Writer and director Rolfe Kanefsky appeared at New Beverly Cinema where Horror Movie a Day presented a special midnight screening of his directorial debut “There’s Nothing Out There.” Joining him for this screening was two of the movie’s crew members, still photographer Dave Shelton and assistant director Michael Berily. The story of a group of teenagers, one of them a horror movie fan, spending spring break at a cabin in the woods pre-dates Wes Craven’s “Scream” in making fun of the clichés horror movies continually deal with.
Kanefsky spoke with audiences about what got him into movie making and what spurred the idea for this particular film of his:
“I’ve wanted to make movies since I was four years old. As I got older I watched every horror movie that was ever made which got me to thinking about why people keep making the same mistakes in this genre over and over again. I wrote the script when I was in high school, but no one really liked it.”
Kanefsky said he then went to college where he wrote several scripts, but then he came back to the one he wrote for “There’s Nothing Out There” after he graduated. It was 1988 when he started looking for the money to make it, and he was able to get a few private investors to help him out. Kanefsky even told the audience that his parents helped by selling their house, and after that he had a budget of around $150,000.00. One audience member asked Kanefsky if his parents ever got to buy their house back with the profits and he responded:
“You don’t get into movies to make money. You get into them because you love to make them.”
When asked about the house used in “There’s Nothing Out There,” Kanefsky said a friend of his from college found it for him. It was located right near the border of New York and New Jersey, and he described what it was like filming in and around the house:
“It was owned by two women who were a couple, and one of them was a sound artist which came in very handy for us. We did however have to use three different houses for the interior, and this forced us to cheat certain shots so that everything matched up in the end.”
When it came to specific influences, Kanefsky looked mostly to the monster films of the 1950’s and made several nods to them throughout. But he was also looking to make fun of the overused clichés in horror movies like the one where a cat jumps out at characters from nowhere, and of how one person warns of the danger ahead while everyone else ignores their advice. Kanefsky did make one thing very clear however:
“It was never my intention to mock the (horror) genre but instead the lazy filmmaking that has overwhelmed it.”
One unique thing about “There’s Nothing Out There,” when compared to other horror movies of the time, is that what’s stalking the characters is not a deranged serial killer but a monster from another planet. Keep in mind that this was made long before the advent of CGI effects, so there was a lot of pupeteering involved in bringing this creature to life. Kanefsky was specific in what he was looking for:
“I didn’t want a guy in a suit for the creature because I wanted to do something different. The way I saw it, the creature was half alligator and half octopus. I also intentionally made it a dumb creature, and you can tell it was not the smartest as there was a big learning curve going on with it. We ended up having to use crowbars just to move its tentacles around.”
Kanefsky then invited his fellow crew members to share their experiences of making “There’s Nothing Out There.” Dave Shelton still has very vivid memories of how it all started:
“I was working at Nickelodeon at the time and there weren’t many things being shot in New Jersey back then. When I met with Rolfe and he talked about his script, I knew right away what his vision was. He also said that no one is getting paid to make this movie and knew it was going to be good as a result. We got a lot of family and friends to be extras in the movie and we improvised a lot of stuff. Not everything worked, but we did the best with what we had. This was such a fun project to be a part of.”
Michael Berily was originally hired to be the second assistant director on the set, but things changed for him very quickly:
“The first AD left three days into shooting, so I took over and spent a lot of time yelling and screaming at people because I didn’t know what I was doing. Still, it was an incredible experience working on it especially when it came to raising the money. Rolfe was very ambitious then as he does a lot of set ups in one day.”
Kanefsky attributed his working style of numerous set ups a day, far more than what most Hollywood productions are able to accomplish, to the fact that he and his crew had a twenty-four day shooting schedule. He has since made over twenty movies since “There’s Nothing Out There,” and to date it still has “the longest shooting schedule of any movie” he has made.
Horror Movie A Day’s screening of “There’s Nothing Out There” at New Beverly Cinema was certainly a historic one as it marked the first time a 35mm print of the movie had been shown in twenty years. Kanefsky said that there were a number of reasons why this was the case:
“When we showed it to studios and critics, they were all ambivalent about supporting it because they saw it as too funny to be scary and too scary to be funny. The movie ended up getting a small theatrical release back in 1992, and we managed to get some good reviews from newspapers like the Los Angeles Times. After that it began building up more and more of an audience through midnight screenings… and then the LA Riots (following the Rodney King verdicts) happened, and that destroyed us because no one went to the movies for a long time after that.
Kanefsky has attributed its ongoing success to cable and video and now sees this movie as an “underground film which people found over the years.” The studio which released “There’s Nothing Out There” never really got behind it, he said, and it really found its audience through word of mouth.
Before the evening ended, audience members asked Kanefsky if there would ever be a sequel or a Blu-ray release:
“Blu-ray? Maybe, but right now it doesn’t make financial sense to do that and neither does the sequel. We do have the capabilities and original elements to remaster the movie in high definition, but the special edition DVD hasn’t sold enough copies to justify us doing that.”
He does however have a title for the sequel:
“‘There’s Still Nothing Out There.’ The tagline for it is, ‘if you were afraid of nothing before, its back!'”
Well, hopefully we will get to see a Blu-ray release and a sequel become a reality. There’s no doubt that “There’s Nothing Out There” was a passion project for Rolfe Kanefsky and his crew when they made it, and it’s clear to see that everyone involved in it worked really hard to make it a reality. That people are still talking about it twenty years later makes it a triumphant movie which survived in a marketplace where many other horror movies get swept under the rug, never ever making it to the big screen.
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