Readers of this interwebs blog know of my affinity for slasher films. Tasteless? Yes. The bottom of the barrel in terms of horror films? Arguably so. A lot of fun and sometimes inventive? A resounding hell yes.
I contend that, by and large, everything that needed to happen with this sub- genre did so in the 80's. A formula was born and a dead horse was riddled with bullets and filmmakers today are still circling the wagons thinking that 'Aw shit son, this fucker ain't dead yet. Let's see what we can do's to be 'different.' There are some interesting things going on with the latest generation: the killer in Laid to Rest and that's about it; The Hills Run Red had some decent moments but was entirely too self-aware and you could see everything coming from a mile away. And Scream certainly turned the sub-genre on its head in the 90's and challenged conventions. But for the most part, its all the same corny beef rehash.
But just like everything else that gets stale, now and then, sometimes a film comes along and slaps you upside the head. That little indie film with a nano budget is called The Devil Within and its the most fun I've had in years watching a modern slasher film.
I recently had the opportunity to email interview Writer/Producer Matt Dean. He discussed with me the inspiration behind the film as well as the idea behind one of the best usages of a red herring in any slasher film ever.
Cortez the Killer: Where did the idea for The Devil Within come from?
Matt Dean: Randy and Cindy Aldridge, our Executive Producers, wanted to do a 'Part 2' to their film 'Disturbed' which was released the year before. After discussing the idea for a while, we decided it was better to start a new story – with some similar themes. Randy made one request – which his kids – Alex (21) and Peyten (18) were in the film. I set out to write a film that focused on this brother and sister – and on their group of friends in high school. I wanted to find a way to use Peyten’s handicap (Arthrogryposis) to our advantage so I went with the first scary thing that came to mind. Imagine a villain – a dark hooded figure with a large knife, chasing our innocent- stumbling Peyten down a dark alley. Never before in a horror film had I seen a villain chasing a handicapped girl. This would be brilliant! We didn’t want to treat Peyten as 'different' we wanted to include her as one of the leads just like any other actor – but use her condition as an enhancement to the story. Now – how do we go back and set that up? Who are Peyten’s friends? How did she get to the alley? Why wasn’t her brother helping her? Who was this villain?
The audience is smart. They love to be thrilled, but they also don’t like to be talked down to. We wanted this film to be entertaining on every level. Sexy, funny, scary and surprising – and by the reviews we are getting, it seems we achieved that.
CTK: As mentioned in the review, I thought it was original and refreshing how the employ of the red herring was utilized. You started the film with a brutal attack, had us hone in on a suspected antagonist (played brilliantly by Bill Oberst Jr.), and then did a complete 180 around the 3rd act or so. Tell us about the idea behind that.
Matt: As a writer, I think it’s important to know where your story is going to end – so that all of the choices made by the characters can logically lead to that conclusion. But not only did we want the ending to make sense, we wanted the final conclusion to be a big surprise. How do you do both? With careful planning – and good collaboration. Bill did a wonderful job for us and is truly a great villain. Our idea with the red herrings was that we wanted REAL red herrings – not just a slight of hand. Sure – we have a moment or two of the 'cat jumping out of the dark' but we tried to stay away from most of those normal conventions. People are use to them. The audience is smart. They love to be thrilled, but they also don’t like to be talked down to. If we were going to have a so called 'red herring' that person/persons needed to be a real threat so as not to seem phony and make the audience fell ripped off. To reveal any more of the details of that here – would reveal the end of the film. SO the audience will just have to watch it to see how it all ties up. And believe me when I say – it ALL ties up. We worked very hard to have no questions left unanswered as to the how, the why, and the who.
CTK: The slasher sub-genre has been oft maligned because of its adherence to a strict formula and an overall lack of originality. What are some of your favorites that may steer clear of some of the typical conventions and which truly stand out as both unique and different?
Matt: I think it’s important for any writer to first keep the audience in mind. Know what they’ve already seen, give them a little of what they are expecting and a little of what they aren’t expecting. For a horror film, that means a little T & A and some nice scares. But that doesn’t mean you have to follow the exact same plot line as everyone else. Personally, I like thrillers more. When done right, they can be just as scary as a horror film, sometimes even more scary. With The Devil Within, I wanted to combine the scary element of the slasher and the thoughtful 'Who done it?' of the Thriller so as to keep the audience on their toes and hopefully take them somewhere they weren't suspecting. We kind of blended the two genres so that ours is a slasher/thriller.
Two of my favorite thriller/horrors are Hard Candy and the original Wicker man. Hard Candy, amazingly well done. Frighteningly tense and brutal without showing you anything! And the original Wicker man is SO bizarre – so quiet –and yet so frightening. How many horror films are THAT scary in the middle of the day? Most have to shoot at night to make it feel that scary. Plus that amazingly sexy dance that Willow does – HOT!
CTK: I like how the 7 deadly sins come into play and the idea of greed being a driving factor for all people. This played out to great affect with the actions of our onscreen characters as the story progressed. What lead you to choosing this as a backdrop to your story?
Matt: We wanted our film to have some depth and not just be a meaningless slasher film. We didn’t want to be too heavy handed with the 7 deadly sins, but we wanted to get across the idea of responsibility and consequences for your actions. We thought that was best achieved by a brief explanation from our high school teacher – then showing the actions through each of the characters. We never go back and point out each character and what they are doing. We figured the audience was smart enough to pick up that on their own. Instead, we gave each one a 'motivation' behind their actions of greed, lust, vanity – etc. The ONLY one who exhibits none of these, is the one who represents virtue. We’ll let you guess who that is.
CTK: Any upcoming screenings of the film that you would like to alert our readers to?
Matt: We are going to be playing at the Famous Monsters Convention, which takes place July 9-11 in Indianapolis. We are still trying to work out if any of the other filmmakers/actors will be attending.
CTK: We greatly support independent filmmakers and do our best to spotlight their hard work. Any upcoming projects that we should be on the lookout for?
Matt: We hope to get into pre-production on THE DEVIL WITHIN 2 before the end of the year!
CTK: Thank you so much for your time. Best of luck to you.
Matt: Thanks so much for your support
For more information regarding The Devil Within, check out the film's site:
Cortez the Killer