Evil Things: A Simple, Scary Story
With EVIL THINGS, I wanted to tell a simple, scary story, to take a few basic elements—a house, a mysterious car, the woods, a home movie camera—and use them as the props and settings of an escalating nightmare.
I spent four months writing and rewriting the script and two more auditioning literally thousands of actors to find five with the authenticity and chemistry to bring this deceptively simple story to horrifying life. I also spent considerable time “casting” the house—scouring the Internet, scouting 60 properties in four states, until I found my “star”: a place so isolated it would inspire dread in both the cast and crew (the “crew” on this no-frills show being co-producer Mario Valdez and me.
We survived a powerful snowstorm and the violent illness of one of our cast—all on the first day of the shoot. We shot the entire movie in one week, and then I spent the next three months editing and honing EVIL THINGS into a story that - I hope - will give you nightmares. - Dominic Perez
It’s Miriam’s 21st Birthday. As a birthday gift, Miriam’s aunt Gail lends Miriam her beautiful country house for an entire weekend. Aunt Gail’s country house is amazing. It’s a four bedroom house surrounded by breathtaking mountains and miles and miles of woods. Miriam invites her college buddies Cassy, Mark, Tanya and Leo to join her at the country house for what looks to be the most amazing weekend ever. Of course they all jump at the chance to spend a free weekend in the country, in the middle of nowhere. Miriam, Cassy and Tanya bring the food. Mark brings the beer and Leo, the aspiring filmmaker, brings his new video camera. Leo hopes to produce a short movie by documenting every amazing moment of this weekend getaway. Unfortunately, what Leo ends up capturing on camera is not a weekend of peace and tranquility, but a nightmarish descent into pure terror.
Directed By: Dominic Perez
In Theaters: Mar 13, 2009 Wide
On DVD: Nov 14, 2011
Runtime: 1 hr. 29 min.
THE STORY BEHIND THE MAKING OF EVIL THINGS
By Dominic Perez
I remember it quite clearly. I was approaching the age of 40, the BIG 4-0! I was sitting with a good friend. We were discussing life and how things were turning out for us. You know, the usual stuff about where I want to see myself 5 or 10 years from now? I turned to my friend and said, “I feel like my life force is being drained right out of me. I’ve been working at investment banks for so long, and my life totally lacks creativity and adventure. I want to do great challenging fun things before it’s too late. I know it’s crazy, but I want to write and direct a feature-length film, a real movie. How cool would that be?”
My friend thought seriously about what I had just said. Then he responded firmly. He said, “Dominic, you gotta be kidding, that’s the kind of thing that people do when they’re like 20 or 22. If you haven’t done it by now, you’re never going to do it. Your life is set. Stop thinking crazy. It’s time to get real!” Wow, his response hit me like a ton of bricks. For the next few days I pondered what he had said. After much soul-searching and rational analysis, one thing became so apparently clear. It was time to find new friends!
THE BIG ECONOMIC MELTDOWN
Fast forward about one year later. I was still working at an investment bank staring at a computer screen for hours and hours while the computer screen sucked the life out of me moment by moment. Is this as good as it gets I wondered, as I continued to suffer in silence. I was one year older, and I still had not made a movie. On the upside, I actually managed to find some new friends. Then the big economic downturn began. Hundreds of people at the investment bank I was working at were being let go. Then hundreds turned to thousands. It was insane. My entire division of some 2,000 people was suddenly shut down. I witnessed grown men and women crying as they gathered their belongings. They were escorted out to the street by security guards. Some of these people had worked faithfully for the bank for more than 20 years, and were let go in a matter of days. It was traumatic to witness this whole thing unfold. I guess I was lucky because I was quickly transferred to another department in the company. I was safe, but not for long. My supervisor in my new department quickly informed me that the bank would have to also let me go in about 3 months. I was grateful. I had been given a lot of time to figure out what I would do next.
A FRIEND IN NEED IS A FRIEND INDEED
Once again, I turned to a friend for advice. This time it was a new friend. His name is Mario Valdez. I hesitantly asked, “Mario, what the hell am I gonna do now?” After a few moments of serious consideration, Mario stated calmly, “let’s make a movie”. I replied, “What are you talking about?” He clarified by saying “you’ve been talking sh*t about making a movie for so long, and now is the time to just do it. Write the script, we’ll find the actors and the locations, and we’ll just make the movie. You can even turn my apartment into a production studio if you want. Just let me know what you need me to do. This is something I’ve wanted to do my whole life”, Mario added. I thought about Mario’s response for a nano-second and finally replied, “um…that’s crazy…OK let’s do it!
So over the next 3 months I wrote and wrote and re-wrote. The script was like a transformer robot contorting from a sci-fi thriller to a blood and guts horror to a paranormal ghost story. Any other collaborator would have killed me during this process, but my buddy and co-producer Mario Valdez kept saying, “OK, keep writing until you find the direction that works for you.” I know he was scratching his head wondering what the hell is wrong with this Freak Show named Dominic Perez? Even though the script kept transforming, I knew that my ultimate and consistent goal was to explore my deepest fears and the fears of others. I went online reading thousands of movie reviews for horror, science fiction and supernatural films. One theme appeared over and over again, our innate fear of the unknown or the unknowable. More specifically, it’s the idea of having enemies who are out to get you and not knowing who they are, when they will strike or why they are after you in the first place. This research reminded me of an event from my own life that I had safely stored away for many years in the back corners of my mind.
KNOCK KNOCK WHO’S THERE?
When I was a 10-year-old boy, I was sleeping over a childhood friend’s house. His mom left us home alone for a few hours while she was out working. So my 10-year-old friend and me stayed up late eating ice cream and watching TV. It was great. We had the whole house to ourselves. While we were sitting on the couch talking and laughing about the silly movie we were watching, a knock came at the door. We were taught never to open the door to strangers so we politely asked, “Who is it?” There was no answer. We looked through the peephole, but it was broken. Another knock came at the door. We said louder “yes, who is it?” There was still no answer. We could see under the crack of the door that someone wearing big black boots was standing on the other side of the door, but they never answered. It was just a soft terrifying knock knock that came every 30 seconds. After about the fifth knock knock, we were screaming at the top of our lungs, “who the f*ck is it, and what the f*ck do you want?” I have never been so incredibly scared in my entire life. There was never an answer, just the intermittent and ever-so-patient knocking followed by dead silence for 10 terrifying minutes. That was more than 30 years ago, and I’m still scared to death wondering what would have happened had we opened that door.
My goal with Evil Things was to take the sheer terror inspired by that real event and re-create it for the characters in my movie. The young characters in Evil Things dare to open that door and make contact with what is on the other side.
THE AUDITION PROCESS
(The good, the bad and the…what the f*ck was that?)
New York City is the most amazing place to find talent. Everyday young talented people arrive here from all over the world hoping to break into the world of acting. There is a vast pool of theatre-trained talent that we tapped into while auditioning for Evil Things. During our audition process we saw the good, the bad and the…what the f*ck was that?
Casting a movie in New York is like riding the subway. Look in one direction, and you’ll see a beautiful supermodel on her way to a photo shoot for Vogue Magazine, look in another direction, and you’ll see 50 excited tourists from Tomsk, Siberia on their way to the top of the empire state building. Look in yet another direction, and you’ll see a maniac dressed in a glittering plastic bag having a psychotic episode. You just never know who or what is going to show up wanting to be in your movie. You have to keep your eyes and ears open to all the possibilities. It took us a lot of work, but in the end, we found a dream team of amazing actors who were able to improvise every line they spoke in the movie.
ACTUAL PRODUCTION (Something Wicked This Way Comes)
OK, so I finally finished the script, stage directions, characterizations, locations, dialogue and all. We had our 5 main actors (my dream team) ready to go. All the cars were rented, the locations secured, and the scenes were locked and scheduled to be shot. Our first day was to be the hardest. I just wanted the first day to be over and to get as many scenes out of the way as quickly as possible. The pressure was mounting and everything had to be perfect. We would be stopping and shooting scenes along the way as we worked our way up into the countryside. Then we saw on the news that the worst snowstorm of the winter was fast approaching. This storm would arrive in New York City on our very first day of shooting. One of the many people that helped us through the pre-production process commented that the storm would either be a curse or a blessing. F*ck you and F*ck the storm I wanted to say as I was close to blowing my top, but I kept my cool. “Let’s just make this happen,” I politely said. We picked up all the actors, and began our journey toward moviemaking history.
Before we even got outside of Manhattan, one of our main actresses (Torrey Weiss) became incredibly sick in the car. It was a severe case of motion sickness. We had to stop everything and wait for Torrey to feel better before we could proceed. All the actors took refuge in the Starbucks on 43rd Street and 9th Avenue in Manhattan as I sat outside wondering what to do. This was my worst nightmare coming true. It was freezing cold, we had about 21 major scenes to shoot that day, and the snow began to fall on my head. I decided at that moment to allow each new obstacle to be a blessing, an opportunity to re-shape our script. Due to so many unforeseen obstacles, the Evil Things script turned into a constantly evolving organism that would ultimately be configured by the movie-making gods up above. In the end, I realized that many of our unplanned adjustments to the script ultimately improved the movie. We couldn’t help but incorporate Torrey’s illness into the story along with the snow-storm and many other unplanned events like actually being lost and almost stranded in the snow-storm in the middle of nowhere. It is truly a miracle that we got through that first day of shooting and several other obstacles (which I refuse to mention), and lived to tell about it. In the end, it took a total of 8 freezing cold days of non-stop day and night shooting to finish Evil Things. I couldn’t be happier with the end result.
CAST & CREW & FRIENDS SCREENING:
A few days ago Evil Things had its cast & crew screening on the opening night of the Visionfest Film Festival (Visionfest.com) at Tribeca Cinemas in New York City. Evil Things was the only feature film playing that night. There would be a red carpet with photos being snapped, talent agents and movie company executives in the audience. All the actors from the movie would be there with family members and close friends all seeing the movie that I had worked on for the past 10 months. I wrote the screenplay, scouted locations, directed, shot footage, edited, produced and then singlehandedly created a marketing campaign to get 230 butts into the theatre. This was the big night to make people laugh, to make them empathize with my characters, and to make them anxious and squirm in their seats as the nightmare played out up on the big screen. Wow, talk about pressure. I had not planned for the turmoil brewing inside me.
As I made my way to the theatre that night by myself I was close to having a Mariah Carey meltdown. The magic words “They’re all gonna laugh at you Carrie” were ringing in my head. I can see it now. They’re going to tie me up in a chair after the movie and everyone is going to line up armed with various weapons each taking their turn striking me down because I’m not worthy. The human mind can weave some wicked little webs of deception if we allow it to do so. I was trapped wallowing in worry and self-doubt, predicting doom and gloom everywhere I looked. I felt so alone.
Then I saw the first familiar face in the distance. She was smiling. I could sense that she too was nervous and excited. I could almost read her thoughts, and they were too familiar. Will people like me? Will I be accepted? I greeted her and gave her a hug. Suddenly a bit of weight was lifted off my shoulders. I was no longer alone. As I saw one familiar anxious smiling face after the next along with many unfamiliar faces, I felt lighter and lighter. After a while, I would say I actually felt a sense of invincibility. It was some strange natural high that I don’t remember experiencing before. Everything was going to be fine no matter what. And it was.
Evil Things was originally scheduled to play in only 1 of the 2 theatres in the Tribeca Cinemas complex that night, and the other theatre was supposed to stay closed and unused. All the tickets for that first theatre totally sold out, and the festival was forced to open that second theatre so that Evil Things could play simultaneously in 2 theaters. Soon enough, that second theatre was also completely sold out, and people were being turned away from the theatre because there were no tickets left. There was even a line of people outside on a waiting list hoping to get in. I couldn’t believe it. Everything that happened that night far exceeded my expectations. It was amazing!
I stood there looking at all those people in the theatre. I suddenly realized that I actually didn’t do any of this alone. I couldn’t possibly have done any of it by myself. I was inspired, helped and pushed by so many different people that I’ve lost count. I must continue to remember that my strength is derived from my connection to other people, and it is only through that connection that WE can thrive and create and collaborate. I want to express my deepest appreciation to every single person that ever had anything to do with the creation of OUR movie. We could not have done it without you. You helped me make a movie, but more importantly, you helped me to believe in myself again. - Dominic Perez
Maslyn, Elyssa Mersdorf & Gail Cadden.
Produced by Dominic Perez & Mario Valdez
Written, Directed & Edited by Dominic Perez
Additional quotes from Writer/Director Dominic Perez
“Making a movie is good therapy. You’re so terrified that you don’t have time to think about your problems.“
"I had been planning our very tight shooting schedule for months. Everything was perfectly planned, and then a snow storm hit the northeastern United States on our first day of shooting. A good friend said that it would be a blessing or a curse. I decided to allow the storm to be our blessing, and so it was."
"In the world of low-budget indie filmmaking, you should plan every detail and then let it all hang loose and just make it happen. If your main actress becomes incredibly ill and you only have 1 day to shoot something, instantly re-write the script and make her illness part of your story. The story Gods must want her to be sick for that particular scene. Reality is usually the best fiction."
Additional Quotes from Producer Mario Valdez
“We were in the middle of the woods at 2:00 am, it was 17 degrees below zero, I was cold and hungry and my toes were frozen. I suddenly turned to myself and realized…wow, I love this.”
“I had no idea that the hardest work of filmmaking begins once the film is completed.”
“We auditioned so many New York area actors. We saw the good, the bad, and the ugly, and even the what the f*ck was that?”