It’s always bad news when a group of attractive women are wandering around a house in a horror movie at late hours of the night. But for whom? In John Stuart Wildman’s directorial debut The Ladies of the House, the director with Sarasota roots tosses gender politics aside into a very scary basement, leaving audiences laughing confused and most likely terrified. And Sarasota Film Festival audiences will be among some of the earliest audiences to be frightened and entertained en masse.
When Ladies plays the Sarasota Film Festival in April, it will be a homecoming for Wildman, who grew up in the Englewood and attended high school in Sarasota. Today, Wildman lives in New York with wife Justina Walford and works as senior publicist for the Film Society of Lincoln Center. He also spent eight years working for film festivals but somehow has never made it to the Sarasota Film Festival. He is preparing this week to debut Ladies at the Dallas International Film Festival on April 4 and 5, then fly immediately to Sarasota to screen for Sarasota audiences on April 7 and 8.
Ladies at first feels like a paint-by-numbers horror flick. A group of three buddies go home with a stripper named Ginger and things go terribly wrong for the girl when one of the guys tries to rape her and another pulls out a gun and shoots her. But the true villains turn out not to be the men but Ginger’s sadistic roommates. But even as the figurative man-eaters hunt and torture this less-than-sympathetic troupe of dudes, it can be hard to know who to root for.
That’s the point, according to Wildman. “One of the major themes for us was flipping the gender politics of the genre to such an extent that you make the audience ask, ‘Am I actually feeling like cheering for the women for doing these terrible things?’ It’s their home. They didn’t ask these guys in. We were really hoping from the beginning of the project that as audiences were leaving the theater, there would be people who said ‘I was on the girl’s side,’ as weird as that sounds.”
The result is a film that has the typical gore and tension of a gruesome genre pick while still ending on a surprising note. The interesting choice of having the women decked in 1950s wardrobes only further added to the dastardly characters’ appeal.
Wildman wrote the film with Walford; the couple had wanted to do a film project together for some time, Wildman said. Neither necessarily had much of a horror background at the time, with Wildman’s artistic endeavors leaning toward comedy and Walford’s more on drama. The decision to go with a gore flick was largely based on the fact you can build a big audience for the film without having any big stars attached.
When the film plays in Sarasota, he is hoping many of the actors in the film will show up. In addition to himself and Walford attending the screening, he expects Farah White, who plays the sultry head of household Lin, and possibly Melodie Sisk, who portrays the aggressive and self-assuredly “not insane” Getty, and Mark Hennessy, an actor with a smaller role in the production, will be here as well.
The Ladies of the House plays at the Hollywood 20 on Monday, April 7, at 9pm and Tuesday, April 8, at 8:30pm.
feature picture: Brina Palencia as Crystal.