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An Interview with Javan Garza, Director of When a Stranger Knocks

by Mike Haberfelner

February 2024

Films firected by Javan Garza on (re)Search my Trash


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Your new movie When a Stranger Knocks - in a few words, what's it about?


This is a tough one for me. It's about so much. But, as far as the plot goes, it's about Ďgriefí. Two siblings go to their childhood cabin to spread their father's ashes and basically face the harsh realization of mortality. And of courseÖ there's a monster at the end of that journey.


What were your sources of inspiration when writing When a Stranger Knocks?


Curious George was the original inspiration. The Ranger's silhouette is really pulled from the Man in Yellow from Curious George. Then sprinkle some Venezuelan mythos of El Silbůn and a little family trauma, and boom, you have When a Stranger Knocks.


Do talk about When a Stranger Knocks' approach to horror!


Our approach is very direct. In my previous film I wanted to hide everything and make the audience guess who was the bad guy, but with this one I wanted it all out there. I wanted the audience to know immediately who is who. It's simple in a way, good and evil, angels and demons... black and white.


When a Stranger Knocks is, at least when it comes to horror, quite heavy on fight scenes - so do talk about the fights in your movie for a bit, and how were they staged?


I have to mention the MVP of the movie here, Eddie Wells; he was our fight choreographer. Crazy thing too, we celebrated his 60th birthday on set with having him being punched in the face by Dawn Hamil [Dawn Hamil interview - click here] several times. Poor guy. He and Dawn did an incredible job with those, all my camera team had to do was pick some solid angles and shoot. We wanted them to feel very visceral and real and painful. We know the audience is waiting a long while for the BANG, so we wanted to deliver, and just to make sure we did we shot some of them twice.


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


I think I lead with a lot of gut intuition. I never feel like I did a good job when I write, and I know Iím not that great at dialogue. I try to just build a space where the actors and the crew can shine. I give them what I feel a scene or a shot needs to convey, I try to be as clear as I can when it comes to that, then allow them to build on that and bring the scene to life. Collaboration would probably be the key word, but also knowing what I want and donít want.


Do talk about When a Stranger Knocks' cast, and why exactly these people?


Why these people? Because I love them. Really. Joseph Bishop [Joseph Bishop interview - click here] is my life long best friend, Dawn Hamil is the sister I never wanted (joking) and weíve known each other and been working together for a decade now. Steven Marlow [Steven Marlow interview - click here] I met on my first film, and that guy is just an absolute joy to be around. He always makes me laugh. Ty Anthony Smith [Ty Anthony Smith interview - click here] was the newest addition, Dawn knew him and showed me his work, and his audition just blew me away. It feels very effortless in the way when he plays a scene. Alexiona Gettis is so young and raw, her eyes spoke to a lot of depth of soul in her audition. She sort of understood exactly what was needed from that character without there even needing to be an explanation. She just clicked. And Clint (James Clinton [James Clinton interview - click here]) is my mentor, he believed in me before anyone else did outside of my family and in the professional world. I really wanted to have him in the film in a way to show him that he wasnít wrong in believing in me and supporting me. It felt good to be able to actually pay him to do what he does best. Heís a classically trained Shakespearean actor and it shows.


You of course also have to talk about When a Stranger Knocks' main location, and what was it like filming there?


Itís a beautiful location. Jerry, the owner, we met through AirBnB and he was so gracious with us. He gave us the run of the whole place. I love wood flooring and paneling, and the cabin had everything. Strangely enough, one night on set (because some of us did stay and sleep there during filming) there was a tornado right outside the window, it woke me up, sent shivers down my spine, and then I ran outside to see the hail the size of golfballs raining down. The first time Iíve ever seen that in Florida. And I slept upstairs, in the top room, where you see Elly appear in the closet. That closet was eerie, because thereís a door in the back that leads into the attic. (Insert creepy laugh.)


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


I donít know if Iím the right person to speak to the atmosphere. I was always stressed out and crossing my fingers we got everything we needed to make the film. But, that being said, I love being on set. Itís the best place in the world. And the crew we had to make this was amazing. I love all of them, deeply. They made me laugh so many times. I like the atmosphere to be very loose and open to play, you need that when making a horror film and dealing with very dark subject material.


Anything you can tell us about audience and critical reception of When a Stranger Knocks?


So far, the reception has been very positive. Which I did not expect. Itís difficult working on something sort of away from civilization in a closet for 8 months, then releasing it and getting such positive and uplifting results. Itís difficult for me to accept praise orÖ I donít know. Iím very humbled by it, I never want to let anyone down, or someone feel like their time was wasted, so to see reviews and comments from people saying they enjoyed it, itís too much for my heart to take.


Any future projects you'd like to share?


Two wordsÖ analog horror. Or another two wordsÖ liminal space. When things really start rolling, I promise youíll get the first big scoop.


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


I went to theatre school and worked in Broadway style theatre for 4 years with James Clinton and Bob Whittaker at NorthWest Florida State College. There I met Joseph and several other industry folks that wanted to make movies. From there we just got together as a collective and began filming and editing our own short films. This was from like 2009 to 2012, so it sort of still felt like the wild west a little. Not as many YouTube tutorials as there are now.


What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to When a Stranger Knocks?


My film work has been very consistent. I made several bad short films in college, then went on to make an extended short film, then finally a solid short film that went on to some festivals. From there I made my first feature film, which was terrible but had some really solid nuggets that were great. I decided to go back and make more short films, and I really started to feel I understood how the process worked. Itís hard to learn anywhere else than just by being on set and actually MAKING movies. Iíve written several films, some that went on to be made by other directors, but Iíve always been working in the commercial field and documentary space. Those are great to cut your teeth on. They teach you the economics of filmmaking.


As a filmmaker, you seem to never stray too far from the horror genre - so why is that?


Because for me, itís the best genre. Itís the most creative and fruitful, full with new ideas and youíre able to take risks. John Carpenter is a huge inspiration to me. His work is so elegantly simple and direct and really allows the mind to wander into dark spaces. Itís pure in a way. The audience wants to be scared, and you want to scare them. My brother and I grew up scaring each other all the time. Itís a joyful feeling, touching the darkness and knowing you survived. Thereís a reason even Christopher Nolan wants to make a horror film.


How would you describe yourself as a director?


This question kind of stumps me. I donít know exactly. Iím curious. I find stories and the structure of storytelling to be fascinating. Filmmaking is so interesting. The mechanics of it. Itís like the casting of spells or an illusion. If you can trick the audience into believing it, into feeling it, then youíve accomplished something really special.


Filmmakers who inspire you?


All of them (joking). I mean, Ridley Scott and John Carpenter are up there at the top. A lot of those 70s filmmakers that really took the industry by the throat and made it their own. Kubrick, Nolan, and Fincher as well, they canít really do anything wrong. But, I will say one modern filmmaker Iím absolutely blown away by and very very interested in her career going forward is Rose Glass. Her film Saint Maud inspires me a lot. She seems very fearless and I respect the hell out of that.


Your favourite movies?


Oh the tough questions. Do you have all day? Dog Day Afternoon is incredible, I love the rawness and documentary feel of that film. Nolanís The Prestige blew my socks off as a teenager. Alien, The Thing, Planet of the Apes are just classics. Anything with George C Scott. But one film I can always watch and always makes me laugh no matter what is going on in my life is Edgar Wrightís The Worldís End with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Itís scary but I see a lot of myself in Gary King.


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


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Oh geez, I canít do that. I want to continue working in this industry lol. I will definitely say my first feature film, itís a mess.


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


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


I will mention you. Thank you for doing this. Thank you very very much for the great review, it means the world to me, really. Any time someone likes something Iíve created it really blows my mind and I take it with me. We spend all this time alone, thinking about projects and stories we want to tell and working on them. And when people like yourself are interested in them and enjoy those works, itís incredibly humbling. So, thank you.


Thanks for the interview!


© by Mike Haberfelner

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Thanks for watching !!!



In times of uncertainty of a possible zombie outbreak, a woman has to decide between two men - only one of them's one of the undead.


There's No Such Thing as Zombies
Luana Ribeira, Rudy Barrow and Rami Hilmi
special appearances by
Debra Lamb and Lynn Lowry


directed by
Eddie Bammeke

written by
Michael Haberfelner

produced by
Michael Haberfelner, Luana Ribeira and Eddie Bammeke


now streaming at


Amazon UK





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

is all of that.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
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
Michael Haberfelner.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner


Out now from