Killer Sofa Interview: Talking Homicidal Furniture With Director Bernie Rao and New Zealand’s Own Jim Baltaxe

A great title should sum up perfectly what a movie is about. It should inform the viewer as to what they are about to see before they even watch. A good title is like a juicy steak: promising on the outside and even better once you dig in. So, it is my extreme pleasure to tell you about Killer Sofa. If you haven’t read my review, check it out here. The horror film is directed by Bernie Rao and it stars Jim Baltaxe in the role of one Dybbuk killing Rabbi. Recently I spoke to them both about their time making Killer Sofa and found of some other interesting tidbits along the way.

Killer Sofa, directed by Bernie Rao released on VOD this October. Check out the synopsis below.

Electric Dreams meets Christine in the heart-warmingly horrific chronicle of a killer Lazy Boy that falls in love with a girl – and the bloody carnage that follows as a result!

Francesca always attracted weirdos. When one of her stalkers is found dead, she looks for comfort from her best friend, Maxi. Meanwhile, Maxi’s grandfather, Jack, a disgraced Rabbi, comes across a reclining chair containing a Dybbuk inside. Jack and his voodoo sorceress partner try to find out where the recliner has been delivered while exploring Jack’s newfound gift for communicating with the other world. Meanwhile, the reclining chair becomes enchanted by Francesca and starts committing crimes of passion.

LRM Online: Awesome. All right, I’ll pitch the first question to you. How did you come to be a part of this film here?

Jim: Actually, I’ve been trying to work that one out myself. Bernie came over, we wanted to do a small shoot about something totally unrelated. He came into my house, took a look around, decided he likes the layout of the house. I’ve got a deck with a beautiful view of Island Bay and it’s quite a quite a gorgeous view. And he liked that and went away and came up with some silly thing. We had a discussion about an old rabbi and what I look like and being from New York and that sort of stuff and we started playing games with the concept of a dybbuk and I don’t actually know how we got to the recliner chair itself, but…

Bernie: I came to Jim with the script, I think. You know, we’ve been friends for a few years now. We’ve done some short films together. And I knew Jim had this house and I knew Jim was an actor. So when I wrote the film I was thinking that I would use him as an actor.

LRM Online: It really worked out like that then?

Bernie: Yeah. And the Jewish element, the dybbuk came, because I was talking to Jim, I needed this supernatural element…

LRM Online: You were convincing.

Jim: Yeah. And it really grew very, very organically, which is why it’s hard for me to remember the details. But the only thing we really never did do is get much in the way of exterior’s out over the Bay and all that stuff. But that can be handled another time.

LRM Online: Sure!

Jim: We’ve got a couple of other ideas that we’re knocking around.

LRM Online: Really?

Jim: A sequel.

LRM Online: Oh man, that was one of my questions.

Jim: I’ve got a couple of ideas knocking around in my head for it, but I think this is again something I’ve only mentioned to Bernie a couple of times, but I’d like to see any sequel focus more on Angelica.

Bernie: Angelica was Ashanti. His girlfriend in the movie.

Jim: That was the Caribbean lady with the Vodou.

LRM Online: Yeah I remember her role.

Jim: And I’d like to do some sort of a sequel that we could possibly follow up stressing. Centering in on her, her Caribbean background sort of again using this time another version of a dybbuk, which is basically a Jewish zombie.

LRM Online: Can you elaborate?

Jim:  Try and elevate or try and really focus in on that side of things and focus in on her as Ashanti as the character.

LRM Online: That’d be interesting.

Jim: I think that can be a lot of fun.

Bernie: You should write the script Jim.

Jim: Well, I’ve been thinking about a few things, but I, I’m not going to I won’t mention any details yet.

Bernie: Basically, Jim wants to shoot with Angelica again.

LRM Online: That’s what it is. All right.

Jim: Number one that, but also, I think it would make a nice, what they say, obverse, you flip a coin, the other side of the coin.

LRM Online: Sure.

Jim: And that would be a good. I think it would have some potential. So, we’ll see how that works.

LRM Online: Great. Yeah. Fantastic answer. She definitely, within the film, and yourself, served as a great tool for in a horror movie, which is that exposition that has to be sort of, stuck in there but not too. You don’t want it to be too obtrusive and you are a welcome addition.

Jim: Absolutely. She is, Ashanti the character, it was a very natural outgrowth of the fact that Angelica and I sparked off each other right from the start. She is herself a known actress, around Wellington.

Bernie: Cinema is a visual medium, right, and Angelica has that amazing look about her. She just comes alive on screen. And what I love about her. And all the costumes you see and everything she wears, it’s hers because she actually owns those costumes because she of her upbringing, right.

LRM Online: Nice.

Bernie: Yeah, I just love Angelica. And she looks amazing.

Jim: So, the ideas will be set in the Caribbean some place where we’ll emphasize that. So, where I went back in that flashback, that dream sequence, I went back to friends. Okay. Here I think we might go someplace Caribbean.

LRM Online: A little warmer. Sounds like the second film in a planned trilogy there.

Jim: Well, Hey, I discovered this magic word franchise.

Bernie: We’re in New Zealand, this is the franchise territory. Like Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit.

LRM Online: Yeah, definitely. The film was made in New Zealand, correct?

Bernie: Correct.

Jim: It was made, you’re looking at the set right now.

Bernie: It’s a bit messy.

Jim: It’s very messy.

LRM Online: Wow. That’s very a MacGyver-ish. I don’t think that’s a word, but you use the house as the set there.

Jim: It’s called a mess.

Bernie: MacGyver like 30 years later.

Jim: I am a very, very bad unreconstructed hoarder.

Bernie: It’s good for filmmaking, there’s lots of props.

LRM Online: That’s correct. There’s an amazing prop around, right? Yeah. And you always got to fill a space.

Jim: You can see there’s a crystal ball, one of those plasma balls.

LRM Online: I do see that.

Jim: Yeah. That was in the movie.

LRM Online: That was!

Jim: All these cryptic people watching over my shoulder, these figures. That’s actually a Menorah, a Hanukkah Menorah, its facing on the wrong way. And each of the nine figures holds a candle. And what else is happening? That’s about it for the house. As I say, I need to clean up.

LRM Online: Hey. Like Bernie said, it’s great for filmmaking. Bernie, did I pronounce your name right?

Jim: Great. What else would you like to know?

LRM Online: Bernie, why did you make Killer Sofa?

Bernie: That’s a Good question. So, this is my fourth feature film that I produced and direct and write. And I’m a big horror fan, but I always looked at horror with some fear because I love the work of the masters. Right. You know, Argento and Carpenter and I grew up with those films. So I always thought, “I cannot make a horror film the way I would want to make one because it’s going to be expensive.” I need practical effects. I need stuff like that. And so I always did all the types of films, but recently after my last film, I decided I’m going to take a shot at a horror film. I know a bit more about the technical aspects of filmmaking and all that. So I’m going to try to do one. And I started watching movies, current movies, movies from this day and age that are coming out. Of course, I know about the Blumhouse and I watch those, but I always revert to the originals, to Exorcism I tend to watch those ones because I think there are more poetic, I suppose.

Jim: Rosemary’s Baby.

Bernie: Rosemary’s Baby. So, I started watching current films and I got very depressed for a moment there because it just lacked some magic and there’s always the good ones like Hereditary. Current movies were all very boring so I was like, “I should try to make something original, something fresh that I haven’t seen before.  “So I just thought I looked around my room and that’s true and I saw the recliner and I thought, “I could make a movie with the killer recliner. That’ll be awesome.” You know, I didn’t think about how stupid the idea was because I enjoyed that. A great movie can grow from a very stupid idea.

Jim: If I can interrupt here, we also were in New Zealand, in Wellington, and we have a kind of a tradition here of black comedy. They talk about the cinema of unease of a black side of the dark side of cinema here. But we also have a guy named Taika Waititi. And you know about What We Do in the Shadows.

LRM Online: Oh yeah. That’s one of my favorites. I laugh pretty hard watching that movie there and in the series too, Laszlo Kraven and everything.

Jim: Yes. That conjunction of comedy in a black context.

Bernie: Being in New Zealand helps because it just kind of feels natural to make those types of movies here. You have Peter Jackson and Taika Waititi, the Flight of the Conchords so that was normal, an evil recliner. It’s just another movie, started from there and then I just developed the film and then eventually shot the film and, that was the best idea I had at the time. So, I went with it.

LRM Online: Yeah, you did a commendable job. I mean, yeah, like it’s a fun film.

Bernie: I am happy you enjoyed. I knew there would be some hilarity. Some people will like it, some people wouldn’t like it. As you can imagine, there were some budgets constraints. So, I wanted to do some stuff. I had this amazing scene where a recliner jumps from a window and crushes someone.

LRM Online: Oh man.

Bernie: All right. You know, I studied the possibility of doing that, but then I realize, “Man, I’m going to break the recliner.”

LRM Online: Oh man. We almost saw a crowd diving recliner, huh?

Jim: Well what did work out very well is… My involvement with theater has always been with effects and sets and props and lighting and the like. So, when Bernie came up with this idea of using a recliner, of course all of the fantasies came chugging into my head. The deep red lighting and… You should see the outtakes. We’ve got all kinds of stuff…

LRM Online: Such as?

Jim: What’s his name?

Bernie: Grant Kereama?

Jim: Yeah. Grant. His character was…

Bernie: Tohunga Makutu.

Jim: Tohunga Makutu. The guy…

Bernie: It’s the YouTube Vlogger…

LRM Online: Oh man. Yeah. You hit that nail on the head with that character.

Jim: He’s a local radio personality.

LRM Online: Okay. I wasn’t aware of that fact.

Bernie: He’s very known in New Zealand, very well known.

Jim: Very well-known. And did we use the skull with the candle on it? (referencing the item in Jim’s house ) You saw that thing with the skull? With the camera?

LRM Online: I did, yeah.

Bernie: A prop suggested by Jim.

Jim: Yeah, cause I had this old skull… But you should’ve seen, I had a whole-whole bunch of junk in a lock up garage and we shot two scenes in there and various other things and the rest of it was downstairs down in the downstairs bedroom.

LRM Online: All right.

Bernie: Basically, if you want to make a movie, Stephan, you should come to Jim’s house.

LRM Online: It sounds like he has like the Fox back lot over there.

Jim: Deliberately.

LRM Online: I’ll need your address too, Jim, in case I’m in New Zealand and I need to shoot a film.

Jim: Okay, If you want it right now.

Bernie: Send him an email.

Jim: Oh, fantastic. Well this is this the thing with me. I never thought I’d… I came out here originally on a three-year contract to lecture at a university in Palmerston North called Massey University and that was in 1974 I’m still here. My parents wound up coming over and they stayed here for 10 and then my mother was almost 20 years before she passed away. Yeah, we’ve just, you know, really loved this place. [crosstalk 00:25:02] If only we could get the kids to come out… for more than just a visit. I’d love to get them to shift out here and get away from the Orange Julius. You know who the Orange Julius is?

LRM Online: Of course. I’ve got a question for both of you guys. Do you have a favorite horror film?

Bernie: Well, that’s a big one. I don’t know. What’s your favorite horror film? Rosemary’s baby?

Jim: Rosemary’s baby. Absolutely. Filmed in Dakota. You know what the Dakota is?

LRM Online: Dakota?

Jim: Yeah.

LRM Online: Explain it to me or explain it to the readers at LRM.

Jim: The Dakota is was built in, I think the 20s or something like that. It was so far out of town, you might as well have been in North Dakota. It’s a very gothic looking building. Quite fascinating. And that’s where they shot Rosemary’s Baby. And yes, I think Rosemary’s Baby would have to be my favorite horror film.

Bernie: Yeah. I think for me, I’m not sure, I have a list of horror films that I like for different reasons.

LRM Online: Sure.

Bernie: If I had to choose one?

LRM Online: Right.

Bernie: The perfect horror film. I don’t know. I would choose maybe The Thing, by John Carpenter. I don’t know.

LRM Online: Oh, The Thing, yeah.

Bernie: It’s a malicious film. There’s other films, of course The Shining. Those are great. For emotional reasons, I think I would choose Braindead by Peter Jackson. Because it’s the movie that brought me to New Zealand.

LRM Online: Nice.

Bernie: So that’s one I watched many years ago. That’s when I became aware of New Zealand and the New Zealand film making. And that’s the seed that brought me here. Bad Taste and Braindead, which I think in America it’s called Dead Alive.

LRM Online: Yep.

Bernie: It’s one of his first movies. So, yeah.

LRM Online: Those are great. Those are great choices from both of you two.

Bernie: What is your favorite horror film?

LRM Online: Ah, my favorite horror film. There’s so many. So many films out there. I would say I’d have to see favorite one of all time. It’s probably the original Night of the Living Dead.

Jim: Okay, okay. Hey, there’s another one that hit into my head. It wasn’t for Rosemary’s Baby, which is the classic. You know the Stephen King film? Oh, the story, Christine.

LRM Online: Oh, Christine, of course.

Jim: It’s the film Christine about the self healing car. The car. That’s possessed by the devil.

Bernie: They compared our movie to Christine, which is a big, a huge honor.

Jim: That’s a great honor.

LRM Online: That is, yeah, definitely.

Jim: But that was, that was some of the motivation for the, sorry, inspiration for Killer Sofa.

Bernie: When you have an object killing people, of course you’ll go to those movies. Some years people keep comparing it to Rubber.

LRM Online: Oh, Rubber. Yeah. Yep.

Bernie: I loved Rubber. When I watched the rubber some years ago, I just loved it.

LRM Online: It’s a very interesting film.

Bernie: Yeah, I like the kind of art house cinema. That’s what I grew up with coming from Europe and all, and Rubber just hits all the right spots for me. So yeah, it’s an honor to be put in that category. People say, “Ah Killer Sofa is like Rubber or like Christine.” Those are monsters.

Jim: The funny thing is with the, because Christine… I’ve noticed that several of the reviewers keep talking about the CGI work. All the CGI work in the film, and there were so many, every one of those, every one of those special effects was analog.

Bernie: But most things were practical effects as you could see here.

Jim: They were all…because that’s my specialty.

LRM Online: What was the most difficult effect to pull off in Killer Sofa?

Bernie: The most difficult effect?

LRM Online: Yeah.

Bernie: On the film was the eyes of the Lazy Boy.

LRM Online: The sofa did have a personality.

Bernie: Yeah, because those eyes, there’s that light in the eyes. You have to bring life into the object and we had to shine a light directly at the eyes-

Jim: And the way we got around that was very, very simple. The two buttons, were the real buttons in the thing, but they were covered with the suede fabric, the original brick.

LRM Online: How so?

Jim: So, all I did was pop the covers off the buttons, and all of a sudden you have these slightly concave thing, which if you shined a direct torch on them, you could see the eyes are moving.

Bernie: Okay, that’s how you do it. So yeah, that was the most difficult trick to pull off in the whole movie.

Jim: We had a whole bunch of other things too, with the smoke coming out around the-

LRM Online: The Killer Sofa always appears with this mystical haze. How’d you achieve that effect?

Bernie: Smoke. I don’t know how many gallons of artificial smoke we used through the entire thing. It just softened. Because we were working in such tight quarters.

Jim: Tight spaces. Everything would look very harsh.

LRM Online: Sure.

Jim: Crammed. But with the smoke in it, it softened things just enough so you didn’t feel so claustrophobic?

Bernie: Yeah, I like smoky environments for movies. It just creates that sort of magic, that sort of ambience.

Jim: Right.

Bernie: Yeah.

LRM Online: Does the light cut through that smoke well?

Bernie: It brings out the contrast. And because we are shooting with digital cameras that are very, very sharp, just kind of breaks down the, the sharpness. It’s a conjunction with some filters that I use on the camera as well. To bring down the contrast and the, the sharp edges of the digital image, becomes more cinematic in a way.

LRM Online: Interesting. Interesting anecdote. Now for readers of LRM Online, where could they go to watch Killer Sofa? Where do you recommend, they check it out at?

Bernie: So Killer Sofa will be released on DVD in October. Okay. That’s the 1st-

Jim: The 1st of October.

Bernie: 1st of October it will be released by High Octane Pictures, and then it will go online on subscription, on demand. So, I still don’t know for sure, we think it might be Shudder. It will get out somewhere, it will be somewhere. But yeah, in October it will release but we still don’t have at this time, a date or a place. Because we’re still going to the markets-

LRM Online: All right, well I’ll make sure that the folks are posted over here. Now let me ask you, for fans of the site, social media wise, where can they connect with you at?

Bernie: well I’m at Twitter @Killer_sofa at Twitter and yeah, you can just hook up with me on Facebook @BernieRao on Facebook. And Jim is Facebook as well, I think.

Jim: Yeah, Jim Baltaxe. Just sitting there. I don’t have a professional site yet.

Bernie: Yep.

Jim: And you can also check me out if you want on IMDb. I’ve got an account there too. I will keep that up to date as far as I can. Oh, by the way, there are a couple of other little things, I don’t know if this interests you.

LRM Online: Of course.

Jim: Just a coincidence, everybody and their brother has something to do with The Hobbit.

LRM Online: Right. In New Zealand, okay.

Jim: Yeah, exactly. I actually open Battle of Five Armies.

LRM Online: Really?

Bernie: Jim is in the film.

Jim: Yup, I’m in the Hobbit. I’m only an extra. Have you seen the film?

LRM Online: I’ve seen them all.

Jim: Battle of Five Armies. Remember Smaug, he is flying around as the thing opens. He’s flying high above Long Lake, and looks down and sees a canoe, with three people in the canoe?

LRM Online: Right.

Jim: Paddling, like mad. And he dive bombs them. I’m the front guy in the canoe.

LRM Online: What? All right. That’s great.

Jim: And of course I’ve got to. Oh, I’ve got a whole bunch of funny stories about Peter Jackson and The Hobbit.

LRM Online: Really?

Jim: When he was walking up with Lee Pace.

Bernie: He fell asleep.

Jim: Yeah, yeah. Well, basically the story there. Is that we were shooting very long days in Dale. It was all winter, supposedly winter, and there’s snow all over the thing, and blown into the corners of the place. But of course, since it was being shot in the summer, they were using a lot of Epsom salts. If you make Epsom salts wet, it looks like melting snow. Very, very effectively. But it stays. And I was supposed to be a dead, a corpse, leaning up against the side of the building. You only saw my legs as Thranduil is walking up through that area. So Peter, and Lee Pace, who played Thranduil are walking along, coming up this road and pass. And I’m watching, and I’m sitting there very nicely, and comfortably snuggled into this couch made out of Epsom salts. And I’m watching them talk and they’re discussing camera angles and timing, and Thranduil’s motivation, and all kinds of things. I don’t know what. And they walk up and they get just about, well at my feet.

Bernie: Okay.

Jim: And all of a sudden the next thing I know, I haven’t the slightest idea. The next thing I know, I hear everybody’s laughing, absolutely hysterically. And I look, what’s happening? I look up, and there’s Peter and Lee Pace and they are in absolute hysterics. What had happened, and then I realize you’re looking at me. They were looking at me. I’m just sitting here wildly watching them. It turns out, I was so comfortable, and it was so late, I fell asleep as they came up. And I started to snore, while they were standing right in front of me discussing some camera angles.

LRM Online: Oh man. That’s was funny.

Bernie: That was funny.

LRM Online: It’s been a pleasure speaking with you gentlemen tonight.

Be sure to check out Killer Sofa on DVD and VOD.

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