Senior citizens dying is usually no laughing matter, but that quickly changes when they’re amusingly being targeted by a crazed serial killer roaming the halls of their retirement home and pulling witty tricks on their victims. That’s certainly the case in the new horror comedy, ‘Silent But Deadly,’ the feature film directorial and writing debuts of actor Jason Lockhart. The filmmaker created a comical and witty movie that showcases the fight the residents of a plagued retirement home, led by actress Dawn Wells’ character, Rose, put up as they struggle to protect themselves and save their home.
‘Silent But Deadly’ follows a group of senior citizens who are being targeted by a masked killer who stalks the halls of the Lake View Retirement Home. The story begins with a terrifying murder, creating space on the waiting list for Rose to move in. Upon Rose’s arrival, she is taken on a tour of the grounds by Dale (John Tartaglia), the quirky, offbeat manager of the community home. Rose is introduced to the other residents by Fanny (Camille Saviola), her Jewish gossiping neighbor.
Fanny informs Rose that the routine of daily life is all stirred up at the moment. People are disappearing, and there’s talk of a ghost lurking in the nursing home. As terror rises throughout the building, the fear of who the next victim will be, and who the killer is, continues to grow. The group of suspects includes Desperella (Muffy Bolding), the ground’s custodial manager; Kitty (Jacqui Holland), the sexy activities director; and Zeke (Lockhart), her punk rock boyfriend. There’s also talk among the seniors that it may be one of their neighbors who’s suffering from dementia, or seeking revenge on one of the residents. The seniors all rely on humor to figure out how to stop the murderer, who’s ruining what’s supposed to be the golden years of their lives.
Wells generously took the time recently to talk about filming ‘Silent But Deadly’ during a conference call. Among other things, the actress discussed how she was drawn to the character of Rose, as well as the horror comedy overall, as she has known family members and friends who have lived in retirement centers and nursing homes, and knows the antics of the residents; how she’s supportive of Lockhart as a writer, director and actor, and is looking forward to seeing more of his work in the future; and how it’s a joy for her to look back on her hit sitcom, ‘Gilligan’s Island,’ and watch the funny exploits of her co-stars, including Alan Hale and Jim Backus, who helped ease the tension that was growing in society when the show premiered 50 years ago.
Question (Q): You played Rose in the new horror comedy, ‘Silent But Deadly.’ What was it about the character, and the script overall, that drew you to the film?
Dawn Wells (DW): I thought it was a delightful adventure. I’ve spent a great deal of time in retirement centers and nursing homes. I had a friend in a nursing home for 11 years. I also had a clothing line that I designed for people who couldn’t dress themselves. So I knew all the antics that go on in the nursing homes, but of course, this is way over the top.
But I thought the film was so delightful, and the cast was wonderful. The fact that we were also shooting in a facility was a joy for the residents there. So it was a delightful experience.
I’ve also never played a grandmother in a film before, so I thought that was really fun. I also liked the idea of supporting new talent. I’m in a different stage in my life. I’m not necessarily building a career, so I like doing what I enjoy. I took a shot with this film, and I enjoyed it.
Q: Speaking of filming in a nursing home with the residents, what was that experience like overall?
DW: They were very welcoming. It was a small facility, and since they were there day-in and day-out with only a few bits of entertainment, it was a joy for them to see how a movie was made. Sometimes we would have lunch in the meal room with them. It was almost like going to a grey-haired college. (laughs) They were friends in the facility, and it was a pretty good place, if you’ve never been inside one before.
Q: How did you prepare for your role as Rose? Were you able to speak to the residents before you began filming?
DW: No, I wasn’t able to speak with the residents. But I have taken care of a grandmother, and my friend who was in a nursing home for 11 years, as well as my mother. So I’m very aware of the goings-on.
So the fact that my character was to be placed there, not that she needed to be, as she was capable of taking care of herself, but her daughter didn’t want her around, didn’t take much research. I understood her.
Q: How did you become involved with ‘Silent But Deadly?’ Did you have to audition for the role, or was it offered to you?
DW: I auditioned for the role. It was a cute idea when my manager presented it to me, and said, “This is a different movie. I think it’s a great script and idea.” So I went and met Jason and the producers. I don’t remember if I read for it, or just spoke with them, but most likely I would have read for it. But it was easy casting for me. I was pretty right for the role.
Q: Speaking of Jason, he both co-wrote and directed ‘Silent But Deadly.’ What was your working relationship with Jason on the set? Do you prefer working with directors who also wrote the script?
DW: I really don’t know if I’ve done that too often before. With most of the projects I’ve done, the directors were hired after the script was written, and the writers were always on board. This was one of the first films I acted in that the director also worked on the script.
Jason is quite young and just beginning, and is doing a beautiful job. I see his talent and how he works, not only as a filmmaker, but also as an actor. You’ll see a lot of him. It’s very exciting for me, because I don’t have kids. So it’s great to see him doing this.
Q: Were you able to have any rehearsal time with your co-stars before you began filming, to help build your working relationships?
DW: We didn’t have rehearsals before we began, but we did do a read. But Jason allowed us to rehearse before the take on the set, in the costumes we were in. I dont’ feel as though there was any lack of rehearsal, at all.
It’s very different than rehearsing for a play. My favorite thing is rehearsing for a play. We change and grow everyday. I enjoy the nuances, and we don’t have that with a film. You come in with it, and you hope you all blend. We have good actors who work well together, and sometimes it’s magic, and sometimes it’s adequate. (laughs)
Q: Speaking of also having appeared in theater, and you’re known for playing Mary Anne Summers on the hit sitcom, ‘Gilligan’s Island,’ do you have a preference of acting in one medium over the other?
DW: I do enjoy acting completely, but I do like the theater the best. I love the rehearsal time, and the progress and development, as well as being able to co-mingle with the other actors. I also love being able to read the audience.
But I haven’t done a sitcom in front of an audience, like ‘Hot in Cleveland.’ It’s difficult to do a comedy on screen when there’s no laughter. Timing is important, including how long you hold, and if a line works. That stuff happens on stage in front of an audience, but for films and television, it has to be total instinct.
Each medium hones your craft in a different way. But I do like the theater the best. I get to play more interesting roles on stage. I can fool you from 20 feet away, but when the camera’s close, I look like who I really am.
Q: ‘Silent But Deadly’ is being released on Video On Demand. Are you personally a fan of watching movies On Demand, and why do you think this platform is important for smaller, independent films like this one?
DW: I’ve never really done it that way before. I have watched movies On Demand, but I don’t know if they last forever that way. I’m an old lady now, so my technical skills are nill! (laughs)
Q: This year is the 50th anniversary of ‘Gilligan’s Island.’ Are there any celebrations that you’ll be a part of that you know about?
DW: I don’t know if anything’s planned. I recently attended “The Professor’s (Russell Johnson) funeral. This is the busiest year of my life. I have a book coming out in September, and it’s going to the printer in the next few days. I’m redoing my cookbook. I’m also doing ‘Steel Magnolias’ in North Carolina in March. I just came back from doing a documentary. I’m also doing a boat show in Vancouver, where they restored the S. S. Minnow from ‘Gilligan’s Island.’
I’ve also gotten into the technical world with my Facebook. It’s amazing to me, because everyone kept saying, “Dawn, you’re ridiculous, you have to start doing this.” But you really feel the love of this show for 50 years, and it’s amazing to me.
It’s now playing on Me-TV and TV Land. I was watching it the other day in black and white, and it’s really funny. When we were working, it wasn’t my cup of tea. But to see Alan Hale and Jim Backus with their gestures really was a joy. It took away from the riots in the ’60s, and the world having a difficult time. You could just sit and laugh, and there’s a reason why it’s existed for 50 years. It was a really talented cast.
Q: The film garnered awards and accolades at several film festivals, including the Los Angeles Comedy Festival, Hoboken International Film Festival, Sunscreen Film Festival and Myrtle Beach International Film Festival. Were you able to attend any of the festivals, and if so, what kind of reactions have you received from fans about the movie?
DW: I haven’t been a part of any of the festivals, so I have no idea how fans responded. But I hope the reactions are good, and I think they would be.
Written by: Karen Benardello