Two weeks ago I attended the New York City Horror Film Festival taking in 19 films in 3+ days. The film that won Best Feature was Night of Something Strange, co-written and directed by Jonathan Straiton. It featured some of the craziest scenes imaginable in modern horror, while telling the story of an STD that turns people in zombie-like monsters who desire to spread the disease the ol’ fashioned way. Getting caught in the middle are a group of horny high schoolers out for Spring Break. What caught my eye, was the poster which instantly transported me back to the 80s, and digging through aisles of VHS tapes in the horror section. I got a chance to speak with Straiton this week, right as the film was about to hit iTunes.
Check out the interview below.
Geeks of Doom: First off, congrats on winning Best Feature at NYCHFF. What does it mean to you as a filmmaker to have your work appreciated by people within the genre, especially the horror genre, because horror doesn’t get the mainstream credit it deserves?
Jonathan Straiton: Thank you, oh man, it’s probably the reason I do it. That tells me as a filmmaker… you don’t know if you’re doing it right until you get the seal of approval from people within the genre, whether they work in it, or are fans of it. Especially when they work in it, because they know and they’ll look at it as I do, through a filmmaker’s eye. They can see things, shortcuts, budget restraints, and what not. Really, that’s the ultimate… to get the thumbs up here. To find out you’re doing it right. That’s what I strive for.
Geeks of Doom: What was the budget on Night of Something Strange?
Jonathan Straiton: It was $40,000.
Geeks of Doom: That’s amazing, because it looks great. It looks cut and pasted out of the 1980s.
Jonathan Straiton: That means a lot, thank you. I didn’t strive to make an 80s film. I was channeling the 80s, like I didn’t want 80s wardrobe, I just wanted it to look like it was filmed in the 80s without using the gimmicky 80s stuff.
Geeks of Doom: Yeah, that’s what I meant. It had that vibe, a very Sleepaway Camp feel to it. So I know I mentioned this to you when we spoke briefly at the festival, but the poster is what hooked me right away. It was the first thing I noticed when I got to NYCHFF on Thursday night. What was the inspiration behind the poster, and were there any movie posters you remember from your childhood that you drew from?
Jonathan Straiton: Well, I reached out to Devin Whitehead. He’s the artist who did the poster and that is his style. He had done a poster for a movie called Zombie with a Shotgun, and I loved the poster, so I reached out to him about doing it. Ironically, he had done some PR work with our producer who also has a distribution label. So it’s kind of funny, you know, it’s a small world when you run in the same circles with people. We communicated through email, and I wanted his perspective because I sent him a shitload of posters. When we stumbled upon Devin, I sent him some sketches, and I was dead set on having the tongue come out from between her legs from under the dress. In my original concept, all you saw were the girl’s legs in the foreground, like how a James Bond poster would always have the legs in the foreground with Bond in the background. Because of his style, he could incorporate some of the 80s feel with a collage of pieces from the film. I guess some examples would be… I used to love the 80s where they’d paint the posters, like Indiana Jones; but I guess Night of the Creeps, Return of the Living Dead 2, and Fright Night, I love that poster. So I sent him a bunch of posters, and that’s what he came up with. I love his color scheme too.
Geeks of Doom: Yeah, like I said, it jumped out at me right away. It’s one of those, “Holy crap I need to see that movie” posters.
Jonathan Straiton: Yeah, and I actually sent him a picture of my daughter, and had him make her a little zombie in the bottom of the poster.
Geeks of Doom: To get to the actual movie itself, this was a popular question asked to many of the filmmakers at NYCHFF – What the hell man? I mean, that is a crazy idea for a movie, a killer STD that turns people to zombies. Where did you come up with the idea for this movie?
Jonathan Straiton: It started out with my producer Ron (Bonk). We had gone to Cinema Wasteland because he has a distribution label, to sell DVDs and other stuff. And we were working on different projects at the time, this is back in 2007, and the Tarantino/Rodriguez Grindhouse was out. We started thinking we should do a double feature, I think a lot of filmmakers were thinking that. We came up with the STD plot, and how scary that is, and it has never really been touched on. I wanted to do something 80s style, he was more into the 70s, so he did a grindhouse throwback called She Kills, and we were going to do a double feature, make them cheaply and release them together. But as they grew they became passion projects and went their separate ways. They have a lot of the same cast, and lot of little easter eggs. I knew, because I was frustrated at the time and I had a wide release on my second film, that I was kind of getting screwed by the distributor, and Ron had always distributed his own films through his own label. So you know what? I’m going to just do self-distribution. Knowing that, I was just gonna go all out and make the movie I wanted to make. In my second movie, I was conscious of what was selling, what was marketable to sell to a distributor, and I think that limited my creativity. But if I’m selling this out of the trunk of my car, it can be whatever the f*ck it wants. Ron and I, when we get together, we come up with these elaborate stories, and we just keep adding on and on and on. It’s funny because we’ve lived in the process of the film for so long now, when people see it they’re being shocked for the first time, but it just doesn’t faze us anymore.
Geeks of Doom: What was your favorite scene to film or just rewatch? Personally, I was hysterically laughing during what I am writing in my review as “the greatest accidental gay sex scene in movie history.”
Jonathan Straiton: Hahaha, that’s my favorite scene.
Geeks of Doom: Is it really?
Jonathan Straiton: Yeah, because it was one of the first ones I thought of. I was trying to think of different situations, and growing up we had these two dogs and we mated them and they actually got stuck together like that afterwards. They were stuck together for 45 minutes and I was like “That’s crazy, what if that happened to humans!” So that idea, that image always stuck with me. I thought it be a great way for these two characters, the one who’s just bullying the other and then the ultimate payback. And then with them stuck together, I was like how much can we throw at the Freddy (Michael Merchant) character. First the zombie comes and attacks, then the cop comes in. I’m just throwing shit at him. It was fun and required the least amount of special effects. It was just great. That scene always gets crazy reactions anytime I’m at a screening. I mean first they’re like “Oh my god, he’s gonna f*ck him,” but then when he goes down on him it’s just like OH MY GOD! And it’s awesome because obviously it doesn’t have that effect on me since I did the movie. But I had that feeling close recently when I saw Night of the Virgin, there were moments where I was grossed out, where I was cringing. Also it was my Freddy vs. Jason scene. All the characters are named for icons, you got Christine and Carrie, Freddy and Jason, Brooklyn isn’t named after anyone in particular but some people think it’s Eddie Murphy from Vampire in Brooklyn. Pamela is supposed to be Pam Voorhees, they’re all odes to those classics. It was also my favorite scene to film because as funny as it is to watch, to the people there, it was hilarious on set.
Geeks of Doom: Yeah. I can imagine how hard that was to film. I see that as a scene where everyone on and off set is crying and laughing, the actors included.
Jonathan Straiton: It’s funny because Ron was also my second unit director, and he was off in another room filming another scene just so we can get caught up, and we’re running in between takes to check out each other’s footage, and we’re both laughing at each other’s stuff. So it was a very intimate set. It was just me, my sound guy, and the actors. And the actor who plays Jason (John Walsh) is really gay, so it wasn’t as funny to him necessarily. Michael, who plays the bully, is the nicest guy in the world and everyone ends up hating him. He was literally the kid who got bullied in high school, and he was channeling bullies in his role.
Geeks of Doom: You brought up a lot of the character names coming from the horror classics, so I have to ask you a question I ask everyone in the genre I get to speak with – What was your first horror memory? The movie, a scene, what was it that got you into horror?
Jonathan Straiton: Wow, good one, I think it’s two things. At my buddy’s house when I was real little they were showing Alien on TV, or maybe we rented it on beta or something. I just remember how scary that was and it how it made me feel, a kid being scared. And then it was Friday the 13th Part 6.
Geeks of Doom: Oh cool, that’s my favorite of those movies.
Jonathan Straiton: Yeah, I think it’s one of the best done of that series, but I became a Friday the 13th fanatic. Some of my friends were for Nightmare or for Michael Myers, but I always liked the Friday movies. Also, going to the video store. I have three sisters and they’d always run over and grab the same movies, Dirty Dancing or Annie or some shit, but the horror section had the best covers.
Geeks of Doom: You know, that’s one of the biggest things I miss from my childhood that my kids will likely never experience, the video store. That’s where my love of horror came from, like what we were talking about before with the posters. It was the posters but also the movie boxes.
Jonathan Straiton: Yeah I would see those and think they were so cool. Especially, you know now with the marketing, everything is so minimal, but back then they would put everything on the covers they could fit. It looked so cool, I remember all those movies and we would rent the same ones all the time. My mom also was very big into tradition, whether it was Halloween or Christmas, and it was always a very big deal – decorations, dressing up and my younger sister had an October birthday so we’d have a Halloween party for her birthday. We’d do a haunted house for her friends and stuff like that.
Geeks of Doom: One of things I heard at NYCHFF was that distributors want the movies titled with As, Bs, and numbers because of streaming. People scroll alphabetically apparently. When I heard that my soul died a bit inside, because growing up with video stores I’m used to literally checking every movie box even when streaming. I’ll spend an hour scrolling through everything.
Jonathan Straiton: Yeah like you said as a kid I loved going to the video store, and if they didn’t have the movie you didn’t get to watch it. Now there are so many choices of how and where to watch it. My dream as a kid was one day I wanted to make movies and see them in the video store. Fast forward, the day happens when there’s a Blockbuster there. I was working on my second film and it was soul crushing, it didn’t feel like I thought it would feel. Everything you’d associate with having a movie in a video store, naively you think “I have a movie deal, I’m making money,” and that wasn’t the case. I was being ripped off by the distributor, and that’s why I decided to do self-distribution now and going through the digital platforms like iTunes. They recommend just a face or two on the cover and I’m like WHAT, one face? I need a collage of shit. I get it’s a thumbnail and they’re appealing to a universal audience, but you know that’s the exciting thing about doing it yourself. You get to do it how you want to do it.
Geeks of Doom: And this is family thing for you, your wife works with you right?
Jonathan Straiton: Yeah, she produces, she has a background in acting. She does all the stuff I hate doing like contacting the actors and schedules, she’s like a line producer. She’s great, but when I’m working she’s taking care of the kids so it’s a team all around.
Geeks of Doom: Okay, well Night of Something Strange comes out November 22nd on iTunes?
Jonathan Straiton: Yeah, this Tuesday it’s supposed to be on Google Play and Amazon. It’ll be on Vimeo on demand and iTunes definitely. The other platforms might be longer. As I said, when you’re doing it yourself you’re at the mercy of those platforms. The movie will be on Vudu on December 9th. Vudu is owned by Walmart so they’re a little harder to get into, you have to pitch it to them.
Geeks of Doom: Wow, I am flabbergasted, because I went to a small town upstate NY college, where Walmart wouldn’t sell Eminem albums with the curses in, so I don’t know how they’re streaming Night of Something Strange.
Jonathan Straiton: Haha me neither. I did it through an aggregator, but the good news is they accepted it and that will be December 9th. Then I’ll be doing pre-orders on Blu-Ray, a limited edition and those will be on my website real soon. Those will be out hopefully in January, and then it’ll be out nationwide in all the retail stores on Blu-Ray and DVD in the Spring.
Geeks of Doom: What’s the website?
Jonathan Straiton: NOSSmovie.com.
Geeks of Doom: Okay well, last question… what’s next?
Jonathan Straiton: I am doing a film called Johnny Z. I’m writing it, it’s hard to explain. It’s definitely different. Hopefully Night of Something Strange is successful and people want to see my other work, but I hope those people won’t be disappointed because it’s very different. It’s kind of like Evil Dead meets The Raid.
Geeks of Doom: Oh wow, if that’s the way you’re selling it, you’ve got me hooked.
Jonathan Straiton: Or it’s Kill Bill with zombies. It’s definitely got some zombies in it, but it also has some awesome martial arts. Lots of action stuff in it.
Geeks of Doom: Well I just want to say thanks for taking the time to speak with us here at GoD, and look forward to speaking with you again. Good luck with everything.
Jonathan Straiton was as down to Earth and as cool a guy you could ever talk to. He’s a hard working young writer/director in the horror genre who just rocked the New York City Horror Film Festival with his latest film. Make sure to head to a href=”http://www.NOSSmovie.com” target=”_blank”>NOSS Movie and check out iTunes, Amazon and Google Play to see Night of Something Strange. I guarantee you have not seen anything like it before. Head over and support indie horror. I’ve already ordered my Blu-Ray ordered and my review of that is to come.
Night of Something Strange Official Promo Trailer
Now available to RENT or BUY on iTunes Amazon GooglePlay and Vimeo! Check out “NIGHT OF SOMETHING STRANGE” today! Pre-Order Blu-rays @ http://nossmoviestore.com/