SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL Remember that episode of The Brady Bunch where Carol and Mike decide to sell the house and the kids fake-haunt it to scare off potential buyers? It's the pop culture moment I always think of when I hear about an apartment with suspiciously cheap rent. First reaction: "Wow! Is it haunted?"
In real life, low rent usually means the place is the size of a broom closet or has some other easy-to-discover flaw. But in Emily Lou's The Selling, ghostly squatters — plus bleeding walls, exploding toilets, and other unexplained phenomena — are a legit concern for real estate agent Richard Scarry ("like the children's book author"), played by the film's screenwriter, Gabriel Diani.
Richard's trying to sell the troublesome house quickly to pay for his mother's medical bills, so he turns to blogger and spirit-world expert Ginger Sparks (Etta Devine) for help. The previous tenant, a serial killer nicknamed "the Sleep Stalker," could be the root cause — but the supernatural goings-on prove more sinister than Richard and Ginger expect. Mayhem (inspired by haunted-house films past, including 1979's The Amityville Horror, 1982's Poltergeist, 1980's The Shining, 1987's Evil Dead II, and 1988's Beetle Juice) inevitably ensues.
The Selling is Lou's first feature; it's having its world premiere as part of SFIFF's "Late Show" program. Her background is in theater directing, which is how she met Diani — they both studied at San Francisco State University, and later collaborated on a play at the San Francisco Fringe Festival. Diani was also a part of Totally False People, a comedy troupe instrumental in founding San Francisco Sketch Comedy Festival (TFP O.G.s Janet Varney and Cole Stratton also have roles in The Selling).
Though the film was shot in Los Angeles (lowbrow comedy fans may recognize the house — it's the same one used in 2008's The House Bunny), Lou, who grew up in Yuba City, lives in Oakland. She was inspired to trade the stage for a film set for tangible reasons.
"I did a lot of theater and I'd spend all this time and energy creating this product I was really proud of — and not only my time and energy, but a lot of other people's too. And at the end of the day, like 50 people would have seen it," she says. "It struck me that I wanted to create something timeless, something we could keep and contain — and hopefully a greater audience could see it. The idea of this moment in time with theater just passing by didn't seem like enough. I wanted something longer-lasting, something that gave a little bit more to the people who put their heart and souls into it."
After getting a camera and shooting "a couple of terrible short films," Lou contacted Diani, whose writing skills she admired. Ironically, horror isn't her favorite genre. "I am so easily scared," she confesses. "But Gabe and I are both drawn to older, classic horror rather than the new, Saw-type horror."
Though it has spooky elements, The Selling is more comedy than frightfest. Directing two genres at once required a certain amount of flexibility on Lou's part. "Horror has a lot more to do with the visual components, like the set and makeup — and setting up for the shot, because it's probably going to be enhanced with some after-effects. With comedy, if it's funny, it's funny — let's just capture the funny."
The Selling's cast is largely unknown (unless you're a Sketchfest diehard), but it does feature a cameo by Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) royalty Barry Bostwick, playing a daffy exorcist. "We were fans of his, and we approached his agent. Barry read the script, and he really liked it and wanted to do it," Lou says. "It just kind of went from there, and he worked for less than he normally works for — he's also a fan of classic horror. He was amazing to work with, just a great guy."
April 29, 11:30 p.m.;
May 4, 4:15 p.m., $13
1881 Post, SF