Interview: HELL TOWN Writer/Director Steve Balderson
I love horror as much as the next fright fanatic, but sometimes I need a breather and a few laughs help me get through my day. HELL TOWN really shakes things up (review) by providing a genre bending experience with a compilation of episodes from a lost TV soap opera surrounding a town that falls victim to a serial killer amidst relationship drama. The bodies pile up as the panties drop and HELL TOWN delivers a sexy escape that’ll keep you smiling. Writer/Director Steve Balderson took some time to chat about his latest film, while delivering some insight as what served as inspiration.
I really dug HELL TOWN. I thought it was super funny and actually kind of erotic in its own not so subtle ways. I wasn’t sure if it was due to my own personal tastes, but it felt like there was a higher emphasis on sexualizing the male characters over the females. For example, one of the first moments we meet Jesse, he’s gazing at a hot guy who is only wearing a jock strap inside a locker room. Was that intentional?
Absolutely! I think it’s important to sometimes, when the scene calls for it, sexualize the male characters in ways which are usually reserved for females. Especially in horror films. It was also heightened for us on set because, in that particular high school locker room, in the shower area, all the shower heads came out of a single pole in the center of the room, forcing guys to shower in a circle facing each other. I thought it was a really peculiar design feature, and wish we had somehow been able to incorporate that into a scene.
It was definitely nice to see more of that homoerotic approach in the genre. With other offerings like AMERICAN HORROR STORY and SCREAM QUEENS gearing more towards gay audiences, do you feel this is going to be a mainstream direction for future horror projects?
That’s a curious idea to explore. I wonder. Ryan’s gay, so perhaps he bends that way with his material naturally. Although I’m gay too, I have always explored the diversity if all sexualities in my films from a broad perspective: the lesbian erotica in STUCK! or the narcissist in WATCH OUT, to the exploration of every sexuality you can imagine in CASSEROLE CLUB. I think it’s a good idea to be an equal opportunity exploiter.
The lost episodes of HELL TOWN are introduced by Debbie Rochon in some seriously hilarious transitions. I got a bit of an Elvira vibe from her performance and was wondering where that inspiration came from.
It absolutely did. I wanted a mix of Elvira and Robert Osborne on Turner Classic Movies. Debbie is such a talented sport and a total joy to be around.
How difficult was it balancing the humor and slasher aspects of the story?
Elizabeth and I have pretty vivid imaginations, so coming up with all the things to throw at these characters wasn’t hard to do. Because we were going all out, right from page one, we didn’t have any trouble swaying from the ridiculousness of what we were creating. And when we got to the kills, we wanted to create ways to kill people which were combinations of paying homage to classic films, and also twisting them in a new way. My biggest influence is Hitchcock, so I like to handle horrific scenes using a model of perhaps how he’d have done it.
How’d you came up with The Letter Jacket Killer?
I can’t remember. Elizabeth and I wrote the bulk of the film in less than a week. What exactly happened in that room is still a bit of a mystery to me. Surely it had to be that we wanted the killer to be taking a souvenir from each victim, and that visual was the one that popped into mind.
I loved how Blaze is supposed to be straight in the movie, but doesn’t ever wear a shirt throughout the entire thing. How does one go about auditioning a role like that?
Yes, having Blaze not wear a shirt throughout the entire film was our nod to the genius and hilarious mini-series FRESNO. Remember that one from the 80s, with Carol Burnett? There was a studly character in that show named TORCH, played by Gregory Harrison, who never wore a shirt. I think I watched FRESNO a thousand times when I was a kid. So naturally we thought: BLAZE needs to be the new generation’s TORCH.
The whole gimmick of Laura Gable being played by two different actresses brought a smile to my face. It reminded me a lot of what they did with Becky on ROSEANNE, which is one of my favorite shows. How did that whole concept come about?
We just made a big list of things soaps do that we wanted to make fun of and went down the list checking them off as we wrote. At first we didn’t know which character we’d replace, but we decided on Laura because she was the most fun to do it with.
Any character in HELL TOWN based on yourself or feel more connected to?
There’s a part of me in all the characters, I think. I’m also fairly certain there’s a little bit of everyone in each character. Which makes it a nice universal thing we can all connect with, even if it’s just in a tiny way. Anyone who is totally certain one of the characters has no attributes or behaviors they might also have, probably is in denial about something.
The format of the movie plays as a collection of episodes of a TV series that was presumed destroyed. Can you share any stories about the origins of HELL TOWN and where this idea came from?
We wanted to point out the ridiculousness of binge-watching and make a joke about that, too. And even though it started out as a joke, the true funny thing is that as we made it, our addiction for the whole concept led to obsession. HELL TOWN should be an actual series. Imagine all the insane characters, other families we haven’t met yet, other crimes, other killers. It would be an endless and nonstop riot.
Thanks for sharing your time and can’t wait to see what kind of audience HELL TOWN ends up finding!