Blood Fest brings horror, gore, humor and a timely political message

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Mar 15, 2018

A favorite game among horror aficionados is to imagine how long they'd last in the scary scenarios of their favorite movies. Could you escape the clutches of Freddie Krueger? Figure a way out of Jigsaw's twisted puzzles? Outrun the flesh-munching zombie hoards? Well, the new horror-comedy Blood Fest puts its heroes in precisely this position. Four friends attending the titular fright fest discover the attractions aren't actors in creepy costumes, but genuine monsters and murderers who hunger for blood and carnage. If our heroes want to live through the night, they'll need to use their knowledge of horror movies to best the bloody baddies, which include killer clowns, sexy vampires, unstoppable slashers, and something even more sinister. 

Following Blood Fest's world premiere on opening night of the SXSW Conference, Fangrrls sat down with writer/director Owen Egerton and his cast, Robbie Kay (Heroes: Reborn), Seychelle Gabriel (Falling Skies, The Legend of Korra), Jacob Batalon (Spider-Man: Homecoming) and Barbara Dunkelman (RWBY), to talk about the horror-comedy that had Austin cheering.

Egerton has a long history in Austin's thriving film culture, including participating in Alamo Drafthouse's Master Pancake Theater, where movies and live comedy collide. He reveled in Alamo's outside-of-the-box approach to exhibiting movies, which included screening horror films in creepy summer camp settings or showing Jaws over a lake, "and hire scuba divers to grab people's ankles at just the wrong time." Egerton explained, "The Alamo was always finding ways to make a movie kinda bleed off the screen." This was something Egerton aimed to explore with Blood Fest; what if the scares on the screen really could make its audience bleed?

But Egerton was quick to point out you don't need to be a deep-cut horror fan to have fun with Blood Fest. Many of the tackled tropes are ones anyone can recognize. "My 9-year-old, he's never seen any of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies," he said, "But he knows who Freddy Krueger is. He knows the rules of that genre. It ends up becoming a modern mythos." Egerton's parody pokes fun at these mythoi by creating familiar (but legally distinct) villains, like The Arborist, a Michael Meyers type who hunts on Arbor Day and kills with impunity (and gardening supplies). This makes for a cheeky combination of goofiness and gore. 

Kay, who fronts the film as the group's most well-versed horror movie fan Dax, said he was especially excited to be a part of Blood Fest because, "I like the horror comedies, that's my favorite kind of horror, honestly." This sentiment was echoed by Gabriel, who plays Dax's best friend and secret crush Sam, and Dunkelman, who portrays a cheeky twist on the blonde bimbo archetype who is often slain onscreen. (We'll get to her in a minute.) But Batalon, who MCU fans will remember as Peter Parker's funny buddy Ned from Spider-Man: Homecoming, confessed he's never had much fun watching horror movies.

Like his scaredy-cat Blood Fest character, Batalon has a true fear of clowns. And that came about exactly how and horror-lover might guess: Tim Curry's Pennywise. "I was literally like 6 years old," Batalon recalled of watching the 1990 TV-movie IT, "And the first memory I have of IT is having a dream of (Pennywise) eating my sister's face off. And it was so real to me. I woke up crying."

So horror's not his thing. Asked what he fanboys over, the cheerful Batalon said Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Star Wars and The Legend of Korra, the Gabriel show which Batalon described as a "mof*ckin' gem. I love that cartoon."

As for Dunkelman, she took a special pride in playing Blood Fest's Ashley, an aspiring scream queen whose biggest credit to date is "Topless Girl #4." But rather than an excuse to squeeze in nudity or sexist punch lines, Ashley subverts the blonde bimbo trope with an arc of self-discovery and heroism. "I love the way her character is written," Dunkelman said, "because she has this very self-aware moment of like, 'I'm shallow and I need to change that and start thinking for myself.' And then she has a lot of redeeming moments in the movie where she saves the day for our cast of characters at one point."

One thing Dunkelman and Ashley have in common is a deep love of Disney movies and Zachary Levi, who pops up in a quirky cameo. In Blood Fest, Ashley excitedly addresses as "Flynn f*cking Rider!" And basically, that was all Dunkelman. "I've been a fan of Zachary Levi for a number of years," she said, "I watched Chuck with my family as a kid. My mom was very jealous that I got to meet him. She's a huge Zachary Levi fan. Also, I loved Tangled, as well. So honestly, they didn't even script that scene. We just put me and Zachary Levi in the same room together and I was freaking out about him being Flynn Rider."

Who could blame her? The dude's got smolder.

Asked how they'd do in a Blood Fest scenario where their survival skills and horror knowledge could mean life or death, every cast member was quick to confess they'd probably bite it. "I would do terribly," Dunkleman confessed, "I am terrible at hiding and I'm very slow. So I feel like I would be really bad at surviving."

"If it was in exactly the same situation," Kay pondered, "I would die immediately because I don't really know much about horror." Batalon said the same. Only Gabriel came up with a plan that might just work.

"I'm good at hiding," she said, "I don't pick up my heels, my mom says. So I would probably trip and just cry. Or I'd become a clown or something. Like, I'd become one of the things. Like, do it with them."

"That's actually really smart!" Batalon cheered. 

For all the fun and frivolity in Blood Fest, Egerton managed to lace in a timely political message. In the wake of the Parkland shooting, the cry for gun reform has been met with detractors claiming that the real problem is that violent media—like movies and video games—encourages mass-shooters to murder. In Blood Fest, this argument is made by Dax's sneering dad (Tate Donovan), who is a vocal advocate against the very movies his son loves. But Egerton doesn't buy into blaming scary movies for real-life horror. 

"I think people are violent," he said, "I think that movies that deal with horror are ways in which we as human beings deal with something that's been with us since forever, which is the fact that we are going to die someday. We need a way to kind of play with that. I mean, the truth of life is completely terrifying, so how do we play with it in a safe way? Well, we make a werewolf. We make something that we know doesn't exist. We can tell these stories, and it helps us deal with the fact that we're someday going to die. So we can scream and be frightened, at the same time knowing, 'This is just a story.'" 

As frightening as Egerton sought to make his movie's monsters, he says none of them are scarier than "a privileged white man with a gun in the end. He is more scary than all the monsters that come through. And there's something to say about that, about maybe what we're dealing with in America today too."

Blood Fest made its world premiere at the SXSW Conference. A domestic release date for the film has not yet been announced.