A Conversation With Anthony DiBlasi
There are few directors working today capable of generating the kind of consistent and unbridled intensity throughout a feature film like Anthony DiBlasi.
From his debut, Dread, which adapted one of Clive Barker's most harrowing short stories, to Last Shift, a balls-out bonkers tale of supernatural possession, DiBlasi's directorial skills and artistic ambition are virtually unmatched in today's horror landscape.
It shouldn't be a surprise that his latest, Extremity, is just as good as his past works. What is surprising, however, is how much better Extremity is than anything he's done before.
In fact, for 2018, Extremity is easily one of the five best genre films released to date this year, and a strong argument could easily be made that DiBlasi's latest deserves to sit at the top of that very short list.
For those who don't know, Extremity tells the story of Allison (Dana Christina), a young woman who survived an awful, turbulent upbringing at the hands of her violent, alcoholic father. After years of therapy, and still unable to form normal emotional connections to people in her life, Allison submits an application to participate in Perdition, an extreme haunt experience, which she hopes will finally help her resolve and excise the dark memories that have, to that point, formed the core of her existence. It goes without saying that Allison's response to the grueling endurance tests is not what she or Bob (Chad Rook), the creator of Perdition, expected.
BVB: Blood Violence and Babes was thrilled to speak recently with DiBlasi by phone to pick his brain about Extremity and explore his artistic process.
While our interview does contain SPOILERS for those who have yet to check out Extremity, there's no reason you shouldn't dive right in and hopefully enjoy our candid conversation as much as we enjoyed how generous Anthony was with his time and how well we got along.
BVB: Thank you so, so much for taking the time to speak to me about Extremity for my website, Blood Violence and Babes. I have to share a quick story with you, if you would give me the honor.
AD: For sure.
BVB: I love your film, Dread. It is just one of my favorites, and not just because it’s based on my favorite short story from Clive’s Books of Blood: Volume II, but it’s just such an incredible film.
AD: Thank you.
BVB: When I was watching it, I couldn’t help, and I actually told my wife at the time, and I had always hoped to have the chance to talk to you. So, when I was in tenth grade, I was in a creative writing class and the teacher asked all the students to bring in a piece of writing that they felt best personified the craft of writing and detail, and they wanted everybody to read it aloud to the class. And, so, I chose Dread.
AD: (laughing) That’s awesome.
BVB: And I will never forget just the horror on my teacher’s face and my classmates’ faces as I read aloud the scene where she finally breaks down and eats the rancid steak.
BVB: And people are just staring at me, what the hell is wrong with this kid.
AD: This is good.
BVB: So when I saw the film, you got the point of what Clive was doing with that story, and it was just incredible.
AD: Let me tell you, the years before I directed that movie, we were going to make it with Fox, and it was at Fox for several years, and we had a bunch of different writers on it. And they, every time we hired a new set of writers, the first thing Fox wanted to cut out was the meat scene (laughing).
BVB: Right, of course!
AD: They hated that scene. They just didn’t understand it. They were like, ‘It’s not scary. Just cut it out.’ That’s like the whole definition of the story.
AD: I don’t get it. We were so confused, but it never got made. They also wanted to make it PG-13.
BVB: Oh my God. How? You can’t…
Extremity publicity photo courtesy of Epic Pictures
BVB: So, let’s talk about Extremity, because I have to tell you, you have made what is so far this year my favorite genre film of the year. It’s just incredible.
AD: Knowing that you like Dread, I can see why you liked it.
BVB: What’s funny about Extremity is, when I sat down to watch it, there have been other films, especially recently, that have tried to do something similar based on extreme haunts and things like that, but your film, to me, is the first and only one that both nails the attraction of that type of experience, but also the possible repercussions, in a way that makes sense in the real world.
BVB: It’s so surprising. I mean, there’s so many different little nuances throughout that just keep ratcheting up the story and investing viewers in it to where, by the end, your jaw is just on the floor because you’re like, oh my God. It’s going there and it’s going there and now it’s just blasted right through there. It’s just an unbelievable experience as a viewer to see something that catches you with so much surprise, and delight, when you realize what you, as the director, are actually accomplishing.
AD: That’s awesome. Thank you.
BVB: You’re so welcome.
AD: You know, I’m glad, because when they sent that script to me, originally, I was like, I see the potential in a lot of ways to make a bookend to Dread. I could see that parallel because it deals with the same theme. So, I was excited to get to do that again, in a lot of ways, tell the same story but from a completely different point of view.
Ironically, as DiBlasi explained, the initial script for Extremity, which was written by David Bond and Rebecca Swan, brought his thinking back to Dread, in part, because Swan had worked on an early draft of Dread when Fox owned the rights to the story.
That early draft of Extremity also was a much different animal than what the final film became.
AD: When they sent it to me, the bones were there, but it was much more, I’d say, closer to McKamey Manor. Anyone who doesn’t know McKamey Manor, it’s one of these extreme haunts, <inaudible> most popular out of the bunch. A lot of people in our world at least know of McKamey Manor. It was a much more, I’d say, physical script. A lot of physicality and a lot of things that involved much more physical torture. I wanted to bring in a lot more psychological elements to it and play with her psyche and what they were doing to her to bring out, to kind of crack her psyche. And then the layers of her with the flashbacks and then her kind of spirit guide along the way. I always refer to the character as Death in a lot of ways. But those elements came in later.
BVB: And that was something you had a direct involvement with?
AD: Yeah, for sure.
BVB: That makes a lot of sense. That’s why I wanted to ask because that’s the beautiful thing about Extremity, it’s so complex when you consider everything that’s at play, and that was one of the things for me as a viewer, you know, whenever I sit down, I’m watching both as a fan and as a critic, so I was trying to, with the flashbacks early on, and I loved the little teases where Allison is sitting in the car and over the phone, you hear, ‘Are you no longer taking your meds?’ You’re dropping little things throughout that build to the much bigger reveal. And when you put that up against what Bob is trying to accomplish with Perdition, it has just this very rich foundation of possibilities that most films I nthis genre don’t even attempt to scratch the surface of. That’s one of the reasons I loved it. The other reason is I don’t know if the film would have worked as well with someone other than Dana as Allison.
Dana Christina as Allison in Extremity. Publicity photo courtesy of Epic Pictures.
BVB: Did you know immediately when she came in the room to read that she was Allison?
AD: You know, we kind of went through that routine. She’s a Canadian actress and I had actually hired her immediately to play Erica, Allison’s girlfriend, because in our early casting, we were casting out of Los Angeles, we were casting a lot of the leads out of LA, so it was kind of that game we play for awhile of budget and money and the budget of the film kept changing and our offers kept changing. So, when it got down to the wire, it was like, ‘This girl has got the chops. Let’s take her from the Erica role and give her the lead.’ And it was actually a fun phone call because I had to call her and be like, ‘Hey, I want you to play the lead of the movie,’ and then she’s excited, and then she’s immediately thinking, ‘Well, wait…’ In her head, she’s like, that’s amazing, but then she’s like, okay, that’s a huge responsibility, let me…what actually happens, you know, (laughing) to the lead? Because in the script there’s what you would consider nudity, but in the movie, you don’t really see nudity, and then the trials she goes through. You kind of have to, as an actor, you’re like, yes, I want to play this part, now let me think about what does she actually go through, what do I have to be doing for the next 20 days? She threw herself into it, for sure.
BVB: It’s funny when you think about it, you’re making a movie about an extreme experience, but in reality, she’s going through an extreme experience to make the movie.
AD: That’s the irony of the whole thing because I did exactly what I warned against in the movie, kind of like, the cautionary tale that’s in the film is the exact thing that I ended up doing. I’m bringing in someone, we’re making a quick decision on a big thing, and bringing in someone to actually go through these experiences not knowing how they’re going to come out the other side. Because I didn’t want to fake anything. I wanted to be like, listen, if they’re pushing the envelope at these events, we need to do it on film. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t, as long as, you know, we have a stunt person there, and it’s safe to do a lot of these things for real.
BVB: When you think about the early experiences that the characters Allison and Zachary endure, and they are pretty extreme, but when you actually get to the end and you see everything else that you’ve unleashed, it makes things like the peepshow sequence, which I thought was just fantastic – it was just, the way you shot it, the way, what it started to reveal about her as a character, and also just the titillation of the whole thing, the combination of sex and violence and everything, it was just wonderful the way you did it – but, in most films, that would be near the climax as opposed to one of the first things they go through (laughing)
AD: (laughing) First thing, I know! It was like, I actually think that was the last sequence we added to the movie because I, as you pointed out, I really like, and Dread had a lot of this too, the juxtaposition between sex and violence, because sex lures people in, men and women, right? Put sex on the screen, people lean into it. It’s like, okay, this is titillating, whatever it is, I’m into this, and you kind of let your guard down a little, and then you turn them on their head, immediately, you’re pulling them out of, from one sensation to another. I feel like it really fucks with people.
BVB: Oh yeah, it does, absolutely. In a good way.
AD: In a good way, yeah! (laughing) Maybe not everyone likes it, but I love to play with that stuff. I think things like that allow the audience to participate, in a lot of ways. They’re not just sitting watching a movie. They’re actively participating when you’re constantly shifting, you’re forcing those senses to do different things.
BVB: And watching a film like this, I found, at least for myself, I was trying to think, okay, would I be able to get through this one? Would I be able to get through this one? Holy crap, how do I get through that one? That’s the beauty of it, that you instinctively put yourself in the place of the actor that you’re coming to care about, the character that you’re caring about, and trying to relate with your own endurance level.
AD: Yeah, yeah.
BVB: And the line of demarcation. Where do I cross the line?
Allison (Dana Christina) and Zachary (Dylan Sloane) wait for their next test in Extremity. Publicity photo courtesy of Epic Pictures.
As he prepared to start shooting Extremity, DiBlasi said he knew he had several issues he had to address immediately at the start of the movie, or risk alienating a large chunk of his audience. One involved educating his audience about extreme haunts. The second, figuring out how to keep those same viewers guessing, was more daunting.
***WARNING -- THIS SECTION INCLUDES SPOILERS -- WARNING***
AD: I knew with this movie especially, I felt like the biggest challenge was, at the beginning of the movie, number one, I’ve got to educate people, what are extreme haunts, because I think a lot of people don’t know, and then you’re telling people right off the bat, this place is not real, and these people are coming here willingly. So, it’s like, how do you make that a satisfying journey? It’s like peeling back the layers of expectation because, like you said, any viewer is going to be like, okay, I get it, she’s volunteering for this, she wants this to happen, and so does Dylan. And these guys, the extreme haunt, they think it’s fake but it’s probably going to be real, right? That’s probably everyone’s first thought. That’s where this is going to go. She’s in on it. Or he’s in on it. There’s this constant dance of expectation because it’s not your standard, oh there’s someone who’s scary and there’s someone who’s trying to get away from him. And in any horror film almost, even if it’s supernatural, or a ghost story, or a serial killer film, or a slasher, or a revenge thriller, you usually know. You kind of get the basics along the way. But, in this, it was all about, well, what’s going to happen? If this is all fake, something else is going to happen.
BVB: Oh yeah. Yeah. And the fact that you were able to make a character like Bob sympathetic with his backstory, and his young son, and he’s struggling to just, he wants to do the right thing, it might not be in his DNA to do the right thing, but he at least realizes that he’s supposed to. It makes everybody so relatable that when you see what happens to them, it’s just (laughing) it’s just unbelievable. I wish I could show you my notes (laughing) from when I was watching it because I’m like, SHE JUST RIPPED HIS FACE OFF in all caps…
BVB: I just had the best time reviewing this. Just watching it, I would pause it and just start typing, I take notes on my phone in my notepad while I’m watching, OH MY GOD!
AD: She ripped his face off! (laughing)
BVB: Did you ever consider while you were working on this where Allison goes from the end of the film? Because, to me, that’s kind of the fascinating part. At the end, you’re like, oh my God, did I just watch the making of a serial killer without realizing it?
AD: Yeah, it’s funny, because in the original script, or one of the earlier drafts, I don’t remember when it came out, the end of the movie, she actually went back home to Erica, and when Erica wakes up in bed, she’s wearing the mask...
BVB: Oh wow…
AD: ...at like the foot of the bed. For various reasons, we didn’t go there with it, but I don’t, this is probably not the kind of movie you make a sequel to, but we had always talked about things like, ‘Okay, now, she’s just going to go on, essentially, a spree and find everyone that was involved with this place.’
AD: Because a lot of the people, they just go about their lives, which is real life, right? And you don’t really know what’s going to happen next. But we kind of imagined she would go get Phil (J. LaRose) next, the guy who played all the, the psycho clown, and all those other parts. She’d track him down.
BVB: (laughing) I actually, I’ve got to be honest with you, I dig the whole, her standing at the foot of Erica’s bed with the mask on, but I felt like the way you closed it out was perfect because it just, it accomplished everything you wanted without having to really be blunt about it. You’re like, okay, that’s exactly how that should go out. She just mows these two other people over and, ‘Okay, time to find a Waffle House and get something to eat,’ you know? (laughing)
AD: Yeah! (Laughing) I think that’s the thing we should have had, after the credits, her just sitting at Waffle House…
BVB: Right! A little bit of blood on her face. ‘I’ll have scattered, smothered and covered, please.’ (laughing)
Extremity is now available to purchase on Blu-Ray through Epic Pictures (Click here to visit the store) or to rent or buy through most streaming video sites like iTunes and Amazon Prime Video.