Ugly Sweater Party” is s new movie by Ocular Migraine Productions that combines horror and comedy in a zany feature that will be released on November 23. The story takes place in a wooden campsite on Christmas Eve where a group of friends are having an ugly sweater party that descends into madness and mayhem when an ugly sweater turns out to be possessed by the spirit of a serial killer. Dark secrets are subsequently revealed and blood spilled in this horrific holiday romp.

Filmmakers Aaron Mento and Charles Chudabala discussed the movie and more via an exclusive interview on November 14, 2018.

Movies, plots, and characters

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you start making Movies and how did you initially get the idea for “Ugly Sweater Party”?

Aaron Mento (AM): I went blind in my left eye for about fifteen minutes back in 2012, and was worried that I had a brain tumor. After going to a series of doctors, I found out that I had an ocular migraine, which is like a headache inside of your eyeball. This was caused by me looking at spreadsheets from 9 to 5 at my day job. The initial scare was enough to make me realize that life is short, so I quit my job, and decided that now was the time to make my first feature film. The only camera I had access to was on my iPad 2, so I wrote “Standards of Living” specifically for that weird wide-angled camera, and it became the first feature film ever shot entirely on a tablet.

I named my production company Ocular Migraine Productions and never looked back. I actually got the idea for “Ugly Sweater Party” while thrift-store shopping for costumes during pre-production on “Standards of Living.” I would find all of these outrageous sweaters and jackets, and I would wonder, “Who wore that?” and “Where on earth did this sweater come from?” So I was inspired to write about an ugly sweater that used to be worn by a serial killer, and was still haunted by his ghost…

Charles Chudabala (CC): When I decided to pursue acting as a full-time career, I knew that I was going to focus on my passion, HORROR MOVIES.

As a fan of the genre, I submitted for every possible casting notice in the realm of horror; and booked for first role in the 2014 horror feature “SURVIVE.” I have been working on horror films ever since. In 2015, Aaron Mento cast me in a choose your own adventure series called “Choose Their Kill” which would end up as content for or a budding new Youtube channel called “Crypt TV.” Almost one year later, he reached out to me about a new feature he was developing called “Ugly Sweater Party” The concept was gold!!!

I was obsessed with the idea and knew I had to be a part of this film.

MM: What is it about the plot of “Ugly Sweater Party” that most interests you?

AM: I love the idea of an ugly sweater, something that is intentionally garish with all these clashing elements forced together. I used that image as a template for the entire production. For instance, we used many different cameras to give the movie a patchy and stitched together feeling. Plot-wise, this allowed me to create a wild assortment of characters and situations that should not co-exist at the same time. Just when you think you know where the plot is going, another clashing element or character is added, and this kind of intentional chaos was incredibly liberating from a creative standpoint.

CC: I have always been a fan of supernatural horror! I was sold when Aaron described the evolution of the sweater as the story progressed. The script was original and unlike any holiday horror comedy I have ever heard of. Also, the fact that my character got to wear the evil sweater, allowed me to play with different tones and experiment, as an actor.

MM: What was the entire filming and casting process like and did you draw on any real ugly sweater parties you’ve attended?

AM: I started out with just a concept for “Ugly Sweater Party,” and then I would write the script specifically for actors that I would meet and be inspired by. So I would have a character in mind, and then I would bring that character to life after finding the right actor, and use their real-life quirks and qualities to inform the writing.

For instance, the character of Mrs. Mandix was written specifically for Felissa Rose, who has this great vampy sense of humor and is game for anything. Filming was completed in Idyllwild California, at a real standing camp deep in the woods. We lived in the cabins while we were shooting, and it was like we were all at horror camp together! The fun atmosphere definitely bled into the movie, and you can tell that everybody is having a total blast on the screen. I didn’t draw on any real ugly sweater parties I’ve attended, because there’s never ever been an ugly sweater party like this…

CC: Aaron wrote all the characters based on the actors that were cast. This meant, many face to face coffee meetings with potential cast members.

We would gauge their interest in the story and discuss different elements each actor could bring to the story to raise the stakes. In many cases, the scripts evolved to play upon actors individual strengths.

MM: How did you balance the comedy and horror elements?

AM: I’m a big fan of John Waters and John Landis, so “Ugly Sweater Party” is a mix of kitsch, camp, slapstick, and bad taste. The comedy is informed by the horror, and vice versa, so it’s a constant swirl of topping the last gag with a murder, or the last scare with a joke. There’s definitely a kitchen sink vibe to it, like Kentucky Fried Movie meets Serial Mom.

CC: We never took ourselves too seriously. Its Ugly Sweater Party, so the goal was always to keep the fun integrity of the film.

Hunter Johnson (AKA Jody), has been a close buddy of mine and we have worked on many films together prior to Ugly Sweater Party, so it was natural for us to balance the comedic gags with the horror elements. We were always meant to be buddies on screen, it was just a matter of the right timing and right script. Aaron aligned our maps!

MM: What has it been like to distribute the film and hear audience responses been like?

AM: Nobody outside of the production has seen “Ugly Sweater Party,” so I’m really excited for people to finally see it! There’s been a lot of buzz and excitement about the project, and fans of horror and cult films have been so supportive and outspoken. I’m really proud of the movie, and I can’t wait to hear the response from an audience.

The movie is streaming on Amazon on November 23, and we hope to create physical copies in the future with special features.

CC: Early reviews have already begun to trickle in, and we are overwhelmed with the positive responses to the special effect, the gags, and the fun spirit of Ugly Sweater Party. We had so much fun making this film, so it’s nice to hear that it translated well. One review has called it a holiday hit. Goal achieved.

Other film projects, horror-comedies, and dreams

MM: What other film projects are you making—or planning—now and are you intending to continue focusing on horror-comedies?

AM: I’m re-teaming with Felissa Rose on “Survival High,” a slasher about a sadistic teacher that unleashes a curriculum of death and torture on a group of captive students.

Felissa is playing the evil teacher, Mrs. Temple, and I can’t wait for her to bring this wicked character to life! Though it’s still tongue-in-cheek, “Survival High” is a much darker horror film than “Ugly Sweater Party.” I’ll always be interested in horror, dark comedy, and oddball outsider stories.

CC: Horror will always be my passion. People call me a rising scream king. I embrace the title. I am currently starring in “The Crossing” (directed by Thomas Haley) which is making the festival rounds. I also have a recurring role in season 2 of “Malvolia: The Queen of Screams (starring Jennifer Nangle). Next: You can catch me in the horror anthology “Lilith” (directed by Alex T. Hwang) which will be out later this year.

2019, will see the release of a number of projects! A few of these include: “Serena Waits”, “Irrational Fear” and “For Jennifer” Aaron Mento has recently pitched a new project to me which is still in development. It will get made as well as many other future projects together!

MM: What are your major dreams for your filmmaking future and is there anything else that you would like to add?

AM: I always want to make movies that I would personally want to watch, buy, collect, and share with others. My major dream is to create something as original and iconic as “A Nightmare on Elm St.” and “Phantasm,” my two favorite film series. I also would love to collaborate with the fine folks at SpectreVision, I’m a big fan of the creative risks that they take.

CC: My body of work is evolving, and I just want to continue to create art and bring original stories to life. I have an affinity for the bizarre, disturbing and cult indie darling subject matter; so I am sure that train will continue full speed ahead. I live my life in a way where I focus on the fun and working in harmony alongside other talented people who have a similar drive. I hope to inspire others to follow their dreams despite what others think about you. There will always doubter and haters, but just keep on keeping on. Do you. And just love it!