Holiday horror, like everything else, has become "a thing". What once was the yearly tradition of genre fans alone has now been embraced by the masses and their love of all things Christmas. A new addition to this tradition is now the competition (I did not rhyme that on purpose) of finding the most obscure or newest holiday horror magic that goes into the stack of must watch films. This year a title popped up that gained support through a crowd funding campaign and is in its final stages of production. Stirring aims to bring that old time Christmas slasher cheer directly to the screen and I was lucky enough to talk with its creator, Troy Escamilla.
Troy: I have always said that if I could only make two films in my life, one would be an 80's style throwback slasher and the other would be a Christmas themed slasher because, as a horror fan, these are perhaps my two favorite sub-genres. My first film, Party Night, is a total homage to films I grew up loving such as Prom Night, The Mutilator and of course Friday the 13th and Halloween, so there was really no doubt that my next film would be Christmas themed horror flick. I should mention that my favorite horror film of all time is 1974's Black Christmas; I find it to be a truly terrifying film that doesn't nearly get the credit it deserves for its influence on the genre. There truly is something unsettling and interesting about effective pairing the most joyous, wonderful and festive time of the year with horror and bloodshed, so I wanted to try my hand at crafting a holiday themed horror film that I felt fans would have a blast with. Hopefully, I accomplished that!
KillDozer: I have noticed a lot of debate happening between genre fans as to what constitutes a Christmas film vs. a film only being placed during the Christmas season. Do you consider Stirring a Christmas film? Did you write it with Christmas in mind as back drop or a valuable piece necessary to create a mood or make a point?
Troy: I absolutely consider Stirring a Christmas film. As mentioned, I have always wanted to write and direct a Christmas themed horror flick, so when I began the crafting the script, I knew Christmas had to play an important role. In the opening scene of the film, the inciting incident takes place during Christmas and is perhaps why the killer ultimately wears a Mrs. Claus costume. Most of the film takes place at a Christmas party and many of the killer's weapons are Christmas related, which I hope fans will get a kick out of.
KillDozer: Was the idea to shoot locally made due to budget restraints or for setting?
Troy: Definitely budget constraints. I would have loved to have filmed in the winter in the Midwest with snow to nail the Christmas "feel," but unfortunately that just wasn't possible. Instead, we filmed in June in Houston, TX which is about the complete antithesis of a Christmas atmosphere as you can get! As a result, I tried to confine the locations to be mainly interior and the decked out everything in Christmas decorations, lights, trees, etc. My goal was to have something Christmas-y in virtually every shot. So while there is no scene (except in one particular scene which I truly believe will be the most talked about scene in the film!!), I feel confident that we still captured the tone and atmosphere I was trying to achieve.
KillDozer: We have seen a lot of successful and strong female characters brought to the screen this year. Was the idea to add Mrs. Clause into the holiday slasher mix a conscious one?
Troy: Honestly, I just wanted to do something different. Killer Santa films have been done numerous times now, so I wanted a new twist. I've never seen a killer disguised as Mrs. Claus in a film, so that's really the reason I went with it for the killer's costume. And actually, it works out well with the plot of the film, since it deals with a killer stalking a sorority house with a sinister past. Again, it's something different that I hope fans will appreciate.
KillDozer: What was casting like on this film? In your experience do actors shy away from projects like this because of the subject matter?
Troy: Casting, for the most part, was pretty exciting. I actually brought back some of the actors I worked with on Party Night, which was a amazing because in Stirring they play completely different characters. I was also able to bring on a few actors who actually auditioned for Party Night that I knew I wanted to work with. Additionally, I was thrilled to be able to bring some very familiar faces in the horror community on board including horror icon Brinke Stevens, Helene Udy and Kaylee Williams. Having been a fan of these ladies for many years, it was an absolute honor to have them bringing to life characters that I created. As far as actors shying away from horror projects, I believe that if you are upfront with the type of project it is, then those who inquire will already know what they are getting into. However--with Stirring I did have an actress back out the DAY BEFORE we were to film her scene because she finally got around to reading the whole script and objected to what occurs in the opening scene (which definitely may turn some people off). Luckily, one of my local actresses Hailey was able to get ahold of a friend and she stepped in and did an AMAZING job, so a HUGE shout out and THANK YOU to Minela! :-)
KillDozer: Holiday genre films have been in the spotlight much more since the big budget release of Krampus. Has this in any way inspired your last 2 projects? Is it easier to gain interest in a holiday horror film?
Troy: I feel holiday themed horror films have had a definite fan base even before Krampus was released. It's always fun to see all of my horror fan friends on social media post what Christmas themed horror film they are watching each day in December. Fans are definitely eager and open to new Christmas themed horror films, and hopefully Stirring becomes traditional holiday viewing!
KillDozer: Are you a "jack of all trades" on set? Do you have to be when working on independent projects?
Troy: Oh absolutely. I definitely wore many hats, from set decorator, production assistant, script supervisor, etc. I even play Mrs. Claus in two scenes of the film, so that was actually a blast! There truly was a tiny, tiny crew for Stirring, so we all wore different hats. Actors pitched in and served as boom mic operators, and my cinematographer definitely stepped up and assisted in many other roles. It's definitely important on small indie films to surround yourself with people who share your passion for the project because chances are, they will have to help out in a variety of ways. I've definitely been blessed in this respect on both my films.
KillDozer: What have been the toughest parts about bringing Stirring to the screen?
Troy: As mentioned, definitely budget constraints and the fact that we filmed in June in Houston. Certainly with a bigger budget, we could have improved special effects, sound, locations, etc, but working on an indie film, you quickly learn to work with what you have, and ultimately I am very pleased with how everything turned out.
KillDozer: I see you also have a Krampus film credit to your name. Does this mean you love or hate Christmas?
Troy: 'Twas a Tell Tale Kramus Tale is the Krampus flick your referring to. It was written by another up and coming indie horror filmmaker, Jake Zelch. We've discussed working together for quite some time, so he contacted me to see if I'd be interested in working with him on this film. I read the script and really enjoyed it. Initially, I was going to co-direct the film with Jake, but it's filming in March of this coming year and unfortunately I could not make the dates work with my schedule. However, I still hope to assist him with the project because it really is going to be tons of fun. Oh, and I love Christmas!
KillDozer: You have done 2 holiday themed movies back to back. So my question is how long have you been surrounded by Christmas? And has it been torture?
Troy: Stirring has pretty much consumed my life for the past year and a half. Pre-production involved gathering as many Christmas decorations as possible. I scoured thrift stores and garage sales, begged friends and family, and browsed online for a good six months before filming became. Needless to say, my home became a mini-warehouse to Christmas decor! Then, having to deck the house we filmed in with the decor was also a time consuming challenge! While, I wouldn't say it has been torture, I can say that I did not put up ANY Christmas decorations this holiday season. Interpret that as you will! Haha!
KillDozer: Have you viewed Stirring with an audience? If so what have the reactions been?
Troy: Unfortunately, I have not since as of completing this interview, it is not finished yet. I'm just waiting on the score, which is an essential part of any film, to be completed. Once we have the score, the film will be done and I'll send an advanced screener link to our crowdfunding backers and to festivals.
KillDozer: Where can we follow you to support your work and stay in the loop?
Troy: You can find me on Facebook: Troy Escamilla And Instagram: TroyEsc
Both Party Night and Stirring also have Facebook pages where I try to keep people updated on any news, reviews, etc.
KillDozer: What is your favorite non horror Christmas film and why?
Troy: Definitely A Christmas Story! It's such a great film that captures a nostalgia that is rarely seen anymore. I also find it highly ironic that it's directed by Bob Clark who directed Black Christmas.
KillDozer: What is the worst Christmas gift you ever received?
Troy: Honestly, I have never received anything that I disliked immensely. If I personally do not have use for something I am given, then I become one of "those" people who regifts. :-P
KillDozer: If you could pit your Mrs. Clause against any other slasher in film history in a battle to the death who would it be?
Troy: Oh boy. I can't give the answer I really, really want to because it could definitely lead people to spoilers. So, I think it'd be pretty awesome to see Mrs. Claus battle Billy from Silent Night Deadly Night! It'd be like witnessing a lover's quarrel of sorts!
KillDozer: How did you discover Santa didn't exist?
Troy: My older brother ruined it for me. He found all the presents that my parents had hidden in their closet and unwrapped them all in front of me. Thing is, when he went to wrap them back up (because he truly thought my mother wouldn't be able to tell!), he had to use completely different wrapping paper because apparently my parents used all of the original. Instead of getting angry and saying anything, my parents acting like nothing was wrong, which I think was even worse because it caused my brother to be on edge all of that Christmas day.
KillDozer: Can you give me a fun VHS box style tag line for your film? (example-"The only Christmas miracle will be if you survive the night")
Troy: This year, you WON'T be going home for Christmas!