Tuesday 17 January 2017

VooDoo (US 2016: Dir Tom Costabile) plus a short interview with the director

Like wow, as Scooby Doo’s Shaggy used to say. Tom Costabile’s debut feature is a low budget messed up gem.

New Orleans country hick Dani visits LA to stay with her slightly more streetwise cousin Stacy. Dani’s here to escape the car crash of her recent past – mother dying, split with an ex she found out was already married – but now she’s here in La La Land to party and forget. Over drinks Dani confesses that her ex’s wife Serafine was into voodoo (in a pre-credits sequence we've already seen what she's capable of), and when Serafine heard about hubby’s carrying on with Stacy’s cousin, put a curse on her. But that stuff’s a load of rubbish, right? And now she’s in sunny LA, all bikini lines and valley speak, where life is good!

Wrong. Seems that the curse has followed Dani to California, and Serafine’s about to up the ante on how miserable life can become for the girl from New Orleans.

What follows is a literal descent into hell; unspeakable acts, cackling demons, branding, sacrifice and all. The first half of the movie is filmed in traditional found footage style (Dani excitedly wants to document all of her west coast adventure) but in the last portion of the film, once Dani is taken prisoner and lined up for her own private room in eternal damnation, you really don’t want to know who’s behind the lens documenting the depravity in front of it.

VooDoo is truly nuts. It’s an audacious movie which knows it’s filmed on a shoestring but fails to give a toss. Costabile’s vision of Hades might only have cost a few thousand dollars, but it remains truly nightmarish. It may want to emulate Nobuo Nakagawa’s similarly themed 1960 movie Jigoku, or maybe the hell sequence from José Mojica Marins' 1967 'Coffin Joe' flick This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse, but it’s far closer to the zero budget chancer movies made by the late great Ray Dennis Steckler around the same time; films like The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964), where partying teens run into monsters on a California beach.

Well done to Samantha Stewart as Dani, who as a wide eyed country girl undergoes a convincing transformation into terrified victim, and spends a good half hour doing nothing but screaming her head off. Constance Strickland as the voodoo priestess Serafine is also truly scary. I'm sure Ms Strickland is a very nice lady in real life but here she's truly nightmarish. And well done too to the cast of ‘hell’ – straight faces all round, which can’t have been easy.

Serafine L'Amour (Constance Strickland)
VooDoo is a recommended slice of devil may care genre filmmaking, the like of which I’d long lost hope of ever seeing again. So, rather blown away by this extraordinary film, I tracked down the director Tommy Costabile and asked him a few questions:

DEoL: Firstly, congratulations on the movie. I was bowled over. Are you happy with it?

TC: Thank you very much! I'm so glad you liked it. I show your review to everybody, it's awesome!! I am happy with it. Like any film there's a few things I would've liked to have changed or see differently, but in the end you let things go that won't dramatically affect the overall audience reaction to the picture. I'll always cringe in certain parts but it's only a couple things so I'm very happy about that. I've been working on the film since 2013 so it's definitely become a labor of love. 

DEoL: So can you tell my readers how you got into the murky world of film making?

TC: I was always enthralled with film making - writing, directing, producing, etc. Since I was a little kid watching all the Spielberg/Lucas fantasy films of the 70's and 80's (and all the films of that time that have them to thank) I was just amazed at how incredible an impact a film could have on me. Then horror came a little later and I was hooked for life. My mother loved Halloween and horror films and she really instilled that into me at an early age. The Exorcist, Halloween, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Phantasm, An American Werewolf in London, The Omen, The Amityville Horror, it was just a great time for horror, and horror is so fun to watch. You can literally jump out of your seat, scream, laugh, etc. When a horror film is done right, the audience can experience a whirlwind of emotions in a couple of hours, and to be able to create that is what we all strive for in any film.

DEoL: According to IMDB (not always the most accurate of reference sources, but hey...) VooDoo is your first feature - what shorts etc have you done before this?

TC: This is my first feature, IMDb was right! It took a long time to knock that out. I was very heavily into Real Estate when I was younger, in my 20's, and the financial crash of the late 2000's really put me behind schedule in getting my first feature done (I do Real Estate to fund my pictures). But there's a certain subjectivity to that as I don't think I had enough knowledge or patience back then to have pulled it off as I do now. Lo and behold, I'm very proud that VooDoo is my debut feature.

I did complete a few shorts in and out of film school that are on IMDb as well. One of my first ones got a lot of attention at my school which was called The First Time and was a music video to Phil Collins's 'In the Air Tonight' about a MySpace stalker who finds a date, kills her, and buries her. Black and White, pretty gruesome stuff. Dominic Matteucci, who's also in VooDoo, was actually the lead in that. Then I did a comedic take on the gay mafia with my friend Frankie called Al Cabone. That was hysterical. Very dirty and raunchy. We're actually trying to raise the money for this to be a feature.  If and when we accomplish that this may be one of my next pictures. The last short I did I served as Executive Producer on a project with Shia LaBeouf called The Smallest River in Almirante.  This was a story about a boy going back to his native country (Trinidad) after moving to the States and realizing Trinidad was his home. 

DEoL: To the movie itself. You've written, produced and directed it. How did VooDoo come about?

The nightmare begins in VooDoo
TC: VooDoo came about after the financial crash and me and some friends had nothing going on. We were essentially broke, unemployed, and I was able to focus on movies for the first time in my life. Something good always comes out of something bad. I wrote a script called 'SERE' which is a fast paced action film about aliens, kind of James Bond meets Close Encounters. I submitted that to the Nichol when it was finally finished and went right into VooDoo. 'SERE' I couldn't fund. It's way too big of a budget. So to be able to write, direct, and fund a film, it had to be a small budget. For the first time in my life I actually wrote the script with budget in mind and knocked out the script fairly quickly in just a few months. We were on set not much long after that. 

DEoL: How did you prepare your cast (particularly Samantha Stewart) for what was to come in the film? Did they know what they were letting themselves in for?

TC: We actually made a point of this.  The first person I cast to be Dani was actually from New Orleans. I really wanted someone from that city to play the part. I flew her out to LA so she could audition and it was apparent she didn't have it, and it became clear that Sam and Ruth (Reynolds, who plays Stacy) were perfect for it. We sat down with them after auditioning literally hundreds of girls and explained what happened in the story, namely in Hell. Sam was kind of taken back a little bit, I think. I don't think she ever did anything like this before. But in the end they were both down for everything and anything and we got the greatest leads we possibly could. The rest was history!

DEoL: Tell me how you created the 'hell' scenes in the movie. Also, how did you recruit the demon extras, considering what they had to do?

TC: Dominic (Matteucci) was working at a haunted house called 'Blackout' which is a very dark, intense experience. It isn't your standard haunted house by any means. While he was doing that it became apparent that the world was ready for the extreme kind of horror I always wanted to tell.  We began recruiting actors from 'Blackout' and 'Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights' (friends and co-workers of Dom) before the script was even done. So essentially almost every actor in Hell is a real life haunted house actor of some kind. It made a lot of sense to me for this to be our demon cast. 

When it came down to Hell in general, almost 100% of the budget was going to be spent there, and I didn't want to even shoot it if the first "half" of the film didn't come out ok. The first 6 days of shooting was essentially the entire movie but Hell. We wrapped the first 6 days and put everyone on stand by for Hell. We edited for a couple weeks and I loved it. Sam and Ruth were so incredible.  Their acting was natural, their improv. was great, I loved it. So we called everyone and told them Hell was on, including Adam Rettino who really was the architect for the whole thing. He was the Art Director, propmaster, set builder, you name it. Adam and his crew worked literally night and day for a month. They slept at the warehouse where we built the set. I was there everyday with them helping but without them, and especially without Adam, this never would've happened. Adam's been working in the business for years and he had all the connections and knowledge to pull it off and he did. He's a legend.

Ron Jeremy cameos in VooDoo with Dani (Samantha Stewart)
DEoL: Ron Jeremy. Nice walk on role - how did that happen and has he seen the finished movie? If so I wonder if it's given him any ideas for future, er 'action' movies of his own.

TC: Ron's an incredible guy.  He's a sweetheart. We were at the Rainbow on Sunset one night and I asked him to do it. It just made sense because he goes there almost as much as Lemmy did, and he had a reputation for being there. If the girls were going to run into a celeb at the Rainbow it really would've been him! He agreed and played the part.  He hasn't seen the film yet, he wasn't able to attend the cast and crew screening. Hopefully he'll be able to be at the Premiere...

DEoL: What are your plans for the film. Festivals, streaming etc. When might we see a UK release?

TC: So far we'll be in theaters and VOD on the same day - 24 February 2017. We may open in theaters a week prior, the theater booker is still working it. We'll be in at least 10 cities in the US, possibly more. For VOD it should be everywhere. ITunes, Vudu, Amazon, Cable Networks, Playstation, XBox, Youtube, etc. We don't have a foreign sales agency yet but we are wanting to take it to Cannes this May. Foreign Distribution should come right after that. Hopefully it'll be a theatrical release in the UK as well!

DEoL: And what's next for you. How do you top VooDoo?

TC: How do you top VooDoo, what an awesome question! I'm working diligently on a story called 'Killing Sam' about the Chicago Outfit in the 60's that centres around a gangster named Mad Sam Destefano. It's very unique. This man was like Hannibal Lecter, but in the mafia. It's a very interesting story and it ties into a lot of very famous historical events such as the death of JFK and Marilyn Monroe, as well as the Outift taking over casinos in Las Vegas, etc. I'm working with Frank Cullotta on the script who will also be co-producing. Frank was the story behind Scorcese's Casino and he personally knew a lot of the players in our story. I'm very excited about the project. 

I'm also working on another horror called 'Uninvited'. The protagonist is a filmmaker whose last picture opened a door to the supernatural. His house becomes haunted and his wife and child are in physical danger. The story centres around how his personal needs and wants attributed to this and it becomes more of It's a Wonderful Life but in a horror setting. I'm hoping to shoot 'Uninvited' this year as we wrap up the script and pre-production on 'Killing Sam', in addition to beginning shopping 'SERE' and 'Cabone'.

DEoL: Thanks very much for taking the time to answer my questions - good luck with VooDoo and your other projects!  

(A version of the film review above appeared in www.bloody-flicks.co.uk)


  1. i can't wait to see this. i love horror movies and what makes it extra exciting is i know Tommy personally from a little boy. I grew up with Tommy's dad, grandparents. and whole family. Congradulations Tommy

    1. Sorry for the delay in responding Cathy. How great that you grew up together! Thanks for your comments. David.