Horror movies and metal music have always gone hand in hand. Since heavy metal pioneers like Black Sabbath and Judas Priest began scaring the masses in the 1970s with their dark lyrics and imagery, the link between the two entities has been undeniable.
Megadeth bassist and Valley resident David Ellefson is keeping that tradition alive, serving as a producer for “Dwellers,” the first feature film under his new company, Ellefson Films.
However, he admits Drew Fortier, the film’s director and lead actor, did “most of the heavy lifting.”
“Well, I’ll tell you, it was pretty easy,” Ellefson says. “Drew did pretty much all of it, as far as the actual production of the film, and then my part began once we premiered it. That’s when I started putting the distribution in place, so now most of that falls on me and my team to get the film to market.”
“Dwellers,” which has already notched five awards and over 20 official selections from multiple film festivals, is a found footage-style horror movie that follows three documentary filmmakers investigating a series of disappearances among the homeless population. Many of the main characters use the actors’ real names in the film, something Ellefson says adds to its charm.
“There’s a simplicity about it, and of course Drew as the lead character has this really honest, self-deprecating humor that he incorporates so well into the movie,” Ellefson says. “The whole story has this sort of Shaggy and Scooby-Doo kind of mannerism, like, you can’t possibly take this guy seriously, right?”
Ellefson says “Dwellers” is a passion project, but the response it’s received at festivals has exceeded his expectations.
“It’s such a thrill, because you create something just for the fun of it, and then suddenly it goes to this next level of getting this exposure and this visibility,” Ellefson says.
“And then, when the feedback is coming back so strong for it, it has really just put huge wind in our sails now as we’re moving toward the release date (in October).”
Aside from his legendary music career with Megadeth, Ellefson has several other business projects he’s involved in, including his own record label (EMP Label Group), coffee brand (Ellefson Coffee Co.) and book company (The Ellefson Book Co.). He says the decision to launch Ellefson Films was partly due to the low cost of production for a movie like “Dwellers.”
“As I’ve learned, the beauty of found footage is that there really is no budget, there is no expense, other than maybe driving through McDonald’s as catering,” Ellefson says. “You’re not having to rent Panavision cameras and a crew. You don’t have to do all that stuff. It’s as simple as picking up a camera and going out and shooting some footage.”
After the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation or postponement of tours, musicians weren’t unsure what to do. Instead of waiting around for word on Megadeth’s co-headlining tour with Lamb of God, Ellefson says he put his newfound downtime to use, pivoting toward side projects.
“It’s been nice, with the year off from Megadeth touring, that I got to do these other things, the film, putting out a new book (‘Rock Star Hitman’), putting out a solo record (‘No Cover’),” Ellefson says.
“I’ve certainly not been at a loss of things to do, and creativity, quite honestly, is firing on all cylinders. I’m feeling pretty good about where things are at in my life right now. It’s been the most creative pandemic I’ve ever been a part of.”
Regardless of which medium it is, Ellefson says releasing something new into the world is always special.
“I love when things leave the basement and come out and see the light of the day and that people are able to celebrate them — be it a record, a film, a coffee, whatever it is,” Ellefson says.
“But I think for this one, especially being our first film, obviously it’s super important that it come to market, and I think just the fact that it’s getting these accolades and attention so far ahead of the release date, in my opinion, half of the battle is already won.”
This movie may have been a fun project, but it wasn’t a one-off. He says there’s more to come from Ellefson Films.
“Drew and I actually have a new film concept pretty much done, and we’re thinking about maybe filming that here in April or May,” Ellefson says.
“Drew has another idea, actually a whole storyboard, done for another film. Quite honestly, just between our little wheelhouse, Ellefson Films has got enough in the pipeline to keep us busy for a while. At the same time, as I go to these horror conventions and people learn that we have a film company, they are starting to approach us about putting some things out for them, which is great.”
Jeffrey Hatrix, longtime vocalist for the band Mushroomhead, makes a cameo appearance in “Dwellers,” and according to Ellefson, he won’t be the last metal figure to appear in an Ellefson Films production.
“I think that’s what makes it fun,” Ellefson says. “It’s kind of like when you make a record, especially if it’s something new, it’s fun to bring some other names in and bring some other talent. I like that we reach into the music world and bring in some other known people to the film scene here as well.”
There’s a good chance we’ll see more horror works from Ellefson Films in the future, but he says nothing is off the table.
“You know, I’m open to anything, to be honest with you,” Ellefson says. “A lot of it, I think for me, is don’t overcomplicate things, keep it simple, go with what works. Let’s be who we are, and let’s bloom from where we’re planted.”
“Dwellers” releases on Blu-ray, DVD and digitally on October 12.