Patrick Walker (foreground) and AJ Jones in "The Curse of La Patasola," an Orlando-filmed horror movie with roots in Atlanta that will hit theaters in limited markets and be available on various TV platforms starting Friday.
Indie horror film with Atlanta roots finds its scare power in South American folklore
AJ and Gillie Jones got engaged in early 2020. Instead of having a lavish wedding, they asked their families to invest the funds intended for the nuptials into a movie. The film, which marks AJ’s directorial debut (he also wrote the script and stars) and Gillie’s first feature acting role, was shot over a 21-day period, in a state park just outside of Orlando. When the crew wrapped, the couple said their vows on set.
The result is The Curse of La Patasola, a polished, character-driven iteration of old-fashioned horror.
Conceived and produced in Atlanta, it premiered in an invitation-only red-carpet event on January 11 at Buckhead Theatre. In addition to co-producers the Joneses, the Atlanta team includes executive producer Mark Pettit, who also appears in the film.
The Curse of the Patasola will hit theaters in select markets (including Atlanta, at Marietta’s Studio Movie Grill) on Friday. It also will be available on demand starting on Friday across numerous platforms, including iTunes, Amazon Prime Video and Google Play, as well as via various cable and streaming outlets.
We recently reached AJ and Gillie Jones to discuss their labor of love.
ArtsATL:Can you give us a brief summary of this hair-raising movie?
AJ: Two struggling couples go on a weekend camping trip to try and reconnect with each other. Around the campfire on the first night, Naomi tells the group of her family’s legend of a creature called La Patasola, a one-legged woman who haunts the forest, looking for men who have been unfaithful to their wives. The group soon finds themselves fighting for their lives against the ancient, Amazonian beast.
ArtsATL:Please tell us about the Latinx, folkloric origins of La Patasola.
AJ: La Patasola, which means one-legged woman, is a South American legend. There are many variations of the legend of La Patasola. Some believe she is a beautiful woman who cheated on her husband, so he murdered their children and chopped off her leg, causing her tortured soul to roam the jungle hunting for prey. Some believe she is a beautiful seductress in a white dress who sucks your blood like a vampire. Others believe she is more of a goblin-type creature, with bulging eyes, a big nose, and one breast, while others believe she is a monstrous, one-hoofed creature that you may expect from an H.P. Lovecraft story.
Most all of the legends agree that once she’s killed a victim, she sings a hauntingly beautiful song that echoes through the jungle. I would encourage anyone with friends with South American heritage to ask them about the Patasola, and see what version of the legend they may have had passed down to them.
ArtsATL:Bad things always befall lusty couples in woods garlanded with Spanish moss. How does your film differ from other scary movies?
AJ: I feel modern horror films are primarily about the setups and jump scares, rather than focusing on character and story. I love that ours is an authentic story of two couples who are experiencing very real difficulties in their relationships. We really get to spend time with them and learn their dynamics, which makes the payoff of trying to escape the Patasola’s true form that much more important.
Speaking of, I couldn’t be prouder of the creature we created for the finale of the movie. It’s so easy for movies to create creatures fully CGI, so the team at (Doraville fabrication and design studio) Hex Mortis and I were dedicated to creating a practical monster with a stunt actor performing inside to create a much more authentic thrill. Also, Kelsey Woods’ score adds so much depth and mood to the film, and Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer’s original opening theme is hauntingly beautiful. It really helps the film stand out as a one-of-a-kind creature feature.
Gillie: Hex Mortis has worked on Walking Dead, Vampire Diaries and tons of movies. The only reason we got them to work on The Curse of La Patasola is because they had no work when Covid shut things down in 2020.
ArtsATL: How did you both start in show business?
AJ: I was born in Houston, but grew up in Central Florida. I was a baseball player who stumbled into an acting class in college, which turned into performing in my first play. I was immediately hooked and ended my baseball career to go back to Orlando to begin an acting career. I moved to Atlanta for more film and TV opportunities in 2016, and found work early on. I had been screenwriting the entire time, learning and growing my skills, and continued while in Atlanta. Owning the business Nova House in Atlanta allowed me to work on an array of skills from administration to video shooting and editing, to directing actors in taped auditions. I’d consider my film education as very DIY and hands-on learning. The “No Film School” method.
Gillie: I am a Pittsburgh girl all the way — Go Steelers! I first became captivated with storytelling after my parents took me to see the national tour of Les Misérables when I was 7. While I had been dancing since I was 3, seeing the musical helped me fall in love with the theater, and my parents let me add on singing lessons and acting classes on top of the dance. My first experience in the professional world was as a preteen in the Civic Light Opera’s productions of The Wizard of Oz and Annie.
After high school, I attended the University of Delaware where I majored in communication and fell in love with the producing aspects of the industry. . . . My first industry job was with Wayne Brady. While working as his assistant, he gave me a piece of life-changing advice that set me on my path to pursue my true passion, acting: to hone my natural talent and get any experience I could in front of live audiences. I began working for American Immersion Theater (which provides party and event entertainment across the U.S.). . . . I was quickly promoted to the national regional manager and became a top actress for the company. For more than five years, I played a large variety of characters as well as performed improv in front of thousands of audience members. Plus I helped develop the training program for the company and managed their national inventory.
It helped me figure out that to be truly happy I needed to get my type-A production brain and creative acting side working together. It’s why I love owning my own production company, Renegade Creative, because I get to enjoy every aspect of filmmaking by being in front of and behind the camera.
ArtsATL:With The Curse of La Patasola having its premiere in Atlanta this week and now reaching release, what’s your feeling about your film industry prospects in Atlanta?
AJ: We believe in Atlanta. We believe that American cinema has new and exciting stories to tell, and Atlanta can be the town in which we create those stories. We believe that Atlanta can be a world-class city, with world-class appeal and world-class events. This movie was written, cast, financed, and edited in Atlanta, and we couldn’t think of a better place to celebrate releasing the movie to the world.