Thirst For Blood: Jeremy Kasten Draws Blood for His Latest Horror Epic

We’re sitting on the set of Jeremy Kasten’s new film, The Thrist. Kasten and his producers are in the midst of getting berated by the soundstage’s manager whose office was apparently deluged with blood the previous evening when some of the over 60 gallons of fake stage blood that was used during the staging of a brutal strip club massacre, trickled through the stage floor and landed on the irate man’s desk. Despite the plethora of blood and boobs on display in the film, the one thing that cast and crew keep coming back to in describing the film is its heart, with not a blood-soaked stake to be found in it. The script, which was re-written by Kasten and producer Mark A. Altman, is a love story which Altman described to me as “sort of Vertigo with vampires and blood, in the film, is a metaphor for addiction.”

The film, which had its world premiere at the prestigious Sitges Film Festival in Spain last year, debuts on DVD this May from Starz Home Video. Director Kasten describes it as Requiem For A Dream meets Near Dark, an atypical genre yarn deconstructing many of the traditional horror tropes found in the usual film’s of its ilk and is told with an in-your-face visual style which is a dramatic departure for the auteur, who has helmed such previous horrors as All Souls Day: Dia De Los Muertos and The Attic Expeditions. Starring Clare Kramer (Bring It On) as a stripper who’s stricken with cancer, she soon learns that the cure may, in fact, be worth than the disease. The film also stars Jeremy Sisto (Six Feet Under), Adam Baldwin (Firefly), Serena Scott-Thomas (The World Is Not Enough), Tom Lenk (Buffy) and Matt Keeslar (Frank Herbert’s Dune). His next film, a gory remake of H.G. Lewis’ Wizard of Gore, will be released next year.

So how did you get involved with The Thirst?

Mark Altman came to me with a script that his company had optioned that he thought had the germ of an idea that he was interested in. The screenplay was about a couple of gosh-golly Goth kids who made really realistic vampire fangs for a subculture they knew nothing about. The girl gets cancer or something and they go in search of “real” vampires to get her eternal life. As I recall there were some pro-wrestling style lady vampires and some really “Blade”-like action-y characters who were a group of vampires that the couple eventually finds. I don’t remember what took place in the rest of the script but I recall that they were being hunted by a vampire hunter/cop whose father or brother had been killed by vampires.

That doesn’t sound like the movie you eventually made?

It’s not. What appealed to Mark was the Hitchcock-like notion of losing someone, believing they were dead, then seeing them inexplicably alive and trying to get at why, but he wanted to change the rest of it. I loved that, since the conceit of vampires is by its nature implausible, but what else would destroy your world-view and allow you to believe in them. What, other than seeing your recently deceased loved-one alive and well? At any rate, I read the script and agreed that there was something interesting there to play with.

So the appeal of the film was do something different with the genre?

Yes, to make a vampire film that both flies in the face of the standard conventions of that particular subset of genre movies and still satisfy the hardcore vampire film fan.

I wanted to make a vampire movie that was equal parts rock and roll and love story. A true exploitation/horror film that had a human and relatable story at its core.

And I wanted to show vampirism as an ugly thing. I didn’t want two little holes left behind on a victims neck, I wanted to show flesh being torn away from a neck and blood gushing rhythmically into a mouth like a water fountain gone mad.

Haven’t vampire films been done to death, pun intended.

Well, yes. They have been done to death. Even the human side of The Thirst, the parallel of vampirism and addiction, that had been done. But what we tired to do was ask ourselves, “okay, we’ve seen such-and-such a character as a staple of the genre, or this situation is a trope that we are familiar with, but how can we turn these concepts on their ear without losing or frustrating the audience. It’s a tricky balance but I think as long as there is blood and nudity every ten minutes, you are able to get away with pushing the boundaries more. At least that’s how it is for me as an audience-member.

How did the cast get involved?

Casting a film is very tricky business that always seems to involve a certain amount of magic. We’ve all seen films destroyed by poor casting choices and what, I think, audiences don’t always understand is that the casting is a very stressful time where the filmmakers and the financiers and the agents all do a very difficult dance to try to find the right people for the roles where everyone has opinions and something to gain. The stakes are high and every one of these parties is sort of torturing the other.

Everyone was, in my opinion, born to play their roles. I can’t say everyone was our first choice, but, of course looking back it seems odd that we ever considered anyone else.

Obviously Jeremy Sisto is amazing, and he had read the script and was on the fence about the film. He liked it but worried about doing something cheesy. He and I had a phone conversation where he brought up the strange “two-voiced-ness” of the character of Darius: an effect, quite possibly, of the film being rewritten so much leading up to production. We discussed the idea that Darius was really many different people from many different times and that these personalities were always slipping through. He immediately connected with the idea and he signed on just after that conversation.

I should also tell you that both Clare Kramer and Matt Keeslar came in to meet about doing the movie. I was really totally taken by Clare’s spirit and passion for the project right away and she and I were off and running almost from the moment we met. I had resisted the idea of Matt Keeslar at first and it was our casting director Christine {Sheaks} that pushed hard for him. I truly try not to pigeonhole actors and I try to be very, very open minded about their abilities to change themselves but in Matt’s case I just couldn’t get past his clean cut-ness. He, also, came in to meet with us and there was something in his demeanor that right away struck me as exactly the thing I wanted to be able to see in the character of Maxx. A strength and fortitude that was necessary for protection from the world.

What was your stylistic approach to the film?

I am afraid it sounds a bit film-studenty but the truth is I looked at a bunch of the Dogme 95 films to see how imposing a false documentary sense can make all the situations more immediate and dramatic. I am a big fan of some of these films, and thought I tend to dislike the approach as a cop-out for true style, I think it can really propel a scene into a much stronger emotional state. We also looked at stuff like Irreversible and Clean Shaven for on screen brutality and general ickiness.

What is the future of the horror genre?

I hope that the genre continues to stretch the boundaries for what is acceptable. I think that is its only chance of survival. I do not only mean what kinds of horrific imagery we can show and how far we can push special effects, I also mean that we need to open ourselves up past simply aping successful films of the past and try to find new and exciting ways to make us feel disturbed or off-balance. I think the experience of watching horror movies is a kind of stimulating the part of the brain that reminds us we are alive. If you think about your nightmares and how they, also, make you feel as though you’ve survived something once you realize they aren’t real and you’ve survived another night, there are so many variations on that sense of survival. It isn’t that you are always being chased by a killer or that you’re trapped in a house.

I’d like to think there are as many variation on horror films as there are on nightmares.

What’s your favorite vampire film?

Nosferatu. Of course.

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