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Bay Area director's new Lake Tahoe-set vampire flick is like a modern 'Lost Boys'
Amanda Bartlett, SFGATE Dec. 9, 2021
Olivia Romo is a romance novelist struggling to get her book about vampires published. Luke, the real bloodsucker she’s hiding in the garage of her South Lake Tahoe cabin over the holidays, has a problem with her manuscript.
The book takes place in Romania, which in Olivia’s opinion lends it a Bram Stoker feel, but Luke disagrees. “You need to change it,” he insists. “Vamps aren’t moping around dusty old castles in eastern Europe, okay? They go to cool places. [Like] Tahoe.”
“Red Snow,” a new holiday horror comedy from up-and-coming director Sean Nichols Lynch, deftly balances the twisted, campy humor of Joe Dante’s “Gremlins” with the psychological tension and isolation of Stephen King’s “Misery.” It offers plenty of playful digs at a die-hard vampire fandom, with references ranging from “Nosferatu” to “The Lost Boys” and “Twilight.” The film recently won “Best Feature” at the Sacramento Horror Film Festival, and although not yet on major streaming services, is available to watch this weekend through San Francisco’s Another Hole in the Head Film Festival. Alone at her late mother’s cabin in the woods, Olivia (Dennice Cisneros) spends her days writing and checking her mailbox, which is mostly filled with rejection letters from publishers. When a bat crashes into her living room window one evening, she nurses it back to health and leaves it inside a shoebox in her garage. The next morning, the animal transforms into an attractive (and naked) vampire named Luke (Nico Bellamy). Could this chance encounter provide the material she needs to finish her book? Maybe — if a vigilante cryptid hunter (Vernon Wells) or Luke’s fellow vampire cohort (Laura Kennon, Alan Silva) don’t find him first. Luke (Nico Bellamy) in "Red Snow." 4Digital MediaPremiering in San Francisco at New People Cinema on Thursday, “Red Snow” has clear ties to Lake Tahoe, where Lynch spent many holidays at his family’s cabin throughout his childhood, and even filmed his first movie there at the age of six. Jackie (Laura Kennon) in "Red Snow." 4Digital Media“My cousins and I put on paper bag alien masks and ran around with a camera, so it was a natural extension of that,” he tells me over the phone from his home in San Leandro, laughing. So his family wasn’t exactly surprised when he asked to shoot his next project at the cabin over the span of a month in early 2020 — just before the pandemic hit. “We realized that we really dodged a bullet, timing-wise,” said Lynch. “It was all centered around the snowfall in Tahoe, and when we got there, we were worried we wouldn’t have enough. Some days it would be in the 50s and sunny. It was impossible to predict.” But the “Miracle March” weather pattern came through, and the area was pummeled with snow — close to 10 feet in some parts of Tahoe. “Luckily, it dumped on us right when we needed it,” said Lynch. Olivia (Dennice Cisneros) in "Red Snow." This scene was filmed at Overland Meat & Seafood Company in Tahoe. 4Digital MediaElsewhere in Tahoe, a butcher shop scene was filmed at Overland Meat & Seafood Company, and Lynch said an employee there was kind enough to put on a Santa hat and portray the cashier. The film was so low-budget that it didn’t qualify for any tax breaks, but since most of it was shot on private property, obtaining permits wasn’t a problem. And a DIY approach to special effects led to some unexpected complications, like opaque vampire contact lenses that made it impossible for the actors to actually see.
Read MoreHowever, the real challenge came at night, when they’d film for hours in “the freezing cold,” with temperatures in the low 30s. There were a few bear sightings by the crew, but luckily never on set, said Lynch. “We got pretty lucky with that,” he continued. “You would think all of the fake blood on the ground would attract them, but it did not.” “Red Snow” also boasts a few connections to the Bay Area. Lynch met stars Cisneros and Bellamy while attending film school at San Francisco State University, as well as most of his collaborators, including cinematographer Gavin V. Murray. A bookshop scene later in the film was shot at Sleepy Cat Books on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. The cast and crew of "Red Snow" on location in Lake Tahoe.4Digital MediaAs far as vampire movies go, Lynch said “The Lost Boys” and the 1985 classic “Fright Night” provided the most inspiration for “Red Snow.” “They do such a great job at including the appeal and pitfalls of being a vampire, especially in ‘The Lost Boys,’ because it includes a young gang of marauding vampires and deals with how they interact with one another as a family,” said Lynch. Also a fan of Christmas-centered horror movies like the 1970s slasher “Black Christmas” and the more recent “Krampus,” Lynch wanted to combine the subgenres to create a new kind of horror film he hadn’t seen before. “It sounds like such a hacky thing to say, but I thought of the title before anything else,” said Lynch. “‘Red Snow’ offers such a clear image. Blood in the snow. Vampires in the snow! It built out from there. Something about seeing vampires in a different kind of context was so fascinating to me.” “Red Snow” is set to premiere in the Bay Area at San Francisco’s Another Hole in the Head Film Festival on Thursday, Dec. 9, at 6:30 p.m. at New People Cinema, with stars Dennice Cisneros and Laura Kennon in attendance. Tickets available from Another Hole in the Head's website. The film will also be available to stream through the festival from Dec. 10 through 12 at their website.