By MICHAEL GINGOLD
James L. Edwards, actor and screenwriter from such 1990s shot-on-video favorites as OZONE, BLOODLETTING and POLYMORPH, has turned director with the psychological drama/romantic horror story HER NAME WAS CHRISTA. He gave us some exclusive words on the movie, along with the trailer and a couple of posters.
A production of Ohio-based Buffalora Entertainment Group, HER NAME WAS CHRISTA also stars Edwards, along with Shianne Daye, Bang Tango guitarist Drew Fortier, Rick Jermain and Kaylee Williams (MODEL HUNGER), with cameos by Sasha Graham (ADDICTED TO MURDER), SHATTER DEAD director Scooter McCrae, Barbara Norrod (SKINNED ALIVE), Gary Lee Vincent and THE DEAD NEXT DOOR/POLYMORPH director J.R. Bookwalter. The synopsis: “Stephen [Edwards] is a socially awkward, middle-aged telemarketer and is desperately alone. At the suggestion of a co-worker, he goes out into the night to find a prostitute for ‘The Girlfriend Experience.’ With this, he meets Christa [Daye], a streetwise call girl who’s happy to fulfill his needs. Yet something unexpected happens. What starts as a business agreement blossoms into true love. But what happens when death enters the picture? How far would you go to keep the one person you’ve always wanted?”
“While CHRISTA, at its base, is a very uncomfortable horror story, its real terror is the idea of getting older and being alone,” Edwards tells RUE MORGUE. “When I wrote the screenplay, I was probably at the worst point in my life. I had just turned 40, I was in the early stages of my second divorce and I was discovering that my life was in a downward spiral. CHRISTA was essentially the overexaggerated ‘what if’ of what the future could hold.”
Edwards hadn’t originally planned to direct and star in CHRISTA, but wound up falling in love with the story and characters and decided to ensure they would hit the screen as he intended. “I’m always grateful for any role I’m able to secure, and I’ve led a charmed life in that respect due to both the current VHS resurgence and the limited success I gained during the ’80s’ and ’90s’ shot-on-video era,” he notes. “That said, I was tired of playing roles I wasn’t passionate about, and unhappy with how my screenplays were being translated by other filmmakers. Maybe it was the wrong reason to get into directing, but my rationale for taking the reins on CHRISTA was that I didn’t want my idea of what the film should be to become compromised by someone else. I had multiple things to prove: that I could direct a film, that I could actually act instead of playing a personality and that I could successfully combine multiple genres. I will freely admit I was overzealous in directing and playing the male lead, but I truly love the way this movie turned out.”
Nonetheless, he says, “In many ways it was emotionally damaging, because you kind of have to do a Jekyll and Hyde by playing an emotionally unstable character as well as being in charge of production, but in the end it was completely worth it. What saved me was my history of working with a fantastic group of directors and what I had learned from them, as well as being fortunate enough to gather an insanely talented cast and crew. If you have that, the rest is a cakewalk.”
Among that team was makeup and corpse effects designer Alan Tuskes, whose previous credits include CABIN FEVER, BUBBA HO-TEP, THE DEVILS REJECTS, TUSK, YOU’RE NEXT and IT FOLLOWS. Originally, CHRISTA was intended to reunite Edwards on screen with his frequent past co-star Ariauna Albright, but she exited the project during preproduction, citing the screenplay as “too explicit.” From there, Edwards conducted a nationwide talent search to find his new lead actress. “I was shocked by the number of incredible submissions we had during our search for Christa, including a few well-known genre vets. Surprisingly enough, in the end, my starlet lived a mere five miles away from my home. When I first saw Shianne Daye read for the role, there was no question she was perfect.”
Edwards and his cast spent two months in rehearsals, followed by an 18-day shoot. HER NAME WAS CHRISTA is currently in postproduction sound design, aiming for a first screening on Valentine’s Day 2019 and a wide release to follow. Before its completion, Edwards and his team jumped into another film, a horror short called MAMA’S BOY. Written by Edwards and Indie Corner host Jonathan A. Moody and starring Graham and Williams, it will have a festival run next year and be included in a planned anthology feature. In the meantime, Edwards is hoping horror fans respond to his genre-blender.
“HER NAME WAS CHRISTA is essentially two films rolled into one: the first half is a love story and the second, a horror film,” he says. “The concern for me was to build characters the audience will truly care about, but deliver what horror fans enjoy as well. The horror community is truly the most passionate audience in the world. They love the genre and if they don’t like something, they will be brutally honest about it. CHRISTA is unique in the sense that I’m asking audiences to witness a horrific act that the lead character commits, and somehow understand and accept why he does it. It’s a slow burn, but I truly believe the payoff will more than satisfy genre fans. So far, test audiences have likened the film’s tone to MAY and LOVE OBJECT, which to me is the highest compliment.” You can keep up with HER NAME WAS CHRISTA at its Facebook page.