One of my most anticipated movies of the last few years was Puppet Killer. I mean… Come. On. A killer that’s a cute, cuddly hot pink puppet named Simon? It’s every bit as far out there as you would think, but it’s also hilarious, gory, and has a lot of heart. I can’t wait for everyone to see this film. I was lucky enough to speak to the fierce woman behind it, Lisa Ovies, and we discussed Puppet Killer, women in horror, Robert Rodriguez, and of course, horror movies.
PopHorror: What inspired the Puppet Killer story?
Lisa Ovies: A few different things, but really, it came down to me wanting to finally create something that was truly my own. I had been acting in and producing other peoples works for years, and I loved it. It was how I learned to make film which was, in essence, my film school. But then I got to a point where I wanted to make something that was my voice and my vision. Do I think it is weird that that ended up being an old school homage slasher film with a fuzzy pink killer? I guess so… but if you know me, you may not be too surprised (laughs). I love on screen practical effects and have championed for them for years as we have started to see them lost to the world of VFX, and I have always loved the old 1980s and ’90s slasher films. This was my chance to infuse my knowledge of comedy with my love of horror.
PopHorror: It’s very obvious that the teenagers in the film are very not teen in age. What’s the back story on that?
Lisa Ovies: (laughs) I don’t remember the exact moment when I decided to do that, but basically, it was in reference to Halloween and other films clearly casting actors well into their late 20s to play high school kids. If I was going to play that joke, I wanted to really lean in, to cast 40-50-year-olds, and then never once mention it. To have all the other kids in high school legit teenagers and my ensemble so much older. Did you notice my three main leads are named Jamie, Lee and Curtis? The actors did a phenomenal job, and I know that was a very big risk, but they played the drama and truly slayed, in my opinion. The film has won multiple ensemble and best acting awards and nominations, so they definitely did me proud.
“I think we’ve always had talented and passionate women making horror or wanting to make horror. I think it is more our ability to get our content out to a larger audience that has changed.”
PopHorror: I can only imagine a set where the killer is a bright pink puppet. Any fun stories from the making of?
Lisa Ovies: Oh man, it was an adventure (laughs)! There was one scene, the bathtub scene, that I was really looking forward to shooting. We had a puppet consultant [Mauri Bernstein: Team America] that we did some camera tests and rehearsals with. She was amazing and really helped us understand how to make him come alive and what rules we should adhere to. Asia, our puppeteer, had actually never done any puppeteering before. She was one of my improv students, but she was small and bendy with a great attitude. So, in typical indie fashion, we hired her, and she did an AMAZING JOB!
So we get to the bathroom scene which we have well planned out and rehearsed as far as body placement, etc. because Asia needed to actually be below our actress in the tub and not be seen. We get them all in, they are placed perfectly, and I jump in to do one quick tweak before we roll. Somehow, I hit the taps and the water starts to run. I am suddenly filling the bottom of the tub with water, and we are laughing our asses off, but I felt horrible. They were both absolute legends and we just shot that scene with a poor wet puppeteer laying under Lisa Durupt.
I would say we have a story for almost every scene with the puppet, really. And sometimes crew would come to me and ask how we were going to pull something off, and my answer was usually, ” I don’t know, we are shooting with a fucking puppet. We are going to have to figure that out on the day.” And we did, every time we found a way to make it work.
PopHorror: How have the roles for women in the horror genre changed, and where do you see these roles going in the future?
Lisa Ovies: I am not sure if they have changed. I think we always had talented and passionate women making horror or wanting to make horror. I think it is more our ability to get our content out to a larger audience that has changed. I still feel like it is a boys club that we are trying to get into, but the nice thing is that we have created a pretty amazing and supportive community within the Women in Horror world. So, instead of kicking down the door alone, we are doing it alongside so many other talented filmmakers. I would definitely like to see more inclusivity within the more mainstream horror community and the financial support for female directors to create larger scale horror content that seems to be seriously lacking at the moment. The gatekeeping will probably always exist in some form, but the more opportunities we have for the Nia DaCostas and the Gigi Saul Guerreros out there, the more opportunities we will eventually have for all of us.
PopHorror: How did you get your start in the horror genre? Have you always been a fan?
Lisa Ovies: I have just always been a fan. I truly love horror, and it was horror films that really pushed me from the audience member to the content creator. I waited until my late 20s to really dive into film, as I think I was scared that if I failed, I wouldn’t have a plan B. So, when I dove in, I dove in hard.
I started as an actress and quickly realized I would not get the roles I wanted unless I created them myself, so I launched my first production company in 2011. Once I felt ready to direct my first feature, there was zero question that it would be horror. I also love comedy, and that is where a majority of my training is, so I think I will always try to bring a layer of that to my horror films, but don’t see myself branching out of the genre any time soon. It is just so fun to work with practical effects, and I get so truly excited and passionate about it. And the horror community and fans are next level. The horror festival circuit is the best experience, and so many filmmakers and festivals just feel like family now. I selfishly never want that to end.
PopHorror: If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
Lisa Ovies: Robert Rodriguez. I LOVE how he infuses his Latinx culture into his work. He is incredibly talented, passionate, and loves the blood and excitement of a fast paced story. I can’t imagine what it would be like to work with and learn with him on set. I met him once in 2014 at the Austin Film Festival. I was an actress in a film playing and went to see his panel and then pretty much stalked him afterwards. Everyone was trying to get at him and his security was pushing people away and then I yelled something along the lines of, “I moved to Mexico to write my first screenplay and brought a VHS copy of El Mariachi with me,” which is true. He just stopped and smiled and engaged with me in a great conversation. I wish I could say I was calm and professional and we kept in touch, but I just fan crushed so hard and my team still laughs at me for it.
PopHorror: I know that Covid has stalled most things, and you’ve been keeping busy teaching, but is there anything you’re currently working on or have coming out?
Lisa Ovies: Yes. My acting studio managed to move online, so that is keeping me busy, and I am also lucky to have amazing instructors that take the reins when needed. They are definitely carrying the weight for me at the moment. My producing partner and myself are working day in and day out to deliver Puppet Killer to our distributor. Covid definitely put a wrench in our release plans, but we are still working on some really exciting things, and I cannot wait to get this film out there to the world. Aside from Puppet Killer, I have a few features that we are trying to get off the ground, all with the same team, as I just adore them and truly never want to make a film without them.
PopHorror: What is your favorite scary movie?
Lisa Ovies: Such a hard question. I think I can narrow it down to Halloween, Scream, Evil Dead 2, and Alien. But honestly, tomorrow I may have totally different answers. There are so many good ones out there!
Thank you so much to Lisa for taking the time to speak with us. Be sure to catch Puppet Killer as it makes its festival rounds.