This post was written by Anthony DiBlasi.

It was a not-so-chilly day in October 2021. My wife and writing partner Natalie Victoria and I were pumpkin patching with our good friends R.H. Norman and Micheline Pitt Norman in Los Angeles.

The Normans are a fantastic writing duo and Micheline had been talking with her friend and self-proclaimed gore hound Luke Lebeau about a new company he was forming called Welcome Villain.

Luke was a fan of a horror film I directed in 2014 calledLast Shift, and Micheline made the intro. I was standing in that pumpkin patch talking to Luke on the phone as the others searched for kettle corn and candy apples.

Luke asked me a simple question, “What do you think about revisiting the world of Last Shift?"

"Like a remake?" I said.

“Let’s call it a reimagining.” Luke was offering me a chance to write and direct a movie I had already made but with more resources. A bigger budget, that’s all that means… The possibilities raced through my mind… more time, more talent, more stunts, more effects… more blood. Gallons of it at our disposal.

I was intrigued…

Image3_2'Malum' behind the scenesCredit: Courtesy of Anthony DiBlasi

The next day I’m on the phone with my co-writer and producer of Last Shift, Scott Poiley. Poiley was based in Florida, and I directed three films that he produced. Last Shift was our first co-writing venture and it became one of my most successful films. Scott was dubious about the funds coming together but I told him the signs were pointing in the right direction. The Welcome Villain team was saying the right things, and I was confident the money would come together.

Scott and I started talking ideas and we threw together a treatment which was basically a six-page vomit draft of the first film, but the ideas hadn’t started flowing yet, also Scott was dealing with some health issues. Scott had undergone a heart transplant seven years prior and he was having complications and receiving treatment. The notion that we’d get to write together again and get paid for it was a welcome distraction so we started brainstorming.

Image0_0'Last Shift' behind the scenesCredit: Courtesy of Anthony DiBlasi

Scott cringed at some of the dialogue from the first film, we’d grown as writers and it’s something he really wanted to focus on. For me, it was the mythology and the structure. Last Shift focused on a satanic cult haunting a police station on a rookie cop’s first… and last shift. I wanted to stay away from the generic devil-worshipping stuff and create a mythology that was all our own.

There were also so many more scares we could include now, gags we had to leave out of the first film due to budget constraints. Our world of the now-titled Malum was forming and with each treatment passed I forgot about Last Shift and realized we were making a completely new film.

Yes, it still had the basic premise of Last Shift, and we still retained a few good set pieces that really worked, but its DNA was cut from a different flesh.

Our character’s motivations were changed, and that changed every page of the screenplay. 

Image8'Malum'Credit: Welcome Villain Films

About the time we sat down to write the screenplay, Scott was admitted into the hospital. He wouldn’t emerge till 40 days later. His treatments were painful and draining but during that time we talked and worked almost every day. We kept busy and stayed focused.

Last Shift reimagining was the normalcy in our lives and it allowed us not to discuss what was really going on. Scott’s heart was failing and he needed another transplant. Scott had daughters, Scott had a wife, Scott had a business, and he had his love for making movies. We focused on all that we loved. 

After the Welcome Villain team signed off on the script, and I went to Kentucky to scout locations, we decided on a shoot date of August. Prep would start the first week of July, and Scott told me he got the OK from his doctors to take the trip to Kentucky and produce alongside the Welcome Villain team as he intended. He’d be bringing his oldest daughter Skyler along. Skyler would be going to film school in the fall and this would be her first on-set credit, though she was always around for the other three films we made together. In my eyes, she was already a veteran. 

Image5_1'Malum' behind the scenesCredit: Courtesy of Anthony DiBlasi

We set up base camp in a decommissioned police station in downtown Louisville Kentucky. Jessica Sula from M. Night Shyamalan’s Split signed on to be our new Jessica Loren and RusselFX, who just came off of the Hellraiser reboot, designed some incredible practical effects for us. We were ready to make some monsters and spill some blood, most of it landing on Jessica Sula during the course of the shoot. The production was both rewarding and the toughest of my career. It was summertime in Kentucky hot, the schedule was packed, and though the station looked amazing, it was a labyrinth.

Splitting up scenes in multiple locations was the norm for this shoot. We wanted to milk the best locations out of it, but it was a massive challenge. Our script supervisor definitely had the hardest job on set. On top of it all, I couldn’t believe how much Scott was doing, he was taking it easy, but his easy was still basically doing the job of three people. He has always been a beast of a producer and a great collaborator when it came to figuring out story points on set, which we did often.

During this journey, I never once felt like I was remaking a movie I had already made. I told Jessica early on not to watch the first film so that the baggage of comparisons never became part of our language. Every scene was fresh between us, and her creative process fueled that. I set out to make a new film for a new audience, a better film that Scott and I could be proud of and I believe we did that.

0vg5tsxc'Malum' title cardCredit: Welcome Villain Films

It was a completely unique experience, and not since Leo McCary in 1957 (Love Affair (1939) into An Affair to Remember (1957)) has an American director remade his own feature film. It sounds a little better to say not since Cecil B. DeMille remade The Ten Commandments (1923) into The Ten Commandments (1956), but Leo had him beat by a year so I have to honor that. 

Scott left set with Skyler during the last week of production to spend time with his family and to see Skyler off as she left for college. I took a picture with Sky and then ran off to direct, so Scott snuck away from set with an Irish goodbye, though he was not an Irishman.

I returned home around September 1st to start post-production, Scott and I jumped on the phone a few days later to complain about drives and how we needed to order some better ones if I was going to make it through the edit. That night, Scott went into the hospital and he passed away the next morning.

I received a text from his wife that haunts me to this day: “Scott died,” which led me to immediately get on the phone with her.

Scott and I were in the business of make-believe, but nothing has felt more unreal to me than that moment. Malum became a film I had to complete without one of my closest friends and collaborators, it became a mission and a dedication. 

Post-production was put on hold for a few weeks so I could dedicate my time to helping his wife, Mary, and family create a celebration of life. Even now, Scott and I were still collaborating. I was going through all the videos on his phone and computer, compiling a story that we could present to a crowded auditorium filled with his friends and family. When it was done, the show went on as it must. We had schedules and deadlines so to the edit bay, I went, but by this point, I had all I needed.

Scott, myself, and the Welcome Villain team had put our best efforts into making the best movie we could for the resources we had.

Scott and I liked writing scary movies together because we spent most of that time laughing and pushing the boundaries of what was socially acceptable. In the writer’s room, we were like 6-year-olds, but that’s how we came up with some of our best ideas. There’s no easy way to wrap this up really… what is our denouement? Scott’s daughter, Skyler, is at film school looking to carry on her father’s legacy and complete all the unfinished works he left behind.

I’m promoting our last filmtogether. It was all part of the journey in the reimagining of Last Shift, a tiny movie Scott and I made in 2014. Although it’s not common for horror and it may seem macabre to some due to how bloody and scary Malum gets, when the credits roll on this collaboration between two screenwriters and the best of friends, the audience will read:

"In Loving Memory of Scott Poiley.”

This post was written by Anthony DiBlasi.