In 2014, writer, director, producer and Clive Barker protege Anthony DiBlasi set out to make a movie that scares people, and he exceeded his wildest expectations with his single-location thriller The Last Shift. The only problem was his mad world didn’t snag enough big screens to truly sweep the nation and reach its full frightening potential. “I think we were lucky it landed with Magnolia, and I think they did a good release, but I think that movie really connected with horror fans, and I feel like they could have done more with it,” recalls director DiBlasi. “I think it’s a movie that could play very well in a theater, because that’s really what it’s meant for, people sitting and going along on this kind of carnival funhouse ride for 90 minutes”.
That’s why when producers Luke LaBeau and Eric Kleifield approached DiBlasi about rebooting his own movie with the budget and marketing campaign that it rightly deserves, the director boldly followed his intuition and wholeheartedly accepted their offer. Now, paired with Russell FX, DiBlasi is thrilled to release his new and improved Last Shift reboot under the newly founded genre studio Welcome Villain Films.
Narratively, the Last Shift reboot is very much the same movie as DiBlasi’s 2014 effort. A young woman decides to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a law enforcement agent after his tragic, untimely death. Officer Will Loren’s mental unraveling leads to the destruction of himself and his fellow officers, and his daughter Jessica seeks to inhabit the very same police building where her dad spent his last shift to try and seek out the truth behind his passing, while simultaneously honoring his legacy. The result is a night that never ends inside of a rapidly worsening fever dream as the spirits of the Flock of the Low God cult return to the land of the living to wreak havoc on the youngest Loren, all in the midst of her first official shift – which might also be her last. I was lucky enough to talk with director Anthony DiBlasi on behalf of FANGORIA about going bigger and bloodier this time around, expanding upon his own mythology, choosing the effects team behind the Hellraiser remake to bring his updated vision to life, why ghost stories stand the test of time, and overall, just wanting to scare people.
It’s a big overhaul remaking your own movie, but DiBlasi and his team were up to the challenge. Dedicating so many years to such a specific story means reminiscing on what you missed out on the first time around due to time and budget constraints and the like. For this filmmaker, it was the cult he always wished to explore further, the Flock acting as a homing beacon for forging the path to creative expansion.
“I’ve always been fascinated with falling into a certain mindset or a certain crowd,” explains DiBlasi. “The first movie was very inspired by the Manson family, and even when I did Missionary, which is just kind of a rogue Mormon missionary, and Dread with Quaid, I like the idea of these outliers in society. In the first film, we didn’t get to explore the cult side very much. It was very focused on just this police officer being terrified by this presence. We didn’t really dive deep on what the cult was or the characters. So for this movie, that’s what I really wanted to focus on, more of this backstory with them and exploring new characters. I didn’t want to make a movie about the Devil or Satan worshippers. I was like, let’s create our own mythology around these people, let’s create our own terminology”.
It’s clear that the world DiBlasi has built is something that’s been long in the making, with fleshed-out backstories and an immaculate eye for detail.
“In the original film, there was going to be this kind of transformation for the lead villain, John Malum, the cult leader. In the original movie, there was going to be this transformation into becoming this creature character, so that was one of the first things we said in this. In this one, we’re gonna do that next step, and we’re also going to bring in another interdimensional creature, if you will. Throughout the movie, there’s this constant chant. They keep talking about how the Temple Baron will bring forth the Low God, and I will be Redeemer King of Torment and Starless Nights. There’s this character of The Low God, and he communicates with this Temple Baron figure that comes. Essentially, Malum is the harbinger of this entity. He is then transformed into a combination of those beings. He is himself, the John Malum character, and he is this Low God character, and he becomes Redeemer, which is the King of Torment and Starless Nights. So, there was that progression that we just could not do in the first one. The mythology didn’t exist in the first movie, but the idea, the notions of it were he’s going to become this demonic entity at the end of the movie, but we just couldn’t do it on the budget we had. So for this, it was like, okay let’s do that, but then let’s do more at the end.
“I have all this backstory. If we were ever to do a sequel, I would definitely show this Exorcist kind of moment where John starts communicating with this Low God character for the first time, and shows that he has been groomed for years and years to become this thing, this creature. He is the vessel for this thing to come into our world, and I think that is what will happen to you, too. His elite members are grooming people for this ascension of these otherworldly creatures who will all come together, eventually.”
In order to expand upon the mythology, DiBlasi had to progress the action. What happened at the end of the original 2014 film is now happening midway through his remake, which means boosting his effects department in order to keep the pace of a nonstop 90-minute thrill ride.
As DiBlasi describes it, there are effects made to repulse audiences, and then there are effects made in the hopes of exciting audiences. He prefers the latter. “The scenes that most people turn away from, our fans are clapping at.”
That’s why he chose the best. That’s why he chose Russell FX. “I mean, they’re putting so much effort into keeping gritty practical effects in movies, and I think that was really important to do,” says DiBlasi about working with Josh and Sierra Russell. “They just have that passion for it, creating these things so they can work in the scene, and they can get a visceral response. Even watching Southbound, watching the stuff they had done in that, which is so kind of simple and disturbing in the segment they did, I thought they were just gonna deliver. No matter how much money you’re throwing at something, the schedule’s gonna be tight, and they work really well under pressure”.
It’s no surprise that the man who produced alongside Clive Barker for years has got a real knack for elevating the tension and keeping it taut throughout a feature. DiBlasi knew from previous experience that the key to framing a scare is balderdash and chicanery, a potent combination that literally tricks the audience to achieve the desired effect. “It’s a magic trick,” he grins. “In order to convey a magic trick properly, you have to divert someone’s attention somewhere else. You can’t just deliver terrifying imagery. You have to get your audience to look at your other hand”. Lo, and behold, abandoned police stations present a plethora of empty, dark corners and big, yawning hallways to ruthlessly weaponize. Kentucky provided the perfect four-story location. “It’s funny because you walk into it, and you’re like, oh yeah, this is exactly what you want. It even had blood stains on the walls in the prison areas. We’re like, I don’t know how that got there, but we’re going to have to clean it and then put our own in”.
The idea of having a bloody history buried beneath the facade of civility gives incorporeal beings a staggering amount of weight. Given the dark background that DiBlasi’s protagonist unveils about her own father, it quickly becomes evident that these kinds of horror movies hit home for the director just as much as they resonate with his audiences. “I think at its heart it’s a haunted house film,” swoons DiBlasi. “We talked about going to a carnival and getting on one of those carny rides of this demonic haunted house that’s rickety and loud and dangerous. I think at its core, it becomes that kind of demonic haunted movie, and the cult is just the flavor behind it that lends itself to the experience”.
But why do movies about ghosts remain so popular in the psyche of the general public, even after all this time? “Ghost stories are the only movies that scare me,” states DiBlasi. “I think it’s because the greatest mystery in all our lives is what happens to you after we die. Until that question is answered in our humanity, people are always going to want to turn to ghosts for two things. They’re either going to want to turn to ghosts to be frightened, or they’re going to want to turn to ghosts for comfort. I definitely believe in ghosts, whatever they may be, I couldn’t tell you, but I do believe that things can manifest in our world”.
Mythology and meaningful memos aside, at the end of the day, this is a filmmaker who just really revels in scaring people.
“I think that’s an important part of the experience, to give them a few good jump scares and then a few good dreadful moments. You’re always trying to create something that’s going to stand out in a new way, so that’s always a challenge, but it’s something you strive for”.