Last week, We Are Still Here had its highly anticipated homecoming at Fantasia. Hours before the screening, I had the pleasure of speaking with director Ted Geoghegan, who has worked at the Fest for several years, and lead Barbara Crampton, well known for her role in the 1985 dark horror comedy Re-Animator. We Are Still Here is a whisky soaked dark melodrama not afraid to splatter the screen crimson.
When Geoghegan, who has been writing screenplays for almost fifteen years, first began writing We Are Still Here, he had not originally intended the project to become his first swing at directing. Richard Griffin had commissioned the script from Geoghegan based on a film they both loved: Lucio Fulci’s House By The Cemetery (1981). Other inspirations for We Are Still Here include sleepy New England ghost stories, the Giallo type films of Geoghegan’s VHS filled childhood, and the spirit of H.P. Lovecraft.
These are palpable as is the nod to John Carpenter’s The Fog for some of the aesthetic choices effects wise. The special effects in the film serve only to enhance the wonder of the practical effects, which for one segment include dunking someone repeatedly into 100 litres of mash potatoes mixed with black paint.
“I fell in the love with the script,” Geoghegan recounted. Having both the blessing from Griffin and the film now in his hands, Geoghegan approached friend Travis Stevens of Snowfort Pictures who, in turn, connected with Dark Sky Films, which eventually financed the film.
In We Are Still Here, Anne (Barbara Crampton) and Paul (Andrew Sensenig) attempt to start over in rural New England after the sudden loss of their son, Bobby. But there will be little time for respite despite the sleepy surroundings. The house has a traumatic history all of its own and the floors are squeaking with secrets ready to spill out. Even their hippy “go with the flow” friends May (Lisa Marie) and Jacob (Larry Fessenden) are strung out by the vibes. Soon, they inadvertently unleash a bloody slaughter that literally paints the walls red.
“I think the silver lining to me taking over the project,” Geoghegan shared, “was that when I had written it for Richard, I had always written two of the roles with two of my friends in mind: I’d written Anne with Barbara in mind and I’d written Jacob with Larry Fessenden in mind.”
Crampton, Fessenden and Geoghegan met on the set of Adam Wingard’s You’re Next for which Geoghegan was the publicist and in which Crampton plays the matron of a family for whom a quiet evening turns out to be a bloody last supper. Had We Are Still Here been taken on by its original intended director, the two may not have been cast.
“I think really these are the best roles that either one of us have had EVER,” Crampton noted, “ I felt close to the role and I’ve been getting some nice notices for it. I think that has to do with Ted’s writing and knowing me personally and so I’m really forever grateful and appreciative of Ted for that.”
Although Geoghegan has been in the industry as both a screenwriter and a producer, he had not been bitten by the directing bug before. The process of making We Are Still Here was a learning curve but Geoghegan felt encouraged by his cast and crew and peoples’ responses to the film.
“At first, I was very intimidated by the gravitas of my cast and the directors they had worked with previously. Barbara has worked with Stuart Gordon, whom I’ve admired since I was quite young. Monte Markham, who plays the town patriarch in the film, has worked with Sam Peckinpah and with William Castle. Lisa Marie has worked with Tim Burton for years. To realize that I was going to be calling the same shots as these luminaries of film was very intimidating,” shared Geoghegan, “however, I quickly found that we had clearly cast the perfect people for the movie. I think this was due to the fact that everyone came into it very open minded with a very clean slate. I don’t think anyone brought any baggage with them. The experiences that they had previously ended up being of great benefit to the film.”
“I think as an actress too,” Crampton responded, “you have to take your cue, so to speak, from your director. Different directors direct very differently. Jim Warnoski is very different than Stuart Gordon. You really have to understand what language the director is speaking and really play to that.”
Crampton added: “even though we work in horror, actors have to work without fear. Whatever the chemistry is, you can’t be on camera and be afraid. You have to be really present and be believing in what your character is doing and not be afraid of what your character has to do, what the other actors are doing, you don’t want to be intimidated by any of the other players on the team. You just have to really relax into it.
To study for her role as grieving mother Anne, Crampton interviewed and communicated with two mothers who had lost their young adult children to automobile accidents. She asked them a series of questions about their every day struggles as well as how the deaths impacted their relationships with their partners.
“Just reading their responses brought me to tears and would bring me to the exact place that I needed to be which was a hollow place, an empty place, a lonely place, a place where there was no escape that I was a prisoner of,” Crampton explained. Although she hadn’t expected this, her portrayal of Anne, who seems tired and heavy with loss throughout, has struck a chord with persons with similar experiences who have reached out to her.
Crampton’s portrayal of Anne is strong, evoking the acting of earlier horror films. Larry Fessenden simply kills it as Jacob. Fessenden’s quirkiness brings to life the character, who swallows more than he can chew when he engages with the house’s nefarious history. Another standout performance was Susan Gibney as the town’s ‘takes no bullshit’ barkeep.
As for the editing process, Geoghegan explains that it took about a year to complete with some additional photography:
“A film like this has a finite amount of finances to work with. What you do have more of is time. So you make up for this by spending the amount of time needed to get it just right. Sometimes that takes longer than you expect but, as I kinda humbly say, this film proves, it pays off. It took the time to figure out where the film needed to be and how it needed to land.”
“I really love the fact and we didn’t even realize this until we cut the sequence but the film has virtually no dialogue until almost the ten minute mark,” noted Geoghegan,“I think that really works because by the end of the film it’s so over the top. From very silent to very loud. I think the film is a neat journey you get to go on with the characters.”
Crampton, who is hard at work with numerous projects, mentioned an intriguing upcoming film titled Sun Choke: It’s More Than A Vegetable where she plays the caretaker of a woman with an debilitating illness. Brampton describes the project as very dark, “It’s like if Lars Von Trier were more depressed than he already is. It’s pretty dark.” She also completed a film called Road Games which premieres at Fright Fest in a few weeks.
As for Geoghegan, he is currently writing a ‘secret’ screenplay for another director and has a couple projects bouncing around: “I don’t know if I am going to be producing anything else in the near future only because that takes a lot of time but I’m definitely gonna keep writing. I am hoping that within the next year or so, my next feature as a director will be off the ground.”