Flynn Witmeyer's debut feature sports a title you'd expect to see on a one-sheet mockup at the market in Cannes or a grindhouse marquee on Market St. back in the day. Tweaker With an Axe is the epitome of high concept, but its cast of gay and lesbian characters sets it apart from the pack of comedic suspense thrillers. Or does it? "The characters' sexuality isn't part of the story," Witmeyer says. "They just happen to be gay and lesbian. That's one of our interests in doing this film. Our interest is to make genre films—horror or sci-fi or fantasy—that incorporate gay and lesbian characters. We want to see more representation of gay and lesbian characters in cinema."
We're fast approaching the point when the presence of queer characters in any kind of movie, even an action flick fronted by a World Wrestling Federation star, will no longer be noteworthy. "Our society is changing and people are interested in seeing gay characters normalized, and being the protagonists in different kinds of stories," Witmeyer asserts. So maybe we should stop talking about Tweaker With an Axe's gay (sub)text altogether and stick with the plot. Even if the movie violates a basic covenant of thrillers by identifying the villain in the title, thus mitigating some of the suspense. Not that Witmeyer or his partners are overly concerned.
"There's still dramatic irony in that the characters don't know the degree to which the main character is out to get them," Witmeyer says. "People think bad things can happen at all times, but when they do, we're still not prepared."
That pretty much sums up the reaction of the film students who meet their fates, one by one, in Tweaker With an Axe. They've convened to shoot their class project—a horror film, coincidentally—at a fellow student's home. Alas, he neglected to mention that he'd been feuding with his strung-out next-door neighbor. The sense of foreboding soon morphs into all-out paranoia, and then the fun really begins.
"There's never any sense of a spoof going on," Witmeyer explains. "These characters are all quirky, which is where the humor comes from. At one point the lights go out, and someone has to go to the basement. The smart, responsible person goes into danger, not the sacrificial idiot. There are situations that seem familiar in the genre sense, but they don't play out the way you expect them to."
Witmeyer, 29, studied film at City College and S.F. State (where he majored in creative writing). His half-hour short, Imp of Satan, screened in last year's Hole in the Head festival. Aided and abetted by his partners in Synchronium Films, veteran film producer Randy Sterns and experienced theater producer (and screenwriter) Christopher Sugarman, Witmeyer shot Tweaker With an Axe on high-definition, professional broadcast grade digital video last fall.
The filmmakers are in postproduction with a shot at finishing the film this fall, although it's more likely it'll be the beginning of next year. The primary market will be horror fans rather than queer-film fans, Wittmeyer says. But he adds, "I think there are a lot more gay and lesbian horror fans out there than let on."
Some moviegoers will zero in on the murderer's drug addiction as a reference to the scourge of crystal meth in the gay community. In fact, Sugarman and Witmeyer were thinking of another insidious bug that's pervaded American society for the last eight years, namely the Patriot Act. "You can't quite trust people," is how Witmeyer describes the real-life paranoia. "Things can be happening right next door that can come and get you."
Come to think of it, Cheney With an Axe would be an even more chilling title.
Notes from Underground
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