Writer-director Michael S. Ojeda’s Avenged (formerly known as Savaged) is a feast of vengeance and he likes it that way. It takes the tried-and-true rape/revenge film and mixes it with the white-man scalping genre of Redsploitation (Native American revenge). The combination makes for one kinetically brutal thriller filled with heaps of graphic violence and sincere heart. Literally, a heart gets eaten in this movie. If you hate racist rednecks as much as I do, then Savaged is one helluva cathartic experience.
After a long wait, Avenged is finally being released in the U.S. this week. We first reviewed it two years ago (here) and we first talked to Ojeda a year before that (here). So this release has been a long time coming. We recently spoke with Ojeda again to discuss that long road to release, the film’s inception, learning a sacred Apache ritual, and all the bloody details in between.
Avenged hits select theaters and VOD March 6!
We first interviewed you back in 2012 when you were editing the film. Could you talk about what the past three years have been like as far as the movie and its journey?
It’s been a roller coaster from the very beginning. It took a long time to get it edited and I handled most of the post-production myself. Finally when it was done and we had premieres around the world. The European premiere was at Stiges and the Asian premiere was in South Korea. So we started off with a bang and then basically for a little over a year it’s been doing festivals just everywhere. Japan, Germany, the UK, Australia. So the official release has been a long time coming and it’s honestly been a little frustrating, almost like working in reverse.
I know you did a lot of TV work before this. Can you talk about the inception of the film and how you managed that transition?
I did a feature actually 10 years ago, it came out in 2004. It was called Lana’s Rain and it did okay but it didn’t propel my career in the direction I wanted it to go. So after that I sort of fell into the television documentary recreation world. The highlight of that was doing Deadliest Warrior in 2009 and 2010. When I moved to LA it was a little bit of a struggle because I’d done a feature but it wasn’t really a big breakthrough so I was struggling to get that next film going.
Years after Deadliest Warrior I had met a lot of different people and I became stronger as a director on a number of different levels. So when I started to think about my next film I wanted to make sure it wouldn’t miss its target audience like my first one did. I love action movies so I was just toying around with this idea of something that could be shot out in the desert. And I like spirit possession movies, I like revenge movies, I like female-driven films, so I put all that together and thought of the idea for Avenged. At the time the I Spit on Your Grave remake hadn’t been done yet, so it was still fresh.
I don’t know if you read my review from two years ago…
Of course, those are the things that keep me going.
Yeah I adored it because it’s a Native American revenge theme, which I love, wrapped around a rape-revenge plot, wrapped around a forbidden love. Can you talk about your approach to the story?
I wanted to do something that I hadn’t seen before. If I’ve seen it, i don’t want to do it, you know? Like when someone like Guy Ritchie got big, everyone wanted to copy his style. I wanted to do something fresh. You put so much work into a movie, so much time and so much effort to just do a movie to appease a wide audience or for the sake of shock value, to make people cringe or to make people squirm in their seats, that wasn’t really my goal. I wanted to do a movie that would touch on a number of emotions. I wanted to make a movie to scare people, of course, but I also wanted them to feel the highs of victory. I wanted them to feel a whole rainbow of emotions from this one movie. So I made this movie with heart. Unfortunately when you do that you get people who want to go see just the horror and they want to keep the romantic elements separate. So I’m glad the audience has been embracing this film that’s trying to accomplish a number of different things.
Your first film, Lana’s Rain, dealt with the immigrant experience. And Avenged deals with inherent racism in the U.S. Is there an explicit statement you’re trying to make?
No but I’m using these issues as a springboard. I like stories about character struggles and underdogs who have to overcome great odds to prevail. Whether it’s the issue of prostitution, which at the time of Lana’s Rain was prevalent, and the fall of Communism, I used those to tell a character-driven story. With Avenged, we’re dealing with the Native American turmoil and the things they’ve gone through in America. I used that as the backdrop.
And I love that you cast actual Native Americans. It shows a lot of respect.
The Native American acting community is actually quite small, which is surprising when you consider the number of movies concerning them. But there isn’t really a big pool of actors, so once you reach out to one group, they sort of tell all their friends. We did a normal casting process and once we started they would tell people and we’d get more recommendations. I was really blessed to have found Joseph Runningfox. If you look at some of his credits he’s done a lot of big movies, including Ravenous. He really brings the character to the surface, I was very fortunate.
And treating their culture with respect was important. We had consultants and Joseph is from a different tribe than the character, so we had to bring someone in from the Apache tribe to make sure what we were doing wasn’t too outlandish. I tried to keep it as authentic as possible, even though it’s a horror fantasy film. But the character’s actions are grounded in reality, to make it feel so much more real and vibrant. So we found a gentleman who specialized in Apache rituals and he met with me and Joseph and we sat together at my place and he showed me the rituals. He told us that you can’t use the actual rituals because it’s forbidden. So he showed us what the actual ritual would be like, but we weren’t allowed to use the wording or prayers. So it was interesting. We tried to be as real as possible without giving away secrets.
The rape in the film is done very tastefully, it’s more implied than anything. How did you prepare Amanda Adrienne for those scenes?
She prepared herself, basically. As far as preparation, we made sure that everyone was respectful and acted very professionally on the set. There wasn’t anyone on set that wasn’t supposed to be there. The actors for that scene, everyone around her, have been in a lot of stuff. There was Rodney Rowland and Ronnie Gene Blevins, who’ve been in a lot of stuff. So they definitely took a large degree of professionalism to the set to make Amanda feel comfortable.
A little aside about the whole rape-revenge thing. It’s funny, you know, because to me that was never what the movie was about. I know that the rape stands out in people’s minds when they see certain movies, like Last House on the Left. But to me as far as the category of rape-revenge film, it has slowed down the process of the U.S. release. It’s slowed down a lot of different things. If I had known that it was going to be such a taboo, I probably would’ve just had them kill her. Honestly, if I could go back and cut out even more I would.
Yeah you don’t see anything.
Because it’s not important and I don’t want to turn people off. It’s the critical action that these villains partake in that sets the story in motion, but there are so many other things too. But this whole rape-revenge category has held us back a bit in regards to getting our U.S. release. A lot of people are afraid of that topic. if I had just had them capture her, tie her up, and kill her, then the movie wouldn’t fall into that category. The movie isn’t about the rape. It’s not what makes this movie great. Besides all they’ve done to her, her body is starting to decay, you know? She’s actually a hero-zombie, is what she is.
The bow and arrow scene is so simple and amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a point blank bow and arrow scene before. How did you come up with that and what kind of training did Amanda have to prepare?
She did take kung-fu for about six months prior to making the film, but I’d say she learned the choreography more like a dance. She worked with the fight coordinators, getting the moves down. Action looks a lot trickier once it’s edited than it is doing it. It’s more of a dance. It’s funny you mentioned the point blank range arrow shooting, it was originally supposed to be something completely different. Originally the character Creed manages to get in his car as she shoots the first arrow. She starts running around the car and he’s shooting through the windows. Eventually what happens is he shoots the gas tank and it blows up. Of course since we were on a low budget we had to come up with a completely different idea. So I thought how I could make it powerful and I took the bow and arrow concept and gave it like this ballet effect. I thought it would be equally as powerful and certainly original.
And then with the chainsaw scene, it’s a common thing in horror and I wanted to do something different with it. I’d never really seen someone combat a chainsaw with a hand weapon. I thought it’d be cool. So Amanda trained a bit with a tomahawk and a hunting knife. She did an amazing job, it was all her, we didn’t use a stunt double in that scene. We shot that last fight over a period of two nights.
Do you know why the distributor changed the name from Savaged to Avenged?
The distributors have their reasons but I’m not quite sure what they are to be honest with you. They paid money for it so it’s up to them if they want to change the name. I don’t necessarily think it was a good idea, but they know what they’re doing. To me it’ll always be Savaged. To me it just makes things more confusing but it is what it is.
The intestine ripping scene in the bar has been featured in a lot of the promos for the film. It’s a great scene, but was there ever a point where you thought maybe you were going to far?
I don’t really have limits, to a point. I do when it comes to innocent people being tortured. Like the scene where we see Amanda being tortured, it’s the scene that sets everything in motion. So she needed to go through a certain level of hell. But I wanted to see the villains go through a much worse hell. When we were shooting it I didn’t think if it was too much because we can always cut it down if there’s a problem. I believe that you should take it to the extreme and then you could always cut it later.
That scene alone was shot a year prior to shooting the movie. That and a few more scenes we shot and then showed them to our associates. They saw those and said Oh my God we could film this in a heartbeat. So yeah the intestine scene may be extreme but it definitely worked.
I’m a fan of Ronnie Gene Blevins, I honestly think he’s one of the best character actor alive. What was it like working with him?
Ronnie’s intense. He was exactly what I envisioned in my mind. He didn’t even have to audition because he was this guy. Every time he came to the set he came prepared and every take he’d do something different. But he’s such a professional and I would work with him again anytime. You know, when you do a low budget film, you don’t have a lot of time to work with your actors. You have to move very quick. So when I bring actors on board, I want them to embody the characters . So thank God I had people like Ronnie on board. And he’s a very intense guy, but he’s really very sweet.
Do you have anything in the works that you can talk about now that Avenged is finally coming out?
Yeah, definitely. Right now we’re in the development phases, a script is done, and I don’t want to give too much away but it’s called Dominique. Basically it’s a female The Professional. A female Russian assassin is the primary lead and there’s a little girl who’s sold into human trafficking. She helps track her down and take down a whole organization in the process.
Thanks for talking to us and I’m wicked excited for people to finally see this movie.
Thanks so much.