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FANGORIA’s FrightFest (see previous item here and go to www.fangoriafrightfest.com for more details) is nearing its debut this summer. One of the films yearning for your on-line votes to win theatrical release is the Australian DUEL-esque thriller ROAD KILL (see below for exclusive photos).
Set in the Outback, ROAD KILL (filmed as ROAD TRAIN) follows four promiscuous teenagers out on a long driving trip who run into some big-rig trouble. “On the way to their camping adventure,” says director Dean Francis (pictured below), “alpha male Craig [Bob Morley] decides to impress his new girlfriend Nina [Sophie Lowe] by playing chicken with a particularly menacing road train—i.e. a f**ing huge truck—but comes off second best. Our protagonists are violently shunted off the road and their Jeep is wrecked. Nursing serious injuries, the teenagers see that the road train has stopped up ahead, and decide that approaching it for help is their best shot at survival in the scorching heat. When they get there, the road train is empty. They hear gunshots and then see a crazy man running at them with a firearm. Now their only choice is to climb aboard the road train and drive it down the highway to freedom. But the road train seems to have a mind of its own, and before long, it has stranded them in what can only be described as a hell pit. Whatever the kids do, it only seems to make their predicament worse.”
The malevolent vehicle is supernaturally driven, as Francis explains: “Essentially, the road train is possessed by some kind of spirit, which makes it able to influence behavior.” However, unlike CHRISTINE or MAXIMUM OVERDIVE, ROAD KILL avoids a clear-cut explanation of the vehicle’s origins. “It becomes a formidable protagonist, but the film never reveals too much about the ‘why’ aspect of the road train’s existence. We give the audience clues, but there are multiple interpretations of how the road train came into being, what it wants and so on. I wanted the film to work as a psychological thriller as well as a supernatural one.”
Francis, making his feature-length directing debut with ROAD KILL, was compelled to tackle the project by memories of his own encounters with these metal beasts. “When I read the script [by Clive Hopkins],” he recalls, “I thought of the many road trips I had taken from Sydney to Melbourne at night—a 10-hour drive. I had often been tailed very close by massive, menacing trucks, and realized that my survival was literally dependent on some fat truck driver’s accelerator foot. These road trains are actually extremely threatening. It’s very dangerous because of those drivers, who are up to their eyeballs in narcotics. It’s like a crazed sport. So it felt like amongst the supernatural hijinx, there was a fundamental truth at play in the script.”
A close relative of Francis, in fact, was involved in just such a scary situation. “My partner’s mother was terrorized by two road trains one stormy night as one tailgated her from behind while the other trapped her from the front. She had to keep up with their acceleration in order not to be crushed, and couldn’t overtake because she couldn’t see in front of her. All this with three sleeping children on her back seat!”
Luckily, assembling the cast and shooting his low-budget chiller was a far less nerve-racking endeavor. Francis beams with pride when he speaks of the talent of his actors. A particular point of pride is Xavier Samuel (also featured in another new Aussie horror flick, THE LOVED ONES), who shot his role as Marcus before making his North American debut in the upcoming TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE. “Xavier had ‘movie star’ written all over him the minute he walked into my casting room,” the director recalls. “When he told me after wrap that he was trying out for TWILIGHT, we all had no doubt he’d get the role—he was extremely thorough on ROAD KILL, a real perfectionist, great in rehearsal and as a result gives a great performance. Xavier is the real deal, and no doubt he’ll be on our screens for many years to come. He’s also the perfect sexy vampire!”
That’s not to say the rest of the cast are slouches, as they pull a tremendous amount of the film’s emotional weight, milking the tension for all its worth. “Sophie Lowe was quite unknown when we met for ROAD KILL,” says Francis, ”but right after the shoot, she was nominated for the Best Actress AFI Award [the Australian equivalent of the Oscar] for her work on Rachel Ward’s BEAUTIFUL KATE. She’s untrained and completely natural; she just feels the character in her bones and gives the camera everything. There’s no doubt that Sophie will be an international name before too long. Amazing, extraordinary talent.
“Bob Morley was the first actor cast, and he has extraordinary charisma as a person and on screen,” Francis continues. “He’s been a TV heartthrob in Australia for years, but ROAD KILL has been his biggest chance to really showcase his depth as a performer, and it was a challenge he was very much up for. Georgina Haig is the newcomer, and the day she auditioned, she was literally off the plane from drama school. I would call George a serious actor in that she was extremely methodical and very interested in getting to the truth of the character. She cops the brunt of the cheesy dialogue, and does an amazing job of bringing her quite bitchy character to life in a way where the audience has genuine sympathy for where she ends up.”
ROAD KILL’s international assault includes its FANGORIA FrightFest DVD and VOD release along with the possibility of that big-screen play, and Francis is thrilled by his film’s inclusion in the series. “It’s a wonderful idea,” he says. “It’s extremely difficult for a low-budget film from Australia to crack the U.S. market. For a tiny film like ours to be able to get into the American fanboy mainline is an extremely precious opportunity. What’s also great about FrightFest is that it celebrates genre filmmaking in all its diversity. Eight very different movies are showcased, discussed, criticized—and hopefully enjoyed—and that’s great for the fan community, great for filmmakers and great for the genre. The fact that fans get to vote on their favorite is wonderful—not just for the winner, but it provokes a discussion generated by the people who really matter, the audiences.”
Francis is also comfortable with his film’s American name switch. “I told the producers from the start that no one in the rest of the world would know what on Earth a road train is, so I’m very unsurprised by the title change,” he says. “The film works whether or not you know that. The point is that these kids come across a bloody scary vehicle that ruins their day and then some. They become consumed by it.”
So with one successful horror movie under his belt, what’s next for Francis? Will he continue making fright flicks for years to come? “This genre is excellent because of its fans,” he says. “They are so engaged with what’s coming out, are extremely forthcoming in their feedback and you really feel that making a horror film is taking part in a conversation. But I want to diversify and tell stories that have more to say than ROAD KILL. I have a pretty big development slate, and there is a healthy dose of horror amongst it, but I’m also working on dramas, thrillers and even a surf road movie. The challenge for me for the next film is finding real depth within the story and connecting with material that has something really potent to say.”
To vote for ROAD KILL, visit the FrightFest website linked above between June 21 and July 18 and view the trailers and supplements for all eight Fango movies. Your vote could secure ROAD KILL a theatrical release this July! Also check out FANGORIA #295, on sale next month, for more on the film, and look for an exclusive trailer to debut on this site next week.
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