The Arrow interviews Stevan Mena
The buzz has been good on Stevan Mena's "old school" slasher MALEVOLENCE and I personally enjoyed it immensely (read my review here). Mena's flick brought me back to the "Halloween" days of horror and I thanked him for it with a standing-o in my living room. Stevan and I recently got a chance to chit-slash about the flick (now available on DVD through Anchor Bay) and here's what came out of it!
So, Malevolence is finally out! Itís been a long process for you.
Oh man itís been crazy, yeah a very long time.
So, how did you feel when you heard Anchor Bay picked it up?
I was actually completely blown away, that was probably the last company I would have expected to extend the invitation so it was pretty amazing, big shock!
Where you at all somewhat disappointed by the theatrical release? I know I was from my end.
You mean as far as it went?
Yeah, it never came out in my neck of the woods.
Well, yeah, I mean the problem with the theatrical release was basically that we just didnít have the funds to back up what we wanted to do and itís just very hard to compete in the marketplace when Lion Gates were putting out films with a $25-$30 million advertising budget and youíve got half a million, how do you compete with that?
Yeah, thatís true.
The answer is really you donít. So the theatrical release from a level it came about, just getting it out there to as many people as we could to get the word out there so that when the DVD is released people are aware of this film called Malevolence and it definitely just didnít go straight to video.
I saw the film finally yesterday and I really enjoyed it by the way, good job. Friday the 13th and Halloween big influences or not?
Oh yes, definitely, a huge influence, Malevolence for me was basically kind of like the end of Scream trying to hark back to the seventies and trying to include a lot of things that I really loved growing up with horror films that are missing today. I just wanted to point those out and remind people of whatís missing today, which is why those films were so great.
It definitely came out old school, big time, I mean your score really sounded Carpenterish, it was crazy.
A lot of Carpenter influences, a lot of Charles Bronstein influences there.
I guess it was a conscious decision to have the killer wear a Jason Part 2 circa type of mask?
Actually that was kind of a happy accident because I wasnít really thinking that until we were pretty close to shooting and someone mentioned it and then I remembered Part II. I was thinking about Jason with a hockey mask. We just wanted to come up with something that Kurt would wear that would be really simple, we thought it would be funny because everybody else went out and got this store bought mask and this idiot just goes and puts this bag over his head. So we thought it was funny and then we thought more about it and yeah it was just like Jasonís pillow case mask in Part 2. It wasnít intentional but people make that reference.
So letís go back at the beginning, how did the project come about? I mean what was the kick-in-the-nuts that made you say alright, I want to do an old school slasher, letís go.
That was in my head all the way from the beginning. I started writing the script like back in 96-97, right around the time Scream was released. I just knew I wanted to do a horror film, I definitely wanted that to be my first film. Since I was always a big fan of slasher films, I looked back at all my favorite slasher films, the ones that influenced me the most. Thatís what kind of got me started on that.
How hard was it for you to lock financing for the picture?
I was mostly financed by my credit card, ha-ha.
So how are you doing now? You OK man?
No, Iím sure my picture is on the wall at every Visa place in the country!
Creditors, hunting you down!
Yeah, I keep transferring balances from cards to pay people off, I had a couple of friends and family who loaned some money into the production and a couple of businesses that we got to loan some money in to the production but for the most part of it I would say more than half of it was just me borrowing money and borrowing on credit cards.
Well the way youíve gotta do it.
Itís a rough way to do it but I mean if you have no other choice then when you gotta to do it then you gotta do it, I had no other choice, I had to do it.
Did you try actually to get the film done either via pre-sales, attaching stars to the script, pitching it to studiosÖwhat not?
You know it is funny when we went into production on Malevolence which was in late 2000, the horror thing hadnít really kicked into full gear like it is now. You could just walk into a studio with a horror script and theyíd ďOh good, weíll do itĒ. I mean now, it seems like theyíre just grabbing everything that just comes along to the point where they just canít get enough of it and now they are starting to remake the old films.
Yeah, theyíre just doing everything that they can to justÖI guess to just basically squash it.
Well their going to milk it, milk the cow.
Milk it you as much as they can. You know there was a time where I didnít really think it was feasible, I just didnít really think I could pull it off and I thought maybe if I was a known director, if I had a couple of films under my belt thatís a possibility but being a first time director itís really, really tough to do that. I knew that if I did go through a studio there is no way they would let me do it the way I wanted to do it.
Theyíd want to put in lots of humor, theyíd want to put in a lot of fresh 18 year olds and stuff like that and you know what? For me to pull this off I had to have complete control. I wanted to do the music, I wanted to do everything with the film because there was a very specific style I was trying to emulate, go for and I knew the studios with their mind-set they probably wouldnít have allowed me to do that.
No, definitely not at the time, thatís for sure. Well you succeeded man, you succeeded.
Thanks man, thanks a lot!
It came across big time; I felt like I took a time warp machine and went back in time when I saw your film.
You know when people tell me that, that is the greatest thing you could possibly tell me because that is exactly what I wanted, Iím not going to ask you your age or your age group but..
Twenties to SeventiesÖpick between thereÖ
Youíre in your twenties, OK. I was born in í71, I was 12 years old the first time I saw Texas Chainsaw, I was 12 years old when I saw Nightmare on Elm Street. If you talk to much older people the way they feel about Dracula, King KongÖthatís the way I feel about Amityville (1979) and allÖ those are my horror films. I wasnít a fan the stuff that came afterwards.
It was like every script was written by Kevin Williamson or was trying to be Kevin Williamson. I was like, this isnít what it was supposed to be man, their killing the genre and theyíre not even giving it a chance. The critics are like horror is dead, you know Scream killed it, it exposed all the clichťs, and I am like wait a minute, it exposed all the stuff that killed the horror genre, what about the stuff that made it good in the first place? Thatís why I wanted to go back to that and say this is why these films are scary. They donít build atmosphere anymore, characters donít have themes anymore. There are all these things that they just donít do in these modern films. Every time someone gets killed, the next scene has jokes about it, you know letting the audience off the hook, I didnít want to do that at all.
I call them MTV genre candy
Itís all quick cuts, no build-up, character development is out the window, boo scares replace suspense Ö
Absolutely, one of the negatives Iíve heard about Malevolence is that the pacing is slow and I always counter that with well, the pacing is the way it is because you have to build up that tension and then let it explode in the end. If you keep a steady pace or a fast pace throughout the audience isnít allowed to build up that tensionÖyou have to do it slow. I think one of the reasons why a lot of people think the last 20 minutes of Malevolence is effective and very scary is because Iíve allowed them to relax in those earlier parts, building up to it. If I were constantly trying to hit them over the head theyíd get desensitized to it. Itís like when youíre watching a gory film like I saw a film recently, I wonít mention the name but it was ridiculously gory and after the second murder I was like Iím done, there is nothing more you can show me, Iím already worn out!
I totally agree, I recently saw the Amityville Horror remake and that was my main complaints about it. Right off the bat, boom-boom-boom-boom, ghost-ghost-ghost-ghost so at the half way point I was like Iím done here, I could go home.
Absolutely, it is funny because I am actually going to be hanging out with Gunnar Hansen who will be coming by to visit next week. Weíve become good friends because he is a huge fan of Malevolence. He saw it in Boston and weíve been talking about it ever since, I even got him on camera talking about it because he is a huge fan of the film weíll be talking about stuff next week.
He actually expressed interest in the prequel for Malivolence.
Oh, well, you just beat me to it! I was going to ask, are a sequel or a prequel planned?
Malevolence was actually a 500 page screenplay. But when I started shooting, I broke it up into 3 parts and decided to do the middle first. The reason I did that was because the prequel, the beginning of the story, really is all about a young boy and how he becomes a serial killer, the environments in his situation, what happened to him and how he was tortured turned him into what he is. I felt that if I told that story first it would expose the truths behind it and reduce the fear factor of him. I think that one of the greatest things about slasher films is that the unknown is what is really scary. Once you turn the light on in the closet, itís not scary anymore once you know what it is. I thought him being an unknown character would be so much scarier and now that you are scared by him, letís go back and Iíll show you how he got here in the first place. Itís much a different kind of story than the current film, completely different kind of sale.
So where is that prequel at right now? Development?
Itís on the fast track with development; Anchor Bay has expressed interest in the entire Trilogy.
How well Malevolence is received in the next week and in the following weeks is definitely going to have an impact on probably the budget. I donít think it will affect the fact that itís going to get madeÖjust how big itís going to be and how much Iím going to have to work with.
Well, break a neck man.
Thanks! Well, youíre in the trenches with me, you know how it is.
Oh, yeah, big time! Itís a rough ride but worth every ounce of effort. So the Casting process, how strenuous was that? For an independent film youíve got a pretty good cast. You often see some bad acting within your budget rangeÖ but these guys were good!
Thanks, man, you know I really appreciate you saying that because it has been a hit or miss with critics on the acting and I really felt that considering this was all their first film.
Oh, yeah? They were all first timers? WOW!
Yes, all first timers never acted before. Brandon Johnson did a few small parts here and They had two takes per scene because we shot on 35 with a 200 000 budget so we had no room for errors. We would rehearse and shoot. I think with all those factors they did a great job. We cast for about 6 months on this film and saw over 1000 people. We did it in Manhattan through Backstage and we just saw head-shot after head-shot and it is my fault because I knew exactly what I was looking for and I just kept going until I got it.
The guy that play Julian, Brandon Johnson, who looks like Ryan Seacrest, he didnít come on board until about a week before shooting, before principle photography and I had someone else we were going to go with and then he called us up and he had missed his audition and then we read him and I was like WOW, this guy is great he made it in at the last minute.
Was nudity ever an intention for you? That was one thing that was missing from the picture in terms of it being 100% old school?
You know that is a good question. I thought about that a lot and I felt like there was a certain tone that I was trying to achieve with this film and one of those was that the female characters were heroic. I feel like the minute you start exploiting the physical aspects of all that and start showing nudity that you reduce the female characters in a way that I think undermines their ability to be heroic in a film like this. So that is why I kept the nudity out. I did think about itÖwent back and forth, especially in the motel scene, but I just felt that at the end of the day, the tone of this film, it was not required.
The fact that you donít have any female nudity hasnít hindered your foreign sales in terms of distribution?
Ha-ha I canít say that it hasnít hindered but letís say it is a question mark on everybodyís list. It is kind of a mandatory thing but actually you know I shouldnít say that because we are being released on Friday in Spain on over 150 screens which is equivalent of a full scale US nation-wide release here. That will certainly tell us if it gets received well over there. I think the buyers will watch what happens in Spain and kind of go from there. It definitely does come up, it is an issue but I think at the end of the day, the more gore and the nudity usually means the less in the script, less to say. I think if you have something to say, you have a good story, it is unnecessary. It is only necessary when youíve got nothing going for the script and you think, well I got to please them some how so letís throw in some nudity.
All that is Malevolence aside, have you even started thinking of what you want to do next?
Actually, I have a couple of projects that I am working on and I am not sure which one I want to do next. Iím working on a supernatural thriller and that is probably going to be my next project but again, I am not really sure, I have so many irons in the fire I donít know what is going to come next. I want to get Malevolence out of the way, I donít think I will revisit Malevolence after the third picture. I do want to finish up the trilogy and be done with it. I wouldnít go back to it after that.
Not even if you were given 20 million and theyíd let you cast Buster Rhymes?
Well sure if my arm is twisted, I will make an exception!
Thanks for your time bro!
Thank you John!
I'd like to thank Stevan for the horror gift that was MALEVOLENCE and for the uber pleasant bla-bla session. I love doing interviews that wind up being about two dudes shooting the genre shite! Keep kicking that genre ass bro!