The original “Black Christmas” (1974) was released four years before “Halloween” and the year after Roe vs. Wade was passed. Unique for addressing abortion, stalkers, domestic violence, sexual independence and a woman’s right to set her own path, it was the first credited slasher film, but also, sadly, one of the few to bring women’s issue to the forefront.
This December, “Black Christmas” is back, co-written and directed by Sophia Takal, the first female director to take on a feature for the fast growing Blumhouse Productions.
We chatted with Sophia about the similarities between horror and comedy, the chance to take on timely issues, and the importance of process in the making of a film.
I was reflecting that there’s actually not many female directors that I get to talk to. So it’s a privilege to talk to you today.
Sophia: Oh, cool. Well, thank you.
I understand, you were the first choice to direct this project and obviously you co-wrote and directed it, which is a huge time commitment. What was it that really drew you to it and say ‘Yes, this is what I want my next project to be’.
Sophia: Well firstly, when Blumhouse approached me about potentially remaking the movie, I loved Blumhouse so much. I had made an episode of a TV show for them and I has such a great time doing that and I was excited. I had wanted to work with them again after that. So I was really excited that they approached me and also I am a huge fan of the original “Black Christmas”. I think it’s so ahead of it’s time in terms of its place in the horror genre but also in terms of the way it dealt with abortion and sexual politics and female characters. I thought it would be really interesting to take a movie that was so groundbreaking and make a version that was as contemporary for today as that one was back then; and also was as scary and stylish as that one was.
And try to sort of move the conversation forward, not just in terms of what the characters do but also within the genre itself and what constitutes a slasher movie.
It’s interesting that comedy used to be the go-to for social commentary in film, but horror really seems to be taking over. Obviously the original “Black Christmas” was way ahead of its time there, but what do you think it is about the horror format makes it such a great way to reflect on social issues?
Sophia: I think partly because of the same reason as comedy, which is that first and foremost it’s a genre that’s meant to entertain, and when you’re watching a horror movie you’re on a roller coaster. It’s the exhilaration of being scared and maybe the catharsis of that fear. And so I think it allows you to make a movie that doesn’t feel preachy or overly pretentious or like a chore to have to watch. I think by allowing the audience to have fun and not just kind of making them feel guilty and bad, like a harrowing drama might, you can look at issues that are a little bit more complex and a little darker.
You co-wrote the film. How did you find working with a partner? Did you think that’s harder or easier than writing by yourself?
Sophia: Well I actually originally worked with my husband who is a writer and director also. So this was really interesting working with someone who I was not married to. It was a really, really wonderful experience. April [Wolfe] is deep in the horror culture right now and knows so much about the genre and the community and fans of the genre. So her insight was invaluable. And it was great to have another woman to kind of check in with and make sure what we were saying or what we were doing was intentional and it was just really lovely. All of my collaborators on this, men and women, have just been extraordinarily supportive and very passionate about making this movie.
I found all the female characters were richly drawn and complex, which is not always that common, unfortunately. How much work did you guys put in to uncovering their backstories and their dynamic with each other?
Sophia: It was really important to me that the actors all kind of felt comfortable as their characters and with one another because the relationships were vital onscreen.
And I have a background as an actor. That’s how I started off. And so it’s really important to me. Performance is very important to me and working with the actors is my favourite part. And so what we were able to do on this movie was a week before we started shooting we did back story improvisations and character improvisations where the actresses and actors would improvise scenes in character. So for example, we improvised Marty and Nate’s first date. And the night that Riley got sexually assaulted. How she came home and told her friends. Everyone had a shared memory of the experiences that the characters were talking about in this film.
There definitely came across a great bond and deep connection. The cast was fantastic. Did you find it difficult to cast for this film?
Sophia: No! I was so lucky. Imogen Poots is an actress I have been wanting to work with for years and she was my first choice for that role and all of the other actors were also my first choices for the roles that they played. I felt that everyone was so suited. Well, it’s really important to me, when I am looking with an actor, it’s not just if they’re right for the part. It absolutely is a group thing and it’s easier if people can just slip into characters without needing a lot of guidance; but also – who understands that the process of making a movie is as important, if not more important, than the final product and they work together through creating as a community making art. I think of making a movie almost as an art project. You’re just kind of always allow for improvisation. That’s why I look for actors who have that kind of passion and openness and flexibility to work and to gel and become just like one weird mass of human consciousness.
Is it pretty rare to have a rehearsal time and that lead-in time before actually filming? Because it seems to be happening less and less I hear on productions.
Sophia: Yeah. I have been really lucky. You know, prior to working with Blumhouse I have done a lot of independent films where I was able to sort of chart my own path. So I have been lucky enough to be able to do these kinds of exercises on all my movies. I would love to make a movie where there was like, months of rehearsal and we could just really dive into it. My husband made a movie once where we did six months of rehearsals and all of the actors created their own characters and the script was created based on function and foundation. And that was possible because we were working with really hungry actors who were able to give us a lot of time, but to be able to do that now would be really lovely.
You filmed this in New Zealand! Did being a bit more isolated help with the experience?
Sophia: I loved shooting in New Zealand. The crew and the actors from New Zealand were just fantastic to work with. Yeah, I loved just the energy and it’s such a beautiful country and the people are so wonderful. I loved it.
Yes – we’re big fans over here in Australia, although they don’t like us that much [Laughs]. What are you looking to do next? What kind of projects are you looking at?
Sophia: You know, I love horror but I’m also really interested in making movies outside of the genre. I do love movies that are kind of a little bit — I think the point of movies is to show each other our own humanity and each other’s humanity and remind us that we’re all struggling and trying to figure things out. So movies that accomplish that are really important to me.
“Black Christmas” is in cinemas 12 December.
Tony D’Aquino on Aussie horror sensation ‘The Furies’
Tony D’Aquino’s gripping female-driven horror film “The Furies”, now in cinemas, has been a long time coming – in fact, the Australian filmmaker has essentially been gunning to make such a movie since he was 8-years old.
When does a filmmaker know it’s time to step up from shorts to features – – how did you know the time was-a-now, sir?
Well, it’s been my dream to make a feature film since I was 8 year old and saw King Kong. I’ve tried to get various projects up over the years since film school . I’ve come very close a number of times, but it’s tough in Australia to get any film up, let alone an uncompromising genre project. So, the time has been right for a while, just needed all the pieces to fall into place. And thankfully that happened with The Furies.
What inspired the story? Do I sense a love of ‘80s and ‘80s horror?
I’m a huge horror nerd. And I do love the horror films of the 70s and 80s. I love the raw energy and anarchic qualities of the independent films of that period – which were kicked off by the amazing Night of the Living Dead (1968). My absolute favourite film is Tobe Hooper’s masterpiece – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. So that was a tonal inspiration – the nightmarish quality, the fact that a lot of the film takes place in harsh daylight. The Furies is also my love letter to slasher films. I love that whole sub-genre and wanted to play with the Final Girl trope. What if a group of Final Girls and their Killers were forced to fight each other?
Did you have to pitch it to a funding body? How did that go down – because, I guess, we don’t do so many films, let alone horror films these days?
A group of inspired people got together and had a dream to make Canberra a hub for low-budget genre filmmaking! They were Andy Marriot (Film Distillery), Monica Penders (Screen Canberra) and Micheal Favelle (Odin’s Eye Entertainment). Screen Canberra put together a script development program called Accelerator POD, during which you pitch ideas to International Sales Agents. They select which concepts they feel will do well internationally. In my case, I pitched the idea to Michael Favelle, who immediately saw its potential. And, once the script was ready to go, there was an amazing group of Canberra investors who helped financed production.
It is hard, and getting harder, to get any film up these days, let alone a hardcore horror film. The Screen Canberra/Film Distillery initiative is an amazing opportunity. It’s open to anyone, not just ACT residents.
Much like the greats – Carpenter, Craven, Raimi – it seems you were determined to do as much in the movie practically, instead of relying on CGI. Was that a tough task at times?
Oh yeah, I love practical effects! To me, when you get them right, they feel more real than CGI. CGI is great for many things, but for this type of film, practical effects are the way to go. I don’t know what it is – they just have a more visceral feel, even the little mistakes make them more realistic. Maybe it’s a subconscious thing – as a viewer, if you know what you’re seeing was done on set, rather than on a computer, you buy into it more? Also, I think practical effects enforce a way of filming that is instantly reminiscent of those 70’s and 80’s films.
Using practical effects isn’t easier, especially on a low-budget film. Luckily I was able to work with my good friend and amazing FX artist, Larry van Duynhoven. He’s as crazy about horror as I am, and it’s a miracle what he and his team were able to do with the budget and time they had.
Skin Crow – and the other masked fiends here – are genius creations. I imagine you toyed with a few different looks for them? How did you settle on their current looks?
I wanted to have masked killers that were original, but at the same time paid homage to past slasher film killers. I worked with Larry and concept artist Seth Justus on the masks. We talked over a number of weeks, Seth drew up around 20 designs and I chose the ones I liked the most.
Horror fans will be able to pick which films inspired which Killer.
Was Canberra excited to have a film shooting there? Supportive community? I don’t imagine they shoot much but political ads there these days?
Canberra was a fantastic location to film in. The fact that where were filming was only about 15 minutes from the middle of city helped enormously. The city and the community are every supportive. The Screen Canberra team are amazing. And we did most of out post-production there as well, at SilverSun. They have a great sound design and mixing team, headed up by Rohan Taylor. And, our incredible composers – Ken Lampl and Kirsten Axelholm – live there.
There is a bit of production in Canberra these days, mostly television. But Canberra is an underused location. The city itself is very interesting, and the proximity to the bush is great. I’d love to film there again.
How exciting has it been to see the extremely positive reaction to the film right around the world?
It’s been an amazing experience having the film screened all around the world. Audiences everywhere have embraced the it, which has so wonderful to see. I’ve been to a few of the festivals, and meeting all the fans is one of the highlights of the whole experience.
Has it started opening doors yet? Had Blumhouse or Platinum Dunes on the phone yet wanting you to direct a remake of “Elm Street” or “Friday the 13th”?
The film has absolutely opened some doors. I’m hard at work on 2 new projects, hopefully announce something early next year!
“The Furies” is in cinemas now.
Mike Green on survival thriller ‘Outback’
Shorts vet Mike Green, whose superlative “Mother” was one of the treats of MIFF a few years back, attended Monster Fest this year with his bravura survival thriller “Outback”. The film, which will be released in the US next year, fixes on two Americans at odds with the harsh and unforgiving Australian outback.
You cut your teeth directing shorts. Do you recommend filmmakers kick off that way rather than go straight into a feature?
Yes. Try not to spend too much money learning your craft and practice, practice, practice.
After your amazing success at MIFF a few years back with “Mother”, what kind of doors started to open for you?
None, really. Unless you play Sundance or Cannes I wouldn’t expect doors to open. Get used to hustling.
How different was it doing a feature length film, to some of the shorts you’ve done? I imagine there’s a significantly bigger amount of pressure?
There is. Especially in the amount of time you’re asking of people and yourself. And time translates to money. I had a two month old baby so there’s the pressure of home life as well. As they say- happy wife, happy life (or vice versa).
Now I understand it that you financed this yourself — can you discuss why you decided to go that route, and how a big of a dent it made to your credit account!?
I had a conventional feature film fall apart when an A-list actor announced a project that sounded very similar to mine. My wife was going back to work from maternity leave in three months. So, I decided I had a small window of time to try and get a film in the ‘can’. I designed Outback to be shot in a compressed amount of time, ten days, and on a micro-budget. To complete the film the budget has increased considerably but it was shot on a credit card. I wouldn’t recommend it to the fainthearted.
Are you able to recoup any of that during production by pre-selling domestic or international distribution?
No. Without name cast it’s very hard to get attention for your project.
Why this particular story? What was it that appealed to you?
Thematically I wanted to speak about not taking tomorrow for granted. As a filmmaker trying to forge a career, I put everything on the line. I try to live for today. I thought it would be interesting to view this idea through the lens of a young girl who thinks she has her whole life ahead of her. Strangely no ones done a film called Outback. With my producer hat on, you could say it has built in IP or a hook. A survival thriller was born. Open Water in the Outback.
Was it always, in your mind, two Americans?
No. But it was always going to be more interesting to see two fish out of water types. It didn’t have to be Americans. With our compressed prep time, learning an accent can be tricky. We developed extensive backstories to our characters to the exact cities/suburbs of their upbringing, school and college life and we worked with two amazing dialect coaches (Charmian Gradwell & Nick Curnow) to hone a specific authentic accent for our actors Lauren Lofberg & Taylor Wiese.
Having worked with James Vanderbilt, did he make any suggestions or lend a hand where he could?
He read over a draft for me. He’s been an amazing mentor and friend a long the way. I’m currently in discussions with a feature project with his new production company. Jamie’s such a talented storyteller and all round legend.
I believe you’ve got a number of projects in development. Can you tell us about any?
We’ve sold Outback to a US studio for a June 2020 release date. I’m working with a bunch of writing teams and will be in LA early next year. I’m focusing on the smart horror landscape. They’re really dramas where scary things happen.
Richard Brake on ‘3 From Hell’
After killing Batman’s parents on screen, actor Richard Brake found the phone continually ringing with offers to play sinister rogues – but as the actor tells SCARE in this exclusive interview, being known for such great sinister turns in the likes of “Batman Begins”, “Mandy”, TV hit “Game of Thrones”, “Doom” and now “3 From Hell” has given him a career.
A wildly entertaining horror jaunt that serves as a loud serenade of the genre, “3 From Hell” reunites the Wales-born actor with genre legend Rob Zombie, his director on “Halloween II” and “31”.
Are Rob Zombie films as fun as they are to make as they are to watch?
Absolutely, we have a blast. It’s like a big family getting together with all kinds of madness and mayhem.
How do you psyche yourself up to play a role like ‘Foxy’? – particularly when it’d seem you’re anything like him!
I’m just very comfortable exploring that dark side of myself. I think all of us have both sides, but most of us are afraid to listen to the thoughts and say ‘Oh, man, I just love to kill my boss.’ But as an actor, you don’t listen to that little sense there and just go there. And it’s great fun exploring the dark side. Especially when the writing is as good as Rob’s. Makes it very easy.
Did you have a backstory for ‘Foxy’, even if it wasn’t on the page?
I have a backstory for all of my characters, and I definitely got a good story for Foxy, for what led him to be the person he is today. But I never give it away. I always keep that a secret.
How had Rob changed since working with him on “31”? Anything different about working on those two sets, a few years in-between?
No – both of them are very different films and different ways that I approach the character. But in terms of working with Rob, it was just as fun this time as it was the last time. I absolutely adore working with him. He’s an incredibly creative man. It’s like a force of nature. So anytime you’re on a set with him, everyone is inspired to be their very, very best. It’s incredibly exhilarating as it was for 31, HALLOWEEN 2 and this time out with 3 FROM HELL.
Is there anything you found particularly hard to film in “3 From Hell”?
Nope, it was an absolute blast from the moment we started to the moment we finished. Really nothing was difficult. It was just great fun. I remember sitting around, we’re shooting one of the central scenes with all sorts of chaos and brutality, and just looking at all the lovely people doing it. Jeff Daniel Phillips, and Rob and Sheri. You know they’re just such lovely people. Bill. Just thinking how great fun it is making these movies.
You play these frightening, even sinister ‘characters’ on screen… I have to ask, has it gotten to the stage where people recognize you in the street and are even a little spooked when they encounter you?
Uh, yeah. People do meet me on the street and know me for different things. Fortunately they don’t recognize me from Game of Thrones. If they started recognizing me from that, I might have to go out and get a facial. Sometimes they’re a little spooked. Usually if I see them at HorrorCon and they’ve seen all my horror films, they can come up and say hi rather sheepishly and a little afraid I’m going to do something terrible to them. I’m actually a sweet guy at heart.
Did one role in particular lead to all these ‘sinister guy’ roles that you’re now well-known for?
Not really – one of the biggest roles that kind of moved things forward career-wise was BATMAN BEGINS. That character kills Bruce’s parents, which of course is not a very good thing, but I think careers are built over time. People see the work you do and appreciate it, and I think that was the case. Now Rob, and eventually getting in HALLOWEEN 2, and then of course DOOM was a huge impact in terms of my work in other horror films and films in general and I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to play it. That was a huge part of my life as was BATMAN BEGINS and all the roles I’ve done. It’s been a great ride. Long may it go on.
We’d be remiss not to ask, what did you think of the Game of Thrones finale? Anything you wanted more of?
I was happy with it. A lot of people – there was all sorts of things going around the internet. They wanted to re-write it or something people were saying. Anything that comes to an end is hard. People grieve when things end. And I think no matter what they did, people would have been disappointed. So um you know that’s inevitable. I thought they did a great job ending it. I particularly liked the way they killed off my character. Arya was always my favorite character, so I was glad she got to do the deed. They did a great job developing her over a course of 8 years. Yeah I’m very happy with it. It’s a fantastic show and I’m glad to be a part of it.
3 FROM HELL is the opening night film of Australia’s Monster Fest on October 10. For more information, click here!
Hayley Griffith on ‘Satanic Panic’
With each and every year, talented young actress Hayley Griffith adds even more deliciously diverse and brilliantly exceptional roles to her CV – whether it’s Kristen Kelly on “Bull”, Sara Shaw on “The Mysteries of Laura”, or, recently, her Chloe in “The Loudest Voice”.
Griffith talks about her latest role – that of a pizza girl turned unwilling sacrifice in director Chelsea Stardust’s exceedingly fun horror film ‘’Satanic Panic’’.
What was it about Sam that appealed to you about playing her, Hayley?
So much – I loved how kind hearted she was, and how you can’t break her spirit which I think is really charming to see and made her more pure. You just want to hug her. But what really got me was the level of badass that she has. She is willing to fight and punch kids to stay alive, and I think that’s amazing because you don’t see that in characters that are plainly innocent. She’s dynamic and it was a twist I was really a big fan of.
And serious questions right off the bat- had you ever worked as a pizza delivery girl before?
HA-HA no I haven’t. I have been a waitress, which is also bad. One time I was a waitress while I was vegetarian at a BBQ restaurant, so it was pretty bad. Didn’t know anything.
And working in the service industry, ever encounter any customers as frightening as these folk!?
Probably not as frightening, but I’ve had some really bad customers that were pretty close to evil. None of them wanted to sacrifice me.. that I knew of. You never know!
Tell us about working with Chelsea on the film- was she collaborative? Encourage a little improvisation or welcome your ideas?
She was amazing to work with. She was extremely collaborative, which is always nice to have on a set, and she was so open. She has amazing ideas that she brought to the table, but she was so open to playing around with the script, adding things, improving moments, which made it even more fun. She was very encouraging of that. Which made the experience even better. She was super helpful.
Did you find it easy to wind down after the end of a day grueling days shoot – – particularly given some of those emotionally-grinding moments?
It was easy to wind down because I just passed out. My level of exhaustion was always a level ten when we got back at like 7 AM. I would lay down and be out.
The film has been compared to classic ‘80s horror films – – do you have any favorites from the era or see any similarities?
Oooo – I know a lot of people have been saying that Society has some great moments in comparison to this one. It’s so hard when the pressure is on you. I know The Evil Dead has similar elements. Nightmare On Elm Street, it has those dark, creepy moments that are both fun and scary and keep you on the edge of your seat.
Rowan Athale on supernatural thriller ‘Strange But True’
Rowan Athale, director of 2012’s “Wasteland”, is back behind the lens for the suspenseful supernatural thriller “Strange But True”. The film, featuring a superlative cast including Amy Ryan, Brian Cox and Greg Kinnear, is an adaptation of John Searles’ 2004 novel and concerns a woman who surprises the family of her deceased boyfriend by telling them she’s pregnant with his child. It’s a skillfully-directed, constantly-compelling and brilliantly performed piece – the likes of which don’t come along too often. Moviehole spoke to Athale about the film, which is now in select theaters and on VOD.
When did you discover John Searles’ novel, Rowen?
Rowan: I read the script prior to reading the book. Fred Berger, one of the film’s producers, had been developing the movie for some time with John Searles and screenwriter Eric Garcia. Fred and I were acquainted, and we’d been trying to find something to work on together for a while. Fred sent me the script to see if it was something I’d be interested in. Half way through Eric’s excellent script, I knew I would be directing this movie.
I later read John’s book. And found I loved the story all over again.
How far into development was the film when you were attached yourself as director – or were you on from the get-go?
Rowan: Fred had been trying to put the film together for a few years. The script was well developed before I became attached. We continued development after I came on board, but the script was in a great place when I initially read it.
Having spoken to quite a few filmmakers who’ve adapted novels for the screen, the general consensus is that it’s quite difficult to do – – did you find it hard to decide what stays and what goes as far as the film goes?
Rowan: The book had already been adapted – beautifully – by Eric Garcia before I came on board. But it was a laborious process. Novels and movies are different mediums, of course. And the process of adapting one to the other is challenging. But to me the process is about distillation. Finding the essence of the story, the heartbeat of the characters, and putting them on screen. It’s challenging. But when you have a novel as strong as John’s, it’s more than worth it.
How involved in the film was John? Did he get his say as far as all that goes, too?
Rowan: John was involved in the making of the film. He was involved at the script stage, and even during production. John was on the set often – he was there on the first day of the shoot, and a number of days during production. John is such a warm, giving person, that just his presence brought a positive energy to the set. This movie exists because John created this wonderful story, and these beautiful, broken, yet strong characters. And I strongly felt that he should be involved in the film’s production. He’s actually in the movie, by the way. John plays an author who is introduced to an audience by Amy Ryan’s character in the library where she works.
I imagine with such big games as Amy Ryan and Greg Kinnear onboard that there was immediate interest – in terms of financing and production partners – but were there any hurdles you faced on the film before even a roll of film had been shot?
Rowan: Strange But True isn’t a sequel or a remake and in Hollywood today, that automatically makes financing your movie a challenge. The movie is a character-led mystery thriller, rather than say, a horror, so pitching the movie required a certain amount of nuance on our part. So the biggest hurdle we faced before making this movie was understanding that we would be making it with a huge amount of passion, rather than a huge amount of money! But we had the right partners backing us in MPC, and in Bankside/Head Gear films. MPC were very respectful of the process, and great to work with. And working with Bankside/Head Gear felt like working with family – they financed and sold my first film, Wasteland, and we’ve had a great working relationship since.
Kinnear, one of the most versatile actors of our times, is incredible as Richard. Do you recall any specific direction you gave him before the shoot – – or for that matter, during, on how to approach this part?
Rowan: I like working closely with my actors. And I find the best form of direction is to discuss. I have an open dialogue with the actors, and encourage them in in their performances. Working with such a great cast on this movie meant collaborating with brilliant artists, which is always a joy. With Greg specifically, I encouraged him to see the character as someone who runs away from his responsibilities, who puts distance between himself and the things that cause him pain, but who, in the course of the movie, has to find the strength to run at his pain head on. Greg and I were very much on the same page in terms of the character. And Greg is wonderful to work with. His passion, his energy, is something to see.
What’s coming up for you Rowen?
Rowan: Next up I’ll be directing Little America, a sci-fi action movie which is being produced by Michael Bay and Platinum Dunes. I also wrote the script, and I’m excited to take it into production. I also co-wrote Jaume Balaguero’s Heist movie Way Down, which is currently in production, and I co-wrote Netlix’s Outside The Wire, which is scheduled for release next year.
Eli Roth on his classic Hostel
After the success of his vividly entertaining horror romp “Cabin Fever”, Eli Roth was looking to go climb further up the stepladder of witty horror.
“After Cabin Fever came out I got offered numerous studio films to direct, mostly horror films and comedies, but even some dramas. I was amazed at the range of films I had to choose from. Only there was one problem: none of them excited me”, admits the filmmaker, who cut his directing teeth on TV’s Chowdaheads. “They were mostly formulaic, boring, safe studio films that anyone could direct”.
When stuck for inspiration, press the doorbell of one of cinemas most imaginative filmmakers.
“I was talking with Quentin [Tarantino] about what I should do next, and he said that I should write, produce and direct my own thing.
That idea ended up “Hostel”, a film that came to him during a conversation with Internet guru Harry Knowles.
“We were talking about disturbing things we’d found on the Internet. We were talking specifically about that guy who set up a hunting website where you could shoot lions over the Internet through a computer-controlled gun. (The FBI eventually shut him down.) Harry showed me a site where you could go to Thailand and for $10,000 walk into a room and shoot an anonymous person in the head. The site claimed they willingly volunteered for this, and that part of the money went to their family. We talked about whether or not it was real and then I realized that it doesn’t matter if it’s real or not, what matters is that someone conceived of this place and built a website about it. Someone was tuned into the fact that there are people in this world for whom money means nothing anymore, drugs have no effect anymore, and they get no charge from sex with hookers or going to strip clubs. They’re numb to their existence and are looking for that forbidden stimulation”, he explains.
Roth went to his good friend Tarantino (“Tarantino is a big fan of Cabin Fever and was really cool to invite me to his house to watch movies after he saw my film. We struck up a friendship where we’d hang out and watch movies, and he’s one of the few people I can turn to for honest advice about how to handle my career) to run by an idea to him.
“After Cabin Fever I had a meeting with Mike Fleiss, who produced the Chainsaw remake, and his friend Chris Briggs, who he produces projects with. Chris had an idea to make a horror film set in the world of backpacking, but he had no idea what the story was. I loved the setting and had lived in Europe and done backpacking, and the idea just percolated for a while. Then one day, it hit me: this film was about that website where you could go to Thailand and kill someone”, says Roth.
“I saw a direct connection between people like this and guys who go to Amsterdam to go to the red light district and get hookers and do European drugs. They’re looking for that taboo thing you can’t do in the states. Nothing’s enough for these guys. The guys at the beginning of the movie are like these businessmen looking for stimulation, only 20 years earlier. I wrote the film to start in Amsterdam, and these guys get lured to Slovakia by these photos of beautiful naked girls. Nothing’s ever enough for them, they always want more, and it all comes back to bite them in the ass.
Tarantino loved the idea.
“I told Quentin the idea for Hostel and he was like “that’s the sickest fucking idea I’ve ever heard – you HAVE to write this!” He said “Eli, this could be your Miike film. This is it.” And right then at that moment I knew I’d found my 2nd film. I drove home, unplugged my phone, and started writing. I burned out the script pretty quickly. I was possessed”.
Getting the film financed was reasonably easy, says Roth, “Because I kept the cost under $5 million”.
“They know they can make that back on DVD in a worst case scenario with my name on it. That’s how they look at things. Right now I am getting offered a lot of films in the $40 million dollar range, and if Hostel is a hit, then I’ll be on one of those lists of directors for big budget movies. However, I’ve gotten used to making films on my own. I’ve made 2 movies that I wrote, produced and directed, and was extensively involved in the marketing and publicity. It’s how I like to do it. It really feels like it’s the idea I had in my head, unfiltered or watered down. Hopefully it works. But sink or swim, it’s what I had in my head. If it works, it’ll give me the leverage to do my bigger budget ideas. The dream is to have a situation like Quentin or Robert Rodriguez or Peter Jackson or George Lucas, where you can make huge budget genre films but still have total control over the product from its inception through its release.
Originally, says Roth, the “plan was to make it with my horror company, Raw Nerve, which I have with Boaz Yakin and Scott Spiegel. I showed them the script and they loved it, and had excellent suggestions. Boaz wrote and directed Fresh and Remember the Titans and Scotty co-wrote Evil Dead 2, so I had two superb writers giving notes. I showed the script to Quentin, who loved it and said he wanted to make it a “Quentin Tarantino Presents.” Eventually Quentin came on as an Exec Producer along with Boaz and Scotty. Those guys have known each other forever. In fact, Scotty introduced Quentin to his producer Lawrence Bender years ago and helped Quentin get Reservoir Dogs going. They’re all old friends so it was a natural fit. I wanted to make this movie for $3 million dollars, but Sony came in and said they would buy it for $4 million, and distribute the film worldwide. They were terrific. The head of Screen Gems (the division of Sony), Clint Culpepper, saw the film and gave me a lot more money so we could record the score with a 75 piece orchestra in Prague, and to do a huge sound mix with oscar winning mixer Bob Beemer. It was amazing, and I am really grateful to Clint for his belief in this film. This little movie was mixing on the same stage where they mixed Spider Man, and now has a massive worldwide advertising campaign.
“A year ago, I was sick of waiting around for one of my studio movies to be green lit. I needed to make another film, but I had been resisting doing another low budget horror film.
Saw re-ignited my enthusiasm for making low budget movies. All the producers, we all said to ourselves that we’d rather make Hostel for under $5 million than do it for $15 million at a studio, because that way we can have total control and make it as sick and fucked up as we want to. We didn’t have anyone telling us “oh no, you can’t do that, that’s too sick.” Our only limit was we had to do it for an R rating. And everything we shot made it into the film, so the real difficulty was making it unrated… Once Sony saw the dailies they realized it was far more violent than anything they’d ever made, so they did a very smart thing by partnering with Lion’s Gate to release the movie in the U.S. I got to work with Tim Palen again, who did the Cabin Fever marketing. Tim’s and I have very similar sensibilities, and I think he’s an incredible artist and marketing genius. He did the whole Saw and Saw 2 campaign. The fingers were his posters. It really could not have worked out more perfectly”.
Roth got to handpick his cast and says it couldn’t have worked out better – he got exactly whom he wanted for the main roles.
“I will always cast the people I think are the best actors for the roles, whether they are stars or not. We had casting sessions in Los Angeles, and Derek Richardson came in and auditioned. I knew he was in Dumb and Dumberer, but had no idea how much of a genius this guy is. He’s really funny in a neurotic kind of way, but he’s also very likeable and sweet, and he gave an terrific performance.
Then, “My casting director Kelly Wagner had a dream that we cast Jay Hernandez in Hostel, so we sent his agent the script. I was a fan of Jay Hernandez, so I was really psyched when he read the script and said he wanted to do it. We sat down and talked for about an hour. I didn’t even audition him, I knew he’d be perfect.
“I wrote the role of Oli, the Icelander, for my friend Eythor, who I met in Iceland 2 years ago when I went there with Cabin Fever. He’s one of the funniest, craziest (in a good way), most charismatic people I’ve ever met, and we had so much fun filming together. The first test audiences went crazy for him. He’s a natural.
“We cast everyone else out of Prague. I got to work with incredible Czech actors like Jan Vlasak, who mostly does theater, but is the top Shakespearean actor in the country. Barbara Nedeljakova, who plays Natalya, came in on an audition, and out of 400 girls who read nobody came close to her. It was like a young Monica Belucci walking into the room. She has that other worldly beauty of those great European movie stars I love like Maria Schneider or Emanuelle Beart. And she’s an incredible actress. When she read the scenes where she goes ice cold she was terrifying”, he says.
Right-away Roth knew he wanted to make the film outside of America.
“I was getting sick of Los Angeles, of everyone trying to angle you for something. I was just at a point where I needed a break. You hear about it happening but I had never experience it until after Cabin Fever was a hit. Then it’s like everyone you meet is trying to get something from you. I got burned by a few people who I thought were very close to me. Another reason was cost. It’s less expensive to shoot in Prague. Prague is an incredible city and I had always wanted to live there, so I wrote a film set there. Plus the unions in the U.S. make it impossible for people to make a lower budget movie. They shut me down on Cabin Fever and took most all of our profits, so it was my way of saying fuck you, you’re never getting another dime from me. I think unions can be great, and if you’re making a studio movie, the studio is paying for it, and they budget films at union rates. But when you’re making a low budget movie every nickel and dime has to go towards the film. They shut me down on Cabin Fever by threatening crew members one by one in their hotel rooms at night. I’m serious. We were not breaking any laws, we were in a right to work state paying very fair rates and treating the crew extremely well, and they shut us down and extorted us. It was a nightmare. I had no interest in dealing with that mess again”.
Roth is rapt with the end product and says “Cabin Fever is a Disney film compared to Hostel”.
Don’t get him wrong though, “it’s not all gore from the start – Hostel is a slow burn horror film. The real bloodbath is in the 3rd act. Tonally, it’s very different from Cabin Fever. It’s not weird and goofy the way Cabin Fever is. It starts off fun, but once things start to go wrong, the humour kind of ends. There are moments that are so sick you laugh and moments to break the tension, but it just gets darker and darker and more horrific as it goes on. But don’t expect blood from minute one. But once it starts to flow it doesn’t stop.”
Guillermo Del Toro reflects on Hellboy
“I don’t see Hellboy as a superhero movie”
Everyone knows who Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man are, but unless you’re an ardent comic book fan, you’d probably never heard of ”Hellboy”. The titular chap is an imp, rescued from the Nazis, who is bought up under the unswerving supervision of the government and raised as a protector of the city.
Since its inception, the comic series has won a legion of fans – including one illustrious film director.
Quite a few years back, filmmaker Guillermo del Toro (”The Devils Backbone”, ”Blade 2”, ”Cronos”) proposed a film version of the comic, the upshot of a time-honoured love for the comic.
“I was very familiar with the comic books already. I’d known the work of [artist] Mike [Mignola] for nearly a decade before getting involved in Hellboy. Mike seldom did his own stories and wasn’t known for his own stories, but with Hellboy I thought he came on his own.
“The interest in doing a film version streams from my long standing admiration for the work of Mignola,” says the Mexican native, on the line from America.
“I also liked the idea of doing a movie that wasn’t necessarily about a perfect superhero. I didn’t want to do a movie about some lean, smiling, good-looking superhero. I wanted a guy we could identify with and Hellboy is a guy that I have a lot of love for.”
Much like the character itself, the guy under all that make-up is far from a genre A-lister. “From the very start I went into the producer’s office and one of the first things I said was ‘I want Ron Perlman to be Hellboy’. And the fact that I got the job was testament to a momentary lapse of reason by (Producer) Larry Gordon I guess,” says del Toro.
And though they signed off on that eventually, the studio never did agree with Del Toro’s decision to use Perlman, who had previously worked with the director on such films as ”Cronos” and ”Blade 2”. “For six and a half years I tried to convince them. Everyone in the Hollywood studio system kept saying ‘anyone but him’, because they wanted a star that would be a sure-fire thing. I just wanted the right actor and the right actor was Ron Perlman.”
Also in the cast was the gorgeous Selma Blair, veteran actor John Hurt, Jeffrey Tambor, Karl Roden and Frasier favourite, David Hyde-Pierce, who provides the voice of Abe-Sapien. “I always imagined two possible voices for the character of Abe Sapien, one was David Hyde-Pierce and the other was Steve Buscemi.
“I knew we would decide who when we got a look at how the character turns out. When I locked the look of the character away I thought David Hyde-Pierce was the way to go. He was very kind to do it. I enjoyed the hell out of his performance.”
Del Toro is ecstatic with the finished result – but stresses if he had more bank he might’ve been able to jazz it up a little more. “If you ask me more favourite scene, I’d have to tell you the three parts of the movie that I enjoy the most.
“One is the opening with the 1940’s and the other is the rooftop sequence with the child and finally, the fight, the Hellboy fight at the end. But I think we were given a very tight budget, somewhere around the $66 million dollar mark, most of the other summer superhero movies are costing upwards of 200.
“If I had a bigger budget there, I would’ve added a couple of more monsters. I’m extremely happy though, this is one of my two favourite movies. I’ve made five. I love this one and Devils backbone the most.”
Even though it hasn’t been quite as popular as some of the other superhero/comic movies? “I don’t see Hellboy as a superhero movie, though it does come from comics. Hellboy has such an outlandish nature and persona. It’s completely in its own category.
“It’s a much darker movie, it’s a far more sarcastic movie, and it’s a highly melodramatic and emotional movie for me. There’s a sorrow for being seen as the some brother, because if you go to Hellboy expecting to see another Batman or another Spider-Man you might be disappointed.”
Dan Myrick remembers ‘Blair Witch’
”Before Blair, I was just another ‘no budget’ filmmaker in Orlando”.
Not too long ago, a small independent film called ”The Blair Witch Project” shattered box office records, in turn becoming the most profitable independent film in history. Haxan Film’s Dan Myrick, one half of the original team to see their vision reach the multiplex, and also one sharer of the $200 Million plus gross.
“It gave me a career”, Myrick says. “Before Blair, I was just another ‘no budget’ filmmaker in Orlando”.
‘No Budget’ he may have been – but that didn’t stop Blair Witch from eating up everything in it’s path, and Myrick becoming one of the most sought after Horror Helmers in Tinseltown.
“We were offered a lot of horror projects”, tells Myrick. “Some were okay, but most didn’t interest us much. Ed (Sanchez) and I really wanted to go on to something different, even if it took a while to wait for the right time and project.”
With so many horror sequels getting commissioned, it’s little news that the Haxan team was offered a couple. “We were offered to do Exorcist 4 and passed. It’s tough to follow up classics, so I’d rather come up with something new.” Myrick says. The director also let know he is a fan of “Godzilla”, but that’s how he’s going to stay. As a fan, not a helmer.
The film that Myrick’s heart and soul has been immersed in the last couple of years is a romantic comedy called Heart of Love, but there’s still no indication that the film is nearing any closer to production. “It’s being shopped around with the hope a someone will back the film. It’s a tough sell, because it’s such an off the wall comedy, but we’d love to get a chance to make it happen with the right studio behind us,” says Myrick.
After the success of the original ”Blair Witch Project”, the studios wanted more. Unfortunately, it was all a little too soon for Myrick and Sanchez. So a sequel, ”Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2” was prepped without them.
“We really had no involvement with it and would rather have had Artisan (the distributor who made the film) wait until all the buzz around Blair died down”, he says. “Personally, I didn’t like it”, he confirms.
Robert Englund looks back on Elm Street
And why he wasn’t involved in Wes Craven’s other famous franchise
As a long-time fan of the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series, it was a not-so-awful dream to be informed I’d be talking to the original ‘Freddy’, Robert Englund for the site..
Now we float in the same circles, I guess you’d say – I’ve been friends with Patrick Lussier, who has worked on some of the “Elm Street” flicks – but never had the pleasure of meeting you personally..
Oh, I know Pat, yeah.. It’s funny, I did a strange film years ago in Spain, actually. The only culture in the world that picked up on it were the Australians. A film called “Killer Tongue”, which is, I think Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ first film and the wonderful sexy Melinda Clarke is in it as well. And Doug Bradley, “Pinhead”. It’s a real kind of over the top horror spoof, early horror comedy experiments. And I remember it was Patrick telling me that it did well in Australia. [chuckle]
There you go! How long has it been since you’ve put on the Freddy makeup now?
Well the last time would have probably been spring of 2003, so that’s like nine years ago.
Almost nine years ago, yeah. That’s the last time I wore it. I could’ve probably done another Freddy or two, but I think that’s when Platinum Dunes acquired the rights along with Warner Brothers from Newline Cinema. That their idea was into in the future to reboot the franchise and they would want to start with somebody younger who could play, could be the same Freddy for years. I’m almost – even now, I’m almost too old to go out there and do the stunts and stuff. I can do a couple of takes, but then I wake up the next morning and feel like I’ve been playing football. I can barely get out of bed, so I’m having a lot more fun now doing these “suit and tie” roles.
Let me just say, I just finished an episode of Criminal Minds last week, playing a good detective for a change. And it was kind of fun just to pitch some plot, and walk around with a tie loose around my neck, and a nice sport coat for a change.
Only so many times one can wear a dusty Christmas jumper, hey!?
Yeah, nice not to having to be the bad guy.
Your days of Freddy are over, which is sad because I do remember there was a. – apparently it’s pretty terrific too – a prequel script, chronicling the origins of Fred Krueger that nearly happened…
Well the prequel story, some of that showed up in the Tobe Hooper pilot for the TV series. And some of it showed up, actually, in Freddy vs. Jason” and a little bit in “Freddy’s Dead : Number 6” and actually in the remake too starring Jackie Earle Haley. But yes, there was a prequel idea for a movie too.
I’ve heard there was a great kind of “Portrait of a Serial Killer” kind of docudrama script around, where you see Freddy and his first kills and getting hot and the courtroom scenes and really horrible, terrible lawyers getting him off; great corrupt lawyers getting him off and then the vigilante parents. Finally in climax, burning him alive, and maybe you see him manifest, and show up on Elm Street at the very end, where his sort of revenge, reign of terror begins. But I think some of that might be discussed in “Never Sleep Again.”
Tell us about “Never Sleep Again”?
Sometimes you do projects out of love… for friends. So I went over and sat for Heather Langenkamp and Tommy Hudson and a group of researchers for “Never Sleep Again”. It’s a great documentary and I had no idea that it was going to be as thorough and as definitive as it was. I remember the first time my wife and I watched it – who knew that Peter Jackson had written one of the stories!?
Yeah, that’s right, yeah.
I love seeing all the home movies and all of the interviews with the early effects people and the cameramen. Some of our… Most of our cameramen now are shooting all of the top shows on television whether it’s 24, or whether it’s “The Sopranos” or whether it’s CSI, or any of the big hit shows on American television. Those are all the old cameramen from the late ’80s and the early ’90s, from the Nightmare films that we used and they’re all the number. They all sort of changed the look of American television. In the mid-late ’90s with all of the new sort of procedurals, like CSI and stuff, all those guys.
Do you have a favourite of the series?
I think my favourite is Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.
Yeah. Mine too.
I think it’s the first deconstructed horror movie. It still holds up real well.
It does. Its exquisitely ingenious and such a deep flick..
And you can watch it more than once. There’s a lot of hidden sort of gags and visual puns, especially in the first couple of reels. Going from the earthquake to Heather visiting the set… There are some little tricks that are going on there. If you watch Heather’s wardrobe very quickly, I mean very closely, you’ll see real a blend of reality and illusion – indicating when the nightmare begins.
But I love the idea of the reality of the earthquake and living in Los Angeles and the mixing of Hollywood and all of the, sort of, playing ourselves. Greedy, a kind of greedy avarice version of ourselves, and then we’ve sort of been infected by the true evil of this specter, Freddy Krueger, who may or may not have been based in reality and his evil now really wants to sort of free itself from this sort of Hollywood version of it. And I kind of like that as a kind of imaginative Wes Craven, Sam Raimi… almost David Cronenberg kind of take on it. And that was before the “Scream” movies so it’s really one of the very first smart, dark Valentines to the fans.
In later years I’ve done others like “Behind the Mask”, which is a great little film that I made a couple of years ago.
That is great, yeah.
And we’re working on a sequel script now, but I’m really proud of that one. I really love it when people can kind of play with the tropes of the horror movie and then also still come up with a horror movie and scare the audience at the same time, and sort of like, love the fans. Let them eat cake and then kill them.
Were you ever asked to be a part of the “Scream” series at all?
No, you know, I think that Wes really required some fresh faces for that. We don’t think of Courtney Cox or Drew Barrymore being fresh now, but of course, they were back then, so was David Arquette. And I think he just wanted to do that. And I’m a big fan of those movies. I thought, I think I thought the second one spent a little much, too much time in the daylight for me, I think that that worked against it. But I do think those are strong films and smart films. Wes sort of changed the course of horror twice, not only with the “Nightmare on Elm Street” films but then again with the “Scream” films. People forget his contribution to a kind of, helping the audience along on its own sophistication and kind of complimenting the audience on their understanding of our manipulation and then also turning that back on the audience as an actual trope itself, whether it’s the monster upstairs or in the basement or with the babysitter alone or whatever it is, and then kind of admitting to it and then kind of flipping it on the fans.