Interview | A Conversation with Cody Calahan, Director of Vicious Fun
Director Cody Calahan is making a name for himself in horror circles following a string of well-reviewed low-budget flicks. His latest is Shudder exclusive Vicious Fun, a horror-comedy that follows an ordinary guy (Evan Marsh, Shazam) who finds himself at a support group for serial killers which is hosted by a murderer played by Anchorman‘s David Koechner.
Fun and imbued with the spirit of the 80s, HeadStuff got the chance to speak to Calahan about Vicious Fun, his influences and the process of releasing a crowd-pleaser during Covid-19.
Vicious Fun is your fifth film. Could you tell our readers where you come from and what you have done previously?
I own a company called Black Fawn films with Chad Archibald and we’ve been making sort of high-concept horror movies for the last 11 years. It has been an insane journey. I got my start doing Antisocial and the sequel to that. Then I did a really twisted dark movie called Let Her Out. That was such a crazy journey that I took a couple of years off after that just to figure out what I wanted to do next. To follow up, I did The Oak Room and Vicious Fun almost back-to-back in 2019.
You co-wrote the film with James Villeneuve. What was the genesis of the film and how did your collaboration work with James?
So, I wrote the treatment five years ago now. And then I meet James through some filmmaking friends and we were just talking about writing something together and I pitched him the idea for Vicious Fun and he just ran with it. He based it off of the treatment I wrote but broke it open and went some new places with it.
Was there a conscious effort to make the killers in the film archetypes of different kinds of horror character? For example, the Jason-type killer or the Patrick Bateman-type yuppie psycho.
Yeah, so it was a balance. We wanted to homage certain serial killers and slashers from horror movies and we also wanted to take some references from real-life serial killers. So, it was about finding a battle between those, between each character and against each other. Especially for Bob we did a lot of research on Ted Bundy and I sent Ari (Millen) who plays Bob a bunch of written interviews. For each serial killer, we tried to compile some real-life references with some references from horror movies and sort of mashed it all together.
The film has a great cast from Evan Marsh and Ari Milllen (Orphan Black) to Robert Maillet, who people would know from the first Sherlock Holmes or Deadpool 2. Arguably the biggest name in the movie though is David Koechner. How did he end up being cast?
So the casting directors I think had worked with him [David]. I can’t remember how that started but we got on a zoom call and just chatted about it. David is such an awesome guy and he really just got what the character was and had a ton of ideas to bring to it. After our first conversation, it was kind of obvious that he would play Zach. What he brought to set was amazing too. Just the way he works is super collaborative. He threw in a lot of ad libs. It really loosened everybody up to really take advantage of the fact I was okay with people going off book.
What kind of films influenced Vicious Fun?
It was all over the place! Like a lot of Freddys and Jasons but then there’s references to Back to The Future, Assault on Precinct 13, even like some Terminator references here and there in moments. We sort of took all of our favourite movies from the 80s and shared them back and forth and watched them all again and tried to homage where we could and try to encompass the feeling of those movies.
One of my favourite elements is the score by Steph Copeland who has scored all your films. Why do you continue to work with Steph and what were your particular directions for the score of this film?
Yes, I’ve worked with her for all the movies I’ve done. I think we just have a sleight of hand. She kind of knows what I like and there’s a lot of unspoken ways that we work together. I’ll send her music references but also some images.
On this one in particular, before we started shooting I bought her John Carpenter’s Lost Themes. I bought her those two records just to get her in the headspace. We had a lot of conversations about making the score feel like it could be in the 80s but still be modern enough that it didn’t feel too old and worked as a modern score would. Finding that balance was a lot tougher than we thought but I think she killed it in the end.
This is a broad question but what do you think of the current state of independent horror?
Right now horror films are doing surprisingly well and more and more they are becoming blockbusters which is exciting. I do have my concerns just because of the pandemic. I think that indie space, that middle has been changed a bit. There’s a lot of really big horror movies happening and then really small stuff but that sort of middle ground is a hard place to be. I just hope people jump back from the pandemic and it doesn’t hurt the small studios too much. Because that’s usually where you find the unique stuff and unique filmmakers, in those under a million projects.
You mentioned the pandemic. How has it been having such a crowd-pleasing film doing online festivals?
It’s so funny because of all the films I’ve made, this is the one I most couldn’t wait to watch with an audience. It’s a popcorn movie. You want to sit with an audience and laugh when they laugh and turn away from the screen at the gory parts. It took a while to get over the fact we were never going to see it with an audience.
I think we will get a chance later this year. There’s some physical festivals in Canada that hopefully will happen. It was hard to adjust but I got to say hats off to festival programmers for adapting so quickly virtually and still making an experience – it’s a completely different experience! – but for still giving people something to look forward to. Some of the Q&As ended up maybe being better than the Q&As we might have done in person because everybody’s there, you can do it from home.
It’s a happy/sad moment I’ll say! I believe Vicious Fun had a physical screening at Panic Fest but I couldn’t make it down for that. There’s a couple of film festivals we might play and hopefully, they will still be physical because I haven’t seen it with an audience yet.
What is next for you as a director or with your company?
We’ve got a movie we’re shooting mid-to-the-end of September this year. We took Covid to develop a bunch of stuff and we were trying to wait for it to be over to go back to set but it seems like every day it’s still taking longer and longer, so we’re going to go back to camera and shoot under the Covid restrictions in September. It’s exciting to get behind the camera again. I’m a little nervous to shoot under these circumstances but it’s a new way of looking at it I guess.
What’s the project, if you can say?
I can’t say much about it – there’s a press release coming out in a few weeks- but I can say that it’s a coming-of-age heist movie. It’s going to be very different from anything else I’ve done which is funny because I feel if you saw The Oak Room, Vicious Fun is going to be a surprise. If you thought Vicious Fun was a surprise, this is going to be a real surprise.
Vicious Fun is streaming on Shudder now.