Couple and filmmaking duo Angelica De Alba and Paul Ragsdale’s production company A&P Productions has a growing fanbase flipping out over their creativity. The independent filmmakers are mixing blood, humor, and a whole lot of 1980s pop culture. Their latest film Murdercise is a horror comedy proving that the higher the hair, the closer to getting murdered, and neon leotards are more than an exercise gimmick. FANGORIA met up with California's Central Valley filmmakers in a Stockton building where a shelf occupied by three dummy heads, a box overflowing with cosmetics, and a mannequin torso with breast prosthetics lingers in a corner. It's a day for filming bloody pickup shots.
Despite being the producer and creative mind of A&P Productions, De Alba (who goes by Angie) did not grow up watching anything scary. Her mom was protective of what she and her siblings could watch, so that meant no horror, no nudity, and no bad influences. "My family and I are complete chickens. We are scaredy cats scared of our own shadows," said Angie. "Even if we weren't, my mom wouldn't have allowed us to watch anything scary." If Angie went to a cousin's or friend's house, she would catch glimpses of those kinds of movies, but they kept her up at night and occupied her mind with the taunting idea that a monster could appear. So, what did her mom allow her to watch? The fun and wholesome films of the 1980s produced by Disney or action-packed flicks directed by Steven Spielberg, and the Back to the Future saga.
Paul, however, grew up enjoying black-and-white monster movies like Frankenstein and Dracula, which progressed into classic slashers as he got older. "Everything was fine except for nudity," he said about the content his parents let him watch. "I could watch Jason impale someone with a spear. That was fine, but if there was a naked girl – 'close your eyes!'"
Although she heard about Child's Play, Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, and Friday the 13th while growing up, the boiling suspense and the special effects have allowed her to develop an understanding of Paul's interest in the slasher and horror genres. Whether cheesy, comedic, or full-on terrorizing, the storylines have opened creativity for their film projects at A&P Productions. To this day, Angie doesn't watch a ton of horror movies, but Paul has steered her toward the dark path for entertainment reasons. "He's got such a crazy knowledge of horror films," often suggesting which movies she should watch. "He's trying to relive his love of horror through me." Not only does he encourage Angie to watch classics, but he is also rediscovering the thrill of watching them years later.
She's good at writing, set design, and costumes, and he's great at putting the story together and directing it. "Those are the components of filmmaking that people always overlook," Paul said. "Our films have a different quality than most others because it is a male and female – a couple – it's not just two horror people making a movie. She has her perspective, and I have mine, and we can bring it together."
The couple met at Modesto Junior College – he was a film major, and she described herself as a young person who didn't know what she wanted to do in life yet, but the creative arts were something she preferred. Angie took theater and playwriting classes and eventually a film class where she met Paul. They were classmates who became friends, and a few years later, they became the couple and killer film team they are today. After watching Halloween (1978) with Paul, Angie began understanding his interest in horror. "I could see how that set the bar for every other horror filmmaker because they had so little to work with, did so much with the soundtrack and building suspense." Paul adds, "And the fact that they were independent. Debra Hill and John Carpenter were a team, and that's like us." It's a film that they both credit for inspiration regarding their screenwriting and filmmaking.
In 2010, the couple completed their first film, Cinco de Mayo, about a Chicano professor with an Aztec blood lust who kills racists. In 2010, Paul had a script, a camera, and determination but no actors, sets, or budget. Angie stepped in to help him. "That's when my practical brain started helping him." She became involved by encouraging him to visit local college plays and approach the actors to pitch the idea of starring in their first feature, and she asked her friends to film on their properties. Social media and the internet were not what they are today. Now there are groups and communities of horror fans, actors, and even themed Airbnb's for rent. "That was the first challenge, building a little community, like a family," said Angie. "And continuing. Because when you're just beginning, people say it's not that serious. That it's a side project, but we were serious from the beginning." Since their 2010 debut film, they have written, directed and produced six feature films in the Central Valley, including 2016's Streets of Vengeance, Slashlorette Party in 2020, and their latest Murdercise, heavily inspired by the 1980s.
All horror fans have an era and subgenre they prefer, whether it's monster films from the '30s, '60s psychological thrillers, or '70s slashers. De Alba and Ragsdale grew up in the '80s when clothing was awash in highlighter neons, movie soundtracks came on cassette tapes, and comedy added a third dimension to horror. The decade submerged people in now-classic horror films like A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Slumber Party Massacre, Beetlejuice, and Elvira: Mistress of the Dark. "It's a period I'm very familiar with," De Alba said. "It was a fun time and seemed crazy, over the top, and colorful – that's why I like it."
"When you're doing slashers, yeah, you can do a modern-day slasher, but in the '80s, the slasher genre exploded," added Ragsdale. Murdercise is described as "the deadliest home workout video ever made" and features bright leotards over spandex, leg warmers, Reeboks, and a fitness enthusiast who gets an acting break in a sleazy exercise video. Tensions collide between her and a bimbo cover girl. Suspense builds, perverted men get what they deserve, and a murderer is on the prowl. It stars horror director and actress Kansas Bowling, Nina Lanee Kent, and porn model and actress Ginger Lynn.
Angie was in charge of getting the wardrobe for each actor and creating a visual of each character's personality within the '80s aesthetic. The duo used neon lighting to add depth to the era's visual aesthetic. "I was able to kind of translate a feeling with just a picture," said Paul. "I think just the '80s nostalgia is really big with people our age and younger. It's a sense of fun the '80s had, and our movies reflect."
As the costume director, Angie bought authentic clothing and accessories from the era at vintage stores and eBay, which is an element they want in their '80s-inspired work. "A wardrobe is very important. It helps you believe in the world that the creators are trying to show you," she added.
When it comes to pairing horror and comedy, the intentions of making it a good time for all are at the forefront. "We know things are silly about the movie. That's kind of the point," Angie said. "That's why we stuck to the '80s." Paul describes their work as "campy" because they don't hope to traumatize viewers but rather take them on an entertaining ride. They slip in pop culture footnotes and present ideas about current topics while adding a slasher element. "It's like a burrito," Paul laughs. "Something serious wrapped in a funny, goofy tortilla."
Unlike their first project more than ten years ago, a growing following allowed fans and supporters to donate to A&P's Indie Go Go or seek cameos. But the Covid-19 Pandemic halted production. A&P Productions punched through like a hand yanking out a crimson heart. Two different perspectives of cinema collided to create their horror-comedy production company which is already working on their next film. "Every filmmaker needs a partner. You can't just do it on your own, you need a team," said Paul.
As a piece of faux brain catapults into the air and lands on us, Angie "ewws" and squirms at the fake blood. I join her occasionally, sometimes both of us squirming simultaneously when we look at the replay because it all looks realistically gruesome. Fragments of the day's pickup shots will be added to the puzzle of Murdercise.
Murdercise will have its gnarly theatrical release in Modesto on Saturday, July 8, at the State Theatre, followed by a Q&A with the directors and actors. Not in the area? No worries! Murdercise will be available for streaming on Tubi and Amazon Prime later this summer, followed by a DVD release this fall. In the meantime, check out the official trailer below.