‘Abigail’ Filmmakers Radio Silence on Their Genre-Hopping Vampire Thriller and Honoring Angus Cloud’s Final Performance

The Universal horror movie “Abigail” began as a modern-day twist on “Dracula’s Daughter,” but making a film about the legendary vampire’s blood-sucking scion wasn’t the reason why the filmmaking trio Radio Silence — producer Chad Villella and directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett — wanted to make the project their follow-up to 2022’s “Scream” and 2023’s “Scream VI.”

“As freeing as it is to challenge the format of what a ‘Scream’ movie is, you’re playing in a pretty specific sandbox,” Gillett says. “Coming out of ‘Scream VI,’ it was just really clear, like, what if we could take any risk that we felt creatively inspired to take and not have to worry about how it fits into the legacy of a predecessor?”

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Instead, Radio Silence wanted to return to their roots in original horror, from 2012’s “V/H/S” to 2019’s “Ready or Not.” In “Abigail,” a team of mercenary thieves — played by Melissa Barrera, Dan Stevens, Kathryn Newton, Kevin Durand, Angus Cloud and William Catlett — hold who they think is a wealthy bigwig’s daughter (Alisha Weir) for ransom inside a decrepit mansion. They soon discover that the titular girl is really a vampire and they’ve been trapped as her latest victims, but Dracula’s name isn’t ever spoken, and the script — written by Stephen Shields (“The Hole in the Ground”) and regular Radio Silence collaborator Guy Busick (“Ready or Not” and the “Scream” movies) — has basically nothing to do with “Dracula’s Daughter.”

“The hook of Dracula’s daughter sold the idea, but through a year-plus of development, it just becomes its own thing,” Bettinelli-Olpin says. “We get to do a heist thriller movie, and then we get to do a monster movie, and somehow make those two things live in one world.”

Adds Gillett: “At one end, you have this little girl in a tutu, and at the other end, you have exploding bodies. What the fuck could this journey possibly be that ends up that way?”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 06: (L-R) Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Chad Villella and Tyler Gillett attend the Global Premiere of Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Media Group's "Scream VI" at AMC Lincoln Square on March 6, 2023 in New York, New York. (Photo by Jason Mendez/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures)
From left: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Chad Villella and Tyler Gillett at the premiere of “Scream VI.”

Radio Silence’s ability to deftly steer their projects through multiple genres has turned them into some of the most in-demand horror filmmakers in the industry. They started production on “Abigail” in Ireland just a month after the release of “Scream VI,” which grossed the best opening weekend in the franchise’s history. Ironically, Gillett and Villella both say they were very much not horror fans when they were younger, but they’ve come to love how much enjoyment the genre affords them.

“It’s arts and crafts and make believe at the highest, silliest level,” Gillett says. “[We’re] talking to a makeup artist about designing a neck appliance that has a flap that can be torn off by another cast member. But you are asking that person to take that very seriously and make that art.” He laughs. “We had days where it’s two actors sitting across from each other crying, and then it’s like, ‘Oh well, we’re done with that scene. Let’s go toss Catherine in the body pit.’ It’s this wild, wild pivot from one moment to the next.”

Adds Bettinelli-Olpin: “When you’re making horror, every time we say ‘Cut,’ there’s giggles and laughter. And it’s infectious.”

That spirit was especially necessary for the production after Cloud, who plays one of the mercenaries, died weeks after wrapping his role.

“It was just so evident how much fun he was having,” Gillett says. “I don’t think we’ve ever worked with somebody that forces the other actors in the scene to pay attention. There’s not a false moment in anything that he does. He kind of gave everyone permission to be a little weird and take some swings that maybe they wouldn’t have otherwise, just because of how natural and charismatic he is in a scene.”

Cloud died just after the SAG-AFTRA strike suspended production on the film. When the cast and crew returned to set at the end of the year, “everybody involved really wanted to make sure that we finished the movie strong and did Angus justice,” Bettinelli-Olpin says. “We felt a responsibility.”

In an offhand moment early on in the film, Cloud’s character starts singing along to a song on the radio — The Jacka’s 2009 hit “Glamorous Lifestyle,” featuring Andre Nickatina — that the actor got to select himself. “He was like, ‘I can’t believe we’re getting this song in a fucking movie!’” Bettinelli-Olpin says. “To everybody’s credit involved, it was just never on the table to cut it. It was like, ‘No, that meant a lot to Angus. Let’s let that be a part of the movie.'”

Similarly, Bettinelli-Olpin says they filmed all the material they needed of the actor, so there was no need for any digital recreations or substitutions. “Every single thing of Angus is Angus in the movie,” he says. “There’s not even an ADR line off-camera that we needed for story. It’s all Angus.”

From left: Angus Cloud, Kathryn Newton, Alisha Weir (back to camera), Kevin Durand, Dan Stevens (background), Melissa Barrera and Will Catlett in “Abigail.”
From left: Angus Cloud, Kathryn Newton, Alisha Weir (back to camera), Kevin Durand, Dan Stevens (background), Melissa Barrera and Will Catlett in “Abigail.”

Then, during the final stretch of production, Barrera — who also starred in Radio Silence’s “Scream” films — was fired from the seventh movie in that franchise over her pro-Palestinian social media posts about the war in Gaza. “[It’s] a testament to Melissa that the stress of that never showed up anywhere in the process,” Gillett says. “After losing Angus and the turmoil that the world was in, I think it felt really good to show up on set with friends.”

“We’ve gotten really close with her; we care about her deeply,” adds Bettinelli-Olpin. “For what it’s worth, Melissa, in our opinion, is fucking great in this movie. And hopefully, people get to see that and go, ‘Oh, she’s a talent.’”

While the filmmakers don’t know what their next project will be, they are excited about their new horror film production pact with Project X Entertainment and MRC. Their goal is to back two to three horror films a year that “don’t leave you depressed for days,” says Villella. “Even though our characters are going through hell and dealing with the most absurd situations, we want to have that triumphant feeling at the end.”

“As the guys who made ‘Scream 5’ and ‘Scream 6,’” adds Bettinelli-Olpin, “we would love to see more original movies with original voices.”

To that end, the Radio Silence team are open to making movies outside of the genre; they’re currently in development on a comedy project with Andy Samberg, for example. “But I also can’t imagine us doing a pass on any script,” Bettinelli-Olpin says, “and not being like, ‘Ooh, what if …’”

“‘What if this person explodes?’” Gillett jumps in.

As they all start to laugh, Bettinelli-Olpin gives a playful shrug. “It’s just what happens!”

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