A group of deranged psychopaths are simultaneously being awoken over the course of one terrifying night, and are intent on wreaking havoc across the City of Angels. Horror auteur Mickey Keating powerfully redefines what it means to be a predator and victim in his latest movie, ‘Psychopaths,’ which is being distributed On Demand today by Samuel Goldwyn Films, following last month’s limited theatrical release. The filmmaker’s new project uses nightmarish imagery and eerie sentiments to emphasize the chilling nature of the macabre title characters, who truly believe their gruesome actions are helping humanity.
‘Psychopaths,’ which takes place over the course of a single petrifying night, begins with a serial killer, Henry Earl Starkweather (Larry Fessenden, who also served as an executive producer on the movie), announcing just before his execution that his death will unleash a wave of violent chaos across Los Angeles. The convicted murderer’s prophecy proves to be true, as a group of other serial killers embark on their own rampages across the city.
Among the killers are Alice (Ashley Bell), an escaped mental patient who imagines that she’s living in a 1950s-glamour world; Blondie (Angela Trimbur), a beautiful seductress who lures men down into her suburban basement, and proves to be more than a sadistic match for her latest attacker; a strangler (James Landry Hebert), who preys on unsuspecting women; and an enigmatic masked contract killer (Sam Zimmerman), whose next job sends him to seedy nightclub. A couple of the murderers’ fate are tested when they unexpectedly cross paths with a cop (Jeremy Gardner) who’s seemingly more interested in the notoriety of capturing the outlaws than protecting innocent lives. But as the night progresses, the body-count rises, and the fate of these deranged killers is sealed in blood.
Keating and Fessenden generously took the time recently to talk about writing, directing, producing and starring in ‘Psychopaths’ during individual exclusive interviews over the phone. The interviews took place after Shockya was graciously given the opportunity to speak with the filmmaker and actor on the red carpet before the drama had its World Premiere in the Midnight Section of last spring’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.
The conversation with Keating began with him sharing that he started to pen the script for ‘Psychopath’ after he finished production on his 2016 thriller, ‘Darling.’ “I was very intrigued by the idea of making a film that has more of an ensemble piece of crazy killers. Being able to have that freedom to cut back and forth, and edit together the most exciting bits, was exciting,” the writer revealed.
“From there, I had met Ashley Bell on my previous movie, ‘Carnage Park.’ So I wrote a role for her in ‘Psychopaths,'” Keating shared.
“During that time, I was also looking for financiers for this film. I met Cam (McLellan) and Al (Lewison), who are producers on, and financed, the film. The stars then aligned, and we were able to hit the ground running, fairly efficiently. It took awhile to get the movie off the ground, but when we did, the momentum continued rolling,” the filmmaker also divulged.
In addition to discussing the process of writing the screenplay, Keating also delved into his process of directing the drama, once the writing process was completed. “It was complete chaos! We were on pre-production for the film, and we had gotten into Sundance with my previous movie (‘Carnage Park’). While we were at Sundance, I was in heavy pre-production on ‘Psychopaths.’ Then two weeks after we left Sundance, we were began principal photography on this film,” the helmer revealed.
“The process of having a film that was completed, and then immediately start production on my next movie, which is nothing like my other projects, was exciting. I didn’t want ‘Psychopaths’ to look or feel anything like ‘Carnage Park,’ so I made a considerable effort to make this movie as refreshing as possible. So it was a crazy ride!,” Keating admitted with a laugh.
In addition to Bell and Fessenden, the horror movie also stars a diverse ensemble cast that includes Hébert, Trimbur and Gardner. The director then delved into what the casting process was like for ‘Psychopaths.’ “I’m a really devoted guy, so when there’s an actor who I really love working with, I try really hard to convince them to be in my next film. So I wrote the roles for James, Ashley and Larry. I’ve also been a big fan of Jeremy for a long time, so I was fortunate when he said he would play the cop,” the filmmaker revealed. “I had met Angela at Sundance, and thought she was perfect for this movie. In the script, her character was originally older, and also a housewife. But when I met Angela, I built the character more around her and her persona.”
Keating added that he “had the freedom of saying, ‘I have all of these kooky characters. I present them to you, the actors, and let’s make them what you want to make them.’ So building the characters with them was a really organic experience
Fessenden began his interview by explaining how he became involved in the production of ‘Psychopaths.’ “I run a company called Glass Eye Pix, and we produced the movie. I’ve known Mickey since he was an intern at the company. So I’ve been involved in every movie he’s made, usually as an actor. But I’ve also produced ‘Darling’ and now, ‘Psychopaths,” the producer shared. “I think Mickey has an amazing energy as a director, and I’m happy to support him. He was a great intern, and I’ve been happy to watch him progress as an artist.”
One of Fessenden’s job duties at the production company “is to decide if a film fits into our company’s vision, and nurture upcoming directors. So my partner at Glass Eye, Jenn Wexler, got me to read the script (for ‘Psychopaths,’) and I said, ‘Yes, let’s do it,'” he shared.
“At the last minute, Mickey asked me to also play the crazy guy in the beginning of the movie. We actually filmed that scene after the primary shoot,” the actor revealed. “Acting is always thrilling, and he always gives me juicy roles.”
Once the performer agreed to also star in ‘Psychopaths,’ he did some research to connect with, and understand, his character’s motivations and emotions. “I borrowed from (Charles) Manson, who was still alive at the time we filmed the movie,” Fessenden divulged. “Over the years, he’s had a connection to some of the projects I’ve worked on; he was the subject of a play I was involved in years ago. I’m also a fan of Roman Polanski’s work. So Manson has a mythic and terrifying quality, so I looked at him for influence.”
Keating also sent the actor information about other serial killers, “and for better or worse, they’re also easy to access on YouTube. So you try to get into their mindset. There’s also the serial killer that the movie ‘Monster’ is based on, Aileen Wuornos, and she’s pretty intense, as well. So you do a little research like that, and then you have to get specific to the text of the script that you’re working on,” the actor explained.
The research process was also important to the scribe while he was working on the script. “The research allowed me to take the characters wherever the darkness of their minds led them. With Ashley, we sat down and talked” about kind of investigation they should do, in order to better understand, and connect with, her character. “I gave the actors a whole bunch of movie references to use while they were preparing for their roles. Ashley also began reading all of these books about schizophrenia and that kind of behavior,” Keating also shared.
“Also, with someone like James, who played The Strangler, he had the ability to take all of the inklings of insanity that he used in my previous film (‘Carnage Park’), and dial them up to an 11. Every actor was very different, but the research came in talking to them, and figuring what type of character they wanted to convey, and really build their arc around them,” the scribe further divulged.
In addition to doing research in order to connect with his villainous character in ‘Psychopaths,’ Fessenden also embraced the physicality that he created. He explained with a laugh, “I have a friend who I always joke with about that, and we say that you act through hair. So I first decided on the look the character would have, and choose to have him unshaven.”
The performer added that “We also have this old electric chair” that was used for the serial killer’s execution. “It seemed like we used that chair for hours! But acting is extremely physical, no matter what you’re doing. That’s especially true for what the other actors went through.”
Since ‘Psychopaths’ follows the serial killers as they embark on their nights of unleashing terror on their unsuspecting victims, Keating really embraced the process of also working with the actors on their physicality and stunts. The helmer noted that “Ashley has a dance and song sequence, so that took awhile to film. She went to all of these classes, and created her own choreography, so that was really exciting.” He added that “Overall, it was a very physical movie, especially in the opening scene, which is a very long and violent take. So everything was meticulously planned from the very beginning. The older I get, the more meticulous and insane I get,” the filmmaker admitted with a laugh.
Once it came time for Fessenden to bring Henry to life for the camera, he and Keating “weren’t even in the same town while I was shooting my scene; we shot it by Skype,” the actor admitted with a laugh. “So I acted alone in my scene! Mickey was telling me what to do from the iPad. We staged the scene in my company’s office,” which is based in Brooklyn, New York. The scene was shot remotely because Wexler “was the boots on the ground out in L.A.,” where the movie was shot.
“So after we built the little set, we had Mickey look at it through the iPad camera, and he approved. That experience was kind of fun, because I had never shot a movie like that before,” Fesenden admitted with a laugh.
While the actor-producer shot his scene in Glass Eye Pix’s New York City office, the scenes that Keating shot in Los Angeles were all filmed in real locations. “That was chaos, because we used so many different locations. We shot in a sketchy part of town,” the director admitted with a laugh. “Someone had left open cartoons of milk at the end of the alleyway were we shot some scenes. So even thought it was cold and during the middle of the night, the whole alleyway smelled like soiled milk!”
But the filmmaker feels that “It’s important to shoot in a world that’s a little more lived in, and feels a little bit less than a bad soundstage set. So we did a lot of location moves everyday, but I think what you see on the screen is a little bit more honest that way.”
Since Fessenden filmed his scene in Glass Eye Pix’ office, he didn’t have the chance to rehearse, or discuss the movie’s plot and characters, with his co-stars before production began. “The shoot was very disjointed. I know some of the other actors from other movies, including Ashley, Jeremy and Sam.”
While Fessenden unfortunately wasn’t able to rehearse with his co-stars and the filmmaker in person, Keating embraced the experience of really working with the rest of the cast during the production of ‘Psychopaths.’ “I have as much rehearsal as possible. With these films, the process can be, we’re shooting in two days, because we have financing. So we need to cast an actor right away,” he admitted. “But that’s not what I like to do. I like to have as much rehearsal time as possible before shooting, so that the actors know what they’re doing.” With an actor like Gardner, the director would “turn on the camera, and every take would be different, because he knew his character so well. So that was a really exciting process.”
Once the principal photography on the horror movie was completed, Fessenden, Wexler and Glass Eye Pix then “spent a lot of time working with Mickey during the movie’s post-production. We worked with him to shape ‘Psychopaths,’ which is an art film, really, as it’s all about the texture. So it really took shape during the edit.”
The producer then shared that he appreciates how passionate Keating is about making films. “He’s notorious for releasing movies quickly; he released both ‘Darling’ and ‘Pod‘ in 2015, for instance. Each of his films take a different approach; when he made ‘Darling,’ it was for very little money, but he was well prepared,” Fessenden disclosed.
Keating “can easily think in cinematic terms, because he watches so many movies, and loves a range of directors. So it’s fun to watch him work quickly and efficiently . He also has an enthusiasm that’s infectious,” the actor also revealed. “Mickey’s really remarkable in his way of working. But part of the struggle and fun of working with him is to see where I can offer my ideas.”
Fessenden also divulged that “Mickey always had the idea that there would be this one event that would set the night into this spiral. That event turned out to be my character’s execution.” The performer added that what he really likes about ‘Psychopaths’ is that it features “iconic and archetypal elements, and the audience has to figure out how they all fits together. I don’t think there’s any one particular right answer.”
With ‘Psychopaths’ making the rounds on the film festival circuit, including the Tribeca Film Festival and the Overlook Film Festival, before it’s official theatrical and On Demand release, the actor-producer expressed his appreciation over the enthusiasm the drama received at the festival screenings. Fessender noted that Keating “has a core group of people who really like what he’s doing, and I think they’re excited by his energy, and how different all of his movies have been. When you make films that are on the edge like this, it’s fun to see it with an audience.”
With ‘Psychopaths’ receiving its official theatrical and On Demand distribution, the actor-producer noted how the dual release has become even more central for the success of independent films. “Now that there’s so much more content, between both movies and television shows, you have one shot at publicity,” Fessender pointed out.
“So I think it’s great to have the day-and-date distribution, which involves the theatrical and On Demand release on the same day, or have the small window of about a month between the theatrical and VOD distribution, like ‘Psychopath’ has. When movies are first released in the theater, people can hear about it, and then pretty quickly get to it on their digital platforms. I think a lot of people are going to see this movie that way,” the actor-producer admitted. “I hope a lot of people catch it!”
Keating also expressed his appreciation that ‘Psychopaths’ screened on the film festival circuit last year, following it’s premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, before it’s theatrical and VOD release. “It was such an honor to play at Tribeca! I’ve never played at Tribeca before, and I’ve always wanted to premiere a movie there, but I’ve never had the opportunity. So when we found out that we were accepted into Tribeca, it was a dream come true! It was such an incredible experience to play a movie there in New York City, which has the best movie theaters in the world,” the director gushed. “So to have that kind of premiere, and receive such support from the fans, was exciting.”
The filmmaker added that after the horror movie had its World Premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, “we pretty much knew that Samuel Goldwyn (Films) was going to distribute the movie, and it doesn’t get much better than that. It was an honor and surreal experience to have them be interested in the film. I’m really thrilled to be working with them. Like the movie itself, it’s been a wonderful dream!”