Now available to stream is Joe Leone’s supernatural murder mystery, Death Sentences. Crafting a relatable character in the creatively strained writer, Arabella (Remiara Eve), Leone manages to do a lot with a little in this indie thriller.
A blocked writer is made a proposition by the spirit of her celebrated-author cousin: ‘Find my killer and I will finish your novel.
We were pleased to have a delightful chat with the passionate creator behind Death Sentences, where Joe talks about his love of the genre, addressing writer’s block, and who he would pick to direct if given the chance!
PopHorror: You have an affinity for infusing elements of horror and comedy together; what is it that you find appealing about these two genres?
Joe Leone: Well, thank you for noticing! *extremely slow wink* These are my two favorite genres, and if you can splice them together, why not! For both genres to work, it’s all about timing. Whether it’s setting up a joke or a jump scare, it’s got to be perfectly placed to succeed. I love comedy because laughter is one of life’s true and natural gifts, and I love horror because getting scared is deliciously fun, too. *cue eerie music* RIGHT?
PopHorror: Was directing a horror feature something you have always aspired to achieve?
Joe Leone: When I was about 11, I directed my first horror movie starring this doll I ordered out of Fangoria magazine, named “Baby Stinky.” The thing really did stink. So did the movie. I spent a lot of time in college directing sketch comedy, and did some in New York City afterwards, but ultimately became focused on screenwriting. It wasn’t until a few years ago when I’d had enough of the endless waiting on producers to greenlight my scripts—or, more frequently, reject them—that I had an epiphany: direct my own work. Hey, it had to at least be better than my Baby Stinky masterpiece.
PopHorror: You have an impressive resume, one that highlights your love of writing. Was creating Death Sentences a cathartic experience? The writer’s block faced by your character, Arabella, was moving. I loved that you showed her transitioning from a notebook and pen to a laptop… all with the same result.
Joe Leone: (laughs) Thank you for noticing that element. It’s like, “Okay, lemme just switch this, put on a different song, eat this muffin, take off my sweatshirt, open this window, do a downward dog, change this font, change it back, text my cat groomer…” When you’re stuck, it doesn’t matter. You’re stuck. I usually don’t have that problem though. I am writing all the time. The issue is then excavating anything usable from all the dreck I’ve spawned.
PopHorror: Death Sentences was an intimate production, utilizing minimal cast and crew and shooting during an unprecedented time in filmmaking. What did you find most challenging?
Joe Leone: The most challenging aspect usually comes afterwards in editing. That’s where you see all the mistakes that you made as director and you smack yourself repeatedly in the head with a blunt object. The shoot actually ran remarkably smoothly, especially given the circumstances.
PopHorror: Besides yourself, your two leads, Remiara Eve and Arselajda Buraku, needed the capability to help carry Death Sentences. What was the casting process like finding these two ladies?
Joe Leone: Remi is amazing, and we’ve worked together numerous times. I’m so grateful to have her in any role, let alone the lead. When she reads the script, she just gets it. There’s very little you need to do as far as directing goes. I really love her. Arselajda came in off a casting notice I had posted, and I was very impressed with her read of the character. She did a really great job of being mysterious, ethereal, and also very likable. Wonderful work all around.
PopHorror: If you could direct any actor or actress, living or deceased, in any genre production, who would you choose and why?
Joe Leone: Oh my goodness, this is a stellar query… and it requires a two-part answer. Sorry, not sorry… okay, a little sorry. For the living, I have to go with Lupita Nyong’o. Her performance in Us just left me dumbstruck. The way she fully transformed her face, body, and voice—vacillating between the two characters—was just mind-blowing. Her ferocity is astounding. I have a script I would give my firstborn to have her act in. Honorable Mention goes to Elizabeth Moss, also great in Us, but her work in The Handmaid’s Tale blows me away, every season. Praise be.
Now for the deceased: I’ve always loved Barbara Stanwyck, especially as the seductive “Phyllis”—you don’t hear that too often—in Double Indemnity. I adore all the old noirs, but in this one, she slides those double entendres in with such sly grace, you can’t help but grin. I bet she would’ve been a blast on set.
PopHorror: Finally, something fun for you I hope. If you could program a double feature at your local Drive-In, what two films make the bill?
Joe Leone: I saw E.T. when I was five at the drive-in. I was supposed to go to sleep afterwards, as it was a double-feature, with—in retrospect, inexplicably—American Werewolf in London. I pretended to sleep but watched it from under my blanket. This is most likely why I’m deranged now. So, to bring it full circle, I’ll go with the two movies that scared me the most: Pet Semetery, the original, and IT, yes, the original, too… and yes, all 7 hours of it. Either those two or Creepshow 1 & 2. Like you mentioned, you’ve gotta love the horror/comedy combo.
We would like to thank Joe for his time. Check out the trailer for Death Sentences below. For press, contact publicist Sharry Flaherty of Samera Entertainment at firstname.lastname@example.org.