Kissing Darkness had my full attention from the first moment, when, instead of a bunch of bimbos, for a change it’s only hot guys pulling up to a cabin…and pretty much all getting shirtless seconds later!
This would be the moment in the movie when hatin’ homos complain that just because it’s a gay horror movie doesn’t mean that all the guys have to be hot and shirtless—the same haters who worship straight flicks in which all the chicks have banging bodies and big tits. I am definitely not one of those hatin’ homos. This is officially the cutest cast of guys I’ve seen in a gay horror flick ever, and I’m all about it!
The cast of cuties includes some gay horror veterans. Sean Paul Lockhart starred in the “I Was a Teenage Werebear” segment of the horror anthology Chillerama (blog here) and appeared in Sister Mary (blog here). Ronnie Kroell is from the gay horror flick Into the Lion’s Den (blog here). And James Townsend appeared in A Slice of Terror, A Siren in the Darkness (blog here), and the David DeCoteau film Ring of Darkness. James also happens to be the director of Kissing Darkness—and I’ve interviewed him for this blog! Interview below, so keep reading.
Actor Daniel Berilla of Kissing Darkness.
Amongst the group of friends there’s a quirky gay geek (love him), one straight guy who expected there to be women at the cabin, a gay couple, and an obnoxious, queeny guy who will have the hatin’ homos throwing a big gay “we’re not all like that” hissy fit. However, some of us are, just as there are real, obnoxious, misogynistic straight guys like the ones in mainstream horror movies. So hate on him all you want, but he brings some bitchy humor to the mix and plays a significant role later on in the movie.
Things start off campy/sexy/scary delicious—complete with gay drama and a whimsical gothic musical score that perfectly fits the tone of the film. There’s tension between Sean Paul Lockhart and the straight hottie. All kinds of tension. There’s a weird banging coming from upstairs. There’s a Ouija board. And, there’s an urban legend about murderous black magic—after which we see a hand pop out of the ground in the woods! Awesome!
Actor Griffin Marc of Kissing Darkness
This strong setup makes us feel right at horror home. The fun, campy, gay popcorn horror movie feel is followed by a couple of creepy scenes that at least feel like true horror. But then the chick from the urban legend appears as a vampiress set on destroying the kind of men (gay) who ruined her human life and the film gets into standard direct-to-dvd indie territory.
Bloody neck sucking and some really hot sex scenes are not enough to elevate the simple storyline. The atmosphere and tone—both dark horror and campy humor—disappear, leaving us with horror-lite, kind of like the gay series Dante’s Cove. The vampire chick is more seductress than scary campy—the kind of vampiress more appealing to straight male audiences.
Having one female character there to be the string puller to get guys naked makes it feel like we’re entering David DeCoteau territory. Sure, this vamp chick is using her power to get these men to jump each other’s bodies (which you won’t see in a DeCoteau film), but they are gay. She just needs to bite one dude to set off a daisy chain reaction of guys sucking each other dry. Her feminine presence kind of spoils the mood! Of course…not for the one straight guy in the cabin!
While the premise is that this vamp chick specifically wants to make these gay men part of her evil plan, there’s suddenly a slaughter scene with random men and women being attacked in the woods. The purpose might be to add some horror gore and deaths, but it throws the movie off course. Things finally get back on track when the vamp chick gathers her bitten boys together—all of them dressed in leather! The campy comedy horror tone returns as the final guy brings out his inner Buffy and the vamp chick at last looks and acts diva-tastic.
So why does Kissing Darkness start in the sexy-funny-scary zone then become more like a low-budget straight female vampire flick (albeit with really hot man-on-man sex scenes) in the middle? I asked director James Townsend himself because he was nice enough to let me interview him!
AN INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR JAMES TOWNSEND
Boys, Bears & Scares: Hey, James. Thanks for taking the time to chat. You appear in Kissing Darkness, have also appeared in several other horror flicks, and chose to make a horror movie. So I take it you like horror films. What movies, if any, were your inspiration for making the film, and were you paying homage to any of your favorites?
James Townsend: Originally, Kissing Darkness was written in 2006. Since then, it has gone through a few changes. While it wasn’t necessarily inspired by any horror films directly, there are definitely some homages hidden throughout the film. One of my favorite horror films ever is Poltergeist. With that being said, we clearly use the static-television in a scene and had our actors do their blocking in reverse, to provide that jerky/strobe effect. For those with a watchful eye and attention to detail, they may notice that the majority of the Ouija Board design is from the 80’s film Witchboard. My mom actually made the board and did all of the painting on it, using that film as reference.
At one point in the film, a character comes into contact with chains. While the scene did not get filmed as desired, it was originally written as a Hellraiser inspired scene in which he would get tangled up in the chains and cut up.
A lot of the references are simply in the dialogue, with characters saying famous lines or just naming movie titles, hinting at plot points, etcetera.
BB&S: I’m just going to jump into the big question next. After watching the film, and as you’ll see in my blog, I felt it had some really strong elements to make it a great sexy gay horror comedy. But after a classic “friends arrive at a creepy cabin” setup, the tone of the movie completely changes and the humor seems to just disappear. But then suddenly the gay camp and whimsical horror tone return at the end. Was this major shift in the style of the film intentional?
JT: The original premise of the film was much darker and basically a metaphor for how quickly STDs can spread within a community. Yes, there were some comedic bits thrown in, but it was far from what the end product became. The film as it is, is more of a comedy now if you ask me—which has worked well. So many people have written in saying they did not expect to be laughing so hard. There are definitely a lot of one-liners throughout the film that people seem to have gotten a kick out of. And, in terms of being “uneven,” that can be thanked to certain jokes being cut in the editing process. There are instances where a joke is being built up and then there is no payoff. Or there is a payoff, but you don’t realize it is one because the actual build-up of the joke was cut. It came down to the producers simply not understanding some of the American humor. If you were to watch the rough-cut of the film, you will see it is a lot more even in tone and certain plot holes don’t necessarily exist, as they do in the released version.
All in all, a lot of the horror elements seemed to have been lost during production. This is due to not being able to film quite a few of the “horror” scenes as we had planned to do. We were forced to rewrite a few attack scenes due to limited time, budget restraints, production being cut, etcetera. And, so many of the creep-factors were lost simply because they required b-roll footage and whatnot that we were not allowed to obtain once editing began and we realized what little shot would amp things up. Knowing how low-budget filmmaking can go, we knew once editing began, we would have to obtain appropriate b-roll, insert shots, and perhaps a few reshoots. We were not allowed to do any of that.
BB&S: Gay horror films get a really bad rap. Did you feel pressure about getting it right and are you satisfied with the way the film turned out? What would you change, if anything?
JT: Honestly, I am happier with the rough-cut of the film than I am with the released version. We weren’t involved in the editing process. When I got the rough cut, I included all my notes of changes, which were simple things like reversing the lineup of a shot to make a joke work better, amping up some “scare” sound effects, etcetera. Basically, all little things that help bring the big picture together. I was told all of these were being fixed. However, they were not. People have pointed out how the “jump scares” fail because there is no accompanying sound for a lot of them. It is a common-sense detail that the final edit failed to bring into play.
In addition, there are scenes entirely cut out! There is a great scene in which the characters of Vlad (Nick Airus) and Jonathan (Sean Paul Lockhart) go to see if the Wilhite sisters have returned to their cabin. Once there, Vlad makes himself at home by raiding the fridge and watching TV in their bedroom. Jonathan stumbles in, hearing the voices of “girls,” to find Jonathan watching a “lesbian porn.” The joke is, Vlad is oblivious that the girls in the “porn” are drag queens. As Jonathan and viewers, as a gay community, we see this and it’s simply hysterical. The dialogue the drag queens exchange in their “porn” mixed with the dialogue of Jonathan and Vlad was a favorite scene of so many people that viewed the rough-cut. I really wish this was still intact. However it is only referenced briefly. This was sadly cut out by the producers because they thought European audiences were disgusted by drag queens and girls in general. Yes, we were swayed not to use girls in the film for the most part—even as victims!
Also, the character of Vlad was a fight! He was always written as the straight friend. The producer put up the debate that straight guys and gay guys aren’t friends in real life and that it was unbelievable. It doesn’t make sense to us, but they had me write in this side-story of Vlad being a recovering alcoholic that came to the cabin to somehow get his act together. Somehow in their mind it made it “okay” for Vlad to be “straight.” However, he continues to drink in almost every scene! Luckily this was cut down and only referenced in one line that is easy to ignore.
I do wish the horror elements were amped up all in all as well. Another great scene that we were not able to film was the actual backstory of Malice Valeria. A lot of the dialogue in the backstory, including the names of the characters, were in recognition of my step-dad that passed away shortly before production. He was your basic hunting/fishing guy that would have lived in the middle of the woods if he could have, which I never wanted anything to do with. So, in that scene you see the struggle of this guy trying to get his son interested in hunting while they stumble upon Malice in the woods. For personal reasons, I really wish this scene was filmed. And, for the viewers it would have been nice to see more of Malice’s backstory.
Let’s just say all in all, there were definitely some “creative differences” and despite having written the script years ago and going through endless drafts, I simply knew nothing about my story…or so I have been told.
Actor Kyle Blitch of Kissing Darkness
BB&S: Have you seen many gay horror films? If so, which are your favorites?
JT: I have seen quite a few. While not the greatest film, I thought Hellbent was a fun and nicely done one. I liked how they filmed during the West Hollywood Halloween Carnivale and I could recognize so many of the locations used. Another one that comes to mind is Chillerama, which actually stars Kissing Darkness actor, Sean Paul Lockhart. While not scary, it was very funny and a great homage to the b-horror drive-in films. I find that the gay thrillers are often better than the actual horror films. One that comes to mind is Urbania, a murder mystery that incorporated some urban legends into it. I found it very clever and interesting as most of the film you are trying to piece things together and figure out what exactly happened.
BB&S: Speaking of other gay horror films, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen the interior of this cabin in at least half a dozen other gay horror films and shorts. I’d recognize that banister anywhere. Does the same cabin get passed around from director to director like a power bottom looking to land a leading screaming queen role?
JT: Haha. The cabin has been used so often because it belongs to Steven Vasquez who usually shoots and/or directs a lot of our films. It has been used in A Siren in the Dark, which I starred in. Yes, there is some um…nudity on my part with that banister! More recently it has appeared in some of Steven’s newer films including Errodities. It is a great place to shoot at—fairly secluded, quiet—it kind of transports you into the story because you are actually outside of the city for once. There is a very different feeling that comes with filming at the cabin compared to filming in town.
With Kissing Darkness we had hotel rooms about 5-10 minutes down the road. But, we never used them. Instead we all opted to stay at the cabin. It was one big sleepover with us all crashing in the living room each night.
BB&S: I know some of the actors in your movie are gay, so I’m wondering, how do you feel about working with gay actors? They seem to have a reputation for being difficult and I know some gay directors purposely hire only straight guys to play gay.
Actor Ronnie Kroell of Kissing Darkness
JT: Well, I have been making “gay” films since 2004 or so. With that, the majority of the actors we have used have been gay. We haven’t really had any problems. There are a few times where actors simply quit without notice and had to be replaced, but that is for the better. No use putting in the time and effort to make something if the actor isn’t entirely interested in the project himself. We have had some straight actors play gay roles too. There comes a little fear initially with them not wanting to do the sex scenes, etcetera, but once they fall into their comfort zone, it is usually okay and we can find a middle ground to make it work. I don’t like forcing any actor to do anything they aren’t comfortable with, so I am always willing to talk it out and see what can be done to make a scene better for them if needed.
BB&S: Who was the main female vampire? When I watched the credits at the end of the film, there didn’t seem to be a female listed in the cast!
JT: Alexandra, the actress who plays Malice, was amazing to work with and always so full of energy and positive about everything. She was great to have on set, we all instantly fell in love with her as she was always making us laugh yet being a true professional, knowing her lines inside-out and ready to push the envelope and do whatever she could to enhance the role. The girl can do anything! Her reel is very diverse. She just falls into her characters. She did have several scenes that were not shot and several scenes that were edited down.
In terms of not being listed in the credits, yes, I am just as confused as you are. For whatever reason, the producers demanded they do the credits. Well, let’s just say it’s a mess. Our actress is not credited as an actress but is somehow and for some reason credited as a make-up artist!!! It is a total “WTF?!” to all of us.
If you pay even closer attention to the credits, you see that Daniel Berilla, who plays “Ashton”, has his name misspelled in the opening credits. On top of that Kyle Blitch, who plays “Skylar,” is not included in the opening credits. And, to add insult to injury, about sixty percent of credits, ranging from transportation, production assistants, extras, special thanks, etcetera, are not included. We have not been given any answer or reasoning for any of this despite endless emails and attempted phone calls. It is a mystery.
Needless to say, it has been a major slap in the face to a lot of people involved. We had such great support from so many people, people who allowed us to use their locations, donated costumes, allowed us to use their nightclubs to premiere our trailer and celebrate our wrap. The list goes on. I have had quite a few people ask why they were not credited accordingly. I truly wish I had an answer for them. The credits were submitted via spreadsheet many months before the film was finalized. I never received any phone call or email from the producers questioning anything. Needless to say, the credits are a complete mess and have a lot of people upset and/or scratching their heads. I can say it has burned a few bridges.
BB&S: So, I’m a gay horror author, and while I have at least a handful of fans of my writing just as it is, I have seen reviews in which the readers complain that the sex scenes weren’t necessary. Kissing Darkness has some incredibly erotic sex scenes, and personally I loved them. What’s your feeling about sex in gay horror films? Was it your intention to make an erotic horror film or do you feel gay sex is expected because it’s a gay horror film so you included it? And did you worry about the film being written off as softcore porn disguised as a horror film? I’ve seen gay horror films suffer that backlash quite a bit.
JT: Well, people think that sex sells. And it does. But, so often it gets out of hand with these gay-themed films. I think our film did it very tastefully. You don’t see any full-frontal at all (something a few people have complained about) and none of the lead actors get nude—minus the character of “Vlad” flashing his butt. There is one sex scene that goes on a bit long if you ask me, but I have seen far worse. While I like to push the erotic envelope at times, some stories simply do not need it. I think a lot of the time that less is more. Often it is producers that are looking to make quick money, so they rely on the sex-tactics. This was a debate with our film. The film is pretty mainstream all in all, the erotic elements are there but tend to take a backseat. There were a few conversations where the producers wanted more nudity, longer sex scenes, etcetera. I felt that would ruin the story in the end. I was against it. I actually wound up doing a sex scene myself, as my character Brendan, to appease things.
In the end, you can’t make everyone happy. Some people are going to appreciate that we didn’t go overboard with sex and nudity, others are going to complain that there isn’t enough. Some will even think we did go too far. Everyone is different. I think all in all people are surprised that Sean Paul Lockhart doesn’t get nude in the film. Some see it as a letdown—like I wasted my chance. But, his character didn’t need nudity. And, at the time, Sean was very focused on doing more “mainstream” oriented work. I respected that. Like I said, I don’t like making anyone do anything they are not comfortable with…
Actor Sean Paul Lockhart of Kissing Darkness
BB&S: Finally, did making Kissing Darkness give you the drive to make more gay horror flicks or was it something you wanted to try just once? If you have plans for another, have you formulated an idea yet, and what might you do differently next time?
JT: Horror films can be a lot of fun to make. I can say Kissing Darkness tested our patience a lot at times, but while cameras were actually rolling and the film was being made, we had a lot of fun. Everyone instantly clicked and we got along. A lot of the joking around and chemistry you see on screen with the characters translated to us in real life. In a way, it’s like everyone sort of became their character on and off screen. I would love to make more horror films. In fact once we initially were wrapping Kissing Darkness, we had a great story idea for a sequel and we’re really amped to do it. It would have been a lot of fun and allowed us to open the story to more locations and revisit all of the same characters. However, I can say that after the experience we have had with post-production, none of us care to do it. Hopefully in the future some of the cast can get back together for a new film. Simply said, we don’t care to work with the higher-ups involved ever again.
I do have some other ideas in mind…a lot of script notes and stuff for films I need to sit down and make time to finish writing. A majority of them have horror elements to them.
Right now, I am actually in pre-production for a gay psychological-thriller called Throuple. We have just started announcing our cast this past week and hope to shoot in late September. Throuple definitely has some horror elements to it in a more psychological sort of way! Maybe we can talk more about that soon!
BB&S: Sure thing.And again, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to Boys, Bears & Scares, James!
Like the facebook page for Kissing Darkness here.
Like the facebook page for Throuple here.
Kissing Darkness director James Townsend