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First things first, Art of the Dead has nothing to do with Donald Trump. It might sound like an adaptation of the president’s much-boasted- about-yet-ghost-written memoir-meets-business manual Art of the Deal plus zombies, a project that wouldn’t look out of place at AFM, but it’s not that.
From genre specialist Rolfe Kanefsky, the supernatural horror title — featuring Tara Reid and Richard Grieco in small-ish roles (though their names do appear prominently on the poster) — follows a wealthy Las Vegas family corrupted by a cursed collection of animal paintings representing the seven deadly sins. What starts out relatively calmly gradually builds into an all-out — and highly enjoyable — bit of insanity, with bloody ax mutilations, satanic sex (with a hoofed demon) and a finale in which (spoiler alert) several characters are transported into the paintings’ monster-filled world.
“Everyone who read the script thought that it was going to be green screen,” says Kanefsky of his colorful conclusion. “But I said, ‘No, it’s got to be practical!'”
Such devotion meant that the writer-director had to first find the locations (including a ranch a few hours outside of Vegas) before hiring his artist, Clint Carney (who also did the movie’s CGI), to craft the paintings. “He got the tone of it right away,” says Kanefsky. “I gave him little bits of notes about making sure the animals in the paintings were always looking at us — I think he first had the pig in gluttony with its eyes closed. But he nailed it.”
Haunted artworks aren’t too well-trodden a horror path, but they did recently make an appearance in Netflix’s Jake Gyllenhaal-starrer Velvet Buzzsaw. Kanefsky, however, insists he was first. “I think I actually wrote the script about six months before [Velvet Buzzsaw filmmaker] Dan Gilroy wrote his,” he says.
The initial concept came from producers Sonny Mahal and Michael Mahal of Vegas-based Mahal Empire, with whom Kanefsky had worked on the comedy horror title Party Bus to Hell (also starring Reid, whom he says has become a “lucky charm”). But it was Kanefsky who mixed in the deadly sins idea, which he says — beyond David Fincher’s Seven — “hasn’t been done as much as people think.”
Made for less than $500,000 — and being sold at AFM by ITN, where it’s among the slicker productions on its low-budget genre slate — Art of the Dead has earned Kanefsky what he says are the best reviews of his horror career so far.
“Some people like the humor and the satire of it, some like the gore and the sexuality, some think it’s cheesy and campy, some think it’s disturbing and weird,” he says. “But everyone seems to like it.”
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