One of my personal favorite horror films to come out of the 2000’s has to be Stevan Mena’s debut feature MALEVOLENCE. At the time that it was released for a limited theatrical engagement back in 2004, I was a frustrated horror fan. The last big movies I recall seeing at the local multiplex were ALIEN VS PREDATOR and THE EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING and at that point I was just about ready to give up on our beloved genre. That is, until I went to see this little indie movie that Anchor Bay was putting out in select theaters around town.
90 minutes after the lights went down, I was shaken to my core. I can’t explain it. It was just perfect timing in terms of what I, as a devoted horror fan, wanted to see. An homage to all the greats – HALLOWEEN, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE with flourishes of that dreary feeling of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET – while introducing a new character and “slasher” mythology. I just absolutely loved it and repeatedly went back with a different set of friends each time just to see them jump out of their chairs.
Through my multiple theatrical trips to see MALEVOLENCE, plus with my new-found status as a horror writer through Icons Of Fright.com, I managed to spend a lot of time discussing the movie at great length with writer/director Stevan Mena. The thing that absolutely fascinated me about MALEVOLENCE was that it was always intended to be the middle part of a trilogy and Stevan had already written an epic tome that detailed all the events of the 3 films. Those that have any doubt that this was all planned out well in advance, rest assured – he teased me way back in 2004 about things that would inevitably come to light when the prequel BEREAVEMENT came out in 2010!
MALEVOLENCE is an action heist film that collides with a traditional horror “slasher.” In it, Julian (Brandon Johnson) reluctantly agrees to partake in a bank robbery with his girlfriend Marilyn (Heather Magee) and her brother Max (Keith Chambers), along with his partner Kurt (Richard Glover). As can be expected, the heist goes horribly wrong, Max is mortally wounded and the remaining trio are on the run. Kurt takes a mother and her daughter hostage in order to meet at their designated rendezvous point. But the house they selected just happens to be one property removed from a dangerous serial killer near the slaughterhouse. Using Kurt’s mask, the killer stalks whomever else is left at the house next door until the shocking finale!
Spoiler ahead – the identity of the killer in MALEVOLENCE is implied to be Graham Sutter, the owner of the slaughterhouse, but as we discover at it’s conclusion, it’s actually Martin Bristol, the young boy kidnapped in the opening of the film. BEREAVEMENT goes back to show that story. The story of the deranged Graham Sutter and how he kidnaps this boy to help him continue his work. Unbeknown to Graham, Martin suffers from the rare disease CIPA, which means his nerve endings don’t work properly and hence he doesn’t feel any pain! So whereas most serial killer stories explore how nature versus nurture turns people into who they inevitably become, this is a strong case for a number of factors that made Martin the unstoppable, emotionless killer we meet in MALEVOLENCE.
Ever since BEREAVEMENT’s release (which, by the way, launched the career of actress Alexandra Daddario), fans of the films have been patiently waiting for Mena to complete the MALEVOLENCE trilogy. In 2013, an IndieGoGo campaign was launched with the hopes of securing at least some of the funds to realize the final film in the series properly. Regardless of if they made their goal, they were moving forward with the proposed shoot date, and that’s exactly what happened, even though the campaign didn’t reach its full intended budget.
Titled KILLER: MALEVOLENCE 3, the final chapter promised to be a bonkers all-out action/slasher flick that would close out the series in style. When I spoke to Mena briefly after the first hiatus, he was thrilled with the dailies and said that some of what he shot is by far the best material of the entire trilogy. And then, silence. We stopped hearing about the status of post-production on the 3rd film. So, what happened to MALEVOLENCE 3? After touching base with Mena, I discovered that a tragedy has more than likely derailed the movie for good.
“As I go back through all the footage, we shot about 75 percent of the movie,” Mena tells us in a new phone interview. “A few things happened. We were definitely on fumes when it came to funding. It was mostly me and some favors from crew that I’ve worked with for a long time, basically working for nothing. These were all fans of the series and friends that just wanted to see it get done. We were all basically volunteering our time to do it. One of the lead actors got sick and we had to cancel some of the shoot because of that. So we went on hiatus.”
In the same way that the first MALEVOLENCE was a combination of heist film & “slasher” flick and BEREAVEMENT was part hardcore family drama & horror movie, MALEVOLENCE 3 also has two concurrent storylines explains the director. “There was Martin Bristol’s story and then there were these 2 FBI agents we followed who believed he was going to go home to where he was originally kidnapped from. And as the story progresses, the two detectives are hot on his trail. Everywhere they end up, they come upon a body or a clue and they’re trying to piece it together. They believe he’s going to reunite with and/or kill his mom. That’s that side of the story and these guys are in every one of those scenes, talking to and playing off of each other.”
“I had found this actor through my casting agent who was just perfect for the role. He was playing an FBI agent alongside the returning Perkins and they were the two leads. We were basically shooting all in order and went on hiatus when he got sick. What we didn’t shoot was the climatic scenes where the detectives show up and try to stop Martin. We also didn’t shoot the opening, which is a huge set piece, which I wanted to leave for last, because it was back at the slaughterhouse where we introduce all these characters. Essentially I have 75 percent of this film with this guy who then – I found out via Facebook – ended up taking his own life. I had recently reached out to him about finishing the film via text and then I found out this happened.”
In terms of being able to finish with what already exists, Mena says it would be impossible. “There’s a lot of stuff in the film that’s fantastic. All the stuff that Jay Cohen did, (Reprising his role as Martin Bristol) It’s off the wall fantastic. I just couldn’t believe how good he was. He did some phenomenal work. But when my lead actor passed, I realized I’d have to reshoot all the scenes this guy is in. When I tallied it all up, it’s basically the majority of the movie. So what do you do? Do I get a stunt double and show the back of his head? I can’t do that. It is what it is and I’ve had to make peace with it. I have a great film that can’t be finished.”
Is there any hope, maybe if someone stepped up to help finance the reshoots? “The market right now is so foreign to me. I don’t get it. The way I used to raise money doesn’t exist anymore. I marvel at the fact that people like John Waters and David Lynch can’t get a film made. All these great talents and no one will give them money to make a movie. What is the reward to making a film these days? Unless you’re going to 3000 screens, you can somehow try to break even. But for the indie group, it doesn’t help. People argue there’s Netflix, but Netflix only pays what, a couple of grand? How are you going to recoup your money? All the ways independent producers used to make money on movies are gone.”
Despite the troubles on the filmmaking side, Mena has taken great solace in continuing to write his stories in the same way that the 3 MALEVOLENCE movies started, as novels. He recently adapted his script for TRANSIENCE into a novel, which will soon be released in foreign territories such as Germany, Italy and Brazil with both a US and UK release pending. He’s already excited about his next new novel, but I couldn’t help but ask if there was any chance of releasing the original MALEVOLENCE novel so that we can at least read the completed trilogy in book form.
“I haven’t sent the complete MALEVOLENCE book to my literary agent at UTA yet because that’s my past and I’m really looking to the future right now. I have so many ideas that I want to explore for books and for me, it’s cool because it’s like making a movie only you don’t have to worry about raising the money or casting or any of that. I still get to tell my stories. Right now, that’s my horizon, continuing to do my writing. I’m trying to stay creative while the whole film industry tries to shuffle around and figure itself out.”
Below, you can flip through a full gallery of never-before-seen images that Mena was kind enough to share with us from the incomplete MALEVOLENCE 3. You can head over and “like” the official Facebook page right here.