Daniel Slottje’s new short film called The Rotting of Casey Culpepper will be premiering at Panic Fest next Friday, 4/29, both online and in-person.” Daniel spoke with Horrornews.net for an exclusive interview.
Hi Daniel, I’m so excited for this movie because it’s a fascinating story. Congratulations on being a part of Panic Fest. You sort of hit a unique part of horror with the relationship with, not just father and daughter but with yourself. I watched the screener and it’s such a beautiful film.
Daniel- I wanted it to not strictly be an allegorical movie about cancer. I also wanted it to be a movie about the process of chemotherapy, and the idea to irradicate the cancerous cells from one’s body somebody has to essentially put poison into they’re body, and endure unimaginable agony to push through and come out stronger on the other side. So, when I have Casey in the finale battling with this monster, in a sense it’s supposed to be a battle with one’s self. We tried to express that through the ballet of blocking and the slow-motion between the two of them. You hit the nail on the head. It brings me so much joy to hear you say that. It’s not really overt, it’s told through the editing and visuals. I was hoping that element would come across.
I was watching it too and I had a lot of horrible experiences, and this movie was comforting. It resonated with me on such a personal level.
Daniel- I’m glad. It’s such a challenge to do something original in the horror space. More so, it’s important to me to tell personal stories. I have a personal connection the material. I’m glad to hear that it resonated with you. I think it’s such a beautiful genre that so often people aren’t using it for all that it can be used for. If you think about the other movies or novels out there that are, let’s say about cancer, but it’s also about more than that. It’s also about these relationships. But I think for something that’s as vicious and life or death as cancer is, I think it’s a natural fit to use the horror genre to tell that story.
You don’t have to talk about this but you mentioned you had a personal connection. How did this idea manifest for you?
Daniel- It comes from a few different places. While I was making the film, my father was going through cancer, and he beat the cancer earlier this spring. I’m relieved about that. I had a rare hormone illness in my own adolescence, and doctors couldn’t say if I was going to get better, I had to have needles stuck into my body every day. I was praying that I would get better. I wanted to make a movie that was about the fear, isolation, and the pain of that emotional experience. I remember that time being so lonely and scary.
I’m sorry about all of this. That is difficult and you turned it into something positive and amazing.
Daniel- No, I mean we’ve been fortunate that my father’s doing better and ultimately, I was able to make a full recovery in terms of the hormones. What we’re trying to do respectfully with the Casey Culpepper Story is take the emotional experience and reframe it respectfully through what I think is a more relatable and higher stakes lens.
I have to ask you about the transformation scene. I don’t want to give too much away but it’s wild and insane. It looks like it hurt but for the special effects, that’s amazing.
Daniel- I’m so happy you brought that up. I wasn’t expecting to talk about that moment but the idea is that Casey is being reclaimed by nature. We use art direction to express the circle of life if you will. The house itself is covered in vines and branches grow. You want to visualize how Casey feels, and it needs to be visually epic.
You wrote, directed, and star in this film. Did you face any challenges?
Daniel- It was more fun than anything else. I had a talented co-star, Lilliana Ketchman, and a talented crew. It was a joyful experience because I was surrounded by so many people.
What was it like for you preparing everyone, and working with Lilliana? She did a great job.
Daniel- I’m so proud of Lilliana’s performance because it is so grounded. It does have a drama sensibility about it. There is nothing camp about her performance. If you were to say, what genre of movie is she acting in, it feels like a grounded drama more-so than a campy horror movie. One of the ways I worked with her was we just ran a lot of exercises to create family memories so the family dynamics felt real.
I loved the movie. It was amazing as is but it would have been an amazing feature. Would you ever consider doing something else with Casey’s character?
Daniel- I’m so glad you said that. We’re doing it as a feature. I’m working with a producer now named Apoorva Charan, and her company is called ALL CAPS. I’m developing a feature under her ALL CAPS banner. We’re in the process of working on the script together. We’re hoping that we can tell the feature-length version of Casey’s story ideally in the summer of 2023.
You are part of Panic Fest 2022. How do you feel about being a part of Panic Fest?
Daniel- I’m so stoked. I’m a big genre fan so I’ve been aware of Panic Fest both through the reputation of other filmmakers and through the podcasts I listened to for years, and everyone I talk to says it’s one of the most fun genre fests out there. I’m going and celebrating in-person. It’s an absolute honor, and we have a 5.1 mix. I’m sorry that’s very nerdy.
No, no. that’s awesome.
Daniel- As I’ve been sharing the movie with people, I’m sharing this private Vimeo link with people, and it’s just the stereo sound. Those great sound designers I worked with; they did a 5.1 surround mix so, now at Panic Fest we get to listen in the theatre. (Dan Kenyon and Brian Tarlecki are the Sound Designers).
That’s awesome Daniel. It was so great to talk with you. It was an honor. You are so talented and I can’t wait for more of your work. Thank you.
Daniel- Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure.
Make sure to check out The Rotting of Casey Culpepper.
Make sure to check out Panic Fest 2022.