Richard Bates Jr. has made a name for himself in the world of independent horror with modern-day classics like Excision and Trash Fire. Now, his new movie King Knight has just premiered at this year’s Fantasia Film Festival, and it’s sure to satisfy existing fans as well as draw in new ones.
The talented filmmaker was able to jump on the phone with us for an exclusive chat where we discussed his decision to make a comedy about witches, how he snagged his incredible cast, and the approach he initially had for directing his latest movie.
Wicked Horror: Hey Richard, welcome to your Wicked Horror interview!
Richard Bates Jr: Thank you for having me!
Wicked Horror: Of course! I just want to start by saying that I’ve been a big fan of your work since I saw Excision as a teenager, so it’s really an honor to speak with you today. You really are genuinely one of my favorite contemporary filmmakers and you have greatly inspired me as a young filmmaker.
Richard Bates Jr: I mean, that’s like the whole reason that I do what I do, so that makes me feel so good, I really appreciate it. I mean that’s the dream, so thank you!
Wicked Horror: King Knight is definitely one of your lighter films, and it’s different from anything that you’ve done before, but still manages to keep up with the aesthetic that you’ve built throughout your career. What made you want to deviate from the macabre side of horror for your latest film?
Richard Bates Jr: So I finished Tone Deaf and I knew I wanted to make a Wiccan movie, but I decided that I love witches, and if I make a witch movie, witches are the good guys. And then it all sort of came together as this witch out of water story. In most movies, witches are the villains, but in reality, witches are some of the nicest, most loving people ever. So this is really a comedy, but like all my movies, it still features that heightened sense of reality.
Wicked Horror: I loved that most of the characters in this movie are depicted in a positive light, and I was kind of expecting things to take a horrific turn but I really liked that that didn’t happen.
Richard Bates Jr: I knew I wanted to do this right, and I thought, what’s a movie that makes me happy, a movie that cheers me up. For me, it’s John Waters’ Pecker. And I thought what is it about that movie that makes it different? I mean, it’s brilliant and provocative, but I realized it’s really the characters. I just love the characters. So I made sure to treat the characters in King Knight just like characters in a comedy and not like typical villainous witches that you usually see on screen. I mean, I never made this movie to get rich, it just felt right. So I just did what felt right. And a lot of the movie fell onto the actors. I knew a lot of who I wanted to cast in the writing process, and everyone just did such a great job of bringing the characters to life.
Wicked Horror: You said you had an idea of who wanted to cast while you were writing the script. Did you always know that you wanted Aubrey Plaza as a pinecone and Alice Glass as a rock?
Richard Bates Jr: Well actually, I try not to think about casting at all when I’m first coming up with the story, and then it becomes all I think about. (Pause) But anyway, with Alice Glass, I’ve always been a fan of her music, so I reached out online and I said ‘Hey, you wanna voice a rock in a movie?’ And she agreed. I never even knew her beforehand. She was wonderful. And Aubrey did me a huge favor, and AnnaLynne did me a huge favor. I had nothing to lose so I just asked who I really wanted. I used some of my heroes like Ray Wise and Barbara Crampton. I loved Crampton since Re-Animator, and I didn’t know her but I figured you know what, let me just give it a shot, give her a call, and see if I could get her in the movie. And she said yeah!
Wicked Horror: So in other words, you got your dream cast?
Richard Bates Jr: Oh yeah man, we were like a crazy coven in the woods. To be honest, I originally wanted to live in a tent in the woods the entire time making it, but I was told that you can’t subject your cast and crew to an unwashed, unshowered director.
Wicked Horror: What aspect of your career has been the most surprising or unexpected?
Richard Bates Jr: Well, when I made Trash Fire, I thought ‘aw man, I’m really proud of this one, this is going to really connect with people,’ and then it gets released and everyone was like ‘holy s***, this is so dark,’ but when I made it I thought it was a nice little movie. But that ending really messed with people.