Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Interview with Sevé Schelenz, Writer/Director of "Skew"

Hey, good people in all the zombie apocalypse shelters, I've a nice treat for you this time around.  You'll recall that recently, I reviewed an excellent found footage/point-of-view film called Skew.  I honestly enjoyed its mind-bending premise and intense atmosphere - as well as its gut-punching ending - and was thrilled when I got in touch with Sevé Schelenz, the writer and director of this fine entry into an often-crowded subgenre of horror.  He agreed to answer some questions about Skew, his influences, and where he's headed in the future.

So, ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce to you, my interview with Mr. Sevé Schelenz:

So, Sevé, what experiences inspired Skew?  What made you decide to go with the found footage sub-genre?

Sevé:  "I had been itching to do a feature film for some time as I spent the last while focusing on some independent television projects.  One of the biggest obstacles I faced was having enough money to make a film since all funds were coming out of my own pocket. I was also concerned with the film’s production value and if the audience would accept it.  I had seen my share of independent films that fell short because they attempted to make a Hollywood production without having the necessary budget.  Instead of falling into the same trap, I decided to turn this perceived limitation into an advantage.  Two days before an actual road trip with some friends, the idea of one of the characters filming the entire journey through a handheld camera struck me.  It had been five years since The Blair Witch Project had been made and I felt enough time had passed that stylistically another film in this same vein could be made.  Of course I didn’t want to copy what had already been done with The Blair Witch Project so I put my own spin on it.  I wrote the first draft within four days of my actual road trip, and a final script was completed in six months.  Without giving too much away about Skew, I think viewers will be surprised to find out that it is not actually a “found footage” film at all.  There was never any intention to have tapes found by some sort of authority and edited together for the world to see as a pseudo documentary.  Actually, Skew is a narrative film that just so happens to be filmed from the point of view of a video camera owned by one of the characters.  Of course it gets even deeper than that, but I will quit while I’m ahead so as not to spoil anything for the audience." 

How did you get into filmmaking?  Are there any directors or writers who directly inspire you, or have inspired you on your path?

Sevé:   "I began making short comedy films in my high school years.  I used to bug my family and friends to be in them all the time.  I had a camera strapped to my hand virtually at all times.  In my last year of high school I remember avoiding my guidance counselor, as he wanted to sit down and discuss my future plans for university.  It wasn’t until he told me that film school was an option that I actually took the time to look into it.  I assembled a portfolio of finished films and sent them off to each respective university along with my application and other prerequisites.  After graduating from the film program at York University in Toronto, Canada, I moved to the West Coast and found employment in the post-production field.  While working I continued to write, direct and produce various independent projects in the television medium on the side.  After a while, the filmmaker side of me started calling and I moved away from these independent television projects and focused on making features.  After working on a few film concepts and writing a comedy feature, I jumped headfirst into developing Skew and the rest is history.  In terms of film directors, there have definitely been a few who have inspired me.  Spielberg, Cameron, and Tarantino are at the forefront.  In terms of horror, I think Carpenter’s The Thing and Halloween have had a huge impact on the type of film I have made with Skew.  As a filmmaker, John Carpenter has shown that he really understands the source of what scares us and doesn’t let up on it." 

I absolutely agree with that!  How were you able to draw such natural, seemingly unscripted performances from the actors?

Sevé:   "Finding the actors for Skew was quite the feat as we had to go the route of non-union for the film because not only did we want unknown actors in order to maintain a sense of realism for the film, but we couldn’t afford to pay the union’s rate.  We had many interesting characters show up for our open auditions.  I have to tell you that the majority of these people should not be acting at all.  It almost got to the point where I saw myself having to play one of the characters in the film.  Finally we were blessed with Amber Lewis who initially read for the role of L.T.  Once we discovered her range, we had her do a cold reading for Eva right then and there.  She was offered the role on the spot.  Next was Richard Olak who read for the role of Rich.  He nailed it on the first try and was instantly hired.  The last major character we needed was Simon.  The instant Robert Scattergood began screaming his lines in terror, we were sold.  The key to getting these realistic performances from my actors – beyond the fact that they were very talented and professional to work with – was in the rehearsals.  We spent a large amount of time in pre-production going over the script to ensure the actors not only understood how to deliver their lines, but why they were being delivered in such a way.  We did not deviate from the script at all.  There are very few unscripted lines in Skew and once you see the film you will understand why.  Skew is as much a suspense thriller as it is a psychological horror and there are many pieces to the puzzle that were planted at very specific moments throughout the film. It was very important that the dialogue and action stayed true to this."

They really nailed it!  How important is it to add a psychological aspect to supernatural horror...well, any horror, really?

Sevé:   "Skew is the first feature I have written, directed, produced, edited and even partially filmed.  When I originally wrote my screenplay, The Blair Witch Project was definitely a catalyst for it.  One of the main devices used in The Blair Witch Project is anticipation.  I remember seeing this movie on opening night and feeling completely restless and apprehensive the whole time.  For me, a good horror film blends this feeling of nervousness with the unexpected jump-out-of-your-seat scares. You combine this with a good script with at least one brain-teasing, unforeseen twist and I’m hooked. When I see a horror film I want to be forced to think a little.  It doesn’t have to be overly complicated, but don’t dumb it down for the audience. I completely lose interest in your typical “paint by the numbers” horror.  The psychological aspect to horror naturally lends itself to anticipation."

Are there any other genres you'd like to tackle?

Sevé:  "In film school one of my screenwriting teachers preached the idea of picking one genre and sticking with it.  She believed in order to work in the industry you had to perfect one genre in to make money.  I disagree with this as I have plenty of ideas that span a wide range of genres.  I think it’s definitely important to not only master the basics of screenplay writing, but to do your research within the genre you undertake. For Skew, I watched Blair Witch roughly six times and focused on different aspects of the movie during each viewing. As previously mentioned, comedy had been my filmmaking forte in the past so I definitely see myself coming back to it in the future.  Yet, as of late, I have been working on a number of different genre pieces including a suspense thriller, another horror, and even a children’s film.  Did I mention the musical?  Just kidding." 

What are your future plans?  Any projects we can look forward to?

Sevé:   "Right now I am working on another horror feature with a writing partner.  We are fairly close to locking it and will begin our funding drive and pre-production soon.  I hope to go into production on this in early 2013.  I decided it was time to move away from the P.O.V. style and go with something a little more traditional.  There’s not much else I can say about the project except that it involves a lot of blood, boobs and black ooze.  As for the immediate future, I’ve been invited to judge the features at A Night Of Horror International Film Festival in Sydney, Australia, which I’m very excited about. Skew had its world premiere at this festival last year and won the Independent Spirit Award.  So I’ll be heading to Australia in March to hopefully see some great independent horror films.  In terms of Skew, we are coming to the end of our festival run—although we were just recently accepted into the StarLite Film Festival in Florida—and that puts our festival selection total up to forty-one.  We’ve also won seven awards including best feature, best actress and best director.  In addition to that we’re now available for streaming on Netflix in the U.S., DVD in Germany, and our most recent sale to Horror Channel in the U.K.  All in all, Skew has really had a great run and I look forward to our future release on DVD in North America." 

Sevé, a huge thank you for answering my questions! 

Sevé: "Thanks so much for taking the time to chat and help promote Skew.  I really do hope your readers have a chance to check it out at some point soon.  If they want more information they can check out our IMDb page at:, our YouTube link at, or Rotten Tomatoes at to see what all the buzz is about.  I also encourage your readers to drop me a line through one of these sites if they have any questions about the film.  Thanks for supporting independent filmmaking, Dod.  Keep hacking and slashing away at those reviews!"


Again, huge thanks to Sevé Schelenz for graciously and patiently answering all my questions!  Be sure to check out Skew on Netflix Instant.  Also, keep an eye out for Sevé and the great cast of this film. They're goin' places, I tell you!

And until next time, dear readers, always make sure you know exactly where your camcorder comes from...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Innkeepers (2011) Go Ahead, Stay For A Night

Ti West has a bright future in filmmaking.

That needs to be said right off the bat.  The writer/director of The House of the Devil (which bears a second look from me) set out to make an homage/update to the classic haunted house story and - despite a near-miss of an ending (which I won't spoil here) - created a beautifully tense and suspenseful film with The Innkeepers.  West has an uncanny talent for setting up scenes and building tension, as well as drawing performances from the actors that fit the style of the film perfectly.  He's building on such a high platform that as his films get better and better, we're going to see more rich visual storytelling as the years and films go by.

The Innkeepers is mostly a two-character film, with Pat Healy starring as the snarky Luke and Sara Paxton as the enthusiastic, cute-as-a-button and asthmatic Claire.  Luke and Claire are the only staff on duty at the Yankee Pedlar Inn, a quaint little hotel that is on the verge of closing up shop.  Luke started a ghost hunting website and enlists Claire to help gather evidence.  Claire is gung-ho about finding out more regarding the local legend of a woman who hung herself after being stood up at the altar.  While the two take shifts, we focus mostly on Claire as she investigates strange noises and spooky hallways, rooms, and garages.

The inn is short on guests, but not short on creepiness.  There's a troubled woman and her young son (Alison Bartlett and Jake Schlueter), staying there as leverage in an argument with her husband.  There's also a famous actress turned psychic, Leanne (Kelly McGillis), who seems to know more than she's willing to let on.  A strange, sad older man (George Riddle) who insists on staying in the hotel room where he spent his honeymoon.  As the night wears on, Claire forms a bit of a bond with Leanne, whose steady drinking gives cause for skepticism from Claire, despite her fan-girl-ishness.  The woman and her son storm out after what they believe is shoddy treatment by the staff (causing some good lines from Luke), but Leanne stays.  After a big scare, Luke confesses his feelings for Claire in a roundabout way.  Yet after another big scare, he runs off, saying that his encounters with the local ghost were fabricated and the real terror he feels after exploring the basement is too much for him.

Leanne warns Claire that something horrible will happen to her if she doesn't leave.  Claire decides to evacuate the inn, and discovers the old man dead in a bloody bathtub, a victim of suicide.  Luke returns and tries to tell Claire something, but she's panicked and wants him to help her get out.  When she heads to the basement, thinking Leanne has somehow ended up there, the movie hurtles towards its sad and strange conclusion.

The only issue, if I can call it that, that I had with the movie was its ending.  It wasn't quite there for me.  I tried thinking about it from outside the box, but still couldn't get a strong feeling for it.  Endings are hard, I know that.  But when you consider the rest of the film is so solid and so incredibly well-filmed, it's really a small nitpick overall.  As I mentioned, the tension is palpable.  You really are along for the ride as Claire explores the hotel and encounters both real and red herring scares.  The acting from Paxton and Healy was simply fantastic.  They have obvious chemistry and were just so natural.  They seemed like real people having a really crazy night at an allegedly haunted inn.  The dialogue was natural, never forced.  The scares were beautifully done, subtle yet never weak.

Ti West really has the potential to become one of this generation's greatest horror filmmakers.  He understands tension and character, and modern - and mainstream - horror needs more of that to effectively balance out the slick shocks and occasional gore.  I expect his next film will be even better.

Memorable scenes:

*  Claire's dream featuring a spooky visitor.  Brrrrr....

*  Any time the audio equipment was used.  Excellent use of sound.

*  The banter between Luke and Claire.

*  The ghost at the top of the stairs, then in the basement.  Subtle but oh, so creepy.

*  Luke and Claire trying to contact the ghost in the basement.  Ratchet that tension up to ten!

And now, as a small bonus, here are some pictures of the actual Yankee Pedlar Inn I took on a recent road trip up to Torrington, Connecticut.

Until next time, dear readers, enjoy the trailer:

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year, 2012! Is This The Year For The Zombie Apocalypse?

Well, another year has gone by and we head into the infamous year of 2012, when the world is supposed to end and we're supposed to follow John Cusack to salvation.  How will it end?  I'm not sure, but I'm checking the rations to make sure I have enough cookies.

First off, allow me to thank you, the readers, once again for taking the time to read my little thoughts on various horror movies.  As of today, the blog is just a few people away from 100,000 views.  So thanks for stopping by and hopefully, you're taking some entertainment and information away from the ol' helicopter.

Second, another big thanks go out to others in the horror and pop culture blogging community, who continue to be friendly and supportive.

Sadly, I didn't get to Chiller this year. I planned on going in October, but thanks to the freak snowstorm here in the northeast, the kibosh was put on that.  I'm shooting for a trip in April, though.

I'm hoping 2012 will see more entertainment, and I'd like to feature more interviews, more reviews of independent films/screeners, and more diverse subjects like books and music.  Hey, it's all up to me!

I also started a new blog for another of my big interests:  comic books.  Go check out Born In The Silver Age - not much there yet, but it'll grow.

In keeping with tradition, I'm going to share my ten favorite movies that I reviewed in 2011 - not including the ones I already own.  Trust me, there were more than ten that I really liked, but I'll narrow it down in no particular order.  Here goes:

The Last Exorcism - This listing is actually more about the context of the film and how it may have gone outside the box to tell its story.  Yeah, it's "found footage" but the theory I subscribe to is that even the description of the genre "found footage" is being played with here.

Phantasm - An older film and a cult classic, it always brings back great childhood memories of the weird horror films we could only catch on the early days of cable or at the video store.  Yes, Phantasm on VHS is a fond memory of mine.

Stake Land - Word of mouth propelled my interest in this little movie that offered a very unique take on vampires and what they could mean to the world if left unchecked.  Great performances and a heartbreaking invasion scene were two traits that made me really enjoy this movie.

Dance Of The Dead (2008) - Definitely a fun horror-comedy with a great deal of likable characters and funny moments.  It had a b-movie appeal with modern sensibilities, combining the two with flair.  Neat explanation as to why certain zombies move faster than others as well.

I Saw The Devil - What an emotional punch to the stomach.  This film has it all:  deft direction, great pacing, and amazing acting.  It's brutal yet human - it's definitely not a ray of sunshine, but it's a quality, extremely well-made film.

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil - This was probably my favorite movie to review in 2011.  An absolutely wonderful film, full of sweet characters, hilarious predicaments, and a subplot that boils to the surface in the third act make this a purely magical movie experience.

Trollhunter - Wild Norwegian fare that elevated the "found footage" genre even more, with some great performances and special effects that are absolutely seamless.  A film about encountering Nordic trolls seems like a silly premise, but they pull it off with style.

House On Haunted Hill (1959) - One of the true classics starring one of my absolute favorites in Vincent Price (and eternal doom-sayer Elisha Cook) , this one of the films that adds to the foundation of horror.  Sweet suspense and a cheeky performance by Price.

Attack The Block - I'd classify this as sci-fi/horror and it's well on its way to being a cult classic.  A gang of tough London kids battle a herd of very, very toothy aliens.  A real lesson on character development and pacing, my love for this film grew as it went on to its satisfying conclusion.

Skew - Definitely a lot of "found footage" films on my blog, and this list, but this one was near the top.  A seemingly simple premise holds a lot more details in this road movie that has as one of its stars a possibly haunted/cursed video camera.

And one TV miniseries:

Dead Set (TV) - While technically not a film, this British TV miniseries was a kinetic, gory, and emotional rollercoaster set against the backdrop of a popular reality show.  I believe it featured some of the best "being overrun by hordes of zombies" scenes I've seen.

And one special mention of a short film I reviewed:

Crestfallen - From producer Russ Penning and director Jeremiah Kipp came this wordless, quiet, and emotional short film about the downfall of a young woman who feels she has lost it all.  Actress Deneen Melody turns in a fantastic performance, making her someone to watch as her career no doubt grows.

Honorable mentionsLet Me In, Piranha (2010), Poultrygeist, The Horde, Cronos, The Horseman

So, a Happy New Year to all my helicopter passengers - let it be safe, happy, and full of good surprises with none of the bitey zombies.  Thanks for reading, and I'll see you at all the post-apocalyptic shelters!