Interviews: Director Patrick Meaney Talks About His Upcoming Supernatural Horror Film House Of Demons

House of Demons is a supernatural thriller feature film about four estranged friends who are reunited to spend the night in a time-bending, haunted house that forces them to confront their deepest fears and overcome a collective trauma that has ruined their lives.

Gwen, Matthew, Katrina, and Spencer were best friends for years, until a terrible tragedy tore them apart, and left all of them in a state of arrested development. Ten years later, they're reunited for a destination wedding to stay together in a rented house. What they don't know is in the late 60s, the house was home to a Manson Family-like cult, run by Frazer, a charismatic former scientist pushing the boundaries of human consciousness. 

His experiments echo through time and manifest everyone's darkest fears and memories before them as time blurs and Frazer's cult and the present day collide. Over the course of one long night, everyone must confront their darkness or be destroyed by it. 

House of Demons uses an intensely personal storytelling style, immersing you in the characters' psyches, showing you their passions, fears and deepest secrets, finding both horror and beauty in the darkness within us all. It recalls films like Donnie Darko or The Shining in its blend of creepy supernatural horror with a strong emotional focus. 

Directed by Patrick Meaney, it stars Amber Benson, Dove Meir, Chloe Dykstra, Morgan Brown, Tiffany Smith, Taliesin Jaffe, Whitney More, Jeff Torres, and Kaytlin Borgen. It will be available on VOD and DVD on February 6th. 

We spoke with the director Patrick Meaney, who gave us the 411 on the film.

TMS: First off, can you provide us with a little bit of background information. Did you always want to be involved in filmmaking? What type of training or schooling did you have? 

PM: As early as I can remember, I always wanted to be a filmmaker. I saw Star Wars at age 3 or so and was just blown away, or so my parents tell me. I don’t really remember that well, but I know that I always wanted to make movies. As I was growing up, I’d make movies with my friends, but I was always nervous about whether it was actually possible to make it in the business. 

When I was in high school, I read Grant Morrison’s comic series The Invisibles, which has a lot of themes about the power of story, and how fiction can be more powerful than reality. Most people alive in 1938 when Superman were created are completely forgotten, but he’s still here. So, who’s more real? That sort of stuff. And it made me realize the impact stories could have, and really want to jump into this world and business. 

I went to Wesleyan University for college, where I studied film, and continued to make a lot of short projects. So I learned a lot there. I also want to give credit to my local public access TV station, LMC-TV. I never had a camera or editing equipment growing up, but I learned how to use both volunteering at the station. 

TMS: Did you have a lot of support when you decided to get into filmmaking? 

PM: I never knew anyone who had a job in the business growing up, and when I said I would major in film at college, a lot of people were skeptical about whether you could actually get a job with that degree. I think encountering that skepticism made me very committed to just diving in and doing whatever job I could get. So, I started out working at a post house, and doing a lot of my own filmmaking on the side. I really wanted to prove to people that I could make a living in film, and have been lucky enough to have been doing so for ten years.

I think doing this film was kind of the culmination of a lot of what I’d been doing. I grew up with producer/DP Jordan Rennert and gaffer Raul Coto-Batres, and we’ve been working together on projects since high school. I knew the composers of the film in high school as well. One of our producers and actors Brian Townes was in a web series I did, and came out to LA to be a part of this film. So I think it was really a tight knit group of people who had worked together to reach this point. 

TMS: What’s up with House of Demons? Where can people see it? And what do you want them to know about the movie? 

PM: House of Demons is a horror thriller about four friends who drifted apart in the wake of a tragic car accident. A few years later, they’re back together and spending the weekend at a remote house that used to be home to a Manson Family-like cult who did strange black magic rituals in the 60s that start to blur time and space, and bring the subconscious into reality. Ultimately, everyone has to confront their darkest secrets or be destroyed by them. 

It’s a psychedelic, trippy movie with a strong base in character, and I think it’ll appeal to people who love movies by David Lynch or stories by Neil Gaiman or Grant Morrison. 

The movie is coming out February 6th from Sony Home Entertainment/Smith Global Media, and will be available on cable VOD, digital platforms like iTunes, Amazon, etc. as well as DVD. So, pretty much everywhere you’d want to see it, it’ll be there. 

TMS: What was the inspiration behind this story? Were there any films that influenced the story or visual style? 

PM: There were several inspirations. Magnolia is one of my favorite movies, and I particularly love the way that it tells the stories of many characters, but is able to weave them together into a single emotional journey. I really like creating characters and working with different actors, so that ensemble structure appealed to me. We wanted to keep the action contained to one location to make it financially feasible, so having a lot of different stories happening within that location felt like a good way to keep the action moving. 

In constructing the ‘space’ of the house, I was influenced by The Shining, and the way that time feels so loose in that film. Jack can wander from the present day to the 1920s and it happens seamlessly and I really liked that sense of times being overlaid on top of each other so that you’re not even sure who’s doing the time traveling. 

In building the characters, I draw on several sources. The arc of Matthew and Katrina was influenced by characters in a web series I created a few years back. I was able to draw on some of the backstory and dynamic there. For Gwen, she started as a supporting character in another script I was working on and I started thinking about her backstory and how she got the way she was and came up with all the material that is in the film. 

On the cult side, I read a book about Charles Manson, which opened with a moment where he goes into a club on Sunset Boulevard, and people watching him dance think he has electricity shooting out of his fingertips. He has such distinct power, and it got me thinking about what if someone like Manson really had the ability to do magic and affect reality? That would be pretty wild. 

TMS: Did you conduct any research on cults in preparation for the film? 

PM: I did a lot of reading about Manson and his group. The fascinating thing to me was that this guy was able to get people to kill for him. He had such control over them, and what was the way he was able to do that? In building out the scenes with Gwen and Frazer, I wanted to show him as a very seductive character, and draw on that Manson charisma. I think Dove Meir did an amazing job in the film of being simultaneously creepy and totally enthralling. 

TMS: How long did it take to get out that initial draft? 

PM: It took about a year of writing to get from the initial idea to a solid draft that I did a table read with with some of the actors. A movie like this has so many moving pieces, I wound down a lot of different potential plot avenues before winding up with the shooting script. And even after that, I wound up swapping some pieces around it editing to make it flow better. 

TMS: How much did the script change over the course of the next few drafts? 

PM: The initial draft of the script had multiple time periods converging and the characters in the present day were not as connected. So, one of them met with people from the 1920s, another with the 1960s group, and it was more of a vignette feel. But, I realized that felt too disconnected and I’d rather link everything together. So I really honed in on what connected these friends and what separates them now, and paralleling them with the 1960s group. From there, it was just refining everyone’s arc and making it as potent as possible. 

TMS: Is there anything you found more challenging when penning the screenplay? 

PM: The big challenge with this film was figuring out how to integrate all the flashbacks, visions and craziness into a coherent through line. I wanted to really dive into character, and explore their background while keeping a sense of forward momentum. And just ensuring that the audience could follow such a wild journey was a big challenge. 

TMS: The characters in the film are very real characters with real problems. What inspiration did you draw from in developing them? Did it change at all once you finished casting? 

PM: As I mentioned before, a lot of the process is just writing out detailed backstories for everybody. Most of it doesn’t wind up in the script, but I want to know everything about where these people came from and what drives them. I want the sense that it’s like an iceberg, you see a little bit, but know there’s a lot more under the surface. 

Gwen came out of the idea of, we’ve seen so many stories about students sleeping with a professor and the scandal that ensues, but what would that do for a kid? They have to live with that and it would warp them, so I wanted to dive into that pain. You might sprinkle in some moments from people you know or something you’ve been through, and then when the actor comes into the equation, they have their own energy that informs the character. So, what you see on screen is a fusion of all these things. 

TMS: How long of a shoot was it? 

PM: We shot 13 days on the film, which for a 90 page script was a real grind. There was one day we shot 14 pages, and you could hear crew members falling asleep and it was a struggle to power through that. But, we had a great cast and crew, and were able to move quickly and finish on schedule almost every day. It’s really all about planning and putting yourself in a situation where the shoot will be as easy as possible, then knowing exactly what you want going in so you don’t waste a lot of time. 

TMS: How did you come about finding and securing your filming locations? 

PM: The main location of the cabin was a challenge to find. I wound up talking to a woman I had interviewed for a documentary who lives about an hour outside of Los Angeles and had a cabin she wasn’t using. It was out of cell service and had very little in the way of amenities, but looked great. We shot nine of the thirteen days there, and were able to set up lights and run around outside yelling and screaming and no one bothered us, so that was great. 

In LA, it was mostly calling in favors. We shot at my apartment, at one of the other producer’s apartments, it was very low budget, just make it work. 

TMS: Can you talk about some of the initial ideas for casting? 

PM: I had met a lot of great actors over the years, in many cases by interviewing them for documentaries I had done. I was a long time Buffy fan and had interviewed Amber Benson a while back for my documentary on Grant Morrison. So, I always had her in mind for the part of Maya. It was a similar story for Tiffany Smith, who I had done a short film with, and was curious to see what she could do with a more menacing character.

I had done previous short films with Taliesin Jaffe, Paradox Pollack and Chloe Dykstra, so I was eager to work with them again as well. 

TMS: How were the main actors selected? 

PM: Beyond the people I already knew, we did auditions and called in actors that producer Jordan Byrne was familiar with and got some tips from Stephanie Pressman as well. Kaytlin Borgen, Whitney Moore, Dove Meir and Jeff Torres all came in through auditions. We saw a lot of people, but when I saw them each audition, I knew for sure they were perfect for the character. 

TMS: Was there any rehearsals prior to the shoot? 

PM: We didn’t have the budget to do extensive rehearsals, but we did a table read with the whole group, and I did a lot of meetings with individual actors or pairs who would work together a lot to talk about the dynamic. 

I also wrote pretty extensive background and motivation notes to send out in the call sheet, so everyone could keep track of where we were in the script at any given time. With so many jumps in time and strange happenings, it was key to let everyone know exactly where they were in that moment. 

TMS: There are some terrifying and psychedelic scenes contained in the film. Was there anything that you drew inspiration from in creating those scenes? Can you talk a little about how you achieved the looks of those scenes?

PM: My thinking with the film was that we were never going to compete with big budget films in terms of CG effects or spectacle like that, so I wanted to focus on things that I knew we could do well. So, I worked with Michael Dinetz, who built the makeup for the Demon, and actor Paradox Pollack who brought the character to life in a really unique way. 

And a lot of the trippier stuff was done practically on set. At one point we had everybody on set, including actors not in the shot, waving lights and even their phone lights around to make things look chaotic. It was a lot of fun, and then in post, I just amped and tweaked the color to give it that psychedelic flair.

In terms of inspiration, I definitely looked back some trippier stuff from the 60s, where they used fairly simple phase or color effects to give an odd vibe rather than more current CG driven stuff. 

TMS: The film deals a lot with the choices we make as individuals and dealing with events from our pasts. Would you say that there is an intentional message contained within your film? 

PM: For me, the movie is about people who like to blame everything wrong in their life on things from their past, and are now forced to confront those traumas and try to overcome them. I think a lot of people run away from confronting things that could really change their lives and prefer to just use bad stuff that happened to them as an excuse. So, the message of the film to me is to not live in the past, to not get bogged down by bad stuff that happened to you, it’s to face it and try to overcome it. 

Not all the characters in the film are able to do this, but the ones who are come out the other side happier. 

TMS: In terms of directing choices, anyone that you try to emulate? Or ones that have influenced you? 

PM: Probably the biggest influence on me as a director is Wong Kar-Wai. His movies blew me away because of the way that they felt and the way he used the medium. He didn’t construct scenes in a typical way, he didn’t even write a full script, he would build scenes out of moments and feelings, and I tried to do that as much as possible. I didn’t have the freedom to shoot and shoot that he did, but his work expanded my perception of what movies could do, and made me want to really focus on feeling as the governing principle. 

The surrealism of David Lynch is definitely an influence, particularly Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me or Mulholland Drive, where he’s able to blend these really out there supernatural forces and strange ideas with very real emotions. That was a key goal in the film. 

Another major influence was Hideaki Anno, and his work on Evangelion. That was a show ostensibly about giant robots fighting monsters, but it was really a deep dive into the damaged psyches of the protagonists, and I loved the film techniques he used to depict their problems, and drew inspiration for them in working on this film. 

TMS: Low budget film productions have been historically known for being difficult and demanding. How was this production on the cast and crew? Any challenges or funny stories? 

PM: Our location was great in many ways, but being off the grid had some challenges. The bathroom broke on the first day, so we had to bring in a port-a-potty, and there was no phone service out there or GPS, so there were some adventures in getting everyone where they needed to go. It was very hot, and shooting inside with film lights definitely got pretty rough some times. 

But, the cast and crew were able to make it all work, and I think having no phone service made for a more relaxed atmosphere where you could really get lost in the world of the film. Ultimately, we all made it through still liking each other and feeling good about the film! 

TMS: This is rather unique film. If it was playing as one-half of a double feature at a Drive-in theatre what would be the perfect support feature?

PM: I’d love to see a double feature with the 1970s British version of The Wicker Man (not the Nic Cage one). It has a similar cult vibe, and would make for an interesting companion piece. Alternatively, you could do a really intense double feature with Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, I think that would be pretty fun. 

TMS: If you had a choice to remake a genre movie, what movie would you like to remake? 

PM: That’s a tough one! I think it would be fun to do a modern update of an exploitation era movie like Danger: Diabolik of Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Those are concepts broad enough to take in a new, fun direction. It would also be an interesting challenge to tackle a new Matrix that updates the concept for the present day. 

TMS: Can you tell us anything about the other projects that you are working on or planning on working on? Or, anything else that you would like to plug? 

PM: In addition to House of Demons, I have a new documentary on Chris Claremont coming out February 6th. It’s called Chris Claremont’s X-Men and explores the story behind the story of how X-Men rose from near cancellation to the biggest comic book in history. I think it’s a great portrait of the culture of Marvel at the time and the intersection of corporations and creativity, as well as a fun look at what made the X-Men so great.

Beyond that, I’m working on a whole bunch of new scripts, and am hoping to shoot something new with some of the House of Demons cast later this year. I love the horror genre, and will be working within that, but from a slightly different angle.