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AICN HORROR talks blending horror and comedy with writer/comedian Michael Swaim, plus a review of his new film, KILL ME NOW!

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Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Mixing together horror and comedy is not always a great thing. Sure there are exceptions like EVIL DEAD 2 and SHAUN OF THE DEAD, but more often than not, when you think horror comedy, the SCARY MOVIE films come to mind and leave that "just shat in" taste in your mouth. Writer/comedian Michael Swaim has been doing the funny for CRACKED.COM as part of the Agents of Cracked for a while now and he has a new film he did with some extremely funny people called KILL ME NOW. I had to catch up with Michael last week and talk about his new film, balancing horror and humor, and working with his fellow comedians to make a scary movie. Interspersed throughout the interview are clips from the film. Here's what he had to say...

AMBUSH BUG (BUG): Let me start recording here. It’s great to talk with you. I had a chance to see KILL ME NOW just a bit ago, like a couple of days ago. It really was a cool movie. I liked it a lot. I laughed a lot. It’s got a really wicked sense of humor. For people who don’t know much about the film, what do you tell them? What’s your elevator pitch for the movie?

MICHAEL SWAIM (MS): Sure. Our elevator pitch sort of revolves around the group we have assembled, so I guess the log line would be something along the lines of “a group of high school kids party all night in the woods and are tracked by a calculating serial killer who has bitten off more than he can chew.” Or if there were a poster tag line, my really short was is “Even serial killers have bad days.” (Laughs) That’s probably what I should have led with. For us and for our fan base, a big component of it was really that it featured a collaborative effort from many, many different sketch comedians who were active online at the time and so that was really a big element of it for us.

BUG: Yeah, and it is a really funny movie. I think it reminds me a little bit of the Broken Lizard comedies. Are you a fan of those?

MS: Absolutely, MEOW! (Laughs) Thank you for saying that, though. It really means a lot. Yeah, it’s been great to finally get feedback, because it’s definitely one of those things where we have no idea if it’s good or funny, so we really need people to let us know. So thank you.

BUG: Yeah. So where did you come up with this idea for the film? Was it a collaborative effort? Or did it all come from you?

MS: Well my main creative partner, Abe Epperson, and I came up with the story and then I wrote the screenplay and then the cast were all writers themselves and did a lot of improvising on the script or were rewriting on the day and stuff like that, but the story really is all Abe and I and the main thing that interested us was trying to find something fresh to do with the horror comedy genre and we are both big fans of SHAUN OF THE DEAD and that whole series of movies and ARMY OF DARKNESS and it seems like a largely under-represented genre, horror-comedy.

We always try to find ways to refresh it and then usually for us it’s something more… but what we came up with this time was “Well let’s make a horror movie where not only do you get a little of the killer’s backstory or are able to become familiar with the killer as a real human character, but you do that to such a degree that let’s see if we can get the audience by the end to be sort of sympathizing with the monster in some way.” It’s sort of a movie where for half of the movie you’ve got a game of cat and mouse with these kids and the killer and then things sort of clip and so then you’ve got the kids chasing the killer and we just really liked the idea of… We are setting up a monster and then having the monster really have a terrible time, almost to the point where… and have some of the victims be so stupid and annoying that hopefully there are scenes where you’re hoping that “Oh, just kill that one kid. Please kill that kid. I hate that kid.” We really wanted moments like that to be available to us and then from that we just built whatever story was around those tent pole ideas and this is what came out.

BUG: You said that you scripted a lot of this, but was there a lot of comedy that came out of doing the scenes over and over again since you had so many comedic minds at work there?

MS: Absolutely, and I have to say as a writer going in, you sort of hope that the actors will be as funny as the characters were in your head when you were writing them and what I didn’t expect was just how much they were above and beyond, so much funnier than the characters in my head. I want to call individual people out, but I feel like I’d just end up listing the whole cast. I just felt so blessed as far as “Yes, people added lines. People added intention behind the lines.” We added whole scenes here and there and there’s one party, a group scene, where there’s all kinds of stuff going on in the background that was added on the day. There were whole sequences where someone said, “What if we did this….”

BUG: The guy who played Todd, he’s become kind of a sensation now because of the AT&T commercials, correct? Is that the right one I’m talking about?

MS: Yeah, that’s Beck Bennett.

BUG: Do you still stay in touch with him? Is he part of your crew?

MS: He’s not directly part of my collective group, but yeah we stay in touch and I definitely hope to and expect to work with him again in the future. I can’t say enough about that whole group, Nick Rutherford, Kyle Mooney, and Beck Bennett form a troupe called Good Neighbor and they were actually all in the movie and they’ve all sort of blown up since then. Kyle Mooney is in a bunch of things and Nick Rutherford is doing a stand up tour now and of course Beck has these great AT&T ads, which are actually based on a bit that he did on his YouTube channel before the campaign was ever conceived and I will say this, Beck blew me away to such a degree. They were very taxing shoot conditions and we shot the final scene that Beck came in to shoot after he had been up for about twenty four hours, he was sick and sleepy, and you cannot tell, but between takes in the scene he was falling asleep behind the wheel of his convertible and then we’d say “Action” and he’d wake up and act immediately and he went right from there to the airport to fly home and when I said goodbye to him, I said if there’s one thing I know, you will become hugely famous. He just killed it. His stuff was great. I can’t believe it.

BUG: Yeah, it’s so different than in the commercials. He plays the jerk jock, but it’s kind of like you play with stereotypes that are often in these types of teen movies, but they really do own them themselves.

MS: If you look at the script, I just wrote a classic jock from REVENGE OF THE NERDS and trusted in his performance ability to refresh that and make it seem like something that wasn’t just an archetype and I think he was able to do that beautifully.

BUG: Yeah, and we talked a little bit about horror comedies. It is a tough genre, I think. You either become one of the SCARY MOVIES where you’re just parodying everything or you go the SHAUN OF THE DEAD route and you seem to definitely go the SHAUN OF THE DEAD route with this one. What’s your secret of walking that tightrope between horror and comedy and “what is too much horror for it not to be funny anymore?” Do you have a formula for that?

MS: I’d like to think that we found a formula through working on this. It wasn’t something we preconceived, but through the fifteen drafts of the script or whatever. I would say that trick is to work with the laughs in a way that it can work for you and really if you’re going to do a genre blend, it should be because you see opportunities there that don’t exist in any other context and so I think horror and comedy have a lot in common in a few ways. They both try to evoke a really strong visual, physical action, which is like a reflex like to be startled. They’re similar in that way and I think we’re all familiar with nervous laughter and that a joke can hit really hard if you’re breaking the tension and so we found that it was good to just have a sense of heart. That’s just something with horror I think we learned from SHAUN OF THE DEAD and that’s if you can get people to care at least a little bit about the character, it really makes the fear more tangible and as far as blending it with the comedy, we just did the switch back method of just constantly going back and forth. So it’s “funny scene, scary scene, funny scene, scary scene” basically and have both things escalating and I think what we found as amazing is that comedy is greatly needed when there’s more chaos in the air and that’s also as the horror escalates, so it works perfectly. As everything is going to shit and people are dying around you and everything is going crazy, there’s so much potential for humor, because humor really thrives in that sort of chaotic environment.

BUG: Definitely. So with this film, how can people see this film? What’s the best way they can see it right now?

MS: Right now the easiest way is either through On Demand if you do that, or the iTunes show. Very soon it will be available on Amazon and my understanding… Don’t hold me to all of this being completely accurate, but I’m pretty sure currently it’s US only, but I know that within a few months it’s going to be worldwide and eventually it be available to anyone with an internet connection, but we’re sort of rolling it out in phases.

BUG: Okay. Is it going to be available on DVD or Blu Ray any time soon or is that further down the line?

MS: It’s further down the line. One thing I’ve been learning a lot about the movie process is the business end, which I’m totally unfamiliar with up to now… One of the things I’ve learned is it’s not like a switch and you’re going to get the deal you’re going to get. I mean this is huge for us, getting on such a prestigious site. Hopefully there will be more interest and more people will see it and that gets someone’s attention and you just try to build on that. So it’s definitely very much a living concern for me and I want to get it everywhere in every form, but we will see what we can do.

BUG: Sounds great. What’s next for you now that this film is being released? Are you taking some time off or are you starting on the next one?

MS: Definitely not taking time off. I’m weird, so I have a whole slue of totally unrelated projects in the works, one of which I would very much like to mention. Right now I’m running a Kickstarter campaign where a friend of mine and I are trying to make a fitness RPG app based on Indian folklore and that’s going to be really cool, so people should check that out. It’s called “My Temple” and you can find it on the Kickstarter page, but I’m also working on weird stuff like a rap album. I still create sketches constantly for, which is my day job. I’m doing more stand up and of course, yes many more screenplays. I have already begun… And we’ve also got some TV shows we’re shopping around. So we’re doing it all, man.

BUG: Very cool. Is there ever a chance of a KILL ME NOW 2? I know it’s final in the end of it, but there always seems to be a way to make sequels. Will there ever be a possibility of that?

MS: There always is a way to make a sequel and I wouldn’t put it past us being able to write around anything that we did, but I would say if anything, we would be most interested in making sort of a spiritual sequel or… I mean we’ll go where the interest is. We are entertainers and we’re here to make people have a good time, so it’s the pulse from the audience if they want that, then absolutely we’ll go ahead, but I will say that we have a lot of different movie ideas in a lot of different genres and we would be thrilled to get an opportunity to make any of them.

BUG: Well I had a great time watching the film. It was really funny. I watched it with a couple other people and all of us were laughing all the way throughout, so congratulations on a really cool movie. I hope to get this up on the site really soon, so that I can let everybody know about it.

MS: Great. Thanks so much, it really means a lot.

BUG: Thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate it. KILL ME NOW is available now on Time Warner Cable, Comcast, Cox for VOD and additionally on Dish, which has the film on their IPVOD digital service so dish subscribers can digitally stream!!! You can download the film here for only five bucks on iTunes and on Vudu here. Below the trailer is my review for the film.

New on Video On Demand and Digital Download!

KILL ME NOW (2012)

Directed by Travis Long
Written by Michael Swaim
Starring Michael Swaim, Jacob Reed, Beck Bennett, Brett Fancy, Kaitlin Large, Kyle Mooney, Nick Mundy, Daniel Rubiano, Lisa Marie King, Nick Rutherford, Katie Willert, Noah Byrne, Brentan Schellenbach, Katy Stoll
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here.
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

I understand that horror and comedy are two types of genres that allow for the audience to participate and identify with the movie more. Any scene that makes the audience quiver in fear or double over in laughter is definitely something filmmakers strive for. But more often than not, I’ve found my horror to be ruined by hokey humor or lame attempts at levity. So I went into KILL ME NOW hesitant, knowing that the fright film was made by alum and various comedy troops.

Though KILL ME NOW is not heavy on the scares, it does make up for it in spades with the comedy as the entire cast shows excellent comedic timing and proves extremely adept at giving my funny bones a tickle. The story revolves around a pair of not-so-popular guys (Michael Swain-who also wrote the film, and Jacob Reed) as they attempt to get to a secluded high school party in the woods being thrown by the popular kids. Swain’s ex girlfriend (Kaitlin Large) is at the party and now dating popular douche (Beck Bennett, who many will recognize from the AT&T commercials as the moderator interviewing a bunch of children), so it is crucial that the two geeks make their way to the shini-dig. Bennett and his douche friends run afoul of a well speaking Englishman when they crash into his van as they try to get beer. Unfortunately for all, the Englishman (Brett Fancy) is a serial killer and as douches often do, they rubbed this killer the wrong way and now he has set his sights on them.

With everyone making their way to the party, the set up for a pretty massive collision is made. And when all factors do converge it is the stuff of comedic genius. KILL ME NOW fires the comedy at a rapid pace. As most parties do, there’s a lot of chaos involved and Swain and Long slow down the momentum to see just enough of these kids to be interested in them and for some, just enough to make you root for the killer to do away with them slowly and painfully. As the kids get drunker and as the killer descends on the party, it gets more and more evident that it’s the serial killer and not the kids, we should be worried about.

Much like SUPER BAD and CAN’T HARDLY WAIT, the comedy of these types of films comes from the unpredictability of youth as the narrative pops in and out of various scenes at the party. I remember going out as a kid and never knowing what kind of trouble and fun we were going to get into and that feeling is reflected well in KILL ME NOW. Though the actors playing the kids are well into their twenties, they do a great job of acting like kids who update their Facebook status to “no fucks given” often, and in casting older adults as teens it also harkens back to those eighties films as well which did so and tried to seriously pass them off as youths.

The horror is light in KILL ME NOW, but there is a lot of gore and a bear (who is obviously a guy in a suit), so while you may not jump out of your seat in horror, I found myself laughing at the idiot kids; especially Swain, Long, and Bennett, seems to be on the verge of stardom, and wanting to kill them myself, which is, I believe, what the film intends as a statement on these types of kid party films. The scenario of a serial killer getting frustrated as hell with moronic kids who just won’t get into his van and die is a rock solid one and played for laughs in some truly black and twisted ways. Low on budget, but high on laughs, KILL ME NOW is an indie gem reminiscent of the tone one would find in a Broken Lizard joint and one hell of a funny horror film.

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.

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