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Is 'Cheap Thrills' a Horror Movie? Director E.L. Katz Isn't Sure, Talks Viscera-Splattered Gore, Tonal Mutants (TRAILER)

Photo of Ryan Lattanzio By Ryan Lattanzio | TOH! March 20, 2014 at 4:09PM

Director E.L. Katz wanted to make a party movie with shades of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." With his debut feature "Cheap Thrills"--think Michael Haneke's class critique "Funny Games" by way of a meat grinder-- he has done just that, and then some.
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The ensemble of "Cheap Thrills."
The ensemble of "Cheap Thrills."

Director E.L. Katz wanted to make a party movie with shades of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." With his debut feature "Cheap Thrills"--think Michael Haneke's class critique "Funny Games" by way of a meat grinder-- he has done just that, and then some.

A viscera-splattered symphony of goriness, and a hit among Midnight audiences at SXSW 2013, the film stars funny-men Pat Healy and Ethan Embry as two estranged pals broke and desperate enough to do anything -- once more with feeling: anything -- for some chump change. 

After Healy's character loses his thankless blue collar job, what begins as an innocent night of bar-side wallowing soon devolves into a gut-churning nightmare that runs the gamut from vandalism to cannibalism and beyond. The pals get roped under the spell of a charming married couple, flush with money and eager to hand it out -- but at the very high price of one outrageous dare after another. (Read Beth Hanna's TOH! review of the film here.)

"Cheap Thrills" is already out on VOD, and opens in select theaters this Friday, March 21 via (who else but) Drafthouse Films. Uber-charming first-time director Katz, who shot the film in two weeks on a dime, spoke to me on the phone.

EL Katz
EL Katz

Ryan Lattanzio: Congratulations. This is the first film to make me vomit. Was that your intention?

E.L. Katz: I don't know if that was my goal. When you've done genre -- and I've been doing this kind of stuff for awhile -- you look at it aesthetically. [The goal isn't] "I'm gonna fuck with people"; you draw the scenario out and it's about whatever organically happens. Even if that thing is kind of gross. I'm not trying to be shocking. But that's how the story feels in my head.

This movie will be off-putting to many. Were there any hurdles, along the way, in getting it made?

We made the movie for $100,000. But even so, there were still a lot of conversations about what actors you need to justify any money. Everybody always wants a cast that sells movies, regardless of how much they're spending. The casting process took longer than I would've liked but it was for the best. It was a matter of figuring out what the best version of the movie was. It's never about, "what's the biggest name I can drop?" It's about what movie works and what feels natural at a small-scale.

"Cheap Thrills" came out on VOD before hitting theaters. What are your thoughts on that release model?

This movie is about as independent as it fucking gets. It helps if people watch it [legally] rather than torrent it. It's so hard to be in a position where you're making a movie. The more the profit margin goes away, the less incentive there is for distribution companies to buy these small films. There's less incentive for producers to invest. It's not like an album where anybody can sit in their studio, cut a track and mix it; it takes a lot of fucking manpower to make a movie, even on a low budget. Financial investment is never sound anyway. If you take away any prospects, there are going to be less and less weird, fucked-up, irresponsible movies out there.

This article is related to: Cheap Thrills, Interviews, E.L. Katz, Drafthouse Films, Alamo Drafthouse


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.