Recently, Horror Facts had the opportunity to watch the horror short, ‘The Rickety Man,’ at this year’s HorrorOrigins Film Festival.
‘The Rickety Man’ tells the story of Edward, a widower who is left to care for his two children, James and Mathilda, after the death of his wife, Alice. Edward is troubled to learn that his children have ventured into the woods beyond their estate where Mathilda reveals that she met someone known as “The Rickety Man.”
You can watch the full short below.
Having thoroughly enjoyed watching the film, we, at Horror Facts, reached out to director Cameron Gallagher and writer Jeremiah Lewis to find out more about ‘The Rickety Man’ and the process that went into making this horror short.
Horror Facts: First off, thank you for taking the time to speak with us about your film.
Jeremiah Lewis: Thank you for having an interest. We love talking about this thing.
Cameron Gallagher: Absolutely.
HF: What inspired you to make ‘The Rickety Man’?
JL: What I love about horror is that it’s such a versatile genre. You can do so much with it and, because you’re lensing it through this realm of, like, this is a creature or this is a thriller, whatever the story is, you are still able to explore these deeper ideas about really what it means to be human, and I think that’s why we love film: because it’s an exploration of human beings and all of our weirdness. There’s so much there and horror is perfect for it. You can’t do that in other genres as well because there’s just a lot more freedom to play with these ideas.
CG: I think you can ask the tough questions in horror and I think that’s what makes it so different and I love watching horror movies. I feel like I watch a horror movie and, in my mind, I don’t want to say I’ve lost the sense of the horror aspect, but you begin to see that they’re dramas. Every good horror movie is a drama at its core. I think that’s what makes it so successful. I think it can look upon ideas or philosophies or ways of life and question them. If you watch horror movies from long ago – even back then, they were always on the leading edge of asking interesting questions and being at the forefront of just social issues in general. And I think that’s what’s so exciting about horror as a genre; it allows us filmmakers to ask those hard questions. It also allows us to be creative and not be shoved into this mess of what we have to say, or what we should be doing or saying. It allows us to be free. That’s what’s so exciting about it
HF: Where did the idea for the film come from?
JL: It started as a way for me to just write something short and something that I could do in a short amount of time. I was interested in writing something that would be cool to film, but I originally had intentions of doing it myself. And then it evolved into what it is now only because Cameron and Zack Porlier came along and said, “Let’s do this.” It was originally a prompt horror short that became a much bigger world.
HF: In watching the film, it felt like the movie was a metaphor for grief.
JL: Grief is definitely a part of it. As the original script evolved, it became more of a story about grief. Particularly what grief means, what it does to people, and the symbiosis between grief and violence, which is not something you normally hear much about. In the film, there is a sense of examining what people go through internally when dealing with grief. Cameron can speak to this a little bit better because he worked directly with the actors to pull their performances out and get what you see on screen, but a lot of the intentions of the script are really to explore the dynamics of a family after dealing with a loss and what each person goes through as they experience the different phases of grief and how they process it in their own way.
CG: That was one of the things that I thought was so interesting about the script: the family dynamic of grief. I think there are a lot of stories that are about grief and it’s just this very straight line of one person grieving and you don’t get the sense of how others interact with that, whether it be other immediate family members, relatives, or even just friends. I think the interesting part is that Edward, Mathilda, and James are all grieving differently and I loved the idea that it’s still embedded in the possibility of this cursed situation. The mother has died and Edward is truly grieving the death of his wife, while Mathilda and James are also doing the same, but it’s being externalized in this effect of the Rickety Man and I loved that about the original script. They’re grieving but it’s also working as part of how the Rickety Man is affecting them. To add to that, one of my favorite parts was watching Edward having to try to figure out and maneuver around being a father because, at this time, there was much more of a connection between the kids and the mother. In this instance, we imagine his status in society was that he did his own thing and I think it’s interesting to not only have him have to grieve his wife’s death but also now have to take her place, and not do it well in this case. I liked that he’s made out to not be a great parent. He loves his children, but there’s a real distance there and that was the one thing that drew me to it was there were so many levels to this grief, and it wasn’t that we just have our grief path this way and our spooky scary path this way; they were very intertwined. That made for a much more compelling narrative.
HF: It’s interesting you used the word “intertwined” because, from watching the film, it’s evident that James is going through depression while Mathilda becomes feral. Along with a sense of grief, it also seemed like there was a possession aspect to the film.
CG: That was one thing we talked about when we were evolving the script. Not only were we telling a story about a family dealing with the loss of a loved one, but we are also, in essence, making a possession film. But instead of it being the main character that gets possessed, it’s someone around them. I think that’s an interesting angle because typically in a possession movie, it’s usually your main character that is suffering from the possession.
HF: Was there any particular reason that the Rickety Man targeted Mathilda and not James?
CG: With the character of James, Jeremiah made it a very big point that he is the way he is because he’s not only dealing with grief differently, but his sights are only set on his mother, who he believes is out in the woods. His encounter with the Rickety Man is different in the sense that he’s seen something that he can’t unsee now, and this all has to do with his age. Because James is a little bit older than Mathilda, he can’t handle what he sees. He knows that there is something not right with this creature, the same way any responsible adult would respond to the situation. Whereas, because Mathilda is younger, she is more susceptible to the Rickety Man’s influence. It all has to do with the innocence factor and how children are more open to the supernatural. With Mathilda, because she is open to the Rickety Man, we find that she is slowly being taken over in bits and pieces, where one minute, she’s normal and the next, she’s not. It’s affecting her slowly, kind of like an infection.
HF: The slow corruption of Mathilda is really evident in her performance. You can see her transition from a sweet girl into something else by the time the film is over. How did you set about achieving this?
CG: So, when it came to Eva’s performance, I thought it would be an interesting angle to come to her and say, “Listen, there’s Mathilda and then there’s the Rickety Man and you’re kind of both.”
HF: Jeremiah, I know you said the story kind of progressed, but where did the idea for the Rickety Man come from. Is he an original idea or something out of folklore?
JL: It is an original idea. Although I am drawn to folklore, folktales, and this old European style of mythology. I have always liked the idea of lore that has been built up through the ages. I feel like there are so many cool, untapped stories from history and the myths of time, but this isn’t directly coming from any of that. But it’s inspired by that. We talked about it when we were in pre-production. We were working on figuring out what the Rickety Man was and evolving the character, but ultimately decided that we didn’t want it to be, like, this is the entity and you’re going to see it and then that’s what you get and then it’s over. I wanted there to be more mystique around it and be more mysterious. In this case, I wanted to keep things a little vague. There’s almost a sense of, is it real? Is it in their heads? What is happening? In the script, we dance around this idea of whether it was real or not.
HF: That’s exactly what resonated with us watching the film. As the viewer, we’re doing the work to try and figure out what’s going on. You’re not directly telling the audience. We’re left to question the whole time: Is this real? What is actually going on?
JL: I think that the film does a great job of keeping things in the shadow. You don’t see very much of this creature, and what you do see could still be mistaken as a hallucination. One thing that I’ve always been fascinated with is the psychological effect of horror on people and what scares us.
CG: I think that Jeremiah set this up so well in the script. When we started taking a look at it, I’m the same in where I love folklore and the idea of mythology, but I do think that it can be overused in a sense of: we have a myth, there’s a creature, this is how the creature works, here are the rules. The problem with this, as a filmmaker, is you now start running into barriers where you’re saying these are rules we have to follow because our creature has these specific rules. When you’re working with more of a surreal concept where it might be in someone’s mind or it might not be, there’s so much more room to expand and explore. You can do more stuff to be creative when you’re not feeling like you’re being wrenched down by the rules of this scenario.
HF: ‘The Rickety Man’ ended up winning the Horror Origins Film Festival.
CG: Yeah. We have actually had quite an incredible festival run in general. We ended up winning best short at Horror Origins which was pretty crazy. The entire festival concept in general is new to us. We started going out there and pitching ‘The Rickety Man’ out to all these festivals and we ended up getting into amazing ones and winning some awesome awards.
HF: Obviously we, at Horror Facts, enjoyed the film, but what have you found the overall response toward the film to be like?
CG: In general, I have been so blown away by the feedback we have received. When you’re making a film, you’re kind of in this bubble. It’s like, I’ve watched it a thousand times; I’ve seen this part and this doesn’t scare me anymore and it’s all glossed over, so you don’t think about it. But when you start to see people’s feedback and then have people come up to you and say, “Hey, we loved your short,” and then to win awards like best short…it’s so amazing.
HF: What’s next for the Rickety Man? Are there plans to follow up this short?
JL: In fact, we have a feature version of the script that is set to take place in the same area and period. It will essentially be the same sort of characters but it’s an entirely different sort of situation. The idea is to turn it up to eleven for these new characters. We’re going to be burning bridges in the sense that they will never be the same again. You can’t go back after you’ve seen the Rickety Man. We also plan to expand on the Rickety Man’s mythology more. It’s just playing around with this character’s lore and evolving it as we go. That’s how storytelling goes.
HF: Are we going to learn more about the Rickety Man’s backstory in the feature film?
JL: I don’t want to spoil anything, but there will be more information that you will learn about the Rickety Man. You’ll get a better sense of where the Rickety Man fits into this pantheon of unexplained supernatural phenomena. But I don’t want to give away too much because so much power is in the hands of the audience; they decide what’s happening on screen. They’re watching it and we give them enough information to hang themselves, so to speak, and what that is is just allowing their own imagination to do all the heavy lifting. I think that’s so much more powerful and impactful.
HF: Can you tell us who these new characters are going to be that the feature film will be focusing on?
JL: So, in the short film, the wrapper of the story is this letter that Edward is writing to Liza and, at the very end, Mathilda finishes the letter. This new film will focus on Aunt Liza coming in and attempting to discover what has happened. So, really, the feature will be more of a mystery in many respects. It’s set up like a detective story. She has to come in and investigate what happened and uncover the clues. And part of that is delving into her backstory and her involvement with this family and how she fits into the Rickety Man’s plans.
HF: Is the short going to work like a cold open for the feature-length film? Do you have to have seen it to understand the events of the new film?
JL: The new, planned feature is designed not to be reliant on the short. But if you have the short under your belt, you’re going to be that much more enriched.
CG: I will say Jeremiah did an incredible job balancing that because, when he told me that there was going to be a follow-up, I wondered if it would diminish the short. But I believe it’s exactly the opposite. I think it’s perfectly in the middle, where you can have watched the short and it doesn’t spoil the movie, because that was one thing. I was like, hopefully this isn’t going to spoil what goes on. And it doesn’t at all because it dives into other things. Now, obviously, if you’ve seen the short, you have the slightest leg up on someone who hasn’t. But, as a whole, I thought Jeremiah did an incredible job of just riding that line where it’s like, OK, I don’t have to have seen this, but if I did, I’m not ruining the whole movie. I don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s its own thing.
HF: When can we expect the feature film?
JL: We have future plans with this storyline and universe, but we’re kind of in the beginning stages of that. Rickety Man is a little bit heftier budget-wise, so this may not be the next thing we do. I believe that we would be able to complete the film with minimal resources, but in the meantime, we’re kind of focusing on building a body of work that we can do ourselves because, ultimately, no one is going to give you permission.
HF: Has James Wan contacted you guys at all?
CG: I wish. Although we have talked to people who are nearby people like James Wan. So that’s exciting. There’s a lot more to see. But if he wanted to talk, we would be more than happy to.
JL: At this point, we’re sort of focusing on giving ourselves opportunities to make films that don’t rely on us having to get in touch with people like James Wan or some influential filmmaker to endorse us. We are trying to figure out ways to empower ourselves in terms of the kinds of stories that we’re interested in telling. You have to say we’re going to do it ourselves and we’re going to make it something undeniable.
Jeremiah and Cameron wanted to take this time to thank everyone who helped make this film a reality.
JL: We have been given the chance to tell our story because of an amazing community of people who supported us in making this film. It’s only because we had so many generous people support the film through the kick-starter campaign and those that spread the news about our film and got behind it. We’ve been blessed by the support that we’ve had from people and I want to make sure that we don’t lose that as we continue to build up our body of work. It can be kind of easy to forget the people who helped you get to where you are. I’m deeply grateful for everyone that supported us and, of course, for Cameron and Zack for seeing the logline and being, like, that sounds interesting. Let’s get in touch with that guy, because otherwise I would be stuck in making an animation out of it. Because that was my original plan: to make this into an animation because that is something I could have done on my own. I’m thankful that they stepped in and said, “No, we’re going to do this and make this look right.”
CG: It’s important to remember that this wasn’t just our project; it was all the kick starter backers, it was all the people who supported us, the cast, the crew. They were amazing. And I’m not just saying that in the typical director talk, “Everyone was amazing.” I mean everyone, top to bottom, was just really firing on all cylinders. Everyone was so collaborative on set. Together, all the cast and crew would sit down and talk about the characters. They would pitch ideas and had such good feedback. It was such a small tight-knit crew that everyone was so integral to the entire film. It was something where we could talk with everyone and have these open conversations about how can we make this better. From our director of photography, Josh Bernales, to our gaffer, Michael B. Fisher, they would jump in during filming and say, “What if we tried this, or what if we tried it this way?” I also want to give a shout out to our producer, Zack Porlier, who was there the whole time, making sure everything was moving as we needed; John Mendel, our sound recordist; Breeanna Nichols, our makeup artist. We also had Anne and Taylor, two people who work with Zack and I. They were just jumping in and helping wherever they could. On the post-production end, working with Michelle Kerzner at Sonic Union, who did all the sound. She did an incredible job. And Kyle McCuiston, who did all the music. Just sitting down with all these incredible people…it’s very humbling because of the fact that I get to work with these amazing people and do all this amazing stuff. It was an honor. And the ones that helped put all this together and made something special, because without them, and without all their creativity combined, I don’t know where we would be. And that’s what is exciting about these future projects; we love the team and we’re hopefully going to work with this team more and more.
HF: What can we hope to see next from you guys?
CG: We do have a short that we are working on that Jeremiah has already written and we are in pre-production and we’re going to start filming in about a month and a half, called Lucid. Jeremiah can tell you a little bit more about it.
JL: I’m not going to reveal too much; I’m only going to tease you. It’s good to keep the mystery. The story will revolve around this idea of lucid dreaming, but with a little bit of a twist. Think ‘Inception’ meets ‘Nightmare on Elm Street.’
We, at Horror Facts, want to thank Jeremiah and Cameron once again for taking the time to speak with us about ‘The Rickety Man’, and for answering our questions about what went into making the film, sharing their love of the horror genre, and revealing some personal insight into the Rickety Man itself.
To learn more about Jeremiah and Cameron’s film you can visit RicketyMan.com
We can’t wait for the duo to start working on the feature film, but in the meantime, we hope to get the opportunity to see ‘Lucid’ after it’s completed. How could you not want to see a movie like that?
We’ll be sure to keep you posted on Jeremiah and Cameron’s continued projects as they continue to roll out fresh and original horror.