When chatting with Final Girl and animal rights activist Ashley Bell, it's impressive to discover that she has no dark side whatsoever. Indeed, when I asked about the affect of making horror films on her own psyche, she went into a bubbly gush-session about how much fun they are.
Though "fun" might not be exactly the way viewers would describe their experience of watching Bell's latest film Carnage Park, she does make the process of filming horror sound quite playful. And she'd know. Between The Last Exorcism, The Last Exorcism Part II, The Walking Dead: Webisodes, and the upcoming Psychopaths with Carnage Park director Mickey Keating, Bell's gotten plenty dirty and bloody.
Carnage Park is a '70s-style grindhouse throwback, each frame saturated in sepia tones and a soundtrack that'll set your nerves on edge. It follows Vivian (Bell), a young woman who is simply trying to fight the injustice of a bank that's taken possession of the family farm. She's taken hostage by a pair of haphazard bank robbers — but that's not the worst part of her day. She and surviving bank robber Scorpion Joe (James Landry Hébert) don't get far before they become prey to crazed war veteran Wyatt Moss (Pat Healy), who's turned his land into a deadly obstacle course. Vivian has to make her way through "Carnage Park" in order to survive, with Moss's sniper rifle fixed on her at every turn. The truly shocking part? This is all based on a true story.
In anticipation for this week's limited theatrical and On Demand release of Carnage Park, Movie Pilot caught up with Bell to hear more about making a gritty grindhouse film, preparing for a scream session, and her passion project: Saving the world's Asian elephants.
Movie Pilot: With your background in horror, do you generally feel affected by making such a film? Either frightened at the imagination of such evil in the world, or maybe even reassured because for you it's all pretend?
Ashley Bell: I guess it's something I need to talk to my therapist about! That being covered in blood and dirt is kind of baseline for me.
It is literally so much fun. You know, with this genre, it's a playground. You're thrown into this almost experimental situation, because these situations that you're in are absolutely out of this world, and you can let your imagine dive and be free.
Mickey Keating is the real deal. When working with him he likes to prepare with a lot of rehearsal, so ... when the day comes, you've already had all the conversations you need to so it's a playground.
MP: I have a theory that watching horror films can make us feel a little more safe about the world, because you're mentally preparing for the worst. I'm always curious if other people feel this way. Especially people who make horror films.
A: What I love is that I saw "Carnage Park" for the first time up at Sundance. What terrified me is that it's based on true events. You turn on the news and you see, unfortunately, a girl, for the most part, being kidnapped. Or a shooting. That's the starting point for this film. That's the fear level where this begins and it only gets more and more out of control.
MP: Are you a fan of 1970s grindhouse-style films?
AB: I have become, yes. My summers were me in a tree fort with my cat. I'd go to Blockbuster and rent horror films with my dad. So I've grown up with a pretty active imagination. Even getting into this, Mickey had me watching everything from "High Tension" to "3 Women" to, you know, everything in between, so there were a lot of moving parts running around in my mind before jumping into this world, which made it very exciting.
MP: Do you think that your character Vivian is inspirational?
AB: Oh my gosh! Of course! For my next role I hope I get to rescue a guy from peril! ... It's thrilling to be able to read strong female characters, for lack of a better word, that get in a situation and then [show] the calculation behind getting out of that situation. THAT! That's exciting. That's where it becomes fun to play, where it's not just about a scare, it's about survival.
MP: As an actress, when preparing for a heavy screaming session, do you perform breathing exercises? Your screaming prowess is incredibly impressive in this film.
AB: Well, I appreciate that. Thank you very much. Thank God I went to NYU. That's an NYU skill, and thank God I spent time on Broadway working on my voice and diction. It serves for the genre.
MP: Giona Ostinelli's musical score could be a horror film unto itself, just set to black. How was watching it for the first time and hearing the score?
AB: That was that Sundance moment. ... There are some [movies] that feel really special to do, and this was one of them. When we were shooting it, it felt like there was a magic component to it. Then to be recognized by a festival like Sundance was so incredibly rewarding. [For] everyone [who] suffered heatstroke and hallucinated for this film, to pack in at midnight and be able to watch it come to life with that score, it took it to a whole new level.
MP: It definitely elevates it to the "sensory overload" category. So how was working with Keating? I know you're doing another film with him, right?
AB: Yeah, Mickey Keating is the real deal. He is incredible to work with. We were up at Sundance, we both had our scripts for "Psychopaths" and were going over some preparation because we were filming two weeks after the premiere of "Carnage Park." He's a maniac how he's able to make movie after movie after movie because he literally loves what he's doing so much. ... I think people are going to be very surprised by "Carnage Park" and then immediately taken aback by how different "Psychopaths" is going to feel. I think everyone's only seen the beginning of what Mickey Keating has to offer.
MP: What else are you working on right now?
AB: Right now I'm in the tail end of post-production on a documentary I've been directing called "Love and Bananas." It's about the rescue of a 70-year-old blind Asian elephant in Thailand. I pitched it to Change for Balance Productions and I thought it would be a coming home story, and when I got there it was devastating. Seventy-five percent of the forest has been cut down. ... The elephants were suffering from malnutrition and dehydration.
They don't bother with statistics anymore — but you can tell that Asian elephants right now are functionally extinct in parts of southern China; there's only 20 of them left. There's 75 left in Vietnam. I waited for the phone call for two-and-a-half years. I literally got a Facebook message, on the set of "Carnage Park," that said, "We found an elephant, when can you be in Thailand?" ... In a matter of seven days I'd arranged for my crew to fly to Thailand and we were on the back of a truck with a 70-year-old blind female elephant, driving her 450 miles across Thailand to safety. That is what the story is and I'm so excited to emerge and to take people on this rescue.
Also, I have "Psychopaths" coming out. ... I have a film called "There is a New World Somewhere" ... and then I am blessed, no pun intended, to have joined the cast of "Novitiate." It's a nun drama set in the 1950s/1960s.
I actually spent time [in preparation] with a group of cloistered nuns a couple hours north of LA. [I had] the chance to ask them about their vocation, ask them about the sacrifice and the struggles, the joys, their faith and the 24-hour prayer cycles. It was unbelievable. I think it's a very important story that's getting told. A glimpse into a very, very rare world that we don't usually get to see.
MP: Bit of an aside, but did you know there is a Dean Koontz book out there with your name as the title?
AB: I did! Yes.
MP: How annoying is that?
AB: It's funny! And she's a brunette?! Has brown eyes! Really?
For more on Bell's documentary and to watch the film's teaser trailer, head to Love and Bananas. Carnage Park comes out July 1 in limited release and online.
Disclaimer: Carnage Park is not based on any one true event, but possibly inspired by true events.