I think it’s really important to be trying different things. It’s important to always surprise the audience a little bit. If anything, I hope to go a little darker and scarier with whatever I do next.
DC: For true aficionados of horror, can you tell us what some of your inspirations were? I mean, I thought I noticed an homage to The Hidden… am I right?
MM: Yes, for sure The Hidden was a huge inspiration on my end. What’s funny is I often hear comparisons to the Denzel Washington film Fallen and the TV show “Supernatural,” both of which I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t seen. So they may have been influences, but not on my end. Evil Dead 2 and Raiders of the Lost Ark are two of my favorite movies; I think those influences can be felt in this film. For one thing the character of Jebediah Woodley, for me, was a cross between Indiana Jones meets The Exorcist. So I’d say those were two massive influences. My films tend to always be influenced by a lot of things, but it’s influenced by whatever works best to tell the story.
DC: Dolph Lungren was really perfect as your hero in Don’t Kill It… what was it like to direct him, and can you share any funny / cool stories?
MM: I love Dolph. We had a great time. The most important thing was that I had Dolph’s trust and that made a massive difference in the outcome of this shoot. He is an imposing man, and there was no way I was going to overpower him in any way. I mean, he is almost literally an 800-pound gorilla, with a 160 IQ. If he thought I wasn’t competent or up for the challenge of making this movie, I have no doubt he would have steamrolled right over me. He’s a sharp guy and he does not suffer fools.
So I was very fortunate that I earned his trust early on, and he was one of my main collaborators on this film. We were in it together, and if we weren’t in sync creatively this could have gone very poorly. Thankfully we were and it went very smoothly.
Funny / cool stories? Well he became the grand marshal of the Christmas parade in the town that we shot in while we were there. The town of Lexington, Mississippi. opened themselves to us and we became their very special guests. In return, Dolph became part of the town’s parade. It was very cool of him.
DC: Kristina Klebe is also great. You have worked with her before; what is it about her that keeps you coming back?
MM: You know, it takes a special kind of lady to act opposite Dolph Lundgren. He is a very imposing man and it takes a special someone to be able to stand up to him and look him in the eye and fire back at him. Kristina was totally capable and up for the challenge. She has a strong nature about her, but certainly can be vulnerable if the scene called for it. Plus we get along, so it’s always nice to have friends around when you’re tackling a project. Kristina is great and a very solid actress. I’d be happy to have her on my team anytime.
DC: Is being able to edit a movie you directed helpful, or is it harder to kill your darlings because they are yours?
MM: Well, here are the positive things about it. Because I know how I’m going to edit it, I pretty much know what I’m going to need while we’re shooting it. It also adds an extra layer of control where you can really put more of yourself into the film. It’s oddly addictive. You really get to a point where you’d rather not have anyone else touch the film. I’m more than open to collaborating with producers and taking notes; in fact i think it’s a necessary part of the process to have someone push back and question some of your choices. It forces you to look at things in a different way, which I think is invaluable. But it’s great to really be able to control the pace, mood and rhythm of a film. There is nothing more disheartening than having someone come in after you and arbitrarily redo and recut your work. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened too often.
The downside is simply, it’s a lot of work. I feel making a feature is climbing a mountain, and then editing it is like climbing another mountain immediately after. It must be great to sit on a couch and be sort of a backseat driver and collaborate with an editor. I haven’t gotten to do that in a long time. Largely because of financial reasons. With the current state of independent film, it’s just cheaper if I do it myself.
However, I do really have to thank the producers of this film for allowing me the time to edit and finesse the film properly. It was the one area where I didn’t feel totally rushed, and I truly thank them for allowing me the time and space to get it right. I think it made a big difference in the end product.
DC: Finally, tell us what horror fans will love about Don’t Kill It…
MM: I honestly think horror fans are going to have a good time with this. For one thing we got a chance to revisit something you don’t see so often in modern horror, gore! This is one bloody and violent movie, and I love that we got an opportunity to make a movie like that. It was great to collaborate with f/x legend Robert Kurtzman and bring some old school practical bloodshed back to the screen.
Secondly, it’s fun. It’s a good time at the movie. Dolph Lundgren I feel really knocks it out of the park with this one. I don’t think audiences have ever seen him do anything quite like it, and I think they’re going to dig what they see.
Directed by Mike Mendez and written by Dan Berk along with Robert Olson, Don’t Kill It stars Dolph Lundgren, Kristina Klebe, Tony Bentley, James Chalke, and Miles Doleac. The film is produced by Scott Martin, Robert Yocum, and Michael Thomas Slifkin. Cinematography by Jan-Michael Losada.
An ancient evil is unleashed in a small Mississippi town leaving a trail of death and destruction as it passes from host to host. The only hope of survival lies with a grizzled demon hunter (Dolph Lundgren) who has faced this terror before. Together with a reluctant FBI agent (Kristina Klebe) he has to figure out how to destroy a demon with the ability to possess its killer.