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Director K. Asher Levin on genre filmmaking and his new horror movie, Slayers

K. Asher Levin is first and foremost a fan of cinema. What started as a conversation to promote Slayers quickly turned into a discussion about genre filmmaking and the legendary filmmakers of the1970s. For the record, it’s hard to disagree with Levin’s point about how Martin Scorsese is the greatest genre filmmaker of all time. Nevertheless, Levin is a student of the game, and Slayers is his attempt to inspire a new generation of genre fans.

Written and directed by Levin, Slayers follows Elliot Jones (Thomas Jane), a vampire hunter whose sole mission is to hunt down the creatures who killed his daughter. After years of hunting, Jones has found those responsible for his daughter’s death, but needs help infiltrating their layer. Enter “The Stream Team,” a group of clout-chasing social media superstars who lack self-awareness and humility. When the team is invited to a billionaire’s estate, they quickly learn the compound is a breeding ground for vampires. Forced to team up with Flynn (Kara Hayward), a gamer on the team, Jones conducts the hunt of a lifetime inside the house to avenge his daughter. Framed as a vampire movie, Slayers is also a unique takedown of the media and its capitalistic principles.

In an interview with Digital Trends, Levin speaks about the origin of Slayers, the inspiration behind Elliot Jones, and his burgeoning collaboration with Jane.

Thomas Jane and Kara Hayward point crossbows in a scene from Slayers.
Kara Hayward as Flynn Chambers and Thomas Jane as Elliot Jones in the comedy/action/horror, SLAYERS, The Avenue release. Photo courtesy of The Avenue.

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Digital Trends: It’s been a busy couple of months for you with Dig and Slayers. Have you had a moment to catch your breath?

K. Asher Levin: I haven’t. I had my second kid in April.

Congrats.

Thank you. We finished locking the cut of a film that comes out next year. A few months ago, I started prepping for a movie I’m about to shoot now. Then, I have these two movies that just came out, so it’s been a pretty wild ride for the last three months, and doesn’t seem like it’s ending yet. [Laughs]

Hopefully, you get a well-deserved vacation soon.

Yeah, absolutely. So, how recently did you watch the cut? Because I’ve noticed it’s really fun to talk to people right after they’ve seen it because it’s such a weird experience.

I watched it this morning.

Oh, amazing. Great! OK, cool. I like the unfiltered, right-away responses because it’s such a unique film.

It is. When you say unique, it’s a vampire action-hunter film with this technological spin. What was kind the origin of this story?

The origin of the story is that about over a little over a decade ago, I started reading about Howard Hughes and his later years at the Desert Inn. I saw this cover of Time magazine where there’s a black-and-white sketch of him, and he looks like a vampire. I thought it would be really fun to do a revisionist story of Hughes’ later years set at the Desert Inn in Vegas in the late ’60s.

The way to do it is this classic Dracula story of young adults showing up at the Desert Inn under the auspices of the lead, Jack, being there as a young reporter, having a one-on-one interview. The Flynn character is his sister, the Liz character is his wife, and the Jules character is her best friend. Then, the Elliot character was originally called Robert Maheu, based on a security guy that was connected to Hughes. So that was sort of the origin of it when we started working on it.

After that, I ran and launched a very big young adult digital company called BRAT, which is still really popular and very, very different than everything I do now. I was inside the tent with a lot of people that are super-famous today, and we got famous, young adults, that were 12 and are now 18, 19, 20. I sort of saw how the sausage was made. This was the in-between years before I went back to directing feature films. It was like a job that I had, basically.

It was pretty tough on the soul, to be honest, and I got really cynical. I ultimately left the company because it was just too hard to keep going creatively with that, and then immediately, I was hired by Snapchat to develop and create shows for Snap Originals before they stopped doing scripted. When they were in and doing reality, we had two shows that were released, Save Me and Players, and I learned a lot about the digital visuality there.

Thomas Jane belittles a group of young influencers in a scene from Slayers.
Thomas Jane as Elliot Jones, Kara Hayward as Flynn Chambers, Ash T as David Dean, and Jack Do nnelly as Jack Chambers in the comedy/action/horror, SLAYERS , The Avenue release. Photo courtesy of The Avenue.

While I was doing that, I brought in my buddy, Zack [Imbrogno]. We wrote this other script that we’re still working to get made into a slasher film. I knew how much he loved horror films, and I had a whole different spin on this. This was eight or nine years after I’d written the script initially.

I wanted to really explore the vampiric elements of media and specifically, digital media, but also media beyond news media, etc., and use these characters as a cipher. So the Elliot Jones character really is Alex Jones. That was the sort of riff on the name. Originally, it was even wilder. He was like a real Alex Jones rip-off. He had a camera. He was shooting his own conspiracy videos.

He’s in the news as we speak.

Yeah, and honestly, the vaccine stuff was just a happy accident, or a not-so-happy accident, because we had written the script and the vaccine was already in there. My buddy [Zack] is a real conspiracy nut and thinks everything’s controlled. As we started working on the movie, the pandemic hit.

Our shows that were supposed to go to the second season on Snap were canceled because they weren’t doing scripted anymore. So I told Zack, ” Hey, let’s just go make Slayers now.” We went and got some actors and some friends I knew, and we got the movie up and running. All of the stuff that we had talked about initially became real with regard to vaccines and viruses and all this stuff. We were able to really lean into it.

[For] the influencer stuff, it was always important for me to not have that be what the movie was about. I’ve seen a bunch of trashy influencer horror films and this is not that. I wanted it to be that it was just their occupation, and the theme in the movie was really about media and the vampiric elements of the media through capitalism. Elliot was a really great sort of balance to that. Also, Flynn as a gamer and not an influencer was really important to us.

Once we made the movie, we looked at it and some stuff worked and some stuff didn’t. It was very clear that the Elliot and Flynn relationship was the part that was really, really working. Not that the rest of it didn’t click, but that it was so wildly entertaining to watch Thomas embrace the role and his interactions with Kara. We wanted to figure out a way to bring that element in really, really early.

Knowing my background doing Snap, my editors suggested, “What if we really enhanced the movie and gave it an overall digital look that you know better than anyone else?” Once we started doing that, then the movie really became what it was. I was able to then expand on a lot of the mythology that Zack had started. In the scene in the trailer where he talks about the Illuminati[I] embraced my inner Chuck Palahniuk vibe and it creates this very unique vision throughout the film.

SLAYERS Trailer (2022)

Now for the next script you write, all of this stuff is going to come true 10 years from now as it did in this film.

[Laughs] Shit, I hope not. I actually haven’t really written a script in a while. I have two movies that I am working on script-wise in between shooting all these things. It’s so hard because you’re like, “I gotta go direct now.” Both of them are definitely in the “Slayers zone.” Not necessarily on the camp factor of it, but in the sort of contemporary, techno horror element of it. I really am intrigued by the subversion of our society and ways to kind of find humor and violence within it.

Thomas Jane has now been the lead in your last two films. How did your relationship begin? 

When I find an actor that I like to work with, it’s easier for me to operate. As you see from Slayers, I’m pretty ambitious with my shots, and it’s hard to do that when you don’t really know who you’re working with. So selfishly, I keep bringing people on that I know how to work with already. Emile Hirsch is another one that I work with a lot. I look at them as collaborators.

I am such a huge fan of [Martin] Scorsese and [Robert] Altman and [John] Cassavetes and filmmakers of the ’70s who over and over again were working with the same actors and built a repertory. I think that they selfishly did the same thing. They want it to be able to go fast and shoot a lot and working with the same actors helps you with that. They understand your technique at that point.

With regards to Thomas, it was once again a bit of a happy accident. We were searching for the Elliot Jones role for a while and my brother-in-law had spoken to Thomas briefly in the past about doing a comic book with him. He’s a big comic book guy. [My brother-in-law] said to me on a Sunday as we were having bagels and stuff with our family, “Hey, you know who would be great? Thomas Jane.” And three days later, Thomas emailed me back and was like, “Hey, this is great. Let’s get on the phone. Let’s talk.” And that was that. We started talking and then he came to set, and we had a blast.

While I was editing this movie, my producing partner, Daniel [Cummings], had another film, Dig, that he was working on, and Thomas was already talking to him a little bit about it. Then, we all decided that I would come on and do that, too. After that, I had another film that I was producing that’ll come out soon, and I recommended Thomas to my buddy John [Stalberg Jr.], who was directing it. So we brought [Thomas] on to that. Now, I’m developing one more with him, and then he’s going to be in the movie that I’m out here prepping right now.

A nurse taunts a patient in a wheelchair in a scene from Slayers.
(L - R) Ashley Reyes as Natalie, Malin Akerman as Beverly Rektor and Jack Donnelly as Jack i n the comedy/action/horror, SLAYERS, The Avenue release. Photo courtesy of The Avenue.

Wow.

Thomas is a really cool guy and also such a wonderful father, too, and a really great guy with a ton of experience that gives me a lot of advice about things and knows a lot about genre. Whether I’m shooting a horror movie or a crime thriller or even a sort of weird comedy, they all sort of fit in the vein of elevated genre or elevated exploitation, whatever it is. That’s the type of stuff that I like. I think the world is too crazy to be that serious about it.

Ultimately, I think that even when you watch people like Sam Raimi do a drama or thriller like A Simple Plan or something, you could still tell that they’re genre filmmakers. The Coen brothers, too, by the way. You could still sort of tell. Honestly, I always say that Scorsese is the greatest genre filmmaker of all time because I don’t think that his films adhere to the rules of dramatic directors.

I think he’s more ambitious and more fun with the camera than most of them are. You hear him mostly praise weird horror movies that come out [Laughs], and I think the reason is he loves genre just as much as [Quentin] Tarantino does and understands that film is a pop culture medium.

If you could find a way to reach the masses or reach a niche of mass while showing them stuff that they’ve never seen before, then you’re really you’re extending the cinematic language to a whole new audience. I hope that this movie is really that. This distillation of all of these different sorts of things that I’ve seen and that I love. An introduction to that 12-year-old kid who’s like, “Oh, my God. Slayers fucking rocks. I’ve never seen anything like this before.” And then someone one day goes, “Oh, well, you know, Asher ripped off [Brian] DePalma in this scene and Edgar Wright in that scene and Scorsese in that scene.” They’re then like, “Who are those people,” and they go see those movies, and suddenly, they have a whole film education.

Slayers is now in theaters, on digital, and on demand.

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