Jug Face’s Chad Crawford Kinkle on his debut horror

The writer/director of Jug Face tells us about his excellent indie horror fairytale

Sean Bridgers goes into the trance in Jug Face
Sean Bridgers goes into the trance in Jug Face

Jug Face is the excellent debut horror from writer/director Chad Crawford Kinkle (read our review here); the story of a small backwoods community centrered around a pit that houses an unseen supernatural entity. In exchange for health and peace, the families are required to offer sacrifices; indicated by face jugs. When Ada (Lauren Ashley Carter) discovers that the pit wants her as the next sacrifice, she sets a chain of events in motion that will tear the community apart.

Kinkle spoke exclusively to SciFiNow about his inspirations, the challenges of low-budget filmmaking and the state of modern horror.

So where did the idea for Jug Face come from?

My wife’s aunt and uncle live in North Georgia and they live in this kind of mountain area, and there’s really nothing around there but on one trip they informed us that we were going to go this pottery museum, and it’s like a full Southern folk museum. I studied pottery in college and I wasn’t excited to go at all! But we went and I saw this face jug for the first time. Face jugs are generally very grotesque looking, and immediately I was just really drawn to them, I wanted to have one, they were so freaky.

It was this tradition that started in about 1850, there’s lots of different reasons why they say it was used. One was to hold poisons like arsenic for this thing called a bull weevil, which is an insect that destroys the cotton. Or it was used for moonshine, a thing to put your moonshine in and the kids knew not to touch it, that something bad was in it. I was walking around the exhibit and I stood in front of a video, it looked like it had been shot on VHS, it looked kind of terrible. But it was this potter and he was literally wearing overalls and he was talking about the process of making these face jugs and it just seemed so creepy. Not so much that he was creepy but it did seem like backwoods black magic or something.

I just envisioned in my head this possessed potter that was hearing something, this pit was speaking to him and he was getting the clay out of the pit and then he was making this face jug of this girl’s face. And just in my mind, I was like “That’s someone from the community. Oh the pit, that force wants her sacrificed.” I came up with that on the spot right there.

There’s a real dark fairytale feel to the film. Was that there from the start?

I didn’t mean for it to be in there, I didn’t necessarily think about that in a conscious way. It wasn’t until we were actually shooting it that it seemed fairytale-like. I guess it’s just the stories that I’m drawn to have that element. And some of the shots in the movie are really like a fairytale story; there’s one shot in the movie where she walks away from the camera towards the potter’s shack and it looks so massive, it looks like it’s this little girl sneaking up to a witch’s cabin.

Jugface1The community comes across as this very believable, very strong group of families.

I guess I based them on, not necessarily the literal people that I grew up with, but I did grow up in a small Southern town. And what I always say about a small town is that everything happens there. Everything in the world, every event that happens in the world happens on a very small scale in a small town. So I thought about this small community where all these different personalities are represented and that’s what I think about the characters, they all, even though they’re all in the same scenario, they all feel slightly differently about the pit and what’s going on.

It’s interesting that the father character, Sustin (Larry Fessenden), is a caring figure rather than this tyrannical leader.

Yeah, what’s funny is that he’s slightly modelled after the preacher at the church in my small town. That guy’s a really great person so he probably wouldn’t like to know that this character was modelled on him! But it was in a way, and also Ada needed that, she needed this other character that did care about her genuinely, because of how her relationship with her mother is she needs that dynamic to be there.

Ada is definitely not your typical horror heroine. She’s strong and determined, but deeply flawed too.

A lot of people point out “Oh I hated her by the end of the movie!” And I never saw her as a character that people would hate. I just thought that she was a product of the situation and she was doing what she could to save herself. I never felt that she totally bought into what was going on in the community, so she would almost be a little bit like an outsider. She just kind of developed on her own; I didn’t necessarily force her into transforming in the way that sparked people’s emotions about her. So I’m a little surprised actually. I felt sympathetic towards her the whole time. Someone was doing coverage on the script and they were just like “I just want her to die!” and I was like “Damn!” [laughs] “A: She’s trying to save her life, everyone has this survival instinct, and B: she’s pregnant! She’s trying to save two lives!” But then it’s this thing, at what point do you realise that your actions hurt the group that surrounds you?

Did you think about making the character a proper outsider? Or setting the film in the past?

At one time I was thinking in a very traditional sense, “Oh someone comes in to the community,” but I didn’t pursue that idea at all. When I’m working on an idea, I try many ways of what it could possibly be but then I just put the story down for at least two or three years. Then when I started thinking about it again I never saw a person from the outside coming in like that, because the first person I saw was the girl’s face on the jug and I knew then “OK, this is the main character you’re gonna follow.”

I just thought it was cool to have it nowadays because in rural areas it’s not such an extreme, groups still live like that. And that’s what I find interesting, today where we’re all so connected with technology that some people still aren’t, or they appropriate the technology but still live life like this. The selling of moonshine is very trendy now in the states and in the South, to buy moonshine from real moonshiners. Of course, you have to go to the guy who knows those guys but it’s almost like a middle class thing to do. Like a lawyer will be like “Oh I have a guy who gets me moonshine” and he drinks it with his buddies or whatever, so that by this family being able to just live off selling moonshine, which some people think is really absurd, there’s a real market for that.

Jugface2You’ve got a cast that’s very recognisable to fans of indie horror: Lauren Ashley Carter and Sean Bridgers from The Woman, Larry Fessenden, and Sean Young of course. Did you have anyone in mind when you wrote it?

Not a single actor in mind, I literally thought that I would be making this movie by myself with local investor money so I was thinking that it would be a bunch of unknowns in the movie. I had seen Lauren in The Woman and as we started talking about different names I looked back at a picture of her that was newer, because when she was in The Woman she had very short hair and she was younger and I was like “I don’t know if she’s really right,” and then I saw a newer picture of her and I just saw those huge eyes and her bone structure and I just became obsessed, like “That’s going to look great on a face jug, and I know she can act, so let’s see if she’s into this!” And she really liked it.

With Larry, Andrew van den Houten the producer just sent me an email “What about Larry Fessenden? He can either play Dawai or play Sustin,” and it blew me away. “Wow, Larry Fessenden in my first movie?” Because I’m a huge fan of him, and have been since he did Habit, so I was like “Oh man that would be excellent, see if he likes the script,” and he liked it. Before that, Sean Bridgers had read the script and was really into Dawai. And then with Sean Young, that was another one I didn’t see coming. Andrew had done another movie with her and said “What about Sean Young?” and I was like “Really? You think she’d do it?” “Yeah, I think so.” And then at first, I was pretty scared, like “I don’t know, I don’t know how this is going to go…” but then I thought about it and “I think she could be really awesome in this mother role,” and she did it.

Bridgers really brings out some comedy in Dawai, was that a delicate balance to keep?

He actually made it a lot funnier than the screenplay, I think the screenplay is, not a lot darker, but darker and I didn’t realise it was going to be that funny until the first table read. “Wow, he’s really going to bring a lot of levity to the story.” He was still in the screenplay a very sympathetic character and he was still funny, but Sean just really had the perfect idea about this character from someone that he knew. Once I heard him in the table read and realised how funny it was going to be it completely made sense.

Jugface3How do you feel about the state of modern horror?

To me, I’ve gotten a little bit of pushback with this movie because people would say “Well, it’s not really a horror movie,” and to me that kind of reflects the state of horror movies, that it’s kind of boiled down to one sort of experience. Which is totally fine, the real visceral experience with gore or whatever, so when you come at it a little differently people find it strange. On the other hand I think it’s really exciting because you have all these new voices that are coming out now and doing their own thing but I still think we have a little bit of a ways to push away from the norm.

I’m not sure even what’s made that happen, if it’s there because of the movies that have been made, or because of the way distribution is working, but nowadays we’re missing a segment of budgets for movies that there used to be. From one million to 20 million there’s not many of those movies being made nowadays, it’s all been pushed way down. So it’s under one million, but what I think is coming from that is people are doing a little bit more daring ideas because everything’s kind of down there right now.

I was really surprised when I was trying to find investors at the beginning that people were being really turned off by the element of incest in the movie and then the fact that I wanted to direct it. The very first investor that said they were interested pulled out because I wanted to direct it and I’d never directed a feature before. And I thought “My god, even at this budget level I can’t direct this?” But that is kind of the state of movies I think, it’s still hard to make money back even when the budget’s way lower than a million dollars because you don’t have the marketing to really get everyone to pay attention, like you do the really big blockbusters where they spend the same amount in their marketing to get people in their seats.

Do you think you’ll stay in the horror genre?

It’s really the only thing I write. I always loved horror movies as a kid and then in high school I was making horror movies with my parents’ VHS camcorder. I was an art kid in school so I went to an art school for college and found out they had a film program, so I was like “I’m going to make horror movies, this is going to be great!” They always tended to be fairly arty, not quite straight genre stuff, but everything I’ve ever written has been fairly disturbing and along the same vein as Jug Face for sure. So I don’t have any plans to do anything different or even that much of an interest. It’s hard for me to imagine going through the months of work for something that I wasn’t just really excited about and I really get excited about horror movies.

Do you have anything else lined up?

I have another Southern Gothic screenplay that I’m trying to finish up right now, and it’s another thing that’s set in the modern day but in a Southern city and it’s more of an urban movie.

Jug Face is available on demand in the US now, and is playing at the Grimm Up North Film Festival in October. You can buy tickets here.