An Interview with The Haunting of Hill House’s Catherine Parker

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I was really impressed with Catherine Parker’s work inhabiting Poppy Hill. We discussed The Haunting of Hill House–currently streaming on Netflix, as well as her past and future projects. –Cory Graham

How did the role of Poppy Hill come to you? Were you approached to audition?
I actually never auditioned to play Poppy. I did however, audition to play Nell and Joey. I’m very lucky and Mike went to bat for me, as he’s done many times before. When he told me about Poppy and handed me the script for Episode 9, “Screaming Meemies,” I felt like I had struck gold. I knew any part on that show would be a gift, but Poppy?!?  Poppy is like lightening in a bottle. The character flies off the page.

I feel that Mike Flanagan’s great strength (and what makes him one of the most interesting filmmakers working today) is how skillfully he’s able to interweave and balance human drama and psychological horror.
Yes. The real horrors of the world exist in our minds, don’t you think? Everything starts in the mind. I agree with you, but I’m most intrigued by Mike’s empathy. The well of that man’s heart is deep and I find THAT the most beautiful element of his filmmaking. Maybe it’s because I know him personally, but when I watch his films, it’s like watching his heart beat. There’s a very specific vibration going with a Flanagan film. He’s sentimental and loving and I think you feel that through his characters and even his camera angles. That’s why it’s so devastating when something awful happens to them!

Poppy has a distinct way of speaking. How was her voice developed?
The way she speaks is a play off of a mid-Atlantic accent. I watched a lot of old films with Clara Bow and Marion Davies. Those ladies were my inspiration.

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Makeup, wardrobe, and hair were instrumental with her as well.
YES! Honestly, I didn’t really find Poppy until hair and make-up were done and I had that gorgeous dress on. I had lots of ideas about how I wanted to play her, but it all came together when the ensemble came together. Shout out to costume designer Lynn Falconer, head of make-up Staci Witt, make-up artist Erica Kyker, special effects make-up artist head Bob Kurtzman, and John Tarro who designed and styled my hair.

How long did it take to shoot your scenes for Hill House/how long did you work on the shoot?
I started working on Hill House in February of 2018, but didn’t do any scene work until the end of April 2018. It took about a day to shoot the scene in the Red Room and another few days to shoot the rest.

For me, the intersection of history and horror contributes a great deal to a ghost story. Was Poppy’s backstory something that was further discussed or that you developed yourself in working on the character?
Yeah! Mike and I talked a lot about her backstory and for a while there was a whole history segment on the Hills, but they ended up scrapping that part of the story line. I had a lot of freedom to come up with whatever fueled my performance. I like keeping that actor process stuff to myself 🙂

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I had originally predicted that Carla Gugino would be nominated for Gerald’s Game and I am hopeful she may be for Hill House. You two share some very pivotal and powerful scenes. How would you describe working with her?
That woman deserves every actor honor given. She’s just a pro. It was like going to grad school working with Carla Gugino. She is so prepared, so kind, so smart, and strikingly beautiful. The woman is a class act and I am so grateful I got to work with her. I want to work with her again and again.

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Having worked on four of his projects, other than the scale of the productions, has the dynamic of working with Mike Flanagan evolved/changed over time?
The only thing that has really changed is the amount of money behind the projects we have worked on together. Mike really trusts his actors to bring the characters to life. I’m always impressed by Mike’s warmth and patience with actors. He’s always been that way, since the beginning.

I was very excited to hear that you were already in production on a certain much anticipated project with iconic characters and an impressive cast. What can you say about Doctor Sleep?
Not very much! I CAN say that I’m playing Silent Sarey, a member of The True Knot.  Fantastic cast and crew!

I’ve always found Christmas-set horror to be compelling. How was it working with the McKendrys and on All the Creatures Were Stirring?
The McKendrys are FANTASTIC. They work fast and efficiently. I haven’t seen the film yet and I’m really looking forward to it. Producer/Actor Morgan Peter Brown and Producer Joe Wicker both worked on Absentia, so I go way back with those guys.

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At the time, Absentia was from a group of very talented and promising newcomers–and Doug Jones. It’s a remarkable little indie gem.
Haha! “And Doug Jones.” YES! We all couldn’t believe he said yes when we asked if he would come out and do a part in the film. That film was a Kickstarter campaign that snowballed into a proper movie! We shot Absentia in Mike’s apartment and his old neighborhood in Los Angeles almost 9 years ago. It’s been incredible to witness his rise to where he’s at now.

Halt and Catch Fire was an underrated favorite series of mine. What memories do you have of your experience on it?
Me too. I was really excited to get to speak Japanese in my scenes. I grew up going to a Japanese immersion program as a kid and it was exciting to interweave acting with that language. I’d like to do that more.

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Are there particular types of projects or roles that you haven’t explored that intrigue you?
I love working on period pieces and I’d love to work on a comedy and I want to get back on stage as well!

I’m definitely looking forward to your new projects. Thanks so much for your time!
Thank you, Cory!

–Cory Graham, 2018

FANG Keeps Incisor Planted Firmly in Cheek

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Adam R Steigert’s Fang is the latest fun flick from the director of STAR, A Grim Becoming, and Ombis: Alien Invasion.  It’s his first above-the-title credit and fits comfortably among his other ambitious, playful genre works. In previous decades, you could easily imagine this as half of a drive-in double bill.

Fang has the feel of an extended Tales from the Crypt episode, with plenty of humor, gore, and tongue-in-cheek camp. And speaking of makeup FX and gore, those on display here are the most effective and convincing of his films to date. And like the Crypt feature Demon Knight, Fang is grounded by the performance of a strong female lead–here in Chloe, played by promising newcomer Melodie Roehrig.

The narrative serves mainly to bring a very large cast of eccentric, quirky characters together, their paths intersecting at an estate rumored to house a small fortune in silver coins.

Gregory Blair chews the scenery with relish as Harold, the estate’s creepy caretaker who is much more formidable than he initially appears.  In fact, the potential saviors– including a seventies style sheriff (Steve Losey) and an armed-to-the-teeth posse of mercenaries–are readily overmatched.

As with Steigert’s other films, it’s always interesting to see what characters the familiar faces will inhabit, especially in Fang with the Crowleys.  Patrick Mallette who voiced and puppeteered the title character STAR shows a strong commitment to his role as the menacing, mysterious owner of the mansion.  Melantha Blackthorne brings a feral feline intensity to the role of the mysterious “Aunt” Doris.  Both possess a great physicality and excel in colorful character roles.

Jennie Russo handles well one of the film’s most difficult and demanding parts, that of the stranded Shelly, partner to Chris (Jason John Beebe of Ombis).

Despite some dark themes and story elements, rather than frights, humor and a campy good time are the coin of the realm.  And as such, Fang is tonally closer to Bordello of Blood than Demon Knight.  Entertaining montage sequences harken back to the eighties comedy mainstay.

Steigert is joined by collaborator and new wife Kristin, who co-scripted and appears as a doctor.  Cast and crew are obviously hard at work and some pull double/triple duty in multiple capacities, such as Kristin and Mallette.

The most disturbing gross-out moments ironically involve scenes of eating.  And it’s always nice to have a practical (as opposed to CGI) werewolf.

The film is a brisk hour and fifteen minutes (including credits) and inhabits the common universe that Steigert has created.  There are visual in-joke references to his other films and the end of Fang serves to set up the upcoming THEM (The Horrific Evil Monsters).

@Cory Graham, 9/13/2018.

Slapface Review

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I always enjoy seeing something new from Jeremiah Kipp because regardless of the genre, I can be assured of some basic tenets.  It’s going to have great performances, look great, and be richly atmospheric.  His collaborators are always wisely assembled, often from prior projects.

Written and directed by Kipp, Slapface is a compelling monster fantasy that surprises and features a refreshing subtlety that is also quite powerful.

Dominick Sivilli’s cinematography is characteristically sleek, artful, and raises the production value of anything he shoots.  Not overtly flashy, but along with his editing, nicely serving and complementing the story.

Strikingly scenic and varied outdoor locations lend a great sense of place and make for memorable explorations and encounters in the woods and at home.

Like in Kipp’s Pickup, another strong, naturalistic performance is evoked from a young actor, here with Joshua Kaufman as the convincing lead Boy.

He calls out a creature who can alternate between menacing and protective.  The “monster” is inhabited by an unrecognizable Lukas Hassel (so good in Kipp’s modern witch tale The Minions).  Courtesy of effective and unique makeup FX work from Beatrice Sniper, he is still able to emote and be expressive in his physicality.

Nick Gregory as the father gives a dynamic turn that sheds light on the film’s title. The father-son and monster-boy dynamics skillfully subvert expectations.

Slapface is a brisk eight minutes that left me wanting to learn more about these characters and their relationships. Still very effective in its current incarnation,  it does serve as a great teaser for a possible feature.  It would definitely support it.

–Cory Graham

Film Review: The Commune is Well Worth A Visit

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With recent shows like Waco, Cults and Extreme Belief, and Wild Wild Country captivating viewers, an especially timely viewing of the summertime-set satiric thriller The Commune: A New CULT Classic may be just the ticket for horror fans.

Written and directed by the gifted Elisabeth Fies in her feature debut, there’s a lot to like about this intriguing film.  I enjoyed the satire, humor, and characters, in particular.
Actress Chauntal Lewis ably carries the film as the memorable and empathetic lead Jenny Cross.
Jenny is sent to the well-realized, isolated woodland retreat locale of the title, where her estranged father (Stuart G. Bennett) presides as the leader of a cult-like group of colorful/creepy New Age-y, hippie types whose free ideals prove to be imprisoning, rather than liberating.
Laughs give way to darker moments, with narrative twists and shades of menace culminating in the disturbing, final 15 to 20 minutes.  The film is further aided with a sleek look, high production value, striking locations, and a solid score and songs.

Many effective character moments throughout the script, coupled with the perceptive performances, help ground the piece in reality.  An intimate scene involving Jenny and romantic interest Puck (David Lago) felt especially honest and non-exploitative.  Their transition from idealized puppy love into awkward distance was well handled.  Fies also delivers nice work in her supporting performance as Jenny’s mother Cassie, with the different dimensions of the parent being revealed.
Refreshing applies both to the film and the collaborators behind it: Elisabeth Fies wearing multiple hats, sister Brenda Fies executive producing, and Lewis’s strong central performance and character.  Female creative energy is readily on display here, aided by additional contributions from many women crew members (such as producer/actress Heidi Hornbacher) in key production roles.

A rewarding, unsettling getaway, I’m glad I was fortunate to watch and pay a visit to The Commune.

The Commune is available on Netflix DVD and for purchase on Amazon.

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STAR (Space Traveling Alien Reject) Review

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You might think this was simply a nostalgic throwback to 80’s extraterrestrial fare like ET, ALF, and MAC and Me.  And while it’s infused with some of that fondness, this is not a kid’s flick though. Bloodshed, both campy and tragic push it into R-territory.   While throwing out a few choice words, this isn’t a rowdy alien, nor is it in line with crass plush Ted.  This far-out fugitive is one who is good hearted, sympathetic, and still fun.  Directed and co-written by Adam R. Steigert, the film brings together talent from his previous efforts A Grim Becoming and Not Human (Ombis: Alien Invasion).

Aryn Fitzgerald, who was quite good in A Grim Becoming, shows further growth as an actress here.  In a leading role as teen Marissa, hers is a great, grounded performance amid the fantastic goings-on.

Richard Satterwhite gives a memorable turn as the heroic Devon Danger and “real life” counterpart Alex Creed, the character largely modelled after Fred Williamson.  He projects an easygoing charm, has a really strong rapport with his fangirl Marissa, and captures the presence of a badass 70’s action lead in the clips of his films (fun recreations themselves).  He’s very likable onscreen and I feel his take on the dual characters likely brought more heart to the role than another actor would have.  Definitely a standout.

Chris Barbis plays the alcoholic writer Greg Vincent who is menaced by the mob and has an unusually hands-on local library as a site for his book signing.  Putting the author up in a nearby cabin, the lodgings place him in the path of an unexpected muse–STAR.   Vincent and Creed are aided by recent Troma fave Nicola Fiore, who delivers nicely understated support.

Melissa Jayde, also of A Grim Becoming, plays Angela Branco, the feisty, conniving bombshell Mafiosa pursuing Vincent.  It’s a welcome change of pace to feature a crime boss villainess.  Guy Balotine makes the most out of a smaller role as Ryan The Terrible, the most convincing and menacing of the gang.  I would have liked to have seen more of him.

It was a very wise choice to make STAR a practical character, rather than CGI.  There is more life here in this character than with many big budget computer generated creatures.  This is courtesy of an effective design and the flick’s Frank Oz–Patrick Mallette, who gives an engaging vocal performance and contributes solid puppeteering work.  And importantly for an alien creature, the character is endearing, rather than grating.

There’s a remarkably staged car crash sequence (done in flashes) which has the most gravity of the piece.  The other vehicle scenes of alien spacecraft I enjoyed as well.

This is an ambitious flick.  One that maximizes its scope and production value on a micro budget.  Different genres, eras, and filmmaking styles are explored and delighted in by the cast and crew.  With its comedic fantasy sequences, there are shades reminiscent of my beloved A Christmas Story.  Enthusiastic and game performances add to these daydreams, especially by Satterwhite and Fitzgerald.

We ultimately have what could have been three separate films in their own right–a girl and her hero tale, a writer battling personal demons and criminals, and a fish-out-of-water alien story.  Like our solar system, in STAR, a variety of disparate storyline planets are orbiting and inhabiting interstellar cinema space.  While each one might have been worthy of its own visit, there is much to like and encounter here.

–Cory Graham @2017

PICKUP Review

 

 

 

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Pickup, a new dramatic short (directed by Jeremiah Kipp and written by Jessica Blank)  is dark, but also sheds light on lives in contemporary society.  Running a brisk 15 minutes,  this is a mature work exploring adult relationships and the impact of technology (texting, dating/hookup sites, attachment to devices) upon them.  Pickup is not uplifting, but is engaging and insightful throughout.  Its characters are human, flawed, and aching for more out of life.

At its center, it showcases Mandy Evans (who also produced) who compellingly plays Megan, a deeply unsatisfied young wife and mother.  This is a role and standout performance that should reap further opportunities for her.

The opening scene features commentary on the fleeting nature of fulfillment with Megan already planning the next Tinder encounter in the bed of her momentary partner, post-tryst.  The searching later continues alongside her husband in their marital bed.  Although ultimately unfulfilling, the quest for connection proves to have an addictive, alcoholic-like quality.

An especially telling scene has mother and son Liam sitting next to each other on the couch, each engrossed in phone or tablet.  The greatest human connection in the piece comes when the two take a break to share a playful, genuine moment apart from the devices.

Pickup is skillful at juxtaposing the erotic and the mundane: shopping at Target, picking up a child from school, discussing the events of the day with her business minded husband Ben (an effective Jim True-Frost).  Atmospheric in its depiction of everyday settings, the look and feel of the film at times reminded me in a great way of Mark Romanek’s One Hour Photo.  It could also be seen as a grounded and resonant counterpart to Showtime’s The Affair.  The material here is rich enough for expansion to feature length, but works well as a self-contained short.

The title can serve as a romantic liaison, as well as taking home a waiting son.  The duality and tension of desire/escape vs.responsibility/duty is central throughout.  Being seen as a less dependable parent (arriving late to Pre-K school one afternoon) is ultimately a greater blow than the potential revelation of infidelity.

I’ve long been a fan of Jeremiah Kipp.  This piece is more reminiscent of Soderbergh or Mike Nichols, than some of his more David Cronenberg-esque work.  It represents a wonderful accomplishment for all involved and features a fine score and cinematography. This short is quite masterful in its execution and writing.  It manages to be both raw and polished.  Pickup is a journey well worth taking.

@ Cory Graham–2016

Seiren Showcases Emerging Creature and Emerging Talent

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Seiren–an ambitious, stylish short, written and directed by Kat Threlkeld, moves at a brisk pace and feels a bit like a new, very welcome installment of Tales from the Crypt.

The striking Sayla Vee de Goede plays Abigail, a model bitten while on a shore-side photo shoot with a laidback, flirtatious photographer (Arnaldo Lavres).  Initially dismissive, the effects of the mysterious bite soon become too profound to ignore.  Far from solely sinister, there are a number of light touches and moments of humor in the symptoms of the new transition, especially in Abigail’s consuming habits, as evidenced in a memorable restaurant scene with her concerned friend (Mallory Palmer) who may be in over her head.

Capably handling the performance demands of the increasingly horrifying change, de Goede delivers strong work.  Really well executed, very solid creature effects add to her character: the bite wound, nails, teeth, and gill FX are all remarkably well done for a short.  Overall, the best makeup FX in recent memory from a micro-budget short, courtesy of Lisa Wilde, Heather Funk, and beauty makeup from Heather Hollett French.  Seiren also features very effective sound design, especially in the latter half.

Seiren signals Threlkeld as one to watch–a promising, rising director and writer.  Her photography background lends itself to the composition of some great visuals courtesy of cinematographer Rodney V. Smith and work by Angel Navarro III–including artful underwater photography.  A high level of craft and artistry is on display throughout, both on a creative and technical level.  Definitely worthy of further attention and festival play.

Cory Graham @ 2015