Tuesday, March 28, 2023

‘Malum’ Set Visit – Expanded ‘Last Shift’ Reimagining Aims to Be Rollercoaster Ride from Hell

There’s something inherently creepy about abandoned locations that make them well-suited for horror movies. The former Metro Police Department Headquarters Building, slated for demolition in downtown Louisville, Kentucky, is one of them.

Its labyrinthine layout, a dizzying maze of cell blocks adorned with sickly green tile and offices spread across multiple floors, presents the perfect setting for director Anthony DiBlasi to tackle the production of Malum, an expanded retelling of his 2014 cult favorite Last Shift.

Malum marks the first original production from the new genre studio Welcome Villain Films, who invited Bloody Disgusting exclusively to the Louisville set to learn about the more extensive, bloodier reimagining. The more pressing question heading in, of course, was why remake the potently chilling Last Shift?

DiBlasi answers that immediately, detailing how the desire to expand Last Shift’s audience evolved into a brand new reimagining that opened up the mythology in an exciting way.

“We made that movie for $150,000,” DiBlasi says of his original film’s origins. “And at the time when I had worked with Scott [Poiley], who also co-wrote and produced this one, we had made a couple of movies together down in Florida for bigger budgets. I had this idea, something super contained. I thought, ‘Let’s do it for $150,000 and shoot it in 10 days.’ We wrote the script around it but then realized, ‘Oh, this movie’s actually really good.’ We liked it, and Magnolia released it, but I had a lot of friends and producers, like Luke LaBeau [of Welcome Villain Films], who said, ‘That’s a great movie, but there are a lot of people that haven’t seen it.’

So for us, remaking it was really about reach. Just making it for a bigger audience, making sure that audience saw it. When Luke approached me about redoing it, I was like, ‘Yeah, I like that idea because I agree with you.’ It felt like this was a real crowd-pleasing idea. I wish it had seen a bigger audience, but I’m very grateful for the response it got. I mean, it got a very good response, but it was always like, ‘Oh, this undiscovered movie,’ which is cool in its own way. But now, we want to make a movie that everybody discovers. It took Scott and me a bit at first to figure out how to do it. It’s funny how making this movie; we wrote the first treatment. It was like ten pages, basically a regurgitation of the first movie. But then, as I started tweaking the treatment, I thought the world reopened. We were exploring the villains, the lead character, and all this mythology-building. I started to get excited about it. When we were writing the script, it was like the first one didn’t exist in a way. I don’t think about the first movie at all.”

Welcome Villain’s Eric Kleifield reiterates the desire to forge new ground with this retelling. He tells us, “We wouldn’t have done this project without bringing Anthony back into it. We were massive fans of the first film, and it was so effective, but in a way, it did feel like almost a proof of concept for something bigger. It was the beginning of a bigger story that you wanted to tell. When we had those conversations with him, it was clear he had a bigger idea of what he wanted this to be. Even when you talk to him about his interests and inspirations, you can tell that a lot was left on the table. This was just the culmination of everything he was about as a filmmaker. We just got excited in these initial conversations and all the elements he wanted to bring.”

LaBeau expands on this, explaining that DiBlasi wanted to “retell the story with a sort of different pace, different tone, a bigger world, give the characters some depth, establish more of a backstory for a lot of the key characters, and give some context to what it all means and open it up a bit. When he said that, you think remake, and, okay, here we go again. But as we started to talk it through, he had a really exciting vision that aligned perfectly with what Welcome Villain is about. When he brought up the idea of a remake, what exactly did this mean? Does this mean another sort of slow build atmospheric horror movie? Which is fine, but he said, ‘No, I want to do something different.’ The specific reference that excited us was, ‘I want to make something more in the tone of the 2013 Evil Dead remake. Something that is gonzo, all-out horror.’ We like to call it a rollercoaster ride through hell.”

The expanded scope and scale of Malum are evident during our set visit. The massive police station, complete with a full gymnasium, leaves behind remnants of already filmed scenes filled with eerie cult messages, growing mold, and debris from unsettling encounters for lead actor Jessica Sula’s character, officer Jessica Loren. 

During our visit, Sula has her hands full with a practical effects-heavy scene that sees her rookie cop character attempt to save Anna Cole (Valerie Loo) from the supernatural cult that’s descended upon the empty precinct. Let’s say that no bones or eyeballs are safe.

In the scene, Jessica Loren comes across a cultist attempting to make a ritual sacrifice of Anna, who’s hanging from the rafters by a noose around her neck. Despite the cop’s best efforts, she’s no match for the supernatural forces intervening, ensuring a grisly outcome that leaves Sula doused in gallons of blood.

Because Malum’s production embraces practical effects, this means careful setup to pull off the tricky scene. The amount of fake blood involved, combined with the blocking required for Sula and a harnessed Loo and the stages of Loo’s gruesome demise, required meticulous care in setting up and resetting takes. Luckily, Malum enlisted the talents of special makeup effects creators Josh Russell and Sierra Russell of Russell FX.

Josh Russell breaks down some of Anna’s intricate, grisly death. “This ghost rope that’s going to tighten around a neck until it breaks off a head, it’s a new and inventive thing to do. We haven’t shot some of the best pieces of that yet. We have a pickup day next week where the rope will break the fingers off underneath before it constricts around her neck. Really excited for that one.”

The FX artist also teases just how bloody this endeavor will get. Russell asked us on set, “Were you there for the shot where we dumped three gallons straight on the lead actress? We literally filled a trash bag with several gallons of it, held it over her head, and cut it, so it’s like a gusher. It completely covered her from head to toe.

Sierra Russell teases a demonic entity as she reveals what drew Russell FX to the project. 

“First, it’s always exciting to be able to do some new demonic creature,” Sierra Russell tells us. “Then again, not having super definitive design and making surreal stuff; I think a lot of the creature design stuff was a lot of fun. Then also just the ideas behind the gags that we were going to do because you don’t really see that stuff anymore. You don’t see a woman’s eye bulging out of her head or getting decapitated by a ghost rope; that’s cool.”

“Yeah, I enjoyed that it wasn’t sitting in a religious space or anything like that as more otherworldly,” Josh Russell adds. “For us, coming right off of Hellraiser, a lot of it has that language. Then we specifically talked about getting away from it, trying to do it differently, or doing things we couldn’t do in that film. It was just the freshest thing in front of our plates at the time. We also trusted that they would do an excellent job getting it out there since the first movie has some renowned fans. They’re starting this production company from the ground up here, and we know that they’re going to push it so it’s going to get a lot of attention. It made us want to do a good job.”

Sierra Russell reflects on trying to separate Malum‘s mysterious Temple Baron from the Russells’ work on David Bruckner’s Hellraiser, a dream job.

It was funny because we said, let’s make sure that we’re not doing the Hellraiser that we’ve already done. It was fun, especially with this one. A lot of other crew members would comment on some of the makeups we did here, and they’re like, you look like a Cenobite. I was like, no, which is exciting. It’s more like an old school, super grotesque Cenobite. If the rest of my life was like, okay, Sierra, make Cenobites for the rest of your life, that’s a dream. I would love to do that. Any movie that wants to come on and have me create some weird creatures that reference Cenobites I’m for it. It was a lot of fun.”

DiBlasi, meanwhile, gives more insight into the cult. He previews, “I didn’t want it to be satanic. Meaning it feels demonic, but I wanted to create its own thing, its own verbiage, its own creatures, its own deities. This cult, what they worship, and why they’re doing what they do, I didn’t want, ‘Oh, they’re devil worshipers.’ Even in the first one, we used a real demon for that mythology, with Paimon being this king of hell character. So with this one, I want to eliminate all that. I want to rename the flock, which they’re called in this one, Flock of the Low God. All this mythology has been built, and I didn’t know it. Even from all those years ago, I had been seeding these ideas that cultivated to this, characters like the Low God, who they pray to, and this character called the Temple Baron, who came to me in a dream a few years ago.”

Part of what made Last Shift so effectively terrifying was its sound design, particularly where the scares are concerned. Kleifield ensures that continues here, as he shares DiBlasi’s unique approach: the filmmaker took time to roam the vacant halls of the abandoned police station to capture its sound.

“That was something that’s been on his mind since the beginning,” Kleifield says of DiBlasi. “We were talking about how he brought in a sound team to start capturing very specific audio recordings around this building, which you don’t usually do. You don’t usually have your sound post-production team before you even shoot a single frame of the movie coming through and recording all that stuff. But yeah, he got some stuff that already is nightmarish and pretty haunting just utilizing this space and some of our crew and everything. So it’s definitely going to be one of the most important elements of the film.

Considering just how eerie the four-story building is on its own, as if trapped in a different era of time, it’s safe to assume the sound team nailed the horror of it all.

Malum’s ambition with its demonic lore extends to the cult worshiping the entity. Prepare to get even further acquainted with the cult members here.

Clarke Wolfe in ‘Malum’

Actor Clarke Wolfe, who plays cultist Dorothea, shares, “We are members of John Malum’s [played by Chaney Morrow] flock, and we each serve different purposes within the flock and represent different things. Dorothea is devout. She’s probably the most, according to Anthony [DiBlasi], probably the most devout member of John’s flock. A word that he and I have both used about her character is confident. She’s very confident in the mission, in his word, in what’s going to happen, and so, as a result, I feel like she’s honestly calmer than maybe some of the other members of the flock.”

Wolfe comes to this role as a huge fan of the 2014 original. “I feel like the original Last Shift is one of those best-kept horror indie secrets. If you know about it, you love it. I think horror fans have really responded to it over the years. What I love about the comparison is, or comparing what we’re doing now to the first, you can tell that there were budgetary restrictions. Anthony is making an independent horror movie, and he’s doing so much on camera and relying on the actors, which he still obviously is. But I can see the talent and him working against those constraints in the first film. What’s so great about this is an opportunity to still lean on all of his directorial talents but have more time, space, and effects and see that vision colored in just a little bit more.”

While Dorothea presents a more calculated member of Malum’s flock, Kitty (Morgan Lennon) serves as the wild card. 

Lennon states, “Then there’s Kitty, who is more so the concubine of the group. She goes around and is ridiculously devout to John but also thinks she will get something in return. Kitty keeps saying that she hears these voices that are going on, but all the other girls are like, ‘No, she doesn’t,’ but she wants power, and she wants to climb up that totem pole but never quite gets there. She’s very explosive; you don’t know what will come out of her mouth, what she’s going to do or say. But Anthony has said the only thing that she’s very caring about is animals, and she does not want them to get hurt. She doesn’t care about people, but animals are the one thing.”

That’s great news for the Flock of the Low God’s pig, but less so for any human that dares to cross Kitty.

Finally, DiBlasi reassures that Last Shift fans will see some familiar elements carry over into Malum. He tells Bloody Disgusting, The character of Bash-Faced Betty, who did appear in the first film, that’s one of those things that carried over again with a much deeper mythology in this movie. And we really wanted to change out that design. Making this movie, everyone was completely different, besides my wife Natalie [Victoria], who plays the same character. She’s the Easter Egg, but I was surprised at how different it felt.”

Prepare to feed the demon when Malum arrives in theaters this Friday, March 31, 2023.

Anthony DiBlasi and Jessica Sula behind the scenes

The post ‘Malum’ Set Visit – Expanded ‘Last Shift’ Reimagining Aims to Be Rollercoaster Ride from Hell appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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