Lovecraft

"Call Girl of Cthulhu" Filmmaker Chris LaMartina and leading lady Melissa O'Brien (Center) (J.M GIORDANO / May 7, 2014)

“What the film is about is adolescent-male fears of female sexuality,” LaMartina says. “I’m trying to follow the Roger Corman model. Give them sex and violence, but give them a sense of social consciousness. Because I feel the movies that live forever say something bigger than blood and boobs.”

That’s a lofty goal, and George and LaMartina realized that, as stereotypical horror fans, they might get themselves into trouble using prostitution to explore anything to do with male sexuality. Fortunately, they cast two actresses, Melissa O’Brien and Nicolette le Faye, who understood what they were going for and who took the roles seriously.

In rehearsals, “Nicolette and I talked about the whole woman-as-prize thing, not just in horror but in comedies,” O’Brien says. “You always see a schlubby dude who cleans up his act a little and gets the pretty lady at the end. And I was worried about that for Carter [and Riley’s relationship]. I think what makes it work for her is that it’s the first time anybody is showing her kindness and the first time someone hasn’t immediately asked her for something disgusting.”

O’Brien makes her film debut in Call Girl, but she brings nearly a decade’s worth of theater-acting to the role. What attracted her to Riley was how shut off she has to be to do her job. “I ended up watching a lot of documentaries on prostitution and sex work, and paying particular attention to the negative aspects of it,” she says, noting that, during the first rehearsals, LaMartina kept letting her know she was being too warm as a character. “I really felt a switch in my approach after doing that research and understanding the kinds of people who she would be encountering. No one who she has connections with is kind or even a good person in any way.” (Toward the end of filming, O’Brien and LaMartina started dating and they became engaged last Halloween.)

O’Brien makes Riley initially remote onscreen, so when she lightens up around Carter, she reveals a tender side to the character. This peek of vulnerability makes later scenes after she’s abducted by the cult genuinely tense. “I don’t have any illusions about what the audience for this movie is looking for, and it’s not serious connections between the characters,” O’Brien says about making Riley a more rounded character in the genre flick. “But that’s not an excuse not to give the performance more attention.”

Both LaMartina and George spotlight that level of dedication in all aspects of Call Girl’s cast and crew. Almost nobody’s getting paid (they hired an effects crew), but everybody who participated brought their A-game. “What we benefitted from on Call Girl is people aspiring to make the most out of our budget,” LaMartina says. “The production value is insane. That’s a testament to the fact that we’re not an island. The cast, the crew—everyone busted their ass and took it seriously.”

“I’ve been in a lot of horror movies, and usually I end up getting killed in the basement,” la Faye says. “In this one I get to fight back. This is my fourth film with [George and LaMartina], and they just bring such energy and creativity to the projects that everybody on set is inspired.”

The result is by far the best-looking and biggest-feeling movie George and LaMartina have ever made. It’s certainly the project with the longest gestation period: They started writing in November 2011, and LaMartina finally posted aCall Girl trailer online in April. He’s still tinkering with the making-of featurette for the eventual DVD release from Camp Motion Pictures—still TBD at the moment. It’s been a mammoth undertaking following what brought them the most widespread attention and acclaim yet: a pet project they made super-fast and cheap.

WNUF Halloween Special is a found-footage flick they shot for around $1,500 in 2012 and released last fall. The movie is a faux-newscast where a local television crew visits the site of an infamous killing. It’s a mash note to all things 1980s, done with an obsessive attention to the details of the era, and it struck a chord with many other horror fans with a soft spot for the time, earning online coverage from MTV, Vice, The New York Times, and NPR.

“If you would have told me five years ago that I was going to be on NPR national on Halloween day, I would have been, ‘Yeah, cool, dude—I’ll buy that property you have on the moon too,’” LaMartina says. “At the same time, as the capacity for success gets bigger and bigger, we wonder what the next step is.”

Both George and LaMartina speculate about where this horror-film habit is taking them. WNUF put them in contact with a production company that is fielding a few of their ideas, but they’re not sure what scale those projects might be. Big enough to draw a paycheck and pay people? Who knows?

“It’s so different than it was when we started our creative partnership,” George writes, pointing out that LaMartina was still in college, he had fewer responsibilities at his job, and they both lived with their parents. They would meet multiple times a week and turn out scripts quickly, self-producing films for a few thousand dollars. Now “[w]e still want to make films, but adult life gets in the way more than ever. The older you get, the harder it becomes to make the sacrifices necessary to complete a feature film. Now, when we commit to making a film, there’s more at stake for us personally and financially than ever.”

And yet, there’s nothing else like it for them. “There are moments during the production where you’re exhausted, or my hands are shaking from low blood sugar, and I’m worried about if this life is sustainable,” LaMartina says. “But when you’re done with that movie, and when you’ve exported that final cut, there’s this sense of accomplishment that is unparalleled [by] anything else.”

Those are the tradeoffs of being a cult filmmaker. Your limited budget will show up onscreen, but you will work with fabulously talented people who do everything they can with limited resources. Very few people will see your films, but the people who do will adore it sincerely. It will consume your every waking moment not spent at the day job—which enables you to make movies—but it will satisfy something inside you that no job ever will. You will not make any money, but you can’t imagine being alive without it.

That may not amount to anything like an amazing career, but it does sound like it could make for an amazing life. “I still constantly wrestle with the idea, Can I do this?” LaMartina says. “Honestly, am I going to support a family and make low-budget horror comedies? Probably not. Part of me thinks if I stop doing this tomorrow, that’s OK because I still have those movies that sit on a shelf somewhere. WNUF is really special and I don’t think I’ve realized how special it is just yet. I get emails and Facebook messages from people all across the country that say, ‘This is going to be in my Halloween movie rotation for the rest of my life.’ And that’s something that most people who make movies will never get to experience.”

Our Guide to the 2014 Maryland film festival