Is there anything more offensive than a horror comedy about Helen Keller? In the new movie Helen Keller Vs. Nightwolves, the face of the 1980 commemorative stamp defends the town of Tuscumbia, Alabama, from an invasion of nightwolves.
The film drags everyone from straight men to black people to Asians to people with disabilities. At one point, random shots of a geisha intercut straight men making Helen Keller jokes as Keller stumbles around a diner asking for pie.
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If wide audiences saw the film, outraged think pieces would flood the internet for weeks, but despite the jokes, the film perceives Keller as a complicated character. Where most films show disabled protagonists struggling to overcome their condition, Helen Keller Vs. Nightwolves depicts Keller as an action star. The town's men fail to kill the nightwolves, so Keller slays the monsters. "What's the difference between Helen Keller and a normal person who can hear and see?" Keller asks. "I'm not a fucking pussy."
Keller sees the dudes as wussy idiots—she calls the sheriff "fuck face"—and one man in town wants to fuck her because of her attitude. In one scene, Keller tells a guy who mocks her, "I will rip your intestines out of your asshole." Later, when her gay friend William refuses to battle because he says homos suck at fighting, Keller tells him to fuck the stereotypes: "I'm not gonna let you use gayness be your weakness the same way I don't let my disabilities be a weakness."
Keller is simultaneously an action hero, a sex goddess, and a role model. Unlike most female characters, she's complicated—which is why the movie's stars say people with disabilities love the film. Jessie Wiseman, the actress who plays Keller, says fans have approached her, thanking her for her performance.
"We're actually making [Keller] a badass," Wiseman explains. "[The film's] basically just turning all the jokes around on people. The whole town has made fun of [Keller], and these nightwolves come and attack the town, and Helen Keller, who cannot see and cannot hear, ends up just terrorizing and saving the whole town—because Helen Keller herself was a badass. She was doing speaking engagements and not being able to see. We just heightened it and made her actually kill wolves."
What's the difference between Helen Keller and a normal person who can hear and see? I'm not a fucking pussy.
Wiseman says she's used to the public misunderstanding her performances—this is her second film with director, writer, and producer Ross Patterson. For nearly a decade, he has written and/or directed politically incorrect films like FDR: American Badass. Like the Muppets and Quentin Tarantino, Patterson uses the same cast of actors, ranging from B-movies like Weismann to icons like Barry Bostwick. Many of Patterson's films have gone straight to DVD, but he skipped the process for Helen Keller Vs. Nightwolves, uploading the movie straight to YouTube.
On the set of Patterson's new film, a zombie movie starring veterans called Range 15, I sat down with Wiseman to discuss her performance as Helen Keller. This interview has condensed and edited.
Broadly: How did you get the role of Helen Keller?
Jessie Wiseman: On [the set of Patteron's] 50K and a Call Girl, we were just joking around, doing some blind detective character and just fucking around. Once we were done with 50K, Ross was like, "I feel like that movie we were joking about making, Helen Keller Vs. Nightwolves, I think we should really make it."
Were you concerned your performance would offend audiences?
I worry, but I just hope that people, once they see it and get it, will understand. I feel like people will get offended until they see that we're actually making her a badass. I was hoping that the trailer would kind of convey that so people would be OK right off the bat.
How did you get into character?
I put in some contacts so I couldn't see very well, which was a huge thing. I do a blind character really well, which I think is why they chose me. I'm just good at it. I'm good at being focused on other people.
Do you consider this method acting?
Yeah. You kind of have to [wear contacts to be blind] because it's hard to act like you can't see anything. It's a lot of looking past people—looking past people, looking past things—even though people are talking to you.
Is it hard to find people to star in these movies?
For sure, because you know with this kind of filmmaking we all know that you can't make a lot of money with it anymore, with the death of DVDs. It really is all people that are just stoked on making movies because we don't know what's gonna come of it.
Who are some of your favorite actors from the Paterson crew?
Alanna Ubach is amazing. Jesse Merlin. Barry Bostwick is the shit. I mean that guy should have an Oscar, but he's like working with us. It's shocking. That's the exact word.
How did you become an actress?
I got into acting about ten years ago in a small town up north in Ohio—just started a theater company and mainly did super dramatic, teen stuff. I'm really drawn to really dramatic [stories]—maybe over the top drama—and that's why I started doing [Patterson's films].
Does working in movies make you jaded?
I think when you [act] for a certain amount of time you lose that excitement. You're seeing behind the curtain a little bit, and it's even hard to watch movies sometimes because you know everything editing-wise that's gone into it. You've lost that "ignorance is bliss" part of it, but this project has been just refreshing.
Is that because Patterson's films disregard Hollywood's rules?
For sure. We didn't know what was gonna happen as far as sales—we really were just off the wall. Ross also, thankfully, just chooses people who are best for the role and doesn't necessarily need to go for names or people that would sell. It's amazing because not a lot of directors would do that for sure. It's amazing.
What's the biggest misunderstanding about Helen Keller Vs. Nightwolves and the other films you created with Patterson?
The biggest misunderstanding is that we are taking anything about it seriously. We just want to have fun.