Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with a special AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. This week I talked with director Stevan Mena, who brought us the chilling MALEVOLENCE and the even more chilling BEREAVEMENT not long ago. I first talked with Stevan a few years ago, when BEREAVEMENT was being released on DVD, and you can find that interview here. Stevan is hoping to make a third installment in this series, entitled MALEVOLENCE 3 (BEREAVEMENT was MALEVOLENCE 2) and has started an IndieGoGo campaign to have you, my faithful readers, help make it a reality. Follow this link to find out how you can help, and here’s what Stevan had to say about the upcoming film below…
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): I am here with Stevan Mena, the writer and director of MALEVOLENCE and BEREAVEMENT. I think I talked with you about a year ago about the release of BEREAVEMENT, isn’t that right?
STEVAN MENA (SM): Yeah, I thought I recognized you. Yeah, we definitely did speak.
BUG: Yeah, and I think in that interview I asked if you were planning on doing another film and you said maybe. What made you want to go back to this subject matter a third time?
SM: It actually was always meant to be a trilogy. It was made from a book I broke up into three parts, and it’s a story I’ve been finished with for years. So it was always something that I was going to do, or at least was going to try to do. And because of the response we got from BEREAVEMENT—I wasn’t planning on doing anything unless BEREAVEMENT went well, but so far the reviews and fan feedback we’ve gotten from the first film really spurred me on to continue the series and finish it up.
BUG: So you’re going the crowd funding route this time around with IndieGoGo. What made you want to try that this time around in order to get the funding for this movie?
SM: Well, I actually never even knew about it until recently. This friend of mine produced a video game documentary called THE KING OF ARCADE, and he actually went the Kickstarter route and was very successful with it and he actually mentioned it to me. I thought it was a really cool idea, not just because it would help alleviate the pressure of coming up with all of the money on my own, which I usually do with my films, but also I thought it was a really cool way to involve all of the people who have helped me along the way with my films so far. My films are really small, independent films and the hardest thing is just getting the word out there that the film exists. So the idea that I can start doing that before the film even gets made, I thought it was a really cool idea to get the word out.
BUG: Nice. So, as far as the story goes, BEREAVEMENT takes place as a prequel to MALEVOLENCE, so would this film go back any further, or does it go forward in time?
SM: Well, this is the third part, so it takes place right after the first film ends. It takes place right where that movie left off.
BUG: So how much of the film do you have completed so far?
SM: So far, I have been able to reassemble pieces of the cast to make appearances in this one, and of course, the script has been done for a long time. And I have the same crew that I work with on all my films, and they’re ready to go. We’re trying to consolidate our costs on this one because, you know, it’s getting really, really hard to make a film with all of the revenue streams with Blockbuster stores closing down and the like, so we are struggling to figure out a way to make money and keep doing this. So a lot of the crew are basically donating their time, the actors are donating their time. I’m donating my time to make sure this film gets made. So everything that is donated through crowd funding is basically everything else that we don’t have the funds for. So that’s kind of why they’re doing it that way.
BUG: What do you think about the way almost all horror films except for the big horror sequels and remakes for the most part never get a chance to be seen in theaters and are released straight to video and digital download?
SM: Well, there’s a very specific reason. A lot of great filmmakers like Adam Green and Ty West are making a lot of great horror films, like HATCHET and THE INNKEEPERS, that really aren’t getting a wide release because we’re all getting squeezed—it kind of all trickles down. So you have companies like Blockbuster and small business rental stores closing down, and the money is all gone from those places. But that’s the struggle we’re facing, and it’s just that much harder for films like ours to get out there. And there’s a lot of great horror that is just not getting made or seen because there’s no shelf space. I mean, the first MALEVOLENCE, when that came out in 2005, there were dozens of stores I could go out and say “Hey, there’s my movie there on the shelf.” There were a lot of places you could go and buy DVDs. Now you just have Best Buy, which is on its last leg, and WalMart, and that’s it, and they only have a finite amount of shelf space, and those spaces usually go to the big studios. But it’s just becoming really hard, and it’s becoming a crowded market just because there’s not a lot of shelf space to go around. It makes it harder for the smaller guys to get known. So crowd funding is just another way to get the word out about the film.
BUG: On the flip side of that, do you find it more challenging and thrilling, for lack of a better word, as far as how you can cut corners and make more efficient films? Is it freeing to be able to do it without the studio’s influence, and it’s closer to your own creative vision without their interventions and suggestions?
SM: It’s a double-edged sword. Yes, we are working on lower funding, so there are limitations. The biggest limitation for us is trying to get that big stunt into the film or something like that. I tend to write around those things, and so I know that whatever I write is something I can achieve in the real world and with the budget I have. So on the one hand it’s a challenge, but on the other hand I always like to do a film on my terms without compromise rather than get a little extra money. You know, throwing a little extra money into the film rarely makes the movie better. I look back at all my favorite horror films and they were all made with tiny budgets. TEXAS CHAINSAW, HALLOWEEN, all of those films were made with a small budget. So it’s not the budget that makes it work; it’s really the story that makes it good. I’ve seen horror movies made with 40 million dollars that sucked ass. I mean, 40 million doesn’t necessarily mean it was a better film. It just means that the producers took nice long vacations after everything was done.
BUG: Occasionally I’m razzed in the talkbacks for covering such independent horror films with people saying that these films aren’t worth covering. But then I remind them that films that are cult classics that are worshipped by those same talkbackers like EVIL DEAD and THE HILLS HAVE EYES were all indie, low budget films. It seems like there’s this new renaissance of indie horror these days that is really nice to see. I know it doesn’t make things easy on you guys, though—the guys who make the movies.
SM: Do you know what makes it so hard? It’s not that we don’t want to make the movie. It’s just that we have to work so hard and long to get the funding to organize and make the movie. Most of that time is spent trying to raise funds. It’s like trying to put things together on a shoestring budget…I mean, if we had money, we’d be making a new movie every three or six months. You take a film like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, which some people knock, but these films have people really scared and they are being made for hardly any money, just the price of the camera. But it’s the way these films are made that make them effective. It’s all about the creativity of the person behind the camera that really makes the film. It’s not the budget.
BUG: Defintiely. Michael Biehn was in the second film, BEREAVEMENT. Do you think he’ll be returning in a flashback in MALEVOLENCE 3?
SM: Well, since he was blown away in the second one, I don’t think he’ll be coming back in the third. I can’t say too much because it will spoil too much, but there will be some characters that are returning in the third one.
BUG: What else can you tell us about MALEVOLENCE 3?
SM: I know a lot of people have talked about how BEREAVEMENT was so different than MALEVOLENCE, and this one is going to be completely different in tone as well. It’s more of a fast-paced action suspense film than the other two. It’s not really a bloody film, this one; it’s more of a very scary, suspenseful film and I’m hoping that people are going to find it really, really scary and fun. Now that the characters have been all fleshed out, now we can go and just have fun with the story and having fun with these characters and having a really scary film.
BUG: How about the name of the film itself? Is it going to be MALEVOLENCE 3? BEREAVEMENT was the second story, but there is no MALEVOLENCE 2. Do you think that might confuse the audience?
SM: I did have another name for it, but we went with MALEVOLENCE 3. I decided to do that because we got so many complaints from people who, when they discovered BEREAVEMENT, they had no idea it was connected to another film. Even though it stands on its own, a lot of people didn’t know there was a MALEVOLENCE out there. We thought by using the MALEVOLENCE name, the people who liked the first film would be drawn in for this one and recognize it. That was a challenge for us with BEREAVEMENT. I can’t tell you how many people I spoke with who said they didn’t know it was part of a trilogy or that there was another film made prior to that film. Originally, BEREAVEMENT was called MALEVOLENCE 2: BEREAVEMENT, but we thought that was a mouthful, so it just got shortened to BEREAVEMENT. Hopefully, by calling it MALEVOLENCE 3, from a marketing standpoint, it’ll help get the word out there more and tie in to the previous films.
BUG: Is there anything you learned from making the previous two films that you’re planning on applying to MALEVOLENCE 3?
SM: Absolutely. The biggest thing is financing. BEREAVEMENT had a modest budget, and we learned to make a great movie out of just a little. Then, going back to MALEVOLENCE which was put together with paperclips and rubber bands, we learned how to stretch a dollar as far as it can go. And we’re kind of going back to our roots with this film. There’s a lot of benefits where we are shooting this film on digital rather than on 35mm, so that frees us up a lot. We’ve learned a lot about how to most make the movie.
BUG: Do you have any other projects that you’re working on at the moment?
SM: Yeah. I have a book coming out soon called TRANSIENT, which is based on a script that has a long history. You can look it up on the web. I’ve decided to rise from the ashes with it and turn it into a novel and release that later this year. I don’t see myself as a novelist, but we’ll see where that goes. And I have some other scripts and different stories I’m exploring at the moment.
BUG: So what if MALEVOLENCE 3 is a success? Would you be up for doing a fourth installment in the series or is this it?
SM: Actually, it’s funny you ask that. There is a fourth one outlined and partially written. There’s something that I was talking with Gunnar Hansen from the original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE about. There’s a whole back story, and I’ve talked with Gunnar about playing the part of Sutter’s dad and going back before BEREAVEMENT took place, going way back and telling that story. I only want to do a sequel if it is completely adding on to the story. I don’t want to do it just to make a sequel to rehash it. So far we’ve been about to do that.
BUG: Well, thank you so much. I really want to see a third film in this series, so I’m going to urge my readers to go out and support this film on IndieGoGo.
SML: Thanks, we have a little over 50 days to go, so we’re trying to get the word out there. Hopefully we’ll make our goal. I appreciate it. Thanks, Mark. Thanks a lot!
BUG: You can support Stevan Mena in bringing the third installment of MALEVOLENCE to life by clicking on this link. Below are my reviews to both MALEVOLENCE and BEREAVEMENT, for those unfamiliar with the films.
MALEVOLENCE (2007)Find this film on Netflix here!
Starring Samantha Dark, Brandon Johnson, Heather Magee, Richard Glover, Courtney Bertolone
Written and Directed by Stevan Mena
BEREAVEMENT (2010)Find this film on Netflix here!
Starring Michael Biehn, Alexandra Daddario, John Savage, Nolan Gerard Funk, Spencer List, Brett Rickaby, Peyton List
Written and Directed by Stevan Mena
Find out more about these films here and on the Facebook page!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
There are those who poo poo the slasher film as one of the lowest common denominators in horror. I’m not one of those people. I grew up watching FRIDAY THE 13TH’s and HALLOWEEN and loving every single frame. The problem with those films is that the early ones were made by masters of suspense, amping up the fright of being stalked by a lone, unstoppable madman who continues to advance on you no matter how much you fight back, but the latter ones were made by folks who weren’t as skilled or smart at making a film that gives chills and focused more on showing the killer in plain sight and focusing more on gimmicks than scares. And it appears that writer/director Stevan Mena feels the same way. Mena, in two films, has revitalized the slasher film by doing two things; moving forward and moving back.
With MALEVOLENCE and BEREAVEMENT, one can literally note the forward and back momentum in that the narrative leaps from present day in the first film (MALEVOLENCE) to the past in the second (BEREAVEMENT), but this attention to pushing forward and moving back can also be applied to the films when talking about them stylistically. MALEVOLENCE, in many ways, is an old school slasher yarn. Mena channels early Carpenter in many ways; placing his masked stalker in the background while the unknowing victims talk in the foreground a la Michael Meyers. Focusing on the weapon being used rather than the killer itself is another motif that occurs frequently in the film. The POV shots follow the victim rather than the killer in order to influence the viewer to identify with them rather than the usual focus on the anti-hero common in late eighties/early nineties slashers. Even the music is a throwback to Carpenter’s synth score. Mena’s music (an unholy union of Manfredini’s iconic FRIDAY THE 13th orchestra and Carpenter’s synthesizer) shatters out of nowhere signifying and often intensifying what we are seeing on screen.
In the same sense, in the narrative of BEREAVEMENT, Mena pushes our understanding of the slasher forward by giving a reason why these guys can’t be killed. Early in the film, the mother of the child who grows up to be the killer in MALEVOLENCE explains to a babysitter that her child is special. His brain doesn’t register pain, so he literally keeps on going even though he may be mortally wounded. In that tiny bit of exposition, ingeniously worked into the script in a functional manner, Mena explains why his killer (if not all of these cinema slashers) seemingly cannot be killed or hurt. This sophisticated way of storytelling elevates this slasher film above the rest by explaining something common in all of them.
The story is pretty simple. In MALEVOLENCE, the story begins with a young boy being guided to witness a ritual style killing. The story bops forward to the present, where a quartet of crooks plan a robbery. When the robbery goes bad, the quartet takes a mother and child hostage and retreats to what looks like an abandoned slaughterhouse, but the house is not empty. It houses a man who relentlessly stalks and kills them one by one. It’s nothing new, but done so in a manner that shows that Mena has done his homework. The scenes are gritty and tense. The chills are real. The scares aren’t false. And the killer is a relentless one. In the end, Mena turns in a straight up, unapologetic slasher, intelligently crafted and a worthy successor of both FRIDAY and HALLOWEEN films.
But with BEREAVEMENT, Mena takes it to a whole new level. We go back in time witnessing the killer as a young boy, who turns out to be the right boy for Sutter, the slaughterhouse owner and serial killer himself, to kidnap. Although he doesn’t know it, Martin cannot feel pain, a trait very useful in the killing trade. Sutter trains Martin to be the perfect killer in some extremely graphic and disturbing scenes. Again, Mena focuses on the victims. Here he works with a much talented cast, making it much easier to identify with them. Alexandra Daddario is amazing as a city girl forced to live with her overprotective uncle, (played by Michael Biehn, who gives a strong performance here). The stuff Mena puts Daddario through in this one shows that this actress is one to watch out for. In the end, BEREAVEMENT is stronger knowing what Martin will become. It’s sort of what STAR WARS EPISODE I should have been.
I saw MALEVOLENCE and BEREAVEMENT out of sequence, but I don’t think that much matters, given that both are powerful films by themselves. I can’t wait to see what Mena has next. Given his talented camera and the intelligent twists and turns he takes, Mena has both honored and redefined the slasher subgenre with these two gripping films.
This third installment looks to be something special too and if any film deserves your support it’s MALEVOLENCE 3. One last time, be sure to support the film by clicking on this link!
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 12 years & AICN HORROR for 3. He has written comics such as VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS THE TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, & NANNY & HANK (soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He has co-written FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND’s LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in 2013 as a 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark wrote the critically acclaimed GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment & GRIMM FAIRY TALES #76-81. Look for GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK: LAST OF THE SPECIES available in February-July 2013 and the new UNLEASHED crossover miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS WEREWOLVES: THE HUNGER #1-3 available in May-July 2013! Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitter @Mark_L_Miller.
Interested in illustrated films, fringe cinema, and other oddities?
Check out Halo-8 and challenge everything!
Find more AICN HORROR including an archive of previous columns on AICN HORROR’s Facebook page!