Director Steve Rudzinski on his Low-Budget Gem, CarousHELL, Now on Tubi

My favorite recommendation for lists of underseen genre movies is always director Steve Rudzinski’s 2016 slasher, CarousHELL. The absolutely nutso film is about Duke, a carousel horse who’s fed up being sat on, and decides to escape and seek vengeance on people of his town. It’s hilarious, weird, violent, and clever, but up until recently, you couldn’t track it down without picking up a copy directly from Rudzinski’s website.

Thankfully, it’s now out of DVD from Wild Eye Releasing, and is streaming on free-with-ads service Tubi, so I took the opportunity to reach out to Rudzinski to talk all things CarousHELL, as well as the director’s current projects.

We’re talking CarousHELL because the movie it is my go-to when people are like, “What’s a movie that you think is underseen?” It’s been really hard because it hasn’t been streaming anywhere, but now it’s on Tubi. How did it how did it finally come to be on a streaming platform four years after its release?

Well, the film was originally finished in 2016 and Wild Eye Releasing picked it up in February of 2017, but they did not release it through Wild Eye Releasing until 2019, then they re-released it physically under their brand in January 2019. About a couple of weeks after that it, was also on Prime streaming – but pay-to-rent, not included with Prime. It was just there for the longest time and then, sometime earlier this year – around March? – they took it off of Prime themselves in order to go through another aggregator that would get it back onto Prime in different countries than what they could access and other streaming options such as Tubi.

They had to change some things to get it on Tubi – what are those cuts?

As far as I can tell, because I only watched the Tubi cut once – I’m #TheRudzinskiCut over here – but as far as I could tell, the main thing that they cut down was the sex scene – the love scene, if you will – between Duke and the character Sarah. In the Tubi cut, she gets naked, she insinuates she’s about to start having sex with Duke and then it cuts to black as you hear her orgasm. That’s it. In the actual film on the physical release or, if you head over to stevebuster.com and subscribe to that, you can access the digital version of the uncut film that has an actual full sex scene with multiple sex positions.

It is hilarious and weird and, to me, one of the more iconic parts of the movie but they had to cut it for streaming reasons and I suppose I understand. If that’s what gets it onto Tubi so that people can finally watch it, I guess I’ll deal with it. The only other thing that was cut is one single shot showing the baby unicorn at the end of the movie. In the original cut, Mrs. Lawrence walks into the bedroom, she sees the stomach moving, she gasps. It cuts to a shot of the baby between Sarah’s legs, cuts back to Mrs. Lawrence, and then it cuts to the baby as it jumps towards the camera and towards Mrs. Lawrence.

In the Tubi cut, Mrs. Lawrence walks in, sees the stomach, gasps, and then it just cuts to the baby jumping at Mrs. Lawrence. That one’s a little weirder to me. I guess they couldn’t even insinuate where babies come from.

Let’s step back like the genesis of this movie. It’s my favorite elevator pitch for a movie of all time, because it’s like, “It’s about about a carousel horse/unicorn that uh gets pissed off and goes on a killing spree.” Was that your original concept or did it develop from something else?

Basically, that’s not too far off. The co-writer of the film, Aleen Isley, came to me and said, “Hey, I have a movie idea.” Most of the time, whenever I hear those words, my eyes roll into the back of my head and I’m blind, because I hear that all the time, at every horror convention I’m at and it’s almost always a bad idea.

She, instead, whipped out, “I want to make a movie about a killer carousel horse – wait, no: a killer carousel unicorn – and we should call it CarousHELL.” I froze and said, “Yes. Yes. This is amazing This is exactly what I want. But why is he killing people? That’s important.”

She thought about it for a moment. She used to work at a theme park and she said, “Got it: some fat kid just is abusing the unicorn on the ride. Just hitting it, wiping boogers and candy-sticky hands all over it and it just makes the horse so mad that he breaks off the ride.”

I’m like, “Perfect,” and then from there, we just kind of worked out the the idea. It was like, “Ho do we tell the story?” I was the one that said,” It’s gonna be a revenge story where the killer is the protagonist, w here we are gonna follow everyone else, but the the killer is the hero. He’s maybe not the good guy, but he is the protagonist.”

As someone who’s worked in independent features, I’m sure you are aware that occasionally, the acting doesn’t quite step up to what the film is, but the thing I love about CarousHELL is that the acting is good. These are legit performances from people who know what’s going on.

That makes me really happy to hear you say that. I’m really glad that’s how you feel. Obviously, it’s subjective. A lot of reviewers will love the movie but then say the acting is terrible. I mean, it’s subjective that they don’t like the acting but, in my opinion, all of my actors performed exactly how I directed them to. Everything in terms of what the actors were doing – except for maybe a few physical movements that were unconscious – in terms of delivery of lines, everything is exactly what the movie is intended to be.

How long did it take to get the movie from start to finish – how long from genesis of idea to actually turning cameras on and putting people in front of them?

Because of budget reasons, this movie is the longest time period between genesis and completion. We originally wrote the screenplay in 2014, right after I had wrapped up on Captain Z & the Terror of Leviathan. We originally tried to raise money to make it back then. We were going to film it in late 2014 or even 2015, but then the crowdfunding campaign completely failed. We raised maybe 1200. Fortunately, it was an Indiegogo, so we got a chunk of that so we were able to buy the horse, which is about a thousand dollars by itself.

Our idea at the time was like, “This spring, we’ll film a short and then, if people care, we’ll try again with the crowdfunding,” but in Christmas of 2015, Rob Steinbock was at our at our home and, in discussion, it came up: “What’s happening with CarousHELL?” “We did the crowdfunding, it failed, yada yada, so this spring we’re gonna film a short and try again.” He looks at us and says, “Well, how much do you need?” and we say the budget and he says, “Well, I got that. I’ll just give it to you.”

I was stupefied, but that’s how these things work: it’s rarely it’s rarely hard work and what you earn. It’s just by chance and who you know at the right place and right time. We signed out the contracts, so we finally got the budget for the film around Christmas of 2015 and from there, we started actually casting everyone again.

We cast a few roles back in 2014 and we reached out to them to see if they were still available. We had to cast a few new folks. Cody Ruch, who we originally were talking to for the effects and we had worked with a little bit up to this point, was still on board, so we filmed it in July of 2016 over the course of a 12-day shoot. It was ready for release in October, and we premiered it at Cinema Wasteland.

When I first reviewed CarousHELL, the thing that I loved the most about it is that, with a killer carousel unicorn, you think it’s going to be a lot of stabbings, but the wide variety of deaths are definitely my favorite part of the movie, visually.

That was very important to me. That was one of the first things that I discussed with Aleen when we started writing the outline: that I only wanted there to be one kill with the horn in this movie. We ended up having two, just because it made sense given what happened with Pierre, but that was one of the first notes: “only one kill with the unicorn horn, and it has to be the first kill.” Then, immediately, we have to see that the unicorn use a machete to chop someone’s head, just to just to make everyone be signed on for the tone of this film immediately. Once that’s in the script then it’s just like, Duke could do whatever. Why? Magic, that’s why.

It was important for him to have a bunch of weapons and a bunch of different ways of killing people because it’s a slasher movie. That’s part of the fun. It’s one of the reasons why, on a personal level, I prefer Jason Voorhees over Michael Myers just because Jason Voorhees sometimes feels like he has a Jason cave of toys that he just pulls out of nowhere.

It seems that everybody I know who I’ve convinced to watch it loves it because it’s bloody as hell, but it is also really funny. That seems to be a hallmark of your work – a really good sense of humor. Is that something that’s important to you when you’re making films: to acknowledge the humor inherent in a situation?

Absolutely. Speaking personally, as a fan, I like horror when it’s fun and makes me laugh. Horror almost never scares me. I watch horror because it’s more like a roller coaster, where I’m just clapping my hands the whole time, so when I make movies, 90% of the time I’m trying to make the movie that I would enjoy watching.

I really want stuff to be fun. Still violent and full of gore, but in a way that you’re having a good time with it. I’m not trying to scare anyone with my movies. That’s never been my intention. I always want to make people laugh or smile a bit in this weird depressing world we live in. Just forget about stuff and have a good time for 60 to 90 minutes but, at the same time, I’m not a fan of just full-blown, self-parody horror films. I like movies that are able to be self-aware, that know what they are, and that don’t take themselves too seriously, but aren’t just making fun of themselves the entire time.

I mean, when you have somebody named Pierre who is drinking wine and eating a baguette, that’s an acknowledgment of the ridiculousness of the situation.

Absolutely, but he’s from Quebec, so it’s okay.

In in recent years, you’ve been putting together the Very Meowy movies. Are they influenced in any way whatsoever by the Eric Roberts masterpiece A Talking Cat!?!?

Specifically that? No. The origins of the Meowy movies is that, as I said, CarousHELL was picked up in early 2017, but wouldn’t come out for two more years, physically. I can’t make another real, budgeted horror movie if I’m not making any money off the prior one yet, so I was sitting, doing nothing at the time for at least two years. My friend and I – who had a podcast at the time, Movie Films with Bill and Steve – started reviewing some talking animal holiday movies and with one exception, The Three Dogateers – because it was also self-aware and knew what it was and it made us laugh – all of these movies were garbage.

They had so much money put into them because they always were shot in this huge mansion and they always had a a bunch of B-to-C-list name actors like Dean Cain for some reason. They’re all so terrible. They’re such cookie cutter, generic, not good scripts that were just being made to toss on ABC Family. The biggest offender that finally pushed us over the edge was The Dog Who Saved Christmas because it was the worst, laziest – just a Home Alone rip-off, except with a dog.

We were talking online but I looked at Bill and said, “You know what? I got a cat and $500. Let’s make a Home Alone rip-off. So, it started out of spite. The first Meowy is much more generic than what comes after it, but it’s still me and Bill and so, the script was weird. It was weird from the get-go.

For those of you at home that aren’t familiar with it, it’s about a cat that watches Alex Jones videos, so she believes that two burglars have kidnapped Santa Claus and they’re lizard aliens, so that’s an elevator pitch for a talking cat movie for children, already. I made it. I just tossed it on Prime. I didn’t expect to do anything with it. That was one of those ones I actually did for fun and it was easy, too, because it’s my cat. I filmed in my house. It was barely any work.

Kids loved it. Adults loved it. It did really well on Prime. I said, “Okay, well, you know what? There’s an itch I’ve always wanted to scratch and that’s making a PG-rated family horror movie.” I’ve got a soft spot for those, since most of my life in horror is the blood and guts, R-rated stuff. I’ve got a big soft spot for stuff like Ernest Scared Stupid or Paranorman, so the next year, I did A Meowy Halloween, filled it with a bunch of horror references that kids don’t get, but adults ate up and kids still enjoyed it, though. We had a scary monster. We had a bunch more jokes and that one was one of the biggest hits of my entire career. I’ve said it in other interviews, but in terms of units, yes, we have sold more CarousHELL, but in terms of budget-to-profit, A Meowy Halloween might be the best financial decision I have ever made.

CarousHELL came out in 2019, but the Meowys still had a fan base and since I wasn’t sure if or when I was going to make a CarousHELL 2 or another major horror film, I said, “You know what? Real quick I’ll do two more Meowys to end the series,” because it is way too easy to fall into that trap of just making garbage, no-budget cat movies for the rest of my life, because they’re so easy to profit off of.

I released Meowy St. Patrick’s Day and A Meowy Christmas Vacation and that’s it for the Meowys. That’s the ending, but I love the fact that if you tell someone the concept of Meowy one, which is, “A cat fights off two burglars that she thinks are aliens,” that’s kind of weird. Then there’s the fourth movie which is about how her owner gets thrust into the future where lizard aliens have taken over the world and he has to get back in time, and that’s just like, “What the hell happened here? How did we go from A to Z?” To find that out, you have to watch them all.

Now that CarousHELL is is is out in a physical form, what’s in the the works at the moment?

Well, the unfortunate reality with independent cinema is not many people buy physical media anymore and physical media is the way we make our budgets back and we make money so, even though we have actually sold a lot of CarousHELL and a lot of people watched it digitally now – which is awesome – we haven’t we actually haven’t made anywhere near our money back on the original budget.

Which is fine! It’s a long-term investment. We knew what we signed up for, but a lot of the people that have been asking for CarousHELL 2? Up until recently I’ve been saying, “Probably not,” because we are still very much in the red on CarousHELL 1. I’m glad that everyone loves it and is passionate about it, but not enough people have bought a copy for that to come back in a way that we’re like, “Yep: doing two right now,” but since so many fans have been asking us for a part two for four years now, we did start a Kickstarter to raise $10,000 in order to make CarousHELL the Second and film it in spring of 2021 to have it released by fall of 2021.

You can back the CarousHELL the Second Kickstarter here.

Nick Spacek
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