Last September, I had the chance to see Anthony Spadaccini’s latest movie, Head Case, the story of a serial killer and his family. Seen through the home movies that the family left behind when they ran from police, Head Case is one of the most disturbing movies I’ve seen in quite a while. So, I thought it would be interesting to not only sit down with the writer/director Anthony Spadaccini, but with the whole cast of the movie, Paul McCloskey who plays Wayne Montgomery, Barbara Lessin who plays Andrea Montgomery (Wayne’s wife), Bruce De Santis who plays Wayne and Andrea’s son, Todd and Emily Speigel who plays daughter, Monica and the producer of this (and all of Anthony’s films) Benjamin P. Ablao Jr.
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BM – Everyone what was it like working with Anthony?
PAUL: Working with Anthony was really great. I have worked with him before on his projects and he brings a certain enthusiasm and professionalism to each one.
BARBARA: It was great working with Anthony. He is very accommodating and pleasant to work with.
EMILY: Working with Anthony was a lot of fun. He had a really clear vision of not only what he wanted for the movie, but how he wanted the audience to experience the movie. It was great to just go along with what he wanted and step back and watch it happen.
BRUCE: It was really cool working with him. He knows what he’s doing.
ANTHONY: They’re just sugar-coating it. Come on guys, tell the truth. It’s okay to let the world know how you really feel. *laughs*
BM – Paul, was it difficult playing a serial killer? What was the hardest aspect of the role?
PAUL: It wasn’t hard playing a serial killer, you just have to get into a certain frame of mind when playing the role. I suppose the hardest part of the role was the killings and the manner in which the deaths had to be decided upon. Taking what was written and using that as a blueprint to develop the character in my own head. No pun intended. Plus, Anthony gave us a lot of leeway as far as what we were allowed to add to our characters, which made things a lot easier.
BM – Anthony, what gave you the idea for Head Case?
ANTHONY: I love horror films. Just love them. But I think the most effective horror films are the ones that get under your skin. The truly disturbing ones. And I wanted to do something different with the genre. Make a horror film that made the audience truly uncomfortable. Something intensely realistic and disturbing. I thought the whole pseudo-documentary/cinema verite idea would work very well here. I call it “pseudo-snuff.” Imagine a married couple who shot snuff films with their video camera. For their very own sadistic pleasure. They prey upon the weak, the vulnerable, the poor, the homeless. People who wouldn’t be missed if they disappeared. So, I took that idea and went with it.
BM – Everyone, were there any challenges to playing a family?
PAUL: The hardest part of the family was that we didn’t really act much like a family. We did things just more out of obligation than rather the love a family feels towards one another.
BARBARA: I really didn’t feel that it was a challenge playing a family. We seem like a family within ourselves since we as all get along and have a great rapport.
EMILY: Playing a family wasn’t all that much of a challenge. The first day I came to work with everybody, I did a little improvisation with my brother, Todd [Bruce De Santis] before we started filming. I had taken his video game away from him. We just played out the typical family dynamics. I teased Todd ruthlessly as the younger sister, sucked up – just a little – to my mother, and ignored my father for the most part. It was very much like my own family. I had a lot of fun with it.
BRUCE: Not really. I just had to get to know the people I would be shooting with. I already knew Anthony, so that definitely made things a lot easier.
ANTHONY: I was simply in awe of how well they all worked together. The chemistry was there almost immediately, which was amazing considering that none of them really knew each other prior to shooting. They had a little prep time, but for the most part they all just jumped right into it. Though it doesn’t work for some people, I’ve found that this method has worked best for films of this kind. Everything is spontaneous. There aren’t any performances. The actors ARE these characters.
BM – Barbara,what it hard to play the wife of a serial killer? What would you do if your husband told you he really was a serial killer?
BARBARA: I didn’t find it difficult to play the wife of a serial killer knowing that it was a movie. I don’t really have to worry about my husband in real life telling me that he was killing people since I’m not married. Any takers?
BM – Emily, Monica’s death is pretty dramatic and horrifying. How did you prepare yourself for that?
EMILY: Well in actuality, when I walked downstairs to discover my parents viciously tearing apart their victims, [the assistant director] Jim Ward had to keep pinching my arm to get my jaw to drop. It kind of hurt, and then in the final film you couldn’t see my face. But during the actual death, I just put myself in a situation not only where you were experiencing the terror of being killed, but then by someone that you thought you loved. How horrifying that betrayal would be, in addition to the prospect of death itself!
ANTHONY: Emily truly did an amazing job preparing herself. She was such a trooper throughout the whole thing. I knew from the very beginning of the writing process that her character was going to die – however, I didn’t tell Emily until the night of the shoot. It was a tough secret to keep. I don’t usually do things this way, but I wanted to get the best possible performance out of her prior to her actual death. Sometimes, when an actor knows that his or her character is going to die later on, you can see it in the performance. I didn’t want it to be transparent. But looking back on it now, I don’t really think it would have made much of a difference. Her performance was so real and honest. The terrifying ordeal her character goes through is one of the most haunting things I think I’ve ever seen or heard – even though it wasn’t real.
BM – Emily and Bruce, the kids are pretty clueless to most of the gruesome happenings thru most of the movie. Did that make it easier or harder to play the roles?
EMILY: I think it made it easier to play the role. It’s really hard to walk on eggshells around a family member when you know their secrets, especially one as horrifying as Wayne & Andrea’s.
BRUCE: It was fun not knowing what was going to happen next. It made it much more challenging.
BM – Everyone, would you consider doing a sequel?
PAUL: We do have a sequel in mind and in place.
BARBARA: Definitely. Working on it now. It is giving me another opportunity to allow my creative juices to flow.
EMILY: I would definitely love to do a sequel to Head Case. I loved working with everyone and it, as not only a movie but a horror film, was a much different process than a lot of other theatre I’ve been involved in.
BRUCE: Yes. I have other priorities in my life right now, but I’d definitely do one in the future.
ANTHONY: I wasn’t sure whether or not I wanted to do a sequel and never intended on doing one either. But here I am, working on one as we speak. It’s called The Ritual. I hate repeating myself, so I don’t plan on doing so here. I’ve retained some elements from Head Case, ones that worked the best – such as the pseudo-documentary style. But the mood, tone, and look will be drastically different. Continuing the story of Wayne & Andrea Montgomery was definitely a challenge at first, given the way that the first film ended. I ended up sharing the writing duties with Tanisha Dungee and Jay Cusack, both of whom I worked with in some capacity on Head Case. So they knew the material and what made the first film work, both creatively and logistically. After much brainstorming – and countless rewrites – we came up with a solid story. The Ritual isn’t just about Wayne & Andrea Montgomery. It can’t be. Their story as a couple was told in Head Case. In The Ritual, they’ve been forced out of their comfort zone. They’re dealing with being apart for the first time in their entire marriage. They each deal with it in their own way, though Andrea is quite limited on how she can deal with it. She’s taking the fall for something her husband set in motion to begin with. That’s not something that’s easily dealt with. We’ve also added new characters – and familiar faces as well – to help tell this story. Plus, The Ritual is being told from another character’s point of view. That makes it quite intriguing to create. Paul McCloskey & Barbara Lessin are returning as Wayne & Andrea Montgomery. Michael J. Panichelli, Jr.’s role as Detective John Haynes is expanded upon. We also have some new faces on board here. Joey Garrison, a newcomer, plays a teenage male hustler and budding serial killer whom Wayne has taken under his wing. Colleen Hawthorne, a local actress who’s done some commercial work here and there, plays Wayne’s new girlfriend. But the most exciting addition to the cast is Brinke Stevens. Brinke and I have been friends for a few years. Though I won’t reveal who she plays in the film, I will say this – I wrote the part specifically for Brinke. She brings such an ageless elegance & maturity to every role she’s ever played. It’s really the first time that I’ve had the opportunity to work with anyone who has name value. So, this is a new experience for me and I am looking forward to the challenge. Will there be other sequels? Maybe. If I feel that there’s still a story to tell. The way that Head Case and The Ritual both end, it would be somewhat hard to continue the story without lapsing into “spin-off” territory. But it’s possible. We’ll see. That’s down the road a bit.
BM – Everyone, was there ever any second thoughts about doing a movie that was this intense?
PAUL: There weren’t any second thoughts to the movie. We did have some second thoughts on certain types of killings and the age in which we were going to murder.
BARBARA: Not at all. It was an awesome experience.
EMILY: The funny thing is, when friends would ask me what Head Case was about and I’d tell them, they would look at me with, well, disgust. It’s a movie I never, ever, ever would have gone to see. Not if you paid me. But being involved in the process of making the movie, it kind of numbs you to a lot of it that is not only disgusting, but could be extremely offensive. We had a lot of inside jokes about some stuff that normally wouldn’t be funny. We offered each other ginger ale a lot.
BRUCE: No, not at all. I love scary movies and making one was just as fun as watching it.
ANTHONY: There were definitely some scenes that were pretty unpleasant to shoot. And others were almost too disturbing to put into words. We tried to keep the mood on set as light as possible and for the most part we succeeded. At times, it would just turn into a big joke. Luckily, the light mood didn’t bleed over into the final product.
BENJAMIN: There were no second thoughts as the EP/Producer in the creation of this movie. My only concern was that I didn’t want this film to just be another torture porn movie or something really just unoriginal or unimaginative. Once Anthony presented the story line and premise, I knew that Head Case was not going to be one of those movies and we proceeded forward with the planning and the production. The intensity of the film was purposely high in order to obtain the strongest possible reaction from the audience, whether positive or negative. It is in this response that makes our films memorable in the minds of the viewers.
BM – Benjamin, Exec producer and producer are very hard (mostly thankless) jobs. What’s it like for you working with Anthony? And, have you ever given any thought to a role reversal with Anthony, letting him produce while you write and direct?
BENJAMIN: I agree that the EP/Producer roles are definitely thankless jobs, as much work goes into the production anywhere from the legal paperwork to the actual management of the cast/crew. My working relationship with Anthony has been one that has been both a rewarding and an exhausting one: Rewarding in the sense that it inspires me to no end the creativity and faithfulness that he brings to this art; Exhausting in the sense that the creative brainstorming never ceases no matter what time of the day or night it is and the dedication we share in ensuring the completion of a shoot / production. A role reversal with Anthony? That is a very interesting consideration. In the future, I would not mind sitting in the Director’s chair to bring my vision to life. I have, very rarely at times, had to overrule Anthony on a production call, so I am sure he’d love to do it to me. But seriously, maybe I would but for the time being, I am very happy in the roles I play now.
ANTHONY: Tell Ben that I am waiting for my chance to tell him what to do. *laughs*
BM – Everyone, what drew you to this project?
PAUL: Definitely the passion that Anthony & Ben brought to the table.
BARBARA: When I was first asked to do this project, I was elated. It was a challenge within my self to make Andrea my own character which I feel was accomplished. It allowed me to be creative and make Andrea her own person in that she was a neat freak, but helped her husband with the messy stuff. It just made no sense and I absolutely loved it.
EMILY: Well, I found out about it because my mom works with Barbara Lessin. I wasn’t really told exactly what the movie was like, but at this point, anything that I can do to get experience or get my name out there is something I want to do. Even if it meant helping cut up chicken skin to use for the victims. I’m a vegetarian.
BRUCE: It sounded like a pretty intense, disturbing project to be a part of.
BM – Everyone, what’s next? Any projects you’re working on now?
PAUL: The sequel.
BARBARA: Working on another project with Anthony, the sequel to Head Case.
EMILY: What’s next? Again, anything I can get my hands on. Right now, I’m just working on getting through high school. But an acting job would be nice!
BRUCE: I’m just focused on going to school and working, but maybe sometime in the future I’ll get involved in another project as awesome as this one was.
ANTHONY: Besides some recent re-shoots for Head Case, I am working on several projects simultaneously. One of them is a feature film, title to be determined. It’s an experimental visual project dealing with grief & heartache and the mental, emotional, and physical rituals we all put ourselves through. It will be one of my most surreal films. I guess the best way to describe it is Emo Pill on a
id. In the summer, we’re shooting a feature length silent comedy based on a/s/l – A Tale of Online Dating which features the Trevor character from Monday Morning & The First Date. I’m also writing a mockumentary called Therapy – about a celebrity therapist who’s fallen on hard times. So, I’m definitely looking forward to the next couple of years.
BM – Everyone, did making Head Case make you want to do more horror?
PAUL: Been there, done that, doing it again.
BARBARA: It made me want to continue to do more acting projects whether horror or otherwise. When we were shooting this project, it was very interesting to see how some of the murders were put together to resemble lifelike situations. Making the blood, my special blend of ginger ale, and that scene in the bathtub that Wayne outdid himself with the supposed druggie.
EMILY: I would love to do more of anything. I don’t want to be a blonde, shrieking girl in a very typical horror movie. I tried really hard to avoid that during my death scene.
BRUCE: I loved being a part of a horror film, but I will definitely consider other genres if I have the opportunity.
ANTHONY: Definitely. Doing the sequel now. I may do other sequels depending on how things go. I wrote another horror script a couple of years ago and finished it last year. I also have an idea for a silent horror film. That may be on my plate sometime in the near future. Who knows? I never rule anything out.
BM – Thanks guys.
All – Thank you.
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I just saw a directors cut of Head Case (a review of which is in this very issue of Rogue Cinema!), and I have to say it’s still a great movie after multiple viewings. You can find out more about Head Case by heading over to the Head Case MySpace page, if it’s playing at a fest near you, you’d be wise to check it out! We here at RC, wish the cast and crew all the success in the world, and we can’t wait for that sequel!