Your new movie Art of the
Dead - in a few words, what is it about?
family buys seven animal paintings that unknowingly represent the seven
deadly sins. The paintings start to corrupt and transform all the members
of the household. Now, it's up to an ex-Priest to save everyone from
Dorian Wilde's evil works of art before lust, greed, pride, envy, sloth,
gluttony, and wrath destroys them all!
Art of the Dead
is based on a story by your producers Sonny and Michael Mahal - so how
detailed was that story, how much creatife freedom did you have while
developing the script?
I worked with Michael and Sonny Mahal on Bus
Party to Hell where they had
a basic idea about a party bus that breaks down in the desert and a cult
attacks them. That was about it and they let me run with the concept and
do the rest. With Art of the Dead, we went back and forth a bunch trying
to come up with a new idea. Finally, they suggested a story about an art
collector that buys some paintings that start to kill his family and they
thought a Priest should be involved at some point. Besides that, I had
free rein. So, I came up with seven paintings that represent the seven
deadly sins and which animal would represent each sin. Once I had that, a
lot of the story fell into place. Figuring out which room each painting
would hang came pretty easily once I broke down the characters and their
stories. Lust had to hang in the bedroom. Greed in the private office.
Gluttony in the kitchen. Sloth in the children's playroom. Pride in the
fancy living room. The script then came together surprisingly fast.
of the Dead being based on Christianity's Seven Deadly Sins,
so did you at all do any special research on that aspect of the film's
story? And honestly, of these seven sins, which could you fall prey to the
I did do research on-line and discovered the idea of the animals that
represent each sin. That got me excited because if a rich man were to buy
these paintings and hang them in his house with his young children, wife,
and teenage son and daughter, the paintings had to look nice. If they
looked like evil paintings, it wouldn't make sense. When I discovered the
animals and how lust is represented by a goat, a peacock is Pride, a pig
is Gluttony, toads are Greed, Envy is a snake, Sloth is snails, and a lion
represents Wrath, that worked perfectly with my premise. Attractive
paintings with an undercurrent of evil in them that has been undiscovered.
I also rewatched Se7en to get all the literature references and then
read more about those books as well.
In regards to which sin I would fall
prey to, I believe all humans possess all these sins at one point or
another. It's part of being human which is why a story like this is so
universal. Since I'm a bit overweight, Gluttony is already an issue. Even
though I work hard, I still have my lazy days so that checks off Sloth.
Being in the film business and working on small budgets with limit
schedules, you always want more so I'm guilty of Envy or would you call
that Greed? And since I possess working genitals, Lust is eternal.
(Other) sources of inspiration when writing Art
of the Dead?
soon as the Mahals suggested paintings, I went immediately to one of my
favorite television shows from the 70's, Rod Serling's Night
Gallery. And as luck would have it, two weeks before production began
there was a Night Gallery exhibit in Burbank with a great panel of
directors who worked on the original series. That was awesome and I was
able to buy some duplicates of some of the paintings from the show. The
very first episode, The Cemetery starring Roddy McDowall and Ossie
Davis is one of my favorite and I even put the duplicate painting from
that episode in the background of one scene in Art of the Dead.
Unfortunately, the scene got cut from the movie. The other big reference
is very blatant in the film. In my script, these paintings were created in
1890 by an artist named Dorian Wilde. It just so happens that Oscar Wilde
wrote Portrait Of Dorian Gray in 1890. Upon doing some more research
into that time frame, I discovered that Van Gogh cut off his ear in 1888
and Jack The Ripper was committing horrible murders around the same time.
It was the perfect period for the paintings in my story to have been
created and I reference these events in the film. A few producers came on
board because they really liked the “smartness” of the story. That
appealed to them more than the horror elements. But then there are others
who love the goat creature getting it on with Gina (Jessica Morris) who
plays the hot stepmom. That was my tip of the hat to Rosemary's
Do talk about your movie's approach
movie is designed like a very colorful jigsaw puzzle in many ways. Since
this was all about art, I felt the film needed bright colors. It's about
staring into beautiful landscapes and getting sucked into the abyss. So,
it's not a dark film at all. Much of the horror happens in broad daylight
with clean environments. There's a lot that is in your face but at the
same time, I try to leave some of the most gruesome, graphic moments to
the audience's imagination. That's the balance with a horror film. Showing
enough but not too much. But I knew going in this was going to be an R-rated film. Luckily the producers were all for that so I didn't
have to censor myself. I went as far as I wanted to. It might be too much
for some who are used to these PG-13 ghost stories but if you're a true
horror fan that grew up in the 70's or 80's, you'll get what you came for.
From giant snails to a man-sized goat, Art
of the Dead features some really nice creatures - so what can you
tell us about the monsters in your movie, and how were they achieved?
am delighted to say that all of the major effects and creatures were
created practically by Vincent Guastini and his f/x shop. He went all out
for this one. And Clint Carney, who created all of our original paintings,
also did our handful of CGI as well so he could manipulate his own
artwork, which he did brilliantly. For the creatures, we had people (Andy
Brown) in a full goat suit with animatronics in the head to get it to move
and drool and stick its tongue down poor Alex Rinehart's throat. Our cool
snail was an old-fashioned Jim Henson Dark Crystal type of hand
puppet. And the giant snail shells were built as well. The Pig Creature
was another brave and gung-ho actor in the suit in the freezing mud. Our
huge snakes were achieved by using real huge snakes! We also had real
snails and real toads.
the actors that begin to transforms were fitted with make-up, contact lens
and latex appliances.
up with how to create all these effect gags practical on-set was one of
the biggest joys in making Art of the Dead. If you buy the DVD and listen
to the commentary, more of these secrets are revealed. I'm especially
proud of the underwater POV from the Greed painting in the third act of
the film. It looks like an optical effect but it was all achieved live
on-set and in camera.
few words about your overall directorial approach to your story at hand?
like making fluid movies where the camera is usually moving with the
action. We had big beautiful locations and I made the most of them with my
fantastic DP, Michael Su. We wanted this to have the opposite look of our
last collaboration on Bus
Party to Hell. Everything was planned and
organized. I wanted colors everywhere and came up with the idea of
projecting the actually paintings on the actor's faces live while we were
shooting. Argento's work, especially The
Stendhal Syndrome, was
influential here. There is also a lot of steadicam work where we fly
around the house. Drones were used throughout as well. I wanted this film
to have scope and a very polished look. One reviewer said that the whole
movie is lit like a painting and that's exactly what we were going for.
Every camera set-up is like a still photo. Art of the Dead
is a dark,
disturbing story so I wanted to do the exact opposite of that visually. It
becomes a funhouse of terror by the end.
can you tell us about your key cast, and why exactly these people?
casting was the key. Before I even wrote the script, I told the producers
that I needed very strong actors to pull off the story I was going to
write. We needed people who could slowly change throughout the arc of the
film. Almost everyone metamorphoses one way or another. We did two casting
sessions. One in Vegas and one in LA. The Mahals supervised the Vegas day
and I was in charge of the LA casting along with Esther Goodstein and
Nicholas George. I knew from the beginning I wanted Robert Donavan [Robert
Donavan interview - click here] to play
Father Mendale. I have worked with Robert in almost every movie I've made
and he was perfect for the role. Unfortunately, his first audition wasn't
great and it took some pursuing to convince the Mahals to let him do it. I
had recently worked with both Lukas Hassel [Lukas
Hassel interview - click here] and Alex Rinehart on The
Black Room. Lukas loved the role of Dylan Wilson and luckily the Mahals loved
him. Alex came and auditioned and nailed the role of Kim. Jessica Morris
had been in a few films I had written over the years but I had never
directed her. I wanted her for Gina Wilson and she was perfect. Zach Chzy
was an actor who auditioned in Vegas so I only saw his audition tape. This
was really his first film but he really came up to the challenge and had
great chemistry with Alex. Danny Telsa, who plays Dorian Wilde, was
another Vegas actor. I had an actor who I had worked with on Pretty
Cool 2 audition in LA, and I thought he was going to play the role but when I
saw what Danny did on tape, I had to go with Danny and he had a ball with
it. Sarah French, who plays Heidi the prostitute later in the film,
originally auditioned for the role of Gina, the wife. I've known Sarah for
years and it was nice to finally get a chance to work with her. We needed
someone fearless to pull off what Heidi goes through in the movie and
Sarah most certainly was. People actually have cheered for her in the
biggest new discovery was Cynthia Aileen Strahan. She was the last person
to audition in LA and came in for the role of “Kim”. She was good
but looked so young that I wanted to see what she could do as Donna
Wilson, the 18 year old high-school daughter. She gave a cold reading and
blew us all away. Cynthia's performance is amazing to watch in the movie.
The arc from where her character begins and how it ends is quite something
talk about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
it was planned and rehearsed, it was still a tough shoot. There is so much
going on in the film and so many make-up and practical effects that we
were always racing to finish each day. There were long days but the
attitude of the entire cast and crew was wonderful. Everyone wanted to
make this the best movie they could and gave it their all. The footage was
so amazing that it kept everyone's enthusiasm up. I'm sure at points the
producers were nervous about the budget but they remained supportive
throughout and found more time and money when we needed it. We didn't take
any short-cuts on this one and I think it shows in the final result. This
is a horror film that has all the things you're supposed to avoid when
making a low-budget movie. We had children actors, lots of blood and
effects, live animals with trainers, outdoor chases with crazy weather
issues, real fire stunts, crowds of people, and multiple locations. But in
the end, it was all worth it.
you can tell us about audience and critical reception of your movie?
hopefully it's just starting but so far, so good. We had one cast and crew
screening in the beginning of the year but we didn't go the festival
route. So the ITN release on October 1st, 2019 was really the first
chance for the public to see it. As of this writing, we have gotten 15
reviews and all have been positive to extremely positive. What I'm most excited
about is that everyone seems to like it for different reasons. Some like
the humor and satirical elements, some are loving the gore and sexuality,
others find it quite disturbing and a few are picking up on the deeper
psychological elements of the story. So for me, that means we're hitting a
wide variety of horror fans. That's hard to do but it's working. However,
it's so difficult for an original, independent horror film to get noticed
nowadays without a major distributor and decent advertising campaign
behind it. How does one create buzz from nothing? It has to be
word-of-mouth but the only way to achieve that is by people watching the
movie and telling others to do the same. A filmmaker can only do so much
to spread the word of his own film but I'm trying.
future projects you'd like to share?
There's a cool sci-fi horror thriller coming out in December that I
co-wrote entitled Automation starring Elissa Dowling [Elissa
Dowling interview - click here], Sadie Katz, Sarah
French and Parry Shen. It was the directing debut of a good friend of
mine, Garo Setian, produced by Esther Goodstein and others and Epic's
horror label Dread will be releasing it. It is currently playing a bunch
of film festivals and has already
some awards. In fact, I won a Best Horror Screenplay award for it. I also
just wrote a really cool werewolf movie entitled Rougarou: Legend Of
The Wolf for Vegas first-time filmmaker Eric Mathis. He's trying to
find the funding now and I may come on as a producer as well. I've always
wanted to write a kick-ass werewolf story and this is an original one with
a kind of Agatha Christie mystery element to it. Lots of twists and
surprises. I have a supernatural television series that I created that I'm
hoping gets picked up and produced soon. It could be a fun series and open
up different doors in this business. I actually have four different
potential television shows about to be pitched around town.
then I have a pet feature project that I wrote and would love to direct
entitled Horror Fest. It was a finalist at last year's LA
Shriekfest. It's something I should be making right now but it's all about
finding the funding.
non-horror news, I also have a Christmas romantic comedy I wrote coming
out this Christmas called Picture Perfect Royal Christmas and I'm
currently writing a family film about a girl, her grandfather and a
dolphin that supposed to shoot in December in the Bahamas. Also a sexy
fantasy thriller I co-wrote called Ring Of Desire is supposed to go
into production next February. So, lots of irons in the fire. And the
amazing thing is that despite all of this activity, I'm still looking for
decent representation so if any agents or managers out there wish to talk,
website, Facebook, whatever else?
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
Well, Art of the Dead
has a facebook page. So do I, Rolfe Kanefsky. And you can
find out more about my past projects at
Anything else you're
dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
Gotta plug the great Blu-ray release of my first comedy horror flick There's
Nothing Out There that Vinegar Syndrome released earlier this
year. It's a film that seems to have gotten better with age and it is
jam-packed with special features and commentary tracks. I think there's
over 12 hours of bonus material on this sucker including my 2nd
feature-length high school production of my original murder-mystery comedy
called Murder in Winter. And I'm also interviewed on a cool-looking new
documentary called Direct to Video that premiers on The Monster Channel on
Saturday, October 12th, 2019. Check it out if you can.
for the interview!