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A Conversation with Demián Rugna (WHEN EVIL LURKS)

Demián Rugna is an Argentinian filmmaker. He has been making horror films since his 2007 feature debut The Last Gateway. Since then, Rugna has established himself a singular and brutal style. His film from 2017 titled, Terrified, has achieved cult status, having been marked one of the best horror films of its decade. The film won best horror feature at Fantastic Fest in 2018. In the time between Terrified and his latest, When Evil Lurks, he attempted to get a remake of Terrified off the ground. Unfortunately, COVID thwarted those plans. Once that happened he committed to making When Evil Lurks which, in my opinion, is not only one of the best horror films of this decade, it is easily the most disturbing film I have seen this decade. Beware of this film, it does not hold back in any way. It is also a total masterclass on a sequence to sequence basis. I was blown away by the film and it was a total honor to speak with Rugna in the following conversation edited for length and clarity.

Hammer To Nail: Demián, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. I thought the film was incredible. As someone who watches tons and tons of horror films, it is so rare that I’m genuinely disturbed and oh my God, this movie fucked me up. There’s no other way to put it. I saw it at noon on a Monday, and I still had nightmares, so I won’t waste any more time. Very excited to talk about this film.  In 2017, you released the excellent feature, Terrified. Here we are now in 2023 with this amazing movie. I’m wondering, when was the inception of When Evil Lurks and what was your screenwriting process like?

Demián Rugna: I was working with the remake of Terrified in 2018 and during that time I began conceiving of this film. I knew I had to make it. It is a very different film from Terrified. I knew that I wanted to get out of the city with this film. That is why I thought of making a kind of road movie. I wanted a lot of characters, a lot of locations and daylight. The remake for Terrified died because of the pandemic. Once that happened I fully committed to getting this film off of the ground. The original idea for the film came from all these plantation workers in Argentina who got sick. So the genesis came from the idea that instead of sickness spreading around it would be an actual demon within a worker. It took me a couple of months to write the actual script. Once I have an idea I am quick to write. Throughout the process obviously some things change, but, 80% of the script I completed in a couple of months.

HTN: Well, that script never holds back and has moments that really go for it. How were you able to get such a disturbing film off the ground and into theaters? It is truly impressive and inspiring.

DR: The audience got to see a movie where there is no big studio behind it telling me what I can and cannot do. I got to make a movie with total freedom and the audience got to see a movie where no one was concerned about how the content could affect distribution. This movie was made for horror fans. That is why I dare to make such shocking scenes.

HTN: In a brief interview I watched with you at Fangoria it is clear that you are a fun person. This film is extremely dark and your actors are very committed to their characters. They do not just go through violence, they experience emotional turmoil. So what is the general feeling, day to day, on a set like this. Is it fun? Is it challenging? Both?

 DR: We are really happy shooting this film. It was a very good vibe. We were joking around all the time. There is no tension. Generally, with a film like this, The whole cast and crew are taking on a big risk. Overall, the vibe was amazing because in order to make this kind of movie you need a lot of compromise from the team and we all worked together so well.

Ezekiel Rodriguez in WHEN EVIL LURKS

HTN: The lead character played brilliantly by Ezekiel Rodriguez is such a complex character. Talk about your thinking behind this character and how the casting worked.

DR: One of the things I told him, and that I really wanted to communicate with this film, is that Ezekiel’s character is not just running away from the demon, he is running away from his own demons. He has a dark past and everybody knows. He is struggling with himself. He is trying to find out the truth of his past because he is a sick man and he is almost crazy. He needs to save his family though. All these things come together to create Pedro. It was very difficult to find the right actor for this role. I asked a friend what he thought and he recommended Ezekiel. I then sent Ezekiel the worst moments in the script to perform on video for me. He did them really well, but still, at that point he had not read the script. When I finally gave the script to him, he almost died. But he was really great, he is an extraordinary actor and I am really proud.




HTN: Ok, I am going to do a spoiler part of the interview now because there are some sequences in here that I just have to ask you about. At the 25 minute mark there is an incredible sequence. Please talk about your thinking behind this moment from the crack of the thunder, to the look of the goat, the timing of the kill. It is a total masterclass.

DR: Thank you. I hated making that scene. I had a lot of problems with that sequence. It was not easy to shoot. It was a one day shoot, in the daylight, with animals and lots of effects. All of it needed to be completed in 10 hours. The goats kept running away from us.150 goats just doing what they want to do. The daylight was changing constantly because of the clouds. It was truly a horrible experience shooting that sequence. In the end, everyone loved that scene. Maybe I will love it in a couple of years, right now, I hate it. The goats are crazy. The owner of the goats said that they can do some things if we baited them with food, but they are untrainable because they are all crazy. The goat that winds up dying in the film, we loved the look of it, and it was actually meant to die before our day of shooting. The owner of the goat told us that they were going to make a BBQ out of it. We were like “Noooo!” haha. And actually, one year later, I was sent a picture of that goat with baby goats! The owner of the goat granted her more life because she became famous!

HTN: 5 minutes later, we arrive at our protagonist’s ex-wife’s home. The next 15 minutes is yet another masterclass. What was your thinking behind the dog, talk about the execution of the car crash it was unbelievably effective considering it all happens in broad daylight

DR: Thank you. First of all the script worked without the nighttime. I am trying to surprise you. It does not matter if it is daylight or not. I want to punch you in the head when you are not expecting it. This script is daring you to anticipate what is coming but the audience has no idea what is going to happen. This is not a big studio movie. This is an Argentinian movie. It had a very small budget.

It was very hard to shoot that sequence. We had barely any time. We tried to train the dog but it was too difficult. I really wanted that dog, but he was a terrible dog. He had this horrible face and mouth that I thought was perfect. The trainers told me that the dog is impossible to train because it is lazy. This kind of dog gets tired easily. I needed a dog that would be willing to play. The trainers suggested other types of dogs like a rottweiler. I wanted something different because everyone is used to those types of dogs being evil. If I used a rottweiler, from the start of the scene the audience would know something is going to go wrong with the dog. It was almost impossible to work with that dog, but we made it work. Honestly the second car crash was more beautiful to me. We used a real car to crash against that tree. We shot that entire sequence where the mother is eating his son in a virtual production. We utilized some green screens. I found that sequence to be extremely funny. This scene worked! I enjoy it. The other car crash I did not enjoy. It was so complex.

HTN: When you see that mother eating the child. Oh My God. I was disturbed beyond belief.

DR: It’s incredible because in the script I wrote, “Sabrina (the mother) is eating Santino’s brain like she would eat popcorn.” I received almost 6-7 comments of people being shocked by this description. They would repeat it back to me. “The mother eats the sons brains like popcorn??” I am sick, sorry haha.

HTN: In the best way though haha. How was the rotten practically achieved? It was so unbelievably revolting to look at. I felt like I could smell him through the screen. Thinking about him right now is giving me chills.

A still from WHEN EVIL LURKS

DR: It was a big puppet. We had 4 effects artists inside of the body with pipes moving him and shooting out liquids.  We replaced the face with VFX.

HTN: I have not seen another possession film like this one. It is a really unique take on the genre and it is so refreshing to see. I am wondering what films inspired you and was subverting the possession genre, something that interested you originally . I know you said you wanted to make a road movie…

 DR: Thank you. Evil Dead is an inspiration for this movie. The Wailing was another inspiration. Finally, The Road was a major inspiration. Those three movies are the reference for When Evil Lurks. I love this genre. I wanted to take it and give it my own twist. I wanted to make something fresh.

HTN: Demián thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. I truly believe this is one of the best horror films of the decade. I wish I could recommend it to more friends but….I don’t know. I can only recommend it to my freaky friends.

 DR: Hahaha yes this will be good for your freaky friends…Take care!

Shudder; Demián Rugna; When Evil Lurks movie review

– Jack Schenker (@YUNGOCUPOTIS)

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Jack Schenker is based in Los Angeles, CA. He has worked in the film industry for 5 years at various companies including Mighty Engine, Film Hub, and Grandview. Jack continues to write for Hammer to Nail, conducting interviews with prominent industry members including Steve James, Riley Keough, Christian Petzold, and Ira Sachs. His dream is to one day write and direct a horror film based on the work of Nicolas Winding Refn and Dario Argento. He directed his first short film this year titled Profondo. Jack's favorite filmmakers include Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders, Denis Villeneuve, Bong Joon Ho, David Lean, John Carpenter, Ari Aster, Jordan Peele, and Robert Altman to name a few. Look out for Jack on Twitter (aka X). You can see the extent of Jack's film knowledge on Letterboxd, where he has written over 1000 reviews and logged over 1600 films.

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