Director Interview: Leroy Kincaide

Hugh chats with director Leroy Kincaide about his upcoming British horror film, The Last Rite

 

First of all Leroy, thanks for agreeing to give us some of your time today.

No problem at all, man. I’m glad to chat about horror!

 

How has lockdown been treating you?

Yeah, not too bad actually. My working habits have always been a little bit odd, I’m very much a nocturnal animal, so the lockdown and everything hasn’t been too bad!

 

Yeah, I think you’ve got it sussed. I’m much more of a night-owl, but two young children puts paid to any chance of a late night and lie in!

(laughs) Aw mate, nightmare!

 

So Leroy, your debut feature film The Last Rite will be released soon, and you’ve done a good job of keeping spoilers tight. What can you tell us about the film?

It’s a bit like The Exorcism of Emily Rose meets Amityville Horror. The main plot of the story centres around a medical student who has suffered from sleep paralysis. One of the major inspirations for the film was, when I was younger, I used to suffer pretty badly from sleep paralysis. There’s some real elements of my personal experiences littered throughout the film as well as a lot of additional research.

The story centres around her, and she gets an entity of some-sort attached to her all through her life. I don’t know if you’re into paranormal stuff?

I do find it really interesting.

Yeah, so some of the tropes that go along with that like spiritual attachment and things that latch on to people, sometimes these things can manifest in our world. It’s a very ambiguous approach we take, a sort of “Is it this? Is it that?” to keep the audience guessing.

 

Yeah, the best horror films tend to straddle that line quite well.

Totally.

 

So you were about to debut the film at October’s FrightFest in London, but the current government restrictions due to the pandemic have put that on hold, is that right?

Yeah, its just one of those things. It’s a shame, because FrightFest, especially in the UK, what they stand for in horror is amazing. You look at the directors that have come through there in the past like Del Toro, Danny Boyle and I think even Chris Nolan. It’s relatively good company to have your feature alongside that kind of company.

 

Absolutely. How did you get involved with FrightFest?

So, we submitted the film through FilmFreeway and fortunately we got selected, but unfortunately we’ve had to pull out due to COVID!

 

I can only imagine how frustrating that must be. But you must be so proud to have been initially selected because they must get inundated with features for consideration?

It was an honour, its been really good but bittersweet. I think the key is to just embrace what we have to do. It’s important that we do what we feel is best, and navigate the turbulent times that we’re in. We also got into Molins festival in Spain, but again we had to withdraw when it moved to a solely online event.

The toughest thing now is that everything is just so easy to pirate. That was my biggest concern. I wasn’t concerned about making money, its more about the film’s integrity from the jump. A physical festival is always what I wanted for this film, and the online festival just doesn’t really appeal to me. I love the feeling of going into a cinema and feeling you’re part of something bigger, and without it you miss the buzz of what a festival actually stands for.

 

I can totally appreciate that. I spoke to Graham Hughes (Death of a Vlogger) and he was really dismayed at how quickly his film ended up on pirate sites after its release onto some of the bigger platforms.

The other thing is, you know, we all come together to make the film, and it takes a lot of blood sweat and tears to get the film finished, and then once you’ve got it done you have to ask what’s next? But if the what’s next is just caring about being included in a festival, it’s like I’m willing to sacrifice the integrity of the film at this stage just to get it online.

It just takes one person to pirate it, and then it takes away all hope of distribution. What is there then for people to buy into? If I released it on Vimeo or YouTube for a day, then what’s the difference? And if it gets pirated, it just takes away that big moment of arrival, because everyone will already have seen it.

 

I think that’s a fair assessment and having put so much effort into it I can understand wanting that big release.

I’m sure there will be people who don’t agree with it, but that’s their opinion. Especially in this digital age, if we don’t strive to preserve some sense of prestige, if we don’t stand for something, then anyone who makes a film loses that.

Tarantino is very much passionate about preserving that idea of the cinema, and I love that. If we take away festivals and make it all digital, you’ve then stripped away another area where people communicate and come together as a community. Especially with things like FrightFest, and the way the horror community bands together.

 

In terms of lockdown, has that given you a chance to work on other projects?

Well, for me it’s all been about post-production on The Last Rite. I mean, I’ve done pretty much everything except scoring and the mix. Grading, editing, VFX stuff, all done by me. So, my time during lockdown has just been me stuck in a room twelve or thirteen hours a day making sure the film is the best it can be and that all the little things are done.

I’m currently in the process of making final tweaks, getting the very most out of a very little budget. I have keen eye for attention to detail, so I’ve just been going over everything with a fine-tooth comb.

 

This is your first feature, how have you found the move behind the camera?

I’ve been in entertainment for around twenty years, if you go right back to when I started my career as a professional wrestler. I loved that, loved the sport for a long time but then sort of fell out of love with it and found my passion in acting. I still like doing that, but while getting pigeon-holed as a ‘thug’ or ‘drug dealer’ or ‘estranged father’, I grew tired of waiting for other people to give me an opportunity.

So I started writing my own stuff. You know when you have that intuition compelling you to do something, sort of pushing you onwards? That’s kind of what happened when I started writing and creating this world. It fuelled me to a degree I never had with my other performing work. When I wrestled at my peak on Smackdown in ’02 in front of thousands of people was amazing. But the feeling I got writing and making The Last Rites was unreal. And I don’t really think I chose it, more that it chose me. I love the transition behind the camera, and I’m very visually stimulated.

I was never academically very good at school, but I was good at visualisation. I found that the things that stopped me at school have become my go to now; if I can see something in my mind I can create it. I DP’d and shot the film, and I knew how tight everything would be, and it almost felt like it was meant to be.

For a young British film maker I appreciate there isn’t a lot of money around. What kind of obstacles did you encounter in trying to get funding?

The funding side of it was really simple. I asked myself ‘do I want to make a film?’. So, I had to dig into my pocket to do that, and between myself and my partner/producer Chloe, we pooled our money and self-funded it. The price to entry varies, and there is no guarantee of anything. So, if you’re going to take a risk, you might as well take a risk on yourself.

I’ve got another film I’d like to do, but that would need a much bigger budget. And if we cant walk up to the table and show what we’ve done already, as a first time director asking for money, why would anyone do that without seeing the blood sweat and equity you’ve put in to your own feature?

I’m very gung-ho to these things, and I don’t see obstacles, I only see solutions. The solution here was just: go and make a film!

When we were about to film at the start of 2019, I was working as a part time doorman. And one night a fight broke out, and all I did was put my arm out straight to go in and help this guy and my bicep tore. So that was January and we were due to shoot in March. And I knew any tendon injury meant you were out for about a year! We’d put all this effort in, got the script together and got some key members together, had paid for the location with a non-refundable payment. If we lost that, then that would have been a big blow to the film.

So, I had to get an operation, which pushed everything back from March to September 2019, which was a bit of a nightmare, but we overcame it.

 

Its so important for new voices to be heard in British cinema, and the horror genre has been traditionally a good way in for people. You mentioned that you had an idea for a future film, is that also in the horror genre?

Yeah, still in the horror genre. Like a combination of Alien and 28 Days Later!

For me, I have an eclectic background. I believe in Ying and Yang, light and dark. And in my story telling career, I want my work to have that vibe in it. I like the zombie / monster movie genre, its really interesting to me. I had written that before The Last Rite, I finished it early 2018. But The Last Rite came about because we knew we could get everything together that we needed and just do it.

The next project, which is called Facility Seven is something that I really want to go for.

I’m an old school horror fan, I love films like The Exorcist and The Thing. The way the story unravels in The Thing is amazing. Now days a lot of films have just developed into loads and loads of jump scares, and for me it takes part of the excitement of the discovery in a movie out when you’re continuously being sucked into a jump scare set-up. Sometimes its about building tension and suspense to be able to garner the story in another way. Facility Seven is much more paced around suspense. The Last Rite is more like a tilt of the hat to the supernatural area of the genre, because I love that stuff. The Exorcism of Emily Rose is great, and Amityville Horror, the second one, I used to watch all the time on repeat as a kid. I just loved that. I like films that have real characters in it, experiencing stuff, not so much trying to touch the fourth wall.

 

I think what you’re saying there is very true. There is obviously a space for those films that are like ghost train rides and maybe a bit reliant on jump scares. I tend to find that the films that stay with me longer are those that take their time building tension and establishing real characters.

Yeah, absolutely.

 

You mentioned that there are aspect of The Last Rite that are inspired by things in your past, that fed into the story you were telling. Could you tell us a little more about that?

Yeah of course. Years ago, when I was younger, I used to suffer sleep paralysis. But mine was a bit different than most. I used to have two types of episodes; in one, I’d be in a weird dream state and it would feel like being in Canary Wharf, and all the buildings above me made me feel like I was getting smaller and smaller, and there was a sensation of pressure being forced against my ribs. Then I’d wake up and wouldn’t be able to move. And I could see this man standing there in my room, a silhouette just standing in the dark. And I’d experience sheer terror. You didn’t know what its intention was, but you could feel the animosity towards you, that it wanted nothing but harm for you. That one only happened a few times, maybe three or four times.

The other one happened a lot. I would wake up paralysed, can’t move, can’t scream, can’t do anything. And there would be this man in the room. Do you know Crocodile Dundee? I think it’s the second one where there’s an aboriginal guy there, near a pasture. And he’s swinging a bullroarer which is like a rope with a boomerang at the end of it. He would swing it around and it made this really weird noise. Well, this guy would be in my room at night, wearing a grass skirt, topless, swinging his thing around. And that was really quite harrowing. This used to happen where I lived in London.

I moved to Kent when I was eleven or twelve and I had a memory block. It was like that part of my memory had evaporated. I went all through my teenage years to about 18/19 completely oblivious to what I’ve just told you. And then one night I was watching a tv documentary series called The Entity, and this was about night terrors and sleep paralysis. The only way I can describe what happened was very much like if you walk into a bakery or eat an old sweet you haven’t had in years, you can instantly, by the smell or taste, be brought back into a moment where you could have been with your nan or your friends from years ago. You have the memory and it flashes back to you. Well this happened when watching this, and all these memories came flooding back to me.

I remembered stuff in my past that terrified me, and I had a strong emotional response to these memories that were very dark. It literally felt like someone had impregnated my head with these thoughts. And I could remember playing video games for hours when I was younger, when I’d suddenly feel this presence in the room with me and I’d have to go running out in terror.

So, I started doing some digging as I’m very curious by nature. I asked my nan about it. And she told me about this night back when we used to sleep in bunk beds. There was one night where I came down from the top bunk to sleep in her bed in the bottom, and I’d pulled the covers down the sides. A bit like Cole from The Sixth Sense, where he goes into that little alcove thing for peace and solace. I used to do that but could never understand why I did. My Nan said that that night I came down to the bed to her. I was asleep there, and all of a sudden she woke up when someone or something sat down at the end of the bed. She said it sat there for about a half-hour before it got up and left.

I started looking around the house for signs that I wasn’t going crazy, and I found an old tape by a lady called Anne Owen who was a psychic who was giving a reading to my Nan. I put it on and pushed play, and they were talking about me. The psychic lady said that ‘oh your grandson is very close to spirits, that there were spirits around him a lot. He’s very sensitive to that side of things’.

And at the time I was going through what I’d call a spiritual awakening.

I think we live in a world now where we use our head over our intuition, and intuition is always something that I had. And this episode just fit in with everything I’d experienced in my life, it was really weird.

I had been an undertaker just before all of this, and this was all much more terrifying than working in that environment. Just this weird little thing that was triggered from watching a tv show.

 

I’m glad you told me that story this afternoon while the sun’s still up Leroy, because that has given me the creeps!

(laughs) I know man, it weird.

I ask myself this question; why does the mind preserve these thoughts and block them away? Normally that happens during heightened moments of stress that the mind can compartmentalise away and block them off.

 

I think if you’re funnelling that sort of energy and horror into your movie, it sounds like you might be on to a winner!

(laughs) I hope so mate.

 

So as a director, who do you look to for inspiration?

Ridley Scott and James Cameron, for atmosphere and the world they build around the story. For me it’s all about atmosphere and setting; what type of setting is your story unfolding in? Those are two directors who have done that so well, and with their work on the Alien films that really comes through.

Aliens is one of my all-time favourites, I really love that film.

Also, Tarantino. Not necessarily the vibe of his stories as he tends to be quite non-linear and plays by his own rules. And I love that attitude, as he stays unique to his vision, which is so important as a director. I try to emulate some of his perspective when it comes to composition. I shot The Last Rite pretty much on my own with whatever I had, so I had to make my own compositions and know my own mind.

Moreover, the thing I love about Tarantino is his dialogue. It’s like a masterpiece, the way he constructs characters and brings them to life. These are elements that I would like to incorporate into future work I do.

The Last Rite isn’t meant to be some pioneering film, it’s nothing but the type of film I love. I’ve tried to use the most engaging dialogue that I can, and there are certain things that need to mindful of. You can’t just have a Priest come round the house and say “Right, I’m going to do an Exorcism! Bosh!” There has to be some process there to work that in.

I’ve had to stay true to a vision that’s my own.

One of the things we always ask those we speak to at The London Horror Society is to tell us what their favourite horror film is?

Aw man that’s tough, I’ve got a few!

Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Amityville Horror, The Thing, Aliens….

All the films I love are from 2005 and before.  With the modern stuff, it’s not that its bad, there’s just something about the way the stories were told in the older films.

I guess, pressed to say just one, I would have to say The Thing.

The way they tell the story in that film is so much more compelling. There are very few jump scares, just shock and awe, confusion and tension. That’s one of the things I love in a horror film, the mystery and intrigue. There are conventions you have to use when telling supernatural horror, zombies monster movies, but what The Thing does is create this amazing sense of mystery and intrigue.

As a film maker, that’s the type of film I’d love to do. I just can’t do jump scare horror; it needs to have more to it.

 

The Thing absolutely borders on being a perfect horror movie. Its efficient with its story, every scene is important, and the visuals will never leave you after you’ve seen it. It comes from an era before CGI, and almost everything is done in camera.

Absolutely. One of my earliest memories of horror films is the shot where the doctor is shocking the one of the characters, and the chest opens up like a mouth? It’s the bit where the head falls onto the floor with the big legs sprouting out. That stuck with me for a loooooooooooong time! I think I saw that when I was maybe four or five!

In my household, if you wanted to watch a horror film you just put it on. It was my version of Disney! (laughs)

 

My Mum and Dad were exactly the same. I think I grew up watching A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th more than I watched cartoons! Probably says a lot about how we’ve turned out.

(laughs) Yeah mate.

A Nightmare on Elm Street is another classic!

 

It’s one of those films that still stands up well today. The acting might be a bit patchy, but in terms of atmosphere and the visceral feel of that film is just staggering.

Yeah absolutely.

When you’re making a film, you want to create a suspended state of belief, to create disbelief in the moment. Sort of make the audience forget they’re watching a film! I think its tougher now because people have shorter attention spans and are always picking up their phone all the time.

 

Yeah, asking people to put their phone away for two hours gets harder and harder. But when you find a film that engages you in just the right way, there are few things as satisfying. The sooner we can get back to cinemas the better!

Yeah, I agree.

I just don’t want to be one of those ‘paid’ directors, who just want to get onto a project for the sake of getting onto a project.

I want to work on projects I’m passionate about. I don’t want to be a quantity director; I want to build on a foundation with a community of people who appreciate that.

Before I let you go, I have one last thing to ask you about. You mentioned earlier that you were a professional wrestler for a long time. What are some of your memories of wrestling?

I didn’t have an official WWE contract, but I was in the process of signing with them around April 2008. I had a match on Smackdown and another skit the previous November when they came over.

When they came over, I would go up and do some stuff for them. I had some action with skits and in ring and stuff.

Another fond memory, well it’s a bit dark now but was humbling at the time, was when I trained in the states for a bit. I trained with Dave Taylor, William Regal and Chris Benoit. I had a full nine/ten hour day in a room with only six other people training with Benoit. I mean, I’m sure you know the story with Benoit?

 

Yeah, an absolutely horrible thing.

I met his son there, and it’s a really bittersweet memory now. I mean, at the time it was like “Holy shit, that’s Chris Benoit!”. And he won the World Title just a week after the training session in 2004.

I’ve had a lot of fond memories.

When I had one of my try-outs in Nottingham, all of the wrestlers are standing around the ring. And here’s 19 year-old me just strolling in to the arena thinking ‘I’m gonna wow everybody’ and then it’s like shit -there’s Shawn Michaels! Shit – there’s Stone Cold, The Undertaker, Scott Steiner, HHH!

HHH back in the day was my man! I was in the bathroom, thinking that it had all gone really well, and I step out of the cubicle and there he is! I was completely star struck!

But for good reasons, I made the jump from that ship and decided to do other things. I had a great time while I was doing it. But if you type my name into Wrestling Showreel you’ll see a lot of my stuff on there.

 

So, what you’re saying is, you’re not coming out of retirement anytime soon?

(laughs) Yeah, I am far from that.

I was asked a couple of years ago to come back! And it’s really weird, because some people are just destined to go out there and work for everyone else. But there are certain types of people that find that a bit awkward. And I’m one of those people. At the end of the day, in wrestling, you’re employed and paid by that company.

Its similar with my acting; I was being cast in things and certain roles that I just didn’t want to play anymore.

I just want to be in control of my destiny. And, by creating projects as a director and writer and bringing ideas to life and giving other people opportunities, that for me is such a win. That, beyond any desire to get out in front of twenty-thousand people, knowing that I was able to help someone bring their dream a little closer to life? What more could anyone want.

So yeah, I guess you could say that I’m definitely not coming out of retirement!

 

Thank you so much for your time Leroy. I can’t wait to see The Last Rite, and hopefully we can catch up after the film has been released.

Absolutely mate, I’ll look forward to it!

 

By Hugh McStay

Leroy can be found on twitter @LeroyKincaide and follow @thelastritefilm to keep up to date with news of the release


 

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