Fifteen years after production began on Andrew Getty’s directorial debut, and two years after his mysterious death, the finished film is finally seeing the light of day.
The horror film The Evil Within is the brainchild of Getty, who died in 2015 at the age of 47. The oil heir wrote and directed the story about a special-needs boy who, after befriending his reflection in an antique mirror, begins hearing voices telling him to kill.
Getty would go on to invest between $4 million and $6 million of his personal fortune into the production, says producer Michael Luceri, who also edited the film and became a close friend of Getty’s. The director even went so far as to sell his prized AC Cobra sports car in order to fund his passion project.
“He was very, very specific,” Luceri tells PEOPLE. “He saw this movie fully finished in his head. He wasn’t going to compromise. He wanted people to see the movie that he saw. I do think he felt himself under a microscope, because his family was so well known.”
Getty was born into a life of privilege, the heir to J. Paul Getty’s billion-dollar oil fortune. He was the son of composer Gordon Getty, who is the last remaining son of J. Paul Getty. Gordon had four sons with his wife, Ann Gilbert, and three daughters outside of his marriage.
On March 31, 2015, Andrew was found dead, bleeding in the bathroom hallway of his Hollywood Hills mansion. His body was discovered by an ex-girlfriend, Lanessa DeJonge.
Getty ultimately died from gastrointestinal hemorrhage, acute meth intoxication, heart disease and duodenal ulcers, a coroner’s report found.
He wrote hundreds of scripts with the intention of creating a career making horror films. After Getty’s death, a friend close to him told PEOPLE that The Evil Within, then titled Storyteller, was inspired by powerful, sadistic dreams Getty had as a young boy.
Frederick Koehler stars as film’s lead, playing Dennis, a boy who dreams of a monster behind an antique mirror. The actor tells PEOPLE that the oil heir “was always kind of afflicted with certain kinds of demons in his head.”
“I think that there were nightmares that persisted,” he says. “I think that they were something he really, really battled as a kid. He did talk about that, quite often, actually. He would say he would have these really horrible night terrors, these nightmares. He was fascinated with the macabre.”
Luceri disagrees, telling PEOPLE Getty was “past them.” The producer reveals Getty talks about his childhood in DVD extras, and how the scion played with his brothers and cousins and made Super 8 films.
“Andrew had a lot of fun as a kid,” Luceri says. “He had dreams of a mirror, just his reflection, and he did wonder, ‘What if this was someone else in another place?’ “
The topic of dreams and the human psyche fascinated Getty, Koehler says, adding that the film seemed “very personal” to the budding director. Koehler explains that he loosely based his character on Getty when filming began in 2002.
“This is a character who is suffering from his own inner demons, both literally and figuratively,” Koehler says. “I think this was something Andrew really wanted to explore based on his own experiences, his dreams. The character of Dennis is Andrew as he goes through this horrifying experience.”
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Getty spent more than 10 years working on the project, with production a stop-and-go process, Koehler says.
“He was a really complicated man,” he explains. “When I think about him, especially in the years subsequent to working with him, the link of genius and madness being dance partners is representative of him. He was an absolute perfectionist.”
The dynastic heir would watch horror films frequently, according to Koehler, studying the way they were made by master filmmakers from the collection of horror pictures he owned.
“The film is more of an exploration of how the mind can turn on itself,” Koehler says. “I think that the boogeyman of the film is the protagonist. He is his own demon, he is his own devil, his own tormentor.”
Since Getty’s death, Luceri — who began working with Getty as an editor for the film — says it was a challenge to establish funding to complete the film’s editing.
“We had to take a few breaks,” he says. “But, I always made it a point to come back to this. My relationship with him motivated me to finish this film.”
As for whether Getty would have been happy with the final product, the producer says he’s confident his friend would have loved it.
“Andrew keeps coming into my dreams,” he says. “And he’s happy.”
The Evil Within is now available on Amazon and Video On Demand.