If you a child of the ’80s you will remember that odd wave of satanic panic that swept the country and culture making parents think that their children would fall prey to heavy metal and drugs leading to Satanism and murder. Little did we, as children, realize that this had indeed happened in 1984 and while the killer Ricky Kasso has become a rather obscure cultural figure the fear that the nation’s children would follow suit in murdering their friends would spread like wildfire. Ricky Kasso was a seemingly normal high school student whose unfortunate drug abuse and occult obsessions led to his break with reality and to him killing another teen "in the name of Satan," and that was enough to help fuel the "Satanic panic" of the eighties.
Twenty-six years later Ricky Kasso’s story would be dramatized by successful screenwriter Peter Filardi (The Craft, Flatliners) and produced as Ricky 6 (2000), his feature-film directing debut. Although much like the notoriety of Ricky himself, Ricky 6 would go on to be a film many people heard rumors about but would go unreleased and seen by few people.
Of course, when talking about an unreleased film, the first question that must be asked is; "Is it any good?" In this writer’s opinion the film is very good. Although one should approach this film knowing that it is more drama than true crime exploitation, something like a serious After School Special with touches of supernatural horror and hallucinatory dream sequences.
I referenced After School Specials because the film starts out in idyllic Northport, NY in the mid-eighties as Ricky Cowen (Vincent Kartheiser) argues with his mother and just tries to fit in. Ricky is more of an apathetic underachiever than a problem child but is treated as one and forced to go to "youth group" a kind of support group for troubled teens. Between "youth group" and Ricky’s attempts to get noticed on the football team he befriends Tommy (the ironically-named Chad Christ), a friendship that will escalate Ricky’s drug use. One day Ricky wanders into the public library to try to talk to a girl but finds himself drawn to the occult book section. Eventually Ricky’s interest brings him to the local occult bookstore where he meets Pat Pagan (Kevin Gage) who ushers Ricky’s interest in the occult toward the dark side convincing him to steal spell books.
As Ricky’s interest in the occult increases so does his self-confidence, he becomes a better football player, he starts a relationship with the girl he likes, and becomes moderately popular. He tries to get more of his peer group into Satanism but most of them seem to think of it as a joke. Ricky and Tommy become low-level drug dealers and the increased access to drugs pushes Ricky’s psyche closer to a break with reality; which comes in the form of hallucinations and nightmare sequences. These hallucinatory events lead to Ricky slitting his wrists at a supermarket while believing Jesus is after him.
After the suicide attempt, which Ricky claims was an attempted murder by Jesus, Ricky does a short stint in rehab. Once out, Ricky and Tommy decide to move to California because Ricky believes that Tommy’s estranged father is there. Their plan to fund the California trip is to expand their drug sales, although with more drugs around this also increases their consumption. Trouble starts when local hanger on Tweasel (Richard M. Stuart) steals some drugs from Ricky at a party, thinking everyone was asleep or passed out.
Things escalate when Tweasel dodges paying Ricky and Tommy, while Pat Pagan tells Ricky that Satan will not reveal himself or give Ricky true power without a blood sacrifice. Now with their plans going rapidly downhill Ricky and Tommy are using more drugs than they are selling and one night pretend to make up with Tweasel only to lure him into the woods where Ricky attacks and kills him. It is at this point that Ricky fully believes that he has entered hell and communes with Satan.
Soon after the Tweasel killing Ricky and Tommy leave for their ill-prepared trip to California deciding to fund it by selling their remaining drugs at truck stops. The pair soon runs out of money and drugs and deciding to head back to Northport, they are promptly arrested once they get back to town. Ricky quickly confesses to the murder and starts planning his ultimate sacrifice to Satan in the form of his own suicide. That night Ricky hangs himself in his cell; Tommy cannot bring himself to commit suicide and is later acquitted at trial.
As I previously mentioned, Ricky 6 leans more to the dramatic side rather than the horrific, although there are a few truly horrific moments in the film. Writer director Peter Filardi’s script concentrates on the character driven drama of the story and his direction manages to pull some exceptional performances out of his talented cast. The stand out performance is Vincent Kartheiser as Ricky Cowen. Kartheiser’s portrayal of Ricky as both the shy uncertain young teen and the overly confident delusional murderer is both convincing and disturbed. Chad Christ as Tommy and Kevin Gage as Pat Pagan deliver strong supporting roles that develop the story and whose characters flesh out the character arc Ricky takes with Tommy being Ricky’s only true friend while Pat seems to become a stand in father figure for Ricky through his advice and praise.
The look of the film ranges from beautiful nature shots of the woods to surrealist hallucinations and nightmares, which are all shot strikingly by Rodrigo Prieto (Brokeback Mountain, Babel, Argo). The majority of the film has a realistic look that is punctuated with stylized lighting effects for hallucinations and fantastic set design for the nightmare sequence. This all builds to the post murder hell sequence which relies mostly on fog and a very creepy real location made complete by a truly strange looking Satan figure crouching atop a dead tree. The fact that the representation we are shown of hell looks more realistic than the previous fantasy sequences leaves one with a truly unsettling feeling. The overall mood of the film is greatly aided by the score provided by Joe Delia (Bad Lieutenant, Driller Killer, The Addiction) along with a wonderful soundtrack featuring the likes of Joy Division and Iron Maiden.
The overall effect of Ricky 6 is a disturbing one especially when screened with an audience. One can almost feel the audience go from rooting for Ricky as the shy loner to feeling he has gone way too far when he commits murder. Ricky 6 often feels less like a horror film and more of a warning about the dangers of youth left unattended or outright ignored. The film went on to receive critical acclaim and awards at a number of film festivals but due to a financing agreement with the Royal Bank of Canada the film soon ran into trouble. It seems that the financing provided by the Royal Bank of Canada was supposed to recoup their investment from the foreign sales but, due to the death of the person who negotiated this deal during post production, the bank overreacted by seizing the film’s negative and answer print, refusing to release these materials until they have received their investment. Due to this seizure it is very hard to screen the film and word on this film has spread slowly but hopefully as Ricky 6’s word of mouth reputation grows eventually someone will be willing to put up the cash to buy this film back from the bank so a proper release can happen.
Joshua T. Gravel: What was your introduction to the Kasso case?
Peter Filardi: I was browsing through a seedy bookstore in West Hollywood and a paperback with faux chrome on the cover and the title Say You Love Satan caught my eye. The photo of Ricky Kasso on the book’s cover is the same, wide-eyed, leering photo which captured the world’s imagination right after his arrest. Like any great photo, it tells a story. Clearly taken on a perp walk, Kasso has long, brown ringlets, a wide eyed, somewhat startled but defiant look in his eyes. There’s no fear in those eyes, and he wears an AC/DC gut shirt. The photo screams "teen rebellion" or "fuck you." I bought the book immediately.
JTG: What made you want to turn this story into a film?
PF: I was looking for a story to follow up Flatliners. Flatliners was a story about searchers who trespassed into the realm of death to find the meaning of life. Those were the ideas I was exploring at that point in my life and Ricky Kasso’s journey seemed to parallel that. Reading Say You Love Satan, it seemed to me that Kasso was a pioneer among teen Satanists. He was one of the first kids in the early eighties to mix heavy metal, hallucinogens and satanic theology into a heady and volatile brew. Many kids have chased big questions down the same dark path as Ricky since then, but he was one of the first.
JTG: Were there any challenges in getting this project started?
PF: Years passed. I wrote The Craft. Then producer Danny Halstead asked if I had any small scripts I wanted to direct. Danny worked with Oliver Stone. I showed him Ricky 6 and they put it on their slate. Oliver had created a company to produce five low-budget films. Ricky 6 was to be number three or four. I believe they produced two films before pulling the plug on the whole venture. Shortly after that, my attorney George Tobia put me in touch with producer Juan Carlos Zapata. Juan loved the script and worked tirelessly for one year getting the project started.
JTG: Were there any odd occurrences on set while dealing with the supernatural elements? I’ve noticed this seems to be a big claim of many films dealing with Satanism.
PF: Weird coincidences happen on every set. It’s only when you’re filming something about God or Satan that people put much stock in it. We were filming a scene in the woods at night which was cut from the film for time considerations. In that scene, Ricky and Jimmy are walking through the woods, tripping of course. Ricky is educating Jimmy on some of the finer points of his newfound satanic philosophy. We had smoke machines going and as I stood by the video tape monitor with the Producers, DP and star Vincent Kartheiser’s mother, I mentioned that this scene would look much better with a little wind. Almost immediately, a gentle breeze rose in those black woods and curled the smoke around tree trunks. The effect was wonderful and everyone at the video tape laughed nervously. I’m sure that many people on that film suspected I had made a pact with the Devil.
JTG: Is the finished film as you wanted or were there any notable compromises made along the way?
PF: There were no compromises in the film, but it could have been better. Films can always be better. I wanted to develop fictional subplots around some of the surrounding characters, but our Canadian Producers insisted this would open us to lawsuits. This hamstrung the script in many ways.
JTG: What was the conceptual inspiration for the post murder hell sequence? There are numerous standout dream and hallucination sequences but it is certainly the hell sequence that stands out and seems much more real than Ricky’s previous breaks with reality.
PF: Originally I wanted Ricky to crawl into a hollow tree after Tweasel’s murder and squirm his way down to a giant banquet of wooden tree people, all waiting for Satan’s arrival. This idea was too expensive. While scouting in Canada, we passed a very spooky marsh of blackened tree stumps. Our brilliant production designer Jose Luis Aguillar shouted, "That’s it. That’s Hell." And he was right. Jose lit a hundred fires in the marsh that night. We perched Satan atop a broken tree. It was perfect.
JTG: How was the film received at its festival screenings?
PF: The film premiered at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal, 1999. It was well received and won third prize for Best International Feature. It was nominated for a few more awards at fantasy fests around the world, including Rome and Portugal, and then shared a best feature prize at the Rhode Island International Horror Film Festival in 2004.
JTG: Can you share with us the legal entanglement the film is caught in with the Royal Bank of Canada and what it would take to get the film to the public?
PF: The film is owned by RBC and the music in the film has not been completely paid for. I’ve spoken with RBC about partnering to release the film, but I don’t think they or I want to put any more money into Ricky 6.
JTG: I have read on a few websites that at some point a deal to buy the film from the bank was ready to go when the potential distributor was scared away from the subject matter by the Columbine high school shootings. Is there any truth to that story?
PF: While we were recording original music for Ricky 6 with Joe Delia in New York, Columbine happened. It was terrible timing for the film. When Ricky 6 was finished two months later, many distributors turned it down citing Columbine. The film languished and the bank took it over. A few years later, a group of investors from Texas offered RBC one million dollars for the film. RBC turned them down. I’m not sure why. Perhaps the film is cursed.