Benny Loves You: Interview with filmmaker Karl Holt

We spoke to filmmaker Karl Holt about his comedy horror, Benny Loves You, which sees a childhood bear come to life, resulting in murder, mayhem and a cup of tea or two…

Benny Loves You

After a tragic event on his birthday and missing a promotion at work he was certain he’d get, Jack (Karl Holt) is desperately trying to make a new start in life. However, when he throws away his childhood toy Benny, it’s a move that can only end in death…

Written, directed, produced, starring (and pretty much anything else you can think of!) Karl Holt, Benny Loves You is not only a hilarious comedy horror, but a labour of love. We spoke to Karl about what audiences can expect from Benny…

Where did everything start with you for Benny Loves You?

It’s based off a short film I made a long time ago. Essentially it was a very small idea of a cuddly toy with a killer instinct, who would repeat the lovely phrases on his voice-box while terrifying his victim. The short took me a few months to make back in 2007 and it seemed to go down well in festivals at the time.

I always wanted to take the idea to a feature eventually, but it needed a total rewrite from the ground up to give it the legs and substance for a feature. I left it on the shelf for many years but as a first movie, it ticked a few boxes: minimal cast, contained location and a lovable furry villian at its heart.

What were your inspirations when writing Benny Loves You?

I’m sure it’s all subconscious because it’s a real miss mash of all the stuff I grew up watching mixed with dark humour. I tried to give the story my own spin as it’s a very oversubscribed sub-genre. But once I had the main events I’d go back and layer in some of those homages where appropriate. You can’t really do that with a serious horror, but with comedy, I think it’s a much better match. There are so many in there I’ve even forgotten what they are. But of course Gremlins, slasher films, even Aliens gets a shout. I never wanted that stuff to take over what I was doing though, I really aimed for Benny to be its own thing.

You did so much of Benny Loves You yourself – which element was the hardest and which was your favourite?

Producing is the hardest part, and it’s emotionally draining too. Even on a tiny film like this there are tons to do before you roll the camera. From hires, set dressing, prop making, scheduling, location scouting, casting, legal stuff. it’s all boring back-end work that just makes me wanna crawl under a quilt for a month. But once we’re filming or sat editing I’m a lot happier. Maybe next time I’ll have more people to help with those things I hated doing!

What advice would you give to budding filmmakers out there who also want to create a film themselves?

Ha, I really wouldn’t advise to do it like I did, unless you’re happy to lose five years of your life unpaid. So yeah, don’t write Lord Of The Rings and try to shoot it in your back garden on a greenscreen. Hollywood is always going to do spectacle better than any indie can, so you’re fighting a losing battle anyway. You have to bring a unique perspective to the work instead. Take a chance Hollywood would never. Make a list of all your skills, actors you know, locations you have access to, and then write something based on that alone.

My first draft of Benny was probably a $10 million movie lol, so I’m speaking from experience here. Write an engaging script in a confined location. Or not, but you’re making life hard for yourself otherwise. A good script isn’t reliant on special effects. People seem to remark on the end of Benny because it’s where the effects ramp up, but in truth I took as much care on the script, whether it shows or not, that’s the most important thing to nail.

Benny Loves You is a comedy horror – what is it about those two genres that go so well together and how did you ensure you kept the balance between the two right throughout the movie?

There’s a deep psychological connection between comedy and horror which I’m sure I’d fail to articulate here if I tried, but I think if the tone Is right, they are interchangeable because one is almost an instinctive reaction to the other. Even in the worst situations, we have a defense mechanism to seek out ways to lighten the moment. Comedy horror is literally laughing in the face of death, and in that way, they can be perfect companions.

With Benny, I didn’t really push that tone as dark as it could go; it’s intentionally light and slapstick. The way I approached it was having some rules over certain elements which were kept serious, and the rest were always funny. I tried to set the tone from the opening scene and then run with it consistently throughout the film. I like to set a tonal palette first in the same way you might have a colour palette. You can, of course, change tones, but in my opinion, the seeds have to be planted in the first act.

A lot of this is simply taste, and is probably why comedy horror is not a genre where there’s universal agreement on what works.  Most of us can agree on what makes us sad, or tense, but not on what’s funny. As such it’s a genre that is harder to get right.

Benny kills many people in a variety of ways in Benny Loves You, what is your favourite kill and were there any you couldn’t include?

Well because of the budget, many death scenes were cut or simplified. In the first draft there were many more over-the-top deaths that came out due to tone or when I realised I wanted the audience to love Benny; that limits who he can kill and how!

Perhaps my favourite isn’t an actual death, but Benny making a cup of tea while his victim slowly dies in the other room. I particularly like the conclusion of that drawn out sequence lol.

What would you say audiences will take away from Benny Loves You?

There are certainly themes buried within, but it would be misleading to say these are the focus or distract from the mayhem. It’s a comedy horror first and foremost, and hopefully people will have a really fun time with it and I’d like to think it has heart too.

It does touch on the dangers of repressing your inner child if people care to look deeper. In many ways Benny is the alter ego of Jack that comes to life after being locked in the basement with all his childhood belongings;  Jack’s boxed up emotions bubbling to the surface in the form of Benny. He does many things Jack would like to, but can’t. As if Jack’s emotions are out of control inside Benny. It’s almost a reverse man-child film, where our protagonist has to learn to re-embrace his childhood in order to move on. The final act is basically a grown man playing with his toys for the last time.

But if people don’t pick up on those things, it’s also fine.  There’s a time and a place for going really deep and you have to judge what’s the right level for the film. I didn’t want any of that to take centre stage. Benny was always meant to be a bit of a roller-coaster ride and if people take that from it I’m happy.

What’s next for you?

Hopefully something good! We will have to wait and see…

Benny Loves You is out now from Darkline Entertainment.