All The Creatures Were Stirring is going to be every Christmas nerd’s new favorite horror comedy. The anthology film is a genre tour-de-force of humor and nastiness. Each segment’s common thread? Christmas. Well, that and its fluent use of genre references. From Twilight Zone, to Black Christmas, to Scrooged to Saw. To mother-flippin’ Dario Argento. All the classics are there.
The film was written and directed by the genre aficionado duo Rebekah McKendry and David Ian McKendry. It was produced by Morgan Peter Brown and Joe Wicker. Their movie had its world premiere at the Chattanooga Film Festival.
Usually, anthology films are a team effort, where many different directors do a variation on a theme. Sometimes they fit well together. Sometimes they don’t. There’s always one that stands out and one that just really doesn’t work. That’s the nature of film, right? Some directors just click with you. And others, less so.
Creatures is five segments of deranged hilarity from a duo unreasonably obsessed with Christmas, horror, and Brechtian Theater.
Christmas is a lovely time of year. Snowy weather. Warm fires. A time for family and friends and togetherness. Or, perhaps some reflection on your life. Or, even better, movies. You could and should share them with friends and family, or use them as jumping off points for your reflection.
Everybody has their own collection of staples. For me, Christmas season starts with White Christmas. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is for Christmas Eve. And Black Christmas is just a great family movie for Christmas Day. Wait, maybe that isn’t right.
The point is, there is a trove of go-to classics out there for die-hard Christmas nerds to work into their holiday celebrations. Well, good news for all you movie lovers in the middle of the Venn diagram where horror, Christmas, and comedy overlap.
That’s really the spirit captured by Creatures. It’s a movie made by fans of the genre, for fans. Here’s the thing though, the flick slays in its own right. All The Creatures Were Stirring belongs on the same shelf as your favorite horror titles.
Love of the genre emanates from every part of this movie. They do jump cuts to owl eyes just so they can reference Stage Fright. They’ve made a segment that mashes up Office Christmas Party, Saw, and Black Christmas.
The McKendrys’ brains just aren’t wired like yours or mine. But, god damn. Your bellies are gonna shake like bowls full of jelly when you peep the wrap around they’ve devised to tie this thing together.
“We all celebrate Christmas in our own way. Like, blowing up the Nakatomi building or giving out presents.” – David Ian McKendry
And, if you’re very good this year, the film will be available to help all you little genre fans celebrate at Christmas.
A Conversation with the Filmmakers of All The Creatures Were Stirring
Morgan: Please note in the write up that the “directors were elbowing each other”.
Brad: This is what happens when you do an interview at the end of Saturday at the Chattanooga Film Festival.
Morgan: Joe and I should be sitting in between them.
David: Whenever we sat this close, she would get knocked up.
Rebekah: Yeah, it’s true. We’d go home pregnant.
William: Surprisingly, that isn’t the most personal remark we’ve had tonight.
Brad: True! Okay, let’s get into the film. It is a really rare experience to have an anthology film from a single point of view. I guess that’s an incredible challenge, too. Often when you talk about anthology films you hear, “well some were good and some were not.” Why throw yourself into that arena?
David: I mean. For selfish reasons. We wanted to try all these different styles because everything was so different – and was so us and our influences – that we just wanted to put it out there and have fun with it.
Rebekah: We figured that rarely in our careers do you get an option to make your own choices. And, that’s even up to this point because we have worked for other companies. Like, when do you get to say, “You know what? I really want to direct something that’s kind of Italian-horror-Giallo-ish.”
David: Or do Indie Comic 80’s.
Rebekah: Or, Twilight Zone-ish things. We will never get these options. Since we had the opportunity we wanted to take it. We were so enthusiastic about trying everything that we just ran with it.
Morgan: There’s also a practical side to it. When we started the project we had very little money and we knew we were going to have to shoot it in two to three day segments, spaced out over periods of time. And so, rather than have to break your back on continuity and worry that, like, every actor’s facial hair looked exactly the same weeks apart, we could just shoot it in two to three day segments. You know, complete a part and then move on the next.
Brad: So, why a Christmas theme?
Rebekah: We love Christmas! And I mean-
David: “We love Christmas!”
Rebekah: Haha we do love Christmas! No, I mean, it’s definitely like Halloween. It’s near and dear to our hearts. We go all types of crazy for Christmas.
David: We go all up Christmas’ ass!
Rebekah: We turn our house into a freaking winter wonderland every year. We are the people on the block that have the tackiest decorations. Everything inflatable that we can fit in the yard. Our kids are like, “I like the giant penguin.” You want the giant penguin? We’re getting the giant penguin!
And our kids are just now getting old enough to get excited about Christmas. Up to this point they have just been aware that there’s weird lights and for some reason we give them presents all in one day. But, we are now starting to get them excited, and it makes us more excited.
So, when we were looking at through-lines for the anthology, Christmas was one of the first ones we went to just because we were such huge Christmas nerds.
William: So, what are your staple Christmas films?
Rebekah: Mixed Nuts.
David: Emmet Otter’s JugBand Christmas!
Rebekah: Hell yes! Definitely.
David: Black Christmas is in there.
Rebekah: Black Christmas, definitely. You always watch National Lampoon’s.
David: Yeah, I do like Christmas Vacation.
Rebekah: I always want Mixed Nuts over that one.
Joe: Funny Farm is actually really good, too.
Rebekah: It’s got some Christmassy moments in it.
David: Rambo is a good Christmas movie.
Rebekah: Yeah it is.
Morgan: It’s technically a Thanksgiving movie, but Home for the Holidays is always one of my favorites, too.
Rebekah: Yeah, Christmas with the Kranks. We always watch that one.
David: The Ref.
Rebekah: The Ref!
Morgan: Oh God. The Ref, of course.
David: Die Hard!
Rebekah: Of course, Die Hard, that’s a given. You just assume Die Hard.
William: So, wait. If Die Hard is making the list, are y’all rule specific about what makes a Christmas movie?
Rebekah: We actually had this discussion while we were writing a number of times because, for instance, in the parking lot segment, the whole thing is not necessarily that it’s Christmas but that they’re born on Christmas. So, we decided that as long as it uses Christmas as a setting, it still qualifies because that’s the rule that we’ve always used in horror. As long as Christmas is the backdrop, it still qualifies. It doesn’t have to be the catalyst.
Morgan: Yeah, it’s not like Christmas is a tone that needs to be adhered to but as long as it’s the setting and the time of year and the place, that seems to be more important than tone.
David: We all celebrate Christmas in our own way. Like, blowing up the Nakatomi building or giving out presents.
Morgan: Or doing Claymation reindeer and Jack Frost or whatever.
David: I will say Claymation always scared the hell out of me.
Rebekah: I love that Claymation Christmas special.
David: Oh my god, no.
David: It freaked me out.
Rebekah: It’s so wonderful.
David: It always screwed me up.
Brad: I’d like to get into the wrap around for the anthology. What was the inspiration of the experimental theater references?
Rebekah: Dave and I met doing theater in college. We met on the set of “The Cherry Orchard”. And Dave was an actor and I was brought in to do the special effects make up. Which, there shouldn’t have been any but they told me, “This actor bleached his hair.”
It was the 90’s and everybody was bleaching their hair. And so they were like, “the actor bleached his hair two days ago and it’s Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard” so you have to wig him now.” And it was Dave. They also made me cover up his tattoos.
Joe: Big fan of Spike on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
David: It was my 311 phase.
Rebekah: I can only describe it as Dave was the hot mess of the show. They were like “He’s got tattoos! He bleached his hair!” And, I had to lint brush your pants.
David: I think they gave me a role as a charity thing because they had never cast me in anything for my entire time there.
Rebekah: So, I ended up spending a lot of time with him and that’s how we first met. And within a couple of months, we were not only dating but Dave had been selected as a director on a musical that I had been selected as a choreographer on. So we were working together almost instantly and pretty much have been since then.
But, the school that we went to was very much into experimental theater. It was very black box. We had four different black boxes theaters that at any given time were doing some type of weird theater that didn’t make sense.
David: There was always some visiting professor from some weird Brechtian German theater in Oregon.
Rebekah: We were always constructing weird things. They were like, “For this one we are going to need an iron. 12 feet tall.” And we would just be like, “Okay.”
David: Or, “We are going to perform this in the middle of the football field!” For no reason.
Rebekah: And we will all be dressed in black and move like clockwork!
So, Dave and I would do this by day and then we would go and watch “Music Man” or “Streets of Fire”. We both were just such musical fans. But, we enjoyed the experimental theater. We still look back and kind of laugh at it. And love it. We lovingly embrace it.
We wanted to include that a little bit. So, when we were thinking of wraparounds, we had a number of different ideas. But, we kept kind of circling back to this kind of performative idea of these people and this weird theater on Christmas Eve. The people are expecting to see a Christmas play. But, what they see is this weird experimental Brechtian piece.
David: I like the idea of the audience imagining how the hell these people will reenact it.
Rebekah: Like, how on earth would these three actors have reenacted the entire office segment?
Morgan: Yeah, with two chairs and three black cubes!
Rebekah: We had a lot of fun figuring out how we were going to do the cutbacks, where the segment ended and goes back into the theater. We always wanted that to be the punch line of it. And it was literally me and Dave in our kitchen with two chairs. We probably brought in one of my daughter’s stuffed animals. And it was like, okay. If it’s just these things, how would we reenact the final scene of the segment?
Morgan: And we tried to match shots as best we could when we would cut back. Like, when Diva Zappa steps in with the gas mask and all of that.
Rebekah: We brought in the footage so that when we were actually shooting the wraparound segment we could match the exact position that the girl took her mask off.
William: Those cutbacks are really well edited. Every single one of those transitions was perfectly done. They killed.
Morgan: Our editor Jeff Seidman is really talented. He did some of the VFX work, as well. So, much of the awesomeness that happens in this movie was us huddling around Jeff going, “Can you make that weirder?” “What else can you do?”
Rebekah: “Can we get more surreal than that?”
With some of the cutbacks and specifically the reindeer one, we used ribbon. That was another thing that came about because of the theater. Dave and I had worked on a number of productions that whenever they had to do blood, they did it Kabuki style. Which meant you either used red sand or ribbon. So, we were like, “We have to have the red ribbons in there somewhere.”
Brad: Going back to wanting to put all your influences out into one film, was there anything you wanted to do and then decided you just didn’t have room for it?
Rebekah: Oh my gosh, yeah. We’ve already got parts two and three.
Morgan: If anyone wants to finance a sequel, it will not take long.
Rebekah: We probably had 20 segment ideas. But, we were a micro-budget film. So, a lot of them we would come up with the ideas and, budget-wise, we were just not going to be able to construct a site.
David: Santa in a strip club!
Joe: Don’t give away the prime stuff, Dave.
Rebekah: We had one that was really Lovecraftian. And, it had monsters in it. There was no way. We had one set in a television studio.
David: Oh God, that one.
Rebekah: I fell in love with that one but the budget was always the drawback. Then, there was always the idea of cohesion. Some of it, we changed as we went along. We did have to take the four-month break while I gave birth. We had shot half the movie at that point. We were able to edit and watch half the movie before we kept going. We were able to go, “You know what? We need to go outside. We need something bigger.” Because everything was in a house so far.
Morgan: We shot the parking lot segment last because we were like, “we are in a house a lot.”
David: The office segment came out of that too.
Morgan: We were able to see what boxes were being checked and which ones weren’t. The first two we shot are also probably our funniest segments. We were like, “Uh, we need a little more horror in our horror comedy.”
Rebekah: We ended up not doing two of my favorite segment ideas. One had children in it and then the other one was set in kind of an old Hollywood mansion. And we both were like, they just don’t stylistically fit.
Morgan: They just weren’t giving us what we needed to really create a full experience.
Rebekah: But, I’ll make these at some point because they were my two favorite ones.
Brad: And was the final order in the anthology the planned order?
Rebekah: No, we played around with it a couple of times.
Morgan: I like to think of it like a mixtape. John Cusack’s monologue about creating the perfect mix tape in High Fidelity always ran into my mind. You start at this level and then amp it up. And it’s all about not letting people sit back in their chair at all.
Rebekah: Yeah, we wanted the end to feel like it was flying by. We wanted it as soon the Scroogedsegment hits to just fly from there. I still get people saying, “Well, what if you put this…” And I’m like, no, no, no. It’s done. We are done. I don’t need to rearrange it. It’s done.
David: Yeah, trust us, we looked at every possible variation.
Rebekah: So many combinations of this thing.
William: And so where does a Giallo-reindeer segment come in?
Rebekah: When we were coming up with ideas, somebody said what if an unnamed reindeer were a stalker? And, so then we came up with all these different scenarios. He can’t start out mean. We can’t just make him a serial killer from the get-go. What can we do to get there?
And at the same time, Giallo was something I knew we really wanted in. But, I thought we had it with another one of the segments that we didn’t do and I was like, oh, I guess we just can’t do that now.
Morgan: But we wanted that rich color. And that kind of deep red Argento color. And, something like stalker-y types of movies.
David: And the sleaziness of the main characters.
Rebekah: We even have him put on the black gloves at one point.
Morgan: Yes, he does pull on black gloves, but you can barely see it.
Rebekah: It’s mostly for me.
Morgan: We know it’s there.
Rebekah: It’s the same thing. That one, we infused with a lot of references. There’s even an owl picture on the wall! Which was my Stage Fright reference.
Morgan: Yes, the jump cut close-up to the owl’s eyes.
Rebekah: Yeah, that’s all Stage Fright.
Morgan: We love that shit.
Brad: And so, as movie maniacs, what is it like to contribute now to the genre?
Rebekah: It’s surreal. And, I mean, we’ve now shown it twice.
Morgan: It’s the first I’ve thought about it, as you’re asking me.
David: Oh my god, we made a movie!
Rebekah: We made a movie! No, it still isn’t hasn’t set in yet. Prior to literally 24 hours ago I was still thinking about it like we were in post-production. It still has not set in that we are completed, and it is done.
William: And, this was the world premiere, right?
David: It was.
William: Had test audiences seen it? Or, was last night the first time that you had an audience of people who didn’t help make the thing?
Rebekah: We had a test audience of five people! But, even they saw an older cut. We’ve re-edited it a lot and we rearranged segments and stuff.
William: How did you guys hold up during the day? Was it tense?
Rebekah: You know, last night, Dave, when we were screening it, he was grabbing my knee the entire time. Like I told him at one point, I was like, you’re going to leave bruises. So tense.
Morgan: Joe and I were sitting next to each other. Even though we were happy with how it was going, because the reactions were really great, my physiological response was to just twist myself into a knot.
Rebekah: Tonight, I was much more relaxed because I knew where the laughs were gonna come. Last night, literally at that point we had not shown it to anybody. So, I had no idea where anybody was going to laugh. Like, were they just going to think it was silly? Were they going to laugh?
Morgan: And comedy and horror are so similar in that at a certain point you’ve watched it so many times, you’re just like, “I don’t know if it’s funny anymore. I think it is. I don’t know if it’s scary. Is that scary? Okay, cool, cool.”
Rebekah: Dave and I tend to have like a weird sense of what humor is anyway. Like we consider Brechtian theater to be hilarious. And so we were like we don’t even know if people are going to laugh. Kabuki theater, everybody gets that, right? Yeah, and so, as of last night we were so like “What if no one laughs?” And luckily they did.
Brad: We were in that crowd and everyone responded really, really well.
David: They really did. Yeah, it was very flattering.
Brad: And so, what’s the next stage? What’s your dream with this film?
Morgan: We have a sales agent now. Seasonal movies have a very set schedule when it comes to distributors. So, we assume, we’ll be set up for both domestic and international release within the next few months and we’ll probably come out fourth quarter. Hopefully, November or December.
Rebekah: We have a couple more festivals already lined up. We have a few more coming that we can’t talk about it yet.
William: Yeah, it’s going to kill for you guys. And I don’t come from an experimental theater background, but those moments fucking killed for me. Every single time that cutback hit, I died.
Morgan: I couldn’t watch them. Like, when he’s stabbing her with the reindeer, I blew takes standing behind camera because I could not contain it.
Rebekah: We had him do it so many different ways. He was doing it silently, and then I was like, “I want you to utter in this guttural deer noise.”
Morgan: I thought that was going to be too much.
Rebekah: I said, “I want you to find your pool of inner vibration.” It’s such an experimental theater thing, your pool of inner vibration! Channel the sound of the reindeer. I was like, that’s it. That’s what I want. And yeah, we thought it was doing too much, but it was wonderful.
NB: You know that ‘Arrested Development’ bit where they all do their own chicken clucks? At this point, literally, every person in the room started doing their best moaning (?) deer growl sounds. They should have sent a poet.
Joe: I think it might be the biggest laugh in the movie. It probably is.
David: I had to carry that reindeer out.
Rebekah: Stuffy? Yeah. Stuffy was with us.
Morgan: Our favorite BTS shots are Dave walking across Magnolia Boulevard in North Hollywood with the reindeer under his arm.
David: This couple, they are walking out of their apartment building and I’m just walking by. They stop and they turn around. And they just see this reindeer staring at them.
Rebekah: Stuffy came from a rental house. So we had this thing for a couple of the segments and at the end of it my daughter had kept seeing Stuffy and she goes, “Is Stuffy going to come home with us now? And I was like “Stuffy has to go back to the prop house.” He was like a member of the family.
David: I do remember one person that actually came up to me on the street saying something about “Is that a movie?” “No, it’s a reindeer.” And, I just walked away.
Brad: Is there anything else you’d want anyone to take away from the movie or anything you want to share?
Rebekah: Thank you guys so much for watching it. It is purely just Dave and mine’s brain poured on the screen.
David: We were both huge fans of Christmas and horror. Especially with that slate of Christmas films that we watch. We just wanted to do something that fits into that.
Rebekah: For weirdos.
David: Yeah. For weird people.
Morgan: It’s been so flattering to get the cast’s reaction, too. These are people that gave us two or three days a year or a year and a half ago. And so when Meghan saw the movie this weekend, she was like, “that was great!” She was like “I had no idea what that was!” And I’m like, “No, why would you?” I don’t think we let anybody read the full script.
Rebekah: Most people only read the segment unless their agents requested it. The majority of the people just read their own segment.
Morgan: We let Constance read two or three segments that she was going to do at that point. And, having read it, when we talked to her about another part, she smartly said, “I feel like I’m more of a Gabby.”
Rebekah: Yeah. Like, okay. Done!
Brad: This is such a specific fan community. Like, with the Christmas horror films. And Creatures is right on. I can see it on the video shelf, right next to Black Christmas.
David: Thank you.
Rebekah: This is a big, big statement.
David: Replace A Christmas Carol!
Brad: For sure, I would watch this again before I watch A Christmas Carol. I’ve seen that enough.
Morgan: The phone call in the office segment originally was very different. And then I think we both realized one of the reasons why Black Christmas is so good is that phone call. And we wanted to make that reference.
Rebekah: That phone call was so fucking out there.
Morgan: You listen to those phone calls, it still feels crazy now.
Rebekah: Those are frightening.
Morgan: Let’s get fucking nuts with the phone call.
Rebekah: Yeah, let’s go weird.
Morgan: Like really, you were in the hands of a whack job.
Brad: Yeah, very much so. And you know, again, as a genre fan, those references make you want to go watch something like Blood and Black Lace or whatever.
William: Honestly, even if you don’t get the references, you can feel that reverence in Creatures. And, like, its playfulness. The film just exudes that good time feeling. Well, we’re getting the wrap it up signal. Let’s get y’all out to that boat party.