If director Adam Green proved anything with Hatchet (2006), it was that audience fatigue with the hyper -realities modern horror could be subverted with nostalgic practical effects, classic horror tropes and backwoods pleasures. While slashers, forestry and promiscuous teens in horror are as American as apple pie, Bram Stoker International Film Festival’s screening of the The Redwood Massacre saw these clichés emerging in the Scottish highlands of all places
As a self – funded project shot with minimal crew, The Redwood Massacre showcased the versatility and resourcefulness of director David Ryan Keith and producer Lorraine Keith, who have created a slick paint by numbers gore – fest that effectively apes commercial standards. Apart from potentially producing the first empowering vegetarian protagonist in horror cinema, the cannibalistic axe wielding slashers, regular disemboweling breaks and predictably cued music do unfortunately render The Redwood Massacre a formulaic horror vehicle. Yet despite its typed elements, the film also presented a showcase for guerrilla filmmakers with commercial aspirations, aching for a real budget to sink their teeth into.
Sitting down with director David Ryan Keith, producer Lorraine Keith and lead actor Lisa Cameron the hazy morning after the legendary Bram Stoker ‘Vampire Ball’, Flickfeast chatted to the Scottish trio about conceptualizing the perfect killer, being mistaken for copper thieves and the tough realities of indie filmmaking.
Flickfeast: How did The Redwood Massacre project originate and how did you develop it?
David Ryan Keith: So we made our first feature film a couple of years ago and it didn’t work out very well. We decided to go with horror movies as they are not actor based.
Lorraine Keith: We had about 6 horror shorts that had done quite well and had been accepted into different festivals and I remember one guy saying short films are like CV films and you are never going to make money off a short film. We decided to make a feature film originally and had Attack of The Herbals (2011) first of all and it was received badly and people either got it or they didn’t. It was a horror comedy and a stupid film but we always thought if you can’t scare them then make them laugh. That was David’s motto. In the end some people don’t get that humor so that got bucked but the Redwood Massacre was a developed version of a short we did called Evil In The Hills and that was about a highlander who goes around Scotland killing people, but we changed it for the feature film.
DRK: Rather than waiting to get funding we just decided to do it ourselves.
FF: In comparison to the slapstick comedy of Attack of the Herbals, did you consciously aim to make a straight horror film with minimal comedic horror references?
DRK: Absolutely. There is probably a bit of every horror film in that movie. We didn’t even really have a script and every cliché is in there.
LK: We did it deliberately because we were self-funding and thought to ourselves we want to get distribution and we know horror sells pretty much worldwide. You are guaranteed to have a sell out if you can scare people and we already have had one distributor in America who is going to release the Redwood Massacre in early 2015. We have also had interest from Japan and Pakistan who want to put it in their cinemas for a 4 week showing. Horror is so commercial. You couldn’t do a Scottish drama and sell it to Pakistan you know, it’s just easier to sell horror.
FF: As the film was self – funded, is that an indication of the current situation of funding in the British / Scottish film industries? How difficult is it for indie filmmakers to succeed in this context?
LK: It’s difficult for indie filmmakers to get funding yes. With us we have made 6 short films and Attack of the Herbals which was a feature film that sold to 4 territories. So I would have thought off the back of that we would get at least some kind of funding but because we are in Aberdeen there is not a lot of filmmaking up there. It’s normally an oil and gas kind of market. If you ask people if they want to invest in a film they are like ‘what?’ They don’t get it. It is harder but if we are successful with this film we hope that the people at Creative Scotland will take us more seriously and know that we are a good bet to get a film to market at a high standard. If this is what we can do on no budget with the Redwood Massacre, with a budget who knows what we could create. It would be nice to pay actors eventually too.
FF: With the ‘Redwood Killer’ himself how did you come up with the character and design?
DRK: It was actually by chance. We commissioned someone to make a costume which resembled something from Hellraiser (1987) but he totally messed it up. We paid for it before we started filming then we got it and it was not up to standard.
LK: We had already shot 4 or 5 scenes with the Highlander costume but it was never going to stand up to proper filming so we sent it away to get a costume designed that would look amazing on camera and it was dire. When we picked up the costume and realized it was so bad we couldn’t use it, the morning of the shoot David went to a combat place and got the dungarees, the shirt and boots.
FF: Any interesting stories from the set at all?
Lisa Cameron: There was day when we were shooting running (lots of running) covered in blood. Where we were shooting although it was very rural there were actual busy roads beside us and there were a least a good couple of people who saw me covered in blood running across a field and stopped to check if I was ok if I had been kidnapped. We were trying to reassure them that it was fake but they were having none of it.
LK: For me there was no budget there was only 4 crew. Dave wrote the script, directed, was the cameraman, edited and did the sound design. I was the producer but also focus puller and taping tracks and moving lights. It was constantly full on and normally you would have a crew of about 10. It was hard going but still a really good atmosphere.
DRK: One of the actors was actually blind drunk, turned up paralytic and shaved his hair and eyebrows off.
LK: I had to take the black make up from my eyes and try and fill in his hair that he had before as it would break continuity. So we could only shoot the door scene as we had to wait for his hair back before we could shoot the rest.
FF: In terms of the on – screen violence was there anything you would have liked to put in the RedWood Massacre, that you may have self – censored in your goals for wider distribution deals?
LK: I didn’t ever want to go down the route of twisted sexual horror and I always see it as a fun horror. The most sexualised it ever gets is when he drags a knife down a characters body. I don’t really like watching that.
DRK: It could have one with some naked women in though
LK: I don’t think it’s needed nowadays actually
DRK: Well Evil Dead didn’t have any ‘conventional’ sex scenes in it anyways.
FF: How did you decide on and source the abandoned farm setting?
LK: The shoot was nearly cancelled at one point as we couldn’t find a location. We trekked aimlessly looking for barns and at the last minute Dave’s uncle found an abandoned barn with a house next to it so we had power. We went up and thank god it was big enough and looked good enough.
LC: We also got mistaken for Copper Thieves at one shoot as we were at the actual Redwood House and were packing up to leave. We noticed a few 4X4s and they all mobilized and locked us in. They were ready for a fight.
LK: We didn’t have any permissions and we were just in there and out because with low budget film you have to try and get away with it.
FF: What are your plans next as filmmakers?
DRK: We have two feature films in development that are similar because we know that this one worked and we sold it. We are going to continue with the low budget horrors
LK: The next film is going to be a paranormal ghost hunter story with a slight bit of comedy. We are going to be shooting the intro to that in the next couple of weeks and we plan to use that intro along with the script and drum up a bit of investment that way. Next year we are going to do an action horror / revenge film based in the woods as we love woods, which is based on the Dead Funny short we did. I want to keep moving on, develop and get better. You can find all of our shorts on our Clear Focus Pictures YouTube channel too.
FF: What do you hope audiences with take away from The Redwood Massacre?
LC: I think this film is for people who love horror and people who love a good throwback to 80s stalker slashers. They want to go in there and see people brutally murdered with some good gore and enjoy themselves.
FF: Plus let’s not forget the empowering vegetarian protagonist…
LK: Well there is that and myself and Lisa are both vegetarians. Only the vegetarians will survive! It was also vegan blood throughout the production actually. There was nothing of the sausages or mince.
FF: What is the best way for people to access the Redwood Massacre?
LK: We have a distributor in America and a sales agent and they are going to take it to the American film market. Hopefully we might get a UK release early next year.
For more information about the work of David and Lorraine Keith, check out http://www.clearfocus-productions.co.uk/