Bloodsucking Bastards: Brian James O’Connell On Comedy And Terror
During its world premiere at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival, Bloodsucking Bastards established itself as a worthy entry in the horror/comedy genre. Featuring genre-bending horror alums Fran Kranz (Cabin in the Woods) and Joey Kern (Cabin Fever), and written by the Los Angeles–based comedy troupe Dr. God, Bloodsucking Bastards spikes cutthroat office politics with a bit of vampiric violence. The result is a film that uses buckets of syrupy blood, improvised weaponry and morbid humor that hearken back to films like Evil Dead 2 and Shaun of the Dead.
Director Brian James O’Connell cites his upbringing as a film and improv nerd in rural North Carolina as the primary inspiration of his film. “Horror and comedy were what I grew up on,” he says. “I saw the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre when I was 7, and the first Nightmare on Elm Street when I was 9,” he says. Despite his interest in films, O’Connell didn’t think that a boy from High Point, North Carolina, could actually become a filmmaker. “I figured you had to live in New York or Los Angeles and that people like me didn’t get to do that. I thought you had to be born into it somehow.” When the University of North Carolina opened its School of the Arts, O’Connell became part of the UNCSA’s second-ever graduating class, which featured the likes of David Gordon Green, Danny McBride, and Tim Orr. “I was really lucky to be having this awakening as a filmmaker and be surrounded by this huge amount of talent,” O’Connell says.
Upon moving to Los Angeles, O’Connell did an improv show with Sean Cowhig, Neil Garguilo, Dave Park and Justin Ware, which set the foundation for their comedy troupe, Dr. God. Bloodsucking Bastards is the first collaborative feature from Dr. God, and it captures the group’s collectively dry sense of humor, along with a healthy portion of blood and guts. Merging the principal cast with members of Dr. God proved to have an alchemical reaction. “We crushed it out of the park with our cast on Bloodsucking Bastards,” O’Connell says. “Joey Kern is a fucking machine. He came up with three brand new jokes every day. When we have a cast that is coming up with funny jokes for other actors to say in scenes they’re not even in, we’re gold.”
Setting out to make a legitimate horror/comedy means toeing a fine line. For Bloodsucking Bastards, O’Connell’s directing inspiration came from a wide variety of genre-bending exemplars. “I went back to early Sam Raimi stuff like Darkman, and I’ve seen Evil Dead 2 a thousand times,” he says. “I also jumped back into Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which was a pretty underrated film, considering what they were able to accomplish as a movie.” There’s a definite tactile and frenetic quality to O’Connell’s film—it’s the type of gory humor that gets stuck under your fingernails, and fans of old-school splatstick will totally be in on the joke. In addition to these genre stalwarts, O’Connell drew upon his vast knowledge of lesser-known films. “I’ve probably seen every Cynthia Rothrock movie she’s ever made,” he says. “I own around 500 VHS tapes of old, shitty B-movies: Death Ring, Deadlock, Runaway with Tom Selleck. Watching those movies, you learn all kinds of fun stuff, but you also learn a lot about what not to do, which is equally valuable.”
Now that Bloodsucking Bastards is available to own, O’Connell and Dr. God are working with a few future projects that sound promising. “Dr. God has sold a pilot of a TV show, and we’re just waiting for legal to go over that deal,” O’Connell says. “We have two other movies in the hopper. Some people from Bloodsucking Bastards may or may not be back for them … you’ll have to wait and see.”