Most of the kittens in new Netflix horror series Brand New Cherry Flavor are puppets. Sometimes, however, you need the real thing…like for a scene in which a gang of gatos devour a dead coyote.
“We love cats. So that was a fun day,” series co-creator Nick Antosca tells Den of Geek. “The cats are professional actors. So they do exactly what you tell them and they never mess up a take. That’s a joke.”
Why open a story about a horror series with an anecdote about kittens, you might ask? Because, as the coyote-eating portion of that anecdote might indicate, Brand New Cherry Flavor isn’t your typical kind of horror tale. Based on a novel of the same name from Todd Grimson, the show is set in early ‘90s Hollywood and follows a talented indie filmmaker Lisa Nova (Rosa Salazar) as she does whatever it takes to direct her first big feature.
When we say “whatever it takes,” we mean whatever it takes. After sleazy film producer Lou Burke (Eric Lange) treats Lisa Nova how you might imagine a sleazy ‘90s Hollywood producer would, Lisa goes all in on a supernatural revenge plot. She enlists the help of local witch Boro (Catherine Keener) to make Lou’s life a living hell. Of course, deals with the devil don’t always work out as one might hope. What follows is a grim kaleidoscope of guinea pig guts, cocaine worms, blood, immolation, death, and yes, itty bitty kitties that Lisa vomits up and offers to Boro as tribute.
Shepherding this stylish, atmospheric tale for Netflix are two horror adaptation veterans: Nick Antosca and Lenore Zion, both previously of Syfy’s creepypasta anthology series Channel Zero. In seeking another horror story that could translate well to the screen, Antosca was gripped by the surreal nightmarish qualities of Grimson’s book.
“I had not heard of it before, and it just took me by surprise,” Antosca says. “It was a hybrid of all these different genres.”
When Antosca enlisted Zion’s help to render the book’s imagination on a bigger canvas, she jumped at the opportunity.
“The thing that I love most about the book is the wild unpredictability of the story,” she says. “No matter what, you never know what’s coming next. That’s kind of a dream for a television adaptation.”
What each writer found most intriguing about Brand New Cherry Flavor, however, was its protagonist. Lisa Nova is a fascinating creation – a determined young woman who makes a curious decision and then mostly sticks with it despite the veritable mountain of trippy magical consequences that follows.
“I hadn’t quite read somebody like (Lisa Nova) before,” Antosca says. “She’s sort of amoral, but at the same time, I really relate to her. She’s got all this stuff inside of her that she has to get out. It’s a creative journey.”
In casting Lisa Nova, the show turned to a young actress who knows a thing or two about unusual protagonists. Rosa Salazar is a talented, funny performer with big, expressive eyes. And yet, the two most prominent roles of her career thus far removed her physical presence from the equation entirely. As the titular character in Alita: Battle Angel, Salazar provided only her voice and movements to an uncanny CGI creation. As Alma in Amazon Prime’s Undone, Salazar’s performance is rotoscoped over with animation.
Brand New Cherry Flavor provides Salazar with eight full episodes of television to really sink her teeth into a bloody good role.
“What we needed for Lisa Nova was somebody who was able to project real strength, but also vulnerability. We needed somebody who had good comic timing and somebody who was down for really, really weird storylines. Rosa is all of that. She brought everything that we wanted and more to the role,” Zion says.
While casting the lead of Brand New Cherry Flavor was crucial, finding an actress mysterious and charismatic enough to portray an early ‘90s Hollywood witch was also no easy task. Thankfully Catherine Keener exists (thankfully that she exists for this role in particular, but also just in general).
“This sounds weird, but I felt like Catherine Keener kind of has a rockstar vibe. She just seems really cool,” Antosca says. “She’s always cast in these grounded, stripped down roles and we just wanted to bring out the rockstar that we felt was hiding inside. When we first met her, she was like ‘come over and I’ll show you some really cool vintage clothes that I got in Miami.’ A lot of that ended up being what Boro wears in the show.”
Though Boro’s wardrobe comes from South Florida, Brand New Cherry Flavor’s vibes are distinctly LA.
“We tried to create a nightmare cinematic version of LA in the nineties, not like a documentary recreation or anything like that. We were inspired by Lost Highway, True Romance, and a lot of those movies from back then,” Antosca says.
Interestingly enough, Antosca notes that when Grimson originally wrote the novel, he had never been to Los Angeles. And yet, his dreamlike depiction of Hollywood’s dark magic was on point. Sometimes Los Angeles feels like more of a concept than a location, and that’s a sensation that Brand New Cherry Flavor is happy to exploit.
“It’s the version of reality that’s just a few standard deviations away from what it really is,” Zion says.
Given the often terrifying reality at play in Brand New Cherry Flavor, one would hope it was more than just a few standard deviations away from ours. But alas, this is a distinctly American tale…vomited kittens and all.
All eight episodes of Brand New Cherry Flavor are available to stream on Netflix now.