A teenage boy’s world is turned upside down when he finds evidence that suggests his father is a notorious serial killer terrorizing their small suburban town. The Clovehitch Killer follows Tyler (Charlie Plummer) as he seeks the truth behind the murders and his beloved, wholesome father, Don (Dylan McDermott). Director Duncan Skiles manages to provide a refreshing perspective on the serial killer narrative and masterfully crafts an unsettling thriller for his first theatrical debut.
How did you come across Christopher Ford’s script? Did you help write it or was it something you were approached with?
I consider myself an idea generator who works with more talented screenwriters to bring them to life. I came up with the idea for Clovehitch in 2010. Chris Ford, a longtime friend and collaborator, was one of the first people I pitched it to. He liked it and wanted to write it, but nothing happened for a while because he was busy with other projects. After Cop Car came out, producers were asking him what he wanted to do next, and that’s how we got some money to write a treatment. We worked closely together throughout the process.
What made you want to tell this story through a religious lens?
Religion is essential to the Burnside family’s cohesion, particularly for Cindy (Samantha Mathis). I think her devotion became more intense when she discovered Don’s interest in bondage pornography some years ago. She wants to save Don through faith and devotion to god.
The lack of gratuitous violence is always admirable especially in an age where torture porn is so prevalent. Did you originally have any grotesque violence or blood in this film or did you want the suspense to build purely off of our imaginations?
I hate torture porn. I sometimes enjoy over-the-top or creative violence in movies. But when it’s so easy to find real videos of people being tortured and killed on the internet, I don’t see the point of pretending to do it in a movie.
I have to acknowledge Dylan McDermott’s transformation from the hot dad of American Horror Story to a khaki-wearing, average Joe. How did you prepare him for this role? Was he the first choice to cast as Don? He was pretty intense and it sort of caught me off guard.
I wasn’t sure about casting Dylan. I knew he was a talented actor, but I thought he was too Hollywood handsome to play an authentic middle American dad. Fortunately he proved me wrong. He put himself on tape doing the the accent, and that’s when I began to get excited about all the ways we could transform him physically. Our costume designer Jami Villers did a great job with the dad clothes.
Dylan and I talked a lot about Don’s need for control, how even in playful situations he has to exert his dominance. We also talked about how easy it is for Don to lie. I think Dylan understood the character from early on.
Out of all the research you did on serial killers for this project, was there one thing you absolutely had to include that you learned from your studies?
The ruse of ‘I just robbed a bank and need to take your car’ as a way to pacify a victim before tying them up.
I found little moments of humor throughout the film with Don’s character yet the tone and context of what was happening was extremely unsettling. Is there room for horror comedies in your future filmography? You created tension very well, but I also saw the comedic elements at play.
I actually have made a lot of horror comedy shorts. I did one in college called “J is For Jerry” in which Chris Ford becomes a murderous roommate after the “pass out game” goes wrong. Horror and comedy are closely related because they both rely on tension. I think anything I make will have funny moments, but my style has evolved to be more dry because that’s what I respond to as a viewer.
If you had an infinite budget and unlimited resources, what project would you bring to life?
I’d like to make a movie about aliens invading earth to farm and harvest people for food, and our only hope is a rogue faction of aliens that sympathize with us.
Lastly, what’s next for you? Any projects you’re currently working on?
I’m developing another thriller inspired by a real crime.
The Clovehitch Killer hits theaters and On Demand / Digital HD on November 16.