Your new anthology 9 Ways to Hell - what's the overall
concept to it, and were there any guidelines to adhere to when making your
Nick Dragon (executive producer; writer / director of Betrayal):
9 Ways to Hell was inspired by Dante's Inferno. Nine filmmakers telling
nine stories, each based on a Circle of Hell. It had to be horror or
horror/comedy. It had to be set in the present day. Ideally, each story
was to have some connection to one or more of the other stories. And it
had to be ultra-ultra low budget, pure guerrilla filmmaking.
(executive producer; actor in Betrayal): My goal was to get together
this wonderfully talented group of people who all wanted to create, and
actually create! Nick and I first bonded over our love of horror, so what
better genre to choose when doing an anthology – which are quite popular
now anyway! We tried very hard to differentiate 9 Ways to Hell from other
anthologies under a loose umbrella by threading them all together with
props, actors, characters, and various other call-backs throughout. If you
look closely, you’ll see a lot of Easter eggs. Also, as a female, it’s
particularly awesome to see so many female writer/directors on board –
four of the nine, plus myself as an executive producer – as well as more
behind and in front of the camera.
How did you all get involved with
Lacey Rae: In pursuing my acting career, I fortunately met a
group of like-minded, goal-oriented, and just fantastically creative
people in a guerrilla filmmakers group here in Hollywood. We made several
short films together and then, one day, Nick and I were talking about how
to progress, and we came up with an anthology that could combine several
filmmakers’ visions, as well as be a coherent whole. We really lucked
out in our writers/directors, crew, and cast.
Jones (writer / director of Limbo): I became involved with 9 Ways to Hell through an
invitation from Nick, who came up with the concept. I met Nick back in
2015 when I first arrived in Los Angeles. We are some of the founding
members of the Hollywood Guerilla Film Club. Nick and I worked together on
numerous projects so I was happy that he thought of me as worthy enough to
work on this project.
Shelly Skandrani (writer /
director of Greed; actor in Fraud): I was called to action. I was scared of directing a
horror film because I’m too chicken to even watch them, but I was told
numerous times by Nick that I was awesome and I could do anything. So I
jumped on board, and had a blast in the process! I guess that sometimes,
as an artist, as a woman, as a human, we just need to be told that we’re
What can you tell me about your individual segments in terms of
inspiration, approach to horror, cast, and the shoot?
Dragon: I cheated! As an
executive producer and originator of the project, I claimed Betrayal
and the wraparound segments for myself, while everyone else had to pick
their sins out of a hat! In the ‘90s, I had started work on a screenplay
based on the Inferno, but gave up almost as soon as I began. Over time, I
came to feel that had been a kind of betrayal of self, of my own
aspirations. I saw my part of this anthology as a shot at redemption. My
style is more Twilight
Zone-esque than some of the others. A supernatural
journey with a twist that leads to a personal revelation. In the writing,
I was determined to create connections to the text of the Inferno, though
that happens more in background details and Easter eggs than through story
(keep an eye on the graffiti). Some of Dante's themes are there, though it
might take some mental gymnastics to recognize them. Lacey Rae is my Muse
of the Macabre. I couldn't not cast her as the lead. Putting her in
terrifying situations, getting her to run through dark streets, making her
scream... it's what I do.
Tai-Lynia: I just thought of being in
limbo and being trapped. However, I wanted to ground that idea in reality
so I chose to have my main character be trapped by his own thoughts and
past discretions. I am a fan of horror when it's not cheesy. This was my
first experience writing horror and it was a considerable challenge but I
am happy with the result.
(actor / writer / director
of Lust): Lust is a romantic comedy about a dimwit who gets
his heart broken by an adorable drug dealer hooker. Our hero sells his
soul for true love but gets paired with a vengeful dark angel. I wanted Lust to be disturbing and hilarious, with lovable damaged
characters. There's horror and bloodshed, but first there's raunchiness
and heart. Casting was a blast. All cast members are sharp comic actors
and actresses I've known or previously worked with. Kind people who are
beyond brilliant. The crew was equally fantastic. Very talented, very
kind. I love horror comedies. If a movie is too dark I feel guilty for
watching. But with horror comedy I get the best of both worlds! My horror
movies are more Gremlins than Texas
Emily Louise Rua (actor / writer / director of Gluttony): I knew right away that I did not want to go the obvious
route of just focusing on overeating. Gluttony does not just focus on
food, but overindulgence in many aspects of life. It concerns an empty
excess in everything at the expense of the people around you. I also loved
the imagery of tormented souls in putrid, black slush! Gluttony is a sin
that I believe hits a nerve with women in particular – women are
objectified and judged based on their weight, how they look, how much
makeup they wear, their jewelry, etc. I wanted to highlight this pressure
and ridiculousness through the relationship of the drop-dead gorgeous
Stephanie (played by Ginny O’Keefe) and the plain, average-in-every-way
woman Becky (yours truly). I enjoyed subverting expectations and
portraying a little karmic justice in this piece. One of the best parts of
directing is being able to cast yourself, so I wrote the role of Becky
knowing that I would play it in all its self-deprecating glory; I enjoyed
the challenge of playing someone so meek and timid – far different than
my outgoing and confident personality. Ginny O’Keefe really stood out in
her audition for the role of Stephanie. From the moment she walked in the
room, she owned the space and was able to deliver her lines in a few
variations – which was great because I love to play with delivery for
different takes. The mysterious delivery man was portrayed by Jack Cutler.
He was one of the first actors to audition for the role and he set the bar
for the character.
Skandrani: Writing Greed was a bit
of a challenge for me. I knew nothing about horror films. I wanted
something that had personal meaning to me. The idea of people fighting
over money was just not interesting. I grew up in an all-girls school in
London, England. Those are very common in England, the idea is to promote
female education without male distraction, or societal pressures. When I
came to LA, I was hit with a crazy culture shock! Some women spent hours
on their hair and make-up, thousands on clothes and procedures, hours at
the gym. It was nuts. The expectations were so high, it didn’t seem
fair: Why should women work so hard, while men can throw on a torn T-shirt
and go? So Greed is about that. It’s about a stunning trophy wife,
Melissa, played by the gorgeous and incredibly talented Ashiko Westguard (A Dark
Matter). What she values the most is her own beauty, as this is
what society (and her husband) values in her. It overrides all other
aspects of her life, it’s her obsession, because her beauty gives her a
sense of security. It also creates a distance between herself and her
tomboyish daughter Olivia, played by the powerful Mia Komsky (Cold Case
Files). Olivia’s character is how I was as a kid, playing with the dog,
getting muddy, hair disheveled. Olivia wants her mom’s affection, and
when she doesn’t get it, she wants the beauty that Melissa is obsessed
with. Let’s just say, it gets violent. Very. And bloody!
Wilson (actor / writer / director of Wrath): Wrath was
inspired by the Philando Castille shooting done by police officers. It
takes the audience on a socio-spiritual journey as we follow the events
that unfold after Mark, the police officer, shoots Martin. I cast an
actual police officer to play the lead role of Mark because I knew he
could relate to the police officers in the Philando Castille shooting and
do them justice. The part of Dark Man I played myself because I knew I
could feel what the character would feel going through this whole ordeal
up to and including exacting universal justice. My approach to horror is
one that is reality-based and inspired by human intuition and spiritual
beliefs so that the audience already somewhat believes what they see
happening on the screen. This way they 'feel' the horror and ideally never
forget it. The shoot was very emotional for many of the people involved as
we were confronting an old battle of bigotry and racism that has long been
anchored in history here in the United States.
Alejandra Diaz (writer /
director of Heresy): Since this was my first time
directing something based on an existing (and very well known) work, this
represented a huge challenge for myself, so that's where the main
inspiration came from, to make justice to what Dante had masterfully
accomplished. Heresy was co-written and directed by my best friend, who was also a key member of the cast. The goal of this project was to
keep it simple, let the performance of the cast communicate the emotion
and drive the story - creating a more realistic atmosphere and story. I
think this approach was successful, as the segment hits the marks of the
horror genre, while at the same time employing more depth and meaning than
is normally found in these types of films. You could say my true passion
is communicating - telling stories through film, music, and art. This
philosophy is what guides me through my life, allowing me to see beyond
what is there, and truly understand the world around me.
Spencer (writer / director of Violence): This was actually my
first attempt at horror. I’m more of an action/sci-fi kind of guy. To be
honest, I was really nervous. Initially Violence wasn’t going to
have any dialogue at all. I wanted to bring the scary with just sound and
visuals. However, after a couple of rewrites I decided some dialogue was
needed to move the story. I was really fortunate to find Ria Gill. Working
with her was a lot of fun. A total professional who brought a lot to the
table. I’ve also been lucky enough to work with Ken May on a few
different projects, always a blast to work with. The coolest thing about
shooting Violence was shooting at night. I’ve become a huge fan of
night shoots because of it. I don't know what it is. Maybe it’s the
staying up late “working”.
(writer / director / digital effects of Fraud): I wanted my segment to avoid the most
obvious forms of modern-day fraud, which would be things like credit-card
fraud and identity theft. I thought that it might be interesting to depict
a “good” form of fraud. Since getting tortured in Hell is an extreme
form of punishment for any crime, depicting “good” fraud would be my
way of showing a gray area, where someone is punished for technically
committing fraud, even though she hasn’t actually hurt anyone. In this
case, the “good” fraud is acting, since actors pretend to be other
people for entertainment. The character’s punishment is that everyone
thinks she is someone else, even though she knows she is herself. I
thought that this fit with Dante’s ideas about poetic justice in Hell.
The idea of filming the whole segment from a first-person perspective went
hand-in-hand with this. Casting the lead role was tricky, since the
actress would have to operate the camera while performing. Anthia Gillick
definitely impressed me in rehearsals and during production because she
was able to follow technical camera directions from the cinematographer
Gil Ben-Harosh and I, without sacrificing her performance. She was able to
do this even when she had to bend her neck at weird angles to get certain
9 Ways to Hell being a horror anthology, is that a genre you're all
fond of, and why (not)?
Lacey Rae: I am a horror fanatic! My
parents taught me to love Halloween at a very young age, and it’s only
progressed from there. The intensity and physicality the actors need in a
horror film; I love being pushed by my directors. Creating a horror film
was a perfect fit for me, and what Nick Dragon and I originally bonded
Alejandra Diaz: Horror is one of my favorite movie genres, I have
always been afraid of trying it though, cause I think there's a thin line
between a masterpiece and something ridiculous; I like how horror can be
approached on so many levels and my main goal would definitely be to leave
a mark on the audience.
Derek Silvers: Horror has a lot of sub-genres
within it, like slasher movies, zombie movies, ghost movies, etc. Overall,
horror is a very wide genre that allows low-budget filmmakers to be
creative while still being accessible to mass audiences.
As I mentioned, I myself can’t watch a horror film to save my life!
I’m such a scaredy-cat! Even sitting with Nick and editing my own
segment was tough! Nick would laugh every time I jumped because of some
effect he was showing me. I never believed I could direct horror, but Nick
believed in me, and I trusted him. I’m really glad I did. It was such a
fun and empowering project for me to be involved in!
can tell us about audience and critical reception of 9 Ways to Hell?
When I first saw the film, I was seriously dumb-struck by how well it
turned out, especially on such a low budget and having seen the production
troubles that plagued us. Perfect for a 2am Shudder or Netflix watch, I am
absolutely thrilled that the reception has been as positive as it has
been, and I’m so thankful for and proud of the writers/directors who put
their all into their segments.
The $64 question of course,
where can 9 Ways to Hell be seen?
Nick Dragon: Good question. We're currently making the festival
circuit, hoping to catch the eye of some good distributors.
Shelly Skandrani: We’ve been the official selection of a few
festivals in the USA and Europe, been nominated for quite a few awards and
even won a few, including Best Feature at the Hollywood Blood Horror
Festival. The LA Live Film Festival is hoping to screen us in November in
Los Angeles, but with the pandemic going on, it’s hard to know if there
will be screenings at all, or where the film lands. I loved working with
the other directors and filmmakers, a lot of heart and soul went into this
film and we hope that it will get its moment in the sun (or full
midnight moon). This film has been an opportunity to focus on the
positive, to remember that even during a pandemic, there are ways to
progress, to create, and to connect. It’s been a hard and complicated
time for millions of people around the world. We share in, and appreciate
the struggle, and hope that films like 9 Ways to Hell offer a little
escape, and a little entertainment, to our audience.
Thank you so much for the opportunity to share our passion with your
readers. Let’s all stay safe and take care of our well-being!
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