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WHEN DARKNESS FALLS – REVIEW AND INTERVIEW

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WHEN DARKNESS FALLS (2022). Reviewed by Steve Kirkham

4 stars
Shepka Productions. Out Now. DVD via MOD. Digital platforms. TVOD (Transactional VOD) and AVOD (Advertising based VOD)

When you are watching films as a critic how do you compare a film that has been shot for a few thousand pounds and one that has had possibly millions thrown at it — especially when it comes to the ‘short-hand’ of a star rating. The truth is you can’t, so for me ultimately the bottom line is did I enjoy the film in and of itself and did it achieve some or all of what it set out to do.

Such a case in point is When Darkness Falls — a film that was made on a meagre budget but still managed to impress.

With a starting off point of the 70s Brian Clemens/TerryNation thriller And Soon the Darkness (as acknowledged in the interview below) this opens with a bit of business establishing our villains of the piece — Nate (played by director Nathan Shepke) and Tommy (Craig McEwan).

We then meet Americans Andrea (Emma O’Hara) and Jess (Michaela Longden, Book of Monsters). Passing friends in high school they have recently reconnected and decided to trek across the Highlands of Scotland. What could possibly go wrong being in the middle of nowhere?

Stopping off at a pub for refreshment our ladies meet our miscreants — Andrea is well up for a bit of fun, whereas Jess is less enamoured and decides to walk ahead to their next meeting point… big mistake! Followed by Tommy, he is thankfully scared off by handy ex-copper Beck (Ben Brinicombe).

Jess becomes increasingly concerned when Andrea doesn’t appear and ventures back to the watering hole convinced Andrea has gone missing. She meets Beck again but he is of no help, so she decides to look for her friend on her own.

Thus is set up a plot which takes some great twists and unexpected turns which keep you guessing as to what is actually going on. Before long somebody has been fatally stabbed, a bag of purloined money has gone missing, another girl is dead and things are turned on their head with uneasy alliances struck in a quest to find Andrea. But who do you trust?

Allowing for budgetary considerations this is a good solid thriller ably helmed by Nathan Shepka — who also created the original story which Tom Jolliffe (The Witches of Amityville) scripted. Shepka also edited the film and probably made the tea as well! Michaela Longdon is great in the central role and Shepka (him again) makes for a suitably nasty scoundrel. Also notable is Brinicombe, who may not be all he seems. There is excellent use of the bleak location which adds production value, though maybe the drone footage could have done with some judicious trimming. One also has to forgive some wobbly accents and slightly amateurish acting but overall this is slow burn but effective story leading to a full-on gore fest in the finale!

Steve Kirkham interviews Nathan Shepka

How long did it take from writing the script to getting the film made?
When Darkness Falls was actually conceived during lockdown. Myself and writer Tom Jolliffe were looking around for an idea for a tense thriller, old school in style, with smatterings of Hitchcock meets 80’s Brian De Palma (no I didn’t just compare us to two greats!) The film is actually inspired by a 1970’s British thriller called And Soon the Darkness, but instead of two British girls cycling in rural France, we flipped it to two American girls hiking in rural Scotland. Ours does get much crazier towards the end though, compared to the film that inspired it!
Because we were in lockdown at the time, productivity for us was up! And so we started putting the film together in April and by the September we were on set shooting it. Tom and I both have similar “artistic visions” if you want to call them that, so the writing process was pretty easy and we always seem to be on the same page (pun intended).

What was the budget?
Only around £10,000. We had the luxury of the set essentially being on our doorstep. The film was shot in the highest village in Scotland, which is only about a 40 minute drive from me. We rented two cottages that also doubled as locations and we got up in the morning, opened the front door and we were on set. So all that helps to keep costs down. Due to Covid, we bubbled on set and shot back-to-back for an initial 12 days, with a further pick-up day in the November. Hopefully though the production values still look good despite the low budget. We’re all about putting the money on screen!

How was the money raised?
Simple answer to this one: straight out of my bank account! Lockdown helped curb any wild partying or eating at nice restaurants or going on holiday for an extended period of time so I found myself with enough money to make a film. Every cloud and all that…

What’s next for you filmmaking wise?
We’re currently working on a sequel to our first feature film, Holiday Monday (just released on August 29th as The Bank Holiday Job in the UK) which is an old-school action shoot-em-up with fistfights and all the usual. The sequel I think is going to be great fun and kind of plays up to the current trend of nostalgia in cinema. After that we’re due to start work on a really dark crime thriller, which will be a bit of a departure for us. And Tom and I are looking at putting together another project for mid next year potentially. Something along the lines of When Darkness Falls but breaching the horror genre a little more.

How did you get into directing (and all your other roles – producer, editor, making the tea)?
I started out making short films and by number 5 I decided I’d like to have a go at directing as well as producing and “acting” in them. I think it is a bit of a natural progression because if you write the script, it’s a chance to take your vision through from concept to completion and I felt that other directors weren’t quite hitting the mark or translating the material particularly well to screen. Now that could have been the quality of said writing, but I think when you write something you have a particular vision in mind and it’s good to be able to continue that onto set and then into post in order to see it through. Sometimes multiple visions can muddy the waters, especially when someone interprets the material differently. I’m all for collaboration though. I won’t pretend that what we make is high art though, Holiday Monday is just simple entertainment. When Darkness Falls takes a bit of a leap into something slightly more artistic I feel though. Also, I apparently make a “sh*t hot” cup of tea so that’s accurate.

How did you cast the film?
This was a bit of a different process compared to usual. Doing short films for such a long time I’d built up a bit of a network of actors that I liked, that were reliable and committed and good to work with. When Darkness Falls though was a departure in terms of content and also in terms of the roles we had to fill. Action films tend to be quite male-centric but When Darkness Falls has two female leads. Aside from a couple of cast members I’d known for years, I didn’t have anyone in my little black book to fill the majority of the roles so that ended up being a casting call on various different sites and social media feeds. Tom helped massively with that as well in terms of screening potential candidates. I think we really struck gold with Michaela and Emma as the leads, their chemistry is pretty great in the film I felt and they became good friends off the set too, which always helps. Ben who plays Beck was great too, as well as being physically imposing he’s got a real undercurrent of danger. Craig and Tony round off the rest of the cast, both of whom I knew. Craig I’ve worked with a few times and is a bit of a chameleon when it comes to acting, the way he can switch between different roles. Tony is a well known face on the Scottish film scene and I thought it was about time I worked with him. And Niamh we also found via casting call! Small cast, but we all got on great and spending the entire shoot together in a holiday home environment meant that it was much easier to gel rather than turning up to set each day and going home each night.

How was it directing and acting at the same time?
I’ve always enjoyed it. I’m stepping back for the next film in order to let me concentrate on performance as it is a real challenging character and again, a bit of a departure. However up until this point I’ve enjoyed the challenge. I suppose the only downside can be is that you slip into the habit of watching all the performances as well as trying to act yourself and that can occasionally result in going behind the camera to check the take, realising everyone else is en pointe but going “what the f*ck am I doing there” kind of thing. The bane of multi-tasking! They do say men are no good at it…

THE RETALIATORS Review by Steve Kirkham

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THE RETALIATORS (2021)

***
Better Noise Films. UK Cinemas 14th September

The Retaliators opens with a portentous voiceover: “When do the sins of a good man make him bad — I guess it all comes down to choices”. I have a feeling we are about to find out about those choices!

The film itself starts intriguingly… what appears to be a body is dumped down a well. A heavy rock soundtrack blares out. Two girls take a wrong turn down a remote private road and are attacked by what appear to be zombies. A hero appears and a head is lopped off. “They’re not zombies” declares the bloodied interloper who has come to save them. All this in the first few minutes.

We then cut to what we assume is the story proper though this film is so messy it’s difficult to tell at times — Mild mannered pastor John Bishop (Michael Lombardi, also one of the three credited directors) is out buying Christmas trees with his two daughters. When another customer takes the tree one his children wants he doesn’t stand up to him. Instead he uses it as a lesson in one of his sermon’s, much to the consternation of his eldest Sarah (Katie Kelly).

Against his better judgment he allows her to take the family car to go to a party. Filling up at a gas station, she sees something she clearly shouldn’t have and is soon being chased by bald headed miscreant Ram Kady (a suitably nasty Joseph Gatt) in his black muscle car. Running her off the road, he pushes the smashed up car into the nearby lake, drowning her.

Grief stricken by the death of his offspring, our previously peace loving pastor vows to take his revenge on her killer. Detective Jed Sawyer (Marc Menchaca) is assigned to the case and is not all he seems — he asks Bishop what would he do if he had one minute alone with the murderer? Why has he floated this proposition? What does he know? You’ll find out later…

Alongside all this we have rival biker gangs and drug deals going on which may or may not be connected and a fractured storyline — written by Darren and Jeff Allen Geare — that lacks clarity and is often just confusing. Whilst there is a pervasive sense of violence and a grungy, grimy, sweaty vibe there are too many disparate threads which don’t feel woven together. Of course this may well be due to the fact that this has three directors: Samuel Gonzalez Jr., Bridget Smith and the previously mentioned Lombardi.

As questions of morality and faith are explored about halfway through this tips into bizarre, almost Evil Dead territory as the zombies/not zombies make a splattery, full on appearance (no spoilers as to what they really are) leading to a gore soaked finale — no messing about, revenge is had!

If you are a heavy rock/metal fan then some fun may well be gleaned from the appearance of various band members as parts of the gangs (they also feature on the soundtrack) — which I am reliably informed by the press release are Tommy Lee, Five Finger Death Punch, Jacobs Shaddix (Papa Roach), Spencer Charnas (Ice Nine Kills), Escape the Fate and The Hu. You’ll be able to tell who they are as they can’t really act.

Steve Kirkham

FRIGHTFEST SUPER Z INTERVIEW

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Dark Side Magazine at FrightFest 2022 – James Whittington talks to  Arnaud Tabarly co-director of Super Z

Splatter movies can go either way super serious, or super silly and Super Z is the latter. It’s a wild, gory, blood drenched ride into the mind of director Arnaud Tabarly so we had a quick chat with him about this zombie gut-fest.

DS: Where did the idea for Super Z come from and are you a big fan of zombie movies?

AT: So, yes I’m rather a big fan, although I didn’t see everything that exists in the genre. The original idea was born on our first short film with Julien de Volte: “The Foodies”. We wanted to make ghouls living in the forest that set humans’ traps, for those who got lost in the woods. They fed with human flesh while cooking them. But very quickly the idea of «thinking zombie» took over, especially by remembering the first zombie talking “Bub” in “The Day Of The Dead” of George A. Romero. Then, the film “Death Becomes Her” by Robert Zemeckis was the first reference for the first exchanges between them, but very quickly their personalities get the upper hand. (Laughs)

DS: You co-directed and co-wrote the movie with Julien de Volte, what was your process? Did you write/direct separate scenes etc?

AT: It was a mix of several methods, sometimes we wrote on our own, sometimes together and we were collecting all the ideas we liked. It was very stimulating because we were given ourselves almost no limits except for the fact we had a small budget. As a break, we sometimes watched films that could inspire us.

DS: What did the cast think when they first read the script?

AT: The reactions were quite different, but quickly the concept of family appealed to the actors who perform the zombies. However, a part of the casting was already in the short film “The Foodies”, so they knew what to expect and that they’ll still eat cooked humans. (laughs)

DS: The film goes to some extremes; did you hold back on anything at all?

AT: Full of things (laughs), there was an ambition at first to divert the image of French actors and it would have been really surprising. The characters of Georgette and Marceline were also more consistent and Yvon for example had to become the first vegetarian zombie. He also had a lot of pretty crazy scenes that intervened directly in the village. In short, due to the lack of money, we had to back off on a lot of things. But you never know, many of these elements could be suddenly in a sequel.

DS: The effects are superb, were all of them completed on set?

AT: Thank you, but no, not at all! (Laughter) we had a lot of difficulties on the set, especially on the make-up of monsters, which was very limited and that required continuous retouching. Therefore, we had to use a lot of digital effects and we had the chance to meet Cyril Féron, who did an incredible job on digital special effects, which were a great number.

DS: Do you have a favourite scene?

AT: I will have a hard time choosing one. I love when Gertre is crying. Seeing a sad zombie is something quite new.

DS: Will there be a part 2?

AT: Of course!! And the script is almost ready, it must be said that the end of the film suggests something much bigger. And I’ll tell you something: you’re not ready! (laughs)

DS: It’s a wild ride that’s best viewed in a cinema with a large audience, will you be nervous when the movie has its European premiere at FrightFest 2022?

AT: Oh yes, the film is necessarily a little bit different from a classic zombie movie. You never know how the audience will react.

DS: What is the French film industry like at the moment and is there a big horror scene?

AT: That’s an exciting question, actually not really. There was indeed this year “Final Cut” by Michel Hazanavicius that remains an interesting remake, that said, I didn’t see it yet. Otherwise there has been “Titane” by Julia Ducournau, which was released last year, a Franco-Belgian production. This kind of film is very rare in France, because these films have usually no help and it is quite exceptional, one every two or three years comes out. It’s very little and it’s a shame because there are a lot of incredible films over the last 40 years and they’re often quite unknown because they’re poorly supported and have no real communication budget.

DS: So, what are you working on at the moment?

AT: I am currently working on two quite different projects that focus more on fantasy and science fiction, but a part of horror is still there: a science fiction thriller about hacking and a fantasy film about alchemy.

DS: Arnaud Tabarly, thank you very much.

FRIGHTFEST DAY 5 REVIEW

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Killer clowns, Hitler’s skull and lashings of vertigo – James Whittington on Day 5 of FrightFest 2022

Somehow day 5 of FrightFest arrived suddenly and out of nowhere but the event did end with a bang, well, with a movie which had the audience right on the edge of their seats, literally.

The day started with the UK premiere of Piggy, the debut movie from Carlota Pereda. It focuses on a plus-size girl who constantly suffers at the bile spewed from uncaring people in her village. That is until a stranger arrives and her tormentors start to disappear. Moving from a tale of verbal and physical abuse into full grindhouse, Piggy which relies on colour tones and heat to drive home specific messages, gets a little lost amongst the violence but is a film which has something different to say about people’s perceptions of others.

The world premiere of Damien Leone’s Terrifier 2 was next and running at 140 minutes (yes, a 140-minute-long slasher!) was one of the movies we needed to be braced for as the first instalment was a no holds barred excursion into a gore-drenched nightmare. Part 2 ramps up the violence and gore whilst removing some of the humour of the first. Art the clown has returned to Miles County and focuses on Sienna, her brother and the rest of her family and friends. And that’s basically it apart from one of the most surreal post credit scenes I’ve seen in a slasher. The movie is overlong but the gore fans at FrightFest loved it and had the cinema buzzing afterwards.

A rather more subdued and serious movie followed, Ben Parker’ Burial. Set during the final days of World War II we follow a band of Russian soldiers lead by the ballsy Brana Vasilyeva who have been tasked with trafficking the discovered remains of Adolf Hitler back to Stalin. Along the way they battle German ‘Wehrwolf’ partisans but befriend Polish rebels. With an intriguing plot and a fab cast which includes Harriet Walter, Tom Felton, and Charlotte Vega, Burial was a tense and violent take on a well-known conspiracy theory.

Next was a movie that had the audience wondering about and which is destined to become the under-the-radar horror movie of the year, Barbarian. A woman books a rental home but discovers its double booked with a strange man is already there. She decides to spend the evening but discovers there’s a lot more to fear than just an unexpected house guest. Twisty, twisted and thrilling, this is the sort of movie which benefits from going into it blind as it delivers some rather smart shocks with a strong cast made up from Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgård, Justin Long, and Kurt Braunohler.

FrightFest 2022 ended on a high note, literally with the vertigo inducing thriller, Fall. In an effort to help Becky heal from her past trauma, best friend Hunter suggests an exhilarating climb to the top of a remote, abandoned 2000-feet high radio tower where they will scatter her husband’s ashes. But when sections of the mast’s rickety ladder break off, the girls are stranded at the top in a pulse-pounding, vertigo-inducing fight for survival. By watching this on the huge Super Screen, Fall was an amazing ride of a movie which grabbed you by the neck and left you dangling throughout. Director Scott Mann knows how to leave the audience hanging and had most of us curled up into little balls not daring to look. A superb experience.

Season 56 of the Gothique Film Society!

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The Gothique’s Dave Simpson just sent us the brochure for the legendary film society’s 56th season, and here it is!

Here’s the lowdown in Dave’s words:

In any ‘ordinary’ season, Kim’s appearance (introducing an Edgar Wallace double in December) would be the highlight. However, this season we are screening a silent horror, Go and Get It, that has long been thought to have been ‘lost’. An Italian release print was discovered in the archives at Cineteca Milano a year or so ago, and one of our intrepid members has managed to not only obtain a digital copy, but also permission for a one-off public screening at the Gothique. That’s in January, and we are pairing it with its 1940s re-boot, The Monster and the Girl.

Download the brochure here, and maybe see some of you there?

Gothique Season 56 2022-2023

The Once and Future Smash Interview

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Dark Side Magazine at FrightFest 2022 – James Whittington interviews Sophia Cacciola, co-writer and co-director of The Once and Future Smash

DS: Where did the idea for The Once and Future Smash come from?

SC: With the rise of horror conventions, there were a lot of interesting discussions on the internet about making sure to get memorabilia signed in the right order because some actors would refuse to sign something signed by another actor they had a rivalry or disagreement with. Our friend Neal Jones was telling us a story about how he was having trouble booking a particular actor as a guest on his Without Your Head podcast because they were upset that he had previously booked the other actor who played the same role in different parts of the same movie. We had already been kicking around the idea of a story of one of these rivalries, and when we told Neal, he loved the idea and thought he could get production access to the Mad Monster Party horror convention, which was really the big hurdle to telling that story. With the convention access in place and Neal’s long history of interviewing just about everyone in the horror community on the Without Your Head podcast, we were off.

DS: How did you and co-writer and co-director Michael J. Epstein work together, what was your process?

SC: Most of the projects I do are collaborations with Michael, so we’ve developed a very complementary set of skills and approaches to production and problem-solving. We started out playing together in bands, eventually moving over to movies, and getting married somewhere along the way. I tend to do more pre-production and he tends to do more post, but with this film, we were really all hands-on deck (with very few hands) all the way through. I’m the cinematographer on the film, but because we were shooting in so many uncontrolled situations at the convention, we both had to operate cameras and deal with sound recording. We also brought along our friend and collaborator Matt Stuertz as a third cam op to help with that part of the shoot. It was all very chaotic, so it really helped that we are so used to working together. Even when we couldn’t directly communicate, we knew we could count on each other to make the right choices. Michael has edited all of our previous features, but we wanted to bring in another perspective, so we brought in Aaron Barrocas to edit. Michael and I watched cuts and had a little push and pull about tone and what served the story and what didn’t. We worked together to deal with acquiring and making all of the b-roll and extra assets we needed to include to enhance the story as well. 

DS: The casting of Michael St. Michaels and Bill Weeden is inspired, was this your plan all along?

SC: We absolutely couldn’t have made the movie without Michael and Bill. We knew Bill already from working with him on another project and Neal was friends with Michael through his podcast. So, we nervously reached out to the two of them and told them what we wanted to do. Thankfully, they both said yes immediately. We think they are both fantastic people and very funny. From our perspective, they are just similar enough in many ways and just different enough in many others to strike the balance we needed to tell this story in a form that we thought would be compelling. 

DS: A.J. Cutler also gives a superb and very natural performance, how did he become involved?

SC: Just as with Bill and Michael, we really couldn’t have done the movie without A.J. We had met him working camera crew on another film and although we didn’t really know if he had any interest in being in front of a camera, we told him about the project and again, he thankfully said yes immediately. We really lucked out in that regard with getting interest for involvement from all three of them! We also really needed A.J. because he’s kind of the grounding voice of reason throughout most of the story, at least up until he also gets a little caught up in the madness.

DS: You’ve interviewed some very notable stars from the horror industry, who was the most fun to talk to? 

SC: We were very nervous about how the interviews would go, but everyone who got involved was truly wonderful to work with. I think the important thing was that they really all loved Neal and trusted that if he was asking them if they wanted to be part of the project, it would be something they would ultimately be proud of. We live in California and Neal lives in Massachusetts (3000 miles / almost 5000 kilometers apart), so he was not there for most of the interviews. Everyone just implicitly trusted us to shoot their interviews because of Neal’s involvement though. It’s really hard to pick a “favorite” from the group because everyone brought their own energy and personality to it. I think Michael (Epstein) was most excited about Mark Patton because Nightmare 2 was his first R-rated horror film, and he always says watching that was what got him hooked on horror. For me, I had a really fun time flying out by myself for a day to interview Victor Miller. Just me, Victor, and his many Emmys! But we honestly had so much fun meeting everyone and really hope we get to work with them all again.

DS: Was there anyone you wanted to use but couldn’t get hold of?

SC: There were a few awesome people who wanted to be part of it, but it just didn’t work out because of geography or timing. We were really close to having Lisa Wilcox in the movie (we’re big Nightmare 4 fans), but it was a matter of physical distance and travel costs, so it didn’t work out. We also really wanted Tim Cappello, the famed Lost Boys sax player, to talk about the music in End Zone 2 (he’s a fan), but again, distance turned out to be an issue. There were quite a few others like that. I suspect if we weren’t in COVID times, we would have been able to work those interviews out. Travel has just been extra tricky these last few years. That said, we’re absolutely thrilled with the selection of people who are in the film.

DS: Did you also film at a real convention?

SC: Absolutely! Everything you see at the convention took place at Mad Monster Party in February 2020. They were extremely generous in giving us access to film there. All of the convention and hotel staff were aware of what we were doing and just gave us free rein. You can probably imagine all of the challenges with shooting and sound recording live events at a convention full of loud backgrounds! We had very little control over what was happening there, but we did our best to capture it all in three jam-packed days!

DS: There’s a lot of detail here especially the posters the piece features, any chance of a Blu-ray release so we can pause and appreciate them more fully?

SC: Thank you for noticing! There was an enormous amount of time and effort put into tracking down and creating materials. It’s definitely a little painful spending days searching for or working on something you know will be on screen for 3 seconds, but we thought it could really make the film fun to revisit. We also hope some of the small jokes and details will reward revisits to the film.  We’re still very early in the process, as we actually only finished the movie a few weeks ago, and FrightFest is the world premiere, but we absolutely hope to put together a nice physical release. We have a lot of material that was ultimately cut from the film for time or flow, but that we think will be interesting for inclusion in bonus features. With luck, we’ll find a boutique label with an interest in films like this to put it out. Hey boutique labels, if you’re out there, you know where to find us!

DS: here’s some strong commentary on remakes here, are you against such things?

SC: Not at all! We just thought it was something amusing to poke fun at. Look, we’re huge horror fans and we get confused between The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Texas Chainsaw. And that’s not even to mention Leatherface and Leatherface, Halloween and Halloween, Scream and Scream, etc. 

Whenever there’s a new sequel that arbitrarily disregards some number of other sequels, you can’t help but laugh! But we mean it all in good fun. We celebrate horror, and we’re not snobs at all about fandom and remakes and who liked something first. We just love to see other people respond to the genre the way we do! 

DS: How much was scripted; it all seems so natural?

SC: Thank you! We had a script, but we were also very open to seizing opportunities. For example, we didn’t even know Mad Monster Party had a costume contest. We just took advantage of the situation. Really, you can only plan so much when you enter an uncontrolled environment! You also never know who might walk by with something to say! Aaron edited the movie as we went, so we saw what we extracted from the convention chaos and had the opportunity to use additional interviews or other material to fill in some areas we thought needed expansion or clarification. Because we shot the convention in February 2020, we were really stuck waiting around to gather the interviews and other materials for quite a long time. So, we had quite a bit of time to consider what to do, but we also had very few resources to do it!

DS: The movie riffs very much like The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash, would you agree?

SC: Interesting! We’ve seen it, but I wouldn’t say it was a conscious influence. It definitely has the right vibe though, so that’s a fair comparison. In terms of style and tone, it was important to us that we bend and blend (no pun intended) reality, fiction, surrealism, and fantasy into the story. All documentaries are really just manipulation of reality. It’s quite hard to quantify the degree to which something is “truth.” But truth was far less important to us than entertainment and exploration of the themes. We wanted the story to connect and have meaning more than we wanted to worry about precise truths. Anyway, regardless of how truthful you wish to be when you make a documentary film, you bias everything by shaping it into a story and deciding what is included, what is excluded, and what moves to the front vs. what moves to the back. We just started from a place of knowing that we were not holding ourselves to anything particular. 

DS: Talking of music, will the Theme from End Zone 2 get a physical release?

SC: Thanks for bringing that up! We are definitely fans of the songs and score in End Zone 2! We also had some amazing people work on various music for The Once and Future Smash, including Catherine Capozzi and Nick Zaino. Our dream is to find a boutique music label to release a vinyl version of the songs and score from End Zone 2 and The Once and Future Smash in one package of some kind. Again, if you’re out there, you know where to find us!

DS: Which was the most fun, making the doc or the End Zone 2 restoration piece?

SC: Each had a unique set of challenges, but I think there’s something really special about being able to bring a restoration of End Zone 2 to new audiences. Ultimately, we sort of think of the whole thing as one project, and we’re very much trying to bring it to festivals, and maybe home release, as a combined experience. We don’t want people to look at it just as two films. We hope they’ll see it as an opportunity to dive in and celebrate the story in multiple forms. We’ve really never done a project like this before, so we have no idea what to expect in terms of response. Even just talking to festivals has been interesting because we have to kind of explain that, yes, it’s two films, but we don’t really think of it that way. Some get it and maybe some don’t. I imagine the same will be true for audiences. We’re quite happy that FrightFest believed in it enough to program us. 

DS: Will you be nervous when they play at FrightFest and will you be selling any blenders?

SC: We are definitely very nervous to see it with an audience for the first time, but whether it’s received well or it’s received badly, we know we took on something we’re passionate about and told the story the best we could with the resources we had. We’re happy with that, and now we can only hope that some of the audience gets it and finds it entertaining. We also definitely want to do some blender merchandising! The cost of bringing materials across the ocean is probably prohibitive, but don’t be surprised if you start seeing the cast signing blenders at a table at the next Mad Monster Party! It was great that while we were filming, people showed up to Mad Monster with blenders and with blender manuals to get signed by Michael and Bill. We didn’t really find a great place to include most of that in the film, but there are a few moments scattered. You can see a few signings sprinkled into the credits. That’s not staged or planned. They were just fans of the project.

DS: So, what are you working on at the moment?

SC: I just directed a segment of the BizarroLand anthology film, Fat Fleshy Fingers, which also stars Michael St. Michaels as a tomb raider infected with a talking parasitic worm. That should be going out to festivals soon. I’m also the cinematographer on a creature feature called Craving. Production on that will finish us this fall and hopefully be released next year. Otherwise, we’re mostly just going to take Smash and EZ2 around for the next year or so while we decide which feature project to move forward on next.

DS: Sophia Cacciola, thank you very much.

FRIGHTFEST – NEW RELIGION DIRECTOR INTERVIEW

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Dark Side Magazine at FrightFest 2022 – Interview with Keishi Kondo writer and director of New Religion

FrightFest is a great platform for rising talent and Keishi Kondo is the latest creative the FrightFest team has brought to its large audience. His superb and emotional movie, New Religion is having its World Premiere in Discover Screen 3 today, so we decided to chat to this very talented person.

DS: Did you know from a young age that you wanted to work in the film industry?

KK: Originally, I always wanted to be a game designer when I was a low teenager because cinematic games like Silent Hill and Metal Gear Solid were thriving at the time, and I became obsessed with them.  RESIDENT EVIL was one of my favourites. Then I ingested the DNA of the countless genre films that Shinji Mikami, the creator of Resident Evil, had packed into that game, and when I discovered the work of horror film legends such as George A Romero, I was hooked. That was probably the first kick-start to my desire to become a filmmaker. When I entered university, I bought a Sony VX-2100 and then shot a medium-length film with my classmates. It was an action film about a zombie homeless guy and a zombie high school student killing each other. It makes me laugh when I see it now. I did not enter the film industry after graduation. I knew that the Japanese film industry had problems with working conditions and harassment those days, even now. So, I distanced myself from it. Then I moved to Tokyo and tried to make independent films or music videos with friends there. I have been working as an independent since then.  I have nothing to do with the industry. My admiration was for foreign countries rather than Japan, such as the United States where George A. Romero lived or Neil Marshall’s England. If possible, I would like to experience how the industry goes overseas.

DS: Where did the idea for New Religion come from?

KK: At the beginning, I did not have a clear theme but rather a lot of interests and intuitions juxtaposed on a notebook, just waiting for an idea or story to emerge. The core of the idea was an interest in concepts such as metaverse and immortality and their impact on the human way of life. That’s where this film came from. I am fascinated by the similarities between digital world and spiritual world. For example, heaven is a world excluded of fear, anxiety and discomfort, however, so is social networking where you can control who you want to communicate with and which icons you want to put on your timeline. You can block trolls immediately. Little by little, your timeline becomes your own personal heaven. But when you try to create a world with only those you want to be in it, the forgotten outside world will sometime appear and bring fear to society and to you. Also, this is where political or existential crises can arise. Since this was my first film, I metaphorically liked a lot of themes. I’m not able to say all the things here I was thinking during filming, but I was careful not to be too expository, and not to make it kind of techno-thrillers that deals directly with smartphones and social networking sites as motifs. It is boring when a film is a simple metaphor for reality. Today, I feel reality goes beyond our imagination or SF films.  I have to think of it more seriously.

DS: Did it take long to get the script completed?

KK: I started writing the script in 2018 and finished it in 2020, though I kept rewriting it throughout the filming period. I didn’t feel that was long. There were so many outside influences, people, locations and budget, and I enjoyed reading it changing a lot.  I think the core of the theme itself has not changed though. 

DS: It’s very much about lost lives and lost souls, what was the atmosphere like on set?

KK: During the filming, I felt tense at times. Especially during the scenes where the characters were talking to each other while unfolding their grief.  For the most part, however, an atmosphere of peace prevailed during most of the filming. The main cast all got along well.

DS: Kaho Seto delivers an extremely emotional performance as Miyabi, did she audition for the role?

KK: Other characters were quickly found through auditions. But finding an actor with the right acting skills, looks, artistry, and popularity for Miyabi was very difficult. I live in Nagoya, a city in central Japan, and I looked for one in that city but could not find one. So, I finally decided to look for one in Tokyo. I did not audition. As I surfed the websites of Tokyo agencies, I found her picture. I had a gut feeling that this person was Miyabi and made an offer. She read a script and then said “Yes”.

DS: The movie has an incredible style, and the soundtrack is almost like another character, how long did it take you to get the tone you wanted for the movie?

KK: Main composer Zeze Wakamatsu lives in Tokyo and I live in Nagoya. We had to make tracks remotely which is hard to get exact sounds that the film should have. I asked her to brush up tracks again and again. It is very tough to her as well, but she did it very well. I respect her.

DS: Who designed the animations which feature during the movie?

KK: Yusuke Moriya. He makes computer graphics for advertisements and shoots music videos for hip-hop artists in Tokyo. I met him when I did a live music performance with Zeze Wakamatsu in Kyoto, Japan. We originally had a mutual friend, but we had never met before. After that, I had him VJ for New Religion’s crowdfunding launch event. I was originally trying to make the moth by myself but couldn’t. After much fumbling, I finally asked him to do it. I pitched him ideas and concepts and he animated them at an amazing speed. I thought it was amazing quality. Went beyond my expectation.

DS: Will you be nervous when the movie has its world premiere at FrightFest 2022?

KK: I guess every director feels kind of nervous this way when they show films to audience for the first time. I’m feeling that way too but also getting excited.

DS: Do you believe in ghosts?

KK: I believe in ghosts and the afterlife, but I don’t think it is the same way as depicted in paintings or books.  I think they exist in a more unexplainable form. The ghosts depicted in this film are not traditional ghosts, but rather I have tried to portray them as representations of the curses placed on society, the unknowability and ferocity of technology, and the dangerous realm of the human mind.

DS: What is the Japanese film industry like at the moment and is it difficult for new voices like yours to be heard?

KK: Although I have almost nothing to do with the Japanese film industry, it seems difficult.  Countless independent films are now being released in Tokyo. However, the funding given to new filmmakers is probably incredibly low compared to China and Korea. Many filmmakers make their films with their own money, which makes it very difficult for them to continue making feature-length films even if they do make their debut. I’m in the same situation. It seems to me that there are not many organisations that promote their films abroad. 

DS: For those of us new to Japanese cinema, whose movies would you recommend to view?

KK: There are so many classic that you must watch but also, I recommend you guys dig contemporary indie-filmmakers in fantastic genre. For example: Ring Wondering / dir. Masakazu Kaneko, Videophobia/ dir. Daisuke Miyazaki, Plan 75 / dir. Chie Hayakawa, Koro no Chi / dir.Kazuya Shiraishi and Sagasu / dir. Shinzo Katayama. Of course not only them… 

DS: So, what are you working on at the moment?

KK: I have been writing many scripts. One is a short film called Multiverse Of Chairs.  The protagonist is a chair. Literally, a chair. This is a story about the interaction between the chair and humans in a multidimensional world. The other two are feature films. The film involves the Cthulhu Mythos in a feud between an LGBTQ+ couple over the adoption of a child. The style would be close to New Religion. The other is a sequel to New Religion, but it will be in a completely different style.  The story is about a female vampire who lives in metaverse tries to meet her father.

DS: Keishi Kondo, thank you very much.

Everybody Dies by the End FrightFest Interview

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Dark Side Magazine at FrightFest 2022 – Interview with Ian Tripp writer and co-director for Everybody Dies by the End

Fancy a meta-movie with just the right amount of psychological tensions? If so, then Everybody Dies by the End is for you and is having its World Premiere in Discovery Screen 1 today at FrightFest. We chatted to writer and co-director about this creative piece.

DS: What inspired you to write Everybody Dies by the End?

IT: What drew me to writing Everybody Dies by the End really came from the mysticism and folktales around the fable makers themselves. It seemed the story tellers needed to be as large as the stories they were telling and as I entrenched myself in varying filmmaker’s careers, there were glaring moments of cinematic history that felt frightening to me. To read some of the things actors and directors did to other team members and performers was very revealing of the delusions of being result oriented at the cost of making people suffer. I’d rather not name names but I’m sure we could all think of the same directors when thinking about abusive work environments and from there it just snowballed in our fiction of what kind of a character this Horror Director would be and the things he’d do that would make him an actual horror character now.

DS: How did the whole project come together?

IT: I had the idea for the movie in my back pocket for years while we were working on other projects, specifically short films and freelance work. But the calling of my soul has always been to make feature films and it was less about when and more about feeling ready. So, at a certain point I knew I was going to direct my script, that I’d play the camera man with my actual sound op (Josh Wyble) playing the sound op in the film and my filmmaking partner Ryan Schafer as my co-director. The truth is the movie took years to make. We shot that opening archival interview scene in December of 2018 and we then took all of 2019 retooling the script, having everyone we could get to rip the movie apart. And people did! It was great. We then started up principal photography in March of 2020, I know. We shut down. Waited, retooled, got really lucky with some awesome resources to make the movie, like that creepy concrete dungeon of a basement that Alfred Costella calls his Sound Stage along with the dusty desert setting of Alfred’s ranch. The thing is, no movie asks to be made, you have to will it into existence, persistently and compassionately. After the ball was seemingly up the hill, we ended up getting to make a movie, graciously, out of favours and the good will of the talented and caring team members I call my friends. It was a dream movie come true and making it will go down as some of the best times of my life. And for what it’s worth, making the movie gave me a key education that money doesn’t buy you a good movie and you’re only as capable as your crew and the decisions you make. Directing is essentially being an art curator, that’s the biggest lesson I learned taking on the feature film world. Also, that there’s no such thing as being ready. There’s just a feeling you get that it’s time to dive into the unknown.  

DS: Vinny Curran is outstanding as director Alfred Costella, did he audition for the role and is Alfred an exaggerated amalgam of any characters you’ve met whist working in the film industry?

IT: I don’t remember when, but at some point, Vinny Curran became the face of Alfred Costella for me, and I now have no memories of the character without it being Vinny. I wrote the part with him in mind after seeing him in a film shot in my hometown of San Diego called ‘Resolution’ from (2012) and the thing that really stayed with me was how good the acting was and that they did this in my city on a dime. It gave me both the encouragement that I could make my stories my way, outside of Hollywood and just boldly DM’d Vinny saying I wrote something with him in mind. I didn’t audition him, I wrote the part for him, so I mostly just wanted to hear how he’d approach the character. I had only really rubbed elbows with Vinny at some local screenings in San Diego. So, my directing partner, Ryan and I, met Vinny and his girlfriend for drinks. Talked for a good ninety minutes about how Vinny as a performer could wrap his head around likably playing such a character as Alfred Costella, full well knowing what the character puts people through. I don’t totally remember how we got to the moment but by the end of the night we were cheering over a movie we all decided to make together. This was October 2018 and we all really had the time to meditate on our parts as it evolved over the years, leading into full blown production finally at the end of 2020. The way we operate, we find the best creative experiences when we seek performers who are willing to co-author the part and Vinny just really also operates best in that area. He’s so committed, he’ll surprise you in the middle of a take by diving across a table and off a stage.

DS: Did the cast rehearse much as they bring such an authentic feel to the piece?

IT: Gratefully, Ryan and I haven’t worked under an Alfred Costella type, but you meet all kinds of personas when navigating through creative seas. But key inspirations were My Life directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, specifically tapping into the cycles of production hype and then feeling cripplingly depressed behind the scenes. And Full Tilt Boogie, chronicling the production of From Dusk Till Dawn, which also follows a more human subject centric ‘making-of’.

DS: Its manic at times, was there any moments improvised?

IT: I really don’t know what it was, but everyone in the cast just really understood what the movie was and how they were gonna bring it for the camera. It was true synchronicity. For instance; after doing casting calls for the part of Laura, Alfred Costella’s 1st AD, we got an interesting tape from Caroline Amiguet that compelled us to do a screen test and it was just so easy to fall into the weirder and freaky fun funky sides of all these oddball characters and after, Caroline said to me “That felt more like a rehearsal than an audition” and I completely agreed and knew then who Laura would be. At the movie’s core, it’s secretly an ensemble situational comedy, driven by the engine of a horror/mystery. But the characters are really what carry the movie and without these performers, the movie’s production value would be lacking. We had enough time with the material between ourselves in both our personal time and together that we could really take each scene one at a time and really find the groove as we went. Since each scene is most always shot in a single cam long take, you find the minutiae of the scene and the levels of performance until you get to the point where I’m just unironically calling for “Faster, Louder, More Intense” as we get into the latter takes of each scene. While the movie was heavily scripted and structured, we were always finding new ideas we loved and about 80% of the movie is what we wrote but again, there was always room for co-authoring and finding the next best idea. New things were always being written live.

DS: Were all the effects done on set as they are really well realised?

IT: This movie was our first serious attempt into the world of SFX and visual gore. About as much of it was practical as we could possibly shoot with fake blood & pressure hoses, prosthetics, fake wounds but when it comes to things like dropping lights onto people’s heads, that’s where the fun of digital trickery and careful editing can aid in making a practical effect all that more impossible.

DS: Who designed the cool posters for Costella’s movies?

IT: On the topic of Visual Effects, our digital compositor on Everybody Dies, Ty Mabrey, also did all those really cool Alfred Costella filmography posters! I had a meeting with him about the stunts and FX I’d need and he said “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I really want to paint the posters for Alfred’s movies.” and I took that blessing graciously. How could you not, having those posters scattered around Alfred’s house added to the world building in such a simple but intriguing way. Makes me think, we should shoot some footage for some of Alfred Costella’s movies.

DS: Everybody Dies by the End is your first feature, what was it like the first time you stepped onto the set?

IT: Stepping on set the first day: It was a surreal and heightened state of being on an almost psychedelic level. You hold these characters in your heart and mind’s eye with you for so long and most of that time stay on a mental shelf, alone with you. And to step on set and see Bill Oberst Jr in that yellow 70’s suit and Vinny wearing the Costella cap, proclaiming Al’s manifestos like Vinny stopped existing and there was only ever Alfred Costella. To see your imagination come to life is a beautiful thing. Serendipitously, Vinny’s first scene was that talk show interview and the last scene we filmed with him was Alfred’s last scene in the script. We didn’t intend for that, but it was a great book end for us in our time with that character and Vinny Curran.

DS: Where did the idea of boiled wine come from?

IT: I’m chuckling right now reading that someone is asking me about the boiled wine. Okay so, we’re going to tell this story backwards. First, in rehearsals, because we did the most amount of rehearsal time with Vinny, myself and Ryan. For whatever reason, in the steak and wine dining table introduction scene with Al, I just threw out that the wine is boiled, ask them to drink it and tell them you learned this method in Germany. This came from going to a friend’s house one thanksgiving night and his girlfriend had a pot on the stove and was pouring wine in, boiling the wine. She said it was a German practice and had me taste it. I didn’t enjoy it, ha ha. Hence why we have Mark grimace when he tries Alfred’s boiled wine.

DS: Will you be nervous when the movie has its world premiere at FrightFest 2022?

IT: Will we be nervous? Hmm. Yes! But, what is both terrifying and exciting is worth pursuing. We’re most of all just grateful to see the movie with its first audience.

DS: If you made a documentary about a director, who would you choose and why?

IT: I don’t know that I’d be interested in making an actual documentary about a filmmaker, but I would like to make narrative films about real life filmmakers. I think making a Being John Malcovich or an Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent type flick centred on David Lynch would be quite fun. I’d also want to make a Disaster Artist-esque dramatization of the making of the 1960’s Batman TV show. The making of/behind the scenes stories are vast and wild.

DS: So, what are you up to at the moment?

IT: Right now, we’ve been prepping Everybody Dies for its premiere at FrightFest, earlier this year I acted in and helped produce a microbudget film shot in my hometown of San Diego called Daydreamer, about an affluent family plagued by an irreversible accident committed by my character, written and directed by Sam Sprague who is one of the producers and 1st AD of Everybody Dies. I directed another feature this past fall entitled Sincerely Saul which is a narratively shot black and white 4×3 nightmare starring Ryan Schafer, my co-director on Everybody Dies. I’m deep into refining the cut of the film right now and we’re in pre-production on what is looking like will be my third feature as a director this fall. That one is called ‘Normy’, though there isn’t a whole lot that’s normal about the film.

DS: Ian Tripp, thank you very much.

IT: Thanks again for your time and interest in the film. Cheers!

FRIGHTFEST DAY 4

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Hypnosis, kidnapping and thespians! – James Whittington on Day 4 of FrightFest 2022

Sunday is usually one of the quieter days of FrightFest, to give the audience time to recover from the first three days, but this year the team ramped it up and delivered some truly memorable movies.

The day started with the dark and sinister movie Mastemah. After an accidental death during a hypnosis session, young psychiatrist Louise opens a new consultancy in a small village, where she meets Theo and is plunged into a demonic downward spiral. Twisted with just the right amount of diabolical terror this is a smart take on the possession/schizophrenia mix of genres with a cast who really do throw themselves into their roles.

A cool, dark comedy followed from the director of Rubber and Mandibles, Quentin Dupieux, Incredible But True. A couple movie into their dream house but they discover something in the basement which could change their lives forever. Part allegory of aging, part satire and part time travel (!) this is an unpredictable and inventive movie which has a lot to say about many things and leaves you wondering about life itself.

The audience had to buckle up for the insane experience known as H4Z4RD (sometimes known as just HAZARD) a truly adrenaline laced experience which left us all gasping for breath. Noah Hazard loves his car, in fact more than life itself but when his daughter is kidnapped after a dodgy deal with his cousin goes terribly wrong will he lose his life, his daughter or his gold-coloured car? Played totally straight but with huge amounts of tension, drama and some inspired drug-addled set-pieces, this is a movie which needs to be seen on the big scree with as many people watching so you can appreciate as a group just how inventive cinema can be. 

Dominic Brunt was back at FrightFest with his latest piece, a wild creature feature with sweet moments of comedy and plenty of blood, Wolf Manor. A tight production on a vampire flick in an old house in the country is interrupted when the full moon rises as well as the body count. With a smart script and a gentle and moving performance from James Fleet, this is solid entry into the werewolf line of movie proving that if you have the right cast and crew, you can still bring this genre to life. The FrightFest crowd agreed too!

The day ended with the world premiere of Ryuhei Kitamura’s, The Price We Pay. This movie of two halves first concentrates on a botched robbery and then focuses on the criminals hiding in an old barn where they have to fight to survive. Though not sounding very original this is a solid and gripping movie from the guy who gave us the equally brutal Midnight Meat Train a few years back. So expect plenty of violence, a lot of blood and plenty of tension.

DO NOT DISTURB STAR INTERVIEW

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Dark Side Magazine at FrightFest 2022 – James Whittington catches up with Kimberly Laferriere, star of Do Not Disturb

Kimberly Laferriere is one of the most exciting actresses around and her latest role in Do Not Disturb proves this. We had a quick chat with her about this acclaimed thriller.

DS: Did you know from a young age that you wanted to be an actress and was there one person who inspired you? 

KL: I enjoyed performing from a young age for sure. Madonna and Michael Jackson were a big influence growing up but my “Ha ha” moment for acting happened while watching Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliette for the millionth time. I would act out all of Claire Dane’s scenes and suddenly I realised: “Wait a minute… Claire wasn’t born doing this… she became an actor … this is a job… I could this!”. And the adventure began… 

DS: You’ve got an incredibly full acting CV; do you prefer working in TV or film? 

KL: I love both equally. What I really enjoy about working in film and television is the collaboration. Talented, inspired people come together to create something, to tell a story, and everyone must be on their A game to get one shot. It still humbles me to this day. I also love, love, love the stage and miss it terribly. 

DS: What attracts you to the parts you play? 

KL: There was a time in my career when I would have taken anything just to get the experience but nowadays, it must be a full body yes. I need to be excited about a project, it has to bring me joy. That’s my number one priority. 

DS: Do you get nervous when you walk onto a set for the first time? 

KL: All the time. And I think that’s a good thing. It’s like a first day at school or a first day on a new job… But I try to flip the script and be excited instead. Anything can happen… I could forget all my lines … but that’s ok. I remind myself that it’s just a life experience, I’m always learning and that’s interesting.

DS: How did you get the role of Chloe and how did you prepare to play such a vulnerable character? 

KL: I got the part by auditioning.  I was in Montreal at the time, working on another project, my agent sent me the script and I self-taped. Taping into Chloe’s vulnerability wasn’t hard for me. Many of us have been in toxic relationships, I’ve been cheated on before, I know that pain … so I was able to draw from my personal experience. Chloe’s transformation however was a little trickier. To prepare for that I read ethnobotany articles and listened to a fascinating pod cast called Plants of the Gods by Dr. Mark Plotkin. I learned how powerful medicinal plants can be, how they can affect people positively and negatively and how important it is to use them with respect, always with the guidance of a Shaman or a master. I started asking myself a lot of “what ifs”… what if a powerful plant like peyote unleashed all of Chloe’s anger, resentment, and animalistic impulses … what if she’s not equipped to handle all of it, she’s been hiding from her true self for so long and she doesn’t have a guide to help her through it… That was the beginning my work to play Chloe.    

DS: There are many levels to the story such as toxic relationships, regret and resentment, how hard was it to ensure these themes were not overshadowed by the gorier moments? 

KL: That was all John … I just had to stay true to my character’s journey and the master did the rest. 

DS: Talking of the gore, what’s it like on set when completing such scenes? 

KL: Fun, sometimes gross and very sticky … When you’re covered in fake blood for hours, everything sticks to you, hair, dust, crumbs… Technically those scenes require a lot of concentration. If you don’t get the shot on the first take, you have to clean everything up before you can shoot again. We tried to avoid that as much as possible.   

DS: You and Rogan Christopher who plays your partner Jack have a natural on-screen chemistry; you really do feel for their situation. Did you have much time to rehearse your lines together? 

KL: Rogan and I connected over facetime before the shoot. We talked a lot about our characters journeys and back stories. We also met for coffee every morning before call time, no matter how early, and went over the scenes for that day.  

DS: The scenery is stunning; did you shoot it all on location? 

KL: All the exteriors were shot in Miami. It was so beautiful and fun to shoot there. I even saw dolphins on the day we shot the jet ski scenes. 

DS: This is truly a narcotic nightmare; do you think it may put people off “experimenting drug wise? 

KL: No. But I hope people see DND as a cautionary tell regarding drugs. Especially medicinal, hallucinogenic plants. 

DS: Have you had any holiday horrors? 

KL: Do bed bugs count? I think that qualifies as nightmarish and frightening. 

DS: So, what are you up to at the moment? 

KL: Going to festivals with DND, I’m writing a television series and preparing for my next part but the last two are all hush hush… more to come on that in time.

DS: Kimberly Laferriere, thank you very much.