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Diary of a DIY Horror Shoot

By James King

Horror thrives on the desperate, relentlessly plodding through any unnecessary emotional baggage to clutch at the basics: fear, anger, violence and survival. Think of that lonely virginal heroine whose friends have been slaughtered, whose car doesn’t seem to work and whose legs appear to fail as she falls at the footsteps of something that wants her gone.

Indie and horror have always been made for each other. One is typically racked with financial limits and the other consistently thrives the more limits are imposed upon it. It is for this reason (along with a morbid interest to see my friends as if they were corpses) that I decided to take a crack at it and try my hand at an indie horror film.

My attempt at this was prefaced by a very fortunate opportunity: I had an empty, creepy, dirty, scummy, vacant basement apartment (which I called home for 5 years) for an entire month before I had to relinquish the keys. So I immediately thought about creating some sort of film (inevitably horror) to shoot there.

With a secure location, I next had to scout out some actors for my film. Luckily I had been working with a local Toronto sketch comedy troupe called the Polecats. For the lead, I chose Matt Farris–he had a certain desperation to his look that would draw out sympathy, but could also be believable as a vicious, basement-dwelling lunatic. Since the release of the film, I’ve heard cries of “awwww” and “ewwww” at his performance, so I think I made the right decision.

“I was still cleaning blood off my face the next day” — Andy, “dead body”

It was an interesting call out–in addition to nearly every member of the Polecats, I had a nudist, a German, a Kiwi and, of course, a Broken Pencil employee. I let them know ahead of time a rough outline of their role in the film, and to wear clothes they didn’t mind getting dirty (more on this soon).

“I didn’t know what the film was about, but I went anyway because I knew I’d be covered in blood and that’s always fun” — Glen, “dead body”

The day of the shoot, Matt had informed me that he had posted the body call-out on Facebook. I was unaware of this until a nice young lady arrived at my door with her mother and asked if this was the “body in the basement film.” I told her yes, and then had to convince her mother that she would be perfectly safe in a basement with a bunch of guys, beer and several gallons of blood. She was very enthusiastic. While I’m not a huge fan of Facebook, utilizing it for body-extras was a great help.

Set preparation was fairly easy and inexpensive. I made a short trip to the hardware store the day before and picked up several rolls of plastic sheeting and tape. I laid up the plastic sheeting on the walls, floors and ceiling. I then took about a gallon of fake blood and covered as much of the room as I could (using a ketchup squirt bottle is great for this). In a little less than an hour the room resembled a snuff-dungeon, and I was very proud of my work.

They took advantage of the free beer I had provided. Then, like something out of a Flannery O’Connor story, I led one after the other into the “kill-room” and set them down in their final resting place. Once this was done, Matt and myself proceeded to baste the cast in as much fake blood as possible. It was at this point that I was happy I had provided the cast with beer, as the blood was freezing cold–its impressive what friends will put up with for your “art.”

“I’ve played dead bodies before, but never have I experienced such a bizarre, eerie atmosphere on a set. I’m not going to lie–several times during the shoot I suspected we had been brought here to literally get slaughtered. The blood was also extremely cold.” — Audrey, “Dead Body”

The shoot took about half a day to complete and half a day to clean up. I learned the hard way that the plastic sheeting I had bought was too thin and fake blood had gotten everywhere.

Regardless of the cold, everyone had a good day. The nudist even walked home still covered in blood, wearing just enough clothing to avoid catching his death outside.

I learned that indie horror is a matter of generosity mixed with opportunity. Costs should always be kept to a minimum: pull as many favours as possible and convince friends that “this’ll be really cool, and you’ll look great on film!”

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