Fans of "The Exorcist" director William Friedkin's films are in for a new kind of creep show with "Killer Joe" — likable low-life characters that make viewers laugh and squirm at the same time.
Friedkin's latest movie made its world premiere Thursday at the Venice Film Festival. He presented it alongside Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tracy Letts, on whose play the film is based.
"We see the same things in nature and human behavior and we find these things humorous but in a very dark way," Friedkin said, referring to Letts. However, he added, "This isn't funny like Abbott and Costello."
The black comedy revolves around cash-strapped drug dealer Chris, played by Emile Hirsch of "Into the Wild" fame. Chris discovers his mother has stolen some of his cocaine so he decides to have her killed to get a $50,000 life insurance policy. When he realizes he can't pay the $25,000 killer's fee up front, he offers his 12-year-old sister, Dottie, as sexual collateral.
More people come onboard as an unlikely bunch tries to put together the money to hire Killer Joe, a detective who moonlights as a hired killer, played by Hollywood heartthrob Matthew McConaughey.
"To see Matthew McConaughey play this part, it's so different than anything he has done," Hirsch told reporters in Venice.
In the movie, Killer Joe — equipped with flowers and a Texas twang — wins over Dottie.
"Like Cinderella," said Friedkin. "Cinderella is always looking for Prince Charming and in this story she finds Prince Charming but ... he happens to be a hired killer."
As the movie goes on, the viewer is left wondering whether the characters can add, and if they realize they will receive — if all goes well — a mere $6,250 each for plotting a murder. The characters shift between warm family moments and sudden brawls as they both help and betray each other with equaminity.
Letts said inspiration for the story stemmed in part from a newspaper headline, and that the play was "loosely based on true story."
"Killer Joe" stars Thomas Haden Church as Ansel, the drug dealer's father, and Gina Gershon as a likable, heavily made up waitress who is married to Ansel.
Friedkin, a veteran director whose credits include "The French Connection," will be staging an opera in Florence next month. He entertained the audience in Venice by retelling stories of meeting legengary director Federico Fellini and eating pasta with him.
"It was the best pasta I ever had," he said.