CONJOINED: BLOOD-SPLATTERED HOMAGE TO GRINDHOUSE HORROR SLEAZE
by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor [August 21, 2014]
[HollywoodInvestigator.com] Conjoined doesn't even try to make sense. The two actresses playing the film's Siamese twins look nothing alike. Michelle Ellen Jones is a slight blonde. Keefer Barlow is a hefty brunette. Their personalities likewise diverge. Jones's Alina is sweet. Barlow's Alisa is a savage serial killer.
While the story bears some similarities to Sisters, Conjoined's style is less polished, evidently paying homage to such grindhouse classics as Blood Feast and Bloodsucking Freaks, but most especially Frank Henenlotter's Basket Case and Frankenhooker. In other words, Conjoined is a crude film with flat lighting, over-the-top and flat acting, outrageous sex and gore, heavy-handed humor, and buckets of fake blood.
And typical of grindhouse fare, Conjoined embraces its own trashiness.
"One approach I took was accepting mistakes," said director Joe Grisaffi to the Hollywood Investigator. "Not stressing out about things not being perfect, as I've done in the past. Not going back to fix mistakes, but rather, use them as part of the style of the film.
"I am sure all the low-budget films I've seen over the years influenced Conjoined somehow, but we [he and scripters Chuck & Tim Norfolk] didn't specifically use other films as references.
As with many low-budget films, Conjoined's content was determined by whatever locations and resources were available. "I had the opportunity to shoot at Champion Entertainment's studio in Houston," said Grisaffi. "I set rules for the production. A seven-day shoot, in one location, with minimal cast. It turned out to be a nine-day shoot, but some days were as short as six hours.
"I presented the opportunity to Chuck Norfolk, explaining the budget, time and cast limitations. A few days later, Chuck came back with this script, at the time titled Something Special.
In Conjoined, Stanley (Tom Long), a nerdy slaughterhouse worker, falls in love with the sweet Alina on the internet, only to discover that she's attached to her "twin" sister when they arrive at Stanley's home. (In keeping with the film's bizarro sensibility, no one ever mentions that the conjoined sisters look nothing alike.) Wanting to placate the jealous and horny Alisa, Stanley tries to find her a beau. Someone to divert Alisa's attention from Stanley and Alina sleeping beside her. But Alisa is easily offended and quick to kill any suitor. Eventually, Stanley tries to separate the twins with a chainsaw.
The interior sets have a theatrical quality, cheap and artificial, similar to those in an Ed Wood film. Which is to be expected from a micro-budget film shot on a sound stage. "All of the home interiors were on a stage," said Grisaffi. "The crime scenes and car scene were in the same back alley. We went to the same place every day to shoot. It made production a whole lot easier. We could walk away without having to pack and unpack every day. No guerilla filmmaking. This was quite a treat."
Conjoined make heavy use of tight, stationary frames. We rarely see what's beyond the frame. The camera itself rarely moves. "These shot choices were for both budgetary and aesthetic reasons," said Grisaffi. "We shot mainly on a sound stage and only had three flats to represent the interior of Stanley's house. Going wider would reveal the edges of the flats. Regarding the crime scene shots, we didn't prepare an elaborate crime scene involving extras, vehicles, and so on, because we didn't have the budget, time, or manpower.
"Our challenge was to shoot as quickly as possible. Conjoined is an obviously a low-budget film. We chose not to hide that, and many times chose not to hide my mistakes."
Casting the film was easy. "I've worked with tons of Houston actors over the years. We just called actors Chuck and I already knew. We did not make casting announcements or hold auditions. We made the unusual choice in this age of social networking not to talk about the movie openly until we were wrapped."
Appropriate for a comedy, Conjoined uses bright, colorful set decor, and bright, high-key lighting, as commonly used in sitcoms. "I shot on my Canon T2i DSLR. I could have gone with the RED camera, but since I was going to be handling post production myself and did not have a DIT person on set, I stuck with my DSLR. I've never shot on a RED, so I would have needed another camera operator. The fewer people involved with a small production, the better, mainly for scheduling purposes."
Conjoined was edited on Final Cut Pro 7 and is entirely self-financed. "The budget was so small that I just funded it out of pocket," said Grisaffi. "No investors. No crowdfunding."
The film is currently on the film festival circuit. Details at Joe Grisaffi's website.