Why ‘The Last Stop in Yuma County’ Filmmaker Francis Galluppi is Perfect for ‘Evil Dead’: ‘I Have Three Necronomicons On My Desk’

First things first: Yes, Francis Galluppi is going to be directing a new movie in the “Evil Dead” franchise. And no, he can’t tell you anything about it. He can, however, prove his bona fides as a horror and suspense fan in our Zoom interview by pointing to the “Evil Dead” poster in his office and the “three Necronomicons on my desk.”

Galluppi landed the coveted gig after Sam Raimi saw Galluppi’s feature film debut, “The Last Stop in Yuma County,” the acclaimed thriller that arrives in theaters and on digital this week. Shot in 20 days on a budget of “about a million” dollars, the film is set almost entirely at road stop diner in an unspecified past era where traveling salesmen and rotary phones are still prevalent. As patrons await the arrival of a gas truck, the establishment soon becomes populated with an ensemble of independent film legends, including Jim Cummings as a knife salesman, Jocelin Donahue as a waitress and Richard Brake and Nicholas Logan as bank robbers trying (and failing) to keep a low profile. The film is nasty in the best way — a lean, darkly funny and unpredictable ride that feels both like a throwback to the crime movies of the 1970s but also urgently timely.

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In short, it’s easy to see what Raimi and Ghost House Pictures saw in the film’s DNA that makes Galluppi the perfect fit for their universe. Any further evidence can also be found in his two short films, “High Desert Hell” and “The Gemini Project,” that preceded it. And it’s no coincidence that “Evil Dead” is a major source of inspiration for the filmmaker, who began his career in music before pivoting to movies. “It’s one of the movies that legitimately made me want to make movies,” Galluppi enthuses. “If I’d never seen ‘Evil Dead’ I don’t think I would have grabbed my friends and went out to the desert and made my first short.”

Below are some highlights of our conversation with Galluppi about the making of the twisty thriller, working with his dream cast and what’s next.

He’d be open to a play version of “Last Stop in Yuma County.”

It’s intended as a compliment to say the film feels like a play at times, thanks to the mostly singular location, strong characters and real-time setting. And Galluppi takes it as such, noting he’s a fan of movies such as “Rope,” “Dial M for Murder” and even the underrated “Phone Booth.” It’s also how he made his short films — “High Desert Hell” is set in a remote California desert while “The Gemini Project” was shot because “my buddy had a cabin up in Oregon.”

The location might look familiar.

“Last Stop” really took off when Galluppi was scouting locations and came across an existing diner set at the Four Aces Movie Ranch in Palmdale, just north of Los Angeles. Traveling in his music career, he recalled often ending up at such places in the middle of nowhere. “It was always this eerie feeling of walking in and feeling like the fish out of water,” he notes. “I’m very neurotic but I’d walk in and feel like I was out of the loop on a secret everyone else knew. I think that really sparked the seed to start writing this story.”

What he didn’t know at the time was that the diner has also served as a location for countless music videos, commercials and shows. “Now that I know, I see it all the time,” he admits. It’s in the new season of ‘Dave,’ it’s in ‘House of 1,000 Corpses,’ it’s in ‘Identity.’” In fact, during the edit, Galluppi’s was sitting with his composer Matthew Compton when the latter mentioned that the diner looked familiar. “He said, ‘I think I’ve eaten there before,’” Galluppi recalls. “And I was like, ‘No, dude, you did the score for ‘Palm Springs,’ which shot at this diner!’”

There will be blood.

Without giving too much away, there are bound to be causalities when you put a group of desperate people in a hot desert diner with money on the line. It also meant his cast was almost always on set, even if they were just sitting at a booth in the background of a shot. Despite that, Galluppi says, “Everybody was in really good spirits. Honestly, it felt like summer camp every single day.”

That goodwill extended to scenes where actors had to be still or lie in a pool of blood — due to the low budget, there was no money for fake bodies. While it might not sound too bad to lie down on the job, Galluppi insists, “It’s not as great as it sounds. The blood is so stick and someone has to lie there for two days. I felt so bad.”

Nobody auditioned for the movie.

Perhaps the high spirits were due to the cast and crew being all “movie nerds and cinephiles” who spent the long days geeking out on each other’s work. “Nobody was there for a paycheck,” he says.Though he worked with casting director David Guglielmo to assemble the ensemble, Galluppi says he never made any actors audition — he knew who he wanted based on their past work. That includes genre legend Barbra Crampton as a sheriff’s secretary and Sierra McCormick, who impressed him with her one-take scene in “The Vast of Night.” He even wrote Donahue’s role with her in mind, despite not knowing her personally.

Galluppi was a fan of filmmaker and actor Cummings from his movies “Thunder Road” and “The Beta Test,” and heard him on a podcast talk about how he was rarely asked to just act in a film. So Galluppi sent him a letter — and Cumming called and invited him over for coffee. “I went over the next day and we just talked about ‘South Park,’ for three hours,” Galluppi recalls. “And he ended up being my North Star — there were so many times in on set where my face was buried in my hands and he’d tell me, ‘It’s all going to be okay, it’s going to be great.’ And coming from someone who has such experience making scrappy movies with his friends — it meant the world.”

His producer literally bet the house on the movie.

Galluppi stresses time and again what a “truly independent” movie the production was. In fact, he had spent years trying to make the film. “There have been 20 different version over the years, and it’s been this rollercoaster of emotions trying to get it made,” he admits, adding that he’s had two children in the time it took to get the film made.

At one point, his executive producer James Claeys had offered to sell his house to finance the film so they could make it the way they wanted. “At the time, I said, ‘That’s crazy. Don’t do that,’” Galluppi recalls. For awhile, the script was with a production company, but Galluppi realized they had a different vision from him — including wanting “name” actors. “So as soon as the option expired, I pulled it,” he notes.

At this point he had begun to put his dream cast in place, so he went back to Claeys. “I said, ‘Look man, I don’t know if you’re serious or not. But if you are, this is what it means: We can do this thing how we want to do it, nobody’s going to be telling us how to make this movie.’ And he did it, he sold his house. And we were up and running a month later.”

His kids haven’t seen his movies, but they’ve heard about them.

Speaking of his children, they’re far too young to have seen “Last Stop” but he notes that he has spent so much time talking about the movie, they have picked up a few things. “My daughter very much knows the words ‘last stop’ and ‘Yuma County,’” he says with a laugh. “And now because all I’ve been talking about is ‘Evil Dead,’ she calls everything by that name. She made something on her Lite-Brite and I asked what it was. She goes, ‘It’s evil dead.’ It made no sense.”

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