08th Mar2018

Interview: Nicholas Tana talks ‘Hell’s Kitty’

by Philip Rogers

Doug Jones (The Shape of Water), Dale Midkiff (Pet Sematary), Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes), Courtney Gains (The Children of The Corn), Lynn Lowry (Cat People), Kelli Maroni (Night of The Comet), Ashley C. Williams (The Human Centipede), Barbara Nedeljakova (Hostel), Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog), John Franklin (The Addams Family) and a ‘Killer Klown’ team up for some Pawplay this March!

Based on the web series and comic book of the same name, and inspired by writer-director Nicholas Tana’s experiences living with a professedly possessed cat, Hell’s Kitty tells of a covetous feline that acts possessed and possessive of his owner around women. With the film coming to VOD in the US on March 13th, I got a chance to chat to writer/director Nicholas Tana about the film… Check it out:

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What can we expect from the film?

You can expect a fun, campy, horror comedy with tons of classic genre references, cult screen iconic appearances, and loads of laughs (part movie; part drinking game; part Rocky Horror Picture type musical), which serves as an homage to every type of horror film ever made (ghost; possession; bloody Valentine’s story; found footage flick, murder mystery; slasher; supernatural; zombie; alien; monster movie; horror comedy, etc.), and mostly set in a creepy 1920s apartment, based on the life of an imaginative writer, and his possessed and possessive pussycat ironically named Angel. In short, you can expect something for everyone, except, (maybe) those who hate the site of blood, and anyone with a penchant for taking themselves too seriously.

The events in the Hell’s Kitty were inspired by your cat. When did you decide that your cat would make a good concept for a horror film?

After about the hundredth time she attacked a date. Seriously, I was getting increasingly frustrated with her behaviour, as she kept chasing away potential love interests when I took them home to meet my cat. At the same time, I really loved Angel, and I didn’t know what to do about it. Later, Denise Acosta (Producer) moved into my apartment as a roommate, and decided to keep a safe distance, while laughing and watching with wicked anticipation (she has a twisted sense of humour; after-all, she helped to produce Hell’s Kitty), while a number of women would get scared off after meeting my cat Angel. I’d complain, and then she’d get me laughing, and soon we both decided that it would make a great movie. Adam (who plays Adam in the movie) used to joke about how I needed to get her exorcised, too, and he really was my neighbour for a time. I thought he was hilarious and although not an actor, he liked movies and writing, and so I asked him to be in the project. That’s when my writer mind took over and started to really ponder what a person would do, if their pet really was possessed. There would be probably a little denial at first. People with pets see them as an extension of their children and would be quite protective of them and any criticism. But if the pet started doing some really crazy things, supernatural stuff, too, there would eventually be no denying it. It sounded like a unique premise for a story. Also, people love cats. And there really weren’t too many horror movies about cats, especially nothing like this one.

Hell’s Kitty originally started off as a web series, before it was turned into a film. Was this transition always planned?

Yes, and no. Originally, I just wanted to take my cat, my apartment, and my camera, and make a web-show, which I could also use to promote some of my favourite non-profits that help animals. This way, Denise Acosta (Producer) and I (Writer/Producer/Director) could do what we love on weekends, and feel good about it, too. That said, I figured if I wrote it right I could always re-skin it (a gaming term), as a feature length film, and use that version to generate interest as a TV show. Unfortunately, the money made for distribution of most films today does not justify the costs of making them. The real money is in television. Web-shows and movies don’t make much money, unless, they have the backing of big studios. However, in order to get a real budget on anything, you need to have already developed your brand. It’s taken years now to create the Hell’s Kitty web-series, the related comic books, and now the movie; this has helped us to build a wider audience. I hope we can generate enough interest with the story in its newest manifestation to get a TV pilot financed. I’m also considering turning it into a musical!

What are the differences between the original series and the film?

The original series contains footage that we had to cut from the feature film. The movie contains the twenty-five-minute climax, and ending, which basically reveals the cause of all the calamity, and wraps up everything in the end. This way, those who watch the web-series will need to watch the movie to know how it ends, and those who like the movie will have to watch the web-series to see the parts that were cut out. In fact, the only way you can know the whole story, is if you read the comic book “Lost Angel in Los Angeles” as well because this comic book (illustrated by Michael Aushencker, who’s publications have appeared in HEAVY METAL magazine, and who created the comic book series El Gato, Crime Mangler), tells the story of what happens to Angel when she runs away for a few days. Neither the movie or the web-series reveals this; you just know that Angel disappears for a few days after hearing Nick tell his cat therapist (and love interest) that he could never really love his cat beyond the love one has for a pet. The Lost Angel in Los Angeles comic book gives the reader a cool glimpse of Angel’s run-ins throughout the various L.A. based neighbourhoods, with everyone from a Venice-based-fortune teller, a Hollywood celebrity tour bus, a Beverly Hills bitch, a Hell’s Angel’s biker gang, and a pack of Koreatown alley cats. You can get the comic book on Amazon.

The film is a mixture of parody comedy and suspenseful horror. What were your inspirations for the look and style of the film?

I parody most of my influences in the film. This is why, in order to appreciate the movie to the fullest, you should be familiar with: The Children of the Corn (1984); The Adams Family (1991); Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1998); The Hills Have Eyes (1977; Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003), specifically, the Emmy Award winning episode titled “HUSH” starring Doug Jones; Creepshow (1982), specifically, the episode “THE CRATE” starring Adrienne Barbeau; The Fog (1980); The Exorcist (1973; Pet Sematary (1989); Cat People (1982); Paranormal Activity (2007); Drag Me to Hell (2009); Night of the Comet (1984); Hostel (2005); The Human Centipede (2009); Cujo (1983); Psycho (1960); Ghostbusters (1984); and even The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). I was inspired by the films of Joe Dante, Sam Raimi, David Lynch, Quintin Tarantino, and the writings of Stephen King, too.

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With so many horror icons involved in the film, what was the process for writing their characters into the film?

I would write their scenes to fit the specific actor in a way that parodied the role that they were most famous for in the horror genre. In this manner, I would be writing five to ten versions of the same script (or scene) and sending them all to various prospective talent. Whoever, I got to play the part was the version that I would go with in the end. I’d love to get all those un-produced scripts shot or animated one day! It would make for some great alternative scenes on a DVD or for the web-channel.

Do you find it difficult both directing and acting in the film?

Yes, it’s extremely challenging. Directing and acting are basically two different types of skills that require very different types of awareness. As a director, one needs to be able to see the big picture. As an actor, you’re only one piece of the puzzle. However, in this case because the story was so much a part of my real life (Adam was truly a neighbour and a friend, Angel was really my cat, and she acted that way; minus the supernatural stuff; at least most of it, and Lisa was someone I had dated a few times, well, it was rather autobiographical). We even used my real wardrobe, and apartment so we didn’t have to dress the set! This made both directing and acting in it easier. It also helped that Denise Acosta (Producer) really understood me and the direction and helped to serve as a behind-the-scenes director at times, too.

Are there any elements that you were forced to change from the original script during filming?

Yes, there were tons of scenes that had to change. Depending on the actor, I had to rewrite the script a half dozen times. Originally, I had wanted Tony Todd to play a handyman who showed up every time I said handyman five times. In fact, I even had a real bee hive in my ceiling in my bedroom that leaked this weird gelatinous substance, which led to my penning a scene that never got produced. If you know the Candyman (1992), you know bees play into what helped to make him a villain; he would have been perfect. However, his manager didn’t want him to do it for the low budget and, so he didn’t agree. I was pissed because Tony had originally said he’d love to do it!

What was one of your favourite scenes in the film?

There are too many to mention. In fact, every time I’m asked that question, I think I mention a different one! I love the scene where Courtney Gain’s character is walking down the hallway to face off against Angel and there are all these supernatural corn fields there, and he’s acting as if, it’s business as usual. One of my favourite ones may be the one with Dale Midkiff, too, but I can’t describe it because it would spoil part of the ending.

Do you have any new projects which you are working on?

Yes, I’m always working on new projects. I’m trying to turn Hell’s Kitty into a musical, and I plan to pitch it as a TV show idea, too. I’m also working on pitching a feature length thriller that I wrote, which is very related to all these school murder suicides (a much more serious subject), as well as a dark comedy based on some real mob history, set in the 1920s Harlem Renaissance. I also have a comedy horror script called Hillbillies VS. Alien Chickens, too. I’ll let you guess what that one’s about. I’m hoping now with two solid films under my belt that I’ll be able to get some great collaborations going as well. I was recently chatting online with the great horror writer, Mort Castle, about turning some of his work into moving pictures. I think Charles Chiodo (Killer Klowns from Outer Space) and I talked a little after the Hell’s Kitty premiere about working together. I just love to create, and I look forward to working with other creative folks, too.
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