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by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor  [August 16, 2014]







[]  Horror-art films are hard to summarize. One one level, The Sickness of Lucius Frost is about a writer who lives in a derelict desert shack. He doesn't know how he got there. He tells a visiting publisher that his horror books are not fiction. Spirits allow him to peek into alternate realities.

In that sense, Lucius Frost is similar to In the Mouth of Madness, in which a horror writer channeled visions of the future provided by Lovecraftian demons. In Lucius Frost the sources are Native American spirits.

But unlike Mouth of Madness, Lucius Frost is not quite a horror film. It has visions and flashbacks and nonlinear storytelling. As in a David Lynch film, actors assume multiple rolls. It's hard to know whether something's real, or a memory, a dream, a fantasy.

One can make guesses after seeing it, but the film remains a puzzle. Writer/director Brian Lupo (who also stars as Lucius Frost) says that The Sickness of Lucius Frost is "made for multiple views to piece together. All my films make you think, not only about the moment, but the way it ends." Lupo doesn't mind that my interpretation of the ending differs from his. "That is the beauty of making a film, which can reach people on different levels, because we can all take something different away."





Lucius Frost's demon spirits evoke those in Carnival of Souls. Silent figures with pasty-white faces, who can unsettle just by peering into windows. Lucius Frost tries to ignore them even as he writes about them on his manual typewriter. At times the demon spirits are rowdier, chasing people and slamming doors, but they do little more, and never speak. Yet despite their micro-budget -- requiring only make-up or masks, rather than CGI -- they are unnerving, at times even scary.






The Sickness of Lucius Frost was filmed in and around Lupo's hometown of Yucaipa, California. The American southwestern desert is an appropriate backdrop for his story of Native American shamans and spirits. Some of Lupo's imagery echoes Georgia O'Keeffe. Of course, it's also natural for micro-budget filmmakers to adapt their stories to fit available locations. "The locations were found shortly before shooting, with the idea in mind," says Lupo. "I refined the script to meet the environment.






"The idea came from my anthropology studies on Native American shamans and their ability to be an intermediary for the spirit world -- walker between worlds -- as much as Nick Cardy's cover art for the The Unexpected, issue No. 141.

"My heaviest influences have always been old pulp magazines like Horror Stories, Weird Tales and Terror Tales. Lucius Frost being a writer was a result of my admiration for the struggling writers of the pulp era. The film's style owes influence to Dennis Hopper's American Dreamer documentary, the tough conditions those master pulp writers wrote in. Lucius is the name of Joseph Payne Brennan's master detective, Lucius Leffing."

While aesthetically right for a film about shamans, the desert also offers practical conveniences for micro-budget films. Shooting permits can be avoided.

"No permits is how I have always worked when filming locally," says Lupo. "Sometimes police show up. They usually see that you are making a film and inquire on what it's about, then leave you alone. It's one of the few perks of shooting outside of Hollywood."

Yet there are challenges. "Casting in Yucaipa is always a nightmare," says Lupo. "We audition at my work with actors from local theaters, acting websites, and Backstage West. For bit roles I use friends and family. I am finding, to my surprise, that sometimes non-actors can out-perform professional actors."

Being writer, director, and producer, it was easy for Lupo to land a role in his film. Yet he says, "I love wearing all the hats except acting. I have no interest in acting. I just knew that if I wanted to film the movie the way I wanted to, I was going to have to act as well. I was going to be filming in some less than desirable locations. I preferred for safety reasons to be the test dummy."



Lupo self-financed his film's $20,000 budget. "I shoot on weekends, putting whatever is needed from my day job earnings and savings into the film. Eating Top Ramen and sleeping on the floor while working is how I raised the money for my first film, M.O.N. Since then, I just put every extra dime I have into the project. If you love what you do, that's what it takes. I've never looked back."

Lucius Frost was shot on a Sony NEX-FS100 in 24p AVCHD. "I started with a Panasonic DVX 100A for M.O.N. After that project I sold it on Ebay, so I only had to pay a quarter for the next model up, the Panasonic DVX 100B. This has been my formula for acquiring upgraded cameras." Lucius Frost was edited on Final Cut Pro 7 "in addition to Magic Bullet for color grading.

"I never attended film school," says Lupo. "I have a Bachelor's degree in anthropology. I started making home movies on a VHS-C camera with my friends, knowing since I was about eight that I wanted to make films. All aspects of film production that I have learned were self-taught.

The Sickness of Lucius Frost had its Los Angeles premiere last July 26th, at the Downtown Independent Theater. It is currently doing the film festival circuit.

More details at Lupo's website.


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