[Interview] Brant Lewis on Growing Up with Horror and Queer Horror Rom-Com LIVIN' AFTER MIDNIGHT
We had an opportunity to sit down with filmmaker, producer and horror writer Brant Lewis to discuss their love of horror and their film Livin' After Midnight.
Brant Lewis is a non-binary and Queer horror writer, producer and film editor who has also written articles about the queer nature and lens in horror films. They recently finished post-production on their latest horror short film, Livin’ After Midnight, a queer, horror rom-com that they wrote, produced and edited. Lewis also produced the award winning shorts Luperca, Let’s All Go to the Lobby, Deliver Me From Evil, and Door to Door as well as a couple of non-horror short films.
Livin' After Midnight follows Robyn Carmack, a non-binary vampire and fan of metal music on a blind date. Lewis set out to tell and authentic queer story and does just that. Queer performers were cast exclusively for the two leads. The film recently screened at the Southern Gothic Film Festival and Oregon Screems Horror Film Festival and was a finalist for Best Horror Comedy. The film was also recently accepted by Austin After Dark Film Festival for their summer program.
Stay connected with Brant Lewis on their website or Twitter and be sure to read their film thoughts and reviews on The Blog In The Woods.
Slay Away: How did you discover your love of horror?
Lewis: As a kid I read a lot of Goosebumps, books about haunted houses, and Edgar Allen Poe. Also I watched a lot of ghost hunting shows and similar programs on Travel Channel.
Slay Away: What experience most shaped your love of horror once you'd discovered the genre?
Lewis: I’d say the biggest experience for me, was discovering Stephen King in high school. As a freshman, I checked out the novel Carrie from the school’s library which then led me to devouring most of his novels but Salem’s Lot was the title that shaped me the most. I read it while at Boy Scouts in November. I had the perfect experience of reading it using an electric lantern while sleeping in a tent around the woods. Similarly, the comic book American Vampire trapped me within its fangs.
Slay Away: What's the very first horror film you recall watching and what was the experience like?
Lewis: I remember watching Army of Darkness (1992) on television while on a trip. It felt like a whole new experience for me. The blending of horror and comedy wasn't like anything I had experienced before. I also watched The Shining (1997) miniseries around that time and I didn't see the Kubrick version until later but I watched the miniseries multiple times. I was pretty young at the time, so it had more of an effect on me and I believed it was the better version since King liked it.
Slay Away: What's your favorite film, book and/or character in horror?
Lewis: My favorite horror film is The Devil's Backbone (2001). I am a huge del Toro fan and feel that it's his best film. It is so rich in the gothic tradition and it perfectly understands what a ghost is. It's scary, beautiful, moving and I have encountered very few films like it. My favorite book is House of Leaves. It is a beast of a book, but once you figure out the confusing structure, it’s an amazing work. It’s unique in its concept and I love how it creatively utilizes every aspect of a book to tell a truly scary story. It’s endlessly fascinating and provides a different experience each time I read it.
My favorite character is Severen from Kathryn Bigelow's Near Dark (1987). Bill Paxton was one of my favorite actors and he really shines as Severen. People always talk about his role as Hicks in Aliens (1986), but I believe that Severen is his best work. I can never hear “finger lickin’ good” the same way again. In addition, Severen killing a bartender by slashing his neck with his spurs multiple times will always take the cake.
Slay Away: Do you have a favorite LGBTQIA+ storyteller, writer or filmmaker?
Lewis: For films and television, I love Bryan Fuller, Christopher Landon, Kevin Williamson, and Don Mancini. For novels and comic books, I am a huge fan of Henry James, Clive Barker, Al Ewing, Vita Ayala, James Tynion IV, and visual artist Mariko Tamaki.
Slay Away: Do you identify with any LGBTQIA+ characters in horror and what impact did the portrayal of those characters have on you?
Lewis: I love John Constantine. I remember picking up the comics in high school and I enjoyed seeing queerness presented in a very matter of fact way. The other is Theo Crane in The Haunting of Hill House (2018) miniseries on Netflix. I greatly enjoyed how Flanagan's show handled her being gay and how she was allowed to have a happy ending.
Slay Away: Who are your favorite horror filmmakers and who do you believe have most influenced you in your own projects?
Lewis: My favorite horror filmmakers are Guillermo del Toro, Julia Ducournau, Sam Raimi, Mike Flanagan, and Bryan Fuller. Guillermo del Toro has greatly influenced me in the way that I choose to portray and explore monsters. Ducournau’s exploitation of sexuality and gender has led me to do so in my own projects. In addition, her queer characters feel authentic and are allowed to be messy. I adore how well Raimi alternates between horror and comedy. I was greatly inspired by the crashing tracking shot from Evil Dead for the ending of my first short film. Flanagan has such a great grasp of writing characters and relationships that I tend to examine his work when it comes to that in my own projects. Fuller’s Hannibal will always be a highlight in queer horror and I greatly adore how it goes from full on body horror to camp while still feeling natural.
Slay Away: Did you always know you would end up making films?
Lewis: I always knew I wanted to work in a creative field. Originally throughout middle school to high school, I wanted to be a novelist or a comic book writer before moving onto poetry in college. While in college, I took a couple of video production classes while also doing an independent study which resulted in a documentary about the gay history of the school. After that, I decided to attend grad school for film to pursue it as a career and I have not looked back since.
Slay Away: A lot of things have “been done” in the horror genre. What would you like to see next in horror?
Lewis: I would love to see more diverse voices heralding films and television shows. It would be great to have more prominent queer characters within horror media. Aside from indie projects I hope that more major studios can start picking up more of the slack when it comes to representation and adding more seats to the table for underrepresented filmmakers and their stories.
Slay Away: Tell us more about the thesis you wrote, "We Keep Odd Hours: The Queer Vampire Community in 1980s Horror Cinema" and why you chose to focus on the films Fright Night, The Lost Boys, and Near Dark?
Lewis: My thesis discussed how 80s vampire films reinterpreted and retooled the mythos and queer element of vampires for “modern audiences” due to the LGBTQ+ community rising to the public forefront because of AIDs, drug use and family values in that decade. Vampires have always been inherently Queer. Fright Night (1985), The Lost Boys (1987), and Near Dark (1987) were my picks due to the queer elements within the features. Often times, film is viewed solely through a straight lens. I believed it would be benefecial to examine the works through a queer lens. It was a ton of fun to write and I hope to publish it sometime in the future.
Slay Away: Tell us about any current film projects you’re working on and what’s coming next for you?
Lewis: I am currently submitting Livin’ After Midnight to film festivals and working as a co-producer on Luperca, a great queer werewolf fantasy film that will begin post-production soon. After spending a year and a half of my life on my thesis film, I want to take a bit of a break before I pursue another big project. In addition, I'm writing a couple of feature scripts that I hope to produce in the future. Finally, I'm working on a couple of article pitches and writing about horror media on my website, The Blog In The Woods.