Joston Theney has just finished shooting his latest flick, Axeman at Cutter’s Creek, and I recently got the opportunity to fire a few questions his way. Theney had previously directed Bleed 4 Me, a film that brought an action-movie sensibility to a genre premise, but the filmmaker’s first love has always been Slasher horror, including such classics as Happy Birthday to Me and the original Friday the 13th.
Given this, it seemed only natural that he would soon shoot a Slasher film of his own. I have to admit, when I first heard Axeman being described as (yet another) ’80s-style Slasher, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. Conduct a quick search of Slasher film projects on a site like Kickstarter and you’ll soon find that three quarters of them are described as “’80s-style,” while the remaining 25% look like wannabe Texas Chainsaw remakes.
This is to be expected, of course, given that many of the quality and/or popular indie Slashers of the past ten years—including Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, Hatchet, Laid to Rest, and Wrong Turn—have been sold as, described as, or lampoon the ’80s Slasher.
So I had to know, first off, just how Theney’s film differed. Theney is not one to mince words and, though he is quick to give all four above-mentioned films their due, he argues that the comparisons between them and their forebears are less than accurate.
“Each of those films are cool in their own right,” he says. “Hatchet is hilarious! Behind the Mask is a great commentary on ’80s horror villains. And Chromeskull and the inbreds from Wrong Turn made interesting antagonists. But let’s be real, neither of those films were really ’80s throwbacks. Or at least not ’80s throwbacks to the films I loved growing up.”
He offered me reason to give him the benefit of the doubt by insisting that he has no intention of adopting a tongue-in-cheek approach to the subject matter or its influences. “In Axeman at Cutter’s Creek we go back to the original themes of ’80s horror and play with those in a straight manner as opposed to poking fun at them. And the Axeman is not a commentary on ’80s villains—he is one. He kills everything that stands in his way and even the things that don’t.”
Theney is nothing if not confident in his creation’s abilities to stand its own against the competition. “From the first kill in this film,” he promises, “you will know why it can’t be placed in the same category as Victor Crowley, Chromeskull, Leslie Vernon and the inbreds. If you placed them all in a steel cage with the Axeman, he’d eviscerate them, tear down the cage and kill the audience!” Thems sound like fighting words—literally. I’d love to know what Julian Richings or Kane Hodder would have to say to such bravado.
Then again, the man playing Theney’s monster is no Warwick Davis. The Axeman is potrayed by former NBA star Scot Pollard—all 6 feet, 11 inches and 280lbs of him. So, okay, yeah, we know the guy can handle a basketball, but the kills in a solid Slasher depend on more than just a gigantic killer.
Theney’s confidence is high in the kill department too, and he gets some cred—from me, anyway—by shying away from the overuse of CGI. “I can tell you that myself and Executive Producer Christopher Otiko were largely opposed to CGI. Not because we think it’s terrible or anything like that—there are some awesome examples of CGI work in other films. We just wanted to stick to practical effects for this and emphasize the in-camera effects knowledge of our special effects guru Suzie Hale, which included her skills at producing very realistic gore.”
Theney’s not interested in producing over-the-top Hatchet-style kills; he doesn’t want you to laugh at the gore. “What we’re shooting for on this one is a seamless blend of ’80s slasher and modern storytelling. So we’re shooting for extreme realism in a surreal world. The blood does flow, but it’s very realistic. The kill that has taken the most care is a kill that (Hale) and I call ‘the walkout.’ It’s a death so unnerving that we’re betting most people will have to walk out of the theater or turn off the DVD/Blu-ray to hold back the ‘heebies’ and the ‘jeebies’,” he laughs.
Okay, now I’m more than a little intrigued. We’ve got a writer/director with a genuine love and respect for early Slashers, kills that—supposedly, at least—will give us both the heebies and the jeebies (so many modern Slasher skimp on the jeebies), and did I mention the film also features names that should be recognizable to any self-respecting horror fan, including original Scream Queen Brinke Stevens and reigning Queen Tiffany Shepis?
Theney had previously worked with both actors on Bleed 4 Me and, as he put it, “anyone whose ever worked with either lady will tell you that they are friggin’ awesome to collaborate with and that you’ll search for something to work with them on again.” So when that chance came ’round, he jumped at it, with Shepis inadvertently assisting with the casting process.
“After we wrapped Bleed 4 Me, Tiffany was at a party in the Valley and called me up, told me to get my butt over there asap to have some fun. I did and at some point was introduced to Elissa Dowling. I’d seen her work and thought she was a great actress and an even cooler person. Told her when I had something else, we’d work together. Then the perfect storm came for this film and I called all three, told them about the project and they were in.”Though the initial casting for the film was done by simply turning to trusted collaborators, assembling the rest of the cast took a tad more effort. “We held an exhaustive talent search for the perfect cast,” Theney explains. “As I’ve told my cast and I’ll tell you right now, I was willing to scour the Earth to find the perfect people for each role. Because of the nature of the project and the statement I wanted to make with it, it couldn’t be about who got closest to what I wanted. I had to find exactly what I wanted. And each cast member is just that. And they’re the most talented, beautiful cast of men and women in any project you’ll ever see.”
Awright, I’m sold and officially looking forward to more—and, conveniently enough, we’ll have plenty more right here, including interviews with Brinke Stevens and several other members of the Axeman cast.
Also, keep an eye out for exclusive Survive-a-Slasher tips from the ladies of Axeman at Cutter’s Creek!