It is our mandate at Really Awful Movies to profile young filmmakers. We recently checked out Holy Hell in Toronto, a religious-revenge flick now making the festival rounds, and met writer-director Ryan LaPlante.
You should see Holy Hell because it’s bloody, insane, hilarious, offensive and inappropriate for everyone. What more could you want?!
- The inspiration was movies like Machete, which was spawned from Rodriquez and QT’s Grindhouse, but what grindhouse titles from the 70s/early 80s did you look to for the film’s aesthetic?
Although not Grindhouse per se, I love DEATH WISH and all the old DIRTY HARRY films. HOLY HELL also directly references THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY at one point. I feel like I’ve become an encyclopaedia of obscure film moments. There’s a line in HOLY HELL from an obscure Russell Crowe action film, VIRTUOSITY, which is a beautiful piece of early 90’s garbage that I’m in love with.
- What are your favorite revenge/vigilante movies?
There are so many good ones! I love LAW ABIDING CITIZEN for its sense of dark fun and ingenuity. From the comic book world: I enjoy Tom Jane’s THE PUNISHER and just about everything BATMAN. KICKASS is a beautiful genre departure that keeps the funny, and though technically the thriller RANSOM isn’t a revenge film its tight plot and hate-filled power battles are awesome.
- That villain was really badass. Was he inspired by Keith Richards? How was he cast for the role?
His look could definitely be compared to Keith Richards, and I’m sure Michael Rawley (who plays Dokes and Co-Produced the film) would be honoured by the comparison!
We’d told our costume designer that there were only two rules when dressing Dokes: 1) he always had to wear a mesh shirt and 2) everything he wore had to look like it belonged in a 70’s porno. She delivered brilliantly! (Laughs)
I’ve known Michael for years and I wrote the role with him in mind. I had no idea if he’d be willing to play something so out there, but when he came on board he became a huge champion for the project. He brought such a cool, calm, patient take on a character that’s surrounded by his crazy children. He ends up providing the perfect core for the film’s villainy.
- Holy Hell looked really good for $25,000. What would you have done if you had $50,000? Or, how much more do you wish you had and what would you have done differently?
The film’s budget was… far more than 25,000 dollars. (Chuckles) It’s fair to say it cost slightly less than a house. Wait, I’ve got it! If I had more money, I’d pay everyone more. Especially me!
- How did a Catholic education inform the movie?
Ahhhh, now for the tricky questions. (Laughs) I was raised in the Catholic school system, and the Church was pretty good to and for me. I never knew any Father Banes, I swear! In fact, in real life, I’m a pacifist.
The biggest thing that growing up Catholic gave me in terms of the film was knowledge of biblical verses, and the rules that a crazy priest could start misinterpreting. I got to take all the theatricality of the church and turn it to something twisted and fun. It gave me so many one-liners!
- Your dad has a kind of Brad from Rocky Horror vibe and his performance was really good! How did you get him to sign off on the project?
My Dad came on board without too much reluctance and I’m glad because some of his lines are the most quoted from the film.
My Mom however was a bit more of a challenge. When I’d finished the first draft of Holy Hell I left it lying around and my mother found it. She read the whole thing in one sitting and was waiting for me when I came in. She looked me dead in the eye and said “Don’t show this to anyone!”
It’s my favourite review of the film thus far, but we won her over eventually. She ended up designing a number of the special effects, costuming all of our leads and she plays a significant character. No one can escape the pull of the Lord!
- What made you cast yourself in the role? And how did Augustus Bane come about?
In addition to directing, I’m also an actor. I knew I wanted to be in the project somewhere and I was excited about the opportunity to play something against my “normal” type (usually I play comic relief or villains). It doesn’t get more different than a terminator-esque, one-liner spouting killer Priest!
The character himself starts out as a joyful, leave-it-to-beaver stereotype and then he gets shattered. I knew with the craziness of the other characters, the movie’s core needed to be solid, so for Bane I wanted to give a minimalist performance. He’s deadpan 99% of the time, but that means when he isn’t I can do something really small and it has a strong impact on the audience. At one point in every screening Bane’s said a one liner and the audience has gone “awwwww”. We got them empathizing with a priest who prays to a gun and shoots people in the face!
- You have lots of theater directing experience with The Bard…Have you seen Tromeo and Juliet and what is your favorite play?
It is time for me to admit a cardinal sin: before writing and directing HOLY HELL I had never heard of Troma or John Waters. Once the movie was test screening I started hearing those names, did some research and discovered my new spirit animals! Tromeo & Juliet is absolutely BONKERS. I want them to do Shakespeare’s entire canon in that style!
My favourite play? If we’re sticking to the Shakespeare theme it would have to be Titus Andronicus. It’s the Bard’s first play and it’s his most twisted. The script includes human sacrifice, sadism, sexual assault, assassination, public executions, severed limbs, madness, murder and ends with Titus feeding an Evil Queen her own sons baked into a pie. I’ll never come up with anything as deviant as Shakespeare!
- Speaking of the above…Alysa King was really good as Amy. How’d she become involved?
Alysa and I went to University together. Interestingly enough she was in the first stage show I ever directed, which was a production of Titus Andronicus. She played an incestuous murderer, a character that would have gotten along famously with HOLY HELL’s MacFarlane family!
We’re always on the lookout for projects we can work on together and I wrote the role of Amy with her in mind. Alysa’s SUPER talented, and her career has really taken off. She’s the star of 2014’s festival hit BERKSHIRE COUNTY, has appeared in numerous other features, and has a recurring role in the upcoming series SLASHER which stars JURASSIC WORLD’s Katie McGrath.
- Did you have any reservations about the character of Sissy? (I noticed palpable discomfort at the screening, by a few people in front of us)
Never. Not even one. Sissy is a beautiful little monster and should be nurtured at all times. (Laughs) The whole point of this kind of film is that the fun comes from the outrageousness. Sissy is about as crazy as the film can get. At the same time, once you write a character that’s out there you’ve got to embrace the horizons of how far they can go. I know no one will believe me, but in the original version of the script Sissy was a bit milder. Michael (who plays Dokes) and Shane (who plays Sissy) called me out on it and told me to push the envelope even further. I could never turn down a challenge like that and thus the version of Sissy you saw was born.
- What’s your favorite / least favorite horror genre?
Oh man, there’s no right answer! (Chuckles)
I’d say my favourite subgenre is psychological horror. I love monsters and plots that could be taking place inside the characters’ heads. The line between reality and madness is so fine and movies that blur it explore a real-life fear that I find deeply disturbing.
Least favourite? Any film that’s just about a monster chasing people. If it’s got an underlying theme of human experience, or is a metaphor for a fear we all have, that’s amazing! But if it’s just “Oh man, this guy with a pitchfork doesn’t like kids” I get bored.
- What’s next?
Right now I’m doing the festival circuit with HOLY HELL and have screenplays selected at numerous festivals in the States (Shriekfest, the Mile High Horror Fest, the New Orleans Horror Festival and Action on Film Fest). I’ve also had some meetings with production companies interested in developing a rock-and-roll dirty cop drama I’ve written and a horror feature I’ve penned about a serial killer taking an apprentice.
- What is the biggest misconception people have about making movies?
People readily underestimate how much it costs. (Laughs) It takes a lot of time and a lot of people. You’ve got to be willing to sell your soul to get it done!
- The poster is really cool. We’ve noticed in some indie productions, the cover art/promotional materials are quite misleading in that they’re really state-of-the-art but then the movies less so. How did you determine how much would be put into stuff like that?
We knew our film was stylized and that is was old school, so we needed something that would suggest the tone of the project. I’ve always been a fan of the old 70’s pulp posters, the ones that are almost film noir cartoons. I knew a great artist, Trev Murphy (http://trevmurphy.com/) and he also dug that style. We bounced back and forth, sending each other dozens of samples of 60’s and 70’s pulp posters until we picked the pieces that seemed the most appropriate for HOLY HELL. Then he birthed our poster.
It was all very deliberate and planned. The movie is low(er) budget fun and we wanted people to get what they were looking for if our poster drew their attention. Rather than try to trick people into seeing our movie we wanted to help people who would love it, find it.
- Tell us about the kudos the film’s received and what the festival submission process is like.
We had our world premiere at the 20th Annual Indie Gathering and came home with the #1 Horror/Comedy Award. The trophy now sits proudly on my mantle (next to Father Bane’s gun). We’re also going to be screening at the Fargo Fantastic Film Festival and another festival that I can’t name yet as they haven’t officially announced. It’s an exciting time.
The Festival submission process is a stressful and amazing lottery in some ways. You’ve got to target the festivals your film is appropriate for and then refuse to be discouraged.
It’s always a brilliant honour to be selected and we can’t wait to be at each and every festival we can be!
- You’re pretty handy with firearms. Have you gone out and shot real guns?
No way. I’m a pacifist, remember? (Chuckles) I have fired blank guns before and oh man, they are LOUD. Then again, if Father Bane thinks a gunshot is the Lord speaking, it would have to be impressive!