Night of the Caregiver has a face familiar to most horror fans, that of Eileen Dietz, who plays Pazuzu in The Exorcist, the demon who flashes across the screen at various points in director William Friedkin’s masterpiece. In this feature, she stars as Lillian Gresham, an elderly woman who seems to be hiding something from her part time caregiver, Juliet (Natalie Denise Sperl). The back and forth between the women makes for an intriguing and tense feature, one that takes its time revealing all its of otherworldly secrets.
Dietz isn’t the film’s only connection to The Exorcist, however. Like the head spinning classic, Night of the Caregiver also has serious conversations about faith and doubt, like Father Karras’ (Jason Miller) struggles with his own faith as a priest and his overall character arc in The Exorcist. We talked with director/co-star Joe Cornet and producer Alexander Nevsky about the inspiration for Night of the Caregiver as well as their experience working with Dietz.
The interview was edited for clarity.
1428 Elm: What drew each of you to this project?
Joe: Alexander and I had just completed our first western together, Gunfight at Rio Bravo, a little shameless plug there. A month or two after principal production had wrapped, we had a meeting. Alexander approached me and asked if I’d be interested in doing a horror film. I said yes, but with reservations and demands. I asked, Are there zombies in it? He said no. He then asked, Don’t you like zombies? I love zombies and played one once, but I don’t think I have anything to bring to the zombie world and culture. [Laughs]. He said it was a psychological tale with Satanic and paranormal elements. As an added bonus, he said he’d like me to take an approach and style like Dario Argento’s. I love Argento. So, we got rolling right away on it. We cast it fairly quickly. That’s the story, but the hook of it was that I really loved Craig Hamann’s beautiful script. It was great. What you see on the screen was the script.
Alexander: It’s my debut in the horror genre. It’s also Joe’s first film in the genre. What was important to me, as a producer and as a person, was to start something new with the guy I believe in. Joe just proved to me, two months before that, that he could do a western with me. I never did a western before. I did a lot of action movies. It worked. I knew Joe was talented, but he’s my friend. I can depend on him. When we started Night of the Caregiver, I wasn’t afraid at all. I was there for the ride and happy all the time, which is important.
1428 Elm: For both of you, your background isn’t necessarily horror. You mentioned westerns and action films. What were some of the benefits and challenges of making a horror movie?
Joe: I had done other things here and there and appeared in other work, but I was known as being strictly a western guy. With this film, I wanted to make sure that I really focused on the look, tone, color, shading, and lighting. They were important. I wanted to make sure that I was going to go all the way with it, into the deep end, and make it dark and disturbing. I also wanted to make it in such a way that it was a little classier. I have fun with all kinds of different levels of the horror genre, but the stuff I like is Rosemary’s Baby, The Shining, The Thing, Burnt Offerings, these types of horror films, and of course, the classic Universal Monsters. I’ve loved them all since I was a kid. I wanted to make sure that I got it right. Even more so than an atmosphere in a western, you have to get the right tone to make it scary, terrifying, creepy, and unnerving. I wanted it unsettling from the very beginning. If you look at the scene between Eric Roberts and I, which opens everything up, it’s unsettling.
Alexander: For me, as a producer, every day on the set, I watched Joe talk to Eileen Dietz between takes about all the great moments from The Exorcist. It was all kinds of surreal. Once shooting started, my job was just to make sure everything was good and under control.
1428 Elm: What was it like working with Eileen Dietz?
Joe: She was so sweet. She’s a very kind person in real life. It’s very difficult to imagine this lovely lady as the way she is in this film. It’s almost impossible to put the two together, but somehow, she does it and very effectively. She was great to work with. She and Natalie Denise Sperl had a great rapport with each other, even though their scenes together were contentious and fueled by frustration. They got along great, and they had these little jokes on the set. They’d always be laughing. What I love about all the films I’ve done with Alexander is that we’ve been so lucky to have such great cast and crew. Our DP, Sam Wilkerson, he’s been with me since Promise, before I worked with Alexander. That positivity on a set is important, and believe me, I’ve worked with some lulus. [Laughs]. But you find a way to work through all that and not be negative. On this set, it was almost magical. Everyone was there to give it their all. Eileen really brought a lot of positivity to it, as well as the legacy of everything that she’s been in for these many years. There were great stories. It was a lot of fun.
Alexander: From the first meeting, she was amazing and supportive. She asked Joe questions right away. They talked and connected. The only thing I told her, with Joe’s permission, was that her character should be super sweet from the beginning, that grandmother that we all want to have. She told me she had some ideas. Yes, she has all that legacy, but she’s a personal friend now. In my opinion, Night of the Caregiver is one of her best performances. That’s also what she said to Joe. It was a dream to work with her. Overall, we had a great cast. Joe is absolutely right.
1428 Elm: What was the inspiration for the look of the demon in Night of the Caregiver?
Joe: We basically let our makeup artist, Maria [Abreau], do that herself. We gave her some parameters of what the thing should maybe look like, but Maria built that completely by herself. She came up with the drawings and the idea of what it should look like. I give credit to her.
1428 Elm: Joe, can you talk about your experience both acting in the film and directing?
Joe: In my journey in the film world, that’s the way that I started. When I started, from my first feature on, I was always directing it and in it. With the first three films, I was also the writer. There are two different ways of managing this. What you do on the other side of the camera is different than your discipline in front of the lens. I just figured out a methodology to combine it all. As a director, I think like an actor. I’m always thinking about it from an actor’s angle. You just combine both disciplines. I’ve been trained as an actor, and I trained myself as a director over the years. It wasn’t immediate.
Alexander: I know that the question was for Joe, but I want to add to that. In my film Blood Rose, I was a director, a producer, one of the writers, and the main star. It was super hard. It was fun and all of that, but it was super hard. Joe did it six times in a row, and I’m talking about future films, too. Watching him, for me, was a joy. I think Joe is a great example of a guy who’s not just dreaming but fighting for his dream and achieving it. For me, it’s the same way. It’s great to be a movie lover. It’s great, but if you dream about something, you should really give yourself some chances to achieve it. Who else will give you chances, if it’s not you?
1428 Elm: What’s next for both of you? I hope that you’re planning another horror film after Night of the Caregiver.
Alexander: The next movie is almost finished. It’s another western, Taken from Rio Bravo. It should be completely done in September and released by the end of the year. Night of the Caregiver was the first horror film that I ever made. There’s a lot of excitement. We’ve been doing interviews all day long. There are other people who enjoyed it. I just hope me and Joe will do another film, but let’s ask the director. What do you think Joe?
Joe: Well, if I could do another horror film, I’d love to do another horror film. That’s all I can say.
Alexander: The next western is ready, but we’re thinking about horror more and more. If we’re thinking about it, it has the chance to become a reality.
1428 Elm: Thanks so much for chatting with us!
Night of the Caregiver is currently available on digital platforms.