Whether film, television, and/or music, holiday programming is a staple of the season. The range of timeless media has spanned from festive to joyful to just plain bizarre between the poles. Musical acts like Bob Rivers, claymation like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer as well as the darker side of the holiday spectrum with features like Krampus, Scrooged, Black Christmas, and Better Watch Out have their roots in horror storytelling. Each year, more holiday entries enter the horror landscape for the fans of the macabre to yell and scream Ho Ho Holy crap!
Having its World Premiere at the Chattanooga Film Fest back earlier this year, All the Creatures Were Stirring has captured the not only the dark heart of indie genre filmmaking but also the different dark corners we see during the most wonderful time of the year. Created by Rebekah and David Ian McKendry, this holiday horror anthology offers different shades and stories of the season wrapped within an Avant-Garde, Los Angeles Christmas Eve. Drawing influences from series like The Twilight Zone, classic genre, and cult holiday storytelling, All the Creatures Were Stirring blends those nightmares and dreamscapes of holiday sound, visual, and ceremony. In celebration of this anthology hitting Shudder and starring Morgan Peter Brown (Absentia), Amanda Fuller (Orange is the New Black), Jonathan Kite (2 Broke Girls), Brea Grant (Heroes), Matt Mercer (Contracted Part 2), and Constance Wu (Crazy Rich Asians), we spoke with co-creator David Ian McKendry about its world premiere, the sinister side of holiday specials, and directing the entire project for the Horror News Network.
Horror News Network: Thank you Dave for taking the time to talk the award winning holiday horror anthology All the Creatures Were Stirring. First, can you go back to the Chattanooga Film Festival and talk about the midnight screening as well as the weekend when the film premiered?
McKendry: It was simultaneously exciting and nerve racking. This was the first time we had seen the film in front of an audience. We knew the film would be polarizing and that not everyone would get it, so we spent the first part of the screening waiting for the audience to chase us out of the theater with pitchforks and torches. But after the first few laughs, we started to loosen up and relax.
Horror News Network: Can you talk about collaborating with your wife Rebekah as filmmakers?
McKendry: Rebekah and I have been working together since college. We met doing theater in college when she was doing FX makeup and I was acting in a performance of Anton Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard. We continued to work together afterwards, producing and directing musical theater productions of Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. In most cases, I would direct and Bekah would do choreography. When we moved to New York City and started working for Fangoria where we continued to work together making short films and music videos. Over the years, we’ve developed an amazing working relationship. We’re brutally honest with each other, which at times causes tempers to flair, but we never take it personally, but out of that “passion” comes some of our better ideas.
Horror News Network: This is anthology focuses on the dark side of the holidays. We both grew up with claymation, disturbing holiday carols, and misfit toys. When we were younger it was fun and festive, now it is just plain bizarre. How did your holiday experiences shape what was on the page and what we see on the screen?
McKendry: I’ve never not seen Christmas as secretly sinister. I always found Claymation to be the stuff of nightmares and thought those bright smiling faces on every Christmas special were hiding a dark passenger. The Judy Garland Christmas Special is probably the best example of this. I highly recommend finding it online and watching a totally domineering Garland slur her way through Christmas, while a shell-shocked Liza Minnelli tiptoes on egg shells in front of her mother. It really does prove that evil exists even during the holidays. I think this is something you have to keep in mind when you’re making a Christmas horror film. If you look at A Christmas Carol, or Scrooged, the horror isn’t on the surface. The festivities of Christmas are all around Ebenezer but the horror happens behind closed doors o r in the case of Scrooged we see the horror taking place behind the scenes of a network Christmas special. You expect overt scares on Halloween but at Christmas time the scares need to be hidden beneath a thin sheen of tinsel and cheer.
Horror News Network: Why did you choose to handle the directing duties for all of the segments?
McKendry: The problem I’ve had with some of the anthologies directed by different directors, is that the segments all turn out looking the same. This could be because they all use the same crews or directors are more likely to play it safe when working with other directors. We wanted to make sure that each segment had a different look and feel to it, and strangely enough we decided we’d only accomplish this by directing the segments ourselves. Are thinking was that we knew exactly what we wanted everything to look and feel like and he we knew the homages we were making.
Horror News Network: Can you talk about your Avant-garde theatre background and the effect on this film especially the wrap around?
McKendry: When we were getting our undergrad degrees in theater, weird experimental theater was all the rage. There were no scripts and most of the time they made very little sense. But all the students at our school were totally into it. Bekah and I saw it as interesting, but mostly ridiculous. We wanted to pay homage to our roots while at the same time having a little fun at the expense of the Avant-garde theater scene. We also had a lot of fun imagining how the stage players were acting out these extravagant scenes on stage.
Horror News Network: Why an anthology for your first project?
McKendry: We had a number of projects in the works along with this one, and this was just the one that moved along the fastest and eventually pushed its way to the top of the list. There were also a lot of actors we wanted to work with, and an anthology film is the perfect format for that. Also, several of our actors came from the world of television and were working on shows that were in production at the time, meaning those actors could only work weekends. An anthology is the perfect format when you can only shoot on weekends.
Horror News Network: Any particular strategies for casting for not only an anthology but a holiday anthology?
McKendry: It’s kind of like dating, find actors you like and then ask them if they’d like to be in your film. Sometimes they say yes sometimes they say no. But they don’t say anything if you don’t ask them, so it definitely worth trying!
Horror News Network: Thanks David!