These are strange times indeed. Upheaval and uncertainty on a such a global scale leave one quaking in the shadow of the Unknown. It’s in instances like these that we tend to crave security. Nostalgia trends are at an all time high as people desperately try to cocoon and burrow themselves in the carefree, comfortable world of the Known.
Seeking happiness in childhood interests and memorabilia is now an accepted, nay, encouraged, past time. However, with one simple film, director Karl Holt has now turned the simple pleasures of a late night cuddle with your favourite stuffed teddy into a potential massacre.
Straight Outta Kanto chats more with Karl and gets some insight as to the origins of the childhood destroying movie Benny Loves You.
When did you first get interested in making films, and what drew you
to the horror genre?
I saw Halloween when I was 9 or 10 late night on the TV, and instantly fell in love with the horror genre. Maybe it was because I wasn’t supposed to watch them at my age or I was just naturally drawn to horror, but my cousin would bring films over that his parents had rented, and we’d sneakily watch them. The more extreme they got the more we loved them, that course naturally evolved over the years into a genuine love for the genre and by the time I was a teenager all I wanted to be was a horror director.
You probably get asked this a lot but do you have your own special teddy bear or toy and do you still have them? (If not, what happened to them?)
I do, I have a Scooby Doo which has been through the wars with me since I was maybe 5 years old. He just sits at the top of my wardrobe now, but of course I will never throw him out.
Richard as Prince was one of the funniest, most surreal moments in the film, what was the motivation behind this? Are you a massive Prince fan?
I like some of his songs, but I was personally more into electronic music. The inspiration for his character came from a few people. I think we all know someone who’s identity and look at college was defined by the artist they admired. In my day that could have been Morrisey, Prince, Oasis or Alice Cooper. Prince was always fun because of his flamboyant style and I knew a guy at college who’d spend a good portion of his day talking about how talented he was. He’d defend him almost aggressively, which made me laugh.
Has the audience and press reception been what you initially anticipated?
To be honest I never had any expectations, just a desire to make a feature. I always wanted to be a director but it really wasn’t financially possible when I left college. I knew one day I’d do it, so this was really me having a mid life crisis at 40 and putting everything I have learned over the years, and my savings into giving it a go.
It’s really a passion project shot at my friends house with a crew of mostly 3 people. I wasn’t sure who would end up seeing it, as most films at this budget level disappear into obscurity. The festivals we got into, and the audience it’s attracted so far beyond what I expected. The thing that threw me the most is how many requests for Benny toys we get!
What were the main challenges of making a movie where the serial killers are, in essence, inanimate toys?
We couldn’t afford animatronics, so for the most part Benny is CG. We had a real teddy on set for any time he’s being held or sat on a shelf, but I modelled him in 3D and spent a long time trying to get the movement right. He needed to move like he was being played with by a child, bouncing and flopping around. The robots are completely CG and the doll a simple toy that we just dragged around from the back. Overall the film took 5 years to make as the post production on these toys was a lot for one person to do.
How did the idea to make a movie about killer toys come about?
We made a horror short film over 10 years ago with an Elmo toy as the star, and that did very well at festivals. So I always wanted to turn that idea into a feature with a different character. Benny needed the innocence of Elmo but fused with the loyalty of a wild dog. We took cues from other puppets and animals when designing him, most people liken him to a killer rabbit. He was originally meant to be a magician, hence the starry waistcoat.
But more than the idea being rooted in toys, it was the juxtaposition that interested me the most. Who doesn’t want the sweetest thing in the world declaring it’s love for you while it takes out everyone else?
What was your favourite part of making Benny Loves You?
It’s most exciting when you get the idea and you begin writing. But making it is not really fun. It’s really difficult trying to get some sense of what’s in your head onto the screen. We were up till 4 am sometimes with starts at 7am the following day, and after a while it’s hard to enjoy any of it. I think about 2 years into post production I started panicking thinking “What the hell am I doing with my life. I’m effectively unemployed and spending every day making Benny jump around in a movie that may not be seen by anyone!”. I have to say when it was done it was a huge relief, as it’s been a big chunk of my life. I learned a lot though.
What’s next for sweet Benny? A sequel!? Or do you have any other future projects you would like to mention?
A sequel is unlikely, at least for the moment. I simply don’t have the time or finances to be able to do that again. It’s time to start a fresh idea, something a bit simpler and I’d love to make a dark and creepy feature next. One that doesn’t have a CG character as the star.
What are some of your favourite films and directors?
I grew up on mainly American Indie Horror, so it’s of no surprise that’s Carpenter, Craven, Romero. Cronenberg was a huge influence too; as I got into my teens I started on Italian horror like Bava and Argento. As an adult I started to get a love for world cinema too, and enjoy a lot of Michael Hanneke’s work. Now I can’t even begin to say what I love, there’s so much good stuff out there. I do gravitate to low budget horror. It’s fascinating what people can do now with a small crew and a home PC. I’d rather watch one of those films reach for the stars and fail than one ticking the boxes with a larger budget.
If people want to follow you and learn more about future projects what
would be the best way for them to do so?
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Straight Outta Kanto is the nerdy nom de plume of international horror-shock musician, illustrator and radio personality Venus de Vilo.
Straight Outta Kanto is a podcast and review blog dedicated to bringing it’s audience the warped and weirdest in nerd culture, nightmare fuel and 90s/00s nostalgia.
Champion of the Shurikon 2018 Pokémon League competition, certified VGC Dragon Gym Leader and CEO of Pokémon Fan Club Ireland, Straight Outta Kanto is an unapologetic otaku and psychotic J-Horror fanatic.