Unsuspecting party guests find out the hard way that Davenport House is home to a vengeful spirit in The Haunting of Alice D. With the new horror film now out on DVD and Digital from RLJ Entertainment, we caught up with Jessica Sonneborn in our latest Q&A feature to discuss her experiences writing, directing, and co-starring in the The Haunting of Alice D, working with Kane Hodder, and much more.
Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for us, Jessica. How did you come up with the idea for your new film, The Haunting of Alice D?
Jessica Sonneborn: I wanted to create a “cabin in the woods” style horror movie with a major twist that made it unique from other films like it. I was trying to think of something that could be done on a shoestring budget, but that also had some depth to it. Of course, I also have a bit of a twisted imagination. Who doesn’t want to see movie about an old haunted brothel?
You’ve acted in films and written them as well, but this movie marks your directorial debut. What made you want to get behind the camera for this story?
Jessica Sonneborn: I’ve always been a writer, since I was a kid, and have written and produced two of my other scripts (Lure and Money Shot). With each of those I developed a character that I wanted to play, and for The Haunting of Alice D, I created a story I wanted to tell. With two films as a producer under my belt, this time I was ready to helm the ship.
The Haunting of Alice D takes place in two separate time periods: the 1890s and the present-day. Was it exciting to film scenes set in vastly different eras? Did that add any challenges during production?
Jessica Sonneborn: I was excited and inspired to film scenes both in the present day and in the 1890s on a nearly nothing budget. My wardrobe designer, Deborah Venegas, who also plays Lex in the movie, was a lifesaver. She created these gorgeous costumes for all of our flashback scenes from curtains we found at the Goodwill and other scraps of fabric. She worked around the clock creating our costumes, with hardly any budget and we had a major time crunch. She was hired in early December and we shot in early January. She did an unbelievable job bringing those characters back to the era with their costumes. Everyone looked amazing.
The other major challenge was finding the perfect location that could be both present day and work for our flashback scenes, which I will talk about below. We didn’t have a set dresser, a props master or a production designer… that was all on us, so finding a location that had all of what we wanted built-in was the only answer.
The Davenport House looks gorgeous and gothic, making it a perfect setting for a horror movie. How did you come across this unique filming location and what was your experience making a movie inside its walls? Is it haunted in real life?
Jessica Sonneborn: I knew that our location, the mansion, was a central character of the story. It needed to be something grandiose, alluring, and terrifying, and it also needed to fit both our modern-day scenes and our 1890s flashbacks. I also needed a humongous staircase… I’m from the East Coast, and I also had a favorite cinematographer I’d worked with in Rhode Island on a different project, so I began searching online for rental houses to see if I could find something, and ended up finding our treasured character, The Davenport House, outside of Newport, Rhode Island. From the photos online, I just knew it was the perfect place. It was built in the 1890s and a lot of the rooms had décor from that era, so we actually didn’t have to do much set dressing. The couches, the wallpaper, the random things in the house, brought you back to that time. It was both beautiful and creepy. It was also 9000 sq. ft, and could house most of our actors and crew, while allowing us to film in it comfortably at the same time.
We definitely felt a presence while filming the movie. There were odd noises, cold drafts, creaky floors… pranks by crew and cast upon each other. It was really the perfect setting for a paranormal movie. The home owners assured us, The Beach Mansion is not haunted, but I’m convinced the house has its own thing going on. I must also add that our cinematographer, Eric Latek, was the perfect choice for our project. Not only was he local to our location, but the images and shots that we have in the movie perfectly display this location, bringing the viewer into this eerie place and evoking a lot of emotion.
You had the honor of working with the great Kane Hodder, known to many horror fans as Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th franchise and as Victor Crowley from the Hatchet films. How did Hodder get involved and what was it like working with him?
Jessica Sonneborn: When we began casting, Kane was one of the first names that came up, and we were so delighted that he came on board to play Sr. Davenport, the owner of the Davenport Brothel in our flashback scenes. Kane is such an amazing presence and plays such a terrifying predator. As a person, he was absolutely the opposite of the character he plays so well, a true gentleman. You can tell Kane loves and appreciates what he does, which is so refreshing, I can’t wait to work with him again!
Professional wrestler Al Snow also appears in The Haunting of Alice D. Can you describe his role in the movie and your experience working with Snow? Are you a big wrestling fan?
Jessica Sonneborn: I did enjoy watching wrestling when I was a kid, but I met Al Snow on a film a few years ago (The Witches of Oz). We became friends and Al, along with the amazing Barry Ratcliffe (who plays the evil Uncle Clive), came out to play parts together in both Alice D and my last feature, Money Shot. Al plays Kane’s right-hand guy and bodyguard. He’s really quite an evil character, one who enjoys watching his boss abuse Alice.
What style of horror can people expect to experience while watching this film? Are you looking to spook viewers through jump scares, a creepy atmosphere, or other elements?
Jessica Sonneborn: First off, I wanted to create a movie that was a lot of fun for people to watch. I wanted to create a really beautiful looking movie that had a fun story, made you think, and also made you jump! I love paranormal and psychological movies and Alice is a combination of both. Part of what makes our micro-budget movie so special is we have one of the best original scores, written by Carlos Vivas. The music he created for us really compliments Eric’s beautiful images and our kick-ass actors' performances.
Alice is the feared haunter of Davenport House, but she wasn’t always a vengeful spirit. How important was it for you to give Alice a backstory and show viewers who she was before she stepped over to the supernatural side?
Jessica Sonneborn: Showing Alice’s story was one of my favorite aspects of the movie. I wanted people to understand the terrible cruelty she experienced. To me, human behavior and how people treat others is scarier than any supernatural force. It’s a common element I like to work with in my stories, because it fascinates and terrifies me. I think it’s important to think about, and the flashback stories of Alice and Sr. Davenport mirror the experience our present-day characters have.
Do you have any favorite haunted house movies that influenced or inspired you while making The Haunting of Alice D?
Jessica Sonneborn: Yes! Two of my favorites are The Shining and The Orphanage. I bow down to those movies for so many reasons. My favorite thing about these two movies is that they come at you with scares both paranormal and psychological. Beautiful, scary movies that make you think!
Looking back at your time on set, is there a particularly funny or memorable moment that stands out to you?
Jessica Sonneborn: This was HANDS DOWN my favorite movie experience. We became a family while filming, and there was so much respect and love for each actor, artist, and contributor to the project. Since most of us stayed in the mansion, we all had not only a great time during filming, but after wrap. A few things that stand out would be:
Producer Chris Maltauro and I spent the first night in the mansion alone, with my mom (who did catering for us), thinking we were hearing ghosts all night… it definitely got us in the mood to make a paranormal movie!
Kristina Page (Alice) and Josh Hammond (Zeke), who were also two of our producers, had their six-month old baby, and Josh was on set doing the slate with their son in a Babybjörn strapped to his chest.
I have fond memories of helping do a Face Off audition tape in the mansion's creepy basement after a few cocktails for our SFX master, George Troester.
Since I played Natasha, I had to direct most of the movie while in my wardrobe, which makes an interesting sight. It was a nice icebreaker… “Welcome to set, we’re so glad you could join us… oh yes, I’m in my undies and I’ll be your director…” For as dark and scary as the movie was, we couldn’t have laughed and enjoyed ourselves more.
Is this a world that you would be interested in revisiting in a potential sequel?
Jessica Sonneborn: If you continue watching after the credits, we have a moment where we set up for a sequel. I would LOVE to go back to Rhode Island and film some more of Alice’s story… and a lot of characters in the movie don’t survive, so maybe they can join in to haunt the mansion.
With The Haunting of Alice D coming out on DVD and Digital on May 3rd from RLJ Entertainment, what projects do you have on deck that you can tease for our readers, and where can they find you on social media?
I have an apocalyptic horror movie that I’m just finishing writing, along with a drama. I’m attached to several projects as an actor coming up, and have a few more coming out soon. I recently wrapped several features as an actress, including Dog Eat Dog (starring Nicolas Cage) and Wild Boar by Oscar-winning SFX artist, Barney Burman.