The Ladies of the House is an upcoming independent horror feature. The film centers around three men whose birthday outing to a strip club turns into a bloody mess. The gents accompany one of the dancers home, and when a tragic event leads to her death the guys realize that they are not in the home of the average stripper… Her roommates are fellow dancers, but they are also cannibals with a fierce sense of home and family and a particularly grizzly taste for men.
We recently had the chance to speak with the creative team behind the film. We got input from both director John Stuart Wildman and cowriter Justina Walford. The duo gave us the lowdown on securing financing for an independent film, the look and feel of the characters, and the process of scoring the film.
WH: During the writing process you binged on Korean and Japanese horror films for inspiration. Some specific influences, which were mentioned, are the work of Takashi Miike, Park Chan-wook, and Fruit Chan. What was it about Japanese and Korean horror that was so appealing to you when you were planning and researching this project?
JOHN: For me, specifically Korean films have a visceral ferocity that I feel is unmatched in American made films. And I want to be careful in stating that, because, of course we have some very frightening films and moments in American films, but (for example) when a character in a Korean film will cut off his own tongue to demonstrate remorse and regret and to beg for forgiveness–that is intense in a devastating way. And we wanted to at least approach that in specific moments in Ladies.
JUSTINA: My mother raised me on Japanese TV and film and I instantly took to the samurai genre. I remember I was maybe eight and there’s this scene in some TV show where the samurai gets his hand cut off and there’s this long shot of a severed hand and wrist flying in the air. That was a pivotal moment in my love for film and TV. It was really a soap opera with sword fights. And as I grew older and my tastes evolved, I wanted to see characters struggle but also a wanted the extremes of horror and I noticed a lot of cerebral concepts coming through the Asian horror genre. It’s sado-masochism and murder in Ichi the Killer, it’s the warped actions spurned by loneliness and abuse in Audition. It’s not just about gore and scares which I think is a trap for some horror. I’m so glad to say that is evolving in American horror especially the last few years and I am really enjoying the latest crop of indie horror films that sink their terror claws into our minds while also scaring the shit out of us.
JOHN: We often tell the story of how we had sat down to watch 3 Extremes when we were a little more than halfway through the first draft of the script. We finished watching the film and turned toward one another and said, “Compared to this, we’re writing an afterschool special. We need to step it up.” I mean, Fruit Chan’s Dumplings. Seriously.
WH: The Ladies of the House had several false starts and funding was an issue several times throughout the past few years. What do you think is the most challenging part of securing funds for an indie film? Do you think this film in particular presented a greater challenge in securing financing compared to your typical indie production?
JOHN: Well, first off – fundraising is the biggest challenge for any independent film, regardless of genre or subject matter unless you are a trust fund baby or a drug dealer. (I say, wishing I knew someone from either of those categories that had a hundred grand or so they wanted to invest in our next film…) We had a lot of lunches and dinners and meetings as we pitched this film to prospective investors. The genre and subject matter wasn’t a deterrent in a major way, although there were definitely people that we never bothered to approach because they were conservative or religious or both, etc. But, more often than not, people were investing because they believed in my ability to pull it off and they loved the script that Justina and I had written.
JUSTINA: Ugh. Funding is the worst part of the process. If there is a credit card company out there that would give low budget filmmakers 25k-150k to shoot a movie and then let us pay it off with our desk jobs until the next movie, I would apply today, just to have one less investor lunch. Can you tell I’m not the one who does this? So, um, I’d say the biggest challenge for some of us is our own issues around money and our insecurities around making the investment “worth it.” I hate asking for money. Hate it. So sometimes I pass up opportunities to ask for it. John is definitely the better person at this. And the investors who have faith in us are amazing for being so open to let us talk to them about our projects. I can’t imagine where we’d be without those investors.
JOHN: We had to shut down the pre-production process during our first attempt to make the film because we had only raised half of the budget and I was unwilling to take the chance to start filming without securing 100% of the money we needed to shoot the film. We then did a Kickstarter campaign to raise the finishing funds ($25,000). That was easily the worst and most difficult part of the whole damn thing. We did it during the filming, so following that night’s shoot (we shot evenings for relief from the unbearable heat of Dallas in the summer), after I would view dailies and then retreat to the dressing room I was sleeping in (I just lived in the studio for the duration of the shoot) to send out a couple hundred personal emails (and, no, I am NOT exaggerating that number) to ask people for money. And Kickstarter never promoted it or supported it (as they do by highlighting certain projects). It just sucked. But, ultimately, we did (remarkably) make our goal and it was successful and we were able to finish the movie. That definitely did not suck.
WH: The movie has a distinctive style and feel, as do each of the characters. You’ve mentioned that a huge influence for the physical appearance of the house and for the ladies was an exhibit in Getty Museum featuring the work of Richard C. Miller. What or who did you have in mind when scripting their personality traits?
JOHN: Yes, the Carbro photography process that was a hallmark of Richard C. Miller’s work definitely influenced the photography and the color grading of the film. And, it appealed to us because there was an unreal or hyper-real quality to those photographs due to the vibrancy of the color – and we wanted that for the world the women had created for themselves. But, as far as each of the women and frankly, each room in the house, the color schemes and palette was precisely and specifically designed to give shorthand for each character or be a harbinger of the fate awaiting each of those characters. Now, how much that really registers with every single audience member will always be up to debate, but we felt that it added a texture and a depth to the film that we really wanted to have. And, you know, if we have to wait a decade or two before some NYU student does a thesis paper on it to give us our due, well then we’ll look forward to that day.
JUSTINA: Along with the carbro look, we really wanted the ladies and the house to feel like a 50’s ad. You know, the yellows and reds with the creepy kids staring at their food? Those. And while we as a society have this love for the simplicity of the 50’s we also have this hatred for the philosophy behind 50’s gender norms. Well, at least I do. I love that these women seem to keep the simplicity of the 50’s and take out the gender expectations. So when we wrote this, we wanted to go back in time when family roles were a little more discernable: one disciplinarian, one nurturer, etc. I really saw Lin as that sweet housewife in the 50’s ads. She’s just pondering how to make the family happy with some delicious food and a beautiful house. And while we visually saw Rosie Riveter for Getty, I think really, Getty is a cranky, working dad, laying down the law and sarcastic with the kids. It took a while to find the perfect argyle sweater and tie for Getty’s dinner outfit, but once we found it, I would say it’s my favorite of the women’s outfits. And of course, sweet Crystal and Ginger are two girls trying to find love: pink and purple everywhere, flowers and doll heads.
WH: I got the impression there was a deeper meaning to Piglet. What does he symbolize?
JUSTINA: Ooooh, that’s a great question! John and I actually debate about his backstory. And I think he is really an embodiment of how far these women are in their darkness. I feel like Piglet may be more of an audience Rorschach test. Without giving too much away, I will say Piglet is, in fact, a metaphor, much like the joke Getty tells. We appreciate things in life sometimes with the wrong kind of love.
JOHN: Yeah, this one is a little tough to answer because you don’t want to go all spoilerific for your Wicked Horror readers. I will say that, as in much of what we were trying to do with Ladies, we wanted to add another layer of depth to what these women were doing, what was in their psychology, and their “world”. No one wants simple heroes or simple villains, no one wants an easy crossword puzzle–we want a few left turns, a character trait that is a little off-center, and in the case of a film like this, even in the midst of everything horrific that is going on–a legit WTF moment or two or three. And Piglet is one of those–he’s an extreme extension of extreme things this family of women does, and maybe, just maybe, he’s a cautionary tale for guys that are douchebags too (which was the backstory I was working with).
JUSTINA: Just to reiterate, the writers have different backstories because maybe, just maybe, one writer has a darker mind than the other. I’m not saying which one of us so as not to incriminate myself.
WH: You collaborated on the score for The Ladies of the House with Yasuhiko Fukuoka, even going so far as to write lyrics for songs that played during pivotal scenes. Was that the plan all along or was that something that you realized would be necessary later in the process?
JUSTINA: We always wanted the music to be very much integrated into the 50’s feel of the house and we wanted to go back in time from club to house. Dave Wolfe did a great job with much of the club music with his rockabilly songs. Then we went farther in time with Yaz.
JOHN: We actually began with some very cool songs that we got the rights to for the film festival run of the film. Those songs included great songs from Morphine, Eartha Kitt, Ann Margret, Bessie Smith, and Andy Williams. We couldn’t afford the rights for anything beyond the fest run because the expense is so extreme it almost begs belief, so Yaz (who had already established this cool-ass 50s romance with a threatening undertow vibe with his score) and Valerie Duke and William TN Hall came up with some original songs that didn’t just replace what we had but enhanced the feel of each of those scenes, and Justina and I contributed some lyrics to a couple of them as well. And, yeah-Dave Wolfe’s music in the club scenes set an amazing tone to launch into the film. He’s a Texas rockabilly gem and a secret weapon in this film as far as I’m concerned.