A neat little brew of Housewives of OC meets Scream, The Ice Cream Truck explores the nagging suspicions we’ve all had about those doodle-ding trucks and soon to be cougar Milfs trolling suburbia. When housewife Mary (Deanna Russo) returns to her suburban hometown, she discovers an off-kilter mix of overly nosy neighbors, overly sexed teens and an ice cream man overly dedicated to serving scoops of blood with his Rum Raisin. In this one-on-one interview, director Megan Freels Johnston reveals the challenges she faced in bringing The Ice Cream Truck to the screen.
You’ve written/directed/produced a number of genres. What prompted you to make this film?
Megan Freels Johnston: I typically stay in the thriller/horror genre. It’s my favorite. I used to live in a house that had a bunch of ice cream trucks drive by and play that exact song. My imagination ran away from me. I was fascinated by what goes on in those trucks. When I was growing up, ice cream trucks only had packaged ice cream, whereas the truck in my LA neighborhood would give out ice cream cones and banana splits. And they would go all hours of the night. It’s odd but you’re not allowed to take candy from a stranger, but you can take ice cream from an ice cream truck.
A maniacal ice cream man and a housewife trying to reclaim her youth seem ostensibly incompatible, was it challenging dovetailing these two genres?
Megan: As a writer, I usually have some sort of theme or concept, but I don’t know where my story is going until I get there. I’m in my mid-30s, so I drew from my own experience. To me, the ice cream truck represents youth. When women are in their mid 30s, it’s kind of a limbo stage. You’re not really 20 anymore or in your teens, but you don’t want to be considered middle aged. So there’s this kind of weird identity crisis that occurs. The ice cream truck served as a metaphor for that experience for Mary.
What was the thinking behind Jessica being the most nosey and neurotic of the three housewives?
Megan: I’m from Midwest suburbia and I find that people are often more interested in gossip. Jessica didn’t have a lot going on, so most of her entertainment tends to be what’s going on in the neighborhood.
Why did you choose to make the ice cream guy and his truck so retro?
Megan: I didn’t want it to look like a dingy, cliché scary ice cream truck. A lot of them have stickers peeling off and they look more like a kidnapper’s van. Conservative suburbia seemed like a time warp and I wanted the ice cream man to have that 60s feel. I never thought I’d find a retro truck. I was looking for one that looked clean and had some artistic style. So I found this old-fashioned milk truck that was completely restored from Laguna Vintage. It really adds so much to the film’s production value.
There’s an underlying Payton Place patina that makes its way to the surface, especially in the Christina character, what was the thinking behind her persona?
Megan: Christina was the leader of the pack. She appears nice at first, like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but she becomes more judgmental as the film goes on. I think high school cliques in women don’t necessarily always go away. In the bubble of suburbia, those cliques ring true. It was something that Mary didn’t want to be a part of and I liked that they wanted to initiate her.
The creepy deliveryman seems like a threshold metaphor for the underlying terror in this film. Was that your intent?
Megan: The deliveryman, to me, always represents a real life threat, especially to women. In horror films, you’ll often see these fantastical scares, but there are so many other things that are scary in life. So I always try to find a way to put that in my films. Every time I’ve ever moved, I’ve always had some vendor or another in the house when I was alone. It’s not usually touched on in horror films, and as a female horror filmmaker, there are things that I find scary that a male filmmaker or director would never have to deal with.
In many instances, Mary struggles to keep the conversation going with people she meets, giving us unsettling silences, moments not unlike those found in Hitchcock classics.
Megan: I’ve done that in my previous films. I think that’s how people naturally talk. Many people write so rhythmically and that’s not how people talk. I’m very much influenced by people like Hitchcock, Roman Polanski and David Lynch. They all have that kind of “thick air.” When I rehearse with my actors, I’ll have them take time before responding, because you wouldn’t know your own response right away.
Without revealing the ending, what was your thinking process in bringing the film to its inevitable conclusion?
Megan: It’s hard to say without giving away too much. As I mentioned, I think real life threats are scarier than what you see in fantasy. To me, the deliveryman is far scarier. Women deal with things differently that men do. So there’s a different perspective that comes from a female filmmaker. The horror community is mostly driven by male storytelling. I try to always have some sort of twist or unexpected ending.
What’s next for you?
Megan: I hope to be shooting a film next year called Hunting Season, which is about trophy hunters. All of my films have a social context. They’re not straight horror. It will have an underlying message and theme. It will be more of a straight thriller and not like The Ice Cream Truck, which has some comedy elements.
The Ice Cream Truck will be released in theaters and on VOD August 18.