It’s spooky season and Mary Neely and Mika Bar-On Nesher’s MURDERERS PREFER BLONDES is ready to make you scream. The film was shot with a camcorder in a single day on a $40 budget. On a whim, they submitted the short to a handful of festivals. To their surprise, the festivals responded. Ever since, BLONDES has become a cult hit, playing before audiences in Berlin, London, Los Angeles and New York.
The charmingly original, frankly deranged short follows twin sisters—a blonde and a brunette, both played by Neely—in a deadly game of sibling rivalry. In an inspired bit of casting, the male object of their affection is played by a boxing dummy Bar-On Nesher found on the street. Drawing comparisons to cult classics like Brian De Palma’s SISTERS and Cecelia Condit’s POSSIBLY IN MICHIGAN, Neely and Bar-On Nesher’s entry into the horror pantheon is both silly and deadly serious. And so New York, both on screen and off.
In preparation for BLONDE’s premiere on LADYGUNN, Neely, Bar-On Nesher and I got together to discuss the eternal question: do blondes really have more fun? Along the way, they revealed to me how to make a movie for less than the price of a tank of gas and previewed what’s next for the survivors of BLONDES.
Gabrielle Bluestone: When did you film this and how long did it take to finish?
Mary Neely: We filmed it in late summer of 2021 over the course of one day.
Mika Bar-On Nesher: For four or five hours.
MN: Mika and I met and basically immediately after she said that I should come over to her place with wigs to film something.
MBON: I had a mini DV camcorder with me at a music show and Mary was there and said, “cool camera!” So we decided to meet. We had never hung out before, making the film was our first time hanging out.
MBON: We were both very focused and intense while shooting and then we became friends after.
MN: Yeah I showed up with a couple wigs and some clothes and then we just used what we had in Mika’s apartment. We came up with the story as we shot and then Mika got the footage converted from the camcorder film to digital and sent it to me and then I spent a couple months editing the film and redoing all the audio. It took a while to dub all the dialogue and find sound effects to fill out the world.
GB: Did you have any ideas for the story already or is this something that purely developed out of the brainstorm of the hang?
MN: I think we texted a little before I went over to say, “We should do a story about twins.” But that was the only thing we had in mind and then on the day, we shot the blonde twin first, did the whole blonde twin storyline. Then I got dressed as the brunette twin and we filled in the rest of the movie with her storyline, playing off what was already shot before.
GB: You found an incredibly versatile actor to play the boyfriend, can you tell me a bit about that casting process?
MBON: I was out one night with my friend Carrie at a bar and walking home we saw him lying on the street and we started kicking him. People were stopping like, “What is going on?? There’s a man down!” That thing was so heavy, we carried it for 20 minutes back to my apartment and on the way everyone was stopping us. There was a certain point when a group of drunk girls started humping him–
MN: Humping him?? I didn’t know this.
MBON: Yes, humping him. They were like, “This is what you do to a man!” He really has an effect on people, that je ne sais quoi. I journeyed with him that night to get him to my apartment and then he lived on my fire escape. He was really the only option to play the boyfriend and he had definitely embodied a whole life by then.
MN: We put clothes on him and a hat and we were just like.. He looks like a boyfriend. No question.
GB: I was curious: his positioning with the hands, was he already like that?
MBON: Yes, he’s a boxing torso.
MN: They’re usually put in a gym or some kind of work out setting so people can practice punching. The hand and his positioning is naturally like that.
MBON: We ended up dumping him by some trash bags when we finished filming.
MN: Yeah after we finished shooting the majority of the film, we dragged him from Mika’s apartment to this random outdoor cafe in Greenpoint to shoot the final scene. Then we just left him on the side of the road to be found by the next person who wants to cast him in a project.
GB: You obviously did this with a very small budget. I think you said it was just the price of converting the film to digital and the wine that the brunette and the boyfriend drink at the end which came out to $40. Can you tell me a little bit about what that experience was like? How were you able to pull that off and what issues did you face, if any?
MN: I love the creative constraint of only using what is in a given space because it really forces you to think outside the box and do things you might not normally do. For example, we found it really funny that the blonde twin is reading a book about Shih Tzus or just the fact that the blood was water and food coloring. Or that the knife is extremely dull and would not actually kill a person. Celebrating those funny coincidences.
MBON: When you’re making art, if you can create something out of nothing then you’ll know what to do when you have everything.
GB: I really loved the shot you did through the peephole, that was a very New York horror story moment. What are your favorite parts of the film?
MN: I love the transition that Mika did with the camera that goes from the book to the book again to connote a jump in time. I think that was one of my favorite moments because I love editing and when you have good transitions in film it makes a story infinitely stronger.
MBON: When the blonde twin realizes it’s all over. Mary’s side glances make me laugh very hard every time.
GB: What was the public’s reaction, if any, to the scene outside you shot with the boyfriend?
MBON: I did not notice a single person looking at us.
MN: I definitely saw people looking at us but nobody stopped walking because, I mean, it’s New York. I feel like people see way weirder stuff all the time and so a random girl talking to an inanimate torso of a man? People were barely paying attention.
GB: I want to go back to the books the twins were reading. I love that the blonde is reading about Shih Tzus but I’m curious, what was the book the brunette twin was reading and did that have any significance to the story?
MBON: Two Girls: Fat and Thin by Mary Gaitskill. Amazing writer, amazing Scorpio.
MN: It was definitely intentional, the types of books that we chose for each twin.
GB: So digging into the twins themselves, let’s talk about being blonde as the most horrifying element of a film.
MN: We were drawn to the kind of basic concept of a blonde versus a brunette and the stereotypes and the tropes of a blonde having “more fun” or a blonde being more popular and the brunette twin feeling left behind. That was all definitely the basis of a lot of the storyline.
MBON: It’s an ancient trope, the blonde and the brunette.
GB: For Mary, having both played blonde and brunette: who do you think has more fun?
MN: I mean the blonde definitely was having more fun until she, well, got murdered. The brunette thought she was having fun but it all backfires.The idea of thinking that something is going to go a certain way and then it turns out completely differently and sort of blows up in your face… It’s a common experience. She’s had this plan for so long with her secret lover and then the secret lover turns on her. I definitely found fun elements of both that were just like completely different in their own way.
GB: How has the response to the short been? Are you surprised? Is it what you expected? Are you enjoying it? Tell me everything.
MBON: It’s been shocking.
MN: It was purely almost a joke between us at first to submit it to a single festival just because the budget was so low. So the reason why it’s been so shocking is because it’s gotten into multiple festivals all around the world. The idea that something that was so silly and fun to make has been resonating with all these horror fans and being compared to all of these cult classics… We honestly can’t believe it. It’s amazing.
GB: It’s so fun and so weird and so different. I say this with absolute love: it’s so demented. Do you have any advice for people who are inspired by this or want to do something similar?
MBON: Definitely don’t wait for permission or for anybody to ask you to do anything. You don’t need any money to tell a story ever, even though it feels like it. I think whatever energy you put into the project shines through no matter what constraints you have and that’s the thing that people like watching anyway.
MN: I agree, I think that you might be surprised by the response to something that you really enjoy. The things that have resonated the most with other people that I’ve made are things that I’ve just really enjoyed making. That’s a really important part of any sort of artistic experience, bringing your earnest joy to things because it will end up resonating with other people.
GB: What’s next for the brunette twin?
MN: We were thinking about making this a trilogy, so two more shorts.
MBON: Or a feature.
GB: Maybe both?
MN: Yes, maybe both…
story / Gabrielle Bluestone
@maryconnorneely | @mikabaronn