This still from the trailer of “Haunt” shows Portland actor Damian Maffei as Devil. Courtesy of Momentum Pictures

There’s an up-and-coming movie monster right in Portland in the unassuming shape of actor, New York native, family man, Maine transplant, and now Hollywood’s go-to masked movie killer Damian Maffei.

I talked to Damian last year about his role (taken over from another Maine movie monster actor in Kip Weeks, eerily enough) as the wordless Man in the Mask in the well-received horror sequel “The Strangers: Prey At Night.” Now, like all movie madmen worth their machetes, Maffei is back, both to talk horror, and as a once-more masked menace in the Eli Roth-produced horror flick “Haunt,” which opens in limited release on, when else, Friday, Sept. 13.

The Momentum Pictures release – written and directed by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, who penned the universally lauded 2018 monster movie “A Quiet Place” – plays upon viewers’ greatest fears. If your greatest fear is being stalked through a suspiciously isolated “extreme” haunted house by figures dressed as a clown, witch ghost, and devil (that’s Maffei). With gore master Roth’s imprimatur on it, “Haunt” promises blood, blood, and more blood, along with what Maffei admiringly called the sort of “irresponsible violence” extreme horror fans not-so-secretly long for. For Maffei, “Haunt” represents another step back into a business he thought he was done with as recently as a few years ago.

Portland actor Damian Maffei, for once, without a mask. Photo by Peter Hurley

“I guess my luck has changed. In some ways, I’m lucky,” Maffei said from his home near Deering Oaks park. “I mean, I attended this really good acting school in New York (William Esper Studios) with some seriously talented actors and hardworking people, and I’m really the only one who’s had any kind of success with it.”

Still, success in the acting business is relative, and, when Maffei and his family moved to Maine four years ago, it was with the intention of moving on from a career that just wasn’t happening. A chance meeting with Portland filmmaker and Southern Maine Community College film instructor Corey Norman led to Maffei starring in one of Norman’s local horror shorts (2016’s “White Drift”), before Maffei enlisted Norman to help him with a filmed audition for “Prey at Night” director Johannes Roberts (“47 Meters Down”). And the rest is … complicated.

“It’s not cracked open a whole new world of acting roles,” Maffei said, “but I have gotten a lot of ‘Will you play a masked killer in our movie?’ calls. It’s weird, because “Prey at Night” was out there, and I was onscreen making people afraid, and there were a couple of moments where I feel like I took it beyond just the circumstance, or the sack on my head. I think I added something or created something – but, still, nobody’s rebooting ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ for me or anything.”

Maybe not, but Maffei’s resurgent (if often disguised and blood-soaked) career has him hoping to get more involved in the Maine movie scene for something more meaty (if not necessarily bloody). “I’ve talked to Corey about doing a Cassavetes-style thing – real guerilla moviemaking, really sheared down without the bull(expletive), but engineering a movie around what we have. C’mon man! There are some really talented people in Maine!”

For Maffei, however, the present is all about being evil – and, once again, covered by a mask. At least for most of the time. “I had to be in makeup for three hours a day as Devil,” he explains, telling me about a plot twist that I will not be telling you. Maffei even gets to speak in “Haunt,” although he notes that his Devil voice is a lot deeper than that which appears to emanate from his robed and masked character (thanks to the editing) in the film’s unquestionably unsettling trailer. “That guy (Chaney Morrow who plays Ghost, and who’s great) sounds a lot like Michael Scott (from “The Office”),” Maffei laughs. “Devil’s a lot more menacing-sounding. He’s not the leader, but he’s definitely the worst.”

Playing a (this time, mostly) silent monster might not seem like a great showcase for an actor, but, as Maffei notes, “Horror fans are a little different – they’ll seek you out.” And while he says that he’s done a few horror conventions, he’s turned down “99 percent” of the other masked menace offers that have come his way in the wake of “Prey at Night” (citing “just terrible” scripts).

Maffei does hint at one upcoming potential role he’s particularly excited about. (Hint: It’s a remake of a well-regarded horror movie from about 15 years ago, in which Maffei promises he’d get to speak throughout, for a change.) “I don’t want to be doing projects where I have to run away from them afterward,” Maffei said. “I’m just trying to do things that I kind of like and enjoy and want to watch.”

Speaking of watching, “Haunt,” which was completed in 2018, will be released in select theaters next month, but those looking to spot their neighbor terrorizing teenagers in a devil mask will likely have to check out “Haunt” on video-on-demand platforms. But you never know. Maffei says that local horror movie maven (and co-host of the very entertaining Fun Box Monster Podcast) Tristan Gallagher is currently negotiating with several local theaters to have “Haunt” haunt theatergoing Mainers on Sept. 13, something Maffei says he’d be more than happy to help promote. “I’m here, and I got my robes,” Maffei said, which sounds a little menacing coming from him. He means well.

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.


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