Interview: Samantha Mathis Talks CLOVEHITCH KILLER and THE BEAST WITHIN
Samantha Mathis has quickly become one of my favorite actors to talk to: she’s receptive, thoughtful and still very much invested in the work she’s doing in the genre space. In The Clovehitch Killer, Mathis plays a mother who may or may not be aware that her husband Don (Dylan McDermott) is masking his true identity as a cross-dressing serial killer who delights in binding his victims with a clove hitch-style knot.
Speaking with director Duncan Skiles, he admitted that the Clovehitch Killer is actually based on a real criminal but was reluctant to reveal his identity since this type of sociopath tends to love seeing their name in print. Assumably, the actual inspiration for Don is still alive and well rotting in a cell somewhere. I didn’t ask Mathis if she knew the name out of respect for the victims but, I admit, I’m definitely curious.
We did, however, speak about having to shoot an intense scene for the film on election night 2016, her memories of being on set with her mother, Bibi Besch, while filming the horror classic The Beast Within, and how actor Charlie Plummer reminded her of the legendary River Phoenix. We didn’t get around to discussing All That We Destroy, the new Hulu/Blumhouse pickup directed by Chelsea Stardust Peters (Satanic Panic), but hopefully we’ll speak with Mathis again soon regarding that exciting anthology film series.
The Clovehitch Killer arrives in theaters, VOD and Digital HD today, November 16.
DC: I spoke with Duncan last week and he mentioned you had some scenes that didn’t make it into the film. I know he regretted that. Was there anything you wanted to see that didn’t make the cut that you remember?
SM: Sure. So, there was a sequence that was cut from the movie where I take the kids grocery shopping and Charlie’s character gets into trouble with some boys bullying him at the grocery store and he winds up hitting one of them. There was a scene that followed that up where we come home and I tear his bedroom apart because I suspect that he’s on drugs. We cut that scene. That scene was shot the morning that Trump won the election. We were all, I would say, predominantly devastated. I think that my emotions might have been a little out of check. I think I was probably a complete lunatic tearing that room apart!
DC: Well, I hope you got some political rage out of your system during that scene! This really is an accomplished horror film. Are you happy with how the film turned out and how Duncan was able to insert some of his comedy background into a pretty disturbing story?
SM: I cannot tell you how impressed I was when I saw the movie. You never know when you’re making something what it’s looking like. I don’t tend to watch dailies or sit at video village. It was a very young group of filmmakers across the board and I think that it is so spectacularly shot and beautifully acted – and I love the comedy in it. I think that it brings us a relief for the moment because it’s so terrifying. I will say that when I was watching the movie for the first time… I was so scared that I started texting Charlie [Plummer] and Duncan [Skiles] while I was watching it. Because I was in a house that wasn’t mine, I had just ended a relationship and I was staying at a friend’s house by myself. And I was TERRIFIED which I think speaks to the success of the movie. I’m so impressed with the assuredness with which Duncan put this movie together. I think he did a fantastic job.
DC: Are a fan of true crime at all and do you have an unhealthy fascination with serial killers like I do?
SM: Um, I do not have an unhealthy fascination with serial killers, I do find them to be fascinating but it’s not a rabbit hole I’ve gone down. So, it was both disturbing and fascinating to read about the BTK Killer and other serial killers. I think the connectivity there, if you’re talking about individuals who are sociopaths who are very good at covering there tracks not only with their crimes but in their character, I find that really interesting. What it’s like to be involved with someone who’s so good at compartmentalizing you that they charm you to such an extent that you would never suspect. And then, to what extent people around sociopaths ignore certain things because if you question someone’s behavior who you have a family with or you’re involved with in some way, then you might have to make changes in your life. I don’t think Cindy knew that something was off in their relationship. And they talk about it a little bit. But I think when you’re in a relationship with a sociopath you turn a blind eye. You have to to survive.
But yes, I find the landscape of serial killers to be fascinating. Those kinds of movies are terrifying to me and they’re about the only horror thrillers that I can handle. Straight up horror movies are just so scary for me, I have trouble watching them.
DC: I think with this and Boarding School, this is only the second time you’ve played a mother on screen. Have you enjoyed stepping into that role and working with young actors or are you kind of ready to play a more sinister character now?
SM: Well, I definitely enjoy stepping into the mother role. Luke [Prael] and my relationship was very different than my relationship with Charlie in Clovehitch. I just became enamored with Charlie, I was so impressed with him from the get-go. His character, his maturity, his kindness, he’s a very talented young man. We became friends and are still friends and see each other.
I will say to you, that after a few days of working with him I said: ‘I want to tell you something and I want it to be a nice thing and I hope you take it the right way. But there’s something about you that reminds me of River Phoenix.’ Coming from a creative family, he’s a different person, very much so, and a different actor, but there’s an honesty that River always had in his work that also Charlie has in his work. I don’t think he’s capable of being dishonest as an actor.
DC: That’s an incredible compliment for him.
SM: Yeah, and he said to me ‘That’s so sweet. I actually worked with a friend of River’s named Bobby Bukowski.’ And I said, yes, I know who he is – he’s a very famous DP. He said ‘Bobby said the same thing to me.’ I said, ‘Take it as a compliment, kid.’ So I adore Charlie and I loved playing his mother and finding that relationship. It’s a strange thing what we do, you have to meet someone and then instantly bond and create that relationship. And I felt like that was really natural and easy with Charlie.
DC: Speaking of mothers, I actually just went to a screening of The Beast Within and I know your Mom was the star of that.
DC: Did you ever visit the set during that time?
SM: Sure, I did. I was down in…I think it was Natchez, Mississippi. When did the movie come out, like ‘78 or ‘79?
DC: That’s about right  so you were definitely at a very impressionable age.
SM: I remember being at base camp in a trailer hanging out with the actor that played the beast, her son, and another child of someone else and he was just a sweet guy. The lights went out at base camp and he sort of mockingly…I think he had his bad teeth in, he was somewhere through the transition and he started breathing funny and we were like, ‘Aaaahhhh! Stop it! Stop it!’ It was all very innocent and above board. But yeah, I remember being on that set and it was spooky. I definitely had nightmares just from being on that set.