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With vampires currently enjoying their all-media heyday, it remains a challenge for writers and filmmakers to put a new and different spin on the bloodsucker story. Acclaimed Canadian writer Douglas Smith delivered just that, coming up with a unique twist in his short story “By Her Hand, She Draws You Down.” When producer/writer/director Anthony G. Sumner and producer Alan Rowe Kelly read the tale, they contacted Smith and got his blessing to turn the disquieting story into a short film, and BY HER HAND, SHE DRAWS YOU DOWN is now hitting the festival circuit—and worth seeking out.
BY HER HAND, SHE DRAWS YOU DOWN follows an artist named Cath (played in a feminine yet haunting style by Zoe Daelman Chlanda) and her husband, Joe (a masterful and intense performance by Jerry Murdock), who travel from seaside town to seaside town so that Cath can draw portraits of tourists as they pass by. You see, Cath has a particular “hunger,” which is satisfied by literally drawing the lifeforce out of her subjects. As time goes by, she begins to take more liberties with the victims she chooses, causing moral friction with Joe. And just as her “bloodlust” grows, Joe’s anxiety increases as he fears things are spiraling out of control. Tension mounts between the pair as Cath continues to change the rules, leading to a final reveal that emerges as quite unexpected, satisfying and sad.
BY HER HAND’s acting is superb, and it comes as no surprise that both Murdock and Chlanda took home awards for their efforts at the 2010 Oklahoma Horror Film Festival this past September. “It was literally the genius of Alan Rowe Kelly that brought all of us and this project together,” Sumner says. “I met Alan in 2005 at the New York City Horror Film Festival, where I was screening my movie JITTERS. We became fast friends and began working together as much as possible on projects. I sent him the story and told him that I wanted it to be my next project, and he absolutely fell in love with it. He then asked if he could share it with Zoe and Jerry. I was already a big fan of both actors, and never anticipated getting them for this project. However, once they read the story, both really wanted to be part of it.”
What also makes BY HER HAND so special is the haunting feeling it evokes right from the beginning. Gene Hodsdon’s eerie music perfectly accompanies the opening montage of windswept, desolate beachside locations that show where Cath and Joe have traveled in their horrific journey across America. In his editing, Sumner periodically makes the effective use of dissolves to convey the passage of time, as if Joe and Cath have been on the road for quite a while. The combination of the elegiac score and the stunning scenery sets a somber mood—so much so that when we join Cath and Joe in the Jersey Shore town, we are exhausted right along with them. Finally, the cinematography by Sumner and VINDICATION’s Bart Mastronardi’s completes the effect, as they pick all the right angles to depict the characters and do quite a fine job with symmetry.
“Alan managed to get us a fantastic house rental in Ocean Grove for a week during the off season in November,” Sumner reveals. “This allowed the actors to come and go as they needed, but also enabled us to really talk about the scenes and just hang out each night and plan our approach to the next day’s work. Alan had scouted the entire area, and we spent two days just driving up and down the shore getting B-roll. It really was like a working vacation.”
So, how is Sumner feeling now that his short is winning such accolades? “It was a challenging project for me, because I really felt a huge responsibility to do justice to the short story. As a director, you always feel this sort of burden to make sure the actors come across with their best performances, and that everyone feels proud of the final product—particularly when you have such a low budget and people have been so giving of their time. With this project, I felt that even more because I had so much respect for the original story, the actors and Alan. In the end, I believe we truly succeeded, so yes, I’m thrilled, as I’m sure everyone involved is. It has really impacted the way I have approached other projects. I love it!”
BY HER HAND, SHE DRAWS YOU DOWN may be this year’s horror-festival sleeper all around. You can check out the trailer and learn of upcoming screenings at the film’s official website.
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