Saturday, February 20, 2016

Adapting STEPHEN KING: Killer Frogs Are Coming Your Way Soon!

Because life gets in the way sometimes, I don't have as much time to spend with my blog as I used to.   In the past I have done entire month-long posts to celebrate Women In Horror Month, but I can't devote that much time anymore.  However, when I was asked to spotlight a new project helmed by women, I was on board pretty quick.  Even better is the fact that the source material is from a Stephen King short story.  

Vanessa Ionta Wright and Samantha Kolesnik are friends who met and bonded over their mutual love of all things horror.  Now they come together with another friend, Stephanie Wyatt, to bring us a new short film bound to send shivers down our spine and yearn for more from this talented team. 

Many thanks to Vanessa for taking the time to answer some questions about their highly anticipated project!

Let's dig in!

FWF:  Tell us a little more about your project.  Obviously when I hear those two little words:  Stephen King....I, and others I'm sure, listen a little closer.  How did you and Samantha meet and can you tell us about your backgrounds in the horror  industry?

Vanessa Ionta WrightSamantha and I met at the 2015 Shriekfest Film Festival in Los Angeles, her script 'The Price of Bones' and my script 'The Time Changer - Close at Hand' were both finalists in short screenplay competition.  I was actually sitting at a table outside of the theater enjoying some street style tacos when Samantha approached me.  I invited her and her husband to sit down and then proceeded to ask her if I had anything in my teeth.  I did, lots of cilantro.  She kindly helped me remove all the green from my teeth, I knew she needed to be in my life personally and professionally.

FWF:  Can you give us a little synopsis of the storyline, for those who haven't read the SK short story?

VIW:  Rainy Season is a story about a young couple who travel to the town of Willow, ME.  After repeated warnings from town locals to leave, they stay and learn the horrific price the town must pay for prosperity.  Every seven years, the rainy season descends upon Willow in a downpour of vicious, man eating toads:  The newest inhabitants of town are then sacrificed and suffer the deadly consequences of their choice to not head the warnings.

FWF:  Where are you filming and what made you choose that location?

We are filming in the old town of Sharpsburg, GA for the Willow scenes and we are also shooting in a house in Senoia, GA that was built for the film 'Lawless' starring Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf and Gary Oldman.  We chose these locations for aesthetic purposes.  The home was built for a film so it is set up for equipment and hanging lights and still leaving enough room for the actors to perform.  Both locations will help to bring the town of Willow to life.

FWF:  Who else is involved in the film, and what do they bring to the table?

  The film is being directed by Grant McGowen, the Artistic Director of Pinch 'n Ouch Theatre in Atlanta.  Our DP is Mark Simon, who got his start working on Sixteen Candles, Ferris Beuller's Day Off and The Breakfast Club, to name a few.  I am the Executive Producer and Writer of the film and I have two phenomenal producers, Stephanie Wyatt and Samantha Kolesnik making it all happen.  The film is starring Tyner Rushing (Salem - tv series), Brian Ashton Smith (Nashville - tv series, Joyful Noise - film) Amber Germain and Alpha Trivette (Drop Dead Diva - tv series.)  This a great group of artists and I am thrilled to be working with them.

FWF:  Have you always been a horror fan?  What makes you want to write and produce horror?

Yes, I have always been a fan of horror, since about the age of 7.  I was sitting on the stairs in my house while my parents watched The Amityville Horror on tv.  I gingerly peeked around the corner catching glimpses of the film, kickstarting a lifetime of nightmares and fears.  The adrenaline rush that comes along with being scared was addicting and I found myself chasing that high.  Thank god it was scary movies, could you imagine if I would have witnessed my parents doing heroin and jumped on that band wagon!   I, of course, had to sneak around to get my 'horror fix', as I was not old enough to watch these films.  I watched Poltergeist at a friend's house when I was 8, her parents had a 'hands off' approach to parenting.  

When we moved to Ohio and got cable television, I used to sit down in front of the TV and watch Commander USA's Groovie Movies.  I started with
Friday the 13th part III, My Bloody Valentine, The Curse of the Cat People, C.H.U.D., An American Werewolf in London, etc. My mother was a huge Stephen King fan and had read all of his books.  I was always curious and wanted to read them but she always told me they would be too scary and give me nightmares...too late.  When I was 14, I picked up a copy of Four Past Midnight and was hooked.  I went back and read from the beginning.
I have always wanted to create these fictional worlds and bring them to life with the intent of scaring the viewer/reader or making them laugh.  I like to have that balance between humor and the macabre.  I have always been interested in writing and filmmaking, beginning with penning my first book, The Witch's Castle when I was 7. 

FWF:    Did you originally want to be a writer, or a film maker?  How did you accomplish your goals?

  Up until I was about 16 writing and making little "movies" had been a hobby.  Then I went to see a film.  This film was not a Hollywood blockbuster.  We saw it at the local art house theatre and it was independent movie.  I didn't know there was such a thing.  I thought all movies had big stars and huge budgets.  I had no idea that you could make movies like this.  The film was Reservoir Dogs and I realized at that moment that I wanted to do this for a living.

I went to Ohio University and studied video production and film.  After graduation, I moved to LA with a rag tag bunch of friends to pursue a career in music videos.  I was drawn to the experimental, short format film.  Music has always been a huge inspiration. When I sit down and start a new script I generally formulate a song playlist and keep it going until I 'fade to black'.

I wrote my first feature in college, a thriller called 'Melting Point'.  I was just learning the craft and the process and was completely hooked.  I decided to focus on writing and directing. 

As I gained more wisdom and life experiences, my writing improved and I went on to do pretty well in some competitions.  Okay, bargain moment:  'Bayou Gold' 2003 Semi-Finalist in the American Zoetrope Screenwriting competition and 2015 Official Selection in the Oaxaca Global Scrip Challenge, 'The Time Changer - Into the past' 2014 Finalist in the Shriekfest Horror Film Festival and 2015 Official Selection in Chicago's Indie Horror Fest, 'The Time Changer - Close at Hand' 2015 Finalist in the Shriekfest Horror Film Festival.  'Rainy Season' - 2015 Official Selection in the Northeast Horror Fest Film Festival and 2016 Official Selection in the Milledgeville Film Festival.

FWF: What made you want to adapt this particular story?

  A Facebook friend had posted a link about Stephen King's dollar babies in a group that I help form called Above The Line Artistry.  I went to Stephen King's website and read all about it.  Basically, King will release his short stories that have not been previously produced commercially and allow students and aspiring filmmakers take a stab at adapting his work.  The catch is that these films are for promotional/festival use only, no distribution or profits at all.  I think most people might ask, 'why in the world I would put so much time and energy into a film that can't make any money and that cannot be distributed.  Well...I'm not doing it for the money.  I looked at this as an opportunity to have my name attached, in some capacity, to Mr. King and to showcase myself and a talented team of up and coming artists and actors. 

I read through the list of available stories and many of them I knew, so I wanted to find one I wasn't familiar with.  I read
Rainy Season from his collection Nightmares & Dreamscapes.  It reminded me a bit of Shirley Jackson's 'The Lottery', and sure enough, King makes a reference to that tale a few pages in.  Personally, the thing I found scariest about this story wasn't what was on the page, but all the subtext and things that weren't being said.  I thought, "this could be a really dark tale and translate really well to the big screen."  Stephen King will be seeing our completed film and that is extremely nerve racking and extremely exciting.

The expectations are high on this and we are not going to cut corners.  For a short film with a modest budget of $30,000 we have some really talented people lending their skills and expertise.
I also really focused on the subtext of Rainy Season in the film adaptation, we wanted more of 'What are the actors not saying', let's focus on that.  We decided to focus on the tension and suspense of the story.  Alfred Hitchcock said "There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it." This was my mantra while writing the script.

FWF:  Who are some of your biggest influences in the genre?

  Alfred Hitchcock and John Carpenter for sure!  Stephen King goes without saying...I like to think WWSKD?

FWF:  Do you consider being a woman more challenging in this particular genre and if so, what will you do to not just be another face in the crowd?

  I think it can be quite challenging for a woman in this genre.  Filmmaking tends to still be a boys club, but there are some amazing and talented female groundbreakers.  Jennifer Kent (The Babadook 2014), Mary Lambert (Pet Sematary 1989) Ida Lupino (The Hitch-Hiker 1953)
I live my life in such a way so as not be just another face in the crowd, and my career is the same way.  I can't even put into words what I do, but I make sure to leave a lasting impression.  I don't believe in gimmicks so I think I will set myself apart simply by making great films.  I only want to work with creative, talented people who are smarter than me.  And while we are working I want to laugh a lot and sometimes get scared.

FWF:  Please tell us about your crowdfunding to get this film made.

We are crowd funding through indiegogo.  our campaign can be found at:

We have set up a Facebook page at
Twitter @rainyseasonmovie
Instagram @rainyseasonfilm
Website at
YouTube at
(I have been posting daily videos "Fun With King" to keep people entertained.  I have also put out a challenge to people to play Fund My Film Truth or Dare.  starting at $50 people can dare me to do something and I have 24 hours to do it.)

FWF:  And finally, because everyone always gets a kick out of this:  what three horror movies would you want with you on that proverbial desert island?

  Just 3!!! ok...Halloween (1978), Psycho (1960), The Exorcist (1973)  I know those might seem cliché, but those are the 3...I think...JUST 3!!!!  too hard ;)

Friday, February 12, 2016

Styria (2014) a.k.a. Angels Of Darkness: The Legend Of Carmilla Returns...

Because vampires have become pretty much a cliche in the last several years, it's next to impossible to find a fresh entry in the sub-genre. I'm always looking for something a little different, and perhaps enjoy the more obscure titles more than the popular mainstream ones, such as 2006's Perfect Creature, 1977's Martin, 2008's brilliant Let The Right One In and one of my most recent favorites:  Only Lovers Left Alive (2013).   So when I heard there was a new-ish film based on Sheridan Le Fanu's 1872 vampire novel Carmilla, I was on board quicker than you can say bloodletting.

Burdened with the supposedly American viewer-friendly yet eye-rolling title Angels of Darkness, Styria (also known as The Curse of Styria) finds us in late 80's Hungary at the end of the Cold War, where Lara Hill (Eleanor Tomlinson) and her father have arrived at a dilapidated castle in which Dr. Hill (Stephen Rea) is planning to uncover and possibly restore some very old murals hidden under layers of plaster.  Lara has been removed from the boarding school she spent most of her years at due to some violent behavior, so she is just getting used to spending time with her father.  Her mother, who apparently prevented Lara from being injured as a child in a nighttime attack,  is mysteriously missing from the picture.  We find out why eventually.

Lara, revealed to be a cutter, has some trouble settling in and prefers listening to music, adding morbid drawings to her journal and taking forbidden walks rather than spending time in the company of her father and the few townsfolk that stop in to the castle to stir things up.  While wandering in the woods she sees a car accident in which a young woman (Julia Pietrucha) quickly gets out of the wreckage and runs away, soon to be chased but not caught by the driver of the car.  Lara is able to settle the frightened passenger and takes her back to the castle to get her cleaned up. 

The beautiful blonde soon offers up her name, Carmilla, and the two girls become friends quite quickly.  Carmilla seems to want to push boundaries at every turn, whether it is exploring the ruins of the castle (which she seems to be mysteriously familiar with), swimming naked in a nearby pond, or staying out half the night looking up at the stars. Lara is entranced by the easy friendship, even though she knows something about Carmilla is a little "off".   When a local man who calls himself a "general" comes to the castle asking if Dr Hill or Lara has seen a known runaway orphan, Lara lies as she looks at the picture of Carmilla, denying that she has seen her at all. 

The enigmatic Carmilla exudes not only a tangible feeling of power over Lara but also has a profoundly sexual vibe, and each time Lara spends time with her the two grow closer.  Shrouded in mystery though, Carmilla is always disappearing when Lara turns her back, causing a sense of unease and near-dread that Lara just can't shake off.  And as Carmilla grows more adventurous, she expects Lara to follow her lead, causing more than a few moments of tense disagreement.
When young women in town begin to turn up dead from apparent suicides and Lara loses chunks of time, she begins to suspect that her friend may have something to do with it.  Or maybe even she herself is involved.

Styria is a gratifyingly slow burn.  The almost non-stop foggy atmosphere of the castle and grounds, together with the dimly lit sets and bluish tint of the entire film can't help but to evoke an eerie feeling of apprehension.  I don't know many horror fans that don't like creepy castles and serious neck wounds, so there should be enough here to keep any genre fan duly entertained.  The acting is really top-notch, with Rea his normal, fantastic self and exceptional turns by both Tomlinson and Pietrucha.

This is not your average vampire film though - very little is blatantly revealed, but anyone with any knowledge of the legendary creatures will see the subtle hints early on.  Vampires are mentioned, but not thrown in our face.  They remain in the shadows of the townsfolk's legends and superstitions, until it is time to face the truth, which even then is elusive and deceptive.

I wish more films were like this one.  Reeking atmosphere and yet very short on actual bloody violence, it drums along at a perfect pace, willing us along for the ride.  And while it is not a complete page-to-screen adaptation, it is faithful enough to Le Fanu's original tale that even the die-hards will be hard-pressed not to enjoy it. 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Black Mountain Side (2014): Superstition Reigns Supreme In The Great White North

I'm a real sucker for films that take place in ridiculously remote locations, in particular if it boasts arctic temperatures and an immeasurable amount of the white stuff.  It is for this reason that I love films such as The Thing and The Last Winter.  And it is for this reason that I watched Black Mountain Side.

In a remote cabin in the great white north of Canada, a group of archaeological researchers have uncovered what appears to be a stone monument ages and ages old. Unsure of just what they have found, they set about to secure funds and assistance to dig out the evolving mystery.  When superstitious local workers dig around the large stone, attempting to bring to light the meaning of the strange writings on the artifact, they one by one disappear from the site, eventually leaving the researchers high and dry unless they are to continue on their own.   The men, sure they have uncovered the greatest find in archaeological history, attempt to forge ahead, with disastrous results.

The film immediately evokes an expected sense of frigid claustrophobia, which is something I can really dig into.  The woods around the cabin were ominous, even more so because of their far-north location - it was only light out for around 5 hours a day.  Which leaves a lot of time to look out the cabin window and see something.....what was that? the edge of the treeline.  The cinematography was really stunning, as nothing is more beautiful than snow falling upon snow, with a large expanse of woods behind it.  And as spectacular as that is, it is so much more unsettling when the sun is going down and shadows abound, casting an eerie blue light on the snow right at dusk. The snow is all-too suffocating, made even worse when trapped by situations out of your control.

Soon after the workers start disappearing, the men begin to hear strange noises outside the cabin.  Voices are telling them to do things, to hurt someone else or themselves. They start seeing disturbing images that are not easily explained.  Supplies start to run low and they are unable to contact the base station to send help when the bizarre illnesses and startling injuries start piling up.  Is it all because of the strange stone monument?  Are the legends the locals tell true?  All of this feels very familiar, and truthfully we've seen it all before, many times.  So it's all in whether or not you are willing to travel this same road again, with a new cast of victims.

One thing that I felt didn't work to its full potential is the fleshing out of the individual characters.  By the end of the film I couldn't recall any of their names or personalities.  They all seemed to run together and no one truly stood out.  In comparison, a movie like The Thing works so much better because you become vested with those characters - you know them.  You care what happens to them.  Here, a man loses his arm, then another his hand.  And you know what?  I can't remember either of their names, nor their purpose for being there.  And while we're at it, could they not have had a different body part removed to put some distinction between the characters?  I mean, it wasn't like it was a movie directly about people losing their upper limbs.   I think the director wanted us to know the difference between the men, but the only one I can actually recall is the obligatory doctor, because he was always treating someone and we saw him frequently.  Everyone else was either playing poker or trading barbs around the table.  Which works wonderfully in films like The Thing and Alien - because we rapidly find ourselves getting to know and care about the characters.  And that's why those films are vastly superior to this one- but in all honesty, this is not a bad indie film at all.

Despite its few character flaws, Black Mountain Side is a truly atmospheric and mostly-fun time, but it's a slow, slow burn.  Don't expect things to move along with any real speed, as the heart of the film is the slow, desperate realization that perhaps no one is getting out alive.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Abandoned (2016)

I heard plenty of good things about The Abandoned before I saw it - most of which were comparisons to movies like Session 9 (which I LOVE) and House on Haunted Hill (remake),  so I was all-in when I finally sat down to watch it. 
Unfortunately to me,  it didn't seem to have the punch that those two previously mentioned films seemingly enjoyed.  I think what was the clincher for me was that there were essentially only two characters in the movie, and I didn't like either one.  The haunted building was nothing short of spectacular (I believe it was actually several sites and sets) but the story just didn't jump up and get me.

Previously known as The Confines (not any better, despite the mundane current title), The Abandoned gives us the story of "Streak" (Louisa Krause), a young woman with nothing to lose except a young daughter.  Trying to get her life back on track, Streak takes on a job as a night security guard at an aging apartment building that seems more suited to have grand balls and perhaps an Oscar party in.  It's immense, magnificent, and a whole lot of other adjectives I'll just refrain from mentioning.  Seems the building was never finished and so, like all ridiculously overpriced and underused buildings, it holds mysterious secrets, as well as perhaps a few ghosts.

Streak's partner (because apparently it takes two security guards to protect this abandoned site) is a most unlikable character. Cooper (Jason Patric, still looking pretty fine in his middle-age) is busy monitoring the numerous televisions with views all over the building.  These two will take turns patrolling the building  -for whatever reason- and watching over the entire site via these multiple monitors.   Sounds boring enough, and let me tell you - it is!  For the audience watching them watch, as well.

It is immediately clear that Cooper is a testy bastard, with ignorance and bitterness his two greatest gifts.  Even eventually showing us that he is wheelchair-bound garners no sympathy.  The guy is a blatant asshole, and when he is not pushing his snippy barbs Streak's way, he's scaring her with tales about rooms that were never finished that they are "forbidden" to seek out.   Streak has emotional and perhaps even mental issues that she is shown to be medicated for, and all the talk seems to get her worked up fairly fast.  The two bond for moments only, just a smidge at a time - talking about their daughters.  But most of the time it is sarcasm-central.

For the first half of the film though, there are enough creepy moments that I was kept entertained.  There's nothing like wandering around an empty building to make you hear and see things that (probably) aren't there.... When the two guards allow a homeless man to come inside out of a storm (against Cooper's better judgement), things amp up a bit when said bum goes missing from the room they allowed him to squat in.  As an audience, we are privy to the transient's location - as he and his Rottweiler (because every homeless dude has a purebred dog) wander around the bowels of the building, and it's obvious he was added to the story to provide a victim.  No spoilers, because it really is THAT obvious when they let him inside.

Because Streak is mentally unstable, we're left to wander if she is really hearing noises and seeing unusual sights when she is tasked with patrolling.  When the film starts we are told that the power has been going off and on in some sections of the building, which is a conspicuous hint that we're going to see electrical tricks.  The elevators sometimes work, sometimes not - and you know they aren't going to work when they are in dire need of working.  And like I said, they added the vagrant to the whole ball of wax for terribly obvious reasons.

 Streak and Cooper are linked with headsets and he seems to make her internal suffering even worse by talking her through certain areas and attempting to keep her out of the dreaded "forbidden areas" that she inevitably ends up in.  The director pulls out all the usual haunted house tropes, with creepy visuals and unsettling noises, but it doesn't work quite as effectively as say, Session 9.   The two leads do eventually band together to fight the dark forces at work, and only then do they become even slightly more tolerable.  I did find myself rooting for them as the final act brought forth truths they were forced to confront.  The ending has a much-needed surprise and though a bit contrived, seemed to fit perfectly with the rest of the film.

The Abandoned tries too hard to be straight-cut horror and in the process, just kind of falls into psychological melodrama.  It has all the right elements to be truly unsettling, but instead I found myself thinking (hoping!) that surely something would be lurking around the next corner...  It never was.