I chatted with director Tony Wash, who co-directed the new film Skeletons in the Closet, which is having its World Premiere this Friday at The Davis Theater in Chicago presented by the Windy City Horrorama Film Festival and Cow Lamp Films. Tickets are available here and are selling fast.
Can you talk about your background in special effects and how that led to you making movies?
Honestly, it was me wanting to make movies that led me to special FX school. I always wanted to be a movie director, and knew I wanted to focus on the horror genre, but didn’t want to go to film school. So after a few years in the “real world” I realized the best way for me to take the plunge would be to go to FX school. As opposed to being one of thousands of students studying to be a director, I knew I could not only gain valuable skills as an artist, but also get my foot in the door of the industry while also networking with peers in an essential department to any horror movie. I’m grateful I went this route because I made friends with some incredible artists whom I still work with today and it gave me the knowledge necessary to work efficiently with a movie heavy in FX. Too often directors and producers have zero idea how much time goes into practical FX. As a result the gags are typically rushed. I know my FX team appreciates my experience in that area and I believe it shows in what appears on camera.
All of your films feature some insane practical effects. Is that due to your background or is that born out of being somewhat of a creature feature fan?
I appreciate the compliment! I’d say it’s a bit of both. I’m a product of 70s and 80s horror. The bread and butter of those movies were their practical special FX. So I do my best to embody the style and technical aspects of those movies because I love them so much and I know true genre fans do as well. I just believe practical FX make a horror movie so much more believable. But it’s also important to separate yourself from the pack. In today’s market, there are thousands of independent horror movies being released every year. Most do not possess practical FX created by professionals and I’d like to think the team of FX artists we work with are as good as they get!
What were the challenges of developing a Creepypasta into a feature with The Rake?
Honestly nothing. I was not concerned about people hating on the “adaptation” of the story because no matter what, you’re going to get haters. So we set out to make the movie we wanted to make; a low budget creature feature with characters you pray will survive – or get eviscerated! – that is brooding with atmosphere and tension. It was important that the movie had a nostalgic look to it and I really tried to use Alien and The Shining as references for both style and mood. My visual team consisting of Cinematographer Robert Patrick Stern, Production Designer Sarah Sharp, and FX Supervisor Jason Kain really did a bang up job helping me realize my vision.
You withhold the creature in The Rake for a little bit. Are you a less is more kind of horror fan?
I mean to a degree, sure. I want the tension to come from the atmosphere building up, not from jump scares and an early creature reveal. From our script through production and then the edit, the movie/story has changed to a degree and initially my intensions were to “hint” that the creature was real from the opening sequence with the children. But once the movie went through post production, of which I had little input in, it took on a new life and a lot of the earlier moments in the movie that further solidify the creature’s mythos and existence were altered or removed. If it were up to me you would see more of the creature at certain moments, while keeping it visibly hidden at others, though its presence is always lurking nearby. But we also had to work around the restrictions of a small budget. The last thing I wanted to do was create a crappy creature movie so we made sure to minimize the kills and screen time of the monster to save money, an unfortunate side effect to the indie budget level.
Can you talk about the casting process for The Rake? You’ve managed to bring together a cast that’s more than just monster kill fodder as they’re pretty memorable humans for a monster movie.
I appreciate that, thank you. We initially set out to make the movie for a much smaller budget so we reached out to acting friends who were non-union. That’s how we gathered half of our cast. I pride myself on the casting of my films and was fortunate enough to have a great producing team alongside me in those early stages who helped find some great talent. Darcy Wood (Michelle) is an actress I’ve worked with since I began with my first feature It’s My Party and I’ll Die If I Want To while others have worked on stuff with us in more recent years. Then, when we partnered with an LA production team midway through pre-production, they introduced me to multiple options to fill the remainder of the cast. We were truly fortunate to get such amazing talents as Rachel Melvin and Shenae Grimes-Beech as our leading ladies. The rest of the main cast consisting of Joey Bicicchi and Stephen Brodie brought some great energy as well and it was nicely rounded out by Joe Nunez and our creature actors Frederick Ford Beckley and Samantha Nolte.
Skeletons in the Closet feels very heavily influenced by 80s horror anthology TV series like Monsters, Tales from the Darkside and, of course, Tales from the Crypt. Did you go back and watch any old episodes when creating the film?
I popped on a couple episodes here and there while developing the script, but didn’t heavily invest time into research like that. Growing up on this type of stuff, along with Amazing Stories, Friday the 13th: The Series, and of course Elvira their influences were always circulating around in my mind. I’d originally come up with the concept for Skeletons back in college, I just never had a good outlet to utilize it until now. I just hope other die hard genre fans enjoyed those shows like I did and are looking forward to seeing how we spin the concept.
The film cleverly sort of onions out where our base is the Chop Shop anthology, then we see the Widow and Charlie as the horror hosts and then we see the shows biggest fan and her babysitter. Was it hard to figure out where to cut in each layer of the film?
I have to say that it is kismet how well the team worked together from inception to completion. At the core is my co-writer Johnny Hlousek who is great at taking my ideas and running with them. He is infinitely better at characterization and dialogue than I’ll ever be and worked incredibly well weaving between the different storylines and ideas I threw at him. The final phase of creative genius in my opinion comes from my co-director and co-editor B.A. Lewandowski. He and I have collaborated on a number of projects including my second feature High on the Hog and it was after seeing how well he made the edit of that movie crazy and entertaining, I knew he could intertwine the three stories/movies in Skeletons. And the benefit to Skeletons being a movie within a TV show within a movie is that you can use the TV screen to help transition us from one story to the next. I just really love how much the different stories play into one another and how the characters are able to explain certain aspects of other movies and in some cases, make fun of stuff. The movie doesn’t take itself too seriously, as with majority of 80s movies, so the dynamic of the horror hosts and their number one fan making fun of Chop Shop adds another layer of entertainment and nostalgia to the experience in my opinion.
Talk about getting to work with indie horror superstar Ellie Church. How did she come to be involved in the film?
Boy, Ellie’s gonna love seeing that compliment! Ellie is great. I had reached out to some of her colleagues when we were shooting pickup shots for High on the Hog back in 2016. I was eager for her to play the part of Mary Jane, our weed-smoking radio DJ who talks us through the movie similar to the DJ in The Warriors. We had such a great time working together that I instantly thought of her for the role of The Widow. Plus I really liked the contrast of her being a strikingly beautiful blonde versus the typical black-haired vixen of the night us horror fans are accustomed to seeing. I have to admit it took some convincing to get Ellie to commit at first, but in the end I know she really enjoyed the experience and is glad she was a part of the movie. My true hope is that we find that perfect producer out there to help us bring Skeletons in the Closet: The TV Series to fruition because more people need to be introduced to The Widow and Charlie!
With the world premiere right around the corner, what do you hope audiences take away from Skeletons?
I just want people to enjoy themselves while watching this movie… and ask for more! Skeletons is meant to be a fun ride from start to finish. It’s got its scares and it has its laughs. The characters are fun and the atmosphere is great! With the recent onslaught of 80s style horror films I think Skeletons truly deserves a place in fans’ minds and in their home video collections. And as I said above, the movie Skeletons in the Closet is a proof-of-concept for a TV series involving the same two wrap around stories. I don’t see how fans couldn’t want something like this as an option to watch on a VOD avenue when there’s tons of other cool horror shows coming out as we speak! We just need the right person to see the movie and for fans to talk about it so its exposure grows exponentially.
What’s next for you as a filmmaker? The trailer for High on the Hog has been out for a little while. When can we see that film and can you give us a little teaser? It looks like a completely different film for you.
High on the Hog, which was my second feature was initially a gig. I was hired to coordinate special FX on the movie and after many conversations with the producing team, was asked to direct the movie. It was one of the best experiences of my life! Getting to work with genre icons like Sid Haig, Joe Estevez and Robert Z’dar was very beneficial to my maturity as a filmmaker and their respect of my direction bolstered my confidence more than anything I could have ever hoped. Part of what I loved about directing Hog is that it IS completely different from my other work. It’s important to showcase your versatility, especially as a storyteller, and I believe High on the Hog does just that. Shit at this point, I’ll direct a Hallmark movie (my mother would be so proud, haha). I just want to make movies for a living. As for Hog’s future, I can happily say it has distribution in some degree and from the sounds of it, will be releasing in the coming months. I do not have specifics unfortunately, but trust me, I am as eager as the fans are to see this movie get out there!
My next step is seeing these three features get the attention they deserve. My team has been working on The Rake, Skeletons in the Closet, and High on the Hog for the past six years and they’re all finally releasing around the same time! I’m insanely excited to see what this does for all of us and my sincerest hope is that they garner the attention that I believe Scotchworthy deserves as a reliable source for quality independent horror. And on a personal level, I hope to receive professional representation and be given the opportunity to create another feature with a decent enough budget to pay everyone involved and give us the creative freedom to make the movie we want to make. As a lifelong horror fan, I promise audiences I will not let them down.
Thanks to Tony for taking the time to chat with us. The Skeletons in the Closet world premiere is right around the corner happening September 7th at 9pm with a follow up screening at 11:30 at the Davis Theater presented by the Windy City Horrorama Film Festival. Tickets are available here. Act fast as they are close to selling out!