Horror is a genre ripe for innovation, allowing creators and actors to go beyond what you might expect from a drama or standard comedy and push the boundaries of what is possible. This is how 2022’s Here for Blood manages to turn its modest budget into an experience full of twists and turns that you won’t see coming.
Here For Blood tells the story of rowdy pro-wrestler Tom O’Bannon (Shawn Roberts), who agrees to fill in for his girlfriend’s high-paying babysitting job at the last minute when she is swamped with college exams. What starts out as a simple job quickly turns into a fight for their lives when an otherworldly cult of masked intruders descend on their house and turn what was supposed to be a peaceful night of pizza and video games into a bloody, violent mess as they find themselves fighting for their lives.
Shawn Roberts is no stranger to genre films, having worked on films in the Resident Evil series as well as a range of TV and film work. An experienced actor who loves the craft, he takes to the role well, bringing the character of Tom O’Bannon to life in an over-the-top but incredibly funny way. With the film being part of last year’s Toronto After Dark Film Festival, we were lucky enough to get some time with him to discuss the film, horror cinema and his thoughts on the Canadian film industry as a whole.
So how did you get involved in this project, and what made you want to be part of it?
Shawn Roberts: After a quick pass through, the work that James Roberts had done reminded me of the movies I had seen growing up, with the liners and the action, and luckily they were on board and liked the resume I had. We also had some mutual friends at the Butcher Shop Effects studio in Hamilton who vouched for me, so we started the dialogue, and I was on board.
You mentioned that this project reminded you of films you liked when you were a kid, could you tell us what it reminded you of and what kind of genre films you liked?
Shawn Roberts: I grew up mostly on action, but one of the films that stood out to me was Army of Darkness. A lot of films are so safe now, but that film had a lot of lines that weren’t safe, and I liked that it said, ‘let’s offend somebody.’ It seems as ridiculous as the plot of the film was, but there were moments where it was grounded, I really haven’t changed from the kid who watched those films growing up.
Some of the other movies I saw growing up had really expensive effects as far as the horror and the gore gimmicks, but then CGI came along, and that was twice as expensive. Well, now CGI has come down in cost. And because of the time it takes to get actors into a prosthetic face or an arm gag, it ends up being almost more expensive, so a lot of productions don’t do real horror gags anymore.
That was one of the nice things about this production, it was nice to know that their intention was to go back to the old-school stuff. It makes it a lot more fun than just sitting in front of a green screen imagining what’s going to happen.
I understand that there’s a big resurgence at the moment in trying to get back to those practical effects, especially for the horror and action genres.
Shawn Roberts: Yeah, which is nice because as ridiculous as we make it, CGI is just not grounded in reality anymore. It’s nice to see the change because, as an actor who’s not injured or old, I want to do the real thing. Unfortunately, all my action stars are getting older, they’re still working, but it’s certainly different to see a 65-year-old running down the block than someone who’s healthy and can do it. So I hope that’s my chance.
You’ve done a lot of different genres but also a lot of more serious work. What is your favourite type of project to do?
Shawn Roberts: I am drawn to employment. The reality is that a couple of years ago, when I wanted to develop a project on my own, it became clear that I wanted to go to work every day and I wanted to laugh, and I wanted to have a good time. So as much as I love going down and doing the horror and the gore, most of the time, the blood is cold, you’re wet, it’s raining, and you’ve been sitting on concrete for a couple of hours, it’s not great.
But I like to go out and make jokes, and if I can do that, then it’s a good day. As I said, I’m not injured. So I can still enjoy the action, it’s almost like a sprinter on the blocks before the race, you quiet down the set, the cameras are rolling, everything’s ready, and you wait for the moment when they call the action.
In a big dialogue scene, or a heavy dialogue scene, the pressure is ‘Oh my God, let me remember all my damn words,’ but in action, it’s ‘Let me not forget any of the steps, so nobody gets punched in the face’.
A few years ago, I was working with Donnie Yen on XXX. In passing, he called me one of the stunt guys, and that was probably one of the biggest honours I’ve ever had because it’s actually the stunt guys who do everything, and I respect them for doing it over and over again. It’s only through my experience in the film industry to be able to see it firsthand to really understand the respect that our stunt community deserves. It’s nice to see that the community is finally being recognized because, in my opinion, they do all the fun stuff.
Without question, they do some amazing things. It’s always mind-boggling that they can do it all.
Shawn Roberts: And do it right and do it again and again. Yeah, it is impressive.
So, how was the shoot? It looks like it was very chaotic and fun. How was it actually shot and set?
Shawn Roberts: I’ll start by saying that these were night shoots, and that always presents its own challenges. The first week we were shooting between London and Strathroy, which is a lovely little country house that they use for weddings, and we had a big tropical storm come through, so we lost power in the middle of nowhere. But we were really blessed that the weather held out for us until the end of the shoot. Although one of the biggest things is trying not to get blood everywhere, we come in the morning and get our make-up and wardrobe, and then they spray us with blood.
And we’re not allowed to touch or sit anywhere, so our cleaning crew had to go back about seven times just to get all the blood out of everywhere. There used to be some kind of chemical in it that would stain your skin. And the only way to get it off was with shaving cream, but at least now it comes out pretty easily. So things are getting better. We also had challenges with food because there were not many restaurants open at 2 am, and everyone was hungry, so we bonded over Mr. Noodles in the middle of the night.
Well, it seems that the last few years have seen a resurgence in the number of homegrown productions being made in Canada. As a Canadian, what do you think?
Shawn Roberts: I’m excited that the industry is growing, but in my mind, it’s exciting to see a film like this. I have a lot of respect for the producers who are able to do the financing themselves because I know it’s certainly a challenge. Because when our government funds our content, they make the rules, but when we find the funding, we can make the content we want to see. That was the most beautiful thing when it came to this production, everybody putting down a few dollars here and there because they see the passion.
Our director, Daniel Torres, and our writer, James Roberts, a recent film school graduate, found the project and then made it happen, and I have a lot of respect for them for working with the City of London. It’s always nice to find a community that is supportive of film production. Unfortunately, Toronto has gotten a bit expensive in terms of closing off streets, but London has a lot to offer, and it’s nice to see so many historical buildings and, unfortunately, some vacancies. I’m really hoping that Southern Ontario can somehow build up its film industry because God knows I need more jobs.
Now I want to talk about the wrestling aspect of the film. Were you a wrestling fan before joining the production? And if not, how did you learn all those moves to be in the film?
Shawn Roberts: I grew up with two older brothers who were wrestling fans, so I was exposed to wrestling at that time and found out that it was basically just dancing. I was disappointed because it may be dancing, but it’s dancing with some pretty hard punches. The reality is you’re working with elite athletes, I have a whole new respect for them because the moment you’re on stage in the ring doing it, you’re almost overwhelmed by the crowd screaming, there’s so much going on.
So it’s nice to have a wrestling partner that catches you and says, ‘what am I going to do next?’ and they’ll help you out. The support from the wrestling community is absolutely amazing. There are some incredibly talented guys here in Canada, and we were lucky to have them on board.
Is there anything else you’re working on or anything that’s already out there that you want people to check out?
Shawn Roberts: There are a couple of films that are apparently finished and ready to be released. But I have no dates for them. CVC Heartland? but that’s a completely different genre. Unfortunately, I haven’t had too many great fun roles like that in a while, but I’m hoping that will change.
I’m sure a lot of people will be excited to see what you can do in their films. So I don’t think you have to worry too much.
Shawn Roberts: Well, thank you, Brendan. It’s nice to get a good response. I appreciate it.