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FrightFest 2023: Getting ‘Spookt’ with Tony Reames and Vanessa Ionta Wright

Spookt is not your average haunted house flick. Between mad scientists, orgies, and evil Amish dolls, there are more than just a few buried town secrets in Greenville, Pennsylvania. That’s why I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to catch up with the film’s director, Tony Reames, and Executive Producer, Vanessa Ionta Wright, ahead of Spookt‘s World Premiere at FrightFest this weekend.

After a few introductions and the realization that Wright is the festival director of Atlanta’s fantastic Renegade Film Festival, we got our Spookt conversation underway. You can view this interview in its entirety or read snippets from the discussion below.

My first question was for Tony Reames, who had worked closely with writer Torey Haas to develop the Spookt script. Hass and Reames have worked together on many projects in film and television, and I wanted to know how the idea for Spookt was developed.

Reames: “We had finished another project, Torey and I, and it was like, what do we want to do next? And this is a boring answer, but we’re both kind of deep into analytics and things like that. So, we’re like, let’s see what’s popular. So we did some research, and movies on Redbox that are very popular are haunted house films, and then movies on Netflix that do really well are ghost films. So, we’re like, let’s just do both, right? That’s how it sort of started. I’m actually from the town where the story takes place in Spookt, so I would just start sending Torey some ideas of like, ‘Well, here’s some real things that happened in our town.’ And then Torey took a lot of these little disjointed stories and put them together. That’s how Spookt began.”

As an avid lover of all things X-Files, I felt the need to remark on the lead characters of believer Claire and debunker Rachel, played with charming adversarial chemistry by Haley Leary and Christen Sharice. This is a dynamic we haven’t seen in horror for a moment, where films often keep characters on the same page. I wondered what the thinking was behind the dynamic and how he displayed it so well in Spookt.

Rachel and Claire are dressed in dark clothing huddled next to each other in Spookt
Image Courtesy of Polymath PR/FrightFest

Reames: “My favorite film—it has nothing to do with this— was Night of the Comet. And so, I was like, I wanted to see two strong female leads and put them in a situation. And then Torey is very much a paranormal guy, and we both love X-Files. I don’t know that we ever explicitly discussed X-Files, but we’re both big X-Files fans, too, so I’m sure that bled into some of what we were thinking.”

Tony Reames then asked Vanessa Ionta Wright if she was an X-Files fan, to which she responded that she had seen several episodes but wasn’t as into it as maybe Reames and myself were. Wright continued, “I think that’s kind of a great analogy with that. I love how you have these parallel characters that were so different yet had the same goal.”

We steered the conversation into Spookt‘s Lovecraftian elements next. Everyone got visibly excited, and you can tell Reames’ love for playing in this sandbox.

Reames: “Torey and I are huge fans of that kind of stuff. It’s funny, I don’t come in directly. Like, I love Re-Animator, but I was more In the Mouth of Madness, the John Carpenter take on the Lovecraft style. Torey and I talked a lot about that movie, and I actually assigned that movie to Haley and Christen to watch. I’m like, “If you guys watch this movie and take away, just from the lead actors’ response to this situation, I think that’s about the only way we could really normalize the responses to something that’s just so wildly mad doctors, haunted, creatures, that kind of stuff.’ Yeah, that was huge. We did talk a lot about that kind of style.”

Two women looking into a hole
Image provided by Polymath PR/FrightFest

My next question concerned the role of the most well-known actor in the film, Eric Roberts. Roberts’ credits need no amplification. From his Oscar-nominated role beside Jon Voight in Runaway Train to recent heavy-hitters Inherent Vice and The Dark Knight, Roberts has over six hundred movies in his filmography. My question was simple: What was it like working with him?

Wright: “It was great. I highly recommend it. The thing that I love about him [is] he’s so passionate about the craft and the process. At one point, I was like, ‘Okay, you do The Dark Knight, and you got this big…everything, And then you come here, and it’s the three of us, and it’s small.’ And he was like, ‘I love acting. I just love this so much.’ and he brings it all no matter the project, no matter the budget. I admire him greatly for that.”

Reames: “He was next level. He was better than everything that I imagined that he would be in every way. In literally every way. He was different than I expected and better in every way. […] Of the two hours [Roberts appeared on set], we maybe filmed forty-five minutes tops, the rest of it was really talking about the character, really leaning in, too. He’s like, ‘I want this guy to have some pathos and an arc,’ and we really worked through different ways of delivery on lines, alternates of lines, different mannerisms. I mean, he came with a lot of ideas that I was like, ‘That’s terrific!’ He had, I think, a cardiologist that he was good friends with, and he even went and spoke to him. And was like, ‘I just wanted to understand that and think a little more about the character, and not just come into it and just be like, ‘Here I am, I’m Eric Roberts.’ He’s not. He’s so much more.”

Wright: “Exactly! That speaks so much to who he is because the level of research and extra steps that he did, which to him might have just been small, little…Like, ‘Okay, they want me because I’m Eric Roberts.’ He put in so much work for this. To us, that’s huge. That means so much. Because you always hear, ‘Nobody’s gonna care about your film as much as you do,’ but to see that from an actor like him is really meaningful.”

A man with glasses
Image provided by Polymath PR/FrightFest

My penultimate question concerned the viability of a Spookt sequel. Did Tony Reames and Vanessa Ionta Wright think there was potential for Claire and Rachel to visit future haunted houses?

Reames: “Cristen [Golias], who did all of our wardrobe, has worked with us forever. She got sick and passed away during the filming of Spookt. But, while she was sick, she was in bed for a little over a year and couldn’t really do much. I would never admit that she was as sick as she was, and we knew she was really sick. I just couldn’t let go, and she knew I couldn’t let go. So, she would work with me, and we broke this story for the sequel. […] So, I brought it with me, and I’m going to send it home with Vanessa. We have an outline that we did, and if I was going to say what the sequel is, it would be Superbad meets Ocean’s Eleven in a high school. That’s the sequel, and yes, Claire and Rachel would both be back. But, it’s this wild sequel with all of the characters that we had set up in Spookt we sort of bring to a head, and some conclusion in the sequel. And it was all Cristen and I when she was just sick in bed, and she would tell me stories, and we were just trading these high school stories and these quirky things about small towns. And so, I have it all written down, we broke this outline, yet it’s wildly different from Spookt. It would be an action-horror. My favorite genre of film would either be action or comedy. I’ve never done an action horror, and that and a musical would be the two things on my bucket list. We’re working on both.”

My final question revolves around a haunted Amish doll that appears in the film, and wanting to know about its production origins.

The poster for Spookt shows a gloved figure carrying a doll with stitching on its face up to a house.
Image Courtesy of Polymath PR/FrightFest

Reames: “Just to go back to Cristen. When I was growing up, that town Greenville is a real town, and next to it is a town called Atlantic, it’s an Amish community. I remember when I was a kid, this is kind of a wild story, my aunt would love going to garage sales, yard sales, that kind of thing. So, we would go to these things on weekends, and she took us to this Amish yard sale, right? I don’t know how familiar you are with the Amish community, but I was like, ‘What would that be?’ So, we get there, and they have three things that they sell. They sold Amish quilts, they sold apple pies, and they sold toys from Happy Meals.[…] I remember it was in a barn, and they had all this stuff, and in the corner were these Amish dolls. And I was like, ‘Oh, are those for sale?’ and the lady was like, ‘No, those are not for sale.’ And the Amish dolls, they don’t have faces, and, to me, that was the most horrifying thing. Right? And so that was an element I sort of latched onto, and I told Torey about it, and then Torey wrote it.”

Tony Reames then talked about how Cristen named the doll ODB and how she and writer Torey Hass would get into arguments about whether or not the doll was an Amish doll. Reames says, “There was this back and forth. One thing that I like to do is, when you have someone as talented as a Vanessa, a Torey, or a Cristen that you’re working with, it’s like, ‘let them do them.’ Right? Like, don’t bring in your thoughts on something they’re in charge of, and she was in charge of the doll. So that ODB doll is one hundred percent Cristen Golias. She did the design and created the whole doll. The face and everything. She’s like, ‘I don’t want it to have a face, I want it to kind of have a skin face.’ So that whole thing, that was all Cristen.

Wright: “It’s so creepy.”

Reames: “The doll has a big part in the sequel that we talked about because we all loved how the doll turned out.”

I, for one, hope Spookt gets its creepy doll sequel. The film is an absolute blast from beginning to end, and if you don’t believe me, you can check out what JP Nunez has to say about Spookt in his review. This is one of those rare films he and I actually agree on.

Spookt had its world premiere at FrightFest on August 26.

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Written by Sean Parker

Living just outside of Boston, Sean has always been facinated by what horror can tell us about contemporary society. He started writing music reviews for a local newspaper in his twenties and found a love for the art of thematic and symbolic analysis. Sean joined Horror Obsessive at it's inception, and is currently the site's Creative Director. He produces and edits the weekly Horror Obsessive podcast for the site as well as his interviews with guests. He has recently started his foray into feature film production as well, his credits include Alice Maio Mackay's Bad Girl Boogey, Michelle Iannantuono's Livescreamers, and Ricky Glore's upcoming Troma picture, Sweet Meats.

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