The Dead Inside screens tonight 10 p.m. at Kerr Auditorium. If you can’t make it out, it screens again on Sunday at 7 p.m. in the Harkins in Bricktown.
There are times I like my genres blended, if not “twisted,” into a surreal and absurd story. Combining the elements from two distinct genres, while managing to present a coherent and unified body of work, is not a simple feat. However, if you like your horror spiked with a bit of the musically macabre then The Dead Inside may be the film for you.
The Dead Inside is Travis Betz’s fourth film and second horror-musical pairing. His third film Lo features a song and dance number. But in the The Dead Inside Betz and crew have gone all out.
Betz, who made his first independent feature in 2003 with Joshua, said that The Dead Inside has been compared to a relatively small segment of horror musicals. Often cited for comparison: Buffy the Vampire the Slayer – Once More With Feeling, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, or Repo! the Genetic Opera.
Yet Betz says The Dead Inside is not like the other stories, because it is not a rock opera. Incidentally, it does not have a promiscuous leather clad transsexual from outer space, a repo man for organ transplant firm, nor a spunky vampire slayer named Buffy. And while ghoulish themes do come into play, Betz said the film taps more into supernatural drama than old fashioned horror.
Fi Cella, a novelist, has a minor cult following because she’s written a series of zombie novellas known as The Dead Survive. But lately her muse has been hard to find, and she can’t seem to write her fourth installment in the series. Fi’s boyfriend, Wes Panaligan, is a photographer who shoots weddings to supplement his income as his art photography has been only moderately successful. And lately, he’s been suffering a lack of inspiration too. But circumstances start to change when an unknown force enters the picture.
Betz said inspiration came from events taking place in his life. He and his girlfriend, cinematographer Shannon Hourigan, had just moved in together. They’d settled into a happily domestic routine, but eventually they had each fallen into a creative rut. Later Hourgian had an upper respiratory illness. When she slept Betz said she would let out an eerie moan as she exhaled. He’d wake her up and it would stop, but it would start again as soon as she went back to sleep. Disturbed by the creepiness of the moan, Betz chose to sleep on the couch until she got over her illness a week later.
“It really did sound like there was somebody in there trying to get out.” said Betz. “After talking about that with her, we decided we wanted to tell a really cool little possession story. We just didn’t know how or what. But that was the seed for our creative growth.”
Even with inspiration in mind, Betz said he still had a hard time getting started on the project. He had the characters and the story, but there was something holding him back from writing it. During a night of karaoke, Betz heard actress Sara Lassez, who was in his other movie Lo, belting out a Beatles tune. He knew he had to make The Dead Inside a musical.
“I was already considering Sara as a potential [actress] for this,” said Betz. “I was like, you know what, I’ve always wanted to do a musical and I’ve been thinking about Sara for it, she’s up there now, it looks and sounds good, let’s do it and see what happens.”
Soon Betz went to work writing the screenplay. Betz said it all had a rhythm to it, first the inspiration to tell a story, but then the uncertainty as to how best to tell it, which lead to looking for creative ways of evolving the story by finding other sources for inspiration.
Betz cast Dustin Fasching as Wes Panaligan. Fasching said Betz offered the role to him. The two have also worked on small Internet projects together. Additionally, Fasching had been attracted to the dark musical aspect of the film. It’s worth noting that Fasching, who’s family moved to Edmond, OK when he was 8, left for Los Anglees in 1999 with a comedy troupe from Oklahoma City called One Hit Wonder. Although he still resides in LA, Fasching says he’ll be out at deadCenter when The Dead Inside premieres.
So where do the zombies fit into the picture? The zombies, said Betz, tell a parallel story and are extensions of the main characters Fi and Wes. And they’re there to help explain how Fi is breaking down inside.
But it is the ghost in the movie that is actively trying to possess Fi. It is an entity with a clear agenda. As Fi changes into Emily, there is an interesting juxtaposition, as this evil thing surprisingly looks a lot more like a polished suburbanite than a fiend from hell. And ultimately it is up to Wes to figure out a way to help Fi retain her true persona as a quirky writer.
“This isn’t just a horror movie where you’re rooting for one person,” said Betz. “These are complicated stories.”
And the characters are layered. If you visit the Web site, you’ll see a vivid juxtaposition between Wes’s wedding photography and his macabre almost satirical art photography. And Betz said the ghost’s arrival does affect Wes on two different levels. Wes struggles with wanting to help his girlfriend get better, but because of the crisis he’s discovered a surge in his creativity.
Fi’s character page reveals the kind of zombie series she’s writing. There are book jackets for her The Dead Survive series: Dead Wrong, Dead Sexy, and Dead Right.
Betz says the zombies were an obvious choice for the shape of Fi’s muse and when dealing with characters that have lost their creative spark that the loss feels like being hollow, if not dead, inside.
All these expository elements – the ghost, the zombies, the singing and dancing – form the foundation of Betz’s supernatural musical where the shambling corpses reflect the decay and inner turmoil the characters face as they and the audience slowly learn of the ghost’s evil agenda.
Betz said the film has been doing very well on the indie film circuit. It has won the Dan Harkins Breakthrough Filmmaker Award at the Phoenix film festival, The Music in Film Theme Award from the Lake Arrowhead Film Festival, and Best Score at the Los Angles United Film Festival.
Having watched Betz’s previous movie, Lo, also a supernatural drama with a few singing demons, I have a feeling that The Dead Inside will be even more amazing production than its predecessor. And if you are curious as to the kind of movies that have influenced Betz, he says the The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, American Werewolf in London, and Night of the Living Dead are some of his favorite movies. He also admires the work of directors like David Lynch, John Carpenter, and John Landis.