Resident Video is a monthly series that provides exclusive access to films from emerging artists. This month we bring you Courtney Fathom Sell’s Don’t Let the Devil In.
Don’t Let the Devil in is a film about the evil we experience every day. Sometimes evil is inherent to our everyday lives, such as a job that forces us to betray our code of ethics or the remorse we feel after experiencing loss. Other times, it’s caused by forces completely out of our control.
Don’t Let the Devil in follows John and Samantha, a married couple, who move New York City to rural Maryland while struggling with their own personal demons. It doesn’t take long before they begin to feel unwelcome when strange occurrences begin happening in their house as the community grows hostile towards the couple. Can it be simple anxiety from moving to a new town or is it something much more sinister?
Edited, written and directed by Courtney Fathom Sell, Don’t Let the Devil in is a rare but welcome example of a true independent production. Its attention to aesthetic while avoiding standard narrative tropes call to mind past works of Dario Argento. Its focus on the contrast between city and country evoke feelings of the early exploitation films of Meir Zarchi and Wes Craven.
Don’t Let the Devil in serves as a welcome reminder that there are things much more frightening than having to deal with our families over the holidays. So prepare yourselves for the approaching dread of winter with this dark and moody film about the manifestation of evil in our everyday lives. And remember, although you may have no choice in allowing the in-laws into your home, Don’t. Let. The Devil. In.
In the interview below, we talk with Sell about financing an indie, the evolution of a score, and backyard Illuminati.
Don’t Let the Devil in is a true independent film, even by modern “indie” standards. Unlike other productions of this scale that typically use outside money or crowd-funding, you and a team of co-producers (Marc Slanger, Jac Currie and V.P. Walling) financed the film completely on your own. What brought you to this decision, and did you find yourselves limited or liberated by your funding choice?
Regarding funding, I have never been a fan of crowd-funding for films for various reasons including the idea of people simply giving only to get something out of it, other than the actual film which is most important. By self-funding the film, which I believe in total reached around 30,000 dollars, we were able to have entire freedom to make the film we wanted to make. I certainly found it extremely liberating and seeing as I had already imagined and written the film in my head a thousand times over, knew everything that I could do with limited fund and made sure the screenplay didn’t throw in stuff which I knew would be impossible to accomplish. I believe that is a very common hiccup for many upcoming Filmmakers, is that they write bigger than they can execute on film and perhaps get discouraged. It should be noted however, that we were an extremely tight knit-group of friends and family who made this film, example being that Jordan, the main Actress is one of my closest friends and wanted to start acting so I cast her, and our cinematographer Brian was Marc’s brother, so that helped a lot. Jac and V.P. are two of my oldest friends as well and have been extremely generous with support. In fact, I wrote the entire screenplay in a three day whirlwind marathon on V.P.’s kitchen table. It is a beautiful family I’ve got around me. They all knew I was a horror movie nerd, so instead of trying to convince me to make a more “legitimate” film, I use that term jokingly, they kept pushing me to make the film I dreamt up, as campy as it may turn out to be; which I am proud to say, isn’t that much. Though there are certainly dashes of camp sprinkled throughout.
Between its “city invading the country” narrative and themes dealing with issues of gun control and privacy, it’s hard to ignore the political subtext to the film. Were you trying to make a political statement with this film or do these modern anxieties naturally permeate into the script when dealing with horror?
It’s seemingly growing impossible for me to create any sort of work these days which isn’t inspired or influenced by politics. The story is a very familiar one of course, especially seeing how things are changing in the Lower East Side of New York City. However, the idea of the entire film came about while visiting my hometown in New England. I grew increasingly paranoid of everything and everyone around, and began to notice what I like to refer to as “Small Town Illuminati”. Imagine a Bohemian Grove but in your own backyard! What a scary thought! When I began noticing it more and more, I began thinking about the seedy underbelly of small town America and developed the paranoid idea that they were all evil, blood thirsty Monsters essentially. New England has its fair share of evil history, so that certainly helped. Privacy was certainly a big part of the story as well, and the idea of being watched non stop is a central theme. I very much enjoy the scene when Marc and Jordan are discussing what to do, whether they should buy a gun to defend themselves, and the camera was placed inside a closet, peering out of a halfway closed door. To me, that is nightmarish. I do have to admit however, that this is an extremely tamed down version of the real film I saw in my head, so perhaps my next will be a bit more abrasive. Beware of small town Illuminati!
In addition to editing, writing and directing the project, you also scored most of the music. Your score works really well with the visuals, it’s ambient and atmospheric, but there are jarring, off kilter moments as well – like a lost John Carpenter theme. At what point in the filmmaking process do you begin to think about score and sound design?
Wow, thank you for that comparison, honored and flattered, but I think Mr. Carpenter is a million times better at anything I could ever do! He certainly is an inspiration! So, believe it or not but I wrote, composed and recorded the entire 48 track score long before Principal Photography even began. The score was completed first. Knowing the story so well in my head, I knew what every scene should sound like, where the hits should rise, where the droning rumbles and atmospheric sounds should come in just from living this film in my head for so long. Some people will not believe this, but I swear to you it’s the truth. I even listened to it while writing the screenplay, so I could really imagine each scene better. I was also and continue to be extremely inspired by the scores of Giallo films, obviously Goblin being the most impressive. I do want to say though that I understand it is a bit tiring to see the same name appear in the credits over and over again, and it is not my egoistic intention, though my ego can rise and fall quicker than one could imagine, but instead, I am simply extremely stubborn when working on films. Best example being that this was the first film I made, out of 50-60 under my belt so far, which I had a crew, small as it was. I grew up a Guerrilla DIY Filmmaker, Hi-8 Camera in one hand, a bottle of whiskey in the other and just went for it. One of my great friends Heather Elle and her boyfriend Landon provided a few tracks as well, which I was at first a bit hesitant to accept as I am most picky with music in my work over anything else. I could shoot a film on a broken out-dated camera where the images are terrible and be happy, but if the music is bad, I want to jump out a window. But their tracks worked wonderfully and it was great to have them be apart of it. A talented duo! Another dear friend Dusty Santamaria plays the song “Shame” which is on the radio during the bar room scene, which is a favorite song of mine, so it was an homage to him. I probably couldn’t make a film anymore without using one or more of Dusty’s songs, they are insanely beautiful. I wish I could be in a band or perform live, but I’m too shy, so I’ll perform my work on the screen instead.
Don’t Let the Devil in appears to be your biggest project to date. Up until now, you’ve mostly worked on experimental short films – Don’t Let the Devil in even started as a short before you expanded it into a feature length. Do you see this step into making a feature as a continuation of your early work or a departure? Perhaps both?
It certainly is my biggest project to date, but it happened so naturally that I feel that it’s just a continuation. The snowball being rolled down the mountain. I always knew when I would be ready for such a big project and this film would have never been made even two years ago, I just wasn’t there yet. Filmmakers should always pace themselves. So instead, I spent my time working on no-budget documentaries and shorts. It was a comfort zone thing. Marc and I shot a 27 dollar 10 minute short on a FlipCam called “House on the Edge of Hell” on location in Appalachia about two years ago on a whim. We wanted to get out of the city, so we rented a car and I always have a disposable camera on me, so we just decided for the hell of it to begin making a fun little film on location. We used to make fake Giallo Trailers as well, we just have fun like horror nerds do. So we gathered people from the town to act in it, used the locals who were curious and it turned out great. A really fun short, not intense what so ever. When nothing happened with it, which honestly, is not surprising, we thought about a remake but with real money and such, to no avail. On a whim chance meeting with Eli Roth, I was so inspired by his stories about making films, I rushed to V.P.’s apartment and began finally writing the screenplay using “House on the Edge of Hell” as my blueprint. A lot of changes of course. Three days later, we had a script and no money. After practically begging friends and small indie companies for some change, we just decided to do it ourselves. So it was an extremely organic and comfortable flow, though I had my many infamous Kinski moments on set which I’m not proud of, but at least the passion was there! For my next feature, I plan on returning back to Appalachia and get evil once again. I’ve already completed the score. I like to consider this “Appalachiasploitation”.
Don’t Let the Devil In was written and produced by Courtney Fathom Sell. You can peep his other films over at his Vimeo page or purchase the soundtrack here. Don’t forget to check out the rest of our Resident Video series. While the films are no longer available, the interviews remain. Forever.