I'll be honest - I had a little trouble understanding some of what HIGH TENSION director Alexandre Aja was saying. Some of it was his French accent (yes, I lied when I said, "No I can understand you just fine!"), some of it was my crappy phone reception and some of it was the crappy tape of the crappy phone of his accent. That said, I think I did a noble job of transcribing. Aja was a pretty good dude and put up with some difficult questions regarding the film's controversies (the rating and the ending). Be warned there are some spoilers discussed below so proceed with caution. HIGH TENSION hits theaters this Friday.
It seems like when you had sold the film to Lions Gate there was no pressure from them to cut it to an R-rating but somewhere along the way that changed. Why did that change and how did they convince you that it was the right move?
In fact, I'm the first person who would stand against this kind of stuff because we made a movie...the movie needs to be violent at its heart and the movie was rated UNDER 16 in France and I think the NC-17 was kinda political. When Lions Gate bought the movie and first said they were going to reedit the movie for an NC-17 cut. And then they came to me and said, "You know we spent a lot on the movie and want to make a wider release and for that we need to go to the MPAA and try to get an R instead of NC-17." I was like, "Oh....what are you going to cut?" Cause I'm prejudiced and have had bad experiences. I had a very bad experience with Korea because they released the movie with big censorship and cut a lot in the movie and they did so in such a messed-up and stupid way. It was awful.
So [Lions Gate] came back to me with some cuts and I was surprised cause we are talking about less than one minute. We are talking about not cutting one scene - just one shot here, one shot there. The movie doesn't change at all. Not to get into too much detail but [SPOILER ALERT!] the decapitation of the father, the chainsaw at the end in the car and that's it. You keep the blowjob with the killer at the beginning. [END SPOILERS] It felt like it really didn't make a difference. It's really just a few seconds. And truly we are very happy with that. So I said, "Do the cut, why not." I still don't understand how the MPAA can say that the previous version was NC-17 and this movie was an R with such small, small cuts. I'm happy because I won't be very upset at cuts like they did in Korea, where they cut like seven minutes of the movie.
Were you involved at all in the process of editing the movie down to get the R-rating? Picking what can go and what can stay?
It was really like a dialogue but I was surprised because I was expecting them to come and say, "We need to cut this and we need to cut that..." I was ready to fight. But what they decided to cut and what the MPAA decided to agree on was pretty impressive. The movie is still the same.
Do you think it's still as intense with an R-rating even if only about a minute of footage was cut?
Yeah, absolutely but maybe the NC-17 was a little too hard for the MPAA. I think Lions Gate found a way to come back to them with as little changes as possible and that was enough.
Are there any plans to release the uncut version either in a very limited theatrical release or eventually on the DVD?
That's the problem. It's hard to release an NC-17 anywhere right now. It's like you don't have access to theatres to many multiplexes. And I understand that cuts had to be made to the movie. But I'm a huge fan of movies and I watch DVDs all day and I like to be able to watch DVDs that are different from what was in theaters. Whether that's uncut or a director's cut. I think it's an awesome way to rediscover the movie.
Without getting too specific can you talk about some of the controversy that has surrounded the film's ending? It seems to have sparked off quite a debate. Do you want to take this opportunity to help explain the ending for those who didn't totally buy into it or are you content to let people figure it out themselves?
It's true that we've met a lot of people that've had some questions. We shot a lot of raw footage... I can't tell too much cause I'm going to expose the ending but we decided to not go too obvious. We didn't want to give too many clues in the film. I think we did it in a way where if you watch the film again you understand that it didn't come from nowhere. But at the same time it was a big decision. We have to decide whether to give more clues and risk people figuring out what was going on very early on. Or we keep a veil of mystery and just do a straight-forward horror movie to the point where everything just twists.
How do you feel as a French director, who has created a very original and brutal film, about the American landscape of horror films that are usually either watered down to PG-13 or remakes of old movies?
It's a very interesting point because in Europe there is no horror movie. It's very hard to make a slasher or gory movie. There is no audience for that. I think the main difference between Europe and the US is that there is a kind of freedom. We don't have this Puritanism problem. We don't have this stupid, silly problem with nudity. On the other hand we have this problem with violence. It's very hard to get very far.
A movie like THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT would be very hard to do in Europe. Like HIGH TENSION was. It was not very easy to do and find money to make the movie because it was so violent. We don't have a nudity problem, the only problem we have is too much violence. To give you an example, THE DEVIL'S REJECTS, which I saw before I was leaving for LA. It's a great movie, it's an amazing movie but it'd be very hard to do in Europe. Because it's very violent and traumatic but sometimes you are on the side of the killers and that'd be something they'd have a problem with.
You had said previously that you looked to make your version of THE HILLS HAVE EYES "different" than the original. How different and what changes do you plan on making?
The idea is really to make a film that keeps the very specific spirit of the seventies. The very uncompromised and very nasty feel that you have in THE HILLS HAVE EYES but that you also find in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. But we're trying to upgrade the movie in more of a DELIVERANCE sort of way.
Best of luck with that and with HIGH TENSION! Thanks for talking with us.
No problem, thanks Mike.