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An Interview with Calvin Welch, Director of Anglerfish

by Mike Haberfelner

March 2023

Films directed by Calvin Welch on (re)Search my Trash


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Your new movie Anglerfish - in a few words, what is it about?


It’s a supernatural western that takes place in an anachronistic version of 1906 following some of the last people on earth as they live out their final days. It’s just as much an experimental film as it is a narrative film and there are some pretty intense sequences.


With Anglerfish being a sort of western, is that a genre at all dear to you, and some of your genre favourites? And what can you tell us about your movie's spin on the western genre?


Yes, absolutely. It’s the “American” genre and I’m from Texas, so the western setting has always been appealing. I love pretty much anything by John Ford. My Darling Clementine was the movie I watched the night before filming. The best horror-western ever made is a movie called And God Said To Cain. And there’s an excellent experimental western called Let the Corpses Tan. But so many others! The classic westerns are filled with subtext and subtlety and actually criticize a lot of the things people claim the genre endorses.


The western genre is ripe for horror elements, but a lot of times those combinations just include vampires or zombies. The ghost/angel approach I took with Anglerfish (along with the experimental sequences) was my attempt to stand out.


(Other) sources of inspiration when writing Anglerfish?


The covers of pulp magazines like Weird Tales. My early-childhood Catholicism. Fringe theology. The Poena Damni trilogy of books/poems by Dimitris Lyacos. Paintings by Adrian Ghenie. Mysticism/esotericism in general. And all kinds of music! The song Ostia by Coil, Nick Sadler’s cover of Autoluminescent, and Alamar by O’Death were huge influences on the film.


Do talk about Anglerfish's approach to horror!


I’ve never really been scared by horror, but I’ve always been fascinated in it as a kind of “pulp object” and I think the genre is great because of that flexibility. Just having supernatural elements can make something horror. So I tried to build vivid horror “textures” instead of building scares.


Where was Anglerfish shot at, and what was it like filming there?


We shot at a historical site in the state of Virginia. The cabin we were in was built for another movie and they were very accommodating. The building was essentially empty though. There was a lot of work to do with set dressing to make it look the way I imagined. The property was huge, so there was enough variety for the exterior locations to work there as well.


Anglerfish is rather limited when it comes to locations - so what were some of your techniques to keep things visually interesting?


I made sure to set a precise rhythm in the first 10 minutes. So, scenes repeat a lot but they change slightly and develop over time. The idea was for the audience to pick up on the little subtleties and piece together the story themselves. And then there are the breaks into strobing images that drastically disrupt that pattern. So, maybe the the film is “too much” but also “too sparse” which gives it an interesting polarity (to me at least).


What can you tell us about your overall directorial approach to your story at hand?


The biggest thing I emphasized with the actors is for the performance to be internal - let all of the emotion boil beneath the surface. It comes across as dry on screen, but I can see the way these characters feel just by the way they look at each other. I think that’s how we interact with others day to day. You rarely see people put on big displays of emotion. I did make a mistake on set though. I had this idea that I could be like Andrzej Zulawski and at times I told the actors to go way too far/too broad. When I started editing, I realized I wanted to be more subtle, like Robert Bresson, so I had to be careful about what footage I used.


Do talk about Anglerfish's cast, and why exactly these three?


I received close to 2000 submissions and I cast all of the actors at the same time. They all looked like they belonged together in this world and they all brought a great energy to the audition readings. “Vibe” is the most important thing to me. You just kind of know if someone will work in the film or not, or if they’ll be nice to have on set. Everyone was really great.


A few words about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?


We shot this in five 10-hour nights with a four person crew so we had to move really fast. I can only work under pressure, so I was thriving, but shooting at night was hard for some people. We did have a surprising amount of downtime as the actors got ready in makeup, so people were able to take breaks as needed. It’s all a bit of haze. I was running on caffeine and adrenaline and I barely slept that week. We did have dinners at nice restaurants before each shoot day and I think those were great for building a bit of community away from set.


Anything you can tell us about audience and critical reception of Anglerfish?


Well, so far people haven’t felt too neutral about it, but I think that’s a good thing. The film’s in a bit of a valley between being “too pretentious for grindhouse; too pulpy for arthouse” so it’s hard to find a solid audience. The critical response has been pretty positive, but it’s annoyed some of the viewers that have gone into it expecting a traditional film. I think the work being polarizing is much better than being forgettable though, and well, at least it’s unique.


Any future projects you'd like to share?


I’m working on a sort of political thriller, but it’s really all about textures and associations and has a Cronenbergian “rottenness” to it. I’m done with the flashing image kind of experimental filmmaking, but I’m trying to become more subtle in plot but more intense and visceral in the impact of the images and sounds. As a challenge, I’m also trying to do all of the crew positions myself - from building the sets down to the editing.


What got you into filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?


I was originally attending school for theology, but I changed majors at the last second so I ended up studying film at a Christian school founded by a major televangelist. Most of the education was technical: lights, cameras, etc. but they did emphasize redemptive stories. Experimental horror is the funniest thing I could be interested in at that school, and my final film project was banned from the student showcase. I think I learned through rebellion more than anything.


What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to Anglerfish?


I was an art department assistant for 2 years in Hollywood and I got to work on one of the highest budgeted television shows of that year, a low-budget movie, and a moderately budgeted western television show. The experience I gained during that time was immeasurable and I learned what worked in a scene, how to find obscure props, how to negotiate deals, etc. I got burned out quickly though and I knew that if I stayed in Los Angeles I’d never make my own movie, so I took everything I learned and poured it into Anglerfish.


How would you describe yourself as a director?


Probably “mechanical”. My scripts are basically shot lists, and by the time I get on set I already know where (almost) every cut is going to be in the final edit. I don’t really shoot coverage and b-roll feels like a sin. But there’s always something on set that disrupts the “perfect plan”, so being able to pivot and instantly think of the next series of cuts/shots is important if you work this way. This makes it hard to communicate with the cast & crew, so I’m working on being even clearer and more precise on the script level.


Filmmakers who inspire you?


It’ll sound pretentious, but there are a lot of art-house guys: Pedro Costa, Robert Bresson, Philippe Grandrieux, David Lynch, Peter Tscherkassky, the list goes on and on. The most inspiring thing to me are the filmmakers that have specific visions and work with next to nothing to make really great films. Some of the best things being produced are random YouTube shorts or no-budget indies that would never get made through funding grants or studios. But a lot of arthouse people were also DIY punks. You can tell instantly if a film is made as a “pitch” to get into the system or if it’s a shout against it - and one of those is much better than the other.


Your favourite movies?


Too many, but I’ll stick to horror and westerns here: I Shot Jesse James (1949), The Gunfighter (1950), Suspiria (1977), Eraserhead (1977), My Bloody Valentine (1981), Possession (1981), Dark Waters (1993), Luz (2018), Climax (2018).


... and of course, films you really deplore?


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There aren’t any specific movies that I hate. I just get really annoyed when movies are shot and directed in the safest, most marketable way possible. But that’s more of a problem with the system than with the filmmakers themselves.


Your/your movie's website, social media, whatever else?


You can buy the film, shirts, and posters at And I am on Instagram and Letterboxd: @Caljwel


Anything else you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?


I think you’ve covered it all! Thanks for letting me talk about the film!


Thanks for the interview!


© by Mike Haberfelner

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Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
cuddly toys and
shopping mall Santas,
love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

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Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
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from the post-apocalyptic
to the weirdly romantic,
tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
the twisted mind of
screenwriter and film reviewer
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Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner


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directed by
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written by
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