Through the decades, some of the best filmmakers of horror movies have made their stamp in cinematic history. In the ’70s, genre fans were treated to some of the best horror movies from directors like Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre), John Carpenter (Halloween), William Friedkin (The Exorcist), and Wes Craven (Last House on the Left). Through the ’80s, ’90s, and early 2000s, audiences were treated to numerous horror movies from the same directors; Carpenter continued to crank out hit movies like The Thing and The Ward, Wes Craven created the iconic A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream franchises, and Tobe Hooper became known for movies like Poltergeist, Lifeforce, and Djinn.
As we enter this new epoch of horror, fans are looking to see who the new faces of the macabre are going to be. James Wan cemented his legacy in horror by creating the Saw franchise. Drew Goddard blew everyone away with Cabin in the Woods. And though he just released his first feature-length film, VooDoo, many horror buffs are saying that writer, director, and producer Tom Costabile is the new “Master of the Macabre.” That’s a bold statement for a new feature-length director, so that grand compliment is a reflection of VooDoo’s impact on the horror industry.
Before VooDoo, Costabile was known for his horror short, The First Time (which he did for a project as a film student). The six-minute horror flick is utterly creepy thanks to the production quality of Costabile, and the eerie music of Phil Collin’s “In the Air Tonight.”
Although The First Time is genuinely spine-chilling, it’s a Disney fairy-tale compared to VooDoo. Ever since it was released in select theaters and via digital avenues like Amazon, Xbox, and Sling, heads have been turning and people have been regarding it as one of the most shocking horror movies in years. Critics have raved for the film, describing it as nightmarish, twisted, deranged, and groundbreaking. The Los Angeles Times describes one of the best horror movies of 2017.
“Strong lead performances and a startling twist juice up the found-footage exercise…which squeezes unexpected novelty from an exhausted subgenre. Writer-director Tom Costabile brings real imagination to the form.
“Even gore-hounds may find the movie’s nightmarish final half-hour excessively violent. But at least Costabile steps outside of the shaky-cam-and-shadowy-monster norm for found-footage, creating a real sense of place — as inhospitable as it may be.”
This reporter had the pleasure of speaking to Tom Costabile about his horror masterpiece, and what the new “Master of the Macabre” has planned for the future. Costabile is very humble, witty, and well-spoken, and just talking to him is a thought-provoking experience. As a young adult, Costabile was influenced by horror author William Peter Blatty; Blatty took a journalistic approach to creating his novel The Exorcist, and Costabile put in the same effort of research for VooDoo, and the film reflects that.
Unlike many filmmakers, he doesn’t give a lot of direct exposition to the characters of VooDoo. Instead, he relies on the intelligence of his viewers to connect the dots. Costabile spoke of how this film is horrifying viewers and of the subtleties he used in creating this horror masterpiece.
“That’s the desired effect with VooDoo [shocking audiences and terrifying them], but at the same time you kind of feel bad what you’re doing to people. It’s a really weird feeling. For better or for worse, some people get really affected by it. And for those that are affected by it, and see the nuances and the mild exposition, it comes together at the end in a way that people can put it together if you pay attention. And it affects you and gets into your psyche. And that’s where I was going with it. It’s not a slasher, jump-scare kind of movie. VooDoo is a psychological Silence of the Lambs type of thing; where you take it all in and by the end you’re like, ‘what did I just watch?!'”
Unlike many found-footage horror movies, the dialogue that Costabile wrote for VooDoo is very natural and entertaining. The first half of the movie centers on the relationship between the two cousins, Dani (Samantha Stewart) and Stacy (Ruth Reynolds). Tom spoke of how he designed the storytelling for the film, and of the found-footage subgenre of horror.
“The first half of the movie is very much a setup like the old classic ’70s and ’80s horror pictures, where you’re just supposed to learn about the characters and get into the story a little bit. And then once you got the story—boom—then I’ll get you. If you care about those girls throughout the course of that time, come Hell, it does get to a point where the audience will think, ‘man, that’s crazy and twisted.’
“Everyone thinks that found-footage movies are easier and cheaper; technically, it’s way more difficult than a standard shoot. And from an acting standpoint, I think it’s more difficult than a standard shoot as well. If you look at the film, there are a lot of one-take shots in that movie, so they [Stewart and Reynolds] had to keep it up for like two to three minutes of screen-time; in the film world that’s a lot.”
Costabile does something that many horror movies have been afraid to touch: showing Hell itself. The “Master of the Macabre” walks a fine line throughout VooDoo; if a less talented filmmaker told this story, it would have come across as silly, but Costabile pulled it off. The Hell set was created by Adam Rettino, who created the Afghanistan cave set in Iron Man, so it’s visually striking making it all the more terrifying. Tom speaks about bringing Hell to life.
“The whole idea of actually going to Hell in cinema is pretty unique, and I think the reason why it’s never been exploited is because it’s almost impossible to own up to centuries, upon centuries, of folklore and mythology of the scariest place you could possibly go to. In every religion you have to live your life very good on Earth or you could go there. So, how do you portray that in film and come close to owning up to that type of mythology? We had to find a happy medium, so to speak, in-between doing what I really wanted to do, and doing anything close to it that would actually get distribution. Because if we did what I really wanted to do, there is no way anyone would have ever seen this movie. It wouldn’t have gotten past anyone for distribution.
“I kind of followed the nine rooms of hell in Dante’s Inferno. So I wanted nine levels, and in each of those levels it progresses. The first few levels are kind of jump-scary, but then as you go on, it gets psychological and personal of what could actually affect this character. And all of the little nuances, that we discussed earlier, come full circle.
“A question I often get about the movie is, how does Voodoo tie into hell? Because the idea of hell is not a voodoo-thing. The idea is that the Voodoo Priestess, Serafine, curses Dani to Dani’s idea of Hell. And because Dani is a Christian, she goes to a Christian Hell.”
Similar to horror movies like The Exorcist and The Shining, the filming of VooDoo was as brutal as the movie itself. The origin meaning of the name Costabile is determined and resolute. Two perfect words to describe Tom’s filmmaking process and the performances from the actresses.
“The thing about independent movies is that you only have so much time and money to knock it out. So you have to do it fast and do it good. This is why I think a lot of independent movies suffer—not to be a jerk by saying this—from bad acting, bad cinematography, and weak stories. I’m a b-horror movie fan, so I love those things. But at the same time, that’s why a lot of them don’t hit the mainstream, or hit a chord with most people who watch it. And that was something I was very aware of.
“And talking about the performances in VooDoo, they killed it. It was relentless filmmaking; we were taping things over and over again, being on set for 18 hours on average; we would get there at 10 or 11 in the morning, and we would leave at 6 in the morning, and that was the norm. Some days we even went 20 hours. Because of that, there was a lot of torturous stuff that happened. Like poor Sam, she actually got hit from one of the actors in Hell, and she was getting beat-up the whole time, so for her to react into that was pretty hardcore. That’s when I knew she was serious; because she didn’t complain about anything that was happening to her, and a lot was happening to her by this point. I kind of let Sam dictate how far we would take it. She really carried the picture and just shined.”
Tom Costabile also provided this reporter with a new trailer for VooDoo that has never been seen before. But be warned; even the trailer features images that may be too strong for some viewers.
Tom Costabile created Hypercube Films in 2013. This is great news for horror fans. What New Line Cinema and Lionsgate was to horror movies from yesteryear, a small production company only dedicated to horror and thriller pictures, Hypercube Films is going to be for the next era for the genres. Costabile has several future films in pre-production, including S.E.R.E. Shadow Uprising, Killing Sam, and Little Ditty.
S.E.R.E. is a sci-fi thriller about a high-ranking NSA operative who inadvertently becomes a defector of the U.S. government and creates an internal military uprising to help save his brother’s girlfriend who is an alien abductee.
Killing Sam is the true-life story of the former mafia hitman, “Mad” Sam Destefano. Sam was a twisted sociopath who ranks among the sickest of serial killers, including Jeffrey Dahmer and “The Night Stalker” Richard Ramirez. Costabile describes this as The Godfather meets The Silence of the Lambs. This is a unique story as most mafia movies only focus on famous gangsters, and this is also the only mob film to also act as a horror and thriller piece.
Little Ditty takes place in Chicago during the ’70s, and it’s about a teenage couple who experience the hardships of becoming adults in a gritty suburb where drugs reign supreme. Tom describes this as Dazed and Confused meets The Shining. If it’s as good as either of those movies, then audiences are in for a unique treat.
As you can see from the aforementioned movies, just like VooDoo, Tom has a knack for creating inimitable stories. This is very hard to do in our modern era, where similar movies are just re-hashed over and over again, and this is one of the reasons why many feel he is the future of horror.
But as horror fans anxiously await future movies from Costabile, for now, they can enjoy VooDoo. The film has a screening room at the Cannes Film Festival for their Marché du Film, and it’s also going to make the rounds at the Montreal, Berlin, and Fantasia Film Festivals (among many more). Whether the terrifying brutality of VooDoo is your type of horror, one thing is for certain: The new era of horror movies is here, thanks to the new “Master of the Macabre,” Tom Costabile.
Horror fans can watch VooDoo by clicking here.
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[Featured Image by Hypercube Films]