Serial Killer films can be gross and hard to watch. A well-done and smart take, though, is a delight. Smiles the Devil is one such, and director Brandon Summers answered some of our questions!
You've given us a cannibalistic serial killer with a penchant for puns. What was your thinking while you were writing your main character?
I wrote the role of cannibal Eric Pankow for my friend, Ryan Henderson. He's a proper actor, and I wanted to see him go mega! The puns came easily. The challenge was tuning Eric so he was just silly and eerie when we first meet him, then ratcheting it up, pulling back, and finally having him go supernova! But without losing the logic of the character.
What films influenced the writing of your script?
An obvious influence is the Joker from The Dark Knight. That grandiose, but clear and articulate, lunacy. And Kevin Smith's Red State, how the narrative shifts focus without changing tone and still being engaging. Three people in a room just talking is boring, so what's actually happening has to keep changing. I know movies where people are captured aren't original, but even though I had a different agenda from Haneke's Funny Games, and more puns, I wanted to make sure I did nothing that was similar to his films or any other.
When you've got a character that is so over the top, it's hard not to fall into the hand-wringing evil-doer. How'd you avoid that?
The difference is malice. Eric doesn't have a particular malice. He's just having a good time. Everything he does is for his own amusement. His cruelest moments are as fun to him as his dazzling puns. There's no specific scheme he's accomplishing to celebrate.
I see that this is your first film. Why tackle this one first? What's next on your plate?
I love movies. I'd always wanted to make one. And it had to star my favorite actor. But I figured I would never have the money or resources to pull it off, so I focused on writing. As my skills grew I realized I could create drama and suspense just having three people in a room, and include puns and huge monologues and esoteric references. So I went for it! I called Ryan, Ryan called his friends, all legitimate stage actors, and we made it happen. The story works, I think, and it only cost $800.
It is an amateur effort, sure, but it's definitely my movie. That said, I'm fine with just writing.
If you had it all to do over again, what would you change?
I like my script and I love the performances. The production was a struggle. We shot the movie in six business days. I did it in Virginia, a state I'd never been to, and with people I'd never met. There wasn't time to fix some things. There are continuity gaffes, and the locations for the opening scenes were not the most desirable. But I pursued my ambitions, got an education, and met some truly good-hearted, supremely talented people.
In the end, it seems like the message is "We're all a bad turn of events away from being a maniac." Was that your intention?
Yes? I mean, life is filled with annoyances and disappointments. And we're all searching for something better, escaping to the things that make us happiest. It seems plausible that one guy can take that to a horrible extreme, enjoying life in his way. It's his motivation for all the nightmarish things he does, like torturing this young couple, both with puns and actual torture. More than anything, my intention was to make a horror movie that was fun and weird. It's the movie I wanted to make.
If anyone wants to see it, it's available via Film Freeway.
Klaus at Gunpoint
A Film Journal dedicated to all film.A segment of Office Supply Publishing.