In these days of endless content and VOD sites, some filmmakers have focused on finding their niche and developing that relationship, building a dedicated fan base to which they can deliver steady stream of entertainment. Others try to check off as many boxes on their genre and theme list and let a film fly to the wide world of possible audiences. Jane Clark’s CRAZY BITCHES does both. A horror film full of hot girls getting offed, CRAZY BITCHES manages to be consistently funny, and also played a long list of LGBT film festivals. There is a little something for everyone, but the project came out of Clark’s loyalty to the LGBT community who has always supported her, and the actors in the film. But now getting a wide release through the marketing savvy Gravitas Ventures, the emphasis is all Horror with the great tag line ‘Live Vain, Die Ugly.’ If you want a spice on your valentine’s weekend, but want to avoid running into your boss at 50 Shades of Grey, cuddle up with someone with a perverse sense of humor and download CRAZY BITCHES.

In the film, seven women connected by their sorority past (and now clearly on their own paths) reconnect at a ranch for the weekend, along with their tag-along gay friend, BJ. BJ hasn’t just come for the company though, as he reveals the site of their getaway was once the location of a series of gruesome murders, where seven young women were brutally killed by their own vanity. He hosts a ‘haunted sites’ series and he is here to see if any of their ghosts remain. Oh, and the killer has never been found. Despite their own obvious vanities already causing infights, the girls are not too concerned about the history of the ranch… until a few of their own party go missing. As all their own jealousies and indiscretions rise to the surface, they begin to look in their own group for the killer. It’s a fun story, with the perfect mix of Desperate Housewives cattiness and Pretty Little Liars paranoia, and well-deserved R-rating for sex and violence. (Actually I have no idea what rating it is, is anything actually rated anymore? Who cares, I’m just saying this is not for prime time television.) The characters, despite their large numbers, are all fully developed with their own peculiarities and the plot has a lot of nice turns. The film really does a good job drawing in both horror and comedy fans while essentially featuring a strong ensemble of LGBT characters (and a few that are ‘in play’).

“We premiered at FrameLine, and then played Outfest at the Ford Amphitheater, which was a pretty amazing experience,” writer/director Jane Clark says, basically the top two LGBT fests in the US. After that the film played a healthy mix of horror and LGBT fests, and continues on (mostly on the international circuit) with Fantasporto in Portugal and Syfy Madrid in March. “Then a women’s film festival is in Korea and bunch of other stuff,” she continues, “People seem to like it, I guess.” I spoke with Clark a few days before the film’s wide release, and due to the mixed genre nature of the film, our conversation went all over the place. What I was most interested in, however, was the very thought behind putting together a project as packed with as much sometimes audience-dividing material. “I always worry about making a film that you end up being flawed in one area and you really limit your reach,” Clark says, “I have never made a horror movie before, and I never made a comedy, my past experience has all been with more character driven dramas.”

That explains the full ensemble that is literally bursting out of the ranch, far more than your typical cabin-in-the-woods set up. “It’s a combination on things,” she admits, “one being that I wrote all the roles for friends. I got overly exuberant let’s say, because I would go out with a friend for lunch and I’d be working on this project, and they would be excited by it, and I would be like ‘oh well do you wanna be in it?!?’ and now I have to fit her into the movie.” But despite the docket of divas (each about to be killed for their vanity), each character is fully-formed and has a depth rarely seen in indie horror. This Clark attributes to her character-driven drama background. “Even when I approached CRAZY BITCHES, I approached it with a theme,” she explains; “I had something I was writing to, something that means something to me, this sort of nature of women to use words to hurt, and the idea that sometimes we use them unconsciously with our friends, and sometimes we use them rather deliberately, and they can be very damaging.” Her focus went naturally to character, making sure the audience knew who these girls were, both on the surface and below. She says: “I wanted there to be real empathy for them when they are killed… and then it was just a matter of…you know, who goes when.”

Despite the desire to make a film with what she calls ‘a shot at a wider commercial audience,’ the writer/director wanted to make sure brought in the LGBT crowd, because she has a history of making films with that sort of content. “I have a fan base in that area,” she says, “they are people who have taken care of me, followed me, and supported me for a long time.” In addition, casting her friend Cathy DeBuono [as Cassie, whom I seem to remember one of the characters calls a ‘lesbian predator’]shaped the script somewhat. “Cathy is a rather strong lesbian figure, both in her private and public life,” she explains, “so with her in mind, that actually affected some of the storyline, because I wanted to respect what she brought to it.”

Other characters, such as Candis Cayne’s Viviana came about to service the horror crowd. “After I finished the script I gave it to one of the actresses, a huge horror fan, to read,” Clark remembers. “She said she loved the script, but we were missing the opening scene, you have to have a scene in a horror movie where either somebody dies, or somebody has sex.” CRAZY BITHCES opens with the character having sex with one man, dropping him in an instant to talk dirty on the phone, pleasuring herself, and then… well, it’s a horror film, you can guess what happens.

As someone who goes to probably a dozen festivals a year, I love to see programmers pushing their audiences. Two of my favorite films from the LGBT circuit last year, BFFs and THE DARK PLACE both had feet planted firmly in other genres. We may finally be past the typical Coming-Of-Gay films that have dominated LGBT festivals since their inception. “There will always be that story to some degree,” says Clark, “because some filmmaker coming out of film school who is 22 wants to tell his personal story, and it would be that, you know.”

However, we are now in a renaissance I believe where films can feature gay characters prominently, but the central plot doesn’t necessarily have to be about ‘the trials and tribulation’ or even ‘the joys and jubilations’ of being gay. “I had some people say to me early on, when I was in my focus group phase ‘I’m not sure you’re going to play well with LGBT audiences, or in particular whether it would get into certain festivals,” Clark admits, “because they didn’t think it was ‘gay enough,’ and I worried about it a little.”

Like me, Clark believes “the LGBT audience, like every audience, is looking for new experiences and new voices,” and CRAZY BITCHES’ festival run proves it.  In addition to FramLine and OutFest, the film played Chicago Reeling, Filmout Sandiego, Out on Film in Atlanta and QCinema in Fort Worth.

“Where you run into problems,” Clark continues, “is when you want to talk to distributers, film agents, or even investors, who have a very clear place where they want to spot you. So even if it was horror, I’d have horror investors concerned about not enough naked boobs in the movie, and then I’d have my LGBT investors who would be concerned there wasn’t enough LGBT content. These people sort of function in a very sort of insular bubble, but the audience isn’t that anymore.”

Clark has enjoyed watching how the film has played before different audiences. Horror fests like Macabre Faire on Long Island, Razor Reel in Belgium, and Slimebone City in Ontario will naturally respond differently than IMageOut in Rochester or Southwest GLFF in Albuquerque. “For the most part, I have just been welcomed with open arms,” she says, “and I think you’ll eventually by necessity see the LBGT film festival shift into something different, because people who are making films with LGBT content are standing outside thatmtraditional film you expect from them.”

This is how festivals have to grow their audiences, finding ways to get new people…if they are already serving their community to capacity then you have to find new audiences elsewhere. I think CRAZY BITCHES’ journey is interesting because it seems some festivals might be more ready to branch out than others, because the festivals have their own brand. It may just be as much as calling yourself “Frameline” or “Outfest” as opposed to San Francisco Gay and Lesbian film festival, you are able to say ‘no, this is our brand, we are picking good films that will appeal to this community.’ But it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s only that kind of content.

This is one of my soap-box stances. I love SXSW as a name for a festival, just like I love Sundance. The name has come to represent the brand. I can’t think of anything duller than calling your film festival The Seattle International Film Festival or The Dallas International Film Festival or the Chicago International Film Festival, and I have friends at all those places. When I worked at Austin Film Festival, I disliked the name, despite having a pretty defined mission and twenty years of history. I applauded when after 23 years the Austin Gay and Lesbian Film Festival changed their name to Polari, and then quietly mourned a year later when they changed it back. A festival is a brand, and has to be larger than a genre and a city, or just a city.

That’s why a film like CRAZY BITCHES is so important, because it can play at all sorts of festivals, as long enterprising programmers can sell it to their audiences. “I think you’re going to see some festivals move towards homogenization in a way,” Clark suggests “because I’m a straight girl, I will contact friends that are straight in a city that I’m going to go play, and I see if they want to come.   Inherently they will say they will be there, but they say ‘I wouldn’t normally go to a festival like this,’ meaning that they would see the LGBT and be like, ‘well I’m not going to like any of the movies there because it’s all LGBT.’

With the film released today (Friday the 13th, unlucky for the characters in the film, but hopefully lucky for the filmmaker), Clark has seen her distributor take a much more mainstream path. And you can add her to the growing list of filmmakers I’ve interviewed happy with Gravitas. “I’ve been really impressed with them honestly,” she says, “they have been positioning the film as a horror/comedy, with comedy as the stressor … And just to add, I really like them. They are transparent, they are helpful, and they definitely have just gotten us on a multitude of platforms. And they are always quick to pick up the phone or answer an email.” Audiences can find CRAZY BITCHES on iTunes, Playstation, Google Play, Amazon on Demand, YouTube, Vudu and Xbox, as well as Dish, Time Warner, Cox, Comcast, AT&T U-verse and a whole ton of other cable providers. “They want you to do well,” says Clark about Gravitas, “obviously, they want to make money, but a lot of distributors will just pick up a film to fill their catalog, These guys really pick films that they think will do well, and they want it to happen and so they help you along. I have appreciated working with them a lot.”

The soundtrack is quite good, especially for an indie film. The opening song was co-written by Curt Smith of Tears for Fears and there is a really evocative cover of Crimson and Clover that plays during one of the hottest scenes. “I have a music supervisor named Jen Corday. She is a musician, she tours, she knows all these fresh bands,” Clark says “I would send her a clip and say ‘this is the feel, this is what I need. She’s very A.D.D and would end up sending me like 40 songs in an hour, and it would take forever to sort through.” Curt Smith and Charlton Pettus did the score for Clark’s last film, Methhead. Smith wrote the open for the film the night he got the email saying the film was a go. He wasn’t able to do the whole score because of Tears For Fears commitments (I saw them in concert recently, amazing!) but Pettus took over the duties alone.

As for Crimson and Clover, the track seems to be a case of what filmmakers call ‘temp love,’ when you put in a track to edit the film, something you can probably never get the rights to use, and you end up unable to part with it. “I used Joan Jett’s [version], and then I just couldn’t give it up,” Clark says; “I didn’t have the kind budget to go out and get the performance rights to that song, but I could afford the publishing rights, and they were very generous with helping me out with that.” She enlisted her friend Edith Crash, who also contributed another track to the film’s soundtrack, and they worked directly the cut of the film. “We took it to Charlton [Pettus], who just sort of mixed his magic, and made it all come together,” she says; “it’s fun for me when I get to do new things, and I had never actually had the opportunity to record something fresh from scratch and watch how that process works, so that was really exciting for me.”
CRAZY BITCHES is out today, Friday the 13th – it’s a fun ride and great example of cross genre filmmaking.

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