Anthony DiBlasi’s Last Shift was one of the best horror movies of last year. Expertly blending old-school suspense with high-intensity scares, the project was warmly received by critics and horror fans alike.
UK residents were left at a slight disadvantage, with the movie screening just once (at the Frightfest all-nighter, back in October 2014) instead of getting the wide release it deserved. As a result, knowledge of the flick has been limited to the (demonstrably very positive) to reviews.
Thankfully, the flick is finally hitting UK DVD, so we’ll soon be able to admire it sitting proudly amid all the paranormal-themed dross decorating the Horror section in the local HMV (if you’re lucky enough to still have one).
Wicked Horror caught up with Anthony DiBlasi ahead of the film’s UK DVD release (January 18th, 2016) to talk inspiration, those Carpenter comparisons and why the box art has changed so drastically for the across-the-pond release:
Wicked Horror: So, Last Shift is finally hitting home video here in the UK, which is great for horror fans on this side of the pond. The response so far has been great (check out our rave review right here)–I love love loved it–and I am dying to know, what was the inspiration behind this movie?
Anthony DiBlasi: I wanted the film to be timeless. In the way it feels, particularly. It’s kind of a throwback. It’s very insular, it’s very intimate. I hear a lot of people saying ‘watch this by yourself’, ‘watch this movie alone’. I think it’s the kind of movie you could watch on your phone, too, if you wanted to. I had people telling me ‘I watched it on my laptop in the airport! It scared the hell out of me!’ Like, how did you watch it?
Wicked Horror: I watched it alone in my bedroom, ’cause I had to play it [the American Blu-ray] through my PC. And, I swear, I spent so much of it looking behind me. And it was the middle of the day, on a Saturday afternoon, but I was just freaking out. It really got to me in a way that no other movie has in a very long time.
DiBlasi: This is the thing, it is very intimate. We spend a long time with this one character and keeping very close to her…business, you know? Very up in her bubble. And it does have that experience of, kind of, living vicariously through this person. A lot of people have compared it to almost like a video game, which was not intentional at the time. But I understood, after it was completed, the approaches we took make it a visceral experience that you’re involved in rather than just watching. I think that’s what makes it stand out a lot, in a lot of ways.
Wicked Horror: I think a lot of it also has to do with the fact the camera is kept so close to her throughout. It’s not just that she [actress Juliana Harkavy, exceptional in the lead role of rookie Officer Loren] is the only person on-screen for most of the movie, it’s also that the camera is kept tight on her face, too. Almost kind of looking over her shoulder a little bit.
DiBlasi: Definitely, a lot of the time, yeah. You know, I wasn’t concerned with the times when we weren’t seeing her face. As long as we were looking over her shoulder or behind her. There are a lot of things that take place behind her, too. So that makes you almost the protagonist in the movie yourself.
Wicked Horror: I love how her hair gradually falls down more over the course of the film, too.
DiBlasi: (laughs) Yeah, that bun had a life of its own! I really wanted to focus on this big, massive bun on her head and just have it be such a huge part of the shot so that, as it gets worse and worse, we start to see her kind of unravel, too. Because this is, essentially, her story.
Wicked Horror: How did you go about casting the role of Officer Loren? Juliana is just brilliant, and to think that this is her first proper lead role, too, is just incredible. Her ability to hold our attention throughout is seriously impressive.
DiBlasi: This is her first big, lead role. We actually met her while we were casting Missionary – or was it Cassadega? It could’ve been Cassadega, sorry – but anyway we met her in Florida when we were casting. She was too young for the parts she came in for, but I loved her as an actress so when we jumped into casting on this my first A.D. reminded me about her and we ended up offering her the part ‘cause she was so good before. My first A.D. knew her from a film she did with Kat Dennings, Renee [AKA To Write Love On Her Arms] but I think she was absolutely ready for a lead role. And particularly with this one, you’re thrown into the fire because it’s all her the entire time, which is quite stressful for any actor just to have that much screen-time.
Wicked Horror: Well she definitely carries it.
DiBlasi: She better!
Wicked Horror: What about the location; how did you go about sourcing that? It’s so important in a single-setting film like this, and the station itself is just so fantastic and so creepy. It’s totally convincing, too–is it a real police station?
DiBlasi: It is. Or at least it was; now I think it’s an office. At the time, we were searching for either a dispatch office or a police station–preferably one that wasn’t in use because I don’t think we’d ever get the required access to it. We were very lucky, you know, we shot in Florida where there is a lot of abandoned real estate and so we were just lucky enough to find a police station. It was perfect, it had already transitioned, the new place was in use, and it just has these extremely long hallways, which is exactly what I was looking for. It was so labyrinthine, even though it’s a relatively small space. It’s hard when you’re shooting interiors and trying to create space, and that place is just like a maze. The whole place had such a weird design to it, too. So it worked out perfectly. And then, because we got the location before writing the script, we were able to cater the script to that location, which helped immensely.
Wicked Horror: Is it as isolated as it seems in the movie?
DiBlasi: Well, Sanford, Florida is not a bustling city anyway. It’s a sprawling city, things are spread out quite a bit. But that street is the real street the station is on, and we shot the real exterior. Thankfully it was very quiet at night.
Wicked Horror: Presumably, you shot mostly at night?
DiBlasi: Yeah we shot all nights. It’s actually a pretty dangerous area at night, like, there was a night when there was a drive-by shooting just a block away and we could hear the gun-fire. We all kind of hid away that night because it was really close. So, yeah, not the best area but then again that’s probably because the police station is gone!
Wicked Horror: This is such a simple setup; it’s single setting, there’s only really one character on-screen for most of it. But I feel like it taps into a very primal fear, that everybody has, of being alone and hearing noises and wondering whether you’re going crazy. I know comparisons have been drawn between Last Shift and Assault On Precinct Thirteen, but actually I think this is a more memorable movie, in a lot of ways. It’s the very definition of a chiller.
DiBlasi: Yeah, absolutely, and that’s what we were going for. The Carpenter comparisons are great, and so flattering, but I think there’s more Clive Barker in there–particularly when it comes to the design elements on the demons themselves.
Wicked Horror: It’s definitely very old-school, and there’s no reliance on jump scares or any humorous asides, either, which is great because modern horror often relies heavily on those elements to make its point.
DiBlasi: It’s more an experience than it is a plot. Going into it, that’s what I wanted it to be. And maybe that’s why people draw that video-game comparison as well. It’s a narrative the lead character goes on and along the way there’s revelations. But it’s not what you would call a plot-line, like ‘here’s some exposition’, let’s have character development, let’s get to know these characters. The movie starts immediately, you meet this girl, and she doesn’t tell you who she is, you just get these little details that come out as she experiences them. And that’s ultimately how we learn about her. I think it’s very experiential in that way. Whatever levity there is, it’s very in the moment. Like when we scare ourselves, we’re like ‘oh shit, I just scared myself’.
Wicked Horror: The sound design is incredible. It creates a lot of the scares and, crucially, the atmosphere itself.
DiBlasi: I wanted to rely on sound design a lot. Just to have those little sounds be like ‘oh, what the hell was that?’ you know? Just these little things that we hear every day and that we use to freak ourselves out.
Wicked Horror: There’s hardly even any score, maybe a screech here and there, which is so important because, again, modern horror movies like to alert us to jump scares.
DiBlasi: Yeah like the sort of [makes indecipherable screeching noise].
Wicked Horror: Exactly. That scene in the holding cell, for example, is remarkable. I’d already seen it, so I knew what was coming, but when I watched it again I couldn’t pinpoint when it was going to happen. And it got me again.
DiBlasi: Good, I’m glad to hear it! That’s exactly what I want the reaction to be!
Wicked Horror: There’s a lot of religious iconography spliced in throughout the movie. Is that something you find quite creepy? It’s popping up more and more in horror nowadays.
DiBlasi: The films I enjoy the most are typically ghost stories. I just love them. It’s also something I would go looking for; if someone was like ‘that’s a haunted house’ I’d be like ‘awesome, let’s go inside’. If there’s something in there, I want to see it. The combination of it being a supernatural Satanic thriller, if you will, gives the movie a different kind of vibe. So you have spirits, but these spirits are demonic. That’s scary because even people who may not believe in ghosts still believe in the Devil. Or vice versa. So I like the idea of being able to tap into some kind of evil as a human, of opening yourself up to those things, and I really believe that you can. I have a friend whose house is loaded with a lot of charged evil, like drawings from serial killers and letters, which is fascinating because everything has a story, everything has a meaning, but when you gather all of these things in one place what does it amount to? If there is that energy, it’s scary to think you can invite it in with your personal experiences. And when you’re at your weakest point in life, does that mean you’re more susceptible to letting something dark in?
Wicked Horror: So you believe in all that stuff?
DiBlasi: Absolutely. I believe in everything.
Wicked Horror: Considering how old-school and slow-burning the movie is, I have to say, the cover art for the UK release is kind of generic. It looks like every other paranormal-themed movie out there.
DiBlasi: (shocked silence)
Wicked Horror: I don’t mean that necessarily as a criticism, I just feel like it’s kind of under-selling the movie because it’s so much more than that. It’s not, for example, The Last Exorcism or something like that.
DiBlasi: (laughs) You’re referring to the creepy lady, I presume!? At least she features in the movie! But, yeah, the box art in the UK, albeit pretty, is not really evocative of the movie. It’s not something I would say actually occurs in the film, either.
Wicked Horror: Having said that, the other cover art, from the US release, could be misconstrued as a spoiler by certain people.
DiBlasi: I dunno, I think that’s a good image to use personally.
Wicked Horror: I agree. And if it catches the attention of casual fans, then great.
Wicked Horror: So, what’s coming up next for you? More horror, I hope?
DiBlasi: Most Likely To Die [check out our rave review from Frightfest 2015 here] is next. It’s set to come out around May/June, the graduation season. Hopefully the UK will get it around the same time, though I know it already screened at Frightfest this year. Right now, though, I’m in post-production on a thriller which I’m not going to say too much about.
Wicked Horror: Is it more similar to Missionary, for example?
DiBlasi: It’s a very adult thriller. It’s a proper Hitchcockian style kind of thriller. A lot of older characters, a lot of intrigue and suspense but it’s not, like, a scary movie. Missionary converts to something entirely different about halfway through. But I’ve never made a movie like this before. So that’s really exciting. And it’s turned out well so far.
Wicked Horror: Well we look forward to it.
Last Shift is available on DVD in the UK now (from January 18th, 2016)