Nick Tana is shaking his treat bag of surreal horror humor with the film Hell’s Kitty, available this March. I recently reviewed the film here and after catching the cat that got my tongue, decided to reach out to the creator of Hell’s Kitty to get his take on the experience.
Hoju Koolander: What inspired you to write, direct and star in the Hell’s Kitty web series back in 2011?
Nick Tana: My cat Angel inspired me. The whole movie is dedicated to her. She would sit on my lap and make it difficult for me to get up, too, when writing, so in a way she kept me grounded. She also would act demonically possessed and possessive of me to the point of chasing away nearly every one I tried to get romantically involved with while living and working as a writer in Los Angeles.
I suppose she wanted me to stay focused. Anyway, they say one should write about what they know, and well, I did. I also love to be challenged. One of the things I like about filmmaking is the ability to marry music, writing, and talent (friends, cats, etc.) into the same creative form of expression.
HK: Did you always intend to make Hell’s Kitty an ongoing story or was it simply a one-off goof about owning a “Devil Cat”?
Nick Tana: I always intended to have it be a gateway into many stories and creative manifestations. This way, it would serve as a springboard into building a world that would be like a horror sitcom, and an homage to every type of horror movie ever made (slasher, psychological thriller, ghost story, monster movie, found footage, etc.).
HK: It’s well known that the online community has had a feline obsession since the beginning. Do you feel like that played into the popularity of your YouTube channel?
Nick Tana: Yes, I figured it was about time to have a good horror movie with a cat it in. There have been a few. Pet Sematary, though it wasn’t focused just on the cat, and of course we got the star of that film, Dale Midkiff, in Hell’s Kitty. Mostly, films with cats in them use the cat as a storytelling device where you see what’s happening through their eyes.
The Edgar Allen Poe story made into a movie called The Black Cat is one of the only ones using the demon cat concept, but that isn’t a comedy at all. Cats are way more interesting than zombies or sharks in my opinion. This is because they can be your pet, too, despite being natural born killers. You can make a dog a healthy vegetarian but not a cat. They are natural carnivores and require it to live a healthy life.
They’re known to be some of the most efficient and vicious killers, too. They’ll eat your eye balls, if you die! In this way, Angel is much like the killer rabbit in Monty Python and The Holy Grail, cute, but still dangerous. Therein lies the natural comedy and horror.
HK: You have an obvious appreciation for the horror genre, but have added a surrealist comedic bent to Hell’s Kitty. Are there specific films you can point to that have inspired your creative sensibility?
Nick Tana: Joe Dante’s The Burbs and to some extent Thomas Berger’s Neighbor’s (the 1981 version) with John Belushi are some of my favorites. I’ve also been inspired by the comedy horror works of Sam Raimi, and the brilliant British TV series The League of Gentleman.
Howard R. Cohen’s Saturday the 14th (potential remake there!) which I saw as a child, left an impression, even if it wasn’t that good, and TV shows like The Addam’s Family and The Monsters certainly left an indelible mark. There is even a quick reference to John Franklin’s portrayal of Cousin Itt in his role in The Addam’s Family, which also appears in Hell’s Kitty. I’m surprised nobody has mentioned it so far. I think I reference many of the films that have inspired me in Hell’s Kitty.
HK: Hell’s Kitty adds a little extra fun by bringing in actors from classic cult films like The Hills Have Eyes, Night of the Comet and Cat People. How did you go about inviting these actors to be a part of your production? Were any of them social or business acquaintances?
Nick Tana: It started with Nina Hartley (Boogie Nights) a famous adult film actress, who was in my previous documentary, Sticky: A (Self) Love Story, so we already had a working relationship.
Then we struggled to fill the role of the Detective, eventually, landing on Michael Berryman, who was in the end the best person for the part. Once we got Michael Berryman, it led to Adrienne Barbeau. Soon we had managers calling us wanting to know how they could get their talent in Hell’s Kitty.
HK: Any funny stories from shooting Hell’s Kitty with these actors?
Nick Tana: Bill Oberst Jr. broke my bedroom window while we shot the exorcism scene. I suppose you could say he really got into the part. Angel kept tearing off the glove he used to protect his hands in that scene, too. Lee Meriwether got scratched during the shooting of her scene, and bled on my Catwoman comic.
The Killer Klown scene had us all laughing. It was indie horror filmmaker and author, Creep Creepers, in the actual suit, while Charles Chiodo stood by helping with the costume on set. Originally, Victoria De Mare, who plays the sexy, succubus demon clown “Batty Boo” in the KillJoy series, was going to wear the Klown suit, but Creep Creepers had the body mass for it, so we decided to use Victoria as the bus driver of the Scream Queen Tour bus instead, which we basically filled with as many scream queens as possible and that was funny, too!
And seeing Courtney Gains running down the hallway laden with corn fields gave everyone on set that WTF moment, which we couldn’t stop laughing about.
HK: I personally got the biggest laugh out of the segment involving John Franklin and Courtney Gains reprising their roles from Children of the Corn. Did those actors have any input on the shooting day as to how their “grumpy married couple” routine would play out given their history?
Nick Tana: I think when I pitched it, they were pretty on board with the idea from the beginning. They both are talented and have a great comedic sensibility. I said to Courtney, imagine if you guys were still working together into middle-age and John Franklin’s character was still bossing you around, what would you feel like?
I knew Courtney was in a band, and played music, so I also wanted him to be able to improvise a song about how he hated cats in his scene. He did a great job on that one. They both did! John sort of flubbed one of his lines right before Courtney goes to fetch the cat, but it was so bizarre, and funny, and true to character that I kept it in there. It still makes me laugh today.
HK: Lisa Younger also brings the funny in a major way throughout Hell’s Kitty and her character has hilarious rivalry with Angel. How did you convince her to do so much vomiting and disgusting prosthetic work?
Nick Tana: Lisa was a real trooper. She’s also very underrated as an actress; she works mostly in theatre these days, and resides currently in NY; however, I hope she’ll have a reason to move back to L.A. soon. For Hell’s Kitty, I asked her to play a young Cruella De Vil, and she took it and ran with it.
I’d love to make a spin-off of A Thousand Dalmatians that stars that same villain, and have Lisa star in it. I think she really liked the idea of the originality of the Hell’s Kitty story, and the ability to push the envelope with it, and to try something new. And after all the work I made her do, I think she got off a little bit on vomiting in my face, too!
HK: Was the song Chainsaw Kitty written specifically for the film? What can you tell us about the band that performs the song for the music video?
Nick Tana: I co-wrote the with Richard Albert who is also the main composer on the film. I basically sent a rough track of the song on acoustic guitar with lyrics, and Richard produced and recorded it, and gathered the other musicians, even editing the black and white version of the music video!
It was originally composed for a scene in which Lou Ferrigno (The Hulk) was going to play Detective Banner before we got Michael Berryman to play Detective Pluto. In that scene, Nick was going to pass out and Angel was then going to transform her claws into chainsaws. When we didn’t get Lou Ferrigno, we cut that out of the scene, but kept the song because it was so good and so much fun. It’s now getting passed around the internet; Richard and I hope we can one day play it on Conan O’Brien!
HK: How has the relationship with Angel the cat contributed to your recent animal activism work tied to the movie screening in Hollywood?
I always try to tie in what I love to do with a good cause that will help to motivate me throughout what can be a very arduous, and economically challenging process. That said, it was our ability to do what we love and to help the animals in our own little way that kept us motivated during the myriad of challenges we inevitably faced.
We actively promoted a number of non-profits from Actors and Others for Animals, to Much Love Animal Clinic, to Halo in Arizona, and especially, FixNation, right here in Los Angeles. The recent premiere at the Chinese theatre was a way to promote and try to raise donations for FixNation, a Los Angeles based non-profit that helps stray cats.
HK: Were you searching for a sense of closure in combining 7 years of web videos into a feature film or is this a new beginning?
Nick Tana: I hope it’s a new beginning. I would like to turn Hell’s Kitty into a musical, and I am now pitching it around Hollywood as a TV series.
I have a whole concept for a TV series that would basically pick up where this movie (web-show and comic) leaves off. In that story, Nick and Angel (now possessed by another person from Nick’s past, without giving away any spoilers), must stave off the myriad of monsters trying to get them, as a result of the gypsy curse; only his greatest curse is also his greatest gift because he makes a living writing about these supernatural experiences.
This also further works to make him feel lonely and isolated because he still can’t let anyone in close because nobody believes his crazy hellacious supernatural life is real. It’s a very original and funny concept, and a satire on the writer’s sacrifices, if you think about it; far more than a demon-cat-gag-one-off.
Adam would come back in the TV series, too, like the ghost character in An American Werewolf in London, in which he’d haunt a real make up artist, who moves in downstairs from Nick, and who screams as a result. This way, he manifests the fictitious world his character created in the movie and web-series. There are many layers to this universe; at least in my writer’s mind.
I feel this story has many legs, just like it’s cute, furry, feline antagonist. I suppose you could say it’s CATchy!
Thanks to Nick Tana for his time and insight. You can find Hell’s Kitty in VOD format on March 13 and add the DVD to your collection on March 27.