Jesse Thomas Cook’s cult-busting, gut-busting indie flick Cult Hero recently celebrated its world premiere at the 2022 Fantasia Film Festival. The action-horror-comedy mashup follows disgraced “cult buster” and deprogrammer Dale Domazar (Ry Barrett) is called up out of retirement for one last job. Fearing that her husband has been kidnapped by a new-age cult, Kallie Jones (Liv Collins) brings in the big guns to get her husband back.
Cult Hero is a rock-em-sock-em good time loaded with goofy gags and fun practical effects. Actors Ry Barrett and Liv Collins (who also helped develop the story and served as executive producer) are fully committed to the personas of their over-the-top characters, working overtime to sell this oddball buddy-cop adventure between a macho man bounty hunter and a small town Karen.
Some of the biggest laughs I’ve had all year were thanks to Cult Hero‘s unique brand of absurdity and we were fortunate enough to sit down with Jesse Thomas Cook, Liv Collins, and Ry Barrett ahead of their world premiere at Fantasia to discuss the film.
“…we just wanted to explore this unlikeable character who has an unawareness that’s so breathtakingly dense.”
Jonathan Dehaan for Nightmare on Film Street: So tell me, where did the idea for Cult Hero come from?
Jesse Thomas Cook: The story was actually conceived in 2014. I had wrote a treatment called “Cult Hero” about a cult buster who infiltrates cults and had to rescue a woman’s husband who had been roped into a cult, and we kind of shelved that story and reworked it and ended up making a movie The Hexecutioners, which still involved a cult, and it’s where Liv and I met. She played the lead in The Hexecutioners. It still had some of the elements but it was more of a haunted house movie.
Long story short, in the middle of COVID we were sitting their thinking ‘What do we want to do?’. We wanted to do something fun, first of all, especially [becuase of] the last two years. I told Liv, ‘What about that old Cult Hero story?’ I know we’ve done a cult movie but it was a serious one, so we just kind of spruced it up and had Kevin Revie rewrite my treatment into a script and kind of added the element of the Karen lady who thinks it’s cult, but it’s not. That was kind of the genesis of it. Just wanting to do something fun and going back, in fact, to the same location that we shot The Hexecutioners– which is also where we got married. So in some ways, it’s like a prequel to The Hexecutioners but a completely different cinematic universe.
NOFS: And Liv, you do such a great job making us laugh at but also care for your character, The Karen of the story. Were there any people in your own life that you drew from for her?
Liv Collins: Oh yeah [laughs].
Cook: Absolutely. I think we all know that person. For us, some of my own mother is in there, in a jokey way. Like, she’s always bringing deviled eggs out when it’s inappropriate [laughs]. And then we just wanted to explore this unlikeable character who has an unawareness that’s so breathtakingly dense. Also Dale has an unawareness but they’re so disparate and different, and teaming them up as a weird buddy movie.
Collins: I think with Karens, you know, we always hear about them and see them and make fun of them and their unawareness but it’s kind of like, what if we followed her? Like, no one asked for this [laughs]
“…it’s like The Odd Couple but in an action-horror movie.”
Kimberley Elizabeth for Nightmare on Film Street: Both characters are such huge personalities. Was there a lot of natural building of their rapport on set?
Ry Barrett: I think it was pretty natural, Like, it was written and it was there but I think because they are such equally disconnected characters and so polar opposites that it’s like The Odd Couple but in an action-horror movie. With the writing, and with Liv and Jesse, we know each other well and just knowing what kind of comedy it was- going into that, you had the freedom to breathe with that.
Collins: I remember the first scene we shot; We were running through the scene, and we like to improve too, so it was fun because we were figuring out how this was going to work. We had written it but now we were in the thick of it and it was like, ‘okay, the glove are off, here we go,’ and it was really fun to figure out this natural way of them, and they are so polar opposite but they’re [also] the same so we had a lot of fun.
Cook: For me, it was like teaming up two unaware, kind of dense characters and one of them is a control freak and the other one is solely impulsive and out of control. In making the movie, I think it was day 3 when we finally got them in a scene together, and I had a hard time keeping myself composed directing it becuase it was just so funny. Every time Kallie opened her mouth the script would say like, ‘Dale pulls out his hair’, and it was just a joy to watch these two chracters having to work together in such a ridiculous manner to save the husband, who honestly doesn’t want to be saved. I mean, all he’s asked for is an extra weekend [laughs].
Collins: It’s not like he’s never coming home, she just panics.
Cook: It’s very much like a nosey neighbor. Like you’re looking across the street and, “I think there’s a cult over there, I’m going to call the police”. So it was kind of part of that small-town paranoia.
“I read the script and I immediately pictured Tom Sellick meets Chuck Norris meets Clint Eastwood meets Ace Ventura.”
NOFS: Ry, your character sounds so much like Macho Man Randy Savage. Was it hard on your voice to talk like that all day on set?
Barrett: Actually, no. It was such a fun voice and I just had such much fun doing it, and I used to play in punk and metal bands back in the day so I was kind of used to going a lot harsher. It was just a lot of fun.
Cook: Jonathan, I love that you mentioned wrestlers. I’m so happy because every time I’m pitching this movie I’m like, ‘He has a persona of a washed-up wrestler cutting his little intro videos’.
Cook: Dale Domazar was originally written as a film noir sleuth with a trenchcoat and then [Ry] came to me with the idea-
Barrett: Yeah, I read the script and I immediately pictured Tom Sellick meets Chuck Norris meets Clint Eastwood meets Ace Ventura. I mentioned it to Jesse and he was like, “Oh, I never thought of that’.
Cooks: Like Magnum P.I. with the tight jeans and the Hawaiian shirt and the mustache.
Barrett: And then he said all this other [wrestling] stuff so it was just a slam-up of all these ideas.
“I remember really pushing for the gore though. I waned it to have blood spurting and everything.”
NOFS: Can you tell us a little bit about your special effects? The death cult in the cold open especially has some really gory stuff in it.
Cook: Yeah, we didn’t know how we were going to do that one. We shot in two different legs. We shot two weeks in August and we didn’t do too much gore. We shot the big house fight scene but we didn’t do the opening or any of the end stuff, anything with the cult in fact. We were kind of re-writing that as we went. Then four weeks later we shot another two-week leg and had Jonathan Craig, who was our special effects guy. We met him halfway through the shoot because the guy who was originally doing the effects was committed to Star Trek so he could only do the first bit.
We were kind of scrambling to find someone. We met Jonathan and, not only is he amazing but he also lived down the road from us and he had all these Chucky dolls and zombies and he lived in an old church with his family’. He ended up playing Dr. Pavy in the movie becuase when we saw him Dr Pavy wasn’t even in the movie until the last five days and we were like-
Collins: We have to make this guy a character! [laughs]
Cook: He’s just one of those wizards that had a 1000 batting average in terms of his [effects] gags. We were like, ‘I don’t know how this is going to work’ and then he just ripped this guy’s body apart, and it worked!
Barrett: Him and the set department together really worked together on that.
Collins: That whole thing that pulls the kid’s body apart, they had to work together. It was like a magic trick.
Cook: I remember really pushing for the gore though. I waned it to have blood spurting and everything.
Barrett: It was one of those effects where- you often see effects and you’re like ‘oh, cool’ but that was one where you literally saw it happen live. I was standing there watching it, and his arms came off, and the effect looked real in person. And if you can sell it real in-person, you know it’s going to work on camera.
Collins: Yeah, watching it in real-life we were like, ‘ohhh my god…’. It was gnarly!
Cooks: We called it “The Human Christmas Cracker” [laughs]. They don’t say that in the movie but that’s what we called it.
“We called it ‘The Human Christmas Cracker’ […] It was gnarly!”
Jesse Thomas Cook’s Cult Hero celebrated it’s world premiere at the 2022 Fantasia Film Festival. Click HERE to follow out continued coverage of the festival and be sure to let us know if you’re excited to see Cult Hero over on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and in the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Heck, while you’re at it, follow up on TikTok for bit-sized horror content!