The children of rich, powerful and influential leaders in the community, particularly those dealing the emotionally confusing time of adolescence, can often feel like they deserve to get everything they want, and they don’t have to suffer the consequences of their actions. But in the new independent, low-budget comedy mystery thriller Bad Kids Go to Hell, which is based on the popular 2010 graphic novel of the same name, the spoiled students are forced to finally contend with their conflicts on their own. Described as a mix between The Grudge and The Breakfast Club, Bad Kids Go to Hell shows how ill-prepared the teens are to cope with the ghosts of their past.
‘Bad Kids Go to Hell’ follows six students, including Tricia Wilkes (played by Ali Faulkner) and Matt Clark (portrayed by Cameron Deane Stewart), from the prestigious private high school, Crestview, as they’re placed in detention on a stormy Saturday afternoon by Headmaster Nash (played by Judd Nelson). While Matt must contend with not letting his parole officer find out he’s in detention, he must also deal with the other five students fighting over a shared secret. However, during the eight-hour incarceration, each of the students fall victim to a horrible accident, until one one remains. They try to figure out if one of their classmates is secretly evening the school’s social playing field, or if one of Crestview’s ghosts if finally coming to punish them.
Nelson generously took the time to speak with us over the phone recently about filming ‘Bad Kids Go to Hell.’ Among other things, the actors discussed why he wanted to play the role of Headmaster Nash in the comedy mystery thriller; what it was like working with first-time feature film writer-director Matthew Spradlin, who co-wrote the graphic novels, and his younger castmates; the experience of shooting a movie based on a graphic novel and what it was like promoting the movie at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con.
ShockYa (SY): You play Headmaster Nash, who gives six students, the spoiled offspring of society’s elite, from his prep school Crestview Academy Saturday detention, in ‘Bad Kids Go to Hell.’ What was it about the character and the script overall that convinced you to take on the role?
Judd Nelson (JN): Well, I read the graphic novel, and I thought it was a lot of fun. I thought, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. These are horrible kids, and they get the justice they deserve. It seemed like a fun thing to be a part of, and it was.
SY: Speaking of the graphic novel, were you familiar with the novel at all before you signed onto appear in the film? Did you reference the novel at all when you were preparing to shoot the movie?
JN: I was familiar with it. But you don’t necessarily reference it, because on a certain level, a graphic novel has to answer to a different higher power. I was worried that we were going to do the graphic novel a disservice by making the film live action. But they kept it very true to the graphic novel.
We don’t necessarily look like the artwork, because we couldn’t match it exactly. But it’s pretty close to the story. The bad kids get punished for what they do. There’s nothing funnier than that.
SY: While ‘Bad Kids Go to Hell’ is a comedy, it also has horror and thriller elements in the story. Were there any horror or thriller films that you like, or referenced, while preparing for this movie?
JN: Well, I didn’t watch any to prepare for this. But I love scary movies. When I was a kid, I would love to scare the crap out of myself. To this day, I still think ‘Jaws’ is the scariest movie. I don’t think I’m alone when I go in that water, I’m hearing that music. (imitates ‘Jaws’ theme music)
I really like scary movies and zombie movies and gory movies and suspenseful movies. I’ll tell you, I was very impressed when I saw the first ‘Saw.’ I was like, wow, that’s a great film. ‘The Exorcist’ is also incredible. It’s a horror film, but also quite a drama.
SY: Speaking of the music in ‘Jaws’ and ‘The Exorcist,’ do you think the score influences horror movies?
JN: Oh yeah. You don’t necessarily know it’s affecting you then, like the ‘Jaws’ music, you don’t know how it’s affecting you. Then years later, and you’re in the water, and you’re hearing that, so you guess it did have a big effect.
Or those tubular bells from ‘The Exorcist,’ that great theme from the movie. I had it as a cell phone ringer for one night. I was like, no, this is not a good thing. My phone would ring, and I’d be like, oh, no, who’s that? Oh, it’s me. I gotta change that. (laughs)
Also, you notice the absence of music sometimes, because we get used to expecting some kind of unimaginative music when the bad guy’s shown on film. Then there are certain films that hardly use music at all. That’s a great effect as well. You go, what’s that, and you realize it’s just the ambient sounds in the scene.
I think ‘Bad Kids Go to Hell’ makes good use of the music and scores. I think it’s excellent. I think it pushes it to the edge.
SY: Speaking of the film’s music, it has been well-received by audiences. Do you feel the score enhanced the plotline and the relationships between the characters?
JN: Well, it’s hard to know whether music can enhance the character, per say. But I do think it enhances the fluidity of the project itself. When I saw the total cut, with the music in the film, it just really moved fast. I think that’s a real testament to the music, as opposed to it getting in the way. When you don’t really notice the music a lot, that’s not really a good thing.
SY: ‘Bad Kids Go to Hell’ is being described as a mix between ‘The Grudge’ and ‘The Breakfast Club,’ in which you appeared as one of the teens, John Bender. Did you reflect on any of your experiences from that film while preparing for ‘Bad Kids Go to Hell?’
JN: No, not really. In ‘The Breakfast Club,’ no one dies, there aren’t any flashbacks, there aren’t any other students that arrive as a result of the flashbacks. There’s no weather playing a factor, or any underlying school politics, necessarily. But ultimately, that film was about finding things in common. The end of the film is lighter than the beginning.
But in ‘Bad Kids Go to Hell,’ (laughs) it isn’t about finding anything in common, and it certainly isn’t lighter at the end than the beginning. It’s kind of an amusement park ride.
SY: Do you think ‘Bad Kids Go to Hell’ can garner the fan base and fame as ‘The Breakfast Club?’
JN: I don’t know, I think that’s pretty much anybody’s guess. No one’s an expert on that until we see the results. But everyone hopes that everyone will see whatever movie they work on, and they’ll like it, and want to see it again, and it will mean something to them. We have no idea if it will have that kind of a fanbase.
Also, it’s a very different thing. ‘The Breakfast Club’ is very much a drama, and have things that happen to all of us. Whereas ‘Bad Kids Go to Hell,’ it’s pretty unique.
SY: ‘Bad Kids Go to Hell’ serves as a modern spoof on teen films, including ‘The Breakfast Club,’ and caricatures the different high school teen stereotypes. Do you think the fact that the movie comedically looks at teen problems enhances the story?
JN: Hopefully yes. It certainly pokes fun at the notion of high school kids having to spend time together, and they don’t really like each other, and they suddenly do at the end of it. So it does poke fun at that. Hopefully that helps the film, and gives you some enjoyment when you watch it. I like that aspect of it.
SY: When did you first see the final cut of the film that’s set to be released?
JN: I saw it (at this year’s San Diego) Comic-Con.
SY: What was your reaction when you saw the full cut at Comic-Con?
JN: I thought it was a fun ride. I thought it was well-cut, well-shot, and all the actors did a really good job in it. They worked really hard. I also liked the fact that it was true to the graphic novel, with slight additions. So it did what it promised to do, which is a good thing.
SY: Did you feel that the movie was truly reflective of the graphic novel?
JN: I think so, yes. I think if you’re a fan of the graphic novel, you’ll like it. It really sucks when you’re a fan of the graphic novel, and they make it into a movie, and you go, come on, what happened to it? But I don’t think people will feel that way about this. They’ll be like, the graphic novel was properly served.
SY: You attended San Diego Comic-Con for the first time this year to promote ‘Bad Kids Go to Hell.’ What was your overall experience there like? Would you be interested in returning in the future for other movies?
JN: Yeah, I had a blast. I thought it was fun. It seemed like a science-fiction Halloween. Everyone seemed to be having a good time. There were so many people, I did not realize the scope, it’s gigantic. It really looked like everyone was having a good time. I liked the costumes, but I got the sense that people don’t get out much. It was fun, I dug it.
SY: ‘Bad Kids Go to Hell’ had numerous free screenings throughout the US and Canada in advance of the theatrical release date, including at San Diego Comic-Con, in order to give fans of graphic novel a chance to see the movie first. How did fans of the novels react to the film at the screenings? Did you talk to the audiences after the screenings?
JN: Yeah, everyone seemed pretty positive, but it’s hard to know. When you go to a screening, people always want to say good things. It’s not they’re going to go, that sucked! So maybe they thought it sucked, but they didn’t say so. But everyone seemed happy, and everyone was smiling and enthusiastic. So based on that, it seemed like they liked it a lot.
SY: ‘Bad Kids Go to Hell’ marks Matthew Spradlin’s feature film writing and directorial debuts. What was the experience of working with a first time filmmaker on this type of movie like?
JN: I think if you didn’t know he was a first-time director, you would not sense it from watching him on the set. He was very articulate, he cared about the project, he seemed to like all the actors, he got along with his crew great. There was nothing about him that said, that’s a first-timer.
SY: Before he began writing and directing, Matthew also served as a digital effects artist on several films, including the 2006 drama ‘Beautiful Dreamer.’ Do you think his background in digital effects helped enhance the stunts in ‘Bad Kids Go to Hell?’
JN: I don’t really know. I assume anything he brought to it, in terms of his background and what his strengths are, I’m sure they helped and added to the film. That’s definitely a way you can increase the production value of a project, in the graphic arts of it. So I’m not sure how it helped, but I’m sure it did.
SY: Since Matthew both helmed and co-wrote the script for ‘Bad Kids Go to Hell,’ do you prefer working with directors who also pen the screenplay?
JN: I think it doesn’t really matter if they have written, or if they didn’t write it. But I like having the writer around. If it’s the same person that’s directing it, that’s great, because then they are around.
When you have text issues, it’s great to be able to talk to who created it, and go, what do you mean by this? Or, can we make a slight adjustment? When you have the writer-director right there, that stuff can be handled very early in the rehearsal process.
SY: Speaking of the rehearsal process, what was the process like for you before you began shooting?
JN: Well, for me, they had already begun filming. I wasn’t there when they first started. So I had no organized rehearsal at all. I had discussions, and had some questions about the text, and solved all that stuff over the phone. Then you show up, and go to hair and make-up and wardrobe and get ready, and go out there, and get it running.
SY: While Headmaster Nash is a more limited role in the film, his main interaction is with the students, including lead character Matt Clark, played by Cameron Deane Stewart. What was your working relationship like with Cameron and the rest of the younger cast once you began shooting?
JN: It was great, it was easy to work with them. They were all very prepared and enthusiastic. With a project like this, with limited funds and time, you really have to just show up on set and be ready. All those kids were great, they were ready, supportive of each other and just pros. It was easy to work with them, they were great.
SY: Did you offer them any acting advice while you were on the set? Did they approach you, and ask you for any advice?
JN: I don’t just start necessarily start offering advice. It would be kind of funny if I went, “you might want to try this.” I would never do that. But if they asked me anything, I would certainly answer.
Sometimes you can notice technical things. Sometimes it’s important to notice if you hit your mark exactly, but it’s hard to look down at the floor and see where they have the tape for you to stand. So sometimes you can only have things that you’ve learned from experience working, and have other eye marks for yourself. So there were more technical aspects to keep it easier for them to stay in frame. But for the most part, they were all very professional and prepared, they were pros. It was great and easy.
SY: Would you be interested in working with them in the future on other projects?
JN: Absolutely. I would work with any and all of them again.
SY: Speaking of the limited budget, which you mentioned earlier, did that place any limitations on what you could shoot?
JN: Well, I think filmmaking is problem-solving. The nature of your problem solving will ultimately determine the ultimate character of the film, I think. Even if you had $200 million, you’d probably want to have $201 million. You’re always limited by something.
But necessity is the mother of invention. Sometimes, you have to have things be more at-risk, in order for them to make a better decision. I just try to keep a positive attitude, and keep moving. Don’t agonize or punish yourself or anyone else.
SY: If there was more money for the movie, would you be interested in going back and adding anything? Or do you think having the limited budget shaped the movie into what it is?
JN: Well, I’m sure if you were to talk to the filmmakers, I’m sure there are some things they would do differently. But just as an actor on the film, if they wanted me to do something again, I’d do it. If they’re happy with it, then I’m happy with it.
SY: Over the course of your career, you’ve also starred in bigger budget films, besides independent movies like ‘Bad Kids Go to Hell.’ Do you prefer the bigger budget films over the independent movies, or vice versa, or do you enjoy acting overall?
JN: I enjoy doing both, overall. I don’t necessarily consider the budget-that’s not high on my list of why I would be drawn to a project. It’s much more the story.
SY: While you’re known for your acting, would you be interested in eventually directing or writing, or would you prefer to keep acting?
JN: No, I’d be interested in any kind of collaboration. I’ve been doing quite a bit of writing. I have a writing partner, and we’ve probably written maybe 75 projects. Some are short screenplays, some are pilots for series, some are feature-length films.
I think I’ll probably move behind the camera. I’ve had a few opportunities, but I haven’t really pulled the trigger yet. I really like the writing process. You feel like you have some kind of control. I would definitely work in a capacity as a writer or collaborator or any number of hats. The whole process of making films is quite fascinating.
SY: Besides films, you have also appeared on television, including such shows as ‘Suddenly Susan’ and ‘Two and a Half Men.’ Do you have a preference of one medium over the other, and would you be interested in returning to television in the future?
JN: I like all the mediums, they’re all different, slightly, but they’re all similar. I think the most satisfying, from an actor’s perspective, is doing live theater. You definitely have to rehearse it first. You start at the beginning, and go all the way to the end in sequence, and that’s just wonderful.
Working on TV and films I enjoy. A sitcom was fun, because it’s just like a one-act play every week. You get the advantage of a live audience. You may think what’s going on is good, but you can tell it’s not, because the audience really isn’t responding. So it’s good to have that experience as well. I like them all, all the forms are good.
SY: Do you have any plans or interest in doing theater in the future?
JN: Oh yeah, I would love to. But what’s hard with theater sometimes is that a theater will plan their season well in advance, and a lot of times, I hardly know my schedule months in advance. But I’ve done a few plays, and I’d love to do more. I really enjoy it.
SY: Has appearing in the plays influenced your work in films and on television, or do you prepare differently for the different mediums?
JN: Well, I think you prepare differently for every project, regardless of medium. You also prepare differently for each medium. But I think it all contributes to the depths of your work, as does any technique and getting yourself in good physical condition and voice work. It’s all a good stew.
SY: Do you have any upcoming acting or writing projects lined up that you can discuss?
JN: Well, I got one out right now that Henry Jaglom (wrote and) directed, called ‘Just 45 Minutes from Broadway.’ Then I did a project called ‘Nurse 3-D’ that will come out sometime this spring.
Written by: Karen Benardello