A serial killer's violent impulses live on through voodoo in The Devil's Dolls, coming out in select theaters and on VOD and digital platforms on September 16th, and we caught up with director Padraig Reynolds in our latest Q&A feature to discuss the making of his southern-set horror movie.
Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for us, Padraig. What attracted you to the story of The Devil’s Dolls?
Padraig Reynolds: I’m a big fan of voodoo films such as Serpent and the Rainbow and Venom. So when I read The Devil’s Dolls, I thought it would be a great opportunity to do something fresh and exciting in a genre that not too many movies are made about.
Christopher Wiehl co-wrote, produced, and stars in the film. What was it like working with Wiehl, who seemed very invested in the character of Matt?
Padraig Reynolds: Chris and I worked every day and were on the same page from day one. He was really invested in the character, but he really let me run with my vision and supported every change I wanted to make in the script. I was really impressed with how many different hats he could wear on production. He was writer, producer, and actor all at the same time. We had such a great working experience that we are working on other projects together.
Where did filming take place and what did that environment add to the aesthetics and atmosphere of the movie?
Padraig Reynolds: Filming took place in Canton, Vicksburg and Natchez, Mississippi. If you are going to shoot a voodoo/crime horror flick, you have to shoot it in the South. It just drips atmosphere there. After principal photography finished, Brian Sowell, Michael Bolton, and I just drove around Mississippi and shot B-Roll footage. I’m a strong believer in letting your locations be the third character.
Wiehl and Kym Jackson have great chemistry as detectives with the spark for something more between them. Do you think they had a romantic past or a potential future together had things worked out differently?
Padraig Reynolds: My goal from the start was to keep them very plutonic. I wanted them to be best friends, partners, and to rely on one another. I never wanted them to be together because it would be distracting from who Matt is. Matt’s world has crumbled and his only saving light is Chloe. Adding something romantic would take away the impact of his race against time for his daughter.
People infected by the dolls definitely have a creepy appearance in this film. Did any other horror films influence or inspire your method of portraying the possessed?
Padraig Reynolds: I wanted them to look like extreme versions of Bela Lugosi’s Voodoo Man. Georgia Jacobs, my makeup extraordinaire, did some awesome tests and we got a really wonderful look. I didn’t want them to look like a zombie, but more classic horror from the ’40s and ’50s.
R. Brandon Johnson’s character had a nice “Jack Torrance moment” when he was trying to get through the bathroom door at his wife, Becca (played by Brea Grant). Was The Shining mentioned on set that day at all?
Padraig Reynolds: Actually no… but should have been. The scene had to be rewritten because the bathroom that we scouted had two doors and a window. So I thought it would be great to have this really great scene where she bounces from door to door to window, back to door, and try to keep it as seamless as possible. The bathroom had this amazing high ceiling, so we could place a camera up there for that cool shot looking down at her. It’s one of my favorite scenes in the movie.
Tina Lifford is hypnotic and superb as Della. What was it like working with Tina and what made her the right fit for that role?
Padraig Reynolds: Tina was just fantastic. I was so worried because her monologue is freaking long and I really needed an actress to knock it out of the park. She far exceeded my expectations—totally blew me away. I just placed the camera down and let her go. She just draws you in with her story and makes you believe everything she is saying—just a badass, professional, and amazing actress. I can’t wait to work with her again.
Looking back at your time on set, is there a favorite or funny moment that stands out?
Padraig Reynolds: My favorite part of production was shooting the opening. My DP Adam Sampson and I really set out to do something energetic. We wanted an action sequence to open the movie and introduce all the players in a unique, fast, and bloody way—we really try to grab you by the throat right away. Plus, we shot in this abandoned mental institution in the woods that was pretty incredible.
The funny moment was Henry chasing her with the drill. The drill bit was made of rubber and bounced around when you ran. It looked awful and was not scary at all. We movie magic'd the shit out of that thing.
Is this a world that you would be willing to return to in a potential sequel?
Padraig Reynolds: Absolutely… this is the second movie I shot in Mississippi, and I would love to return for some more voodoo horror.
With The Devil’s Dolls coming out on September 16th from IFC Midnight, what do you have on deck that you can tease?
Padraig Reynolds: I'm in early production on a film called Open 24 Hours, which we hope to shoot this fall. It's a script I wrote and it's pretty intense—a character piece that takes place in a single night at a gas station.