Red Light (2020) is the passion project of director Alex Kahuam, actor Ted Raimi and producer Marco De Molina. A real deal guerilla indie effort, clocking in at nine-plus minutes, Kahuam’s production keeps you riveted from the first frame until the end. This proof of concept is definitely unforgettable. As a matter of fact, it stays with you, and trust us when we say this, in a good way.
What starts out as a night of “adventure” with the promise of a killer party for a group of millennial influencers is going to take a dark and unusual turn. Right off the bat, all of these kids are ultra-annoying with their selfie taking and their “live” broadcasts. Naturally, when they aren’t navel gazing or pontificating to their vapid followers, they excel at being detestable humans.
When a homeless man approaches their car asking for assistance, they tell him to get lost. After one of them has an altercation with the harmless vagrant, a van pulls up and obstructs them from leaving. Enter Ian (Ted Raimi) and his brother, Stephen (Brian Krause) who turn out to be these social media junkies’ worst nightmare.
For those fans of Ted Raimi, who are anticipating another goofy, slightly eccentric performance, prepare to be pleasantly surprised for his character, Ian is gloriously terrifying. Think along the lines of his darkly nuanced portrayal of Dennis Skinner (Skinner, 1993) and you’re on the right track. The actor plays it straight. Ian is a highly-intelligent man, the type that you wouldn’t mind conversing with at a dinner party. It is that same charisma that also lures victims to horrible fates, and to make matters worse he appears sane!
We were eager to speak with Kahuam who wrote the unnerving script with his partner, Daniel Kuhlman. Here is our conversation about the significantly creepy Red Light, his horror influences, and what lies ahead for the director.
Inspiration Wields a Chainsaw
Diabolique: Thanks for speaking with us, Alex. Before we get into Red Light, let’s talk about your background, which is pretty interesting. In 2011, you directed a comedy short called Disaster Date, which sounds very much like something John Hughes would have done in the 80’s. From there you got into crime dramas with Escondida (2012) and So, You Want to Be a Gangster? (2014). Was being behind the camera something that you always wanted to do?
AK: Wow, Disaster Date was a long time ago! When I was a kid, I started doing short films. A teacher assigned us homework, so instead of doing a paper I asked her if I could do a video with my friends and she said, sure, go ahead, why not? We did this crime drama about a kidnapping. I was very fascinated by her response because we were young; I was 12 and I was playing a father of my classmates. My teacher got really deep into this short. She was like, these kids are doing violence and saying bad words, what’s going on? (Laughs)
I fell in love with doing short films. From the age of 12 until now, I have been progressing in the sense of changing the genres that I want to explore. Horror has always been interesting to me because it stays with you, but I also like crime.
Diabolique: Name some movies and directors that have influenced your work.
AK: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) is my favorite movie, and Tobe Hooper is a god. That film was so disturbing. I was 14 when I first watched it. Since then, it stayed in my head. What really intrigues me about the film is the characters like Leatherface and their motivations. Red Light was influenced by that production. I like to say it is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for millennials.
Diabolique: It’s funny that you would mention that because when we were viewing Red Light, we picked up on the TCM influence right away. From the moment your film starts, you are drawn into the story. If you are on social media, you are familiar with every one of the obnoxious “influencer” lead characters. We also noticed the parallels to another storied horror franchise, Saw (2004). Were you aware of that?
AK: Yes, totally! The original idea came from Escondida. That film was the blueprint for Red Light, but the difference was the main character was a YouTuber because, at the time, it was the thing. Everyone was using it. Now it is Instagram and Snapchat. YouTube is still around, but it’s not like before, from my perspective. I feel like Instagram has more influencers and people like Red Light’s lead characters there. So, I wanted to do the Hollywood version of the film but with changes of course.
I was very lucky to have Ted Raimi and Brian Krause for this proof of concept film. Pretty much what we did is, we shot a couple of scenes from the full-length screenplay that we already wrote. It’s just a small taste of what a dynamite feature it will be.
The Dark Side of Ted Raimi
Diabolique: Speaking of Ted Raimi, did you write the character of Ian with him in mind? How did he become involved in the project?
AK: I wrote the script with no actors in mind, but one of the producers, Marco De Molina is Ted’s friend. While I was rewriting the script with Daniel Kuhlman, I was thinking it would be awesome if Ted Raimi played Ian. It would be a great character for him.
Marco sent the script to Ted. He read it and loved it. He read the feature-length script and not the proof of concept. Then he said he wanted to be involved as a producer because he wanted to make the picture happen. This was wonderful because now we had our villain, and he nails the role. He is incredible, and we’ve become a family. Ted, Marco, and I are really close with each other. It’s been an evolution from our first work together to friendship.
Diabolique: It was great to see Ted not be the comic relief because that is what his fans expect from him. Did you know he was going to be able to dial into Ian’s darkness? What makes him terrifying is the character seems like a normal, intelligent guy, like someone you would want to hang out with. Sort of in the vein of Hannibal Lecter, minus the cannibal tendencies.
AK: I grew up watching his work. Yes, you’re right, in most of his films he provides the comic relief. However, he did a dark picture called Skinner in 1993. I felt like that was different, so I talked about it with Ted. I knew he was capable of doing a very serious role that was scary and frightening. He has the skills to pull it off.
When we were talking about it he told me, “I don’t want to do a goofy, comedic killer.” I thought, great, we’re on the same page. The script doesn’t provide any comedic relief with Ian. With the influencers, yes, but with the killer, no. It has to be very serious.
Like you were saying, I love Hannibal Lecter. He’s very smart and he’s terrifying because he knows exactly what he’s doing. Actually, The Silence of the Lambs (1991) is another influence because Hannibal is a great character.
What Lies on the Horizon?
Diabolique: We enjoyed Red Light very much. It needs to be a feature film. Are you any closer to obtaining financing for it?
AK: I cannot tell you a lot, but I can say it is going in that direction. I think we have a good shot of making the film next year. We are really excited and happy. All of the festivals and the critics love Red Light. They want to see a feature, so I think our objective of showing it to audiences and seeing what they thought about it is paying off.
Diabolique: Will Red Light be screening at any virtual festivals in the future?
AK: Yes. Next month we will be at the New York City Horror Film Festival. We are also going to be at Awesome Con, which is Washington, DC’s Comic Con.
Diabolique: According to IMDb, you have another scary thriller in post-production called Forgiveness (2021) and you are also working on 165 Days in Quarantine (2021) as well. Tell us a little bit about those efforts.
AK: Forgiveness is a psychological horror film that will be released next year. We have been working on it for two years. In 2021, we will start our festival run. I am really excited about this project because it has been a long process.
The story is about three women who are stuck in a hospital. One is mute, one is deaf, and the other is blind. There is no dialogue. However, there are jump scares. I shot it in a series of long takes. Red Light was shot the same way because I experimented with the technique in Forgiveness.
165 Days in Quarantine is another proof of concept. It is a drama. When I was in quarantine, I wrote four feature-length screenplays. I had inspiration; the world was collapsing and I felt the need to write about it. I grabbed one scene from the script like Red Light, and we shot it in August. We are finishing it in two weeks, and then we are going to start our festival run next year.
Diabolique: Beyond those projects, what else do you have in store for audiences?
AK: I have another movie that is in development. It is a psychological thriller/drama. The human condition interests me because as human beings we are kind of crazy in a way (laughs). I like exploring that. Right now, I am talking with a friend of mine. I cannot say her name, but she is a well-known actress in Hollywood. We’re in talks to make that film happen.
Diabolique: Do you have any advice for up and coming filmmakers on how they can get their passion projects noticed?
AK: I would tell them to “think big.” What do I mean by that? Don’t limit yourself by only making short films. Always have a longer version of your script ready. Have a strategy and a plan.
Once again, we thank Alex Kahuam for taking time out of his busy schedule to speak with us. For information on how you can get tickets to the Red Light screenings at NYC Horror Film Festival and Awesome Con, visit their websites.