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Rural Missouri Filmmakers Launch Horror Film Essay Anthology Series

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Nick Toti and Rachel Kempf of DieDie Books tell campfire stories in Kirksville, MO. // Courtesy of the creators

Nick Toti and Rachel Kempf were fulfilling their dreams in Los Angeles, working as filmmakers and screenwriters in the city’s entertainment industry. Then the pandemic hit and in-person filmmaking dissolved entirely for the next year, then a slow comeback in 2021. With their main careers on semi-permanent hold, the couple moved to rural Missouri, where they hoped to pursue their dreams without being confined within the confines of one of the largest cities in the country.

As their movie careers blossom in Kirksville, MO, they’ve also found themselves with spare time to start working on killer side projects. One of those launched last week with the DieDieBooks anthology book series.

DieDieBooks follows the pattern of other anthology labels of recent years, where each entry is a complete book written by a different author, in a different style, about a single medium. 33 1/3 is a series that uses this approach to approach individual albums. Boss Fight Books uses it to dive deep into individual video games. And now DieDieBooks of Missouri is giving diverse voices a chance to tackle their favorite horror movies.

The first five books, edited by Toti and Kempf, are sold/funded through a new Kickstarter Campaign. The first print run includes books on Fighting spirit (1982), Son (1984), The werewolf (1941), overnight camp (1983), and The witch of love (2016).

We caught up with the creators to discuss the first batch of releases, nuclear apocalypse, and post-mortem release.


Field: How did you end up making films in Kirksville?

Nick Toti: When we moved to Los Angeles in 2015, we promised to give it five years and then reassess our decision. Mid-2020, when the pandemic was in full swing, we celebrated this anniversary and agreed that it would be easier to return to the Midwest to continue to pursue our dreams, especially when you are not investing all your income in the cost of living in one of the most expensive cities in the world. We’re both from the Midwest, so there was no culture shock or anything like that.

Rachel Kempf: We’ve already filmed a feature that we’re finishing editing right now. So we hit the ground running here. We have a movie that we’re almost done with and now the book series. I used to work as an editor in the romance novel world. Some of these writers release a full novel every month, and fans always demand they come faster. So editing five books this year for DieDie is nothing compared to that. When I was writing films in Los Angeles, people pushed me to write horror films, and I can listen to anyone talking about horror films. If you gave me a million people and they each explained why they liked a particular movie, I would listen to them all. In the cinema in Los Angeles, I was taking meetings and working with producers, but getting these things across the finish line is so difficult – and during the pandemic almost impossible. So we’re thrilled to be in Missouri, where we can fund our dreams and make them happen.

Where did the idea for a series of anthology film reviews come from?

Toti: I’ve always loved helping my friends do stuff. I think I’m really good at it, because a lot of people just need a cheerleader, someone to say “Hey, that’s a great idea” and offer feedback. I am someone who likes to get involved in other people’s projects, and I like to see them succeed. It’s cool to be part of it. This is one of the reasons why we started to create a DVD publishing company. We only really released one, but we learned a lot about design, printing, etc. Separately, Rachel saw me reading one of the Boss Fight Books video game books, and she said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if someone did this for horror movies?” So we reached out to writers, critics, bloggers, etc., and said, “Hey, we like the way you write. Would you consider doing a book for us? »

Why go with a Kickstarter to launch the series?

Toti: Knowing your audience, especially how many books you need to order and what people are looking for in the future, is invaluable. We haven’t spent a year trying to build a social network or anything like that, so we’re using this as a way to connect with a community of die-hard fans and less diehard but equally invested readers . And Kickstarter has been around long enough now that most people know what they’re getting into and how to use it.

What makes DieDieBooks different from other film review anthologies?

Kempf: When people talk/write about their feelings about horror cinema, you have everything on the spectrum, from academic writing to personal experiences to film theory and the fan art equivalent. We love the personal stuff when it’s expressed in other things because it combines historical weight with cultural weight.

Toti: People also like to collect things. Our designer has some great designs and ideas to make this series the kind of thing you’ll want to display on your shelf. We had been working with HIM on ideas around this DVD publishing company, and so we’re taking a lot of what we’ve learned from that project and incorporating it into that.

Give us the elevator pitch for each book in the first set of the series.

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Toti: Our first book out of the gate is on Fighting spirit and is written by Jacob Trussell. Jacob’s initial pitch was that the book would analyze how the film dissects the American dream and really delves into the American nightmare. As the book developed, it became more centered on Steven Spielberg versus Tobe Hooper – who really realized that? But it’s still very much about that American dream. It’s an exploration of how Spielberg’s career represents the American dream and Hooper’s career is a very different vision of it, and how these two perspectives complement and contrast each other.

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Then we have Bob Mielke’s book on Son. He has a five-decade career as an activist and scholar of nuclear studies. He has been involved in a number of books on the nuclear field. We asked him if he would be interested in writing about Sonwhich Rachel considers the scariest movie of all time.

We can’t believe you went with Son on its Lawrence-based counterpart The day after. Really betray the Midwest on that one.

Toti: Bob has an entire chapter on The day after and it’s the weight, because he thinks it’s as important as Son. Rachel thinks Son is much scarier.

Kempf: The day after is a disaster movie, but Son is a horror movie. The day after ends with a title card that reads “That’s what could have happened in a nuclear war.” Son is less a dramatization of science and more a vision of this apocalypse.

Toti: Bob is a huge pop culture nut, and so he talks a lot about British films and music at the time of the film’s release, and places the film in a cultural and political period of the Cold War.

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overnight camp is a book by BJ & Harmony Colangelo. They are a married lesbian couple and they had previously written about the film, but for different outlets. We happened to read them both and then found out they had a relationship and we were hoping the two working together would give a really interesting perspective on this controversial film. Watching how this creeps into the queer community and learning from their perspective, especially how the LGBTQ+ world has had a full spectrum of reactions to this over the years, turned out brilliantly.

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by Matt Latham The witch of love is interesting because he was a movie partner of mine, and then he became obsessed with The witch of love. He got out and for maybe a year that was the only thing he talked about. Maybe two years? It was the only thing he was talking about. He was obsessed. So giving him the chance to write this book was a chance to put that obsession out into the world for others. He’s someone obsessed with cinema and I think he was starting to get disappointed with the form, but then he saw this film which was such a perfect example of cinema that he brought it back to the life. The book is a love story about a boy meeting a movie and falling in love – a love story between a man and a movie.

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So let’s talk about Philip’s book on The werewolf. For both of us, as people who knew him from collaborating on anthology works, I know this is tricky.

Toti: I had read Philip J. Reed’s book in the Boss Fight Books series on resident Evil and I didn’t like it, and maybe that’s because I’ve never been so excited about games…

Sometimes the folks at Boss Fight Books write about games they don’t like. It happened at least once.

Toti: … But I loved how it had lots of horror movie references and big ideas. He had a fascinating approach and an interesting structure. So I emailed him and he was interested in working with us. We danced around a few ideas and finally ended up on The werewolf. Specifically, what he wanted to do was write a book that analyzed the movie, but contextualized in how it parallels the tragic life of its lead actor, Lon Chaney Jr. So he wrote this book that alternates each chapter between the analysis of the film and then the reversal. to a biographical account of Chaney, told chronologically in parallel with his film. I’ve never seen anyone make that kind of comparison in a critical essay. And a few months later, Phil killed himself, and now the book had this other level. Philip wrote about this tragic and conflicted figure of Lon Chaney Jr. who struggled with mental illness and chemical addiction. As a result of Reed’s situation, it was clear that the book operated autobiographically. There was a reason he was drawn to writing this book about this film and this actor, and to do it in a very particular way.

Why should people get down to earth here with your Kickstarter?

Kempf: From the cover design to the authors we’ve chosen, we think what we’ve put together is something special. It’s a series that goes from fan to fan. It’s a specific type of communication and we think we put it together with love.


Embark with DieDieBooks Kickstarter Campaign.

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