Freddy Beans here with an interview with the director of THE CLOVEHITCH KILLER, Duncan Skiles.
I reviewed THE CLOVEHITCH KILLER already and can’t recommend it enough. It’s a slow burner with no gore or jump scares, that simply relies on good storytelling and character to build a claustrophobic atmosphere that never really lets up. Duncan Skiles is a director to keep an eye out for! My full review can be read HERE.
Without further ado, the interview:
Duncan Skiles: Hi [Fred].
Freddy Beans: Hey, how are you doing, Duncan?
DS: Doing very well. How are you?
FB: I’m doing fantastic, thanks for asking. I was able to see your film THE CLOVEHITCH KILLER recently. I love the way you filmed it! It pulls you in early and never really lets you go, building an unbearably slow tension. Something like FUNNY GAMES comes to mind.
DS: That was definitely a point of inspiration for us.
FB: Looking at the work you’ve done previously it seems more comedic in nature, which begs the question, what was it about THE CLOVEHITCH KILLER’s script that stood out for you to the point it became your first feature-length film?
DS: I actually came up with the idea and I asked Chris Ford to write it up because he’s definitely a better screenwriter than I am regarding dialogue and story. I had it roughly outlined before that request. I was sort of transitioning to find out what kind of stuff I wanted to make.
For the first part of my career, I was trying to be Sam Raimi, Robert Zemeckis, or a Peter Jackson. I didn’t really realize that the first part of my career I was making stuff I’d seen as a teenager and not really making what I really liked. I enjoyed a lot of the low key films where I loved their simplicity but I didn’t think I could make a film like that. Once I got away from my comedy buddies and spending a few years dicking around making commercials and stuff. I moved to where my interests were. All of my work has been laced with tension, even the comedy. Sometimes it’s even intense stuff mixed with comedy in it to make it digestible. That type of toolkit was always something I’ve been drawn to. My early student films were very suspenseful. Here for the first time, I was in enough of a vacuum it allowed me to find my own voice.
FB: I think you definitely found it. It’s an excellent film.
DS: Thank you for that!
FB: It is. It simply takes you by surprise. Without getting too much into the storyline, you sort of reveal everything to us in the beginning and then very slowly let us figure it all out.
How would you describe CLOVEHITCH to someone that hasn’t seen it or is on the fence?
DS: It’s about a 16-year-old boy scout living in a small town. He finds some disturbing images in his dad’s truck and it leads him down a trail into an investigation where his dad may or may not be the local serial killer known as “Clovehitch.” The movie is very tense, it’s not a jump scare type of movie, or gory at all, yet goes to a very dark place. It’s more about the story of a family. Sort of told like a SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, though clearly not a direct parallel.
FB: Absolutely. Charlie Plummer playing the naïve kid who obeys every order he’s given. He makes absolutely heartbreaking decisions in this film. He’s a fully fleshed out character selling his confusion and the curiosity that eventually wins out. How the heck did you get Charlie to show so much great depth? He really nails it.
DS: Well, he’s a natural. My job is to pick the right person. I got lucky with Charlie. He was recommended. He’s also the first cast member to come on board and we got along well. He seemed to understand the role. Even in the pre-production work, getting to know each other, sharing references and once we began shooting I would make adjustments of course. Charlie created that character in a lot of ways on his own and I was able to just sit back and enjoy his performance.
FB: Yeah, he really does a great job. Another one that stood out for me was Dylan McDermott.
FB: Yeah, he just blew me away with the underlying depth he portrayed as Boy Scout leader Don. I guess I’m wondering what made you choose Dylan McDermott for the role of Don? He’s just so perfect.
DS: Yeah, he wasn’t my first choice. Eventually, he was, but I was hesitant because Dylan was more a TV actor, then I got to see him on AMERICAN HORROR STORY and I thought he went to a creepy dark place there and that was cool. I had the hardest time believing him as a Midwestern dad. The thing is we spent over a year trying to cast Don and Dylan really wanted to do it. I just wasn’t sure. Then he turned in this tape where he’s doing the accent and the posture, and he put on glasses and changed his hair. He kind of sold me on this idea he could transform into Don. I’m really glad he did it because imagining anyone else in the part now it’s just not realistic. I think it’s really cool what Dylan pulled off and that he’s a truly underrated actor.
FB: THE CLOVEHITCH KILLER seems largely based on the BTK killer and you kind of tellingly alluded to Buffalo Bill from THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. I guess I’m wondering who you based the killer on and of course am I close? (Laughs)
DS: You’re right on actually. The thing you mention as Buffalo Bill influenced was maybe because of the way it was presented with the music and the dancing and that’s certainly some SILENCE OF THE LAMBS.
Clovehitch is largely inspired by him (BTK). I’ve been trying to keep that on the down low. However it’s getting more and more out there.
FB: I appreciate the honesty there!
What’s your favorite all-time horror movie or movies if you have multiple.
DS: I know damn well I shouldn’t answer with the first thing that comes to my head which is… HALLOWEEN.
FB: The original I’m assuming?
DS: Yes, the original for sure. I didn’t see it until I was in college and I was really struck by the simplicity. How stark it was and how committed it was. I watched it again recently and it’s pretty corny and it really bothers me that they’re shooting in southern California in April and trying to sell it as the end of October. No Halloween gets that right by the way. They’re all supposed to be in the middle of October but there are no leaves on the trees. The ending of HALLOWEEN is just so good. When he looks over that balcony and Michael Myers is gone, it still gets me. It’s just so great. I don’t know. I like a bunch of horror films but that one definitely is up there just for the effect it has on me. I don’t know. I like a bunch of horror films but that one definitely is up there just for the effect it has on me.
FB: Yeah man. It’s still one of the top ones.
You shot this horror movie with such a sure hand. You really are a daring filmmaker by not showing much bloodshed. I’m wondering who your influences were. Thinking maybe …Fincher?
DS: Yes definitely Michael Haneke, David Fincher, the director of the original THE VANISHING, George Sluizer. That’s actually one of my favorite horror movies. That’s close to the most disturbing movie I’ve ever seen. There’s a movie I saw recently called STRANGER BY THE LAKE which was filmed similarly to Clovehitch. Soft and subtle but ends up hitting you super intensely.
FB: I loved THE VANISHING. Especially that last cutaway where you see above ground and of course what’s buried in it.
DS: Oh shit, of course, Hitchcock too!
FB: Of course, you can’t forget the master right?
Last question, do you have any future projects you’d like to share or let our readers know to be on the lookout for?
DS: Sometime in the near future I will be coming out with a psychological thriller, so look for my name to be next to something cool, hopefully in the next couple years.
FB: Awesome. I’ll keep a look out for that one! Thank you for your time, Duncan, I really appreciate it.
DS: Thank you, [Fred]. It’s been an in-depth conversation I’ve enjoyed.
FB: Thank you, brother! Good luck with Clovehitch!
Til next time, Kids!
- Freddy Beans
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