With zombies being the horror “it” villain, it isn’t easy to come up with an original spin on the sub-genre. But that’s exactly what the filmmakers behind On The Brain set out to do.
Distributed by Midnight Releasing, the film’s official DVD release date is July 12. Without giving too much away, Director Kevin Stevenson answers some of our pressing questions:
HalloweenEveryNight: What is your background in film and TV?
Kevin Stevenson: It all started in college while I was exploring my options. My love of film prevailed and I graduated from Cal State Long Beach with my BA in Film and Electronic Arts. My internships definitely helped me get my foot in the door and now I’ve had the pleasure of working as a camera operator for six years. Whether it’s shooting fictional narratives, documentaries, music videos or TV news, I love being behind the camera telling a story. Having the privilege of working with the best companies in the industry such as KTLA, ABC, Warner Music Group and Panavision, it has allowed me to get acquainted with some creative people and gain experience in various fields of pre-production, production, post-production and marketing. Without those networking opportunities, our film On The Brain would not be possible.
HEN: Are you a fan of horror? What kinds?
KS: In my opinion, horror films are my favorite: both to watch and work on. When done right, a good horror film will create powerful emotions in the viewer such as terror and panic. It’s an amazing experience when you have the ability to make the audience become so caught up in the viewing experience. When we started brainstorming for On The Brain our goal was to capture those raw emotions and generate that buzz.
The scariest films, I would have to say, involve unknown diseases and infections. The Thing, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Alien, and even more recently films like Altered and It Follows are at the top of my list for favorite and scariest films. The idea of being taken over, possessed if you will, creates that anxiety and on-the-edge of your seat feeling. I don’t want to give away too much, but there’s an element of that in On The Brain.
HEN: What scares you?
KS: Aliens and UFOs are up there. I think the idea of not having control of the situation, such as being examined and dissected by an extraterrestrial, has the potential to keep me up at night. Fire in the Sky and Signs are some of my all-time favorites too. Can’t go wrong with an alien abduction.
HEN: What was your inspiration for the film?
KS: The story was based on an unpublished novel The Dangerous Season written by Ina Gay Trask. I was intrigued with the premise of a disease that only infects men. I saw this as a new spin on the traditional zombie genre that my partner, Brandon Trask [Ina’s son] and I found refreshing. Eventually the story also evolved to involving necrophiliac zombies, something the audience may or may not be ready for.
HEN: How long has this movie been in the making?
KS: Pre-production began in January 2014 and we began shooting four months later. After everything we shot for a total of 11 days and and an additional two pick-up days. Editing took 18 months. After shopping it to various distributors, the film On The Brain was picked up by Midnight Releasing in January 2016. With a DVD release date on July 12, 2016, it’s safe to say the film has taken two years to complete.
HEN: Is the film a zombie story in the traditional sense?
KS: We wanted to stay away from the stereotypical zombie film style and to put our own spin on it. The zombies in On The Brain have a burning desire, and it’s not to eat, they kill for the pleasure. However those that are infected also have the potential of feeling remorse. It’s a characteristic I haven’t seen with any other zombie film except for maybe Warm Bodies, but our film is much more dark and cynical.
HEN: How much humor is in the film?
KS: I would say comedy takes a back seat in this film. Of course we had to have some moments of levity in the film, so you might catch yourself chuckling at times. As the body count rises, some of the drastic measures the mayor takes to save her town can be pretty humorous.
HEN: How long was production and where was the film shot?
KS: The film was shot in the incredibly helpful town of San Jacinto, California. They provided 10 or so locations for our scheduled 12-day shoot. Unfortunately our production was cut short after the 11th day due to a storm of the decade.
HEN: Where is the story set?
KS: The setting of this film was definitely something that attracted me to be involved in this project. The story is set in a small desert town, cut off from the outside world. The characters are then forced to survive essentially on their own wherewithal, not even a cell phone works in the town. I would say this film has created its own genre, a neo-Western/horror film, which is unique. One film that comes to mind when comparing it to another film would be Bad Day at Black Rock.
HEN: The zombies are particularly gross looking, how did you achieve the look?
KS: The gnarly, zombie look was achieved by our makeup artist Danica Rodriguez. We spent hours finding the right balance of skin-rot and bulging veins when designing our zombies. With the help of contact lenses, foam and fake blood, we were able to achieve some bloody good makeup that will give Walking Dead a run for its money. You can actually watch a time-lapse of the zombie transformation on our website.
HEN: Were there any challenges you experienced in making the film?
KS: The biggest challenge was fitting 10 locations in a 13-day shoot. especially since the long hours of production were taxing. Also, I never knew sound mixing could be such a headache. It was difficult for us to mix the entire 87 minutes so we probably mixed it more than 10 times until we found the right texture of the dialogue and sound effects.
HEN: Horror is turning into its own subculture nowadays. What is it about horror films that our society craves?
KS: Something about a horror story brings me back to my childhood. A well-executed horror film opens up the viewer’s imagination to an alternate reality full of fear and anxiety. Horror invokes the basic need to survive in the most dangerous and equally terrifying of situations.
However, I also strongly believe another huge draw are the villains. Villains can be even more captivating than their heroic counterpart and make for a “love to hate” relationship with the audience. Villains are just as equally iconic in the horror subculture and often the drawing reason people watch these films.
HEN: What direction do you see horror films taking?
KS: I definitely see a potential of 360-degree cameras playing more of a part in horror films. The 360-degree camera will place the audience in the film, with the ability to make choices that directly effect the plot. The 360-degree camera has the ability to provide the viewers with the “choose your own adventure” type of stories, just like Goosebumps did in some of the books.
With that being said, I will always be a fan of classic cinema.
HEN: Any more horror films on your horizon?
KS: The momentum is only accelerating since completing this project and now I’m directing my second feature film called Cuddle Buddies. Cuddle Buddies is a psychological horror story about an agoraphobic painter, Dulce, 27, who loses her touch with reality. One day she discovers the ability to create imaginary friends, which seems harmless until those friends quickly become her foes.