By ROBERTO D’ONOFRIO
Following the success of their dark thriller The Oak Room, Black Fawn Films, the independent Canadian company founded in 2008 by Chad Archibald with Cody Calahan, Chris Giroux, and Jeff Maher, has returned with another hugely entertaining blood-soaked tale: VICIOUS FUN, directed by Calahan and penned by screenwriter James Villeneuve. The film follows Joel (Evan Marsh, Shazam), the deputy assistant editor for Vicious Fanatics, a horror magazine. Secretly infatuated with his roommate, Sarah (Alexa Rose Steele), he follows her new boyfriend Bob (Ari Millen) to a local bar and, after getting drunk, ends up passing out in a closet. When he wakes up, he is misidentified as the missing member of a therapy group for serial killers and will have to rely on his wits and horror know-how to make it through the night alive.
Blending comedy, thriller, horror, and action elements, VICIOUS FUN lives up to its title, delivering escalating sequences of gory, inventive deaths. Rue Morgue sat down with Calahan and co-founder/producer Chad Archibald to learn about the founding of Black Fawn Films and the film’s journey from concept to release.
Black Fawn Films seems to be very busy these days! In 2020 alone, you produced both The Oak Room and VICIOUS FUN, both directed by Cody. How did the company come about?
CA: Me and Cody Calahan started Black Fawn Films about twelve years ago, before that, we made some horror and action movies. I directed a couple of them and every time we did one, it took so long in between, as we had to find new funding and new ways to get it made on a budget, so it was difficult and always a challenge doing that, therefore we decided to start our own company, since 2008 we’ve done probably about 20 features and more than 150 music videos. We have Black Fawn Films which is our movies company, then we have Black Fawn Distribution which is our Canadian distribution company and Black Fawn Creative for music videos and commercials. In 2014 we signed a deal with Breakthrough Entertainment, a Studio based in Toronto, to produce eight films in two or three years. We had no ideas for them or anything, they just trusted us based on our previous works, as we had done three pictures with them before that, Antisocial, The Drownsman and Antisocial 2, and they all went well and we did them very quickly. So after those, we spoke again and they asked: “Can you do ten? We said: “Let’s try it!” We started working on the projects and pre-sold them all without any concepts, trying to come up with some ideas, but still, it was very challenging, because for any idea that got greenlit, there were probably fifty ideas that we pitched them they didn’t like. But we are on schedule and VICIOUS FUN is actually number eight. We were forced to take a break due to the pandemic, but we’ll be soon back to work.
CC: Yes, the hardest part in making a movie is that you have to convince somebody to give you money and you have to convince them that the idea is good enough that they’re going to get their money back. That’s indie filmmaking, that’s Canadian filmmaking, you have to make the money back. Raising the funds, getting a project together…that’s the hard part, so we got up together and founded Black Fawn Films, to produce our own movies. Basically, we are a bunch of filmmakers producing and distributing our films.
Your company has established itself as one of the most imaginative production studios to come up from the horror indie scene over the past few years. How do you come up with your concepts?
CA: Years ago, I remember walking into the Breakthrough Entertainment office and seeing a little sign near someone’s desk that said: “A good concept is hard to come by but, easy to recognize.” I think that’s so true and it’s stuck with us. We toss a ton of ideas around and develop a lot of treatments and scripts, but we only ever move into production on something that we believe will be different and better than our previous films. That way, we’re always raising the bar for ourselves. We’re always challenging our own concepts and the writers we work with, to push the creative aspects of our films further and further until it’s something unique.
You’ve described the company as a big family. How do you settle disagreements regarding your projects?
CA: Every family has disagreements and our family’s the same. The biggest thing is how you resolve your differences. We always try to build on communication and respect, nothing needs to be an argument, just a discussion to resolve an issue. 2020 has been a hard year because we’ve been locked down and just developing projects. We’re dying to get back into production. [Soon], we’ll be blowing the horn and bringing the old gang back together to shoot some insane films.
CC: We are a small crew so it’s easier to build strong relationships. We have discussions. We do something and say: “Well, that needs to be scary and it wasn’t, so let’s rethink this. Is it the camera angle? The lighting?” We try to approach the issue with our different ideas.
To be able to work with friends who share the same passion is fantastic.
CA: Yes, absolutely, and each one of us is great [at] doing his job. Me and Cody own the company and then we work with our producer Christopher Giroux [and] our cinematographer, producer, and director, Jeff Maherin. [In] 2016 he directed Bed of the Dead and his fiancée Steph Copeland, she’s writing all the music, so it’s a sort of a big family. Usually we are on set so much together and we are such good friends that when we go on vacation, we go on holiday together. We have a loyal family of people that have been working on all these films for such a long time that we became friends. Even our crew is very small and I am happy I have been able to put together this amazing group of people. It’s fantastic and very thrilling, as we do love making movies and the idea of doing one after the other is kind of exciting because you know that for the next years in your life you will be doing what you love with your best friends.
You went right into production on VICIOUS FUN after finishing post-production on The Oak Room. What made you get started on a new film so fast?
CA: We were originally going to shoot The Oak Room in the winter, but our ideal cast wasn’t available then, so we ended up shooting the exteriors in the winter and all the interior bar scenes in the summer. By the time we finished that, funding had come in for VICIOUS FUN and we decided to really put our heads down and get [that] completed before it started snowing again. We’re lucky we did, or, with the pandemic, we’d still be waiting to shoot it.
CC: VICIOUS FUN is a departure from our previous film and it’s also the first time that Black Fawn Films [has] ventured into horror comedy.
Why did you decide to make something different?
CC: It felt like the right time for us to branch out and make something outside our comfort zone. These characters are whacky, satirical, and genuinely funny. I can honestly say that I’ve never had so much fun on set and I think that translates directly to the screen. VICIOUS FUN marks the start of a new slate of films for us and we’re committed to pushing ourselves in new directions. I’d like to continue being a little unpredictable with what I choose to make. I usually find myself the most creative as a fish-out-of-water, so makes the process more intriguing for me. VICIOUS FUN was a project that we’d been talking about for a while, we just hadn’t found the right voice to write it until I met James Villeneuve. It was pretty obvious [that] we were going to make it from the first draft. Things just clicked and James understood exactly what kind of film I wanted to make. I think the one thing about this that got me most excited was that it would be something completely new and a giant challenge compared to anything I had done before.
How did you approach VICIOUS FUN in contrast to your previous films?
CC: I think you have to approach each film differently. Nothing is ever the same, some things might remind you of previous efforts but, usually, it’s a blank slate, at least for me. Black Fawn got really good at a certain style of film-making.
CA: Every movie, we try to do something different. We [have] to make sure that each one has its own feel and style and that it could stand alone as a separate entity.
How did you come up with the title?
CC: That’s funny. I had actually written the title down a couple of years before there was even a concept for the film. I have these notebooks full of ideas that I occasionally scribble in and one day I just scrawled VICIOUS FUN across the top of one of the pages. Every now and again, I’d randomly flip to that page and start jotting down character ideas and funny scenarios, and then everything just expanded from there. So, it all really started from the title.
The film is a gore-fuelled ’80s nostalgia trip. Why did you set it in that decade?
CC: We love that period. We definitely wanted to set the film in the ’80s because we figured it would be a lot of fun, but specifically picking 1983, one reason was that was the year that the film Videodrome, directed by David Cronenberg, came out. Just a small nod to a great Canadian horror filmmaker and one of our favorites. We also loved the idea of not having cell phones as part of the plot. I didn’t want a scene where we would have to explain why the characters’ cell phones wouldn’t be able to work. Plus, we felt that the absence of the internet allowed the serial killers in the film to keep their real identities under wraps in a logical way.
Aside from Videodrome, the film is filled with visual references to other films from the period. Why do you love the ’80s?
CC: ’80s horror is a nostalgic place for me. I had a family friend growing up who was a few years older than me and he was a massive horror film buff. He would record late-night movies from his TV and expertly cut out all the commercials and save them all on VHS tapes. Of course, when our families got together, he’d sneak me a tape. That helped shape me as a filmmaker, so that particular era holds a special place for me.
CA: I grew up in the ’80s and started watching horror films at a young age and I’ve always been a fan. I wanted to play with Jason figurines over GI Joes most of the time. I think it’s just a scarier era. You take kids today and you drop them in the ’80s at an old cabin in the woods with no Internet and no cell phones and they would be terrified. The ’80s were the era for serial killers because they didn’t have the technology to keep people connected the way we do now.
You shot also this movie in Hamilton, Ontario. Is the main set of the film, the bar, the same as the club in Bed of the Dead?
CC: [Laughs] No, but that would have been an interesting choice for the setting in retrospect.
CA: Both films were shot in studios down the road from each other in Hamilton. The restaurant set was actually built in the gymnasium of an abandoned school that was recently converted into a studio by a company called Digital Canaries. We had lunch in old classrooms, offices in the principal’s quarters, and photo shoots in the art classroom. It was like school for serial killers! Wait…is that a sequel idea?
VICIOUS FUN does have an open end, are you planning to do a sequel?
CC: We’ve talked about it and there are some ideas being tossed around. I’d love to see more of Joel and Carrie’s bloody journeys, so hopefully, we’ll get a chance to do that.
What can we look forward to next from Black Fawn Films?
CA: We haven’t announced any info on our next projects yet, but we have a deal with Breakthrough Entertainment in partnership with Turner Latin America’s new movie banner Particular Crowd and we’ve been working diligently on development through the pandemic. As soon as it makes sense for us to safely go back into production again, we’ll be shooting back-to-back films all year. We’ve got some really unique, fun, scary, and gory films coming down the pipe and we can’t wait to get them in the can!
VICIOUS FUN is now streaming exclusively on Shudder.