Death House: An Interview With Aleksandra Svetlichnaya
by: Stephen Ingves
For nearly two years I have observed an intense fervor for an independent film like I have never seen before. The way it has been continuously discussed and asked about within Horror Movie Freaks, amongst friends and of course over social media reminds me of the excitement and anticipation usually reserved for a select few of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters. It can be hard to match the passion horror fans possess for their favorite horror icons. Many of which we grew up with and who helped to shape and mold our love for the horror genre. And what helped drive this whirlwind of excitement was the fact that an unbelievable number of those favorites within horror were all brought together under a single banner…one title…DEATH HOUSE!!!
Originally written by the legendary Gunnar Hansen, who then worked together with the films Director Harrison Smith prior to Gunnar’s untimely passing, the film was truly dedicated to Gunnar. In fact prior to each take, many of the cast would say “This Is For You Gunnar”. Horror fans of all sorts were united by their love for the artists who’s careers have spanned a number of decades and covered a variety of styles within the genre. Actors such as Kane Hodder, Tony Todd, Dee Wallace, Adrienne Barbeau, Sean Whalen, Felissa Rose, Camille Keaton, Michael Berryman, Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, and R.a. Mihailoff, along with so many others I can’t even name them all here, all star in this film! And believe me I’m not talking about cameos.
I was blessed to get to see Death House alongside many of the cast at Scare-a-con in Springfield, Mass last June of 2017 and I’ve been struggling to contain my excitement so as not to spoil it for anyone else. Above is a picture from Scare-a-con of a panel where the director and several of the cast discussed the film. But the reason we’re here is Horror Movie Freaks is lucky to have such a great friend like Philip Rogers who put us in touch with Aleksandra Svetlichnaya!
The multi-talented Aleksandra was cast as one of the prison’s security guards and was also a member of the incredible stunt team led by Jae Greene of Greene Monster Stunts! Together as a group they pulled off some absolutely amazing stunt work throughout this fast paced, thrill ride of a movie.
We were fortunate to be able to speak with Aleksandra about her experience filming Death House, along with some of her other current projects and her work as a producer, stunt performer, director and writer.
Hello Aleksandra! Thank you so much for taking a few minutes to chat with us at Horror Movie Freaks!
–Hi Stephen, I’m more than happy to do it. Thank you so much for your interest in my work!
Would you mind telling us a little bit about where you are from? Are both your parents Russian and were you born in the U.S.?
–I was not. I was born in Kharkov, Ukraine. My parents are Russian and Ukrainian by heritage and I was raised in a Russian-speaking household.
I know you are a director, actress, writer, producer, stuntwoman, and even worked in the Costume department. Do you have a preference and is there a particular direction you see your career taking? Also what helped expose you to so many of the facets of the filmmaking business?
–There’s basically one thing that answers both of those questions – I have a hard time keeping my nose out of all the things! Professionally, I started in the Costume department and then finagled my way into everything else. But on a non-professional level, I always enjoyed all sorts of creative things: writing, drawing, performing. Essentially, I don’t like to limit myself to any one (or five) creative outlet(s). Ideally, I would like for my career to continue in the same fashion. I would always be extremely hands-on with all aspects of my own projects, like the DINNERVERSE, and then hop over to other projects as an actor, writer, director, costume designer – whatever!
That’s fantastic and speaks of the tremendous amount of talent you possess to be so well rounded and proficient in so many areas of filmmaking. I’m happy you mentioned DINNERVERSE, so we can jump back to Death House in a second. I was wondering if you could explain a little about your film series DINNERVERSE and what the series itself consists of?
-The DINNERVERSE is a short film anthology series that I write, produce, direct and act in. It is very much a mixture of genres, including horror, comedy and action-adventure. The series features a kickass female protagonist and Girl Power is always an important theme for us.
-Each short film, or “course” stands alone on its’ own and you’re able to watch them in any order. But there are definitely Easter Eggs and connective threads throughout the courses to bring the DINNERVERSE together and make things more interesting and fun! Currently “Dinner” and “Breakfast” (which screened and had a panel at San Diego Comic Con 2017!) are available for public viewing on our YouTube Channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQnYxtJl1o4Z_vnBP1sXu0w
–DINNERMOVIE 4 and 5 (working titles) are currently in Post Production and will premiere later this year. I think it’s also important to note that the entire series so far has been created on a completely $0 budget! Everyone on the cast and crew is insanely talented and has generously volunteered their time to this project. I am so grateful for that!
WOW! To complete all you have done on a $0 budget is unbelievable! It undoubtedly speaks volumes about not only your talent but the dedication, loyalty and drive the team you have assembled around you also has. Also congratulations on all of it’s success at various screenings and film festivals! Would you mind providing just a small gist of what someone could expect from some of the shorts in the series?
–Expect the unexpected! The series is built on breaking stereotypes in film, especially those about women. There are always important issues being addressed, but expect to be entertained at the same time. I like to push the boundaries with the themes, be it girl power or horror, but also with what one can expect from an independent, $0 budget series, created by a blonde “model-type” girl.
Sounds extremely intriguing! And one thing we have always been at Horror Movie Freaks are huge supporters of indie projects. What inspired you to create the theme behind this series?
-I started doing martial arts when I was ten with Shotokan karate and have tried my hand..get it?..literally? 🙂 at many other styles at this point. With that background, I thought I would be doing action roles when I got into acting and instead all I was getting were the “helpless pretty girl” type roles. Which was so wrong for me on so many levels. So I opted out of that nonsense and decided to create my own short film, which was the original DINNER movie. This allowed me to do fight choreography and stunts and all that stuff that I had been dying to do, but it also created an opportunity to represent women in a way that I could be proud of. People are always shocked that I do martial arts and stunts, and I like to challenge the popular expectations of women on screen, in film and in life. Why is a young, blonde woman automatically seen as a victim? Why is it shocking that she can throw a punch? Young girls need to see different ideas. Wonder Woman was a huge dose of girl power last year and now the women of Black Panther are showing girls, and boys, that women can be generals among other things. At the end of the day, that drives me more than anything else.
HaHa oh I get it!…pun certainly intended! lol With as much progress as we have made there are still some of those old ridiculous stereotypes as you just mentioned that we still must shake and rid ourselves of. But you are certainly doing more than your fair share in making that happen. I truly love not only how well rounded you are but the fact that you took charge and set yourself up to be able to do the type of work you have always wanted to do and work that suits you! You are most definitely an inspiration to others, especially when it comes to hard work and creating your own path.
I’d love to ask about your stunt work. I have an incredible amount of respect for those that put their bodies on the line as stuntwomen (esp Zoe Bell lol) and men. How did you get involved in stunt work and is there an example you could share of a stunt that maybe didn’t go as planned?
-Zoe Bell rocks! I have exactly zero business being in the same sentence as her! I initially started doing on camera stunts for the DINNERVERSE series and had my first opportunity to be a part of a professional stunt team with Death House.
–As far as stunts not going as planned – with indie filmmaking, things don’t go as planned all the time. Of course we always prepare extensively for stunts as it’s very important to me to run a safe set, but the Universe still throws curveballs your way. On the original DINNER shoot, we had a lot going on while shooting the fight sequences – it was dark, we had one light and a fire pit, and the actor playing our monster creature had difficult special effects lenses on that limited his vision. Long story short, during a sequence where we were supposed to roll to the ground and I would flip him over my head, he ended up falling on top of me and smashing his foot directly into my face. My response?…”Is the makeup ok!?!?!”
Are you a fan of horror movies in general and if so is there a particular horror film or TV show that at a young age possibly helped you become a fan of the genre?
-For me, everything goes back to “Buffy” – the TV show mostly, but yes, the movie as well. I found “Buffy” at the perfect time in my life and she impacted my journey to a huge extent. I honestly don’t believe that I would be the person I am today without her. And that includes being a fan of horror.
We had the pleasure of Harrison Smith joining us on the Horror Movie Freaks podcast while you guys were still filming Death House around May or June of 2016 and I can’t even describe what a humble, down to earth, engaging gentleman he was then, when I met him last June at Scare-a-con and again a couple weeks ago at Mad Monster in Charlotte, NC. Truly a genuine individual. And from the beginning I heard nothing but amazing things about Jae Greene and Greene Monster Stunts. Can you touch upon what it was like working with Harrison, the stunt team and being a part of a project that included so many iconic personalities in film whos careers literally span more than four decades?
-I can’t even begin to express how thankful and humbled I am to have been a small part of such an incredible project. This film is going to be something very special. I have Jae Greene, the stunt coordinator, to thank for bringing me on board. I have said this before and I will say it again, the entire stunt team was fantastic to work with. I learned so much from them all and have made some great new friends – what else can you ask for?! And Harrison is a great director to work with. He is extremely efficient, but also produces very high quality film work. And believe me, that is not a common combination!
That must have been an absolutely amazing experience and I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to speak with us about your career and your time filming Death House! We wish you all the best and nothing but great success moving forward. Thank you so much Aleksandra!
-I appreciate the support so much! Thank you!
Please be sure to check out the Death House trailer below along with getting out to support and enjoy this one of a kind masterpiece in theaters! The film will premiere Fri March 2nd at Regency Van Nuys Plant 16 in California and on March 4th at the Sherman Theater in Stroudsburg, Pa. After that the film will expand to all or most major markets in the US on Mar 9th and again on Mar 16th. Please check out the Death House Facebook page for all theater information. The FB link is provided below!
Death House FB link: https://www.facebook.com/DeathHouseHorror
Death House trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=97ZMB4CsABk
Also included below is the link to the DINNERVERSE Facebook page where you can find all information and updates for Aleksandra’s film series!
DINNERVERSE FB link: https://www.facebook.com/Dinnerverse/