One thing horror is good for is cultivating new talents. One of them is Denesa Chan. If you’ve been on the horror convention circuit then you’ve probable seen her. Denesa is a one woman show. Producer, actor, and professional dancer, she’s a triple threat to be reckoned with. Her new film, Hail Satan, is making the festival rounds right now and can be seen this weekend at San Diego’s Horrible Imaginings. If you live in Southern California, you know have homework. Denesa found time in her busy schedule to chat about something I call…The 13 Question Marks of Horror Dun Dun Duuun!!!!
- You’re a prominent fixture at horror festivals. What movie or experience first got you into horror?
I absolutely love horror festivals. They’re filled with two things I love: great creative people with artistic guts and kick-ass films with that same misfit-tendency. As for what got me into horror: I’ve always had an extremely vivid imagination. When I was a tiny little girl my older neighbor used to come over and force me to listen to her read the Book of Revelation from the Bible. There is some extremely twisted, sadistic imagery in that there book. The moon dripping with blood, fire blazing from the sky, the horned beast himself… It freaked me out so bad I literally saw the red glowing eyes of Satan in my pantry.
2. You started off as an actor. How did you get into producing?
I have an innate need to be an actor. It’s like a tiger’s drive to hunt. I’ve always known that I would be an actor, since before I could talk. It’s what I’ll be doing until the day I die. It’s who I am… Being a producer, on the other hand, went something like this: I always care about the projects I’m in, and I have a natural curiosity and hunger for filmmaking and learning. I’m not afraid to work hard to make projects the best they can be… Plus I always ask “Need any help?”… You do that long enough and you go from “just” an actor to an actor-producer real quick. I’m also pleased to mention that this year, I started my production company, Fierce Pixie Films (www.FiercePixieFilms.com). Look out for future kick-ass badass films from us.
3. You’re also a talented dancer is there one you prefer above the other?
Dancing, like pretty much everything else in my life stemmed from my acting. I started serious conservatory acting training at the LA County High School for the Arts and studied theater at NYU’s Lee Strasberg Institute then toured around the world performing. Somewhere along the way, I felt extremely confined by traditional narrative structure, and I rebelled against it hardcore, finding solace in the boundary-pushing world of the absurd and the avant garde. It wasn’t long before I was seduced by experimental physical theater (I performed Suzuki, a Japanese experimental physical theater form based on Noh and Kabuki, for a while.) From physical theater it was short leap (bad pun) to dance theater then to modern and even aerial dance. (Aerial dance is what they do in Cirque du Soleil with the high-flying silks, bungees and harnesses, for those who are wondering.) That whole time, I was still passionately in love with film, especially indies, and eventually I came to crave a good story. Now I’m back in the world of narrative storytelling with a whole new thirst and appreciation.
4. You produced a pretty intense short called “Kiss before The Slaughter”. What was it like putting on the producer’s hat on the first day?
I came aboard the project intending to be an actor and nothing more. (I play Luz, a campesino girl from Mexico who is abducted by an underground organ-harvesting operation and brutally murdered.) There was plenty on the production side that needed to get done, and I kept volunteering to do it… (Silly me!) … It wasn’t long before I was instrumental in helping to assess, plan and implement the whole film. So, basically I was wearing a producer’s hat long before I had the official title. I even ended up being second-unit director and stunt coordinator, which was a blast! There’s nothing like hanging out of a van careening through the middle of the desert with a guy jumping from the roof to the hood of the car, while jousting a poor schmuck who is running away on foot! And shooting it on 2-perf 35mm no less! (aka CinemaScope: the ultra-gorgeous, ultra-wide format that you’d recognize from THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY.) Oh, and I also got to throw molotov cocktails on the director and set him on fire!! Good times.
5. Was that performance more emotionally draining or physically draining?
Oddly enough that performance was totally exhilarating! When I’m shooting an intense scene, I get very focused… I forget to eat or drink. I don’t feel extreme cold or heat. It’s visceral, but thrilling at the same time. And once it’s over, there’s the total rush that comes with a job well done. People often ask me how I prepare for an emotionally intense scene. (Spoiler Alert: In Kiss Before the Slaughter, I emerge from a morgue slab having been abducted and operated on. My stitches burst open, spewing my intestines. I crawl towards the door, leaving a trail of red behind me, only to be discovered by a man with a gun. My screams for my life fall on deaf ears as I’m shot in the forehead at point blank range. Splat.) In order to be true to the situation (in the story) I had to be completely in the moment (like all good acting), so instead of planning out how to play it (which would be too canned and rigid), I did my prep work on my imaginary life before that moment and my imaginary thirst for my imaginary future, so I am free to have an improvisational state of mind within scripted material when action is called. … When we arrived on set, we only had one take to get everything perfect. As a team we worked out our timing, my physicality, pathway, eye-movements… every little detail… It was like a dance. In fact, I thank my dance and theater training because my body did exactly what we rehearsed even though the only thing my mind was conscious of was waking up in a morgue in terrible pain with my guts spilling out and trying like hell to escape.
6. What was it like to see yourself die on camera?
Hahaha.. It freaked out my friends and family. That’s for sure. They said, “Denesa, we love you and all, but don’t make us watch you die! Seriously!” … When I saw the footage I was wearing the producer hat, so I was just happy that we got the timing right and that it looked great. We all breathed a huge sigh of relief and high-fived in the telecine studio (while wearing our sleep-deprived grins of insanity).
7. Hail Satan is a horror comedy. Can you tell me about the genesis of the project?
“Hail Satan!” is a highly stylized, super saturated, horror comic book on steroids. It started with me saying, “Hmmm.. My friends and I need a way to get into the union… And I don’t feel like waiting around or depending on someone else to make it happen.” So, I called John Farrell, who is one of the funniest people I know and also an avid horror fan and said, “Let’s make a short!… I want to do something really fun, and I have swords, skulls
, candles and lots of hot goth clothing.” In no time at all the suburban goth kids theme was born, and John handed me the first draft. Then I assembled the team (including Buffy the Vampire Slayer composer Shawn K. Clement), and knew it needed an over the top Giallo
-esque visual aesthetic to push it to utter ridiculousness. That and some guy-liner.
8. Hail Satan has already won the Independent Spirit Award. What about this short do you feel connects with people?
It’s such a crazy, quirky film. I’m always amazed how people connect to it, but people have said that even though the situation is absurd, they can identify with the characters. They’re all trying hard to be hardcore, to be a part of the party. I think we’ve all felt that at some point. It’s the feeling that everyone around you is cooler than you, but it’s fun to catch people with their proverbial pants down and their inner dork dangling in the wind.
9. In the film you play Samantha, a sexy and playful vixen. What’s her story?
Wow, great question. No one ever asks that! Samantha is the fierce bipolar anime super vixen of the group. (‘Cuz, you know, every group has to have one, right?) She’s a super pink girly girl by day, and a super dark goth by night. The character in many ways grew out of my frustration at having to be two different people in this LA town: the sweet, clean-cut Hollywood actress on ABC Family by day, and the rocker anime punk by night. When I would meet people on set (sporting a pony tail and sparkly gymnastics leotard), they would say, “Sorry, honey. You could never believably pull off a goth look. You’re just not bad or sexy enough to be cast as a vixen.” And when I’d meet friends at a night club (donning corsets and chains), they were like, “Baha… You? Sweet and innocent? No one’s going to cast you as the girl next door. You could eat her for breakfast!” I guess I’m just headstrong enough to say, “Okay, if no one’s going to cast me as both, I’ll do it myself.”
10. Though the characters are very funny, there is a ring of truth in them. Ever know anybody like them?
Thank you!… I went to an arts high school (the west coast equivalent of FAME). It was amazing because we were a collection of all the outcasts and misfits who didn’t want to conform to a normal high school existence. We were the kids who would normally be picked on and beat up, but in our school, we made the (totally arbitrary and non-sensical) rules, much like the characters in Hail Satan.
11. Would you like to revisit that character in a feature?
People have said they’d like to see a feature version of Hail Satan, which is very flattering. I’d totally be down. It was a fun part to bring to life and a great group of people to work with. So, yeah, I’d gladly ride the waves of a feisty anime goth vixen/ ultra pink girl next door again… Hell, I already have the wardrobe.
12. After acting and producing, do you plan on trying your hand at directing?
I get that question about directing all the time.. I wonder if people are trying to tell me something?… I absolutely love all aspects of filmmaking, and I am amazed by the talent that each person brings to the team. When I produce, I’m a part of the creative core, generating ideas and following through without regard to job titles. I’d be open to co-directing with someone I share a strong vision with. But regardless, I will always, first and foremost, be an actor. My first passion is getting down and dirty and living the life that the writer dreams up. They imagine the world, and I get to live in it, to find out what it tastes like… How it feels to inhabit that skin, to see through those eyes, to breathe that air. I have the best job on the planet. I get to live hundreds, thousands of lives instead of just one.
13. What can the horror community look forward to next from Denesa Chan?
Certainly not sleep! Hahaha… There are a couple projects that I can’t talk about yet, including a comic book in which I’ll play/embody twin sisters!… But I can talk about my very next project: I’m in pre-production on a character-driven psychological thriller feature (along the lines of ROSEMARY’S BABY) called VIRGIN FOREST about a young woman with a dark history of being in and out of mental hospitals her whole life, menaced by what is either a haunting supernatural force or schizophrenic delusions. Either way she finds herself in a small, isolated forest community when the shit hits the fan. Dean Bertram, director of A Night of Horror and Fantastic Planet – Australia’s top genre festivals, is writing/directing and co-producing. After seeing my work in “Hail Satan!” he cast me in the starring role and asked me to co-produce as well. So, once again I’ll be straddling both sides of the camera.
D: Thank you so much for taking the time to watch Hail Satan and write about it! You rock!
SC: You rock harder!
For more on Denesa and her films including Hail Satan! Check out the links below:
Other Horrific Musings: