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Interview with Charlie Steeds, writer and director of Death Ranch
By James Whittington, Saturday 10th October 2020
CHARLIE STEEDS EDITED-23

Horror movies and controversy always go hand in hand but when they tackle serious issues by using extreme violence to hammer home a point they can be very worthy. Death Ranch from Charlie Steeds is having its world premiere at Grimmfest so we chatted to him about this very strong movie.

HC: What inspired you to write Death Ranch?

CS: I'd always wanted to try making a movie with a 70s Grindhouse/Exploitation style and was watching old Grindhouse trailers for inspiration. I came across the movie Brotherhood of Death, where black characters fight back against the KKK for some of the film (the tagline is 'Watch these brothers stick it to the Klan!') and that concept seemed outrageous and brilliant to me. Like a lot of Exploitation, that movie doesn't fully deliver on its poster, so I took that concept and set out to develop my own movie that would deliver on the promise of seeing the KKK taken down by heroic black characters. It felt like something I wanted to see, as a movie fan, that's why I made it.

HC: Are you a fan of Grindhouse cinema?

CS: Absolutely, I'm a fan of certain Blaxploitation movies, Coffy and Foxy Brown, those type of movies are still as entertaining as they ever were, quite politically incorrect at times but the films don't care. Jack Hill is a director who's work and style I really love, such wild B-movie material but more genuinely entertaining than most of what comes out of Hollywood these days. I'm a big Italian Western fan too, I think you can see that influence (along with the blaxploitation influences) very clearly in Death Ranch. I'm a huge Quentin Tarantino fan, I grew up on Kill Bill, and his whole style is influenced by a lot of these Grindhouse movies. I remember being incredibly hyped for the Tarantino/Rodriguez Grindhouse double bill as a teenager, and that opened up this whole new world of exploitation cinema to me.

HC: Its very different to your other movies, was this a deliberate attempt to push your creativity?

CS: With each movie, I purposely try something new, a completely different sub-genre or style (with the exception of Cannibal Farm and The Barge People, those being two similar backwoods slashers). This was my first time shooting in America, that definitely gave the film a different feel. It's also perhaps less horror-focused than my other films, but equally gory. The theme of racism is so powerful, that gave a certain weight to the drama of this particular script, we're dealing with very real issues. But at the end of the day, I treat all my films as fun B-Movie entertainment, that's most important, and the positive anti-racist message that comes along the way is a part of that entertainment here.

HC: Was it hard to find the right actors for the roles?

CS: The casting was very easy. It had to be done over the internet, I was in London watching self-tapes from actors in the USA. There were a lot of great applicants but the cast I picked really stood out to me. Not only were their performances wonderful, but they had a real passion and understanding for this plot outline. Once we were all together in Tennessee, shooting, that passion remained incredibly strong, these actors seriously got behind this project, took my script and made it their own.

HC: The film contains some very controversial language, what did the actors feel about saying such provocative words?

CS: We had a lot of fun and laughter on set, everyone got on incredibly well, so by the time actors were having to perform lines of very racist dialogue, everyone was comfortable, relaxed and on the same page. It's make believe, so nobody had a need to be uncomfortable in the moment, and we all understood the anti-racist message of the film very clearly. When you're making a film about the KKK in 70s southern America you can't really avoid including some racist language. It's there to make us hate the racist characters, and fully enjoy our hero's revenge, ultimately.

HC: The score is fantastic, will it get a release?

CS: This is the 5th feature film soundtrack collaboration between me and Sam Benjafield, and as always he did a stunning job. We'll find some way to get the music out there! Many influences have gone into the score, lots of Ennio Morricone (both his Western music and Gialli music) who's long been my favourite composer, but you'll also hear the influence from films like The Devil's Rejects, Planet Terror and Pumpkinhead.

HC: Will you be nervous when Death Ranch has its world premiere at Grimmfest?

CS: Death Ranch is particularly special to me, its my own original idea, and it was made entirely independently (no sales/distribution people to answer to) which makes the project stand out to me. I hope people enjoy it, of course, but if they don't then that's just something that comes with the territory of filmmaking, you can't please everyone. You finish a movie and you just let it go, move onto the next (I have shot, edited and released 2 more films since I shot Death Ranch) so I can't be nervous. However, I'm very eager to see the response to this particular film, good or bad.

HC: As a director, how do you feel after the recent news that some cinemas are reducing days open and some closing altogether?

CS: The most important thing we can do is support our favourite smaller cinemas that remain open, so long as you're safe, sensible and not at high risk from this virus. I'll be visiting the Prince Charles Cinema in London as frequently as I can, we can't lose unique venues like that. The big chains showing the Hollywood muck will somehow recover, there'll always be a demand for the big screen. DVD/VOD films are now in demand more than ever, so while mainstream movies suffer this slump, maybe some independent filmmakers will use this to their advantage.

HC: So, what are you up to at the moment?

CS: I have a lot in the pipeline and I'm currently writing those projects, which is my favourite part of the whole process. Very soon, I'll be back into production on some really exciting projects.

HC: Charlie Steeds, thank you very much.


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