Mike Mendez is a director who understands the horror genre. He knows how to embrace its tropes and create films which incorporate plenty of humour alongside the darker aspects, understanding the ridiculous without ever losing sight of what audiences want. Mendez’s latest film Don’t Kill It is a perfect example of this.
The film stars Dolph Lundgren as a demon hunter on the trail of a particularly nasty spirit terrorising a Mississippi town. It’s a cracking little film, which Movies In Focus caught at Nottingham’s Mayhem Film Festival. I threw some questions at Mike Mendez, discussing Don’t Kill It and where it (and films of its ilk) fit within the current cinematic climate.
How did Don’t Kill It come about?
I got a call from a producer named Robert Yocum, who had seen a film of mine years back called “The Convent”. He said he had a script that he thought I’d be a good fit for. I read it and immediately saw the possibilities. Sadly the movie was not funded so on went a 3 year journey to get it funded. We had different cast members pop on & off the project to be the lead, but when someone brought up the possibility of Dolph Lundgren being the lead it all seemed to fit perfectly. A company called Archstone came in to finance the film and then we were off to the races.
It’s a low budget film – how does this sort of film fit within current Hollywood?
More and more there seems like there is only 2 types of movies, the 150 million plus tent pole movie, or the under a million dollar low budget indie. This is definitely the latter. But I feel that it’s only in this smaller category that more experimental, wilder films can be made.
You keep hearing that it’s getting more and more difficult to get smaller films made – was this an issue with Don’t Kill It?
Yes. And it will continue to be this way. Sadly it’s a dying industry and it’s very difficult to make a living at it.
There’s a certain ‘Jaws’ vibe with the film (along with the ending) was this intentional?
No, I wouldn’t say that “Jaws” was an influence other than that one thing. (I don’t want to spoil it!)
The start of the film is very dark and violent – and then the tone lightens up. How do you balance the this sort of tonal shift?
It comes very natural to me, I think it’s my Gemini nature to enjoy very dark things in a light way. The villains are very dark, you treat them seriously. The fun for me, comes out of having a bit of a jack ass as your lead character. It’s an approach I’m very fond of. You’re seeing these violent horrible acts through the eyes of a blow hard protagonist, so it softens it. When there are scenes only involving the villain, it’s not taken lightly at all and you can play it dark. But when you add a bumbling hero into the mix, you can have some fun with it.
There’s a religious paranoia in the film which is very timely – was this planned or is it just coincidence?
Probably coincidence cause it was written several years ago. But I think religious (and racial) paranoia has always been around. I think recent events have just shed a light on it.
How did you get Dolph Lundgren attached to star?
There was a producer on the film that had worked with him in the past. He read the script & really liked it.
Lundgren seems to enjoy himself in the role and he really plays up the humour – how do you tease a performance like this from an actor who is so well known as a ‘tough guy’.
Well, he’s a smart dude, so you have to make sure he’s in on the joke and game for doing it. I think he enjoyed playing against type, and I think he really started to have fun with it. I think it all came about because I really encouraged him to let loose & go with it. I think he was excited by the challenge of doing something different and didn’t want to waste the opportunity. He fully committed to the role. Did not half ass it at all, and I think his commitment to the role and him taking it seriously is why it came out funny. If that makes any sense.
Don’t Kill it has a great balance of practical and digital effects. How do you integrate them so that they feel organic? Which do you prefer to use?
I much prefer to use practical effects with just a hint of digital trickery to give us that elusive “how did they do that?” feel. But when you have a low budget & you’re in a mad rush, sometimes you have to lean more on the digital elements than you’d like.
You’re a genre director – do you ever have the urge to do a drama or something ‘weightier’?
Yes. I’d also like to try my hand at a romantic comedy. We’ll see, I’m trying to find something a bit more serious for the next one.
I won’t won’t lie to you – since I saw the movie I’ve sat in bed at night thinking about where the sequel might go. Is this just a tease – or is there a plan for ‘Don’t Catch It’?
I’d like to do a sequel, but I feel that way about all my movies. Ironically the only one that has gotten a sequel is one that I did for tv and I wasn’t involved in the sequel. So who knows
What’s next for you?
I’ll be trying to find my next project. For the moment I’m going to take a step back from directing. It’s become nearly impossible to make a living making independent films. I consider it now my very expensive hobby. So I’m going back to edit television for a moment while I cook up my next scheme. I hope I won’t be away too long. I hope.