Just a few weeks ago I met with a friend and fellow writer for a beer and a burger. We shot the breeze and did what we do every time we get together for beer and a burger: We talked about horror movies. New and old, delayed and yet to arrive. From Crimson Peak to Krampus, The Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse to Howl, Rings to Indigenous, The Boy to Last Shift. And that’s where we got stuck, right smack dab on Last Shift.
“I was disappointed,” I told him. “How,” he asked me with a perplexed look on his face.
I leapt into my extremely brief breakdown of the flick. “I felt like they showed every crazy scene in the damn trailer!”
And then he looked at me, shook his head and smacked me in the face with a reality a child could see from a film genre away. “So, you’re disappointed in the guy who cut the trailer… right?”
I thought about that for a moment before he reminded me that the film didn’t itself spoil anything, the guy(s) who controlled scene selection while assembling the two-and-a-half minute promotional trailer seem the better fit for the coat of blame. It’s funny how sometimes we can’t see the hand in front of our face, even in broad daylight.
It was true. I was more disappointed that someone would handle the material in such a manner. It may not be fair to write the film off for that reason exclusively. And then I got further pummeled in a battle of opinion in which I had already essentially conceded defeat: “How hammered were you when you watched the flick?”
20 minutes later we headed for his place, after I agreed to sit back and give the film a second chance. You know what? I thought it was pretty damn good. There’s an enjoyable vintage quality to it; you might think it sprung from the grasp of 1985 like a Plutonium fueled DeLorean. It’s not all shitty CGI and weak jump scares. The story isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s got some qualities. Juliana Harkavy is quite impressive.
The movie I watched after dancing with Sam Adams for a good nine or 10 rounds wasn’t the same movie I saw that day.
It turns out, I like Last Shift a lot more than I initially believed. And, perhaps the biggest surprise comes in the fact that it actually has some replay value. I added the movie to my collection, and when I’m scanning said collection, I find myself returning to the title fairly regularly. That says a lot for a film.
When the opportunity to pick the brain of Anthony DiBlasi – who not only co-wrote the screenplay, but also directed the flick – surfaced, I didn’t hesitate. Some movies leave you with questions by the handful and some guys are just begging to be interviewed. DiBlasi was that dude. And I was the guy lucky enough to receive a few answers.
Horror Freak News: Describe the building you used as the focal story location. It doesn’t look much like any jail I’ve seen (don’t judge me Anthony!), but you’ve certainly make it something of a believable police unit.
Anthony DiBlasi: It is actually a police station in Florida. Scott and I knew we wanted to shoot something in a station so we went scouting before we actually starting writing and we found this perfect location actually not too far from Scott’s home. It was an abandoned police station and the new station had already opened up so it was perfect. We set all the writing around that actual station.
HFN: Hank Stone looked like he had a blast with Sergeant Cohen. It feels as though he tosses caution to the wind and plays it cool as a cucumber or as over-the-top as a humor driven Nicolas Cage. What was it like working with Stone, and what did he do for those behind the camera?
AD: I love working with Hank, we first worked together on Cassadaga and he’s just such a unique actor, both in how he looks and how he chooses to perform. His deliveries are always unique, and as you said he plays stuff so cool and really knows how to make a meal out of a mundane line. Hank is so interesting because he’s like a surfer guy, originally from LA, completely laid back and zen all the time.
HFN: While we’re talking about the performers in the film, how stoked were you to see Juliana Harkavy kill it as the heroine?
AD: I love working with Juliana, we really click creatively and I knew I needed someone who could handle the stress of being on camera 95 percent of the time. With the kind of hours we work that’s not an easy task to be able to tap into your emotions for that many hours over and over again. I first met Juliana when she auditioned for Missionary, but she was too young for the part. But we knew she’d be a great choice for Jessica, so we went to her very early on.
HFN: You give us a lot of drawn out shots, and a number of those shots feel a little bit reminiscent of early Carpenter work. Did you and cinematographer Austin F. Schmidt set out to pay a little tribute or was this the stylistic design from the jump?
AD: Carpenter is definitely my favorite genre director, especially his sci fi films like They Live and The Thing. I think his style certainly seeps into my horror films and certainly it draws comparison to Assault on Precinct 13 because of the police station. I think Austin and I went into this knowing we wanted to be very deliberate with our camera moves, to really make the hallways in this police station feel endless and ominous. I think my main note was to always be with Juliana, I wanted to follow her a lot, to always feel like we were part of her space.
HFN: There are some absolutely beautiful special effects featured in the film. Tell me who gets the credit for that stunning work, and how involved were in overseeing things and ensuring that you approved of all the creepy effects coming from the SFX crew?
AD: I’m always heavily involved with the special makeup effects and Scott and I knew we couldn’t make this movie without Lee Grimes, we also worked with him on Cassadaga and his experience and proficiency in makeup is up there with the top guys in the industry. We knew on our budget the movie wouldn’t work unless we had Lee behind the makeup department. So we collaborated a lot on what the designs would be, I would make rough sketches for him to check out or give him examples, usually of real wounds and victims. I also worked very closely with Jeremy Brock who was our special effects coordinator. I was very specific about a gunshot wound that he had to build a rig for and I asked him to watch the Bud Dwyer suicide. I feel like most head shots on film never really try to accomplish what happens in real life. If you’re a fan of Mr. Robot I feel like they were coming from the same camp of inspiration when they filmed a suicide at the end of their season.
HFN: It seems as though you used next to no visual effects. Is that fair to say, and if so, how much larger a task, and how much more daunting is it to craft practical effects as opposed to creating scares with a computer?
AD: We had a few visual effects that I hope were seamless, but we always shot practical elements for everything. Creating pure visual effects never looks as good unless you have real elements to composite. But for me I enjoy the practical effects element, it’s what inspired me to get into film. I’m always my happiest when I’m in the midst of makeup and visual effects.
HFN: How do you feel about the warm embrace from fans? It’s quite obvious that fans are crazy about the movie, and I can’t imagine that doing anything short of putting a smile on your face.
AD: I love it of course, I’m glad so many people are embracing it. I think for sure I set out to make a movie for the viewer. I was really conscious about including the audience in every frame and pulling them in and scaring them. That’s what this movie was for me, I wanted to take people on a ride and scare the hell out of them at the same time.
HFN: Is this the only Last Shift we’ll see, or do you think there’s room to expand and possibly create a sequel?
AD: Scott and I have definitely talked about doing a possible sequel and prequel so I hope we get to. We planted a lot of seeds in the first film to expand on the world if we wanted to. So if the film does as well as we hope then I think there’s a great chance we’ll make another.
HFN: What’s next for you?
AD: Right now I’m in post-production on a thriller with Marvista Entertainment, who I also made a slasher film with called Most Likely To Die, which premiered at last year’s Fright Fest. Most Likely To Die should be out later this year.
HFN: Thanks for the time Anthony. It is genuinely appreciated!