Last time Kyle Rankin came back to Portland, he flooded our streets with zombies. Now he’s back, and he’s brought some witches with him. Man, for a guy who claims to love our state, the Maine native sure likes to wreck up the place.
The now-L.A.-based filmmaker is following up the success of last year’s rom-zom-com (that’s a “romantic comedy with zombies” to the uninitiated) “Night Of The Living Deb” with another Maine-based horror, “The Witch Files,” currently filming around Portland before heading to Mackworth Island, among other Maine locations. The story of five young women whose forays into witchcraft bring them into conflict with an ancient evil lurking in the deep Maine woods, “The Witch Files” again sees Rankin pulling in some well-known and eclectic talent.
Holly Taylor, so good as understandably conflicted teenager Paige on FX’s “The Americans” (her parents are Russian sleeper agents, after all) is the lead, a would-be filmmaker through whose documentary images the scary doings are seen. Of the “found footage” angle, Rankin laughs, “I tend to make movies as soon as everyone’s really sick of a trend—zombie, now found footage—but I don’t care. Holly’s character fancies herself the next generation’s Werner Herzog, and I love the ‘found footage’ style. When it’s done well, when the director abides by the rules and really holds tight to the reins, it’s really effective.”
Joining Taylor is sought-after actress Paget Brewster, who you know from “Criminal Minds,” “Community,” “Grandfathered,” and generally being wonderful and interesting. Rankin’s got connections at this point (sadly, Rankin regular Ray Wise seems to have been too busy this time around), but Brewster and Taylor are just the sort of fine, in-demand actors that can mean a lot to a low-budget film like “The Witch Files.” Asking the director his secret, Rankin laughs again, saying, “I just made an offer. I’ve been told a quality script helps, and they both said they really liked the script, and I’ve chosen to believe them.”
As for that script, Rankin promises that, unlike the more comedic Deb, “The Witch Files” has more overt thriller elements in addition to his signature humor. Aiding on that front is Rankin’s co-screenwriter this time out, accomplished indie filmmaker Larry Blamire. Known to cult film aficionados as the creator of the deliriously goofy sci-fi spoofs “The Lost Skeleton Of Cadavra” and “The Lost Skeleton Returns Again” (which are well worth checking out, especially if you’re a “Mystery Science Theater 3000” person), Blamire brings another strong comic sensibility to the film, one that Rankin thinks will surprise people. “We started corresponding back in 2002 or so and struck up a friendship. Larry’s fantastic, just the best collaborator I’ve ever had. Maybe he feels a little pigeonholed because of what he’s done, but, making a spoof, you have to know movies backward and forward, and he does.”
“The Witch Files” was partly inspired by the fact that Rankin, a father of two girls, saw a dearth of roles for women in genre films. “I was watching [2012 ‘found footage’ sci-fi movie] ‘Chronicle’ and I loved it, but, as a father and a filmmaker, I saw there was essentially zero female energy in it, and I thought, ‘There’s room for this, for young girls this age.'”
The film, which when we spoke, was filming in the West End, also grew out of Rankin’s experience making “Deb,” and the tremendous support he and his film received form the Portland community. “That’s all Scott Taylor, my local producer,” enthuses Rankin. “When we did ‘Deb,’ I foolishly didn’t have enough money and Scott found a few local sources of stopgap funding. I always expected to shoot this movie here, but didn’t think it’d be our next project. Scott just went out and found the money from all Maine sources—I said we needed this amount of money and he went and got it.” Rankin says his next project after “The Witch Files” is a time travel comedy—which he intends to come back and shoot in Maine as well.
“There are challenges to shooting outside of L.A.—travel, housing, personnel,” explains Rankin, “But the benefits more than make up for it. Gorgeous locations, much more reasonable location fees, an awesome attitude on both sides of the camera—when you film a movie in Maine, people still get excited.”