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Exclusive Interview: Writer/director Frank Sabatella on what you’ll find inside “THE SHED”

Wednesday, November 13, 2019 | Exclusive, Interviews

By MICHAEL GINGOLD

Finding you’ve got a bloodthirsty creature on your property can be frightening—but to a certain mindset, it can also be empowering. That’s the central theme of THE SHED, which arrives in select theaters and on VOD and digital HD this Friday. RUE MORGUE chatted with filmmaker Frank Sabatella about this new take on a classic creature.

Released by RLJE Films and produced by Peter Block (the SAW films) and Cory Neal (FROZEN), THE SHED (which had its North American premiere at last month’s Brooklyn Horror Film Festival) is set in a small town where teenage Stan (Jay Jay Warren) is an outcast at school and abused at home by his grandfather (Timothy Bottoms). When he discovers a bloodthirsty vampire (Frank Whaley) dwelling in a shed in his backyard, his equally bullied friend Dommer (Cody Kostro) decides that the creature represents a solution to their problems. Sabatella, who previously helmed BLOOD NIGHT: THE LEGEND OF MARY HATCHET, combines the supernatural menace of the monster with very real teen concerns in THE SHED, which boasts grisly makeup effects by Jeremy Selenfriend (TV’s EVIL and ELEMENTARY, among many others).

What were the inspirations behind THE SHED?

They came from some of my favorite horror films, like FRIGHT NIGHT and THE LOST BOYS, but THE SHED was also inspired by films like RIVER’S EDGE and the writings of Stephen King—the simplicity of some fantastic horror in an ordinary town. More so than the obvious horror influences, RIVER’S EDGE played an important role in the types of characters I created in THE SHED, and how they respond to the situation and environment they find themselves in. The idea of disaffected youth is something that intrigues me very much.

How did you balance the horror content with the movie’s themes of troubled youth?

I allowed the troubled-youth theme to lead in the story; that’s the aspect that was more important to me. The horror is present throughout the film, but it’s really something that is there for the characters to react off of. The presence of the vampire becomes an extension of the characters’ negative decisions and reactions; had they not been these neglected juveniles, their decision-making process might have been very different, and we would not have the horrific results of their actions. It’s interesting to me to see how an individual responds in an emergency situation; that shows who a person really is.

What variations does THE SHED make on traditional vampire lore—and which of those tropes did you want to keep?

I wanted the creatures in THE SHED to be more feral than we’re used to seeing in vampire films lately, and I certainly wanted them more ugly, scary and ferocious than they have been in recent years. So maybe it’s more of a return to form than a variation. The traditional tropes that I kept intact were mostly how we defeat and kill vampires. Of course, sunlight is their worst enemy; I wanted to keep that, and it’s an important plot device in this film. Destroying the heart and severing the head are fine ways to kill a vampire as well; plus, those offer some good opportunities for blood and gore moments!

Tell us about the casting of the young leads, and Frank Whaley as the vampire.

It was important to me to cast people who were the actual age of the characters, or at least very close. Jay Jay Warren, who plays Stan, and Sofia Happonen, who plays his girlfriend Roxy, were both teenagers at the time of production, which I felt added to the believability of their roles. There’s an aspect of youth that is just raw and present and hard to define, and my young leads all came onto this ambitious project ready to give it their best. Their enthusiasm and excitement day after day was so amazing to work with.

Frank Whaley was a great choice because he is recognizable, has done a lot of genre work and brings years of experience to the table. We felt he was the perfect person to convey the initial fear of being attacked as a human, and then become the feral creature in the shed! Working with experienced actors is always a treat, and Siobhan Hogan and Timothy Bottoms were also a lot of fun to have on set.

The name “Dommer” has obvious associations when you hear it; did you intend that connection?

Yes, the name was meant to intentionally yet subtly remind the audience of a certain someone, even if on a subconscious level. I like the idea of the unexpected in a horror movie, and of course there are many ways to deliver that. I was drawing on the concept of “the boy next door gone terribly wrong,” which for me comes from the slasher-movie tradition of the killers starting as someone familiar and safe, with unassuming everyday names such as Freddy, Jason or Michael, until something goes wrong with them and the horror you did not know was hiding inside them all along comes out. THE SHED is not a slasher movie, of course, but I wanted to apply a similar concept to Dommer’s character and use a haunting name to subtly imply the potential for hidden danger—which is what THE SHED itself implies.

How was the vampire’s look conceived and created?

More than anything, I wanted to make sure my vampires were scary and ferocious but still maintained an organic, realistic quality. I was inspired by the looks of some of my favorite cinematic vamps from THE LOST BOYS, FRIGHT NIGHT and NEAR DARK, and also wanted to keep some of my old favorites in mind, like NOSFERATU and SALEM’S LOT. Working with Jeremy Selenfriend on the creature designs, we tried to keep all those in mind and have that present on our vampires, while still giving them our own personal touches, like mouths full of fangs and more demonic-looking eyes.

Tell us about the small-town shoot, and any challenges or funny incidents that came up while you were filming.

Filming is Syracuse was great, because it just felt so authentic, and truly like the town in our story. The people in the area were all awesome, and we had a great time hanging out in town after shooting was done. Dinosaur BBQ definitely became our favorite eating and drinking spot.

A particularly odd incident we experienced was while shooting in the yard outside Stan’s house one day. Someone kept flying one of those little propeller planes really low over our set; they buzzed us pretty close, and it kind of freaked everyone out.

Another funny story I like to tell involves Jay Jay Warren. There’s a scene where he runs into the kitchen in a panic to make a phone call, picks up a rotary phone and begins to dial it. When we did the first take, Jay Jay, who was 18 at the time, did not know how to use a rotary phone and instead was pushing the numbers on the dial. We all had a really solid laugh at that—and then I felt old!

Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold (RUE MORGUE's Head Writer) has been covering the world of horror cinema for over three decades, and spent 28 years as a writer and editor for FANGORIA magazine and its website. In addition to RUE MORGUE, he currently writes for BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH, SCREAM, IndieWire.com, TIME OUT, DELIRIUM and others. His book THE FRIGHTFEST GUIDE TO MONSTER MOVIES (FAB Press) is out this fall, and he has contributed liner notes and featurettes to a number of Blu-ray and DVD releases. Among his screenplay credits are SHADOW: DEAD RIOT and LEECHES!, and he is currently working on THE DOLL with director Dante Tomaselli.