Skull-Crushing Comedy and Horror Flick Comes to HAAPI Film Festival

One of the actors in Crush the Skull is fond of saying that it’ll make you pee your pants both from laughter and from fright. This comedy-meets-horror flick explores many of the familiar, stereotypical aspects of horror films in humorous ways, à la the instant Joss Whedon classic The Cabin in the Woods. In Crush the Skull, a group of young and perhaps naive burglars break into – you guessed it– a cabin in the woods, only to discover that it belongs to a calculating serial killer who’s filled the home with a variety of tricks and traps.

Crush the Skull is the brainchild of Chris Dinh and Viet Nguyen; the pair wrote the script together, with Dinh taking the lead role and Nguyen directing the film. Dinh says that their goal was to present the audience with familiar tropes and then put a dark twist on those tropes.

“We were trying to execute a real horror movie where you’re actually scared but simultaneously create a comedy where you’re actually laughing,” Nguyen said.

The comedy horror movie is one of the feature films of the 12th Annual Houston Asian American & Pacific Islander Film Festival, which exclusively features works created at least in part by an Asian American or Pacific Islander as well as works whose content relates to the culture or experiences of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Movies that force familiar friends and foes to face off in unexpected ways are on the rise – we’re looking at you, Marvel – and Crush the Skull features a similar conflict.

“It ends up becoming serial killer versus burglars,” Viet said of the plot, which Dinh described as a game of cat and mouse.

Dinh and Nguyen first collaborated in 2007 after meeting at a 72-hour film festival, where attendees have 72 hours to create a high-quality film that meets a specific set of guidelines. A few years later, Dinh was staying on Nguyen’s couch during a rough patch, and that close friendship led to a well-oiled partnership and, ultimately, no small recognition.

“On a whim, we wrote a very low-budget short film very quickly, drove out with a handful of friends and shot it, then entered it in the NBCUniversal Short Cuts Film Festival. We didn’t expect to go as far as we did, but we won the festival, which gave us the boost in confidence that we needed to keep writing together and making more stuff,” said Dinh.

The name of that short film? Also Crush the Skull.

Nguyen says that using the same name for both films, although they tell different stories, wasn’t a fluke.

“What we like to say is that the feature is a spiritual equal to the short. They have very much the same tone, and we steal some little moments from the short, so we felt like we had to call the feature Crush the Skull as well,” Nguyen said.

“We might have also just run out of ideas,” Dinh added, laughing.

“Growing up, I didn’t know anyone in my community who was interested in film. HAAPIFF is very significant because I would’ve been able to meet so many people just like me at a film festival like this [when I was starting out],” Nguyen said.

“These kind of events and the people who take time to create this community are allowing others like us and the audience to come together as a big group and celebrate something.”

Dinh, who works in L.A., also enjoys the diversity that specialized film festivals bring to the film industry, community and fans.

“It’s nice to have a place to go to if you want to see something different, and it’s great to have the community get together and celebrate stories that we can all relate to,” Dinh said.

To find out whose skull will be crushed, attend the free screening of Crush the Skull at 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 9 at the Asia Society Texas Center, 1370 Southmore. You can find more information at haapiff.org/films/crush-the-skull. 

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Alexandra Doyle