The Cast And Crew Of 'Dead Night' On Their "True Crime" Demonic Possession Creature Feature [Interview]

(Note: this interview was conducted at Fantastic Fest 2017 when the film premiered with its original title, Applecart.)

With indie horror releases hitting consumer screens in droves thanks to VOD and streaming platforms, story ideas have to be more outstanding than ever. Anyone can make a slasher movie, so why should we watch YOUR slasher movie? With that mentality in mind, writer/director Brad Baruh offers to the masses his true-crime-creature-possession-WTFery flick Dead Night –classification be damned. One family's vacation gone horribly wrong, "experts" narrating the night with all the incorrect details – it's certainly not the most familiar horror construct.

/Film had the opportunity to sit down not only with Baruh to chat Dead Night, but a handful of his leading ladies in Barbara Crampton, Brea Grant and Sophie Dalah. Read on to learn about why Baruh opted for such a brightly lit feel, who Crampton stalked to secure her part and everyone's tolerance to filming in the cold. Oh, you thought filmmaking was all glitz and glamor? Sometimes you're in 17-degree weather, covered in fake blood and trying not to popsicleize. Take some tips from these ladies if you want to survive!

If you were pitching Dead Night to our readers in one or two sentences, how would you do it? I want them to know what they're getting into.

Brad Baruh: Dead Night is a nontraditional narrative film that explores a family tragedy in a cabin in the woods from two different perspectives, in somewhat of a Rashômon style with a bit of a contemporary twist.

That's way better than anything I've written already. [Laughs, turns to attending cast] As actresses, are you doubly-drawn to this type of ambition in a screenplay?

Brea Grant: I think we all read the script pretty early – it wasn't so much a pitch of an idea as it was, "Here's script" – which is often what happens. Honestly, I remember reading it being like, "Oh, could I be so lucky to get to do this? This would be amazing!"

Barbara Crampton: It felt like something different and the structure was a little different in the beginning. Brad can speak more to that, but, originally, the true crime TV show was first, followed by what really happened. You're watching the true crime portion and you're thinking, "Oh my God, look at this woman, what has she done to her family." And then you see what – you know – what the real events are and how they play out.

Then [Brad] decided to actually mesh the ideas all together and go back and forth because it's hard enough to watch a movie, but to actually watch a TV show immersed in a movie and go, "Wait a minute, I thought I was watching a movie. Now I'm watching a TV show?" So it cuts back and forth between the two and tells the story as you go along. It's a little jarring at the beginning, but then it becomes clear and it all comes together at the end.

When I first read my part, they didn't offer it to me. They just said, "Why don't you read this and see what you think of it and do you like the role?" And I was like, "Oh my God, I love this role. I want to play this role." And then I started stalking them. So, I was emailing Brad, I was emailing [producer] Don Coscarelli and saying, "Don't think of anybody else for this role. Offer me this role. I want to do it." And then time went on and a month later, I would say, "Are you doing the movie, what's going on? Call me." So, yeah, I wanted to do it from the very beginning.

Brad Baruh: And to answer that, as a horror fan, and just a film fan in general, you got Barbara Crampton saying, "I want to do your movie," and I was like, "No, I don't want to make a movie, I'm too nervous." So, literally, the push there, or the wait, was just me trying to muster confidence...

Barbara Crampton: No!

I was going to say, you didn't go right to Barbara!?

Brad Baruh: We did and she was like "Yeah, I love it," and I was like, now it's becoming real and this is really scary. Give me a couple weeks just to wrap my head around this.

Sophie, I saw you make a motion during that answer. What was your experience?

Sophie Dalah: I just really loved the script and I thought it was really cool to work with prosthetics. Yeah!

Have you worked extensively with prosthetics? If not, how did it feel for the first time?

Sophie Dalah: I never had my head cast before so that was really cool. Day one of shooting I was in prosthetics. My *first* day. I had no idea what I was going to do when I got to set. So, I saw my makeup and I was like, "Okay, let's imagine what's going on here." My face is literally like...

Not your face?

Sophie Dalah: [Laughs] My face is literally splitting in half. I have to think about how does that feel, to work with that, and trying to imagine what it feels like the way she feels right now, you know?

So you had to be a demon the first day on set?

Sophie Dalah: Yeah. And the next day when I came to set, no one recognized who I was.

Barbara Crampton: Because she'd never been seen as her normal self!

Brad Baruh: And it was weird when you showed up, it was...

Brea Grant: You got people scared.

Brad Baruh: [To Sophie] I remember trying to give you direction and talking to you, but you did look really – it's a little intimidating to look at you in that makeup. Because the guys did a great, great job. They're wonderful artists and it really looked creepy.

Sophie Dalah: I was sitting there while I was waiting to go back on set with my coffee, just sitting there. I don't think anyone wanted to talk to me because I looked so scary.

So you made a good first impression is what you're saying?

Sophie Dalah: The best.

Going back to the true crime aspect – and no spoilers so don't worry – but I'm curious now, because you mentioned that the film's fake true crime show wasn't always inter-spliced with the actual events. How was it originally structured?

Brad Baruh: It was not. It was written originally as a full true crime show first.

The idea was to set up a family structure. You get to know this family in one directive, and the idea of covering a lot of character development through the media's eye is something that we've come so accustomed to as a society. A television show seemed like a good way to do so.

The original concede was, yeah, we are first going to see the explained "how." We get to know this family and this crazy woman, then we are going to reboot and see the family go on this trip with the *real* events, which were previously talked about by talking heads on a TV show. And it was great on the page. Everyone reacted to it very well. But then we realized, as were cutting, that yeah, it might be too much for certain audiences to sit through an entire mock show. It's not everybody who watches these shows.

You dig yourself a hole, almost...

Brad Baruh: Yeah, you do. What we found with the cross-cut structure was, though jarring and definitely non-traditional, we felt like it was a little bit more interesting in the idea that it did take audiences out of normalcy – a bit off kilter. I think it helps because standard narratives obviously go back to the inception of filming. That storytelling is wonderful but you know, everybody does it, so why not try something different now that we can rely on a type of media that really is becoming standard with these true crime shows.

For the performers, did you look back on any specific true crime productions or cases to pull from real life events? Or real murder cases?

Barbara Crampton: [To Sophie and Brea] Well, you weren't involved in the true crime, right?

Brea Grant: Yeah, most of the time...

Barbara Crampton: We had the reenactors, so...

Brea Grant: I actually was involved in the true crime a few times.

Brad Baruh: [Brea's] the only one.

Brea Grant: It was just a brief, little thing. But the reenactors did an amazing job...

Even A.J. Bowen's doppleganger with the ponytail? [Laughter]

Brea Grant: Yeah, that ponytail!

Brad Baruh: The ponytail guy threw me in a panic. To be honest, we got there after casting him, this black-beard A.J. Bowen type from his pictures, and I talked to him on the phone, but then he got to set and he was this ponytail guy. I was like "Oh no, ponytail guy what did you do!" Then you realize "Wait! If this was one of those true crime shows, they'd just be like 'black beard, he has pony tail, who cares.'" You know who he is. [Laughs] He actually ended playing into it really well, but definitely I was like, he didn't have that ponytail before...

Brea Grant: And Alison Haislip is this great actress who I know personally. I thought she did an amazing job of doing the reenactment and it felt like those real reenactments where actors are very serious about it.

Sophie Dala: When she's chopping those onions...

Brea Grant: Real serious-like like looking off into the distance. It's funny how we also have me looking off into the distance in the narrative format.

Brad Baruh: Yours was a little less melodramatic. [Laughs]

Brea Grant: Yeah of course it was.

Can we talk about location shooting? Someone mentioned that Dead Night is shot mostly outside, which I balked at. Some of the cinematography looked so vivid it couldn't be real. Where did you shot and how did you get the perfect snow cover?

Brea Grant: It was miniatures, I'm just saying. [Laughs]

Barbara Crampton: [To Brad] Way to sell it!

Brad Baruh: We had a huge project, location wise. It was all real. We had a certain style and I, like you, saw how some of it looked and just said "Wow." It's because we're not used that shooting style. Independent movies wouldn't have the budget or the idea to shoot that way, and I talked about this. Like rule number one is don't shoot in the snow, so we're like, shoot in the snow! I don't like rules.

We went to Lake Tahoe and we shot in the snow. Visually – and Kenton Drew Johnson our DP did a great job – we wanted to go for a lit look meaning movies in the 80s, and early 90s. They would light their exteriors. The cameras have gotten to the point now where they are so sensitive that a lot of horror movies are shot in the dark. I did some work on The Purge, and I remember being like they are just shooting this thing in the dark. It's crazy, and it's an awesome look, but for us we wanted to go back to that lit look.

I wouldn't compare us to Aliens of course, but there's a lot of blue light in James Cameron's movies and whatnot, so we really wanted to get out there and light these big scenes and they ended up giving us a visual style that hopefully did stand out. But you're right. Some of it looks fake and it's not. We were out there in real blizzards. There are some CG snow-adds, there's some stuff like that but very little of it. We were in the Lake Tahoe area on the California side and it was just the combination of our camera and shooting on vintage lenses and the light out there. The actual snow storm really gave us something that hopefully feels different.

Yeah, and I hope my comment wasn't taken in the wrong way.

Brad Baruh: [Laughing] No, no! I totally know what you mean.

There's this one shot with A.J. Bowen between two trees and it was so perfectly symmetrical and I just sat there like "Is this a green screen?"

Brea Grant: What you don't know is that it's, like, 17 degrees in that shot.

That was my next question – how was it shooting in the cold for the performers?

Barbara Crampton: So, so cold.

Brea Grant: My character didn't even grab a jacket, which was true to life. We were talking about it a lot, like would she grab a jacket?

Barbara Crampton: Your life's in peril...

Brea Grant: I'm literally running around without a jacket. I think the coldest it got was 17? But it was in the 20's most of the days for most of the shoots and it was very cold. The coldest it ever got is the scene where Sophie and I are on a dock over the water. That was significantly colder...

Sophie Dalah: Freezing...

Brea Grant: And we kept running to our van. These guys were out there braving the cold...

Brad Baruh: She says that but I was literally in an Alaskan North Face, like the Michelin Man, and I was still cold.

Brea Grant: [Sophie and I] would go sit in the van and crank the heat up and fall asleep...

Barbara Crampton: Well when you're acting you forget about the cold, right?

Brea Grant: You do...once you start. In that scene in particular I had my hands exposed, I didn't have gloves on. I won't give it away but I had to deal with some teeth, is that a spoiler?

Brad Baruh: Not at all, and those teeth were really huge. They were really sharp, man!

Brea Grant: I was very cold and I was covered in blood, the dampness of the blood...

Sophie Dalah: I don't' know about you but it felt like the silicone my face was hardening and also sweating underneath...

Like freezing to your face?

Sophie Dalah: Yeah but I guess you do forget about the cold when you're shooting, except when it's a bit of a chore...[Laughing]

Brad Baruh: Also we had a long setup...

Brea Grant: Brad was so excited about that scene, and there were so many fun practical effects going on because it was all practical, and when we were dealing with that, it looked crazy to be there. That wakes you up cause you're running and doing all sorts of practicality.

Sophie Dalah: Like fake fighting, I never had to do that much before...

Brea Grant: All the tackling. [Laughter] You never hurt me!

To end, today's film festival atmosphere is really interesting because you can find immediate reactions on social media. Do you have a favorite reaction to the film that you've seen so far?

Brad Baruh: I was surprised by how much of the comedy landed. People really bought into A.J.'s stuff. We talked about it. A lot of it was off the page, his delivery was great. His interpretation of it was great. I was really happy that some of those funny moments landed.

Barbara Crampton:There were so many people who were saying "Was I supposed to laugh at the true crime TV show, because I wasn't sure?" And I was like "Yes! Of course, yeah!" There's so many layers of things going on, but you walk in and have fun with it.

Brad Baruh: For sure, 100%. I think the idea is to laugh at the true crime show because you're so used to the format. It's not like the true crime show is necessarily funny, but the melodrama of what they were doing was certainly intentional. When you watch the shows they are that ridiculous, so you see in that context. I thought it was a lot of fun to see how people reacted, so that was very cool.


Dead Night is in select theaters and on VOD now.