Recently I was scanning through my Instagram and came across an image that seemed to electrify me senses. Being slightly obsessed with horror this is something that happens often, just not on a level as the image of Roger Conners in character for his new film. The image practically jumped out of my Instagram feed. In character, Roger posed, showing off the long multicolored hair of royal, aqua, purple, with jet black roots. Wearing a sort of "Santa baby" holiday kit, a face beat for the gods, and eyebrows that would make Peaches Christ take notice, this was not Roger Conners. Standing iconic, off the edge of my feed, was the Lady Athena. I instinctively shot Roger a line to get the details of this character and of this latest project! A holiday slasher filming in Cleveland, OH, working title "Slay Bells"- music to my twisted ears!
I imagine most people now days that sees a film that has drag queens, gay themes or any aspect of LGBT culture roll their eyes, and murmur some sentiment usually reserved for when they hear of a new zombie flick hitting production, or comic book adaptation coming to a network near you! It does seem, at times, that there is an over-saturation of gayness in today's media, but growing up as a child of the 70's and 80's, for me it can never be too much. Because we, on the whole, as a community and subject have gone from " plague", clown, punching bag, and punch line, to being something of substance, an equal. Seen as strong and a asset in mainstream media, hell in society! So yeah, I get excited over gay characters, gay themes or any strong gay presence in a horror film! And, to see gay actors actually chosen to portray the characters on film is saying a lot about how far we have come as a society!
The point being, it is nice to see that films are being made that not only speak to me as a horror fan, but as a gay horror fan. More importantly films, when all is said and done, remain horror films and not gays films that have horror elements. Take my word for it, there is a difference. The latter usually only relates to the gay mindset, and the horror is often mild. Horror films that relate to gay horror fans are the ones that stay every bit as heavy and gritty as you want, they just happen to have an equal gay presence along side the traditional themes of horror. These are the sort of films that Roger Conners seeks out to be a part of, as an actor, writer, director and producer. I first became acquainted with him in 2013 while interviewing the then, 26 year old, for his roles in "Hellementary" which had just found a place in heavy rotation on Chiller, and "Chill: The Killing Game".
A SOUTHERN LIFE: You have been very busy with acting, writing and I believe producing. Are you enjoying staying so busy?
ROGER CONNERS: There's certainly always a level of joy to be had on these sets, no doubt about it. They are such a great distraction for me, especially when the rest of my life seems to be a bit out of control. The last year was a bit hectic so these recent projects really helped keep me on the right track and maintain my focus. I always appreciate that. Now, that's not to say there isn't an amplified level of stress that comes in tow! Anybody else who works in this business knows what I'm talking about, but it's all just part of the package. In the end I know it's all worth it. That's why I keep doing it.
A SOUTHERN LIFE:And doing it, you are! You are currently filming a holiday slasher, and you have Raw Focus, Chill, and Night Of The Living Dead: Rebirth in various stages of post production and on festival circuit, so you must be gearing up for promoting these projects as well?
ROGER CONNERS: Yeah, you know I've always loved the promotional aspect of these things. Outside of the film scene I actually work in marketing so I suppose it just comes naturally. I don't know, I'm just a schmoozer at heart I suppose. It's all about making yourself look good at what you do and knowing the right people and making the right contacts. I live for that shit.
Now, once these projects get out of my hands I don't have as much control over the promotional aspect. Chill was recently picked up for distribution and thus the title was changed to "Chill: The Killing Games". I had nothing to do with that, but I get it. It's all about making the movie sound more marketable. It was a smart move on behalf of the distributors, for sure. All I can do is stand in the background and cheer them on and cross my fingers that people will actually come out of the woodwork and see it!
And of course, an occasional interview now and then never hurts...
A SOUTHERN LIFE: I was getting ready to ask about Chill's status. When we last talked in 2013 the film was in limbo, so congrats on having it picked up! Does that make you more excited to see the horror fans reaction to the film, or more nervous?
ROGER CONNERS: A bit of both, I suppose. Thus far, people seem to really be enjoying the film. We've managed to maintain a 7.5 rating on IMDB since the first screening back in 2013. Since then, its been screened by countless fans and critics alike and we have yet to receive a truly negative review! Now, that's not to say that it will never happen. People are entitled to their opinions. I suppose I'm just shocked that we've managed to secure such a loyal fan-base. It makes me really proud. So yeah, I'm definitely eager to see what happens to the movie once it becomes available to the public. Will it become a cult classic or will viewers end up slamming it? I honestly have no idea. Like I said earlier in the interview, all I can do is sit back and cross my fingers. These things are out of my control.
A SOUTHERN LIFE: Exactly! I know I enjoyed it and the mythos surrounding the game itself has franchise written all over it. Is the sequel still on? And as for Chill:The Killing Game, when will horror fans get to see the game begin?
ROGER CONNERS: The sequel is certainly being discussed and the idea is slowly evolving. The minds behind the project all agreed that they wouldn't pursue Chill 2 until distribution was secured. Well, now that's the case, but that doesn't ensure its going to necessarily be a huge hit! We want it to be so that's why the idea of Chill 2 has been developed, but I don't think cameras will start rolling until we know where the masses stand with the first one. I think that's a smart move since we are working on an indie level, but I'll admit that I would definitely love to play Kyle one (or two) more times!
A SOUTHERN LIFE: Kyle is a very eclectic persona and holds his on in the film! How much of Kyle is you, and how much is pure fiction? To elaborate on that point, Kyle starts out appearing stereotypical but you soon realize that he is much more. He is confident, strong willed, and witty. When faced with a moment of vulnerability he immediately finds strength to to deal with it.
ROGER CONNERS: One of the great things about the development of "Chill" was the fact that the director Meredith Holland allowed us to have a lot of input on our characters as she created them and fleshed them out. I actually wanted to play Kyle in a way that wasn't your stereotypical "gay". He isn't "fabulous". He's not decked out in designer clothing. To make it simple, the kid just isn't confident. There are aspects of my personality that come through in the performance but I purposely wanted Kyle to register a bit more awkward. You'd never expect him to man-up and go into survival mode, yet by final act of the film that's exactly what happens. Kyle is not your typical hero and I kind of love that about him.
A SOUTHERN LIFE: Exactly he is how we all feel and he becomes what we all hope for ourselves. I related to his weaknesses, he expressed outwardly what a deal with internally so the development process with Kyle's character is inspiring. I hope the horror fans, especially the gay fans get that about the film!Now how does your character in Raw Focus differ from Kyle? You play Chatham in that film, right?
ROGER CONNERS: Chatham is the complete polar opposite of Kyle in almost every way possible. The guy is a former model/adult film actor who has spent the last decade or so cleaning up his act and creating a name for himself behind the camera, dabbling in makeup, hair, and fashion. He owns an upscale salon and spa and is renowned for his cutting edge looks. He's a big personality and a bit of a father-figure for some of the younger, up and coming models who aren't quite accustomed to how harsh the business can truly be. He's a lot of fun and a very big personality and I had a great time playing him!
A SOUTHERN LIFE: A vast difference! Raw Focus takes on the adult erotica industry with a modern twist. The description reads very exploitation meets road horror. What can we expect from Raw Focus?
ROGER CONNERS: Um, a lot violence, gore, and a shit ton of boobies! No, seriously, there's a lot of nudity. Myself included!
A SOUTHERN LIFE: So it is full on NC-17 sexploitation! I know that it was voted 2nd most anticipated film by Horror Society readers!
ROGER CONNERS: It was, which was super flattering! I attribute a lot of that to Benny Benzino who plays the films lead villain "Razorface"! Somehow, the guy has managed to turn his Facebook fan-page into our greatest form of promotion! He's garnered nearly 15,000 fans thus far and they're all chomping at the bit to see the movie. Pretty badass, you know?
A SOUTHERN LIFE: He is commanding and intimidating in all the right ways on screen. A great asset to any cast. Raw Focus sounds like a throw back to the video nasty days, erotic photo shoot set in the killing fields of psychopaths in the middle of nowhere. Classic nightmare situation. So tell me about Chatham's place in this terrifying scenario? Without giving away any spoilers, of course!
ROGER CONNERS: Chatham is in charge of the costuming and makeup for this specific photo-shoot which is being orchestrated by "world-renowned" erotic-photographer Salem, who is played by Pakob Jarernpone. Salem is preparing to release a book of his greatest works, and these photos are meant to be the main attraction. He's specifically selects a model from each major genre and brings them to this plot of land in the middle of nowhere. Of course it's in the middle of nowhere. How else are you going to start killing them off?
So to keep this simple and sweet, the crew comes face to face with a trio of bounty hunters who just so happen to use those woods to dispose of the bodies of their victims. Shit hits the fan and, of course, chaos ensues.
A SOUTHERN LIFE: It sounds like an epic survivalist nightmare! Sow when can we expect Raw Focus to be released?
ROGER CONNERS: It will be premiering late this spring in Cleveland. From there we will be pursuing distribution. With the amount of breasts in this one, I feel we will be successful in that area.
A SOUTHERN LIFE: Oh no doubt, plus the fan's buzz that has started over the film already, distribution should be quick! Now let's talk about the project that I know is close to your heart- Night Of The Living Dead:Rebirth! Why a remake of this film considering how many are in circulation what makes Rebirth stand out?
ROGER CONNERS: Ugh... I've been waiting for that question! Might as well get it over with!
A SOUTHERN LIFE: Tell me about the character of Adam. Rebirth is slightly different in design and yet familiar enough that it presents as a tribute to the original.
ROGER CONNERS: So since the age of seven I have considered two films to be my all time favorites. The first is "The Wizard of Oz" and the second is the original "Night of the Living Dead". These two films are the reason I wanted to start acting to begin with. I can still remember the very first time I saw "Night of the Living Dead". It left such an impression on me and, to be real, sort of messed me up for a few years. I was so terrified of the film that I couldn't even look at the VHS cover without shaking.
I can honestly still remember the musky scent of my grandfathers old video cabinet and even that would make me uneasy. For months I had nightmares, yet for some reason I also maintained this strange fascination with the film. I would draw images from the movie on my placemats and recreate scenes with my action figures, yet I couldn't bring myself to watch it again because I was so terrified. Finally I got over the fear and was able to view it again, but that infatuation never faded away. The fear I experienced just developed into this strange appreciation I have for the film. I will always love it and have fantasized of being able to pay homage to it. Rebirth is merely my ultimate fan-film. It's genuinely a dream come true.
Keep your eyes peeled for part II of my interview with Roger Conners where we talk a bit more about “Night Of The Living Dead: Rebirth”, “Slay Bells”, and Conners ventures into directing as he discusses his directorial debut. Plus the music video for Centerfold by Cali Miles which is featured on the soundtrack for “Raw Focus”. To check out the projects that we discussed thus far in our two part interview hit the links below. Plus hit the link to keep up with Roger Conners future projects and current workings.
CHILL:THE KILLING GAME Facebook Page
RAW FOCUS Facebook Page
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: REBIRTH Facebook Page
WILLIAM ROGER CONNERS