We had a very honest and candid discussion with indie filmmaker Ian Russell of Ringo Jones Productions about his debut feature, the micro-budget horror comedy The Killing Death. The movie, in true b-horror, is about two bumbling cops who are on the trial of a serial killer who makes pizza out of their victims!
The Killing Death was originally shot in 2006 over a five day period for approximately $500 (Canadian). It was screened that October and then put away in a drawer and the depths of various hard drives for years afterwards. A few film festival rejections led nowhere, so I figured it was a test feature rather than anything that would make much noise.
Flash forward over a decade. Amazon Prime has opened up a new avenue for independent movies and I’m contacted by Zellco who had attended the original screening and asked if the movie was available to put online. I decide to open up that drawer and dig through those old hard drives to re-evaluate the movie. With the passage of time, I noticed that there’s some funny stuff that could appeal to cult movie fans. I commissioned an all-new soundtrack from Bogman to replace the public domain old-timey jazz of the original cut and found that the movie suddenly played much better! From there, Zellco put it on Amazon Prime (and other streaming sites) for the world to see and a handful of curious people do.
The Killing Death was inspired by the Herschel Gordon Lewis gore classic Blood Feast. Way back in my university days, I took a cult film class and was exposed to some obscurities that I’d never seen. Now Blood Feast is pretty famous to horror fans, but I’d missed it and there was a lot to like despite the budget limitations. Watching it, I thought that if it had only leaned a little more into comedy, it could work even better, so I decided to write a spoofier version. I kept the idea of two bumbling police officers on the trail of a killer following an Egyptian ritual, but amped up the silliness.
The story was deliberately kept simple to make it possible to shoot on the cheap and I took the idea that the reason the killer was murdering his victims was to take the best parts of them to feed to his new girlfriend in pizza form. That way, she’d be the sum total of all of the things he liked about others. That aspect of the story was perhaps a little undeveloped, but it was my first try, so it is what it is.
While the location the story is happening is never explicitly stated in the movie, The Killing Death was shot in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. We used a handful of apartments of the crew, my parents house, some streets where traffic would be at a minimum (since we didn’t bother with permits), a convenience store one of the cast worked at, the universities of Winnipeg and Manitoba where I’d been a student, and a local pizza joint. That restaurant, Chicago Phil’s, generously closed for a few hours so we could shoot inside. They may have been under the impression the movie was going to give them some free advertising, instead of just a couple of huge orders we put in to feed everyone.
I [Ian Russell] wrote, directed, edited, produced, location scouted, etc., The Killing Death. You name it, I probably did it. I’d hold the camera, set the lights, hold the boom, whatever needed to be done. But so did a lot of people. I had whoever was around take part, so the crew all got a chance to work on camera, lighting, sound, etc. Heck, one of the actors brought his teenage son to the set and we let him film a scene too! We were all amateurs who didn’t bother to let the fact that we had no idea what we were doing slow us down. Now a lot of that shows on screen. There’s stuff that makes me cringe and wonder if I should have ever let this out into the world, but then I’ll watch some terrible b-movie and see something way worse and not feel so bad.
I learned everything by doing. I’d only taken a short workshop in filmmaking, so if there was a mistake, I made it. My editing experience came from editing a short from that workshop on Final Cut Pro, so I basically was self-taught. There are so many more tutorials out there on Youtube nowadays that would have been lifesavers back in 2006, but I had to struggle through on my own.
My buddy Lee Hansen helped out with everything, from making the fake blood to directing a couple of scenes when the room was too crowded for crew, to letting us decorate his apartment walls with pornography. You’ll spot him in one scene talking to the University Professor who’s about to lose his brain.
Because this was our first project, everything that could go wrong did. From lights that got so hot everyone was sweating profusely, to the fact that our elderly cast members couldn’t bend at the knees to examine corpses, to overly verbose conversations, to a fight scene that was so poorly choreographed that the entire sequence was cut from the final movie. (Unfortunately I’d forgotten to tell that actress and she came to the screening with her entire family only to find out that her scenes had been whittled down to a few seconds. Oops!) Luckily we had some great actors who saved our bacon. The lead cops were played by Jeremy Dangerfield and Tyhr Trubiak, with the killer played by Neil Reimer and his girlfriend played by Veronica Ternopolski. Tyhr’s gone on to star in some other interesting indie horror movies (Aegri Somnia and Tempus Tormentum). Veronica was in Dark Forest, while Jeremy retired to Vancouver and Neil became a teacher overseas. Everyone did a great job with what they had to work with and I only wish I’d given them more and better things to do!
The Killing Death was made because we wanted to make a movie! In Winnipeg, there’s a very strong short film community based around the local film co-op. Taking Guy Maddin’s work as inspiration, they play festivals and get artistic cred. I didn’t want to go that route. I wanted to make schlock that was fun and entertaining without taking itself seriously. So rather than go through government funding organizations or apply for grants, I just sold some of my various collections (video games, comics, etc) to raise enough cash to buy a decent (for the time) prosumer camera, shotgun mic, home depot lights, and took the plunge. The script came quick (too quick) and we had a casting call to find people that were willing to work for free. The lead cop, Jeremy Dangerfield, was a member of the Actor’s Union so we had to sign a deferral agreement with them to use him, but everyone else was just as indie as we were.
I really wanted to use this as a chance for everyone to learn and grow, so the atmosphere on set was loose and open. My only regret was that we did everything so fast that I didn’t really get a chance to explore the story as much as I should have. I had so many ideas for new stuff that came after the fact. Which is what led to the novelization of the movie coming ten years later. It’s the version of the movie that I should have made / wish I could have. If you like anything you see on screen, read the book. It’s definitely a million times better in every way.
Before COVID hit, I was all set to film another feature, but that’s been put on hold until restrictions lighten up here. In the meantime, I’ve been keeping incredibly busy publishing books, making youtube videos, and writing new screenplays. Everything I’m doing all connects back to The Killing Death and the characters of Frank and Jimmy have many more adventures on the page and (hopefully soon) on screen.
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