Ever wonder about the mystical power of the universe? Ever question why cults are so damn creepy? “From the Shadows,” starring Keith David and Bruce Davison with a score by Alan Howarth, is an ode to cryptids, conspiracies and John Carpenter made for the COVID era.
The film follows a group of college students-turned cult members on the run from accusations of arson, as well as some elusive “shadow people.” When they enlist the aid of paranormal debunker Dr. Amara Rowan (Selena Anduze), she soon learns that the most logical explanation isn’t always the truth.
“It’s a very different type of film,” producer Ian Holt said of “From the Shadows” in an interview with The Daily Californian. The film was also written by Mike Kuciak with story by Holt. “It’s not just, ‘Oh, the chase with the knife.’ It deals with some real themes and issues. It’s also a little sci-fi, a little this, a little that, but of course it’s a horror film.”
Holt has a unique background in horror, stemming from an intense childhood interest and a future foray into Gothic literature. He co-wrote “Dracula the Un-dead,” the official sequel to Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel “Dracula,” with Bram’s great grandnephew Dacre Stoker.
But his earliest foray into the genre? “One of my first memories is (that) my parents wanted to take me to see ‘Charlotte’s Web,’ and I started crying because I wanted to see ‘The Exorcist,’ ” he recalled.
Working on a modest budget under strict quarantine protocols, Holt described the unique conditions under which “From the Shadows” was created. “We did an interview for Fairleigh Dickinson College on filmmaking with their graduate students, and we got to be friends with the head of the department, David Landau, who was actually the cinematographer on the film,” Holt said. “We were looking for a film to do on a moderate budget during the pandemic that we could shoot under the rules and wouldn’t cost us a fortune.”
Then, an idea was born. When asked about the inspiration behind the film’s cult, Hidden Wisdom, Holt referenced “Chariots of the Gods,” whose author Erich Von Daniken developed a theory about ancient aliens. “We started thinking — the power that built the pyramids, the ability to levitate these gigantic stones … how did Stone Age men build these things?” said Holt. “What would happen if a modern-day man discovered that power? And we started building the story from there.”
In addition to the power of the unknown, Holt also described his approach to establishing the tone of the film. “We wanted to do something original that we hadn’t seen before. So we kind of mixed giallo elements with slasher horror,” Holt said. He cited Sean S. Cunningham’s “Friday the 13th” as influencing the film’s kills — “From the Shadows” was made to pay homage to past greats while incorporating new elements into the genre.
Holt was also quick to acknowledge the major influence of legendary director John Carpenter on the making of “From the Shadows,” a work that clearly pays tribute to the horror form. Starring Keith David (“The Thing,” “They Live”) and featuring a score by Alan Howarth (“Halloween” II-VI, “Prince of Darkness”), the film’s goal was to unite two Carpenter veterans who had yet to collaborate.
“One of my favorite directors is John Carpenter. And one of my favorite films of (his) is ‘The Thing,’ ” Holt said, adding, “I have always loved Keith David’s career … He seems to always have his finger on the pulse of what’s cool.”
Holt went on to explain David’s involvement in the film. “He’s totally into student film,” said Holt. “He was into the fact that we were doing it at a school and helping kids — and the fact that we had an African American director, which was trying to diversify the industry.”
Another key part of the collaborative process was composer Alan Howarth, who eagerly joined the project. “He goes, ‘I see my legacy and John’s legacy all over this film. I have to do the scoring,’ ” Holt recalled of his exchange with Howarth.
Dark layered synths lend a distinctly analogue flair to the film’s Zoom call setting, punctuating digital dread with lurking waves and pulsing bass lines. “I really love that synthesizer sound — the menace that it brings to the underlying scenes,” said Holt. “That music will keep the tension going.”
“He went to his attic and he pulled out the old synthesizer that he did with all the Halloween score and recorded our score on an analog synthesizer, and then transferred it to digital in the sound room later on,” elaborated Holt, who was also inspired by the composer’s work in “Prince of Darkness.”
Holt acknowledged that music is just one part of what makes the horror genre significant to him.
“We don’t want to hear things that make ourselves uncomfortable,” he said. “I think a lot of people get into the real world and find out it’s a pretty cold, hard place. So I think when you see horror, and if you can force yourself to overcome your fears and sit in that theater at a young age, it builds character and prepares you for the real world.”
“From the Shadows” is out now in limited theatrical release.