Movies & TV / Columns

Rolfe Kanefsky On His New Horror Movie Art of the Dead, How the Genre Has Changed

November 1, 2019 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Art of the Dead

The 411 Interview: Rolfe Kanefsky


Rolfe Kanefsky is a writer, director, and producer that has been making movies since the early 1990’s. Kanefsky has directed horror movies (Dead Scared/The Hazing, Nightmare Man), comedies (Pretty Cool and Pretty Cool Too), and even softcore erotic comedies (Emmanuelle 2000: Emmanuelle’s Intimate Encounters), among others (check out his full filmography here). Kanefsky’s latest effort as a director is the awesome horror flick Art of the Dead featuring Tara Reid and Richard Grieco and now available on DVD and via various Video On Demand portals including Amazon, Comcast Xfinity InDemand, Charter, Cox, and others. In this interview, Kanefsky talks with this writer about making Art of the Dead, his career, the current world of the low budget B-movie, and more.



Bryan Kristopowitz: Why did you want Art of the Dead to be your next movie as a director?

Rolfe Kanefsky: Want rarely has anything to do with it. A director’s career is kind of at the mercy of what funding comes through and when. With Art of the Dead, I had previously made a movie with Michael and Sonny Mahal, two producing brothers based in Vegas. They had hired me to write some projects for them and then to write and direct a film called Bus Party to Hell. They were very happy how that one turned out so they wanted to do another horror film with me. They threw out a lot of concepts that I wasn’t thrilled with because I had seen too many movies that matched their ideas. Finally, they suggested a concept about an art collector who buys some paintings that start to kill him and his family. I thought that was an interesting premise and it hadn’t been done too often before. I’m also a big fan of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery television series so I thought this could be a nice homage to that. From their idea, I came up with using the “Seven Deadly Sins” and that each painting represents one of the sins. After that, the script came together pretty fast and I was very happy with it. Luckily, the producers liked it as well. They went about raising money and suddenly Art of the Dead was my next movie. I was also allowed to express a lot of thoughts about what it takes to “create” and how sins corrupt in today’s world, addressing issues while also going all out with outrageous horror and creature elements. There’s a lot going on in this movie and I don’t think one can predict exactly how it’s going to end. I really enjoy making movies where there are some surprises and twists and turns. Art of the Dead also allowed me to really use lighting and visuals in cool and different ways. It was a challenging endeavor and I always look for that when I’m making a movie.

BK: Where was Art of the Dead made?

RK: The entire film was shot in Las Vegas. We found all the locations there. They were all practical locations except for one set built for when Louis meets Dorian Wilde in his 1890’s London flat. That was a small set that we created and dressed with amazing paintings from Clint Carney, who painted all of Dorian Wilde’s art, including the animals paintings that represent the Seven Deadly Sins.

BK: How did you cast Art of the Dead? How did Richard Grieco and Tara Reid get involved?

RK: Many of the cast auditioned. We had one day of casting in Los Angeles and one day in Vegas. At those sessions we found Danny Tesla (Dorian Wilde), Zack Cynz (Louis), Cynthia Aileen Strahan (Donna) and some supporting actors. I knew and had worked with Lukas Hassel (Dylan Wilson), Jessica Morris (Gina), Alex Rinehart (Kim) and Robert Donavan (Father Mendale). The children Jonah and Sheila were locals living in Vegas. Tara Reid was in my Bus Party to Hell film and the Mahals were able to get to her again to play Tess, the owner of the art gallery. The producers also tracked down Richard Grieco’s representation and got him involved. Richard loved the script since he is also a painter himself. He got the character and really brought him to life. Tara added a bit of mystery to her role, playing it like you aren’t sure if she knows more about the paintings than she’s telling. I was very happy with the entire cast of this movie.


BK: How long did it take to make Art of the Dead, from deciding on the script to finishing post-production?

RK: I wrote the first draft of the script in July of 2017. We were casting in November. Production began in April of 2018. It wrapped in the beginning of May. And final post was completed in January of 2019. So, that’s about a year and half, which is actually pretty fast for a movie from conception to completion. It was an 18 day shoot.

BK: What was the hardest part of making Art of the Dead? The easiest?

RK: Writing the script was probably the easiest. It just really flowed when I wrote it and my first draft was very close to what we shot. It was all there. Everything is hard when you’re making a movie but probably the hardest was all the stuff shot outside at the ranch. It was about a three hour drive outside of Vegas and we had a day and a half to shoot all of the stuff inside the painting with all practical effects. We had three creatures, children, a huge live snake, wind storms, dangerous terrain. Accidents occurred on that location. Our special effects guru, Vincent Guastini, was bitten by a poisonous spider and had to go the hospital. Esther Goodstein, the script supervisor, stepped in a hole and sprained her ankle. The scene in the mud with the children, Kim, and the pig creature was hell, especially for the actor playing the pig creature. The pond scene became impossible to shoot and we had to cut it. The snake wouldn’t behave. It was a nightmare but, luckily, that’s what the scene is supposed to be and it all works in the final film. It’s like a horror version of Alice In Wonderland.

BK: How did you decide on the balance of each character’s story in the body of the overall movie?

RK: That was tricky. There are about six stories taking place during Art of the Dead at the same time and they are all interwoven. One critic said there is a Tales from the Crypt or Night Gallery vibe to the vignettes that make up the movie and he’s right. We have six balls in the air at once throughout much of the film. Most of the pacing was in the script but during post, myself and Jay Woelfel, the editor, and a great consulting editor, who is also my father, Victor Kanefsky, really worked on fine-tuning this structure. The first cut of the film was about two hours and ten minutes without credits. We cut about forty minutes out of that and got the film down to 89 minutes. We moved some scenes around to keep everything balanced and had to lose some good stuff for pacing and because there was too much staring at paintings. I put together about 22 minutes of deleted/extended scenes that was supposed to be included in the DVD release but didn’t make it on to the disc. However, I do talk about some of the missing scenes on the commentary track and, if there is another pressing, maybe the deleted scenes will be added since they are advertised as special features on the box art.

BK: The special effects on display in the movie are fantastic. How much of what we see is practical effects and how much is CGI?

RK: 90% of the film is practical. We did almost everything in camera which I am very proud of. But there are about 20-30 post effect shots that Clint Carney did. Most of them are invisible and you wouldn’t even know about them, like some camera shadows that were removed and some blood that was enhanced. But all the animal and animal creatures are practical. We had real snakes, toads, and snails on set. And Vincent Guastini, our f/x guru, created our goat creature, pig creature, snail creatures and transformation effects that Lukas Hassel, Zack Chyz, and Cynthia Strahan experience. He also did all the blood, gore, and killing scenes. The film has a decent body count.

BK: How has the low budget/B-movie world changed since you started back in the early 1990’s? How has the horror genre changed since then?

RK: A lot has changed. First off, back in the early 90’s, you needed film, camera equipment and developing to make a movie. It was expensive and only people with access to money could do it. Now anyone can make a movie and they do. There are good and bad elements to this. I shot my first film in 1989 and thought a horror film couldn’t lose money. However, the horror market kind of collapsed in the early 90’s and it took almost 30 years for my first film to really find an audience and build up a reputation as a cult flick. But back in the day with video stores, you could get your films on shelves. Now, it’s all streaming and very, very hard for a low-budget B-movie to find an audience because there is so much to choose from. Many films (good and bad) get lost in the shuffle. Getting a film made is still tricky but getting a film seen is almost impossible if you don’t have a studio and their advertising budget behind it.

The one thing that hasn’t changed is the response one gets when you mix genres. All of my horror films have a sense of fun and a sense of humor. My first flick, There’s Nothing Out There was pretty much a spoof on horror movies but it was also still a horror movie. Well, I heard then and I still hear now with almost all my horror/comedies that “it’s too funny to be scary and too scary to be funny” so they don’t know how to sell it to the audience. Even though there have been numerous successful horror/comedies made, there is always that fear of crossing genres and alienating the audiences. Yes, it can be tricky to pull it off but when it works, it’s magic. Just look at Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, Fright Night, An American Werewolf In London, Tremors, Night Of The Creeps, House, Cabin In The Woods, and countless others as examples.

BK: According to imdb you’ve directed movies under various names over the years. Why do that and how do you come up with the different names (like Rafael Glen?)?

RK: All of my pseudonyms were on my late-night soft-erotic comedies. I sometimes used them if I wasn’t happy with the final result (many of these features were shot in 6 days). Other times I did it because if you have too many films that sound too sexual, it could hurt your reputation. Many don’t know the difference between soft-erotic (simulated sex) and hardcore porno. I have never done porn but some of the titles make it hard to tell what’s what for those who don’t know. I’ve tried to have fun with the fake names I’ve used over the years. With Rafeal Glen, it was easy. My parents almost named me Rafael but didn’t because they thought it would be cruel if I didn’t go into the arts. Glen is my mother’s maiden name. So Rafael Glen is still kinda Rolfe Kanefsky. I did a pretty funny sexy (softcore) comedy called Supernatural Sexual Activity and my director name on that one was “Casper Van Zuul”. I think you can figure out where I came up with that one.

BK: Any moviemaking heroes?

RK: Many. I’m a big fan of Spielberg, Hawks, Sturges, Raimi, Richard Franklin, Joseph Ruben, Frankenheimer, Scorsese, Robert Wise, John Hough, John Landis. The list could go on and on.

BK: Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?

RK: Right now I’m trying to make a living by writing some family films, Christmas movies, and Lifetime thrillers. However, there is a great werewolf script I recently wrote called Rougarou that another Vegas filmmaker named Eric Mathis is trying to find the funding for. I’d love to see that happen and might be attached as a producer if it’s goes forward. I also have a supernatural series in development with another company. And a cool sci-fi horror flick called Automation about a robot in an office building that malfunctions in a big way is coming out on December 3rd through Epic’s Dread label. I co-wrote that one and Garo Setian did a great job directing it. I hope one day soon to make Horror Fest, a script I wrote into a movie. I have a lot of horror projects waiting to be made once I find the money.

BK: Is Art of the Dead 2 a possibility?

RK: If a horror film makes enough money, there’s always a possibility. However, I think Art of the Dead is a standalone movie. I didn’t write it with a sequel in mind and I don’t think it needs one. It’s a cool, original flick and that’s what makes it special. To be honest, none of my movies have been designed to be a franchise. But I do have a fun script called There’s STILL Nothing Out There and a cool treatment for a continuation of my Nightmare Man movie but I highly doubt that would ever happen.

BK: What do you hope audiences get out of Art of the Dead ?

RK: I’m hoping audiences get taken on a fun, dark and twisted ride. It seems like everyone is enjoying it and getting different things out of watching it, which is awesome. Some like the horror and gore, others like the humor and satire, a few have pointed out the messages and literary references, some enjoy the sexiness, and still others find it disturbing. Hearing all of this is very satisfying because all of that is in this flick. I just really hope more people hear about the movie and give it a watch.

BK: Were the creepy paintings used in the movie just as creepy in real life? Who has those paintings now? And if you had to be “taken over” by one of those paintings, which one would you want to be a part of?

RK: I thought all the original paintings were beautiful in person. I think the way we shot them made them seem creepy. Clint Carney created them all under my direction and descriptions in the script and he owns all the original paintings. It was a huge undertaking and when I saw the finished paintings, I knew half of the movie was already working.

Well, everyone who is taken over by the paintings meets a pretty bad end. None of the sins are much fun when taken to extremes as they are in this flick. On the surface “lust” would seem like something enjoyable but not when it’s delivered at the hooves of a monstrous goat creature. Same goes for all paintings and their sins. It’s the stuff nightmares are made from. But in a horror film, that’s a good thing, right?


A very special thanks to Rolfe Kanefsky for agreeing to participate in this interview and to david j. moore for setting it up.

Purchase Art of the Dead on DVD here.

Check out Rolfe Kanefsky’s official website here.

Art of the Dead poster courtesy of ITN Distribution, Inc. All other images courtesy of Rolfe Kanefsky.