The folks behind the Canadian production company Black Fawn Films (Antisocial, In the House of Flies) are as hard-working, down to earth and humble as they come in this industry. You can see their steady growth with each passing film. The craftsmanship is impressive especially considering their insanely low budgets. That willingness to better themselves as artists is apparent whenever you talk to them face to face. Black Fawn takes great pride in building their brand in a real grassroots sort of way. I’ve run into them on several occasions at the convention scene and have never met a group more passionate towards both the filmmaking process and the genre itself. You can get stuck for hours at their booth, chatting up about shared experiences especially growing up loving movies. That undeniable affection towards the past is clear as day with their latest production The Drownsman. It’s a straight-faced, total throwback to early Wes Craven, most obvious being A Nightmare on Elm Street. The film accompanied by its gorgeous poster artwork would be more than welcome on the video shelf, when that sort of thing was all the rage.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Co-Writer/Producer/Director Chad Archibald (Neverlost, Ejecta) to talk about Black Fawn’s latest venture and beyond.
Q: What was the genesis behind The Drownsman?
Chad Archibald: When I was growing up, I loved all the Nightmare on Elm Streets, all the Jason films, all the iconic villains. When we (Archibald and his co-writer Cody Calahan) came up with this concept, it was us wanting to make one of those films…with a tiny budget but that was the inspiration.
Q: How did the story of The Drownsman came to be?
CA: I started watching horror films at such a young age. My mom basically realized that it would shut me up for a long time so she put me in front of some horror films. We were just trying to come up with an iconic villain. Everyone has got their little hook — Freddy has fire. Water is terrifying to me. I couldn’t swim for the majority of my life. I’m still a pretty poor swimmer. I was always terrified of drowning so that’s always been a huge thing with me. When Cody and I started to discuss it, we just realized it’s an element that hasn’t really been explored in this genre all too much. I think part of it is just the fear that when you drown there’s no blood and horror movies love blood. So we did this film and there’s maybe a cup full of blood in the entire film where our other films we literally brought in like 15 gallons of it. The more blood the better. So I know it was kind of a risk doing that but the concept of claustrophobia and being underwater is so terrifying that we felt it could work.
Q: What was the challenge of still maintaining that edge in the material?
CA: I think the idea that water is everywhere. We’re in a world where water is safe but at the same time water has the potential of becoming dangerous. It’s literally everywhere. The idea of using it as kind of a portal; if you spill a cup of water, The Drownsman can reach out and drag you into the table. We kept with the idea that water can become a threat no matter where you go. Yes, there’s no blood but we have that element of fear dragging you into it plus the character of The Drownsman. His backstory (which will be further explored in a potential sequel) is that basically he’s been in the womb for too long. When he was born, he was basically a two and a half year old child. His mother was so obese that she didn’t even realize she was pregnant. She died during childbirth. His father beaten him all his life and because he was in the womb for so long he had vivid memories of being underwater and feeling the heartbeat of a woman. As he grew older, he started kidnapping these women, bringing them into his basement tub and holding them underwater to relive the sensation of hearing the heartbeat of his mother.
Q: How did you come up with the look of The Drownsman?
CA: We watched a bunch of stuff even about the Titanic, boats that have gone down and finding bodies that are bloated and wrinkly. The idea that he’s a bloated body that’s been walking around for a while so his skin is hanging. We worked with Jason Derushie (one half of The Brothers Gore FX who were behind Monster Brawl and Exit Humanity) on the design. Ry Barrett (who plays The Drownsman) was in the makeup chair for four hours. The inspiration was just kind of soggy, something creepy and terrifying. We wanted to stay away from iconic looks such as The Ring with just wet hair.
Q: I absolutely adore your poster. If I had seen this cover art in the video store back in the eighties, I would have totally rented it. Can you tell me a little about how it was put together?
CA: I love the first Nightmare poster. We took that and few other classic horror inspirations and worked through it. We did a photo shoot with Michelle Mylett who played Madison in this bathtub that we got. I think all of the actual hands are my hands. We shot it all separately.
Q: How about all of the water elements?
CA: The majority of the water is actually real. There was a lot of splashing Michelle. She basically got under water and struck a pose with all of her limbs and water splashing out. A lot of that is real. The makeup on the hands is photoshopped because they are just my plain hands.
Q: You’re presently completing Antisocial 2. What can we expect?
CA: It’s much different from the first; the scope, the story. The first one was really contained. It was in a house, it was during a world much like ours now, dealing with social media, easily accessible. We like cliffhanger endings but we never actually talked about doing a second one or what the story would be. In the first one Michelle is pregnant so in this one, we continue the story with her and her child, in a world years later with this idea that social media kind of took over the world, got a mind of its own and where we would be. It was so interesting to create this world where people are so afraid of technology. We have burning crosses with computer monitors on it. It’s a post-apocalyptic but technology-based world where if you’ve never been on this website The Social Redroom (the protagonist of Antisocial), you’d always be terrified of a screen, a monitor. We live in a world where we’re connected through social media all the time. I can reach out to whoever I want in my friends’ list, wherever they are in the world. The idea moving forward is that the users have been turned by The Social Redroom; they’re all connected like the Borg. It’s very different yet there are elements that we drew from Skynet, the Borg, zombie films and squished them all together.
Q: How many films does Black Fawn have slated to make with Breakthrough Entertainment?
CA: Including Antisocial 2, there are nine films we are slated to make. The majority we have lined up are all genre. When we signed this group of films with Breakthrough, we didn’t want to start pumping out generic, faceless horror films that are just going to get swallowed up. We still want to continue doing what we do, coming out to conventions and talking to people face to face. We worked really, really hard on concepts, turned down probably five hundred scripts. Concept is king for sure. It’s a huge thing for us, making sure we keep the quality up, work as hard as we need to get this slate out and maintain the quality that Black Fawn and Breakthrough has done in the past.
The Drownsman screens at Toronto After Dark Film Festival on Sunday October 19th.