This post was written by Tyler MacIntyre.
Horror fans are simultaneously the most supportive and discerning audience you’ll ever encounter. On one hand, they’re always up for something new, twisted, or downright bonkers—but on the other hand, they have certain expectations. One of those is that if you’re going to make a new slasher film, a well-traveled sub-genre, you better bring something new to the table.
In other words, what does your killer look like?
When my sophomore directorial feature TRAGEDY GIRLS hit SXSW in 2017, slasher movies were on the outs. However, the screenings were rowdy, the critics dug it, and you could tell people were hungry for a return.
Happy Death Day broke out that fall, and before you know it they came rushing back into fashion. Now here we are, three Halloween movies later, and slashers are riding high again! This is why I was excited to team with FREAKY scribe Michael Kennedy to see if we could create a new classic villain for the holiday horror comedy, IT’S A WONDERFUL KNIFE.
IT'S A WONDERFUL KNIFE Official Trailer (2023)www.youtube.com
Based on the stunt sequences in the script we knew we wanted a lean-and-agile slasher. Similar to something like Ghostface from Scream, rather than a large-and-hulking slasher like Michael Myers or Jason Voorhes.
The description in the script is that he’s dressed head-to-toe in white—so I pulled a lot of references, from vintage angel tree-toppers to video game characters, to get across my thoughts on what The Angel could be.
Working closely with production designer Tiana P. Gordon and costume designer Matea Pasarić, we narrowed down the elements we liked, discovering quickly that a costume with literal wings was completely impractical. Instead, we settled on having built-up shoulders that could give his body a similar shape to wings, but not impede the performer’s movement overall.
'It's a Wonderful Knife'Credit: Shudder
The Mask is Key
Francis Lafleche did concept artwork to explore our references and provided us with different combinations. We liked the idea of a hood, but didn’t want it to be too “medieval,” and concluded that we’d try gold accents. It was a little hard to commit without seeing the material. Once we saw the mask directions, we all responded most to a blank white face with no eyes.
This felt unique to us, as there aren’t many other examples of this in horror. An all-white killer, with an all-white mask with no eyes, reminiscent of the featureless porcelain faces of the tree-toppers we’d looked at—an eerie look! However we quickly discovered that making a mask with no eyes is difficult, and there’s a reason that it isn’t done much.
We knew we wanted the mask to have the texture of a frosted lightbulb so we could see the reflection of Christmas lights in the killer’s face. Tiana brought in the fabrication team at Artiphax Props led by Paxton Downard, who is a veteran of the Cruel Summer.
Mask concepts Credit: Shudder
A Wonderful Knife Indeed
Taking the lead on the design of the titular knife, Tiana ran with the idea of making an ornate silver-and-gold dagger. She managed to find a way to incorporate the "wings" concept into a unique hilt design on a classic fighting dagger.
Working further with the team at Artiphax to build the knife, they utilized a blade from an existing dagger and then augmented it with a sculpted custom handle and hilt, with metallic gold paint for the wings.
We could then mold the hero knife, and create doubles out of resin for safe use in the stunt scenes, which look almost interchangeable on-camera.
'It's a Wonderful Knife' behind the scenes. Credit: Shudder
Testing is Caring
I’m a big fan of testing as many elements as I can on-camera before shooting, mostly because I don’t like too many surprises. Matea pulled several possible fabrics, and we worked with our cinematographer Nicholas Piatnik to figure out what worked best for the angel cloak. We settled on a stretch satin because it has a nice glow when back-lit, is lightweight and is cost-effective for how many duplicates of the costume we had to make.
We received a test version of our mask from the Artiphax team and with a mocked-up version of the costume from Matea’s team on our stunt performer Cody Laudan, we were finally able to see the ensemble together.
The overall impression was right, and it was flexible in the range of motion we needed. The face was most compelling when it was staring at you, the blankness having the off-putting effect we’d hoped. It was also apparent to us that shiny gold accents inside the hood looked too much like a boxer’s robe, and the shoulders needed to be built up to keep him intimidating, but we were well on our way.
Matea and her team figured out how to add some extra fabric creases around the waistline so that it didn’t look too simple, and the next time I’d see it was on set!
Finally Camera Ready
Once we had the final hero versions of the mask, knife, and costume we dove head-long into the horror, with the first kill scene up on the fourth day of the shoot.
I worked closely with Cody and our stunt coordinator Yusuf Ahmed, to develop the movement of The Angel. We kept the movements smooth and precise but quick when they needed to be, which gave him an almost graceful quality. We knew we were on the right track when the dailies started to come in, and people were raving about the whole look of the character.
Having our world premiere at BeyondFest in Los Angeles in October, we got to see our film for the first time with an audience and it got a rapturous reception. Afterward, a lot of people cited the look of The Angel as their favorite part of the design. The mask and the knife have become the central image of the marketing and are featured in both domestic and international posters, so I’m hoping people continue to connect with it.
As a lifelong horror fan, I’m proud of the work we did, and I would encourage other filmmakers who are creating slasher villains in their own projects to lean on their team. Take the extra time in pre-production and make it a group effort. A lot of the best ideas come from the journey and my films are all better for it.
Please check out IT’S A WONDERFUL KNIFE in theaters everywhere on November 10th, 2023.
This post was written by Tyler MacIntyre.