Q&A: Robert Angelo Masciantonio

The Philly-born writer/director talks shop about his gory new feature film, Neighbor, shot almost entirely in Devon and Havertown.

Photo by Jared CastaldiHorror fans, rejoice! Philadelphia native Robert Angelo Masciantonio finished work on Neighbor, one of the goriest screamers in years. Filmed almost entirely in Devon and his Havertown home base, the full-length feature debuted in July at Montréal’s Fantasia Film Festival. Starring America Olivo (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen), Neighbor is a serious leap forward for the writer/director, whose first film, the 1999 vampire thriller Cold Hearts, attracted a small but devoted following.

MLT: What’s Neighbor’s premise?
It’s a very simple story about a psychotic girl who treats people like her toys. Her games are torture and causing people pain. She’s kind of like a cat—she kills you and then moves onto the next house. It’s not the Citizen Kane of horror; it’s very much meant to be viewed with popcorn in hand.

MLT: And the tone?
Sort of tongue-in-cheek—a very dark comedy. Parody isn’t the right word, and it’s not meant to be campy in the Evil Dead sense. There are times when you’re certainly supposed to laugh. The intention of the over-the-top violence was really to push the envelope and see how far we could take things. Michael Myers and Jason and people stalking you used to be scary, but now “scary” is the gore. Kids want to see extreme stuff.

MLT: What was the reaction from the Fantasia audience?
It was such a positive crowd. The first effects gag came on, and that’s when the audience realized what Neighbor was all about. From there, they screamed and clapped and were very vocal. Once the roller-coaster ride started, the crowd was amazing.

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MLT: What was the shoot like?
We shot it in 18 days, and it was honestly a case of what we could afford. All of the money went into the actors and the effects. There were really long days, and we had to squeeze a lot into them. But the actors were cool about it, and the crew was amazing. A part of that was making sure the film was fun. I wanted to convey to the crew the fact that it was really fun what they were doing.

MLT: How did the Main Line area play a role in your film?
We wanted to play up the familiarity of the suburbs—the idea that there’s this big, looming city in the distance, but just as many terrible things happen out here. Just because we have nice, big lawns doesn’t mean people can’t cut across them to get to us if they wanted to.

MLT: Any career aspirations?
Dimension Films is planning on remaking An American Werewolf in London, and I’d be elated to have the opportunity to get on something like that. [The original] is one of the most influential movies on my career, along with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It made me want to make movies.

MLT: Your last film, Cold Hearts, has quite the cult following.
It’s one of those things that I’m still amazed is around; it seems to come up in the weirdest of places. People will have seen it on cable a few years ago or whatever. It didn’t have a huge release; it came out on VHS and DVD. But it’s helping out with Neighbor because the horror community is, ironically, such an open, nice community, and they’re very willing to accept you. As long as you pay them the respect you’re given, you’re always welcomed back. So it’s definitely helped in that regard. People are like, “OK, I remember that from back in the day. What are you doing now?”

MLT: What’s next on your plate?
We’ve been considering jumping back on the recent vampire bandwagon and remaking Cold Hearts as Cold Kiss. It will definitely have the elements of gore that the original had, but it will be updated—every right turn that the original made will make a left turn. It will be about kick-ass vampire girls, instead of “woe is me” vampire girls.

MLT: In the meantime, where can we see Neighbor?
Right now, we’re looking for the best sort of deal we can strike. It’s going to be tricky because, the way the film exists now, it would be an NC-17 [rating]. Unless we go with a smaller distributor, we have to consider how much it’s going to have to change. We’re trying to do something local, but the ultimate goal is to get as wide of a release as possible.

To learn more, visit myspace.com/robertangelo.

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