The Wicked Sick Robert Rusler
By Jessica Dwyer
Robert Rusler has had a long career in the world of horror and sci-fi both on the big screen and small. Most horror fans will remember him as Grady from “Nightmare on Elm Street 2”, the best friend and possible crush of Mark Patton’s Jesse. Or they might recognize him as the smart mouthed ladies’ man AJ from “Vamp” who winds up biting off more than he can chew…or getting bitten off…by the lovely and deadly Grace Jones.
Sci-fi fans will remember him in the classic “Weird Science” or as part of the epic “Babylon 5”. Rusler is now part of the hit Showtime drama series “Ray Donovan” as well as being in the new horror flick “Tales of Halloween.” But he has another film that he’s wanting to see happen, but this time he’d be behind the camera.
“The Wicked Sick” is Rusler’s passion project and in his words would be “The Expendables of horror.” He’d not only be directing the film but he co-wrote the script too. The film is based off a teaser Rusler and friends filmed over 2 years ago with next to no budget called “The Black Asylum.” The story follows a group of escaped psychopaths who’ve formed a cultish family. They take over a small town, taking hostages, and forcing the townsfolk into a life of fear.
The cast on hand for the project is a who’s who of horror and genre films including names like Keith David, Clifton Collins Jr., William Forsythe, and Sherilyn Fenn just to give you an idea. While the project didn’t make the Kickstarter goal Rusler originally set out for, he’s not giving up. He sees it as a learning experience and now has a team behind him to help make this movie a reality.
JD: What inspired the original short and what led to you directing this?
RR: It was titled “Black Asylum,” and that was a working title that started to take momentum against my will. I didn’t want to call it “Black Asylum” but I just figured we’d retitled it when we were ready to go to pre-production.
What happened was a quality problem…which was acting jobs got in the way of following through to get the financing to making the film. I got two TV shows and three movies pretty back to back, or just in enough space not to be able to commit to go into the directing mode. So what I did was I made some revisions based on some coverage that I got from a couple of good studios and got some new cast attached. So I decided to re-attack it with the title “The Wicked Sick.”
JD: So can you give us a little more background on the story because the trailer does a good job conveying it.
RR: That was on purpose.
RR: I just feel like there’s nothing so complex as a family dynamic dysfunction. There’s so much emotional facets that can go with family history and it can make for a lot of strong feelings. So I wanted to do this film about two brothers and all their hidden agendas, betrayals, and deceits. And really bring into the mix you know, this one brother who’s led this kind of American dream kind of life, and this other brother who’s sort of lived a nightmare American life, being incarcerated his whole life. He’s involved with this new group who’s now become his family, his cult family. When the two brothers reunite I knew it would really make for a great climax of murder and betrayal and action and horrific scenarios. That’s the way I wrote The Wicked Sick and I’m really excited about it.
JD: It looks really epic in scope because they take over an entire town and you have these people in the town having to do their bidding because their families are being held hostage.
RR: Correct. And the reason they are doing that, that’s not Leonard’s long term plan. His plan is to escape Northwood unbeknownst to the authorities. But just leaving and taking the cult with him. Sort of like David Koresh in Waco. Or how Charles Manson was trying to live his life in the desert as well as the canyons here in Los Angeles, he was trying to make a better life for him and his family.
JD: How did you get this cast, because they are amazing?
RR: Really they are just friends that I’ve accumulated being an actor for 32 years. You get to meet and make these relationships with people, not only the cast but the crew which is also an all-star crew as well. Everyone that’s in the cast, Keith David, Marshall Bell, John Ortiz, William Forsythe, boy the list goes on…I’ve got even more coming. They are all friends of mine. And the idea was to do sort of an “Expendables” for a horror film, a who’s who in horror. I’ve got even more coming…I don’t want to mention names but there’s a really cool character that I want to bring in once we have the budget in place for cameos. And that’s really what I wanted to do. A cast that was comprised of really great actors, every single one of those people…my secret is that they are all really dedicated to the craft of acting. And they are solid and really good and I really think they are all underrated to be honest with you.
JD: They are all super amazing character actors. People are always like “I know that guy! I know that guy!” Like Clifton…he’s in everything!
RR: Absolutely, and so is Keith.
JD: Yeah! They all have range too. Like Keith David was funny as hell in the last season of Community and he’s considered one of the biggest badass’s in Hollywood too.
RR: Yeah it’s funny. He also sings too. He’s a renaissance man. And that’s really my focus was when I put together this film. I wanted to make a film that had excellent acting in it. I have the storyline. I have a team of people to make the movie look gorgeous, and sound fantastic. I wanted to get actors because one of the things I find missing in some, not all, but a lot of horror movies is that they don’t have solid actors through and through. Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of movies with great scenes but not great all the way through, to me. That’s what I want to do is to create a movie with longevity through story and performance. Cinematography…all the ingredients that make for a great film, like the ones that I grew up watching. Some of the greats that aren’t just horror movies but are just great films like Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen, movies that stand the test of time because they were made with quality and attention to detail.
JD: One thing I’ve noticed in horror lately is that they tend to go as young as they possibly can. I like actors who have the chops underneath their belt. You’ve got a cast of pros here that have quite a few years under their belts of acting. I like seeing these people, they are the people I grew up watching and they bring it when they act.
RR: Absolutely! And I have a couple of young actors coming on board to support that demographic as well. And really what I’ve been searching for is two young actors to play Emily and Jon Gorman that are gonna be able to step up to the plate and hold their own with these veterans.
JD: I have to say I was surprised and excited to see you get Sir Anthony Hopkins to do a shout out for your Kickstarter. How did that come about?
RR: Well the great thing is when your friends are your friends you know? I didn’t even ask him he asked me what’s going on what’s happening? And I told him I’m just pushing along and I’m trying to get this movie made and he asked me “How can I help?” and I said “You could be in the movie” HAHA! And honestly he didn’t say yes and he didn’t say no. There is a part I wrote for him, it would be a cameo. He is not cast officially or unofficially. That’s not the way to approach getting him to the film. What I need for the ability to get guys that I want to put in the cameo roles is I have to have my budget in place. Otherwise their agents don’t allow them to get attached that way unless it’s on a much bigger level on studio or big budget level. But for me you know I’ve been in the business a long time, but I’m not known for my director skills.
There’s an approach that we must be careful to do to get the performers that we want for the film and it’s all up to…I don’t want to say playing the game…but that’s what it is. It’s about taking the necessary steps and doing it professionally and ethically. You know, when Tony said “can I help you?” and I said “I’d love for you to be in the film” he said “Let’s reapproach that when you’re ready to go.” That’s how it works and I said “I understand.” And he said “in the meantime do you want me to do a quote or something?” And I said “How about I just shoot you right now on my iPhone and you just tell people to support the project?”
And he didn’t mention the name of the movie because he knew I was going to change the title. And that’s why he said “Help my friend Robert” and he did it kind of tongue in cheek. Josh Brolin, Scott Caan, Matthew Perry, everybody did it like that because I said “I don’t want the audience to think I’m taking myself seriously…why don’t you just say “Help my friend Robert because he owes me money.” “
JD: Tell me about the Kickstarter.
RR: Let’s be frank right now, it doesn’t look like this Kickstarter is making it. And I don’t know how it’s gone past horror fans ears in masses. I’m not asking the horror fans for a fortune. I was trying to do it in three increments of $100,000. I don’t know this is new to me, social media and crowdfunding.
I honestly can tell you I’ve been learning a lot about crowdfunding and raising money in this vein but the one thing that I can promise all the horror fans I will make this movie in one way or another. I just want to serve the story and get as much production value out of it because I had it budgeted at 1.9 million from a professional line producer. And that was a low ball on his professional opinion. Now I knew I could make it for less and I could make it for more. I could make this movie for 12 million and serve the budget fairly.
I know that with my connections and my friendships and the way I learned to be efficient studying for the better part of 25 years of my 32 years in the business. I’ve been preparing and studying and getting all the t’s crossed and I’s dotted on how I feel about being prepared to lead a crew and a cast. And it’s a super important job when someone gives you a check for a million dollars, there’s a lot of responsibility on that and I take it seriously. One thing I don’t do is take myself seriously, because if I did I’d be missing the best joke that God created in my life, you know what I’m saying?
There’s a saying “I don’t take myself seriously but I take my work seriously” and that’s really what it is you know? I learned that early in my career from working with guys like John Hughes and Francis Coppola, and Oliver Stone. I’ve really worked with some cool cats and I’ve had a privilege of working with some fantastic actors. And I really think that’s the key and where it’s at. Don’t take it personal.
‘The Wicked Sick’
You can also follow Jessica at FanGirlMag.com