King Knight is one of the best, if not THE best, movies I have seen in 2021 thus far. I’m not surprised though, because it was written and directed by Richard Bates Jr., the brilliant filmmaker behind one of my all time favorite films, Excision. So when Fantasia Fest 2021 rolled around and King Knight was on the schedule, I knew I had to see it. Immediately. I was lucky enough to chat with Richard, and we discussed what inspired the film, his filming creative process, and what’s up next.
PopHorror: I watched King Knight the night before last, and I loved it so much. I’m so excited to talk to you!
Richard Bates Jr: That is basically the greatest thing ever to hear that. That makes me very happy. Thank you very much!
PopHorror: Absolutely! And I’m a huge fan of Excision too, so anything you have coming out is on the top of my list.
Richard Bates Jr: Oh, right! That’s cool.
PopHorror: So what inspired King Knight, and how did this project come about?
Richard Bates Jr: Well… Well, Tiffany, let’s see… Everything was so negative, and it was just like… Trump in the news and all this shit going on, and I was trying to figure out, “What should I be writing?” And then I realized, forget the should right now and just write and figure out the why. Let’s just see if my writer brain can make me happy by writing a movie that would make me happy and then we’ll figure out exactly why. And then, as I started writing it was around the time I was being pitched a witch movie, and I realized that I love witches.
I don’t want to make an evil witch movie. I grew up in the South where the very notion of witchcraft is evil and nefarious, so I said I’m going to make a movie where the witches are the protagonists, and they’re going to be lovely and weird and delightful characters in a sort of comedy. All my movies are kind of farcical and take place in a heightened version of reality. Usually, I take more of a cynical approach, and this time, I tried to make sure every character in it I loved and write it that way, because I realized that… What I keep going back to is, “What makes me happy? It’s ’90s John Waters movies, right?” So Pecker, for instance. If I am bummed, and I put on Pecker, it is pure joy. It’s silly and it’s provocative, but why do I keep returning to it?
So the whole idea was, we’re going to make a comedy about witches, and try it and maybe win some people over and do it the right way without preaching to them or making these witches holier-than-thou and treat them with reverence. Try to treat them as normal human beings because they are normal human beings, and they’re searching for the same answers that we all are. You know what I’m saying? We’re all looking for the same answers to the same question.
PopHorror: I really appreciated the different approach to witchcraft, because you’re right. It did have a different feel to it. They were good people, and it was fun to watch them, and it wasn’t all dark. I liked that a lot.
Richard Bates Jr.: Thank you, thank you. Yeah.
PopHorror: What’s your process to prepare for shooting?
Richard Bates Jr: Well, let’s see. It’s different. Each movie is like a reaction to the last one. Every movie is a little bit different. With this movie, I was producing as well, so I decided to just make it and get friends together and make it, no matter what. If no one will help me, no one will help me. I used my own money, and I took out a loan, so that I would have total control. I knew it was not going to be easy for me to pitch a comedy about witches. So I said I’m just not gonna go through that, I’m just going to make it, because I’m making this to make me happy and hopefully some other people.
So, you know, the most important part of directing is casting, and on most movies, you have a say with casting for sure, but you don’t have final say over it. And so on this film, I got complete control over every single person in the movie, and I even negotiated the actors’ contracts with their agents myself. Right down to that. I did all that. So, it’s like the perfect ensemble for me.
For me, a huge part of the movie is how great they are. No one did this movie to get rich, right? So everyone was enthusiastic and fun and totally game, and the idea is like, “Guys, we’re gonna get together. The most ludicrous things in the script to you though, you need to act like you’re in Sophie’s Choice. This is not a comedy to you.” It was exciting approaching the material very dramatically, if that makes any sense, until it sort of turns into to be kind of like if Nickelodeon made The Holy Mountain.
PopHorror: The cast is really great, and I think that that had a lot to do with it as well, so I appreciate that. And I’m a huge fan of yours. All of your movies from Excision to Trash Fire to Suburban Gothic… I watch them over and over. They’re in my top picks. So I’m really excited for more people to see this one. What is up next for you? Is there anything that you’re currently working on?
Richard Bates Jr: In January, my father passed away.
PopHorror: Oh, I’m sorry.
Richard Bates Jr: Thank you. I loved him very much. He was definitely my favorite human ever, so all I’m trying to do is write a movie for him about him.
PopHorror: Oh, wow.
Richard Bates Jr: That’s what I’m working on. It’s not good enough yet, so I need more time, and I’m not going to do anything else in the world until I make it. And nothing will stop me. I’ll make it for a dollar if I have to. But it’s just not good enough yet. I have to make sure that it is. And then, I guess on a lighter note I should say, he did see King Knight before he passed away, and so his final review is pretty fantastic. It’s immortalized now, “Son, I really enjoyed it. But I could have done without all the poo stuff.” I thought that was pretty good.
PopHorror: That’s amazing!
Richard Bates Jr: I want to get that on the poster.
PopHorror: Yes! You said it’s not good enough right now, but it’ll get there. I have faith in that, and I will definitely keep an eye out for that, because I’m so intrigued.
Richard Bates Jr: Thank you so much. Yeah, I won’t let you down.
PopHorror: Awesome! And I just have one last question for you today, Richard. What is your favorite scary movie?
Richard Bates Jr: My favorite scary movie… My favorite is probably Freaks, if I’m being honest.
PopHorror: Great choice.
Richard Bates Jr: One thing that I’m coming to realize is that I can watch it 1,000 times and maybe wouldn’t have mentioned it in other things… I just love that Clive Barker movie Lord of Illusions.
Thank you so much to Richard for taking the time to speak with us. King Knight has its world premiere August 8, 2021 at Fantasia International Film Festival.