EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW : NICHOLAS TANA & DENISE ACOSTA -HELL’S KITTY
In Devil’s Kitty (released in March via Wild Eye Releasing), Nick (Nicholas Tana), a Hollywood screenwriter, discovers his cat has become murderously possessed, and will stop at nothing to rid him of any women in his life. As his life unravels out of control, Nick must find a way to have his kitty exorcised of the demonic spirit haunting her and creating a body count.
With characters named after classic horror movie characters (Jones plays Father Damien, Berryman is Detective Pluto, Nina Kate is Dr. Laurie Strodes, Barbeau is Mrs. Carrie), and a tone reminiscent of some of the ‘80s greatest horror-comedies, Hell’s Kitty is undoubtedly the horror hiss of March!
-PH: Nicholas Tana (writer/director/star) and Denise Acosta (producer) talk up the next cult classic.
-Nicholas: I love the ability to scare people, but in a safe way. In horror, the viewer can face fears, but know it’s not necessarily real. It’s like practice for death and all things bad. Horror movies have the excitement of being on a roller coaster without the painful consequences. There’s a mystery to it, as with all of life, I suppose. However, in the end, you get to survive, unless you die of a heart attack.
-Denise: I love the excitement and mystery of it. You never know what you’re going to get with a good horror movie. I also have a morbid fascination with getting to know the characters and then watching them try to survive.
-PH: How did you both get involved in the film. I assume it started with you Nicholas, since this movie is based on your own experience with your feline?
-Nicholas: Denise moved in as a roommate to study at the Los Angeles Film School after leaving her job in television news. As a roomie, she got a kick out of watching me try to date people with a cat that was very possessive. Denise knew better, and kept a safe distance, so as not to alarm my cat when walking around the apartment. Other roommates would come and go, unable to handle it. It made Denise laugh, however, to see how Angel (my cat), would act when people I was dating came to visit, and got a little too close to me or my cat. From growling (yes, cats growl, too) to overtly attacking them, Angel would show her displeasure in a variety of comic, even horrific ways. As a number of my dates speculated that my cat was indeed possessed, I decided to write about it. Denise and I agreed to collaborate on making it our next project.
-Denise: I remember one of our other roommates put Angel on video, and submitted it to the reality show, My Cat From Hell. The producers totally wanted Angel on for an episode. But when we told them that we wanted to promote our own show idea while on air, they decided it was conflict of interest. So, we declined their offer. They even called us back a year later, but at that point we were nearly completed with filming, and our roommate, who had sent in the video of Angel tormenting her to the reality producers, had long disappeared. Don’t get me wrong, she’s alive (I think), and living somewhere in NY. She just couldn’t take living with Angel always at her heels, literally.
-PH: Nick, do you remember where you were when you came up with the idea?…
-Nicholas: It was shortly after my date with Lisa. The actress who plays Lisa, is actually named Lisa, and was in fact, someone I had dated a bit. We basically reenacted one of our first dates in one of the early scenes of the film, but took poetic license by adding more blood.
-PH: And what has been exaggerated for the big screen?
-Nicholas: Beside the gallons of blood, some missing body parts, dead folks, a failed exorcism, a hodge podge of fiery balls of poop, and a suicidal séance, nothing. The scene where she scratches Lee Meriwether was real. Lee Meriwether ended up bleeding on my collector Catwoman comic. You can see the real fear in my eyes during that scene as she tries to use my comic to stop the bleeding. I was thinking, while still on camera, that I hope Lee Meriwether is alright. Then I started to fear that I was going to get sued. Next, I remember thinking, she ruined my comic book with her blood! To be honest, that’s partly why I made her sign it. I wanted to lay claim to the fact that it was her blood, so the comic wouldn’t lose its value. It wasn’t totally a selfish act. I intend to raffle it off one day at Comicon, and donate the money to non-profits that help cats.
We also exaggerated Angel’s demonic personality. She was really loving with me. I think she just got jealous of others. We had a great love for each other. In fact, the whole movie is a tribute to her. She passed away a few years back, shortly after we completed filming. It was as if she was here for a time to do a certain job, and to leave a legacy. Now, she even has fans online. One particular fan, created an Angel’s Army page on Facebook. This movie is my tribute to her. She will be missed.
-Denise: Angel wasn’t all evil. Just, maybe, partly evil. It’s as if, eight of her nine lives were evil. She did come around to loving me after a while. Besides Nick, I was the only other person that could pet her. It was like being able to pull the sword Excalibur out of the stone. You really had to earn her affection, and that made it all the more special.
-PH: How long did it take for the movie to come together?
-Nicholas: A very long time. We started while Denise was still in film school by releasing clips of our webseries online under the name, My Pussy’s Possessed. This is how we started to gather a mini-cult following. Our pillars of support were comprised of mostly hard core horror comedy fans, and lovers of cat videos. The difficult part was keeping a continuity. I had to pretty much make sure to maintain the same body weight, and the same hair cut for over four years.
-Denise: It was about five or six years in total from the time we started actually, until we finally agreed to a distribution offer with Wild Eye Releasing. Mostly, because we had been working on weekends while doing other gigs. Since Nick wrote it in a way so as to leave cliff hangers, per episode, we thought it would be cool if we could piece the clips together into a feature length film. This way, we could use the online presence as a web-series to promote the feature release, without ever releasing the ending online. This was one way to build an audience that was excited to see how it all turns out in the end, and to generate momentum for its release.
-PH: What do you prefer – practical or CGI?
-Nicholas: I like them both for different reasons. I still think practicals have an artistic element that is more organic and visceral. While CGI has been getting more impressive every year, and can create a magic that is impossible to emulate with practicals alone. This is why, I think a combination of both is best.
-Denise: I prefer using practicals but CGI does come in handy, especially, in post. It’s a bit hard to create laser beams with practicals. But the blood, guts, body parts, and hair; basically, anything gooey, is much better with practicals, in my opinion.
-PH: Can you talk about working with one another? Do you work well as a filmmaking unit?
-Nicholas: Yes, Denise is like both my right and left hand. She has a similar sense of humour, style, and authenticity. I would not have been able to put myself on camera and act in something I was also directing, if it wasn’t for Denise. She was able to watch most of my scenes, and call out when I was acting inauthentically. In this way, she served as a behind-the-scenes director, too. I know that I also jumped in as producer on many occasions because I tend to try to commandeer the ship when there are big problems. As the years went on, she also became the only other person who could handle my cat; this was important, too. The crew all had to wear gloves and were scared to get too close to Angel though a number of them tried. We’d hear their screams from down the hallway as they prepared to light the set.
-Denise: Nick and I worked already on his last movie, a documentary called Sticky: A (Self) Love Story, which is still available on Amazon. Nick is more of a communicator; definitely more extroverted. I tend to be an introvert. He’s a fantastic writer, too. I like to put together the team and produce; I’m more of a graphic designer and social media marketer. We like different things, and we’re good at different roles, so we compliment each other.
-PH: Talking about working on anything else together yet?
-Nicholas: I’ve recently written a psychological thriller called Control about a radio psychologist, who loses her son to a murder suicide, before uncovering what she believes to be a plan by a powerful pharmaceutical company to control people using prescription drugs. We are also collaborating on a PSA for HEAL THE BAY, which is guised as a sequel and parody of Jaws, which is titled: Straws. I’m also nearly finished with my first non-fiction book called THE CORPORATE ZOMBIE SURVIVAL GUIDE, about my life working in the horror world, and the horrors of the corporate world. It’s a self help business book catered to artists trying to make money without losing their souls. I’m sure we’ll be shooting some related videos around that as well together.
-Denise: We’ve got that PSA for Heal the Bay, but it is hard getting celebrities to volunteer their time for free, even for a good cause; so we hope we’ll get enough folks on board to make it happen this year for Heal The Bay’s Strawless Summer campaign. Straws are really scary for the environment. Nick also wrote a fantastic TV pilot called Mobster Memoir. It’s like Boardwalk Empire meets Orange is The New Black. We’re hoping to turn that into a play and a TV series together soon. He had the late Blake Edwards endorse it, but then he died before being able to do anything with us. We’re also working on some sketch comedy web stuff, and a new documentary on marriage and monogamy, which should ruffle some feathers. I’m also putting together a networking group for Latino Creatives, and he’s helping me with that as well.
-PH: If you had to single out a moment in the film that should be played at an awards show, what moment would you choose?
-Nicholas: I think the scene with my character dancing with my cat, Angel, until her eyes turn demonic red. It really summarises the conflict in the film. The cute, cuddly relationship of a person’s blinding love for his pet, juxtaposed against the dark, supernatural forces trying to turn the pet owner’s life into a living hell.
-Denise: I’d consider playing the scene where Nick first enters his mystery neighbour’s apartment, and walks slowly down the hallway, scared out of his wits, upon seeing what looks like the spirit of a woman in black; only to discover it’s really something else (don’t want to give it away, but it’s very funny). I think that scene really says a lot about the horror, comedy tone: Rocky Horror Picture Show meets Twin Peaks, with a little Grumpy Cat tossed in for good measure.