Cody Calahan and Chad Archibald started Black Fawn Films over a decade ago and have been churning out one indie horror after another ever since, each with the filmmakers’ unique vision intact while continuing to reunite with their roots and why they fell in love with cinema to begin with. Never succumbing to gimmicky nostalgia, their latest film Vicious Fun is an authentic, aesthetic treat for fans of ‘80s horror while also serving as a fresh new story that’s more than worthy of being added to, not only the throwback subgenre that’s become popular in recent years, but the lineage of slashers that dates back to its infancy in the mid-to-late ‘70s. Typically taking turns directing, Cody helms this time around with Chad serving as producer. The duo allows me to fanboy out as I ask questions both broad and obscure about one of my new favorites, Vicious Fun. They more than oblige, filling me in on what went into the creation of this retro homage as well as plans for a potential sequel (and merchandising) in the future.

SPOILER: What was the conception for the idea of Vicious Fun?

CODY CALAHAN: It all started from the title of the movie. I jotted that down in a notebook just thinking it would make a great horror-comedy title. And [the story] went through different iterations and concepts. Through a lot of pitching back and forth with me and Chad about different ideas, I think it was a couple concepts combined. But it really took off when we knew we wanted to do an ensemble cast of killers we loved from back in the day that we grew up on. It was about trying to find a theme or location that would keep all these people in the same room—why they’d be there. And through creative deduction, we ended up on the tagline of the movie, “A support group for serial killers,” and it sort of evolved from there.

SPOILER: How did James Villeneuve evolve your story?

CODY CALAHAN: It was a far more contained character piece [originally]. They never even left the Chinese food restaurant in the version we had put together. And then when James came on, and our story editor Chris Smets, it was nice because we had these rough outlines of these characters—some sketches, images pulled from magazines and the web and other films—and they breathed life into each of the characters. And once they did that, the story started to evolve on its own, which is great because they took it out of this contained environment and ran with it. We let the characters dictate where to go. So James and Chris were really good with managing the budget restrictions that we had, but also not creatively putting themselves in a box.

I actually think it was still sort of contained until we were shooting another movie called I’ll Take Your Dead and we were in a studio that had a hospital and a police station and a bunch of other locations. And I started sending them photos of all of these locations, just because they were things we could get, and that opened the door even more. But James and Chris, their strength definitely lay in the development of the characters. We sort of knew where the story was going, but the characters took us in different directions.

SPOILER: How long have the two of you been working in tandem and how did that relationship start?

CHAD ARCHIBALD: Man, it’s probably been, what, 14 years now,Cody?

CODY CALAHAN: Yeah, something like that.

CHAD ARCHIBALD: 13, 14 years. We met a long time ago and pretty muchbecame best friends since. We get to work together all the time because we created this company [Black Fawn Films] and both, creatively, are always working on concepts and developing for it. But also when we’re not working, we’re hanging out and doin’ what buds do. It’s been great! Since the start, I feel like our whole company’s been a little bit of a family. [Cinematographer] Jeff Maher, [composer] Steph Copeland—a lot of us have worked on the same films, with us and Breakthrough Entertainment.We’ve been able to grow and evolve together.

SPOILER: Ari Millen is another person who’s been in a few of your films on the acting side. What kind of direction did you give him for the role of Bob?

CODY CALAHAN: I have a pretty good shorthand with Ari. We grew up together—his mother’s my godmother kinda thing. We kinda grew up in the same crib, as they say. So as we grew up, he wanted to act and I wanted to write and direct. We came up in the industry together. So when the concept came around for Vicious Fun, he sorta knew about it because we bounce ideas back and forth. When he’s reading for a part, sometimes I help with auditions, and sometimes when Ihave a concept, I’ll run it by him to get his perspective as an actor. For this, I think he read the first draft and just attached himself to Bob and said, “Oh my God, the things I could do with this!” So we started talking, around 2017, 2018, maybe even earlier, about what the character could be. He started to throw out ideas early, and I do remember some of the ideas making their way into the script. It was a long process of designing a character, but to be honest, it wasn’t until about a month out [from shooting] that we started really talking about what we were gonna do with the character. But a lot of it came from Ari. He’s such a good character actor that he brought 90% of Bob to the table, and it was just about tweaking and reining him in, believe it or not, on certain scenes, and pushing him to go further on a couple. But the strength in Bob lies in Ari, and probably the fact that we’d been talking about it for so long.

SPOILER: I love the absurdity of Joel and Carrie teaming up together—two characters who would never be partnered in a movie of any kind. Were they inspired by anyone?

CODY CALAHAN: Again, it’s really a smorgasbord of characters that Chad and I have grown up on, so there’s not a specific character that [we were trying to recreate]. Obviously there’s references, like he’s dressed like Marty McFly, because growing up those movies [Back to the Future] were such a big influence. But he has sort of the cheesiness of somebody from Scream who knows horror better than the killer himself, but we took a spin on that as well. Joel is the awkward filmmaker that I am— that young wannabe that we all are before we start making films. There’s

a lot of my awkwardness in that, and the writers, and Chad. And Carrie’s basically our version of the most badass final girl we could imagine. Through drafts there were suggestions of, “Are they gonna get together?” But it’s in this world. Joel’s never gonna get someone like that. So it was important to make it clear that their relationship was more big sister, little brother type of thing. But again, lots of influences from other characters from movies from the ‘80s and ‘90s, but no one specifically.

SPOILER: I think why this movie is resonating so well with fans is because of how honest and justified the ‘80s setting is. It goes beyond just a gimmick. And while the story could obviously take place outside of that decade, there’s an isolation that comes with the lack of resources as well as the attractive aesthetic.

CODY CALAHAN: It’s interesting that you say it’s not just the aesthetic that drives the film. And honestly I think it’s because when we first developed it, in the first draft, it was set in modern day. And it was always about referencing the throwbacks, but there were cell phones and computers. The opening scene, instead of interviewing the director, he’s on a Skype call. So it was the same version, but a modern day spin on it. But after we got the first draft together we realized that all of these homages we were doing were really fighting against the modern technology. We had already designed the story and characters, but then it wasn’t until after the first draft that we decided to rewrite it and place it in the ‘80s.

So rather than jumping on the bandwagon and going, “Let’s make a movie set in the ‘80s and then create our story,” we created it first and we already knew what it was. And then it became more about how we can do this without making it some giant reference or seeming like we’re jumping on the Stranger Things bandwagon—which has already been paved and done so well. Our version of it was more related to our story rather than trying to encapsulate the ‘80s in a snapshot. It was our grungy version of what we remember, but also our interpretation of what a younger audience might think [the ‘80s] is.

CHAD ARCHIBALD: And that was really it. The story was never an ‘80s throwback story, but the characters kind of always were. They’re all designed around characters from the ‘80s. Believing that Michael is a masked slasher dude who goes into a campsite and kills a bunch of coeds and leaves, and now is in a support group, I’m not sitting here watching the movie wondering, “What about all the cameras everyone would have; all the cellphones?” So once the idea popped up, it really just felt like we didn’t have to answer to any of that stuff. We have these characters in their natural habitat, which is ‘80s films, and we just built it from there. It really wasn’t a decision of, “‘80s films are cool now. Throwbacks are cool now.” We have these characters and it makes sense to put them in the ‘80s after we had the whole story done. It did come together well and felt right from the moment the draft was revised.

SPOILER: Was the year 1983 chosen for a specific reason?

CODY CALAHAN: [laughs] We never referenced it in the script, but there was a consensus that we should title card and place it to prep the audience before we dive in. There were a few dates thrown around, but I think because I dressed Joel like Marty McFly, I picked a date before the first Back to the Future came out so he could be the originator of the orange vest; the original Marty McFly. And then aesthetically, someone told me that a “3” always looks better than a “4.” So it was just a quick decision.

SPOILER: And then the Mr. Midnight date was October 13, 1966.

CODY CALAHAN: Again, that was just trying to give Carrie’s backstory an age of when all this stuff happened.

SPOILER: Did you guys have an idea of who Mr. Midnight was? Maybe an idea for a sequel?

CODY CALAHAN: Oh yeah. We planned out a whole backstory for Carrie. He’s directly related to who she is, so we have a lot of backstory on him too. But we created an entire backstory to really figure out what we wanted to put in the film. Previous drafts had more of who she is and her backstory, and more of Mr. Midnight, but we just felt that it took away from the mystery of who Carrie was. But we still have all of that at the ready, and there’s initial rumblings and talks of what a sequel would look like and what Joel and Carrie’s journey would be, and a possible meeting face-to-face with Mr. Midnight.

SPOILER: I’m all for that! You guys nailed that schlock horror so well while not surrendering to it, so to speak. I think schlock horror isn’t what it used to be, obviously, when you talk about where it was in the ‘80s. Do you think that kind of aesthetic is dying?

CHAD ARCHIBALD: I think a lot of schlocky stuff came from just being low budget and that was a result of it. But a lot of those low budget films became bigger films and had cult followings, and inspired filmmakers who loved those movies to create something regardless of the budget, and create good stories that can live in that tone. Especially when talking about ‘80s films, there are so many that became great, not because they were trying to be schlocky, but they just ended up that way—a happy accident. And it’s inspired filmmakers for years now. If you can capture it right and design it right from the start, it’s a lot of fun.

SPOILER: How much of the effects were practical versus CG?

CODY CALAHAN: It’s all in-camera, it’s all practical. The only time we used VFX is when we needed to add blood because there were a couple of times where there wasn’t enough [laughs]. And then the only moment that was— it’s not even full VFX, it was just a head replacement—we tried to drop a table on a dummy of the clown when his head gets exploded by Carrie. And they dropped it hundreds of times, it felt like, and no matter what, the blood just would not shoot out on the floor on camera. It would shoot up into the desk, it would shoot up into the crew, it would shoot just off camera. And so later we had to go in and do a face replacement effect on just that one kill. But everything else is your classic dummy and fake body parts and fake arms—people holding their arms behind their backs. It was done traditionally the way they woulda done it back then, which is

obviously really important to us. Once we set it in the ‘80s, we said, “Okay, this has to be practical effects.”

SPOILER: Are there any weird Easter eggs that no one’s noticed yet?

CODY CALAHAN: When we designed the film world, there was a budget constraint about getting some titles that everybody’s heard of. Like, we can’t clear to use a Halloween poster in a movie like this. So we ended up using our first films from our back catalogue, stuff we made 10 years ago. We had artists redesign the posters to an ‘80s styling. And they’re [placed] throughout the whole movie, in the director’s room, and Joel’s room.

SPOILER: What are some of your favorite ‘80s horror movies?

CODY CALAHAN: I know going into an interview, I’m like, “Hey, I should think about this because he’s gonna ask what my favorite horror movie from the ‘80s is.” But don’t get me wrong, I love all the slashers and stuff—it’s all stuff I grew up on, it’s all stuff I had to get from friends, and older brothers of friends, and hide from my parents. But one that really stuck with me and was a really big influence, just in the silly craziness that helped me find the tone for Vicious Fun, was The ‘Burbs by Joe Dante. It’s never on anybody’s list—which I’m still so surprised about, because it feels like a horror movie and I call it a horror movie, but maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s more of a comedic thriller. But that one has a place in my heart. And talking about Vicious Fun, it feels like that had the biggest influence of tone. When a filmmaker says, “That’s the kind of movie I wanna make,” [for me] it was The ‘Burbs

CHAD ARCHIBALD: From the ‘80s, I definitely grew up as a Hellraiser fan. I loved all of them though. I grew up watching horror films. I still love them all. I’m literally sitting at my desk with an 18-inch Jason, Pinhead, Jason’s mom with the bag on her head, Blade from Puppet Master, my little pull string Freddy Krueger that talks to you—that was a present I got far too young. But what was so much fun about making this movie was that we got to play with a lot of those. We’re always trying to relive those ideas. We did a movie called The Drownsman years ago that was straight up supposed to be an ‘80s supernatural villain. Because that’s the best part about the ‘80s. These villains just aren’t created anymore. It’s so rare to have something that McFarlane or NECA would make a toy from. We do a ton of horror conventions and the one thing that’s consistent with all of them is that you’re gonna go to a bunch of booths with Nightmare on Elm Street stuff, with Pinhead stuff, Jason stuff, Michael Myers stuff, Chucky, whatever—they’re always there and are gonna be there for the rest of time. Whereas trying to create one of those characters now is so hard. It’s a different world that we live in. Whether it’s technology that screws it all up or what, who knows?

SPOILER: Well the characters in Vicious Fun, I could totally see as figures and merchandise. Have you guys planned on doing anything like that?

CODY CALAHAN: We’ve definitely been approached with the idea of that. In the next couple years, if Vicious Fun gets the legs and turns into a cult thing where enough people would want it, we would definitely be into doing it.

CHAD ARCHIBALD: We’re just gearing up for a physical release that we’re gonna be announcing sometime soon. There’s a ton of great deleted scenes—so many alternate takes where people are improvising. There are so many goodies on there as well as special features. We’re playing with a bunch of ideas for that release too. But a big part of it is how many people love the film. So if there’s anyone out there who loves it, retweet about it, post on social media, tell your friends, and get everyone to ask for a sequel. And if there’s enough hype around it then we’ll definitely go ahead and make more.

SPOILER: Do you guys have any projects in the pipeline that you can talk about right now?

CHAD ARCHIBALD: A lot of projects. CODY CALAHAN: Yeah, we’ve got something that could go to camera this year, maybe in October. And we’re just playing our cards whether we’re gonna rush it and get it shot this year, or wait until next year. But nothing else we can directly talk about yet.

CHAD ARCHIBALD: There is a film we did over the pandemic that we haven’t announced yet either, but should be getting announced in the next couple of weeks. It’s a fun, crazy horror film, sci-fi-ish kinda movie.

About the Author: Ethan Brehm

Ethan Brehm

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