Part of the Austin film scene’s singular charm is its willingness to embrace the bold, the bizarre and the ultra-taboo, but it is the Austin Revolution Film Festival that truly represents the pinnacle of inventiveness and creative risk taking. While the festival promises a smattering of comedic and dramatic fare to whet your appetite, it is the midnight movies, the gleefully exploitative blood-n’-guts-soaked oddball odysseys that can really stretch a movie lover’s brain to the limit. Perhaps no filmmaker better embodies that gruesome joie de vivre than writer/director/star Ryan LaPlante, whose decadently depraved horror comedy, Holy Hell, plays the Austin Revolution Film Festival at 11:30 p.m. on Friday, September 23rd. Described as “Death Wish meets The Toxic Avenger by way of Hobo with a Shotgun,” LaPlante’s Holy Hell is one of those rare genre-busting treats that can deliver on the lofty promises it makes.
Raised in the Catholic tradition and described as a studious child with aspirations of becoming a lawyer, LaPlante’s life quickly took a turn for the theatrical. “I spent about 8 years performing in musicals, then ended up going to Queen's University where, despite my partying, I graduated with a Bachelor's Degree (Honours) in Drama and founded Vagabond Theatre: Canada's first Student Shakespearean Repertoire Company (which is still going to this day),” says LaPlante. After adding opera, improvisation (he is an alumnus of the Second City Improv Conservatory), theatrical directing and sketch comedy to his already impressive repertoire, LaPlante quickly realized that the final frontier was staring him in the face: cinema.
In a nutshell, Holy Hell is an over-the-top revenge thriller about Father Augustus Bane, a priest who witnesses the massacre of his parishioners and trades devotion to God for fealty to a revolver. Armed with divine indignation and a Hell of a grudge, Father Augustus begins systematically hunting down the gangsters who perpetrated the mass killing and subjects them to gleefully bloody vengeance. The goal of the film, according to LaPlante, “is to break through every limit set by a film, taste, and reasonable societal behavior: all with anarchic glee.” From the looks of the stylish trailer, LaPlante and company passed with flying colors—specifically, red. Lots and LOTS of red. LaPlante began devising the idea after directing a stage production of the heartfelt Broadway musical Rent, a story that boasts subtle humanity and earnest emotional heft. So naturally, a borderline blasphemous horror film about a renegade preacher man seemed a fitting follow-up.
“As a first-time writer and director who’s a film buff and a graduate of the Second City Improv Conservatory, a retro horror comedy seemed like a good fit for myself and my team,” says LaPlante. “I contacted my amazing Director of Photography (Kyle C. Barker) and my lead villain/co-producer (Michael Rawley) and we were underway! I couldn't have done it without those two.” To witness the trailer for Holy Hell certainly, wouldn’t suggest that this is the work of a first-time director.
LaPlante’s gutsy vision and ability to inspire his cast and crew to throw themselves headlong into the insanity of the film has already paid dividends; Holy Hell has been accepted at 24 film festivals worldwide, with 27 award nominations and 12 wins thus far. Most rewarding of all, for LaPlante, are the very vocal audience reactions to a piece that almost certainly wouldn’t have seen the light of day had LaPlante played the game and gone the traditional studio route. “The people I knew in the industry either hated the script violently or told me it was hilarious but could never get made in the system. As such we did it ourselves, and we threw everything up on that screen where it's unapologetic and uncensored. You will see things in this film you will never see anywhere else. It's one of a kind, as only truly indie films can be,” says LaPlante. Certainly, Holy Hell typifies the fiercely independent spirit of the Austin Revolution Film Festival. Produced on a microbudget and paid for by LaPlante and a handful of angel investors, the film refuses to be bound by the conventions of Hollywood studio filmmaking and proudly wears its indie cred on its sleeve. Says LaPlante, “Without festivals like ARFF, Holy Hell wouldn't be where it is today. We're indie, and we're all about starting a revolution within the indie film system (specifically in Canada). Let's make some films, make some friends, and all do great things together. ARFF is all about that mandate!” Holy Hell screens Friday, September 23rd at 11:30 p.m., with a free shot of alcohol for all attendees (you’re going to need it after this non-stop carnival ride of carnage and glee). Be sure to visit Austin Revolution Film Festival’s website for tickets and more details. Holy Hell is bloody, insane, hilarious, offensive and inappropriate for everyone. What more could you want?!