They didn't know her very well when she was alive, but one family gets to know their enigmatic aunt like never before when her cremated remains refuse to rest in peace after taking residence in their home in the new horror movie Ashes. Written and directed by Barry Jay (producer of Never Hike Alone), Ashes is now on digital and VOD platforms via 1091 Media, and we caught up with Jay for our latest Q&A feature to discuss the real-life roots of Ashes, showcasing family support during the struggles of the grieving process, and working with the star-studded cast of his next film, Killer Therapy.
Thanks for taking the time to catch up with us, Barry, and congratulations on Ashes! As it states in the film’s trailer, Ashes is based on actual events. Can you tell us about the backstory to this movie and what made you want to tell this story on screen?
Barry Jay: Thank you! Well, on October 30th, 2012, my Aunt Marion passed away. She was my dad’s sister. She was living in a nursing home in Akron, OH when my sister got the call that she would be receiving our Aunt’s ashes because she’s the next of kin. We weren’t very close with Aunt Marion. She visited us a few times a year growing up, and she was a character—kind, but had a temper, she seemed to be on her own timeline in life. Many, almost all, of the family elements are true, as are the facts about Aunt Marion. My sister moved her ashes from closet to closet. My mom (who lives with my sister, as the family structure in Ashes is true) found her in her closet one day and screamed for my sister to put her somewhere else. This is where my wheels started turning on the screenplay. Yes, strange things did happen after Aunt Marion arrived—and I took some of the horror over the top for entertainment's sake, and today Aunt Marion lives with me, in a new box we got for production, in a glass case in my office. Aunt Marion’s ashes are actually in the movie, and I dedicate the movie to her memory. Thanks Aunt Marion.
Where did filming take place, and how long was your shooting schedule?
Barry Jay: [Filming] took place in Valley Village, CA and we had an 18-day shoot schedule.
In addition to scaring audiences, how important was it for you to realistically portray the effects of death on a family and the complexities of the grieving process?
Barry Jay: It was VERY important to me to show the family bond, the support we always give each other during challenging times. This was an interesting grieving thing, because we weren’t close with Aunt Marion and our memories of her were kind of… kooky, for lack of better word. We had plenty of stories about Aunt Marion’s antics that made us laugh. But there are other losses in the storyline and those deaths are felt, but the family marches on because they must. And again, the strength they find is with each other. The love and togetherness of this family is their strong suit. It was also a really good chance to get to know Aunt Marion through the writing of this script and gain some insight to her, and find love and respect for her.
Were you influenced or inspired by any films, TV series, or books while making Ashes?
Barry Jay: Hell yeah! Evil Dead and Drag Me to Hell. Ashes has a comedic element to it (it’s my family, it was impossible to avoid humor), and I simply love Sam Raimi and those two movies. I would say there are elements of Freddy Krueger and I hope horror fans like myself see these are paying homage.
What was it like filming the Ouija board scene? Did anything creepy happen on set?
Barry Jay: There were a couple of “oh oh, Aunt Marion” moments: lights going out, scenes not getting shot even though the camera was on. The strangest thing would be the polaroid shots we took of Aunt Marion when she had a neck brace on. Yup, the photos all came out blurred and smeared and I kid you not, I kept them. As for the board, which was homemade by the character in the movie, we didn’t have anything in particular strange happen, but the homeowners where we shot the movie asked that we please take the board and the ashes home each night. Can’t say I blame them. I did go through old photos of Aunt Marion—there weren’t many. One photo, and only one, had a date on it of 1963, the year I was born. Another was Aunt Marion playing the piano. I am the only one in the family who plays and I was self-taught. So was she, I found out. Hmmmm.
Looking back at your time on set, is there a favorite or memorable moment that stands out?
Barry Jay: Seeing Melinda DeKay for the first time as Aunt Marion, alone with dead Uncle Don calling for help. It was how I imagined it when I heard from my mom that’s what happened, and as tears ran down her face, I thought, "This is for you Aunt Marion." That’s when I decided to dedicate the movie to her.
Ultimately, what do you hope viewers take away from Ashes?
Barry Jay: Some scares, some laughs, some love for our family and hope for a sequel. And maybe a little lesson about looking deeper at someone and trying to understand them while they are still with us.
With Ashes now on Digital and VOD, what other projects do you have coming up that you’re excited about, and where can our readers follow your work online?
Barry Jay: My second film, Killer Therapy, is in post and will be completed before the end of September. It was an honor and thrill to work with actors from iconic horror movies such as PJ Soles (Carrie, Halloween), Adrienne King (Friday the 13th parts I and II), Thom Mathews (Return of the Living Dead, Friday the 13th Part VI), and Daeg Faerch (Rob Zombie’s Halloween). Also Ivy George (Big Little Lies, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension) and always Elizabeth Keener (Ashes, The Chosen). Killer Therapy is a dark story about a tormented young boy who grows up trying to be helped by years of therapy. One day he snaps and decides to hunt down and kill the therapists he blames for messing up his mind and his life. The movie is looking GREAT and I can’t wait to get it out into the world. I’m on Instagram as Bootcampbarry if anyone wants to follow me. I probably need to get more active online, but at least that’s a start.