Writer director Lee Esposito and Ritterhaus Productions brings us the terrifying Lillith, now available for streaming. Lee has been making films since he was a kid and shows no signs of stopping!
Jenna Collins (Nell Kessler) is a girl whose heart has been broken by her self-absorbed boyfriend, Brad (Michael Finnigan). With some convincing from her best friend Emma (Robin Carolyn Parent), Jenna turns to the dark arts to seek revenge. That vengeance comes in the form of Lillith (Savannah Whitten), a murder-hungry siren from hell. Jenna quickly realizes that her new friend Lily is more than what she bargained for. The lust demon embarks on a sex-fueled killing spree with no end in sight. Can Jenna and her friends stop Lillith in time before the entire campus is doomed?
What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
Lee: Oh lord. Wow jumping right into the big ones. I don’t really know where to begin. I mean, my dad wanted to be in the film industry when he was younger and for a number of reasons, it didn’t happen. But when I was young, we kind of stumbled across his box of film stuff in the closet and between that and hearing him talk about enjoying films as a child so much, like it was always sort of this thing that I really liked too. There’s something about this type of creating that I really enjoy. From a young age, my friends and I would make really, really, really really low effort, quote unquote movies with just our toys and hands and zero effort at like eight years old or whatever. And then, over time that evolved into like slightly more effort and then that evolved into taking classes on film and TV production throughout high school, and then taking that into college and then making my own short films. And then that just sort of snowballed into suddenly people gave me money to make a feature and I was shocked and also incredibly grateful and confused.
Where did the story of Lillith come from?
Lee: Lillith came about from the movie Pumpkinhead, it’s based on this idea that there’s a demon for every one of mankind’s evils and I was like, that’s a really fascinating idea, shame they did nothing with it in the Pumpkinhead franchise. So, my brain kind of just ran with that for a bit and I was like, oh, what would this be like, and then I came up with the idea of like a lust demon that was a succubus and that’s when the idea for Lillith first came about. It was originally very different from what it turns into. When I first started writing it, it was very much entirely tongue in cheek, very Evil Dead inspired, very like intentionally trashy, like I’m going to make the dialogue purposely bad and corny and really stupid to be like like ironic and to be funny. But as I wrote it, that just sort of fell away and as I outlined this plot, it became less and less of this like Troma-esque thing and kind of more of a character piece. I would say it still has those elements, for sure, but they’re toned down significantly from what I initially intended. It sort of just started writing itself like I really didn’t have to do too much to have it organically unfold the way it did.
This film does have a pretty old school horror film vibe. Besides Pumpkinhead and Evil Dead, what other films did you use as inspiration for writing and for shooting?
Lee: The fact that you said it has an old school vibe, thank you so much. That definitely means a lot because that is actually what we were going for. I really wanted it to kind of be the vibe of early to mid 90s era of horror, like I Know You Did Last Summer, Scream, in terms of color palette, if that makes sense. Keep it more naturalistic but warmer and softer. So I’m glad that came across. But as far as inspirations. Outside of that, I would say, Teeth was a big one, Jennifer’s Body, those two and Pumpkinhead were the ones that I think served the biggest inspiration to me during the writing process. And then as far as production goes, I mean, It Follows is something that is probably my biggest inspiration across the board, like, it’s my favorite horror movie ever made at this point. And I say that knowing how grand a statement that is but I really do believe it is my favorite horror film of all time. I come back to it constantly for inspiration. I’ve seen it so many times, and it is one of the strangest, most bizarre surreal movies that is intentionally structured that way to create this weird like bubble of anachronistic- like just nothing feels right or normal and it has a very old school vibe to it. My favorite statement is, at this point I don’t know who said it, I’ve heard it so many times, is that It Follows is the best John Carpenter movie not directed by John Carpenter. And I think that is a really accurate description of it, because it feels like something that is pulled directly out of the Carpenter, Halloween, Prince of Darkness era, like that 10 year stretch and I love that. And I think that’s fantastic and that’s the vibe of horror movies that I grew up on, if that makes sense. I started watching horror films when I was 16, but how I pulled myself into the genre was through slasher films. And that whole stretch of the 80s and early 90s had a lot of slasher movies that felt very, at the risk of sounding like a sociopath, they felt like home to me. They’re very inviting and welcoming because horror is a genre thatI feel is very therapeutic.
Can you just elaborate on what you mean by that?
Lee: Sure. There’s actually a documentary that just got funded on Kickstarter that my buddy Dave Lawson, over at Rustic Films, is producing. It’s a documentary called Mental Health and Horror. I don’t know the science of it so I’m just gonna speak for myself here. There’s something comforting about horror. It’s a kind of escapism, where the world is so awful right now, but it’s like, ‘well it could be worse, you could be these guys.’ I think horror is a very cathartic genre because it’s one of the only genres that can really explore major societal themes and major societal fears that are going on at the time and you can trace a line through the history of horror that reflects what people were freaking out about at the time. It’s a genre that lets society explore their fears and explore their anxieties in a way that is safe in a way. It’s a way for you to analyze your own anxieties and your own fears and your own, you know, existential dread about the world in a way that is safe and not gonna send you into a ball of depression and sadness because you’re thinking about all this existential horrible shit. It’s weird too because horror films are fun but you’re also able to explore these anxieties and these tensions in a way that’s safe and fun, and it leaves you with things to think about, it leaves you with things to kind of mull over and maybe changes your own ideas about things. There’s a lot to it.
So, how do you think your film fits in with all of that?
Lee: Oh god. I’m gonna be honest. I can’t say that my movie is going to really reflect any sort of thing that was going on at the time when we shot this in 2017. I think, more than anything, it was just sort of, like not even intentionally in the writing process, it was just sort of a way that I, without realizing it, got through certain bits of trauma from my own life in a very strange way. I don’t think my film is saying anything deeper. I think that Lillith is, at its core, just a film that is made to be fun and have a good time with. I do think that people can find a lot in Lillith herself. I think that she as a character is something that people can probably relate to more than they realize.
One thing that stood out to me was that in Lilith lore, Lilith is spelled with one L but your title has two L’s. Can you explain why?
Lee: That was that was intentional. I mean, the whole thing with the biblical Lilith, I looked into the whole story and then I took about 10 percent of that. I chucked the rest out the window and I put the extra L in there because, I mean, the character that we’re seeing in the film and that we that we get to have some fun with, is not the biblical Lilith. I took enough to keep that relation there while giving myself the room to play with our character and not be bound within any specific frame and that is why the extra L is in there… Especially with a character like Lily, who I do consider her my little demon child, she’s a very specific type of character. She’s very unpredictable and very much a hurricane of a person, demon, whatever. And I wanted that to be something that was reflective, that people would pick up on. You’re not ever really going to be 100 percent sure of what she’s going to do, or how far she’s going to go… She went pretty far. She really only did one thing wrong, I won’t spoil it, I’ll just say there’s a bit toward the end where a certain character is killed. And that’s the point where I’m like okay well you went too far. And I mean that was obviously very intentional because up to that point she’s somewhat sympathetic and she just wants friends. It’s at that point where she kills someone who is essentially completely innocent and maybe she does have to be sent packing. So, other than that Lily did nothing wrong.
That’s true. She came to do what she was pretty much summoned to do.
Lee: Exactly. It’s just cultural differences, like a little murder to her is no big deal… I’d say Emma’s the real villain of this film. I’ve said it from the beginning and I stand by it. Lillith is just an antagonist, and a problem, but she’s not the villain, if that makes sense.
The question at the end is did Jenna kill her, or just send her back to wherever she came from?
Lee: Isn’t that the question. Who’s to say? Yeah, I will leave it at that. And I will allow that question to be answered by whoever, if anyone wants to fund a sequel. I just want enough to fund my sequel. I have a really good story to tell and I’m excited and I want people to see it.
Are you working on anything else right now?
Lee: Yes, we actually just wrapped up on another short film that I wrote called The Diviner. It’ll be funded through Kickstarter. We almost made double what we asked for, which was really nice. It was low budget but still I mean, we shot it two weekends ago and we did the whole thing in two days. It’s probably gonna end up being about 10-15 minutes long but, without going too much into it, it’s about pills that let you see God and the Lovecraftian weirdness that ensues from that. I’m honestly really excited to see it because the way I’ve been talking about it, it’s like drugs, Lovecraft, and the aesthetic of Euphoria. It’s gonna be coming soon.
Keep a look out for The Diviner as it hits the festival circuit and you can follow Lee on social media (@friendlee93)!