DARK CIRCLES Star Damian Maffei On Peeping Toms And a Broken Curse

And more on the Hannah Fierman-directed psychological horror.

By Michael Gingold · April 26, 2023, 6:00 PM EDT
Dark Circles grab

Actor Damian Maffei has a long résumé of horror credits, including playing the masked man in The Strangers: Prey at Night and roles in the Wrong Turn redux, Haunt and the upcoming Texas Chain Saw Massacre video game from Gun Interactive. One of his most intriguing upcoming films is Dark Circles, in part because of who was at the helm: Hannah Fierman, who memorably portrayed Lily in the "Amateur Hour" segment of V/H/S and reprised the role in Siren, made her feature directorial debut on the psychological chiller.

Originally titled The Events Surrounding a Peeping Tom, Dark Circles was "written by my close friend, Brian James Fitzpatrick," says Maffei, who also produced it with co-star Felissa Rose, Ryan James and Chris Bevins. "It also features Kate Kiddo, Kamarra Cole and Terry Kiser. We just finished up post on that, and I'm very, very happy with how it has come out. It's my favorite script of all time; I love it, I think it's so different."

In the film, Maffei plays Martin, whom the actor describes as "a sad, unstable gentleman who's a Peeping Tom. He gets arrested and sent to mandatory rehabilitation, where he tries to better himself, but it's a struggle, and he has some setbacks. And he discovers that there's someone or something watching him that is far worse than he ever was. It's psychological horror, a little bit Roman Polanski, Brian De Palma, in that kind of territory."

Maffei reveals that Dark Circles' genesis dates back to his time growing up in a Long Island suburb. "I'm a night owl, and I would walk the dog at one in the morning or so," he recalls. "Every now and then, I'd see people just going about their business in their houses; it was all quiet and completely unguarded, the dog would be doing its business and something would catch my eye, and I'd be watching these people, and then I'd catch myself and be like, 'Oh my God, I'm a Peeping Tom!' And I started to get this idea of how, for someone who had that inclination in the suburbs, it would be like an amusement park. Everything's on the first floor, all the houses are jam-packed together, and everyone's minding their own business. I felt I had not seen that in a movie before; even the movie Peeping Tom isn't really about a Peeping Tom. George McFly [in Back to the Future] was the closest thing I had seen."

Dark Circles poster

He ran the idea by a couple of writer friends who turned out versions of the script, but nothing he believed cracked the idea. By the time Fitzpatrick expressed interest in tackling it, "I was like, 'Ah, what's the point?' and he started writing it anyway, as Brian will do. What he wrote was so beyond what was in my head that I said, 'OK, we have to make this.' This was 2014, and we did a Kickstarter for it, which failed miserably; nobody knew who we were. And then, I think, in 2019, we found an investor with a good amount of money, which got us as far as pre-production. I had my friend John Wagner, a producer on Strangers, Haunt, andWrong Turn involved, and then that went south in the worst way possible. Maybe not the worst way, but the investor wanted to marry me. One of the final terms was marriage, and I didn't want to do that. It's like, you really want to make the movie no matter what, and it's so hard to get anything made you ignore all the warning signs. So it collapsed again, which was heartbreaking, and I was like, I've got to put this movie out of my head. But I never could for long."

Fitzpatrick had originally written Dark Circles with Fierman in mind for the role of Rowan, and she was attached to the project from the beginning. She and Maffei are longtime friends and have tried to do several movies together during the past decade, but they didn't wind up seeing fruition for some time. "I thought we were cursed for quite a while," Maffei says. "And then, the first movie that did happen where we were on screen was Terror Trips. I was actually supposed to be the lead in that, and I had to drop out because that was shooting smack dab in the middle of the pandemic. My kids were remote learning, so I had to stay home for them, and I took a little part instead as a Russian police officer. I shot for just one or two days, but Hannah was in the scene I was in. Then we did one right after that called Time's Up, and we were in the whole thing, so the curse was broken. We're also in a film called They Watch together, which is fantastic; Doug Henderson directed that, and it's me, Hannah and Ashlynn Yennie [The Human Centipede], who's a wonderful actor. She and I play husband and wife, and Kate Kiddo is also in that; she's the one who took over for Hannah in Dark Circles as Rowan."

At Maffei's suggestion, that switch happened after Fierman took the reins of Dark Circles, and the production finally got underway. "With blood, sweat, tears, and elbow grease, we got it together," he says. "There were a lot of problems and fires to put out, but we managed to do it. We got an incredible cast; I met Terry Kiser at a convention and hit it off with him right away, and within five minutes, I was like, 'I need you to play this part in this movie.' It was like, 'We don't have any money,' so we went to Fuzz on the Lens [a production/services company with credits including the Terrifier duo] and said, 'Guys, come on over and crew this movie,' and they showed up with all the equipment. We shot in Connecticut and got all the locations for free; Daniel John Kearney was just like, 'I can secure the locations,' and I said, 'OK, I'll believe it when I see it,' and he got 'em all! And as director, Hannah was just perfect. It was a great group, and I'm so happy that we finally got to make this movie."