Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. This time around I have a chance to talk with the writer and director Joseph O’Brien about his horrific rollercoaster ride of a film, DEVIL’S MILE which is being released by Phase4 Films on DVD and On Demand on August 12th.
The kind folks at Phase 4 Films have given me 5 DVD’s of DEVIL’S MILE to give away to 5 frothing fans of AICN HORROR. All you have to do is send me an email with a story about your “worst roadtrip ever” and the five stories that makes me laugh, wince, or piddle in my pantalones the most will receive a copy of THE DEVIL’S MILE. SO CLICK ON THIS EMAIL LINK AND BE SURE TO INCLUDE A FULL ADDRESS TO BE CONSIDERED FOR THIS CONTEST!
My review for the film follows the interview. DEVIL’S MILE played recently at Fantasia International Film Festival to a roaring and cheering crowd. Here’s what transpired when I talked with director/writer Joseph O’Brien…
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): For those not in the know, what's your basic description of DEVIL'S MILE?
JOSEPH O’BRIEN (JO): DEVIL’S MIL is a road movie crime thriller that develops supernatural complications and crashes headlong into a horror movie. It's about a trio of troubled crooks on the last leg of a long journey to deliver a pair of kidnapped hostages to their boss, an almost mythically-malevolent figure in the criminal underworld. But they get lost on the way and take an ill-advised detour down an abandoned road to try and get back on track … but the road has other plans for them. Their situation deteriorates rapidly, and they're forced to confront not only each other, but the sinister, otherworldy forces that haunt the road, which seems to have no end.
BUG: From the very beginning, this film hits the ground running. Was it difficult to keep that level of energy up while filming?
JO: We shot the film on a very short schedule – just sixteen days – so energy was never a problem. Getting everything shot before the sun came up? That was a problem. The frantic pace of shooting essentially demanded that everyone just had to open up the throttle and go. Fortunately that worked for the material – a lot of the anxiety and tension we were experiencing as a cast and crew crept into the film itself.
BUG: I definitely get a FROM DUSK TIL DAWN and EVIL DEAD 2 vibe from this film. What kind of films or other media inspired you in making this film?
JO: If you're going to blend horror and crime thriller elements, obviously FDTD is going to come up – it certainly did on another film I wrote, the New Zealand-lensed FRESH MEAT. Its shadow looms quite large. But in the case of that film, once they hit the Titty Twister, the crime thriller just kind of ends and it turns into a much more over-the-top gorefest. The shooting style, the acting, everything changes and it essentially becomes another movie entirely. With DEVIL’S MILE I really wanted to make sure that we kept the crime thriller alive within the horror movie. The different elements had to interact, so the crime thriller affected the horror movie, and the horror movie changed up the crime thriller, and hopefully that combination of elements takes us to a place where either one on its own wouldn't have.
The movie's gotten a little flack for apparently mining a Rodriguez/Tarantino vibe, which I guess I can see in retrospect. But people forget those guys are themselves hyper-aware of their own debt to films and filmmakers that came before them. And while I like their movies as much as the next guy, making a QT/RR knockoff never really entered my head. In fact the reference points I was most conscious of when I was writing the script were the films of John Carpenter and Mario Bava, who are my two favorite directors. Not in the sense that I wanted to make the film that was a pastiche or a bunch of homages, but in observing how unafraid they were of breaking through genre boundaries. They're both thought of as horror directors, but they actually have quite varied filmographies – horror movies, science fiction, westerns, action movies. In fact, the Bava movie I had in the forefront of my mind was RABID DOGS (a.k.a. KIDNAPPED), which is arguably the least “Bava-esque” movie of his career. Likewise, one of my favorite Carpenter films is PRINCE OF DARKNESS, which is a bit of an outlier for him as well. And that movie is really Carpenter's homage to QUARTERMASS creator Nigel Kneale, who is essentially the godfather of genre-smashing. So in an odd way I wound up being most influenced by the films least associated with their respective helmers.
BUG: This one's been touring fests, but it's just about to be seen in theaters. What's it like to finally have it be seen by people other than execs and reviewers?
JO: It's pretty nerve-wracking. Releasing a movie into the wild means ceding all control over how it's received by the audience. We just screened it at Fantasia and it went over very well – the audience got very absorbed into the proceedings (and thankfully laughed in all the right places). You obviously hope they'll like it, but this isn't necessarily a movie that everyone is going to have a identical response to. In some ways it's designed that way – there are aspects of the film that are deliberately left open to the viewer's interpretation. Consequently everyone who sees it is going to have an experience that is hopefully a little more personal and less generic. No two people will necessarily come away with the same conclusions as to what happened or why.
One journalist called me from the UK and told me she still had the movie rattling around in her head days after she had seen it, and had all sorts of interesting questions about it as a result. I've had people e-mail me with theories and conjecture about various elements that, to be completely honest, had never entered my head. So it's gratifying to me that people are already having their own personal experiences with DEVIL’S MILE.
BUG: What inspired the look of the road ghost demon thing that pursues our "heroes" in the film?
JO: The thing about the road is that it's highly reactive; it responds to the people on it in various ways. In the case of the demon, the character is someone who died in a state of great rage and fear, and so I wanted her demon form to be representative of those emotions, jagged and angry and broken. I didn't want her to just come back as a generic zombie, so I worked up some artwork and showed it to Allan Cooke, our makeup effects designer, and he ran with it and created this full-body prosthetic creature for us. I also wanted her to have a slightly inconstant, almost liquid quality, so I enhanced what we had slightly with VFX to move her a little more into the uncanny valley, real and somehow unreal at the same time.
BUG: How did you get into filmmaking?
JO: I can't remember a time in my life when I wanted to do anything else. When I was younger I initially thought that I would get into special effects. I saw STAR WARS when I was six years old and it basically broke my brain open. As I got older I got more into screenwriting and that eventually became my foray into the business. Over the years I've worked almost every job there is to work in the industry – I've been a production assistant and I've been a development executive, with stops at all points in between. Ironically, DEVIL’S MILE is my first feature credit as both a director and a special effects designer. So it all comes full circle.
BUG: What projects do you have coming up next now that DEVIL'S MILE is finished?
JO: That's an interesting question. I'm writing a new script now that I'm very excited about, and a couple of opportunities have presented themselves in advance of the film's release, but it's still early days. I'm very curious to see where the road takes me next.
BUG: Any last thoughts about DEVIL'S MILE that we didn't cover?
JO: We made this movie on a tight budget and an even tighter schedule, but everyone who was a part of it came at it with incredible passion and determination, and for that I'm eternally grateful. We tried to make something a little different, a little off the beaten path, and I hope we succeeded at that. Horror movies are in my blood, and it's been an incredible journey and a great privilege to go from being a fan to a journalist for Rue Morgue and Fangoria to a filmmaker with DEVIL’S MILE. I'm thrilled with the response the film has had so far and now I'm just excited for everyone to see it.
BUG: Thanks so much for this interview and congratulations on a really fantastic film! Below is my review of DEVIL’S MILE which is set to be released in on DVD and On Demand on August 12th!
Advance Review: World Premiered at Fantasy Film Fest on July 26th and released through at Phase4 Films On Demand and DVD next week (August 12th)!
DEVIL’S MILE (2014)Directed by Joseph O'Brien
Written by Joseph O'Brien
Starring Maria Del Mar, Casey Hudecki, David Hayter, Samantha Wan, Frank Moore
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
While DEVIL’S MILE owes a lot to a lot of other films, it ends up saving itself due to a seemingly unlimited amount of energy and grit put into every frame you see playing out before you.
The story is pretty simple. The film opens with a trio of bad guy types barreling down the open road trying to put as many miles between themselves and the crime they just committed as possible. In the trunk are two young Asian girls, bound and gagged, the result of a botched kidnapping. Looking for a shortcut back to their boss' place, Toby (the makeshift leader of the crew played by WATCHMEN and X-MEN screenwriter David Hayter) stops at a gas station asking for directions. Though the gas station attendant warns him not to, Toby takes what looks to be the straightest path, but what he doesn’t realize is that the road he is about to take is cursed. Now Toby, his gal Cally (Maria Del Mar), and newcomer to the group Jacinta (stuntwoman Casey Hudecki) must not only run from the law, but also their worst nightmares as the road pummels them non stop with horrors beyond the imagination.
A little bit of FROM DUSK TIL DAWN mixes with some JOYRIDE, some Guy Ritchie SNATCH and some other Tarantino and Rodriduez flicks are the main ingredients to the horror stew that is DEVIL’S MILE, but while usually that can be a turn off, the film goes and redeems itself by tossing in the full throttle, in your face, and constantly barraging you about the neck and shoulders horror reminiscent of such terror rollercoaster rides as EVIL DEAD 2 and DEAD ALIVE. The scares comes fast and often as this trio make their way down the road which is obviously the devil’s highway to everyone but these three idiot bandits. While some may be turned off from this mish-mash style of storytelling, I have to admire the way writer/director Joseph O'Brien throws everything and a flaming kitchen sink at the bandits and the viewer. From ghosts, to road demons, to zombies, to unnamable monsters; this film starts with the terror with the bandit’s violence and doesn’t let up with the non-stop chills until the credits roll. This rapid fire inundation of scary imagery and horrifying situations come at a pace I just couldn’t help but love, making me forget the piecemeal way this film seemed to have come together plot-wise and just sit back and enjoy the ride.
On top of that, I was equally impressed at how much humor was injected into the film. This is the gross-out humor made popular by EVIL DEAD 2, in which cartoony violence has real world results. Even more impressive was the delivery of most of the humor from David Hayter, who is known mostly for his script work. Here Hayter is a bad guy worth hissing at. Sure the role is cartoony, but no less cartoony than the Gecko Brothers, as Hayter’s Toby hears echoing voices that tell him to do very bad things. Actresses Maria Del Mar and Casey Hudecki do the bulk of the work here in terms of screen time and are good in the roles of the other two banditas, but for the most part, their roles consist of screaming at the various monstrosities they encounter.
Yes, DEVIL’S MILE is not the most original of films, but the pace and ingenuity behind the film more than makes up for it as it feels like a rough and grindhousey blend of 5-hour energy, Jolt cola, and a six pack of Monster drinks downed with a handful of red hot peppers and a line of coke. I was exhausted after watching this film barrel into my eyeballs, but I just wanted to see more and more. And while all of this gore and violence might seem senseless, O’Brien ends up wrapping it up rather poetically with a few smart twists along the way. There’s something very, very interesting with DEVIL’S MILE, which recently played to a riotous audience at the Fantastia Film Festival, is something very. I’m very curious what James O’Brien has in store in the future for horror fans. O’Brien wrote the Aussie cannibal flick FRESH MEAT (reviewed here) which was equally entertaining in a runaway bull sort of way. DEVIL’S MILE is an indication that he can mix and match styles with ease and energy. And while I loved this film for the action packed and gore filled blend that it is, I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us next as he grows as a writer/director.
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 13 years & AICN HORROR for 4. Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller.
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