The Dollmaker is a brilliant little Faustian dark fantasy tale, that cautions against the treachery of desperation and wish fulfillment.
Director Al Lougher has created a tale of a couple whose son has passed away far too young, and through the power of a dollmaker, have found a way to bring their son back to life. But there are rules, and the rules must be adhered to. Or else!
The Dollmaker was my favorite short film from the Portland Horror Film Festival; it immediately engaged me and I thought it exhibited a perfect economy of storytelling. The film would go on to win the best horror film at San Diego Comicon, and it’s easy to understand why. The film has a polish that is unusual in the short film scene. The script is spot on, and the story is clear and compelling. The acting trio of Perri Lauren (Jenna), Sean Meehan (Rick), and Dan Berkey (The Dollmaker) perfectly convey all the emotional beats needed to spin this story.
There’s a familiar trope at work here. This is the “Be careful what you ask for” parable, seen in Pet Sematary, Wishmaster, and Leprechaun. The Dollmaker here is not specifically called out as a devil, or a genie, but his role is the same. He provides a service, one that will fulfill the most fervent hopes of the young couple, and you just KNOW that they won’t be able to hold up to their end of the bargain. It also plays like a modern Grimm Fairy Tale, with a fantastic dark twist.
Al was generous enough to reach out to The Scariest Things so that we could share his work with our fan-base, and was willing to share some of his experiences with us!
TST: What is your background in film? Have you always worked in the horror/fantasy genre? How many films have you made?
AL: This is my 5th short film. I have no formal training or background in film other than the cliched answer that I used to mess around with making stupid films in my backyard with my friends as a kid (I grew up in the 70’s/80’s). However, I have been working in photography most of my life and I have shot the odd music video and commercial or two. All of my films are in the horror genre and about 60% of them are about vampires for some strange reason. Not sure why, probably because Salem’s Lot is one of my favorite films and books ever.
TST: How long did it take for you to craft this film? The level of polish suggests it was done over a short period, though I know that sometimes these things are a labor of love that can take a very long time to create due to budgets and schedules.
AL: We started pre-production in May/June 2017 and shot the film over 4 days in a hot basement in Queens, NY late July 2017. It didn’t take that long to bring everything together production-wise, but the script itself had been gathering dust since 2014.
My producer Richard D’Angelo, who teaches film production at the New York Film Academy, had optioned it from a fantastic writer by the name of Matias Caruso (he recently penned the Joe Lynch action-horror flick “Mayhem”) and so the script was mainly used by Richard to teach his students in class. They would dissect the script and use it to learn both story-telling techniques as well as how to create budgets etc. I had become involved because I was working with Matias on some other projects and he sent me the Dollmaker script, which is probably the best short script I’ve ever read. I immediately contacted Richard and asked him if I could direct it and we just started slowly planning things out.
So overall, the film probably took 3-4 years to come together! Also, a lot of the crew were from the New York Film Academy and were probably some of the most professional crew I’ve ever worked with.
TST: How did you cast The Dollmaker? All of your performers hit it out of the park! Were these actors who you’ve worked with in the past?
AL: All of the actors were found and auditioned in NYC and I never worked with them before this film. We had a great casting director whose work has spanned many movies so we had a large pool of talent to pull from. Dan Berkey, who played the Dollmaker character, was a rare find. As soon as I saw his audition tape I knew he was the right fit. Likewise, Perri Lauren and Sean Meehan, who played the Deytons, nailed it in their auditions.
The only role we struggled with was for Tim, because first off we needed a boy to be a certain age, height and look, and since I have a photography background I’ve done my time in the family portrait space, so I knew what it was like working with young kids. It’s hard to find child actors under the age of 4 or 5, which is the age we were looking for. To make things even worse, when we did find someone we liked we’d send over the script to their parents and then of course once they’ve read the opening paragraph describing a dead boy in a coffin, they’d quickly turn us down. No surprise there! So we were still looking for someone to play Tim literally days before production started. Luckily, we found young Tony Hutaj at the last minute and both he and his mother were such joys to work with. They say never work with children or animals, but Tony was amazing.
TST: I get a lot of “Monkey’s Paw” background to this film. This is a strong “Be careful what you ask for” parable. What other influences did you have in writing and creating this story?
AL: While I didn’t write the script, the conversations I’ve had with Matias suggest a similar influence on himself, but for me, I was certainly influenced by films like Pet Sematary or episodes from Tales From The Crypt. I’ve had a lot of people come up to me after a screening to tell me it reminded them of the Twilight Zone, which is certainly a series I love and has influenced some of my previous work.
TST: What’s next for you? Are you going to continue to make short films, or are you hoping to start doing features?
AL: I’m pretty much done with short films for now and my main focus is a feature for 2019. I’m currently working on a female-led psychological horror about a recovering drug addict who enrolls in a rehabilitation program that uses a ground-breaking all-natural medicine to purify the body, but she soon suspects that the treatment is not what it seems and begins to unravel its terrifying secrets. It’s got body horror and paganistic cults in it. Sort of Raw vs The Wicker Man. Cults have always fascinated me and there seems to be a resurgence in that lately (ie Hereditary) so it’s just a question of finding funding really.
TST: Fantastic! We look forward to your feature film, so please keep us posted your progress in that effort. And with that, please enjoy the full film below: