AFM Hidden Gem: 'Killer Sofa' Depicts Haunting Tale About Possessed Armchair

COURTESY OF HIGH OCTANE PICTURES
Bernardo Rao admits the key art for his film is a bit of an exaggeration — his killer chair doesn’t actually sport fangs in the movie.

Kiwi director Bernardo Rao plays it straight with his film about a pathologically jealous (and mobile) piece of living-room furniture that bumps off its owner’s potential suitors.

Don’t be fooled by the title of Killer Sofa.

The murderous villain in this low-budget New Zealand horror film isn’t actually a sofa. Of course it isn’t. That would be ludicrous. It’s a recliner.

From the mind of writer-director Bernardo Rao, this preposterous story of a possessed armchair so infatuated with its new owner that it commits bloody crimes of passion against any potential suitor actually started life with a more romantically themed, less straight-up name: My Lover, My Lazy Boy.

"But I was afraid of being sued by La-Z-Boy," laughs Rao, who then turned to the more Stephen King-ish sounding The Furnishing. But as the Wellington-based filmmaker waited for U.S. distributor High Octane Pictures to knock up some art, they had a flash of inspiration. And lo, Killer Sofa — complete with a poster of a blood-splattered comfy chair with giant fangs (those don’t actually appear in the film) — was born.

"I wish I’d seen the poster before I’d shot the movie, because I’d have definitely put some teeth there," says Rao, who acknowledges that artwork in the micro-budget horror world can often be a little more graphic than the films themselves (particularly at AFM, where Devilworks is shopping Killer Sofa internationally). "But when you see it among the thousands of other posters, you understand why. It definitely helps pierce through the noise."

Played straight by an ensemble of largely unknown Kiwi actors, the lunacy of the concept stirs each time the antagonist — a lumpy brown suede affair with a mouth (a fold in the back rest) and eyes (Velcro’d-on salt and pepper pot lids) — looms into the shot, either creeping up slowly on potential prey from across an apartment, peering menacingly out of a window, or brutally slashing its victims to death with its metallic mechanical body parts.

The homicidal seat itself was picked up for just $100 NZ (about $64) and, incredibly, made it through the entire production in — just about — one piece. (That said, Rao admits its mouth started getting a little deformed as things went along, and now it looks like it’s "had a stroke.").

But with no body double or sofa stuntman, scenes did have to be chopped to ensure his central character stayed in workable physical health.

“I had one where the recliner was supposed to jump from a window and crush somebody on the car, but I did a test and realised I was going to break it,” says Rao. In another planned shot the sofa was supposed to project blood from its mouth “exorcist-style,” but he realised it would stain the suede.

These days, the recliner rests in Rao’s garage, but he has plans to create a tourist destination that he jokingly hopes could rival Weta’s Lord of the Rings prop museum, Weta Cave. He’s going to place it in the antique store he used as a filming location. "We could put the poster up saying it was shot here," he says, "maybe sell some DVDs."

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's Nov. 7 daily issue at the American Film Market.