Voodoo has always been a creepy subject, and a popular choice for horror films, perhaps most notably with the classic (and first) WHITE ZOMBIE, starring Bela Lugosi as an evil voodoo master. Now, the misunderstood religion finds itself in the spotlight once again, with FX’s hit AMERICAN HORROR STORY: COVEN. But that’s not the only horror property delving into the Haitian religion. Allow me to introduce you to Walter Boholst’s horror film VOODOO POSSESSION, out today, January 14th, on VOD platforms. Despite the over the top name, the film actually has complicated themes (and Danny Trejo), and isn’t a straight riff on the wacky voodoo doll tropes of bad horror movies. I recently got a chance to talk with actor and star Ryan Caltagirone (THE FLIP SIDE, THE BIG YEAR), who plays the tortured protagonist Aiden Chase in the film.
FM: What were your first experiences with horror, and what draws you to the genre?
I grew up a huge horror movie fan and have always wanted to do something in the genre. This particular horror film is more of a psychological thriller as opposed to blood and gore and that was what drew me to it the most. An opportunity to make a smarter horror film that really forced the audience to pay attention. It was an ambitious movie but I believe we pulled it off.
FM: In most pop cultural depictions of voodoo, it’s merely seen as a bawdy New Orleanian tradition, with voodoo dolls and kooky hairstyles. VOODOO POSSESSION thankfully goes deeper into the religion and its spiritual aspects, and its Haitian roots. How much research did you do on the subject prior or during filming?
Yes, [director] Walter [Boholst] made a very conscious effort to be respectful and true to the voodoo religion when he wrote this film. As far as research, I was able to do a small amount on the history of voodoo in Haiti but unfortunately there was very little time to prepare for this role. I believe I found out I got the role on a Thursday night and we were shooting principle photography by Saturday morning.
FM: Your character, Aiden Chase, certainly has a lot of baggage, and a notable character arc that follows through the narrative of the film, a rarity in low-budget horror films. I imagine that’s what drew you to the role. What insights do you have into this complicated and battered man, and what was it like residing in such a dark place?
The idea of playing a character with so much inner turmoil was definitely very appealing to me and presented some serious acting challenges. Aiden’s world has completely fallen apart and he has not the slightest idea as to why so I would say the most difficult task was to not fall into the trap of just playing Aiden angry and bitter all the time. It was important to subtly show glimpses of the humor and vulnerability he has to remind the other characters and the audience why we want to root for this guy.
FM: VOODOO POSSESSION, in a small way, reminded me of some twisted creole gumbo of INCEPTION and INSIDIOUS, with its delineation of worlds, from the real world, the crossroads, and the spirit world. What excited you about this concept? Was it weird to act in scenes with yourself, or a past version of yourself?
I think that’s a very accurate logline for this film. I was excited because I felt we were making a smarter, more psychological horror film. I thought it was a very ambitious concept that, if done well, could take the audience on a really fun ride. It was definitely weird shooting the scenes with my past self because you’re acting against tape marks so I was very excited to see how it was edited together.
FM: The Tormentor, a beast from the spirit world that preys on guilt, is essentially a manifestation of the film’s themes: that regret and guilt can be all-consuming, and can permanently derail your life without acceptance, love, forgiveness and moving on. The tormentor could also be seen as a veiled metaphor of alcoholism and addiction. Fairly deep stuff for a movie that opens with a woman swallowing a butcher knife. What are your thoughts on this monster?
I think you’re right on the money with that description. Based on that opening scene, I think the audience will assume this is your typical surface level blood and guts film, but will quickly realize it’s much more cerebral than your usual horror movie.
FM: Speaking of monsters, special FX makeup artist Barney Burman, a champion of practical FX, who has worked on GRIMM, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, STAR TREK, TEEN WOLF, PIRATES AND THE CARIBBEAN and a ton more, supplied his esteemed services for the film. Did you have any interaction with Barney, and what were your thoughts on his work?
We were so appreciative and lucky that Barney was willing to help us out on this ambitious little horror film. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to chat with him but I think he did a fantastic job.
FM: In recent years, Danny Trejo has become almost the unofficial mascot of horror, adding his grizzled presence to innumerable films for cameos, supporting turns and lead roles. In a way, he kind of legitimizes independent horror films. What was it like working with “Machete”?
Unfortunately we had to shoot all of Danny’s scenes in one day, and due to time constraints, we had to cut a really fun scene between he and I. He has such an intimidating and menacing look but everyone on set was so surprised by how warm and collaborative he was.
FM: What’s next for you?
I’m auditioning as always. I’m also constantly writing and creating my own material as well.
FM: If there was a sequel to VOODOO POSSESSION, what would you want it to be about?
I think a romantic comedy involving a love triangle between Aiden, Bree and Happy Man has a lot of potential. Thoughts?
FM: Happy Man [below], for those that haven’t seen the film [yet], is perhaps the most disturbed patient of the Haitian hospital where Aiden and his friends travel. He’s a possessed and dangerous killer, so naturally, he’d make for a fantastic romantic foil for Aiden and Bree. Ryan’s onto something.
To learn more about the film, you can snag your copy of VOODOO POSSESSION today from Amazon. Danny Trejo, Kerry Knuppe, David Thomas Jenkins, Treva Etienne, Thomas Boykin and Abe Spigner also star in the Image Entertainment release.