EXCLUSIVE: Jonathan Sothcott on The Exorcism of Karen Walker “It is the best horror movie I’ve made”

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Jonathan Sothcott is one of the UK’s most prolific and successful film producers with hits such as Vendetta, We Still Kill The Old Way and The Krays – Dead Man Walking under his belt. His new film, The Exorcism of Karen Walker, takes him back to his horror movie roots. We caught up with him to find out all about it.

Q. Are you a horror film fan?

Yes, unequivocally. My parents started letting me watch the Hammer Horror films when I was 7 and I was absolutely captivated by them – they were like darker fairy tales. Things like Curse of the Werewolf and Brides of Dracula were much more entertaining to me than kids’ films. My mum took me to meet Peter Cushing at a book signing when I was 8 and that sealed the deal – he was lovely, a real old fashioned gent. As I became a teenager I started watching all the 80s and 90s horrors – Fright Night, A Nightmare On Elm Street etc and when I became a journalist the first magazine to give me a break was The DarkSide. When I was just 19 I wrote a book about Christopher Lee and spent some time with him so my love of the classics never went away. Five years later I was one of the founders of The Horror Channel on Sky and worked as Head of Programming for them. So you might say horror is in the blood with me!

Q. What’s your favourite horror movie?

Oh my god that’s hard – that’s like asking me which of my kids I prefer! I don’t think I can narrow it down to one. If Jaws is a horror movie its Jaws. But I don’t think it is. American Werewolf in London. Twilight Zone The Movie. Halloween. Witchfinder General. Horror Express. The Lost Boys. Salem’s Lot. Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. The Devil Rides Out. Return of The Living Dead. The Howling. A Nightmare On Elm Street. Angel Heart. Its just too hard!

Q. Given your love of the genre why haven’t you made more?

Because until now the ones I’ve made have been decidedly hit and miss. The first feature film I produced, Stalker, was a very good little psychological horror, and it was directed by my great friend Martin Kemp – which means it was a pleasure to make. But it was also blessed with a great cast and beautifully shot. Thereafter there was always something lacking – Devil’s Playground had a great cast and great action but the story was too formulaic, Elfie Hopkins was a neat idea but the execution was lacking, Airborne starred Mark Hamill but the script was jumbled and confusing. They just never quite worked so I stuck with the crime/action films where I had the formula down to a fine art.

Q. Where did the idea for The Exorcism of Karen Walker come from?

As a horror completist I eventually stumbled across obscure 90s sequel Omen IV: The Awakening – a pretty unmemorable movie but it was the first time I’d heard of kirlian photography, which I thought was a great concept. At some point I looked it up and read about it and thought it would make a great horror movie concept. I developed it for a few years with a writer pal, Matthew McGuchan (he came up with the title) and Matthew wrote a couple of drafts. We finally got it together very late in 2017 and the result is a solid little genre movie.

Q. Why was the title changed from Aura? I thought that was a better title.

Believe me, so did I! But whether we like it or not, this is a genre film that needs to sell and the distributors work very closely with retail in order to ensure the most copies are on the shelf. I’m constantly amused by people who think its as simple as shooting a film, cutting it together and then just releasing it. I guess you can do that if your ambition is youtube but the film business is a complex one with carefully selected release windows. We went through many title changes and even more design concepts with this film to ensure it had retail support. So sure I prefer Aura but I’m all about selling DVDs, that’s the game I’m in, so whatever makes people buy it.

Q. How did the cast come together?

Shane Taylor was an actor who had been in Devil’s Playground and had almost stolen the show – I really liked him and knew that he’d be a solid anchor for the film – he’s a very subtle, nuanced actor and you totally believe him. He’s a really nice guy too. Janine Nerissa was, of course my girlfriend and sure there was nepotism – I’d be an idiot if I said there wasn’t – but I wouldn’t have given her a lead role in a movie if I didn’t think she’d be brilliant as the only person who’d look foolish would be me. And egg on face is not a look I enjoy. Of course she’s fantastic in the film – she’s such a talented girl. She came to acting later in life but she has real ability and star quality. So that was easy. Rula Lenska’s agent is a friend and he suggested her and of course I jumped at the chance. She was a delight. Denise Moreno’s agent is also a friend and she went on tape with hundreds of other people and was by far the best. Jay Sutherland had been in Vendetta. Good actor. Steve Dolton is in all the director’s films. Jane MacFarlane auditioned – good actress. They were all a lovely bunch and it was a tough shoot. I’d work with all of them again in a heartbeat.

Q. Any funny stories from the making of the film?

It wasn’t funny at the time but one night Janine and I were coming back from shooting to the rather salubrious hotel we were staying in and stopped in the car park to get something from our car. Out jumped two very angry drug dealers who threated to shoot us… so we had it away on our toes sharpish!

Q. What do you think of the finished film?

I think it is an excellent low budget horror movie which genre fans will enjoy. It’s a slow burn and its very much performance driven but the performances are excellent and the scares work. I just read a review which described it as “The Exorcist as an episode of Hammer House of Horror’ and I think that sums it up brilliantly. This may be damning it with faint praise but it is the best horror movie I’ve made. Simon Cluett, who wrote We Still Steal The Old Way, said it is one of the 5 best films I’ve made. He may just be right.

Q. Why should people buy The Exorcism of Karen Walker?

Because it’s a decent, well-made horror film with good actors and a great story. Its not the usual straight to DVD horror fare with a misleading cover that was shot on an iphone in someone’s garden. If, like me, you enjoy the classic horrors, this is absolutely one for you. And if this one sells well, we’ll make more!

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