Indie horror movies are the jewels of the horror film scene. I’ll admit that some of them can be tragically acted or affected by over active CG-I-tis, but some of them really shine and are some of the last places you can find truly creative — and new — horror ideas. Most of us long-time horror fans are offended by the latest, greatest “horror-monster-of-the month-club” trend. What new idea are we on now? Vampires? Zombies? Exorcisms? Don’t be surprised for next hot horror movie to come … “The Exorcism of Edward Cullen: Dawn of the Dumb”.
Unless you’re lucky enough to have a decent video store in your town, or happen to haunt the film festivals, good indie horror can be hard to find. But we’re lucky here in Austin; not only do we have great video stores and independent movie houses, we have several amazing film festivals. Austin Film Festival is one of these festivals and is known as “The Writer’s Festival.” The annual festival runs in October and prides itself in presenting movies with strong storytelling — written and visual. They feature a wide variety of movies — Hollywood and independent — and most of the time the festival screenings are world premieres. The genres run the gamut but, of course, we’re most interested in their horror category, Dark Matters. There are several entries in this series and every year they ask the ask the audience to choose the best. At the 2013 festival the winner was the horror/thriller, Blood Punch.
When AFF asked us if we were interested in hosting a screening of the Audience Awards winner, Blood Punch, we jumped at the chance to give Austinites another chance to see this indie jewel. A creatively written and well directed movie, Blood Punch, is about a mysterious bad girl that checks herself into rehab to find someone to cook crystal meth for her. She recruits a young college-aged man for her get-rich-quick drug score scheme and breaks him out with the help of her abusive cop boyfriend. But that young man finds himself in the midst of a love triangle full of betrayal and danger, and things go from bad to worse. And they then do it all over again the next day.
Together with AFF, we are proud to be showing a screening of Blood Punch this Wednesday, February 12th at, one of those great movie houses we were talking about, The Alamo Drafthouse (Village location). The filmmakers, Madellaine Paxson (Director/Executive Producer) and Eddie Guzelian (Writer/Executive Producer) will be in attendance at the screening and we got a chance to ask them a few questions before hand. Both Madellaine and Eddie have a background in — oddly enough — children’s programing. Although, after raising a kid myself, and surviving through the teen years, I don’t find the jump from kid’s programming to horror to be that surprising.
B.O.T.: Madellaine, I heard you were a UT alum? Tell us your Austin story?
Yes, I went to UT, where I started out as a business major, but when I tried visualizing myself wearing pantyhose and real shoes every day, I knew that wasn’t the life for me. So I thought about what WAS the life for me … and all I really knew was that I loved movies, especially the aspect of visual storytelling. So much to my parents’ despair, I switched my major to Radio-TV-Film. I’ve never, ever, regretted it.
I (now) live in L.A, but my family lives in Houston where I grew up. It’s why I went to UT. Although I desperately wanted to stay in Austin, a city I loved dearly, I couldn’t make a go of it … and since I wanted to pursue a career in the movie business, I moved to L.A.
B.O.T.: Any favorite places/haunts when you lived in Austin?
My favorite places while attending UT were Kerbey Lane, because I enjoyed doing schoolwork in the middle of the night, and they always had yummy desserts to eat and The Red River Café, where I waited tables (free food!) I was also partial to the Hole in the Wall bar because it was close to the Communications building.
B.OT.: Eddie, any Austin ties?
I grew up and went to school on the East Coast (Boston, MA) and currently live in Burbank, California. I have no actual proper local ties to Austin but I’ve visited the city about six or seven times and — like pretty much everyone else — love it.
As far back as filming Blood Punch, Madellaine and I used to joke about how incredible it would be to someday screen the movie to an audience at the Alamo Drafthouse. Seriously. We would try to picture the movie as one of those cool Tyler Stout/Tim Doyle Drafthouse-style art posters. There’s just something about the vibe of that cinema chain and Austin as a whole that always felt like it somehow fit very much with the spirit and tone we were trying to capture in Blood Punch. That’s why we were so stunned and thrilled when we found out we’d be premiering at the Austin Film Festival and in an Alamo Drafthouse theater, no less. I think we also felt a lot better knowing that our audience would have alcohol readily available to them at all times.
B.O.T: I would describe Blood Punch as a horror thriller with a touch of comedy, a pinch of Groundhog Day and an aroma of Memento. How would you describe the movie?
Madellaine: That’s always been a tough one — but I think your summation actually captures Blood Punch pretty well.
Eddie: I like the fact that it’s hard to boil the movie down to a simple log line or even to pin it into any one genre — but if you try to tell someone you’ve made a neo-noir black comedy crime horror thriller, their faces just kind of glaze over. And can you blame them? That sounds like a schizophrenic mess of a movie – and the more you try to explain or elaborate, the worse it sounds. I always have and always will describe Blood Punch simply as a low-budget horror movie. Because, at the end of the day, despite the many other influences and styles you can see in it, the core has always been very firmly and very deliberately rooted in the spirit and tradition of low-budget horror films and I’m very proud of that.
B.O.T: Where did the title come from?
Eddie: The term “Blood Punch” originally came from a very obscure unpublished verse penned by the notorious Marquis de Sade. When I was first trying to come up with a title that could convey the wild mixture of carnage and fun we were going for, the term just kind of popped back into my head. I put it down as a temporary title, expecting that it would eventually change, but there was something about it that always felt right and it ended up sticking.
B.OT. Where have you been showing the movie? Other screenings/festivals?
Madellaine: We actually haven’t had any other public screenings of Blood Punch since it premiered at the Austin Film Festival last October. That’s why we’re so thrilled to be showing it again now. The audience members in the theater Wednesday night are still going to be some of the very first people to ever see the movie and there’s something about that kind of atmosphere that’s very rare, exciting, and electric.
Following that screening, we’re staying in Texas and showing the movie, for one night only, on Feb. 21st at the Boomtown Music and Film Festival in Beaumont. After that, we’re scheduled to screen Blood Punch at the Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose next month.
B.O.T.: Other than screenings, how else can people see the movie?
Madellaine: Right now, the movie can only be seen at festivals and special screenings. For anyone out there who is interested in checking it out, please watch the movie’s official Facebook page for updates on upcoming screenings. https://www.facebook.com/bloodpunchmovie
Eddie: We’re currently in discussions with a number of distributors, so hopefully the movie will soon be available to a much wider audience.
B.O.T.: Anything else in the works?
Madellaine: Yes! We have another feature film currently in the works. But I’m really not allowed to say anything more about it.
B.O.T.: Would you consider yourself a horror director/writer or do you prefer to delve in all subject matter?
Eddie: I wouldn’t consider myself strictly a horror writer, but I’m definitely attracted to material and subject matter that is more “genre” — meaning the stuff that is widely considered to be schlocky, cheap, low-brow and generally doesn’t get much creative or artistic respect. So that’s definitely a lot of horror — but it also can include some sci-fi, comic book-style material, or even certain hardcore action. Unlike a lot of writers, I have absolutely no interest in rising above this world of low-budget schlock to someday make my Schindler’s List or Driving Miss Daisy. I love the schlock, I celebrate it, and I honestly think that the limitations and stigma attached to these types of movies force you, if you want to be successful, to rise to a level of creativity and daringness that simply isn’t found in other areas of filmmaking today.
Madellaine: Well, considering my whole paying career has been as a writer, and of children’s TV at that, I’m not sure I consider myself a director of anything, chiefly. I always wanted to direct a movie, and I loved directing Blood Punch, I’d be absolutely thrilled to direct another horror movie. I’d also be thrilled to direct a sci-fi movie, or a musical … just about anything that would be considered “genre” sounds exciting. I think I would not want to direct a serious, weepy drama.
B.O.T.: Favorite scene in the movie you enjoyed directing/writing?
Madellaine: My favorite scene to direct was the 3 main characters talking for the first time at the dining room table. We had actually shot test footage ourselves of that same scene the year before, so the actors knew their parts inside and out, and were totally inhabiting their characters. It was a joy to watch them really “be” those fictional people.
Eddie: My favorite scene to write had to be the scene where Milton tortures Russell for the “first” time. It ended up going in a completely different direction than I had originally planned when I began writing it. The characters were starting to truly take on a life of their own and I found them starting to say and do things that surprised even me. As a writer, that’s a very exciting groove to be in — where you feel like the characters are really acting on their own and you’re just watching and writing down what they say and do.
B.O.T.: Hardest scene to shoot?
Madellaine: This is a tough one because there are plenty of scenes to choose from, but the most physically daunting and uncomfortable was the cave. We couldn’t find a cave to rent, so out of desperation we hiked out with a miniscule crew (8 people total, including the 3 actors) to the infamous (and free) “Manson” caves, where Charles Manson and his followers were holed up before going on their murder spree. Getting to the caves with our equipment in the pitch black was, frankly, terrifying. The path (hauling all the equipment ourselves) was grueling, and it took us a while to find the place. Find it we did, though, and seven hours later, we were blessedly finished with the scene. But there was an unpleasant smell in that cave that wouldn’t come out of our clothes … most of which we threw out!
Eddie: For me, the hardest scene for me to shoot was the final scene in the movie. It was our last day at our mountain location and the wonderful actor who plays Archer, Cohen Holloway, had just been rushed to the hospital with acute altitude sickness. But as worried as we were over his condition, we had to continue shooting and his character absolutely had to be in that final scene. So with time running out, I ended up putting on his character’s ridiculous yellow tracksuit and standing in for him so we could shoot half of the scene there that day and pick up the reverse shots of Cohen later. As much as I already admired actors, it made me appreciate them on a whole new level — because all I had to do on-screen was stand there, my back to the camera — and I still sucked.
B.O.T.: Any weird facts about the movie we would like to know? For instance the Power Ranger tie is incredible.
Eddie: Yes, absolutely. I have a pretty extensive background writing and producing children’s entertainment for studios like Disney and Nickelodeon. I have writing credits on stuff like The Tigger Movie and The Little Mermaid 2: Return To The Sea. I first met and personally cast the majority of the actors in Blood Punch while I was executive producing a season of Power Rangers called Power Rangers RPM. Even though they spent much of their time on-screen time fighting guys in ridiculous Japanese rubber monster suits, I could tell that they were all extremely talented and something very special.
I was so inspired by them that when the show ended, I joined forces with Madellaine (who also has a background working in kids TV and, like me, also clearly had some issues to work out) and specifically wrote Blood Punch as a low-budget horror movie we could make with Power Ranger actors Milo Cawthorne, Olivia Tennet, and Ari Boyland in mind for the three lead characters. We went into Blood Punch with absolutely zero real-world horror credibility behind the project at all. We maybe even had anti-horror cred, if that’s even possible. But we were all passionate about horror and determined to make the movie anyway.
B.O.T.: What is the first horror movie you remember seeing and how old were you?
Madellaine: House of Wax” starring Vincent Price. It was on TV, during a “creature feature” type show. I was 8 years old.
Eddie: My parents were pretty strict and protective in almost every other way — but for some reason, they never felt any need to shelter me from movies in any way, shape, or form. I know they took me to see Jaws when I was five years old, but I mostly just remember the experience of going to the theater — the smell of the seats, the sticky floor, the lights running down the aisle — not much of anything on-screen. The first horror movie I really remember seeing and understanding was Alien when I was about 9.
B.O.T.: Favorite type of horror movie?
Madellaine: I used to say that zombie movies were like pizza, even a bad one was still pretty good … but the glut of zombies flicks & TV shows these days has me wanting something I haven’t seen a million times. It still happens, though (see Deadgirl). Mostly I am partial to horror with a supernatural or sci-fi element over slasher flicks or torture porn.
Eddie: I’m not trying to cop out of answering but I really don’t have a favorite type in that regard. I can find any kind of horror to be great if the story is compelling and the characters seem real and believable. For me, that’s the real test of any horror movie. It’s like, if you could somehow theoretically take out all of the supernatural and horror parts — would the movie still stand up and be engaging based solely on the story and the characters?
One of my favorite movies ever is John Carpenter’s 1982 remake of The Thing. And I love all of the sci-fi elements and monster effects in that movie. But what I love most about it is that I feel like even without any of that stuff — if you could somehow replace the alien creature with some more boring but very real-world threat — the movie still holds up as an incredibly well-written, tense, and effective movie about paranoia and losing the ability to trust those around you. So those type of horror movies are really my favorites — the ones that feel like they could work or be good movies alone — but then exploit the conventions and endless possibilities of the horror genre to really push and explore their stories and characters to the absolute limit.
B.O.T.: Most over-rated horror movie(s) or types?
Madellaine: The English Patient. Oh wait, that’s not a horror movie … just a horribly over-rated movie in general … I think vampire movies tend to be overrated as a whole. They’ve made so many of them and people really seem to eat them up and love them. But how many truly great ones are there? I loved Let The Right One In and The Lost Boys, but I think they start to really drop off after that.
Eddie: I’ll throw out a couple, just off the top of my head— The Birds, The Amityville Horror (the original), The Human Centipede”, Suspiria and The Devil’s Rejects. Just so it’s not a hate-fest, I’d like to throw out at least one criminally under-rated horror movie — Videodrome.
[Eddie added a few more under-rated ones ... so as not to be a hate-fest]
And a few recent low-budget films that I’d love to see get more recognition — check them out if you haven’t seen them — Deadgirl, Resolution, The Conspiracy and Juan Of The Dead.
B.O.T.: If you were stuck in a reoccurring horror movie triple feature night, which three horror movies would you choose to watch over and over?
Madellaine: 1) Aliens — yes, I prefer it to the original. More laughs. 2) Dead Alive — my favorite Peter Jackson movie! Seriously! 3) The Fly — just a great movie with great performances.
Eddie: 1) The Thing (John Carpenter’s 1982 remake). 2) The Host (the 2006 Korean movie) probably the best pure “monster-movie” ever made. 3) Evil Dead 2 — What can I say? I just don’t get tired of it.
Many thanks to the Austin Film Festival and the filmmakers for letting us be a part of promoting indie horror and the horror scene of Austin in general. We look forward to seeing all you horror lovers at the screening of Blood Punch!
For more information on the screening: https://www.facebook.com/events/618518224850310/
On Blood Punch: https://www.facebook.com/bloodpunchmovie
Long live horror,