Horror-on-Sea interview with Hell’s Kitty writer, director and actor Nicholas Tana
Hell’s Kitty (2018)
Director: Nicholas Tana
Writer: Nicholas Tana
Stars: Michael Berryman, Creep Creepersin, Victoria De Mare, Elissa Dowling, Augie Duke
Hell’s Kitty is a comedy horror series based on the true-life events of Nick, a Hollywood writer, and Angel, his possessed and very possessive pussycat.
Date & Venue: 19th January 15:00hrs
Park Inn by Radisson Palace Southend-on-, Church Rd, Southend-on-Sea SS1 2AL, UK
Hell’s Kitty is the latest horror from writer, director and actor Nicholas Tana, which has been selected to play at the Horror-on-Sea Film Festival. I got a chance to ask Nicholas Tana a few questions about what we can expect from the film.
Q. The horror-comedy Hell’s Kitty has been selected to play at Horror-on-Sea, what can we expect from the film?
Hell’s Kitty is a comedy horror movie about a horror and his possessed and possessive pussycat named Angel. It’s an homage to the horror genre, a micro-budgeted feature, and a product of converting a web-series and a comic book into a movie. The film is loosely based on my own experiences trying to find love in L.A. with a possessive pussycat. Full of famous iconic actors who play parodies of the roles for which they are famous, the horror fan should find many allusions to other horror movies, very often with the real actors from those films appearing in Hell’s Kitty. A twisted love story, a buddy movie, and a supernatural thriller, it’s one hell of a ride with witches, zombies, ghosts, and even a Killer Klown, and some very exciting music courtesy of the composer Richard Albert and myself.
Q. The events in the film are very close to home as they were inspired by your cat Angel. How did the idea of turning your pet into a horror character come about?
The story came about because my cat Angel wouldn’t let me date anyone, and my producing partner Denise Acosta, who moved in with me and my cat as a roommate, thought it would be funny to write about my experiences trying to date in L.A. with possessive pussycat. My cat would poop in their shoes, chase these women around the apartment, and sometimes go so far as to scratch them to express her disdain for anyone who got too close to me. It was funny for the most part, but it also got to be a little scary, especially, for some of these women. Lisa Younger who plays Lisa Graves in the story is one of the women who came to visit me in my apartment and witnessed first-hand the power of a possessive pussycat. We essentially re-enacted that scene in the movie only adding a lot more blood!
Q. The concept for Hell’s Kitty started off as a web series before making its transition into a feature film. Did you always intend to make a Hell’s Kittyfilm?
I always wanted to make Hell’s Kitty a feature film though I wasn’t sure I would be able to do it. It was a big challenge trying to edit together all the footage (roughly 300 minutes) into a 98-minute feature. That said, I liked the idea of telling a story in which the only way that you could know all of it, would be by watching the web-series, the movie, and reading the comic book. This is essentially what we did with Hell’s Kitty. The movie has the twenty-minute resolution not available in the web-series. The web-series has many scenes that were cut out of the feature version. The comic book, especially, the one called Lost Angel in Lost Angeles, tells the story of what happens to Angel (my cat and the central antagonist) when she runs away in both the movie and the web-series (Angel meets a fortune teller, a dog catcher, some alley cats, and even a biker gang). I think we have just begun to scratch the surface on telling stories in such a manner, and I imagine we’ll see many more filmmakers, authors, musicians collaborating even to tell stories in this way moving forward.
Q. What were your inspirations for the look and style of the film?
I took from the gritty look of lots of grindhouse films, as well as the films like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978), The Toxic Avenger (1985), Evil Dead (1981), Psycho (1960), and Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988). Many of these films are parodied in Hell’s Kitty. At one point, a Killer Klown even appears thanks to the Chiodo Brothers! When you’re working with mostly a volunteer crew and shooting a movie over a period of six years, on weekends, with different DPs, sound crew, actors, P.A.s, etc., it presents a real challenge. We used the Canon 5D, the Red Epic, and even the Black Magic cameras and in the end, had to downgrade the footage to match the Canon 5D quality to make it consistent. In many instances, we were shooting what could have easily taken three days in a matter of hours. We made Hell’s Kitty for less than most film students make short films. In the end, I think the look served the comedy, horror we were trying to make. In addition, I was going for a stylized comic book look because the story is also a comic book.
Q. You have worked with several horror actors whose most iconic roles are parodied in the film. Did you write the scenes based on the actors you wanted, or did you write the scenes once you knew who was available?
I wrote the scenes based on who I wanted and then, if necessary, I would rewrite them based on who I got to play the part. The role Michael Berryman played was rewritten for Ron Perlman, Kevin Smith, Lou Ferrigno, and James Hong, before I got Michael Berryman to play the part. I would fall in love with the nuance of the script and be required to write it again. It was frustrating but also a very creative process. In every single case, however, despite the challenges, the best person for the part eventually ended up doing the role; it all worked out in the end.
Q. What was your favourite parody in the film?
I really liked how the Children of the Corn (1984) parody came out. We really got a cool look and it worked well comically. I also like The Exorcist (1973) parody involving my cat Angel, which had never quite been done before! In that one we got to do a parody within a parody with Doug Jones, who played the demon in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1996-2003) episode called HUSH, in which he steals away their voices. In Hell’s Kitty, Doug Jones parodies The Exorcist (he’s called Father Damien while the other priest is named Father Blatty after the author of The Exorcist), but he also parodies the Emmy Award winning Buffy episode, when he loses his voice due to a fur ball from hell. There are many allusions to other horror movies in Hell’s Kitty, and I honestly love them all! Hopefully, you will, too.
Q. Where there any elements of the original script which had to be changed during filming?
I changed many of the side roles to match the actor playing the part. Once I knew who was going to be in the film, I would tweak the part to match the character for which they were famous. For example, Detective Pluto had originally been Officer Entragian after King’s “Desperation,” but Ron Pearlman wasn’t available to do the role, so I changed it to match Michael Berryman noted for The Hills have Eyes (1977). I also had to cut out a part played by Tony Todd as a handyman who would show up when you said his name five times, in a parody of The Candyman (1992) because Tony Todd ended up not doing the part. I really wish I could have included that scene. It involved bees and I really did have to hire bee keepers to remove a bee hive from my bedroom ceiling and had planned to use footage from that extraction in the scene. If you know The Candyman, you’ll know why that is important. But when you’re dealing with a micro-budget, you can’t always get what you want, you can only hope you get what you need. (The Rolling Stones could have been indie filmmakers). This is why you have to expect to change with the circumstances and get creative to work within the confines of a very limited budget.
Q. They always say never work with animals in film, did you experience any issues with Angelduring filming?
Angel was the perfect (dare I say puurfect) method actor in that she was always emotionally connected. She wasn’t even acting but just being herself; she even scratched Lee Meriwether in the scene in which Lee played my grandmother Kyle (an allusion to her role as Catwoman in the original Batman movie and the TV series). You can see a look of nervousness on my face as I watch her use my collector Catwoman comic to wipe the blood off her finger. At other times, we had to wait around for Angel to take her mark. Once she dropped a stinky turd in the litter box we were using to place the Exorcist Pazuzu statue during the exorcism scene, and my whole crew had to flee the set. It was a cat crap from hell that nearly ruined the production schedule.
Q. In addition to directing you also act in the film. Did you find it difficult juggling both roles?
It’s always a challenge writing and directing in the same project because they are completely different mindsets. When you are acting you need to immerse yourself in the part; you are one piece of a bigger puzzle. You don’t want to be in your head because it will make for an inauthentic, self-conscious performance. When you are directing you must concern yourself with all the pieces. You must be concerned about how things fit together as a whole, the look, sound, shots, performances of the other actors, as well as your own. I think in this case, it helped that I was playing such an intimidate role based on my reality alongside my cat, in my apartment and with many actors I considered to be friends. This made it easier to act in something I was directing. Adam was a former neighbour; Lisa someone I had gone on a few dates with before working with her, and Angel was both my cat and my muse.
Q. What were some of your favourite moments during filming?
I think seeing Angel attack the Killer Klown was one of the funniest moments behind the scenes. Dale Midkiff’s (Pet Cemetery (1983)) did a parody role of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), and this was precious as well. Although witnessing Doug Jones (The shape of Water (2017)) and Bill Oberst Jr. (Scream Queens (2015-2016)) as priests trying to exorcise my cat, in my bedroom, was damn funny, too. However, I don’t know if any of it tops seeing Courtney Gains running away from Angel through a hallway filled with corn stalks! Too many favorite moments to mention really! I still can’t believe we managed to get so many iconic actors from horror to be in such a zany, funny, original project starring my cat!
Q. Do you have any other projects which you are working on?
I’m working on the Hell’s Kitty musical with the New Music Institute in Los Angeles, California. We hope to have that out by June of 2019 at the Sacred Fools Theatre and would like to see it in theatres around the world. In addition, I wrote a prequel Snow White story for Disney last year that will come out as a children’s book soon, a family comedy feature called Superdad, and a very original TV pilot called Corporate Zombie Survival Guide, based on a book I just completed writing, which applies the rules for surviving a zombie apocalypse to succeeding in business today. I guess you can say, I like to stay busy!
Q. If someone was looking to get into directing themselves, what advice would you give them?
Study acting as well as cinematography, writing and editing, and then focus on directing. Making movies is a bit like solving a picture puzzle. As a director, your main concern is making sure that all the parts fit together to make a moving picture. If you don’t understand all the moving parts, and what they do, it will be hard to solve the puzzle.
You can find out more about Hells Kitty on the website www.hellskitty.com and the following social media pages:
You can find out more about the feature films playing at Horror-on-Sea Film Festival and details of tickets on the website.