In an exclusive interview with Villain Media, writer/director/actress Tristan Risk talks about her short film, Parlour Tricks, her upcoming role in Rabid, and the significance of Women in Horror Month. If you want to know more about filmmaking in the horror landscape, then Tristan Risk and I have so much to share with you.
As we previously mentioned, Parlour Tricks follows a dysfunctional 1920s family who summon an unexpected guest during an unusual seance. A remake of David Cronenberg’s cult classic, Rabid follows Rose (Laura Vandervoort), who suffers a severe disfigurement after a horrifying accident. Viewers will see Risk playing the role of Nurse Dana in the upcoming horror film.
With her article now in Fangoria Magazine #2, Tristan Risk opens up about her directorial debut with Parlour Tricks and reuniting with her American Mary filmmakers for Rabid. We also discuss the tenth anniversary of Women in Horror Month, which starts February 2019. So please join me and Tristan Risk as we walk inside the actor/director’s studio and chat about her upcoming projects. And here we go…
Villain Media: Parlour Tricks represents your directorial debut. Tell me what interested you about directing this particular project.
Tristan Risk: I actually didn’t want to direct this myself. I kept trying to get Topher, my AD to do it. But when we sat in meetings, I’d say things like ‘such and such needs to be like this,’ or ‘this is how I see us doing it,’ and eventually Topher [Graham], Jordan [Barnes-Crouse] (DOP) and Burns [the Dragon] all said that I was directing it already so…I just didn’t think that I had the chops. I thought that to direct I had to know about lens and stuff. I was worried about Imposter Syndrome. But the three gents were so supportive and willing to help that once I got going, it was just like any other event/party/show that I had planned in the past. I had a vision, so I guess my bossy side got the better of me, and decided we’d do things that way. Now the bug has bitten me, and the floodgates are open: you’ve all been warned!
VM: Parlour Tricks is quite impressive because the comedic short is visually captured in black and white. What were your cinematic influences?
TR: John Waters, The Addams Family, The Munsters, the Edward Gorey animations at the beginning of Mystery! Theatre, and the four (five) cast members. The cast are all wonderful humans and my many muses! So to be able to base my characters on them and have them agree to play the parts — I can’t tell you how that lit me up on this inside. They took my inspiration and just gave it wings. I’m grateful for them!
To be honest, Jordan was the one who suggested it in high contrast black and white. Once he showed me the difference, it was the rainbow sprinkles on top of my cupcake. It was a game-changer for me, and I’m really happy he made the suggestion. He really helped shape the look of the film, and both him and Topher really laid any doubts I had about the technical aspects.
VM: How would you say Parlour Tricks changed you as an artist?
TR: I don’t detect much a change. I’d say now I have the confidence to make my own films rather than hounding people with my writing, hoping that it gets made, and hoping that it turns out the way I wrote it. So it’s opened an avenue that I never before considered, and I hope my next efforts are received as well.
VM: You also wrote a piece about your experience in the upcoming Rabid for the rebooted Fangoria Magazine. As a journalist, to be honest, I’m saddened by the past news of staff layoffs, writers not being paid, and annoyed most of all by the incompetence of negligent managing editors. Having said that, I do wish for the magazine to rejuvenate and find itself on the right path. Tell me about being part of this relaunch, bringing something new, and writing something different than a script.
TR: It was distressing seeing Fango go down. I never like to see a publication I’ve enjoyed have difficulties, and the magazine has been around for so long, it’s like seeing an old friend go on a bender, crash their car, and wind up in court on crazy drug charges. I didn’t like it; I don’t like it when artists don’t get paid — I’ve been there myself often enough. Phil [Nobile Jr.] approached me about doing the article about Rabid — I had been there for preproduction a week prior to going on camera, so I had been able to see as much that was going on as Jen and Sylvia [Soska] did.
Writing the piece wasn’t hard — I love to write whether it be scripts, sonnets, or my blog. To write about my summer remaking a Cronenberg film with my best friends, the most amazing FX artists anywhere (MASTERSFX in general, and Steven Kostanski in particular) was a treat. What they created was something I’ll treasure forever, like American Mary. To be able to tell people about that feeling was incredible. I could have written volumes, and was having to constantly self-edit about what could be said, and what couldn’t be said. I’d be lying if I had said that the shoot was a piece of cake.
The new Fangoria relaunch was really cool — a who’s who of contemporary horror lovers and talent. I truly hope it inspires some weird little kid, like I was, to pick it up and read it and want to be a part of it. I’d love to write for them more in the future, but at this point, I’m incredibly happy to be part of this relaunch and to have Laura Vandervoort, who plays our leading lady Rose, featured as part of the cover.
VM: Tell me about reuniting once again with the American Mary filmmakers for Rabid. How do you manage to keep the collaboration fresh each time?
TR: I adore working with the Soska sisters. Very few directors can come close. While we don’t work together on every single project, I really enjoy when we do. Sparks fly; ideas ignite! I think we were all excited to make this film, and because so many of their ideas are fresh, intense, and not for the faint of heart, that it can make a lot of actors nervous about the subject matter. My trust with them is absolute. I don’t feel like there is nothing that they can ask me to do that I won’t be into. It’s rare to find that.
But because we have that, and I know that they would never let anything adverse befall me, that I can go to these crazy places, be these crazy characters, and still keep it fresh. Jen and Sylvia are very unique, unusual talents, and because of that, a lot of people have a difficulty with their content. But it’s because they are original, interesting, and different from any other other cookie-cutter bullsh*t I’ve witnessed, the dance is always different.
VM: Women in Horror Month celebrates its Tenth Anniversary this February. You’ve worked on Ayla, Amazon Hot Box, and Innsmouth. What does the anniversary mean to you?
TR: It’s a nice milestone! I’ve been lucky enough to work every year, sometimes more than others, and have a project that is part of Women In Horror. I think with 80% of my work being horror-based, that it’s easier to be more recognizable in the industry than if I did one horror project per year, and the rest of the time I was making Christmas films for Hallmark Channel.
I’m proud to be a writer, a director, and an actor in the horror world. I’m pleased to contribute to the genre with interesting and original content. I look forward to giving more of my art to it. I hope that in another ten years, I get to reflect on these ruminations again.
VM: Women in Horror Month celebrates breakthroughs of the past and aims for more accomplishments in the future. As a writer/director/actor, what advice would you share with others to stay strong, especially during these turbulent times (with Harvey Weinstein and Brett Kavanaugh in the news), and push on through for their art?
TR: I’ll say this: the industry is a snake pit. If you work in it, at some point you will be forced to make a choice between working with someone who’s actions have been offensive. At that point, people have to make a choice between looking the other way and cashing a paycheck, or having to pass on projects because you need to look at yourself in the mirror every day.
I’d say keep fighting for accountability, call people out when there is behavior that is harmful and at best educate them or worse, just don’t work with them. I’m incredibly worn out at hearing people defending documented predators because people want to just watch their movies guilt-free. If I know that the person who made the art hurt a child or a woman or anyone and has a pattern of behavior, my moral temper flares.
This isn’t a “Oh, they were products of their time” type of issue. This is happening right now. I think in the world we live in now with social media, and more awareness, I hope it creates a fear. I WANT people who would use their position of power to be SCARED of actual repercussions, and not able to buy their way out of trouble; it’s gone on too long. So I’ve made the conscious choice to not be involved with anyone on those terms. I’ll lose work, for sure, but I need to live with myself and sleep at night, and I do that really well.
VM: What are you working on now? Does directing a feature film interest you in the near future?
TR: I’ve got three feature films I’ll be working on this year, and I’m hoping to direct my first feature. I’ve written a script that I’m hoping to shoot in Vancouver, but whether it happens this year or the next is one of those crazy wildcards.
I’m very interested in doing a full feature. But whether I can bring something to life with my crazy, stylistic ambitions remains to be seen. But light a candle and wish me luck!
[Writer’s Note: This interview has been edited for clarity. Links are highlighted in bold.]
Readers can find out more about Tristan Risk and her upcoming project here.