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Sinister Seven: David Amito and Michael Laicini On Making (Or Finding) “Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made”

Friday, August 9, 2019 | Interviews

Shot in Southern California in the late 1970’s, Antrum was believed by many to be a cursed film. A note from the producers reads: “A number of people have died, or been seriously injured during or shortly after watching this film. As a result of these incidents Antrum disappeared, or was deliberately buried by people who were apprehensive about its continued screening.”

Else Films (owned and operated by Michael Laicini and David Amito) found Antrum several years later for sale on an online forum specializing in the exchange of obscure films. Now, the pair have released an un-altered version of the film, aptly titled Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made. The film has been making its rounds on the festival circuit and will be screened as part of Rue Morgue’s Cinemacabre movie series on August 13th at The Royal Cinema. Tickets and event details can be found here. That is, if you dare…

In anticipation of the event, Rue Morgue sat down with Michael and David to discuss what it was like working on the “deadliest” film ever made.

1. Where did the idea for this movie come from?
David: Mike and I were working on another film which is in the pipe line now… a horror-love story between a man and his “living house.” It’s a horror film with strong comedic elements to it. I was in a coffee shop working on that script when I let my mind wander and started to ask myself… “what would scare the shit out of me?” I remember it hit me very quickly – If I was watching a film that I knew was cursed, with a proven history of harming people. That scared me. Because a film like that doesn’t end… you keep thinking about it, fearing it, long after the end credits have rolled. As much as I don’t want to admit it, I am pretty superstitious and obsessive. And if there is any seed of doubt that a film I’m watching might be cursed, I would have a very difficult time watching it. So that was our goal… to make a film that we ourselves wouldn’t want to watch!

Mike: I saw a short online a while ago and it chilled me to my core. It felt SO wrong. Like I had just seen something I shouldn’t have seen. It was called “Dining Room or There is Nothing.” You can still Youtube it. It’s incredible and I love everything about it. I had discovered it at film school, and immediately started using it as sort of a personality test of the people around me. If I showed it to you and you recoiled in horror and offence, we most likely weren’t going to be a good match creatively, but if you were able to watch it without looking away, or maybe burst out laughing after a few moments of existential dread – I felt like we were going to be good friends. Thankfully when I showed it to David, he did just that. There are people who David and I showed that short to who never looked at us the same way afterwards again. And we were ok with that. After seeing that short, the idea of seeing a feature length horror movie that could provoke people the same way was something that stuck with us. Then Antrum came long.

2. Did you research or have any personal knowledge of the occult prior to making this movie?
Mike: I’m an absolute horror nut, and sometimes horror movies alone don’t cut it for me. I’m rarely unnerved by horror movies anymore because I’m too aware of the filmmaking process, so it takes a lot for a movie to make me forget myself and really get under my skin. I’m really loving Ari Aster at the moment. But when movies aren’t cutting it, sometimes to get a fix, I’ll immerse myself into “real life horror” like reading about, or listening to podcasts about serial killers or cults… or supposedly true stories about exorcisms…. I once was pen pals with a man who was an exorcist and I had begged him to take me on one of his exorcisms. Side note, if anybody reading this is an exorcist, I’d like to come to work with you. I want to experience a real-life exorcism. You’re probably asking why? We can talk about that later.

Ultimately, a lot of that personal research / horror hobby stuff tends to find its way into the stuff I create. I also grew up Catholic, so satanic imagery still has this visceral effect on me that is basically reflexive. We all have these reflexive triggers to certain images, or alternative views that oppose our ideologies…. I think it’s really interesting when people are forced to face their triggers, like some sort of exposure therapy. I think stories of people being forced to face, and re-evaluate their belief systems, spiritual, or otherwise, are very compelling, and a lot of those sensibilities have been woven into the intention and story structure of Antrum. I also just wanted to see a movie that was 100% designed, inside and out, to get under my skin, and a lot of how Antrum manages to do that is playing with, and selectively abandoning some conventions. As a horror fan, I’ve been “chasing the dragon” a long time and I wanted to see a movie again that took me back to the pre-internet days of horror –like when you’d stumble across something really weird on TV in the middle of the night; or how it felt to cross that little curtain they used to put up in video stores that separated horror / adult movies from the general public. Peaking behind that curtain felt dangerous, and seeing the surreal VHS covers of all the horror movies created all sorts of terrifying scenarios in your mind… every movie sort of mocked you as you walked by, daring you to face them, they all felt provocative and malevolent. That’s Antrum.

3. You chose to explore the subject of Satanism through allegorical means – the iron Baphomet and the strange disciples. What motivated you to depict the subject this way?
David: We researched a great deal about the devil from a historical perspective. Various depictions across different cultures, in addition to studying the 72 different demons of the Ars Goetia. A lot of the symbols and incantations we used throughout the film were actually sourced from from the 17th-century grimoire “Lesser Key of Solomon,” historically used by magicians to invoke and summon specific demons. Believe what you will about Antrum being real or fake… the incantations and summoning symbols are real. And were used.

4. At the heart of your film is a touching and tragic story about two kids and their dog. Why did you think this story in particular was well suited as the subject matter for The Most Dangerous Film Ever Made?
David: This is a great question! I don’t want to spoil anything, so I will just say this: Both of the characters undergo deliberately opposite character arcs with respect to what they believe. The film is designed as a dark fairy tale with moralistic implications about what beliefs can lead to. However, the arcs of the two children exist to facilitate the primary character arc in this film, which belongs to the audience itself… If you watch this film, you may die. Throughout the course of your viewing what will change about the nature of your own beliefs is at the core to our film.

Mike: Small correction! Antrum is actually The “Deadliest” Film Ever Made. That’s an important distinction. A movie called ROAR currently holds the title for the most dangerous movie ever made.

I think it is disarming for the audience to go into this movie theatre expecting a surreal barrage of satanic and terrible images, and I like that subversion of your expectations. It’s a more menacing experience because Antrum refuses to do what you are expecting. I think opening opening Antrum with “the killing of innocence” says everything you need to know moving forwards about the level at which Antrum wants to provoke you. When I leave the movie theatre unsatisfied by a horror movie, it’s mostly because a horror movie did exactly what I thought it would do. I prefer horror movies that don’t care what you want them to do -and do their own thing. I think the best types of movies have that attitude. When David and I write, we write always try and approach material from character, over concept, and then we also like to try and find that threshold – Are there two genre-mashups that have never been attempted before? What can we get away with here? How far can we take the audience into uncharted territory before we lose them?

All of the horror movies we’ve written are unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. We’ve got a haunted house movie that we’ve shown to people and they’ve all said: that’s fucking crazy. It takes all the conventions of the haunted house movie formula and turns them upside-down… we’re really excited about it. 

The project we were working on before Antrum possessed us, was an exorcism movie that does the same thing -takes the formula of every single exorcism movie and twists it into something really fresh and new. It’s sort of like… if Pixar made a horror movie… We’ve actually been toying with the idea of repurposing the script into a series. That’s the dream…

5. Tell me about the use of subliminal messaging and the brief flashes of Satanic imagery that permeate the film?
Mike: What subliminal messages?

David: (Eyes roll into back of head)

6. Satan is often understood as a Judeo-Christian concept, but Antrum shows the kids using symbols from various religions, and then there’s the Japanese fellow who almost commits seppuku near the altar. In your view, is Satan a universal concept across cultures and belief systems?
Mike: Satan isn’t necessarily a universal concept, in that, it’s not universally accepted that we are all literally living in between a heaven and a hell. But, I think Satan is universally accepted as a very strong symbol of Evil that is cross-culturally understood. I like to think that the evil inside of Anturm isn’t secular in nature. Antrum contaminates and consumes. Watching Antrum feels like there’s an agenda, but I like to think that Antrum doesn’t limit itself to any single expression of evil, literally or symbolically. It’s part of what makes it feel a little meaner than most horror movies. I think it’s important to recognize the symbols Antrum plays with and to consider the implications of those choices.

David: This is a really cool question. Asking what the corrupting aspect uniting all of these world religions and belief systems may help audiences focus on what’s at the core of this film as opposed to the more superficial distractions.  

7. Did you have any strange occurrences happen on the set?
David: YES! Many fortuitous and coincidental situations arose to help us during production. We were wildly understaffed, wildly underfunded and unprepared for this month long shoot… yet, somehow a number of elements just magically landed in our lap. Superbly talented actors, use of a free trailer, 100 acres of private forest with majestic landscapes just offered to us and that’s just a start… what would have cost us over a hundred thousand dollars in a typical filmmaking environment was almost divinely bestowed upon us. Maybe G-d was helping us along the way spread this story. Or maybe it’s a sign that when you are putting out a good creative energy, the universe will conspire to help. Or maybe… we were helped by a more malevolent force. With its own agenda.

Mike: The first time I played back the movie’s mix, in full 5.1 surround sound, I chose to do this in my home theatre. I really blasted it, so I could be as specific as possible about my mix notes the next day. Later that night I woke up I saw all these flashing lights, I looked out my window and the street was lined with firetrucks and ambulances. My next door neighbor had a heart attack. I didn’t know them very well, but, that was a strange coincidence that I haven’t really figured out how to process. Also, I got into a car accident recently, the day after I had delivered the film to our distributor actually… you probably think I’m just messing with you, and I’m fine with that. But these things happened and I have the insurance records to prove it.   

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