The Toybox” is a suspenseful new horror film about a haunted RV that strands an unsuspecting family in the middle of the desert.

Spooky and thoroughly unnerving, the film was directed by Tom Nagel who discussed the project via an exclusive interview on September 19, 2018.

Filming, casting, plot and special effects

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you get into making Movies and how did you get involved with “The Toybox”?

Tom Nagel (TN): My first experience with movies was as a kid. My aunt and uncle are actors, so they got me into the business early.

My first bigger movie I acted in was “ Telling Lies in America ” which starred Kevin Bacon. I was fascinated with how the film was created. I think I caught the bug then. I took a break from the industry when I was older and took time to serve in the U.S Navy. I was stationed in San Diego, and when I got out, I felt the acting bug again, being so close to LA. I moved to LA and began acting again. But I always just had an interest in how movies were made. I bought my first decent camera about seven years ago and made some short films. It just grew from there, and I found that I really loved directing. “The Toybox” was created with Jeff Miller, Jeff Denton and my brother Brian Nagel, who I have all worked with before.

We started throwing ideas around, and Miller suggest a haunted RV story. It grew from there.

MM: What about the plot of “The Toybox” most interested you?

TN: I think the overall idea that such a terrible person’s soul is locked in and occupies the RV. At first, when we were brainstorming the idea, I was worried it would be cheesy, but after developing it a bit and Jeff Denton’s great writing, it really came together.

MM: What was the filming and casting process like?

TN: The casting process was tough, but simple at the same time. We had several bigger names that we had in mind, and it was not easy to lock them down, so that created problems. On the other side though, the rest of the cast came very naturally. For the role of Olivia, I knew Malika was it the first time I met her.

For being the first movie for Drake Jacobson and Malika Michelle, they really shined.

The filming was brutal but so rewarding at the same time. Just being out in the desert for so long and dealing with wind storms and the elements was really hard. But what made it rewarding was the fact that the whole cast and crew pulled together and became a family and we all worked together. Everyone lifted each other up, and we got through it together. I cannot say enough good things about this cast and crew. Every single person was incredible.

MM: Was it difficult to get the special effects included and how important were jump scares?

TN: It was not that difficult because we had the amazing David Greathouse and Beki Ingram with us handling the special effects.

Although they would probably say, it was hard, since they had to deal with the elements. Almost all the effects were practical and House and Bek I are some of the best in the business. I have worked with them both before, and I would work with them on every film if I could. The jump scares are definitely important. That’s why I wanted to have pros handle the effects so we could get it right.

MM: Years ago, there was a serial killer named David Parker Ray who tortured and killed women in an RV that he dubbed “The Toybox,” so how—if at all—did that horrifying true story influence the plot of this film?

TN: After we came up with the road trip/RV idea we quickly found out about the “real” toybox killer, and it definitely inspired us for sure.

We just ultimately did not want to do a “based on” story or call it inspired by. But I can say that reading about him definitely inspired some of our ideas.

MM: What is your favorite scene and why are you so fond of that particular moment?

TN: That’s a tough one. It’s really hard to pick an absolute favorite; I like different scenes for different reasons. One of my favorites is when Steve (played by Jeff Denton) has to deal with the death of a family member. I won’t say which one and spoil it. But he did an incredible job and the way the edit came out really worked for me. It was better than expected.

Audiences, films, and the horror genre

MM: What has audience response been like so far and are you planning to put this movie in the film festival circuit?

TN: The audience response has been really good so far. We screened it at Texas Frightmare and had an amazing response. We also were in the Northeast Film Festival and got nominated for best picture. Jeff Denton and Mischa Barton both won for best actor, and it was pretty cool, I won the best director award. So, I am very humbled and grateful for the positive response we have so far. That will be it for festivals because it comes out September 18 nationwide.

MM: What other films are you making—or planning—now and are you intending to focus on the horror genre?

TN: I do love the horror genre, but it is not my complete focus. I would love to step away from horror and try something else definitely.

There are a few things being talked about, and we do have a great script that is titled “Daisy” right now. It’s still close to the horror genre, but it is a bit more of a psychological thriller.

MM: What are your big dreams for the future of your career as a director and is there anything else that you would like to add?

TN: I just want to be able to tell stories that touch people in some way. The best feeling for me as a director is sitting in a theater and seeing people react. Sometimes it’s not always how you intended them too, but getting a reaction or inspiring some kind of emotion out of them is priceless. Especially when you see them smiling after the film.