[Set Visit Interview] ‘Cassadaga’ Director Anthony DiBlasi

Cassadega

Having its World Premiere Saturday, October 22 at 4PM as part of the Screamfest LA Film Festival is Anthony DiBlasi’s Cassadaga, his followup to Dread starring Kelen Coleman, Kevin Alejandro, Louise Fletcher, Rus Blackwell, Hank Stone, J LaRose and Amy LoCicero.

Leading up to the premiere, Bloody Disgusting has been taking you behind-the-scenes of the production in our exclusive set reports. You can read part 1 here, with an exclusive interview with Anthony DiBlasi awaiting you after the break.

Devastated by the death of her younger sister, Lily Morel seeks solace at the spiritualist community of Cassadaga. But instead of finding closure, she contacts something else – the vengeful ghost of a murdered young woman. With her life crumbling all-around her, Lily races to unravel the mysterious circumstances surrounding the woman’s death – a task that will bring her face-to-face with a sadistic serial killer known only as “Geppetto”.
David Harley: Coming off of Dread, a lot of people thought Pig Blood Blues would be next on the slate for you. What appealed to you about Cassadaga to make it your next project?

Anthony DiBlasi: Well, I thought it was a unique script. It’s a classic story. You know what it was mainly… I wanted to do something, if you can believe it or not being here, something less twisted than what I’ve been doing with Clive. Pig Blood Blues is a very dark, niche ghost story, but in a much more twisted way. Not twisted like violent or sick, but just as in it’s bizarre and there are a lot of really bizarre things in it. We had some delays with the start date and this came up. I read the script and liked it, and it’s a really classic story. It had a lot of room for me to make an emotional story where it’s not only scary, but an audience can connect to it like they did with The Orphanage or The Sixth Sense when it came out. With Dread, to me, that was a very emotional story. There were characters in that that I thought people could relate to and feel bad for when things happen to them, but in much more than a horror movie way. I felt the same way with this; they were well rounded characters. And for a lot of the horror fans, it’s maybe too much drama, but it’s my taste to do dramatic things. This script had a lot of stuff, like shades of Silence Of The Lambs and What Lies Beneath, and I could tell they made a much more broader story with it.

BD: So you feel like fans of Dread are going to make the same emotional connection with Cassadaga? Or in a different way?

DiBlasi: Yeah, I think so. Dread was about angst; it was a step above teen angst, maybe college angst. It was about people’s insecurities and their fears, but it was fears on a more personal level. This is about loss and love, and life in general. Being strong and overcoming obstacles. The lead character, Lilly, is deaf, which also… A lot of filmmakers harken back to the same kinds of things. In Dread, there’s a character that, at one time, was deaf, and here, the character is deaf. It’s about being completely cut off from the world, and losing everyone you love. It’s basically the most isolated character you can be in her journey. I think it’s something people can understand and connect to with losing a loved one and feeling completely isolated.

BD: So far, all the films you’ve worked on – whether you’ve been involved as a writer, director, assistant director, or producer – have taken place in Clive Barker’s universe. This is the first time you’ve broken away from that in your film career. What is it like breaking away from that comfort zone?

DiBlasi: It was funny because I’ve been working with the same producers for the last ten years. Sure, us as a group have worked creatively with a lot of different writers, directors, production companies, and studios. So it was kind of like, `Yeah, I’m stepping away to do something on my own, going somewhere else, and working with new people.’ At first, it was a little daunting, but once I got here, it just fell into place. I’ve been lucky to really get along with the producers and writers, and assembling the crew and cast. We’re definitely a really happy family, so I feel like shooting this film really doesn’t feel too different from the rest of the ones I’ve worked on. I’m sure they’ll be some point in my career where it’ll be a nightmare, but it wasn’t it. (laughs)

BD: You also wrote Dread, so this marks the first time you’ve directed a film you haven’t written, too.

DiBlasi: I’m working off a script that I have absolutely nothing to do with. All the things I’ve produced with Clive, I was there at a the moment of inception… Not inception, conception.

BD: (starts humming Inception score)

DiBlasi: (laughs) The moment of inception; that’s how we get all our shit made, inception. So, I had been there throughout the development process and even took up rewriting duties. My agent usually sends me a lot of scripts and I’ll read stuff, but frankly, even if it’s a good script, if I don’t see the images, then I don’t want to do it. I would rather just concentrate on writing something of my own. But when I read this… I mean, it was a great script. It had the perfect combination of just enough things that got me really excited. It got my mind going. When I read it, I saw it and I liked the characters. And it had just enough flaws where it makes you feel like there’s room for growth. Because sometimes, you read a great script but it’s not enough to make you be like, `Oh my God, I need to do this!’ It’s just kind of just like, it’s good but do I really want to spend a year of my life doing this? This had enough of that that I wanted to do it. It’s been easy because of Bruce [Wood]. Our writing styles are very similar and when I give him notes on something, he’ll show me new pages and it’s exactly what I would want it to be. It’s almost exactly what I would have written myself. So we’re very much on the same page. It kind of liberates you a little bit, doing something that isn’t yours. I treat it the same way when I’m shooting it. I think when I shoot my own stuff, I think like a producer. I cut as I go and I change things all the time, so I’ve never been precious about my own writing and it’s the same with someone else’s.

BD: In all the films you’ve been involved with so far, you’ve managed to get some pretty big names involved. You had Vinnie Jones, Bradley Cooper before he was a big star, and Brooke Shields in Midnight Meat Train, Jackson Rathbone in Dread, James Van Der Beek in The Plague

DiBlasi: James Van Der Beek…

BD: I actually saw that for the first time a few months ago.

DiBlasi: I pretend that doesn’t exist. We just didn’t have enough money to make that movie the way we wanted to. But James is a cool guy.

BD: In Cassadaga, you have Russ [Blackwell]…

DiBlasi: We have Russ Blackwell, Kevin Alejandro from True Blood, Oscar winner Louise Fletcher…

BD: You seem to always have great luck assembling casts. How’d you get everyone involved this time around?

DiBlasi: It’s great. I got all my first choices, things definitely worked out on the movie. We started assembling our team here and had a really good caliber of crew. Kelen [Coleman] and I met in Los Angeles. She came into audition and I hadn’t seen her work before, but she blew me away. The second we met, I knew we’d click really well and that’s important to me. She inspired me in the readings to throw a lot of things at her in film that I was juggling in my head. I tested them on her in the room and she did really well with them. She’s gonna be a huge star. As far as Kevin [Alejandro] goes, when I saw him on True Blood, I knew I wanted him to be the lead male. He came in, and I met with him in L.A. He’s the only person I met for the part; other people read because you just never know what’s going to happen. But he came in, I took a meeting with him, and he signed on. With Louise Fletcher, we have this older character that’s 73. I was cycling through that age range, and I thought Louise Fletcher would be amazing for this. I went after her before I knew her parents had both been deaf – our lead character is deaf is this. Of course, she always gets asked to do a lot of things who are deaf, but I told her I had no idea, I just wanted her for the part. But I’ve always been lucky with casting because I think I pick things that are more dramatic and gives them something to chew on.

BD: The big question I have for you is that there’s very little information about the plot out there, aside from a two sentence synopsis online. Can you expand on it a little?

DiBlasi: The essential plot is about a deaf girl, Lily, who has been taking care of her little sister most of her life – her mother died years before. Her sister dies tragically at the beginning of the film and to escape things, she goes to Cassadaga University to study art. Her mother was an artist as well, and she was in the orchestra. Cassadaga is the psychic capital of the world, and she ends up going to a séance to contact her sister, but another spirit intervenes. The spirit belongs to a murdered girl who needs her mystery solved, and there’s a b-line involving a serial killer a la Silence Of The Lambs that intertwines at the end. It’s a very classic story, but it had very unique elements to it. But that’s the essential plot line. The serial killer has what you’d call a puppet fetish, and he turns the girls into living marionettes. He strings them up on a rigging system that’s essentially like a full sized marionette doll, and he can control them while they’re still alive. He cuts off their limbs and recreates them as real marionettes. So, that’s it. Easy enough.

BD: (laughs) Easy enough. She’s being challenged by both a spirit and a serial killer.

DiBlasi: Exactly. But my main goal is that I didn’t want the movie to be about a girl who’s challenged by a ghost or serial killer. I want it be about a girl who’s younger sister died tragically. These other things are happening to her, but they don’t define her in the movie. That main drive is to essentially have closure with her sister. And that’s the through line. And maybe it happens and maybe it doesn’t.

BD: I want to go back to the marionettes because that’s what I’ve been seeing you work with all day on set. I got the call sheet yesterday, and tried visualizing it on the drive over. But what I pictured in my head wasn’t as organic looking as what I’m seeing, which kind of blew me away. I got a chance to visit the editing room earlier, and from what I can tell, there are a lot of practical effects in the movie, not just what I’ve seen on set today. When you read the script, did you picture them the same way as they’re playing them out? Were the effect heavy scenes in the script part of the reason you were attracted to it?

DiBlasi: Yeah, definitely the puppet scene in particular. I knew going into it that I had to have a really good make-up effects team. Most of the things we’re doing is practical; today we’re shooting very simple visual effects work, but under practical prosthetics. To achieve this many effects, you really need to have a top-of-the-line effects guy and I was lucky enough to get Lee Grimes, who’s local. He’s worked on so many projects, and he’s great. He’s not only a top, local guy, he’s one of the top guys in the country for special make-up effects. Everything he’s done is so realistic and terrifying, and that’s what I said to him going in. There’s horror, but when I do effects, I like to do effects that you don’t want to look at. It’s kind of like when you see a real dead body in person, you don’t want to stare at it. You want to turn away from it. That’s mainly what I wanted. The host has elements of fun to it; it’s something you do want to look at every once in a while. It’s a really effects driven movie, but it’s all been how I pictured it in my head.

BD: You mentioned that Bruce is in tune with your writing sensibilities and when you give him notes to rewrite stuff, it comes out exactly like how you would’ve written it. Given the heavy effects nature of the film, have any of the fixes dealt with effects and whether it’s practical to do it or not?

DiBlasi: Not much. Certainly with the effects and stunts, we’ve followed through with everything we’ve planned. A lot of the rewrites happened during pre-production and dealt with locations once we’d scouted. And then, of course, little fixes; stuff from my notes about the first draft. I think my style with the actors is very loose, so things tend to evolve as we go anyway. Usually, it doesn’t require rewrites. They play with their characters and develop things on their own. I like to give them a lot of freedom to mess with stuff, and I do that with my own stuff as well.

BD: There’s something really cool I noticed in the dungeon set, and I don’t want to give away what the item is, but it’s a nod to Dread. Are there a lot of Easter eggs spread throughout the film? Are they all from Dread?

DiBlasi: There are. There’s about five. They’re from different things, but 3 are from Dread. But I’m telling you what or where they are. (Grins)