A Letter of Cryptic Prose Brings Death upon a Local Community in Joe & Lloyd Stas’ ‘Cursed Words’

I’m delighted to be kicking off Twelve Cabins with an interview with Joe and Lloyd Stas for their new supernatural horror short Cursed Words. When I was deciding what the first film on the site would be, I didn’t quite know what I was looking for. Something eye-catching? Something terrifying? Something different from the rest? Upon watching Cursed Words, what I was looking for became abundantly apparent; a love of horror movies and a dedication to the craft of moviemaking. These attributes are so apparent in Cursed Words from the opening production ident homage to the classic horror films of Roger Corman and William Castle, to the lovingly excessive use of practical effects and savvy camera techniques. It was the perfect film to start with because it emphasises the core of what I want this site to celebrate, a love of horror cinema.

So, here it is, Cursed Words accompanied by an interview with the Stas brothers talking everything from practical effects and Sam Raimi, to a potential alternate version of the film that may or may not be appearing next year…

Where did the idea to create Cursed Words derive?

We love horror movies that are fun, and there doesn’t seem to be too many of those these days. That’s what we set out to achieve with this. We’ve always loved the Scary Door segments on Futurama, where random horrors escalate into absolute nonsense. So, I think we always had that in the back of our minds. 

The seed of the concept was that we wanted an element that would never be revealed to the audience. The ambiguity of that seemed both stylish and a bit unsettling. Then the idea to ‘protect’ the audience, I think comes from our love for William Castle, a ridiculous but fun gimmick to help promote the movie. The rest of the process was just figuring out how we could bring all of this into the real world without it feeling too stupid. Maybe we succeeded, I’m not sure. It’s quite stupid. 

The use of practical effects in Cursed Words is simultaneously hilarious but also unnerving and totally disgusting! Could you talk about the process of creating them, and the method behind the madness?

That comes down to our love of old horror films and how much more real and disgusting practical effects look in comparison to CGI. Also, because it’s real, it gives actors something more to interact with… and it’s fun! We asked an artist called Baris Kareli to be help us and he sculpted and created all the prosthetics. He works on some big shows and films so we were lucky he wanted to be involved. The only thing we did in post was the white eyeballs. We would have ideally done this practically, but we had an incredibly short timeframe to film it. Plus, the majority of the actors aren’t actors, but are friends or family. A lot of them had to do real-life work in between takes, so we couldn’t really keep stuffing lenses into their eyes throughout the shoot. 

A few of the other effects that didn’t involve gore or blood we just put our heads together and tested for days until we got them right. The Nosferatu shot of the guy rising was particularly hard. We ended up having to build a rig to pull this off. It consisted of two planks of wood nailed together. 

Those elements totally give off Evil Dead and Edgar Wright vibes. Do you have any visual inspirations? Are there any particular films or filmmakers?

We love both of the directors you mentioned and some of our previous work actually caught Sam (Raimi)’s attention which led to us working with him on a few projects. We are really into filmmakers who have an individual and persistent style. When you look at films by Sam Raimi, Edgar Wright, Wes Anderson, The Coen Brothers or Quentin Tarantino you immediately know that they made that film. Our ultimate aim is to fit somewhere near that category, even though we realise it’s both insulting and ridiculous to throw our names into that circle of legendary filmmakers.

What is it about the horror genre that initially attracted you to make a film in it?

When Horror films get it right, it’s the best genre in the world. If you watch them with an audience, they are a riot because they illicit such a range of reactions that usually involve a lot of laughter, if you watch them alone you have the opportunity to really terrify yourself, both are fun in their own way.

When Horror films get it right, it’s the best genre in the world.

We’ve never shot a horror film before, despite the fact we are working on a couple of film scripts in that world at the moment. We thought it would be fun to see what we can do with it and try and get a better idea of what a Holomax horror would look like on screen.

What are the benefits of being a directing duo? How does that inform how you approach working on set?

For a start it’s nice to share the workload. Writing, directing, producing and editing takes a hell of a lot of work and it’s just too much for one person, especially when you are doing things on a tight budget.

We think alike and we have very similar visions for what we want to achieve, so there’s little in the way of conflict. When we’re on set we don’t ever think along the lines of the traditional ‘you work with the camera and I’ll work with the actor’. We are generally pretty pragmatic and discuss things as we go and delegate each other tasks based on what we are doing. It’s pretty easy going and fun.

Are you working on anything new at the moment?

As I mentioned before, we have two film scripts that we are working on. One of which has a home, and the other we are writing on spec and will be pitching next year. Other than that, we are working on some TV shows. One is based on the short The Worst Planet on Earth and the other is a new one called Sunset Yellow, which is a 90s crime-caper that involves a couple of hitmen and a winning lottery ticket. We’re excited to see if anything will happen with them but people seem to be responding pretty well.

Finally, Is there a second version of the film appearing at some point soon? 

Yeah, in the new year we are going to put out a Haunted Edition of Cursed Words. For this we are going full on old-school horror, influenced by B-Movie directors like William Castle and Roger Corman. I don’t want to give too much away but it’ll be black and white and the effects will look even crappier than they do now. This was our original vision for the short.

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