Don Swaynos on New Short Film "Don't Ever Change"

Austin filmmaker serves up gore and giggles

“Don’t Ever Change” (photo by Amy Bench)

Fans. They love what they love passionately. But sometimes that love becomes transgressive, and that's the first bloody motivation in "Don't Ever Change," the latest gore-and-giggles short from Austin filmmaker Don Swaynos. It used to be that, when maniacs got bloody, they claimed God instructed them to get Old Testament. Now they beat up fast-food workers over Szechuan Sauce, and their defense will be "Rick and Morty told me to." In the age of internet fandom, writer/director Swaynos said, "It's more about proving your dedication to get good standing in a social group than it is actually interfacing with the actual thing you love."

After a long and lauded festival run, Swaynos' newest short finally makes its local premiere at this weekend's Death By film and music fest. It's a return to horror-comedy for Austin's go-to film editor after his last quick hit, 2013's "The Horrible Life of Dr. Ghoul." While that was a bittersweet rumination on the secret life of a late-night Z-grade movie host, "Don't Ever Change" is a blood-splattered family reunion between mother (Cyndi Williams) and daughter (Heather Kafka), interrupted by an unusual guest: Jason (Frank Mosley), who runs a website about murderers. So what in the world can he possibly want from this lovely old lady?

Swaynos' short was inspired by visiting a horror convention, where vendors hawked "'true-crime memorabilia' stuff, like Jeffrey Dahmer tote bags and John Wayne Gacy candles, the kind of products that would be normal for any fandom, but for serial killers." That's nothing new: True crime is a universal obsession, stretching back to the 19th century's penny dreadfuls, and their salacious retellings of hideous acts like the Red Barn Murder and Jack the Ripper. "But then there's a certain type of person who is obsessive about it. Someone I'd consider a fan of true-crime. I started thinking about these people and what the end game of their fandom would be."

"Don't Ever Change" is one of 14 shorts packed into the all-day, all-night Death By. Fest co-founder Susie Winfield put that down to the incredible number of high-quality shorts submitted, "to the point that we actually said it's hard to narrow it down." It's not just that shorts can be a great calling card for filmmakers, but that the visceral quick-fix particularly suits horror as a genre. Winfield said, "One of the most popular blocks there is the Midnighter Shorts. You get a ton of variety packed into just a few minutes, and you can still tell a pretty effective story."

Swaynos sees his latest as definitely more chuckles than screams. "I would argue that the film has a happy ending with every party getting some form of resolution. The only 'horror' is for the audience to watch it all unfold, but the characters themselves are all actually fine with it."

“Don’t Ever Change” screens during “Shorts Block: The Executioners Present ...” at Death By, Sat., Oct. 28, 12:30pm.

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Don Swaynos, Don't Ever Change

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