The dark side of fame and social media are examined in Raymond Wood's powerful movie Faceless After Dark. Here he talks to NYX about this powerful movie.
NYX: Have you always been a fan of the horror genre?
RW: I don’t know that I would qualify as a “fan” per se, but I have an immense appreciation for the genre and its use as a vehicle to explore things that you typically can’t in mainstream entertainment. George Romero spoke very eloquently about how, in the 60s, 70s, and even into the 80s, if a film had certain elements - at that time, particularly intense gore and gratuitous female nudity - the financiers knew they’d make their money back no matter what, so if you incorporated those elements, you could talk about ANYTHING you wanted. Romero famously used that philosophy to great effect with films like Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead.
NYX: How did the whole project come together?
RW: The impetus for the film was actually a conversation I had with a business partner of mine, in which we were discussing the fact that the films he produced that had “killer clown” characters on the poster were by far his most successful financially. I thought it would be an interesting challenge to - similar to the way Corman worked - take those constraints and try to create something wholly unique and unlike anything you’ve ever seen with a murderous clown in it.
NYX: What did you think of the script when you first read it?
RW: What really excited me about it was that it was not only a thinly veiled critique on toxic fandom, but that in a lot of ways, it also held a mirror to the dark side of “trolling.” It cleverly dissected the idea that, with the anonymity of the internet and social media, you can say really hurtful, harmful things to other people, then log off and never have to acknowledge or face the consequences of your actions. That becomes even more potent when it comes to celebrities, or people with high visibility online: they become prime targets for degenerates who recreationally insult and degrade others.
NYX: It tackles the toxicity of social media and takes it to an extreme level, is there a correlation between the clown mask used in the movie and the mask used by those who take to social media to spout hatred?
RW: Yes, without a doubt! In many ways, we use technology as a “mask” to inflict harm on others, so embodying that notion in a faceless, nameless assailant felt like the perfect way to represent that on screen. In fact, if you look at the film’s credits, several of the character “names” are just their online usernames, which was a fun cherry-on-top of that idea for us.
NYX: Jenna Kanell, who not only stars (and is incredible) in the lead role of unhinged Bowie but is co-writer, what is she like to direct?
RW: Jenna also happens to be a director herself, which makes her a joy to work with because she’s acutely aware all the moving parts and all the things you’re up against. Especially on a “no budget” film like this, where you rarely have time to explore and unearth performances in a more organic way, it’s helpful to have someone who can take very little (and mostly unhelpful) direction in the heat of the moment and translate that into authentic human behaviour in a matter of milliseconds. She is also extremely prepared, immensely professional, and on top of that, she’s a trained stunt performer!
NYX: Was it all shot on location, and if so, what issues did that create?
RW: About 99% of the film was shot on location, which always presents a litany of challenges. In this case, most of the scenes took place at night, which meant we had to figure out how to black out every single window in our main house interior location to be able to shoot everything we needed within the short time we had access to the home. There are also a handful of scenes that we had to essentially “steal,” meaning Jenna and I would go out with only a small RED Komodo and capture footage in real environments.
NYX: The effects are very well realised, were they all done live?
RW: I would guess probably half of the special effects were accomplished practically and half were accomplished with the aid of visual effects. It’s tough to do practical “wet work” on a film this small because the reset time can eat up your entire day, so virtually any time you see liquid blood splashing around, it was either augmented or created entirely in post.
NYX: It’s bold, inventive, and filled with smart social commentary, how did you make sure none of this was lost under the more horrific scenes which in other hands could have been exploitative?
RW: It felt right to take a “less as more” approach to the thematic violence, specifically by embracing off-screen violence over on-screen violence. It’s been said a million times, but it doesn’t make it any less true: through the power of suggestion, what you construct in your mind will always be more interesting - and often more horrifying - than anything we can realistically conjure on screen.
NYX: The whole movie seems to blend several genres together, how would you describe it?
RW: In many ways, I think - and hope - this film is hard to label. My usual dissemination is that it masquerades as a standard home invasion thriller before abruptly switching gears to become a grisly, vitriolic feminist revenge-fantasy! But it’s also a LOT of other things…
NYX: Will you be nervous when the movie has its World Premiere at FrightFest 2023?
RW: Absolutely! To paraphrase one of the great filmmakers, movies are 25% visuals, 25% sound, and 50% what the audience brings to it - so seeing the film with an audience for the first time will be the true test that reveals whether or not it works!
NYX: So, what are you up to at the moment?
RW: We have a few things in the works! At the moment, I’m most interested in a film I’ve been developing for quite a few years about a young nomad returns to his home city in order to made amends with the people left in the wake of his volatile former life.
NYX: Raymond Wood, thank you very much.