Staci Layne Wilson (INTERVIEW)
You recently directed FETISH FACTORY, how did that come about?
I have been an entertainment reporter since 2001. A few years back, I started hosting a horror talk show called This Week in Horror and also began writing for Dread Central. It was through interviewing Michael Biehn and his wife Jennifer Blanc about their projects, that I got the opportunity. Jen is the fire behind their independent film production company but I didn’t think much of it until one day when I got a PM from her asking to see links to the short films I’d directed. The short films I did were arty and experimental – one was a romantic dreamscape with Ogre from Skinny Puppy playing Edgar Allen Poe, while the other was sort of a Maya Deren inspired exploration of love and loss based on a Bob Dylan song. In short: what I was doing artistically was not exactly horror! I didn’t hear anything back – I wasn’t even presuming she’d asked to see my work out of anything other than curiosity – and forgot all about it. Then about a year later, Jen and her producing partner Lony Ruhmann presented me with the opportunity to write and direct a feature combining two things I love: vintage vixens and bloodthirsty zombies. Of course, I jumped at the chance.
With the casting of so many scream queens, was that an easy task?
Yes! There are so many wonderful actresses out there, I wish I could have had even more on board. But with a low-budget production that’s completed in five days in one location, you can’t go too crazy. I already knew Carrie Keagan from my years as a junketeer. She had not yet played a lead in a feature film yet – though thanks to timing, she’s had plenty of movies released ahead of Fetish Factory now – but I knew she would be perfect as Bettie. I was also friends with Diane Ayala Goldner before casting her. She is John Gulager’s wife and had been in most of his films, but I was most impressed by her performances in my short films so giving her a larger role in my first feature was a no-brainer. Same with Emma Jacobs, who has been my beautiful muse forever. Jenimay Walker, who plays a Rosie the Riveter meets Rollergirl inspired character, and Tristan Risk, who plays her whip-cracking self, we brought on by Jen. Jen also stars in the film as “the sexy, stylish, and scintillating” blonde bombshell Jayne.
And we can’t forget the incredible male cast! Chase Williamson from John Dies at the End is an actor I’d never met, but always liked. So, I just reached out to him and sent him the script. I’m grateful he took it, because he’s great as Jake. Jesse Merlin is someone I knew from the L.A. theater scene. He played Dr. Hill in Re-Animator: The Musical, and I just love the outrageous persona he brings to everything he does. Ruben Pla is hilarious as Whipping Boy, and Tom Ayers nails it as a character based on Irving Klaw. Steve Wastell, a bona fide magician, and Daniel Quinn from the surreal movie Rubber, were brought on by Jen. They both exceeded my expectations! She also brought The Richard, a Montreal fetish icon, which definitely adds cred. Then my boyfriend Aaron Kai plays a kung-fu zombie – what could be more swinging 70s grindhouse than that?
The film is based around a burlesque parlour, something new for the genre, why was that?
The burlesque scene is alive and kicking – and twerking and shimmying – in Los Angeles. I love the beauty and history of the art form, so that’s why I chose it as a backdrop. As luck would have it, a friend of Diane’s lived at the Horace P. Dibble House (a historic landmark) which just happened to be a working burly-q establishment. So, we had the stage, the dressing room, and everything we needed right there. We dressed the sets, but very little extra pizzazz was needed. The place was oozing with kitsch, which I think really comes across in the film.
The film has a B-movie aesthetic to it, what is the charm of stripping back movies to being fun, something that's hard to find these days?
It’s a bit of schlock and awe, isn’t it? Well, it’s a B-movie partially due to budget and partially due to my sensibilities. I love the simple whimsical sexiness of the painted pinups by Varga and Elvgren – and I’m also a fan of the slightly kooky but still-scary Fulci zombies from The Beyond. You’ll notice a wink to the character of Emily in their creepy all-white eyes.
The cast looked like they had a blast on Film, was it as fun behind the scenes?
You’d have to ask the cast! There was no behind the scenes fun for me as the writer-director and co-producer. Technically, I worked 12 hours a day but I started earlier than everyone in the morning and was among the last to leave. Then when I got home, I’d have a ton of emails, call sheets and sides to go over. I enjoyed the experience, but there was no time for extracurricular chit-chat. I will say the atmosphere on was very relaxed and everyone pulled together to make things happen. There were no divas.
FETISH FACTORY being your feature debut, how challenging was it to take on?
Not too bad. I’d spent tons of time on film sets all over the world as an entertainment reporter for the SyFy Channel plus made my own short films. So, I knew what to expect in terms of the moving pieces and how the job works. Most low-budget productions shoot for an average of three weeks. We had five days, with a relatively large cast, dance routines, zombie stunts, makeup for burlesque beauty and monster-faces. It’s a tall order. But I loved doing it that way. There no time to stop and fret over anything: you just do it. That’s my usual working style when it comes to anything – hit the ground running and make it happen.
You also produced THE FIANCE, what bought you into that?
I got into that through Aaron. I in turn brought in Carrie Keagan, and the incredible creature-man Douglas Tait as Bigfoot. The movie is out now via VOD and the DVD will be on Amazon in January 2017. It’s a really fun flick, and has a lot of blood! There are some seriously squirm-inducing moments of pain in that one.
Your next film GOOD FAMILY TIMES, what can you tell us about about your next venture?
This is another Blanc-Biehn Films production, and it’s based on an idea by Lony Ruhmann. I can’t help it with the humor but in this case, some of the characters are funny but the genre is definitely not comedy. I break it down like this: Tourist Trap meets Panic Room. The premise of home invasion is inherently scary, then you add some menacing mannequins to the mix and you are in for one helluva fright. Arielle Brachfeld from The Haunting of Whaley House is the lead, and she’s fantastic. As the victim of this circumstance, she had to play a lot of different emotions and she is mesmerizing – you can’t take your eyes off her when she’s onscreen. One of the vile villains is Elissa Dowling, whom I’d known for years – I put her in a music video I did for The Ventures and she has a small role in Fetish Factory (as a Bible-thumper of all things!). She plays Cookie – not after “Empire” but rather a nod to the manipulative character played by Marlene Dietrich in The Blonde Venus. The Richard plays a rather unhinged character and he has a lot of fun with it. In one scene, he asked me if he could channel Linda Blair from Savage Streets. I said Go for it, and wowee!, did he ever. Matt Lasky, who is going to be in the “Training Day” TV series, plays the scaredy-cat of the home-invader trio.
What's next for you after that? Do you see yourself staying with the Horror genre?
I have a cat-and-mouse psychological thriller called Psycho Therapy debuting in 2017. It’s a short, but it’s got a ton of impact thanks to the incredible leads. Brooke Lewis from Killer Rack shows that she’s got some serious dramatic acting chops, and then Ricky Dean Logan from Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare totally kills it! I can’t wait for everyone see it. I love horror. My ultimate dream is to be able to make dark and disturbing art films like Amer or The Neon Demon.