Ted Geoghegan talks about a classic slasher film like Julia Child talks about the butter in French onion soup—it's something to savor without guilt. For the former Missoula-based filmmaker who currently lives in New York City, the common elements of a slasher film don't constitute formulaic laziness, but rather define a genre in the most delicious way possible. Don't think of Final Destination, he says. Think of the 1976 horror fest Black Christmas or John Carpenter's 1978 Halloween or, more recently, Hatchet and Wrong Turn 2.
"It's the same reason the Saw movies are doing so well," Geoghegan explains. "They don't change the formula. They follow a distinct pattern. There are so many slasher movies that are coming out these days that try to change the formula and it doesn't feel like the films I grew up watching."
In Missoula, Geoghegan is best known for his 2004 film, Ghouls Gone Wild, a campy rock 'n' roll horror about former dirty rock group the International Playboys. The band ends up in Garnet Ghost Town and is seduced, killed and resurrected as the un-dead by a gaggle of ghoul girls (full disclosure: I starred as one of the girls).
Geoghegan's latest effort, Sweatshop, follows a more classic slasher storyline: In their quest to party, a handful of teenagers end up face-to-face with a monstrous killer who picks them off one at a time. In Geoghegan's spin of the standard setup, the teenagers are from the electronica subculture and their attempt to throw a rave at an old warehouse turns grizzly when they happen upon a giant killer, covered in rags and animal pelts and referred to as "The Beast."
Just watching the trailer shows how far Geoghegan has come since Ghouls Gone Wild. The 30-year-old film buff has been making horror and slasher films for almost a decade, and the experience he's reaped from doing at least one film project per year as either director, writer, associate producer or producer, shows in Sweatshop's glossy, more professional production. Every year, he says, he's ratcheted up his budgets. And his move to New York City two-and-a-half years ago connected him with more professional actors and filmmakers.
"Although I love Ghouls Gone Wild with all my heart, it was an amateur film made by a bunch of amateurs, and I say that in the most loving way possible," he says. "I had no idea how to direct, I had no idea how to produce...Sweatshop is definitely the culmination of experience."
Sweatshop was made without studio backing, financed with personal funds from the crew and a few other private backers. Geoghegan joined forces with director Stacy Davidson, who had just finished a film called Domain of the Damned, and the two filmed Sweatshop on location in Texas in 2007.
"Stacy and I both grew up watching slasher movies," says Geoghegan. "We decided from day one that Sweatshop was going to be like our love letter to '80s slasher movies. We're very honest in that we didn't try to break new ground for this film. We wanted to make a film that felt like the movies we grew up watching."
The filmmakers used Houston's Meridian nightclub and industrial warehouses and steel mills around the city as their backdrop. And because Davidson was already entrenched in the raver scene there, they were able to find actors who could play the roles with authenticity.
"I drew a lot of inspiration from an '80s movie called Return of the Living Dead about a bunch of punk rockers who have to fight zombies," Geoghegan says. "We thought in terms of the look and feel that was kind of what we were going for, except instead of everyone looking like a punk rocker they all look like they shop at Hot Topic."
Geoghegan says the fun of making Sweatshop was that the protagonists, not just "The Beast," all wear elaborate costumes because of the raver subculture. One actor sports a liberty spike mohawk, which Geoghegan and Davidson had to make sure didn't wilt from getting too sweaty or wet or bloody throughout the filming. Other actors have piercings, multi-colored hair and gothic make-up. Geoghegan says he and Davidson wanted it to appeal audiences who both related to the subculture and to those who find it annoying.
"It appeals to people who want to watch raver kids get killed in a slasher movie," says Geoghegan, laughing.
Slasher films often get a bad rap because, when it comes down to it, they're grossly violent—and especially harsh toward women. Geoghegan agrees, but one of his favorite parts of the slasher formula, he says, is "the final girl" aspect.
"She's always the one character defined almost from the moment the movie starts as the virginal, maybe not-so-heroic character who is going to defeat the villain," he says. "A lot of the violence is perpetrated to women by men, but the majority of these films also end with a woman taking care of the male killer and eventually saving the day."
Sweatshop has a final girl, Geoghegan discloses, but in his film she's tough to pick out right away. "We introduce eight characters," he says, "[but you] can't tell who she is, which makes it fun."
Geoghegan shows the film's first screening in Missoula on Monday, Sept. 7, before another premiere in New York. He says the final cut contains all the elements of a classic thrasher—violence, sexiness and camp—and that he's not looking to entertain lunatics as much as satisfy the most ardent horror fans.
"Ultimately, it's a rather nihilistic little genre," he says. "But slasher films really defined a whole generation of filmgoers...I'm so tired of horror movies these days where the purpose is to really depress you and make you sick to your stomach. Sweatshop is scary, but it's still, at its root, just a fun movie."
Sweatshop screens at the Roxy Monday, Sept. 7, at 8 PM. $6. 18+ only.