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Recently, Fango slipped into an upscale hotel room in downtown Toronto with actors Patrick Fabian and Ashley Bell—but as potentially provocative as that sounds, it was all business. The duo star in director Daniel Stamm’s new—and heavily hyped—supernatural thriller THE LAST EXORCISM (opening Friday, August 27 from Lionsgate in the U.S. and Maple Pictures in Canada). Produced by Eli Roth, EXORCISM is a solid, original experiment in terror that is not a remake or a rehash, and God bless it for that.
At its core are the topnotch turns by the aforementioned actors. Fabian (previously seen on TV’s VERONICA MARS and BIG LOVE) plays Baptist preacher and slowly reforming charlatan Cotton Marcus, who assembles a documentary crew and brings them along on one of his routine “exorcisms” in order to prove to the world that his rituals are shams, and “possession” the product of potential mental illness and misguided faith. When Cotton and his HD-packing pals arrive on a little rural farm, they meet angelic-looking Nell Sweetzer (Bell)—and, after much bizarre and violent phenomena, they soon start to doubt their doubt….
Shot in faux-documentary first person (à la CLOVERFIELD or, more appropriately, George A. Romero’s DIARY OF THE DEAD), the film nonetheless is incredibly cinematic, even employing subtle score work by Roth standby Nathan Barr (HOSTEL, CABIN FEVER). Sitting with the lovely, shy Bell and the charismatic Fabian is a nice surprise, as they—along with a legion of mainstream-weary horror fans—are incredibly excited about the film, especially following the previous night’s sold-out screening at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival.
FANGORIA: What’s truly remarkable about your performance, Ashley, is that you play the role without the aid of any digital or even practical special FX.
ASHLEY BELL: Well, there is one sequence with effects—the part where [special makeup artist] Greg Nicotero broke my fingers…
PATRICK FABIAN: Oh my God, that’s such a great, cringe-inducing, old-fashioned scene of horror…
FANG: It is, for sure. But beyond these jolting moments, your performance is riveting. Talk about veering smoothly between playing a peaches-and-cream farm girl and hell-imbued, homicidal wraith.
BELL: Oh, it was so much fun, I can’t even tell you. I mean, really, I got the chance to play two characters: one when she’s this decent, quiet, moral teenager and the other when she’s in the possessed state. Trying to tap into those states of mind, to figure out what she was exposed to, was challenging and fun. I even read books on exorcisms, talked to people, went to churches, listened to tapes…and Daniel made us all watch these old EXORCIST films and said, “Don’t do what they do!”
FANG: Are we talking about legitimate EXORCIST sequels, or some of the unauthorized Italian ripoffs?
BELL: Oh, yes! We saw this Italian one, I think it was called ANTICHRIST, with a cabinet of drawers that slams against a wall and another one where this girl barfs frogs.
FANG: Patrick, when I was watching you on screen, I couldn’t help thinking of Marjoe Gortner…
FABIAN: Absolutely. Daniel told me to look at that old documentary about Gortner, and I did. I recognized him as that actor guy from the ’70s, of course, from stuff like THE FOOD OF THE GODS, but I didn’t use just him as the springboard for Cotton. I looked at Jimmy Swaggart and all those blowhards who yell and say, “I have the answers, and give me your money!” and are eventually exposed as liars and hollow people. But Cotton is not that, really, and that what the movie’s about—he’s on a mission to redeem himself.
FANG: The film was actually originally called COTTON. How do you feel about the title change?
FABIAN: I think it’s good. I mean, if I said to my friends, “Hey, I’m in this movie called COTTON!” they’d say, “Well, what’s that about?” They don’t ask that about LAST EXORCISM.
FANG: How loose was Daniel with the content? Because of the shooting style, did he let you riff?
BELL: He would make us do 30 takes of some scenes, just trying to see what worked. Which was great, because it gave us that freedom to suggest and try different approaches of our own—
FABIAN: But it was also exhausting sometimes, and we often lost time just workshopping one scene. Thank heavens the other cast were all very, very patient!
FANG: How did you feel when you first saw the film?
BELL: I watched it at my parents’ house, and I was scared to death. I was scared of myself!
FANG: You can’t ask for a better review than that!
Be sure to pick up FANGORIA #296—on stands now—for our in-depth chat with director Stamm.
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