Screenwriter Michael Kennedy Talks ‘It’s a Wonderful Knife,’ Pitching ‘Freaky Death Day’ and ‘Scream 7’

Screenwriter Michael Kennedy Talks ‘It’s a Wonderful Knife,’ Pitching ‘Freaky Death Day’ and ‘Scream 7’

Logo text

After the warm reception to Freaky in 2020, writer-producer Michael Kennedy is back with It’s a Wonderful Knife, which adds another genre twist to a classic film premise.

Inspired by Christopher Landon’s Groundhog Day-esque slasher Happy Death Day (2017), Kennedy conceived Freaky as a Freaky Friday slasher that Landon himself would go on to direct. And now, with It’s a Wonderful Knife, Kennedy and director Tyler MacIntyre are applying the supernatural plot of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life to the tried-and-true slasher genre. Jane Widdop’s Winnie Carruthers kills a slasher that took the life of her best friend at Christmastime, and a year later, her survivor’s guilt leads her to wish herself out of existence, thus showing her what life would’ve been like had she not been there to stop the Angel Falls killer, The Angel.

Related Stories

Knife may have a high-concept elevator pitch, but the heart of the film revolves around queer characters who are just trying to find their place in the world. Kennedy expanded on the representation of Freaky and was actually emboldened to take things a step further than he already intended.

“In my case, on Freaky and on Knife, no one batted an eyelash,” Kennedy tells The Hollywood Reporter. “And quite frankly, on Knife, I had a character that was straight, and at one point, producer Adam Hendricks — who produced Freaky, Totally Killer and M3GAN — was like, ‘Just make them gay, too!’ We were having a notes call one day, and I was like, “You know what? Yeah, let’s do it. Let’s just make everybody gay!” So I was encouraged on this movie.”

Considering its November 2020 release, Freaky performed admirably, tripling its $6 million budget at the height of the pandemic. Unfortunately, this box office sum seemingly upended any momentum Kennedy felt for his Freaky and Happy Death Day crossover pitch known as Freaky Death Day, something Jason Blum all but confirmed to THR last year.

Upon Freaky’s release, fans of the two Landon-directed Blumhouse properties also imagined the idea of Kathryn Newton’s Butcher character facing off against Jessica Rothe’s final girl, Tree Gelbman, from Happy Death Day, and Kennedy laments that the situation didn’t go the way that he had hoped.

“It’s one of those things that I wish happened. The pandemic messed up so many lives and then stupid things like movies,” Kennedy says. “The summer before (Freaky) came out, the idea clicked in my head … So I literally sent an email with the subject of just Freaky Death Day, and then it had a two-sentence pitch. And there was a moment where it felt like, ‘Okay, maybe this could be something in the future.’ But then the pandemic continued, and Freaky didn’t really pop in theaters, because you couldn’t go to a theater … So, financially, it just doesn’t make sense for a lot of people right now, but every once in a while, I think about it. I can’t help it. I want to see it so badly.”

In August, news broke that Kennedy’s close friend and collaborator, Landon, was hired to direct Scream 7, taking over for Radio Silence after their fifth and sixth chapters both became box office hits. Well, for anyone who’s unfamiliar with Kennedy’s social media presence over the years, his Scream fandom has comprised the majority of it, and so there was immediate speculation within Scream fan circles that Kennedy would be involved with Scream 7 in some way, shape or form. But at this moment in time, he’s yet to offer any input despite dining with Landon and Radio Silence not too long ago.

“Not yet, but I will (offer my two cents) if they let me read the script,” Kennedy says. “I mean, I talk about Scream constantly with Chris. We’re working on some other stuff together right now, so it does come up every once in a while. I’ll toss a little nugget out there, blindly, not knowing what the story is about, but Chris has got a really good poker face.”

Below, during a recent conversation with THR, Kennedy also discusses another crossover idea that adds Totally Killer’s Kiernan Shipka and Knife’s Widdop to the Newton-and-Rothe equation.

When did you first embark on It’s a Wonderful Knife?

About three years ago. Essentially right after Freaky  came out.

Your friend and Freaky collaborator, Chris Landon, previously made the Groundhog Day-esque slasher franchise, Happy Death Day. Did that genre exercise lead you to conceive your Freaky Friday slasher and now your It’s a Wonderful Life slasher?

100 percent. I always wanted to do a Christmas horror movie, a Christmas slasher, and when I set out to do one, I was like, “I want to do the same thing I did with Freaky and take an old classic movie and give it a flip.” So I was definitely inspired by Chris and his work.

ITS A WONDERFUL KNIFE

Jess McLeod and Jane Widdop in It’s a Wonderful Knife

Once Winnie (Jane Widdop) ends up in an alternate universe in which she doesn’t exist, she winds up in a movie theater with Bernie (Jess McLeod), watching A Christmas Carol. Did you entertain the idea of getting the rights for It’s a Wonderful Life to play in that moment? Or would that have been too much of a hat-on-a-hat situation?

We talked about it, and it just would’ve been too expensive. A lot of people mistakenly think that it’s in the public domain, but it’s not. So we talked about how Bernie, character-wise, would probably be into something a little bit older and darker, and that’s where we ended up with A Christmas Carol.

One of the posters has a knife going through a snowglobe of your fictional town, Angel Falls, but the movie really does feel like a snowglobe.

Yeah, I agree. In my head, within the framework of the movie, it’s kind of the only place in the world that exists. I tend to write these small-town stories where it feels like the only place in the world, and so a snow globe works really great, because it’s the only place affected by the aurora. It’s the only place with this magical realism. So that’s a really great description, and the poster does a good job of capturing that.

This film has a number of queer characters, as did Freaky, and it’s quite significant since it wasn’t that long ago when there was virtually no queer representation on screen. As far as the executives and money people in both the indie and studio space, does anyone bat an eyelash anymore? Is everyone past that? 

I hope so. In my case, on Freaky and on Knife, no one batted an eyelash. There are still these little battles that you have to fight every once in a while. Some of the content could get censored if the country or foreign market doesn’t want a kiss in it. So there’s still those kinds of things that you have to deal with, but on both of these films, no. And quite frankly, on Knife, I had a character that was straight, and at one point, producer Adam Hendricks — who produced Freaky, Totally Killer and M3GAN — was like, “Just make them gay, too!” We were having a notes call one day, and I was like, “You know what? Yeah, let’s do it. Let’s just make everybody gay!” (Laughs.) So I was encouraged on this movie.

Was Jane Widdop purposefully made up to look like Barbara Crampton’s character in Re-Animator and/or Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore) in Scream

They were not, but it’s funny because I posted that on Instagram a couple of weeks ago. After a screening at Beyond Fest, someone mentioned to me that they thought Jane looked like Barbara Crampton, and then I pulled up the images and was like, “Holy shit, they really do.” But that was their haircut coming into the movie, and I think it’s just a really happy coincidence.

ITS A WONDERFUL KNIFE

Justin Long and Jane Widdop in It’s a Wonderful Knife

Do you happen to know Justin Long’s inspiration for his Henry Waters character? I sensed a little bit of Walton Goggins’ greatest hits.

Yeah, I’ve been hearing that a lot, but he referenced Joel Osteen. He wanted to not only give Waters this unfettered capitalist vibe, but he also wanted to give him a preacher vibe. So the inflection in his voice and his look is based on Joel Osteen, but I’ve also heard the Righteous Gemstones comparison, which is pretty cool. But he definitely was inspired by Joel Osteen. I hate just even saying his name because I don’t like anything that he stands for, but I also love that it’s been put on a character like Henry Waters. I think it’s really funny.

My aunt was born with port-wine birthmarks on her face, and I assume her condition is somewhat similar to Cassandra Naud and her character. This made my aunt’s childhood very difficult, and my mom, as the younger sister, would then stand up to bullies on her behalf and whatnot. So I have to imagine that it would’ve been a big deal for my aunt to see someone like Cassandra on the screen when she was a kid. Anyway, that’s why I will always object to anyone who downplays representation. You never know who needs it.

Yeah, I think that’s great. Cassandra didn’t talk about it much, but we loved her for the part just based on her audition. The thing about her condition is that it makes her even more beautiful than she is, but I also love that the movie doesn’t hang a light on it. It’s just like, “Here’s this person and they’re gorgeous.” And Cassandra is the nicest person. She has this really small part in our movie, but she’s broken out since we filmed it. She filmed Influencer before us, but it hadn’t come out yet. So I’m really grateful that she’s in the movie because she’s popped since then, and I wonder if she’d even do our movie now if we had filmed after Influencer came out. But I think she’s going to be a big star.

So, Michael, as evident by the poster behind you, you’re a big Scream fan. 

(Laughs.)

You’re also a big fan of Scream 7 director Chris Landon, and he’s a big fan of yours as well. 

Love him.

Have you offered your two cents on Scream 7 over coffee yet?

Not yet, but I will if they let me read the script. I mean, I talk about Scream constantly with Chris. We’re working on some other stuff together right now, so it does come up every once in a while. I’ll toss a little nugget out there, blindly, not knowing what the story is about, but Chris has got a really good poker face.

ITS A WONDERFUL KNIFE

It’s a Wonderful Knife

Is Scream 2 at least partially responsible for Knife’s aforementioned movie theater setting? 

Yeah, I think so. I also wanted Bernie to have a sanctuary that wasn’t her home, and I love the idea that a movie theater is the one place where quirky, weird teenagers, like I was and Bernie is, can fit in more and feel more accepted. So I just imagined her programming all this Halloween horror and different types of stuff throughout the year, and it really being an obsession of hers. And, yes, you can’t help but think of Scream 2. The staircase sequence is definitely modeled after Scream 2’s cop car sequence. I also just wanted a really cool location that we could go to, as opposed to someone’s bedroom. And the more I thought about it, the movie theater just felt right. I love small town movie theaters. We literally shot in one in Vancouver, and those were probably my two favorite days on set. It’s just so cool to see an old-school movie theater up close and not just sit there in the dark watching a movie. We got to look around the place, and it just felt like a really good fit for the character of Bernie.

US actresses Jessica Rothe (L) and Kathryn Newton arrive for the premiere of

Jessica Rothe (L) and Kathryn Newton arrive for the premiere of “Halloween Ends” at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California, on Oct. 11, 2022.

The other poster behind you is that of Freaky, and I’ve devoted a lot of Internet real estate to the idea of Freaky Death Day

You and I both, buddy!

It pits the ultimate killer in Kathryn Newton’s Butcher against the ultimate survivor in Jessica Rothe’s Tree. So how much thought have you given this crossover?

It’s one of those things that I wish happened. The pandemic messed up so many lives and then stupid things like movies. But the summer before (Freaky) came out, the idea clicked in my head, and I sent a text to a couple of the folks at Blumhouse and Chris. And the reaction was pretty funny. Everyone was like, “Oh my God, interesting.” So I literally sent an email with the subject of just Freaky Death Day, and then it had a two-sentence pitch. And there was a moment where it felt like, “Okay, maybe this could be something in the future.” But then the pandemic continued, and Freaky didn’t really pop in theaters, because you couldn’t go to a theater and that kind of stuff. So, financially, it just doesn’t make sense for a lot of people right now, but every once in a while, I think about it. I can’t help it. I want to see it so badly. 

I saw a meme the other day with Jessica Rothe, Kathryn Newton, Kiernan Shipka and Jane Widdop all stacked on top of each other, and it was like, “There’s no way you can tell me that these characters don’t exist in the same world.” And funnily enough, three of them are owned by one company. So I don’t know. Maybe there’s a Totally Killer Freaky Death Day or something down the line. (Laughs.) There’s something there that I always wanted to do. I hate to say the Marvel of slashers, but there’s something interesting about a bunch of different “final girls” hooking up and having to fight the same thing.

We can’t let this go. It practically sells itself. 

It really does! 

I’ve asked Kevin Williamson, Neve Campbell and Radio Silence if there’s value in doing a New Nightmare version of Scream, and almost everybody was intrigued by the possibilities. Tyler Gillett from Radio Silence was the one exception, as he felt that the already-meta franchise might be eating its own tail at that point, but I have a vague memory of you also not digging the idea. What was your reasoning? 

It’s kind of the same thing as Tyler. It’s one of those ideas that is so clever that you can really only do it once, and I feel like Wes (Craven) and New Nightmare nailed it. I love that movie. So I feel like you’re already starting down a point by just doing it in another way. If another franchise did it, Scream is probably the most likely one, but I think you’d have to find a really solid story, because it could easily become one-note. A lot of people also wanted a Jason (Friday the 13th) movie set in the snow, but when you ask their reasoning, they’ll say, “ Blood on the snow looks cool.” And it’s like, “Well, what’s the next step after that?” So that’s kind of how I feel about Scream doing that super meta version. It’s like, “What’s the step after everybody playing themselves? What is actually happening?” And I can never think of a good enough reason to have Neve Campbell playing Neve Campbell.

You’re right, as the primary appeal to me is the ability to bring everybody back as themselves, especially the actors whose characters died long ago.

Yeah, there is a delight in that, and it is fun to see people play crazy versions of themselves or shitty versions of themselves. But I really do think New Nightmare is a brilliant movie (that can only be done once). But then again, here I am making a movie based on It’s a Wonderful Life, so maybe I should just shut up. (Laughs.)

Speaking of bringing people back, I saw Matthew Lillard in Five Nights at Freddy’s last night. (Writer’s Note: This interview was conducted on Oct. 26th.)

I really want to work with him.

His live-wire performance reminded me of the long-running question of whether Stu will be brought back to the actual Scream universe. Just asking you as a fan, do you want him back in some capacity? Or should he remain dead?

I think he should remain dead. I know that these slasher movies play with logic and that I go in, saying, “I’m going to turn my brain off a little bit and not be so stuck on making sure everything tracks,” but he’s such an iconic character. Wanting more of somebody is a good thing, but sometimes, wanting more and not getting it is a good thing, too. He’s so good in the first movie, and I just don’t think that there’s a reason to bring him back. If you can find a clever way to bring him back where his character is still dead, I’m all for that, but it would just feel weird to me that no one mentioned that Stu was still alive the last 27 years, or that his body was never found. I’ve heard people pitch the idea that his family faked his death or stole a body, and I just don’t know how you justify it. I also don’t think Stu was a mastermind. Billy was the mastermind. But I do love Matthew Lillard, and if they found a way to do it, then sure, why not?

Well, congrats on It’s a Wonderful Knife, and please don’t give up the Freaky Death Day dream.

I really appreciate it. I’ve read some articles where you mentioned Freaky Death Day, and I love that you’re trumpeting it for us. Maybe one day. Gotta get Jason Blum on the hook.

***
It’s a Wonderful Knife opens Nov. 10th in theaters. This interview was edited for length and clarity.