Not too long ago The Arrow gave you fine folks a solid look at what you can expect from James Wan's DEAD SILENCE, his first directing effort since SAW became as much a part of Halloween as those razor blades in your apples. I got 10 minutes with Wan on the eve of the World Premiere to see where the movie, and his head, are at.
So let's get down to it. He chats about everything from ripped out tongues to the intricate themes that infuse all of his work - plus he owns up to the fact that what he's really looking forward to is getting hammered with JoBlo and The Arrow!
I think we’ve all got a pretty good idea of what Dead Silence is about at this point, so I guess the big question is did you 100% get to make the movie you wanted to make working within the studio system?
Ahh, the million dollar question. It was fine, although I had a .357 with me on set at all times. Just kidding. Look, unless you're Steven Spielberg or Peter Jackson, you never get to make a movie 100% the way you want. There are drawbacks and upsides to indie films just like there are with studio films.
With a studio you are making a film for a corporation. The trick is to try and sneak in all the strange, weird ideas that you love as a horror fan and see if you can get away with it. So we'll see how many I got away with. Of course the big upside is that you get the money to really shoot it properly, which I did not get a chance to do with SAW.
Speaking of SAW, how nervous are you about unleashing your sophomore directorial effort on the world?
I guess I am very nervous because there was a lot of pressure to make the second film, and it was definitely a challenge. I keep telling people all I want to do is survive the sophomore curse.
Well at least no matter how this one is received, you're already on to your third project. Did you give Leigh Whannell a part in DEATH SENTENCE just so that he can be one degree of separation from Kevin Bacon?
You know it.
Walk me through what the next 24 hours for you? What is it like to have a movie opening?
Well I'm bracing myself for getting my butt whipped by the second week of 300. I say that half-joking, half-not. Plus I have to deal with Sandra Bullock in PREMONITION. Ironically the producer of her film is also my producer on DEATH SENTENCE, so I'm competing against my own producer.
We'll see what kind of horror fans are out there that want to see this film. We're having the contest winner premiere for the fans, which I thought was such a great idea. Have the winner host the movie in their home town. AND your buddies John and Berge are here so I can say there's gonna be trouble tonight, The question is how much trouble can I stay out of with John Fallon around.
Just stay away from cell phone cameras.
Yeah, the last thing I need is pictures ending up on TMZ.
Getting back to the movie, you’ve mentioned that Dead Silence is in many ways an homage to the Hammer films, but the visual aesthetic in the clips I’ve seen also seems influenced by Italian giallo films. Any of that consciously at play?
I guess like it or not, I'm sort of the stepson of Dario Argento - one he doesn't even know about. I have such a love for that man's work. In DEAD SILENCE I wasn't really going for the giallo look, but it still comes through. And part of that is just that I love Italian horror films, like Mario Bava who of course was a big influence on Argento. So visually it owes a lot to both the old Italian horror and the British Hammer horror films. But overall, to me it's really like one big episode of The Twilight Zone.
How cool was it trying to come up with the right look for a ripped out tongue?
[laughs] It was OK. I mean it's fun, but this movie is not about the gore. I'm a film fan and I don't want to be stereotyped as just a horror guy. So I really approached DEAD SILENCE trying to get as far away from SAW and gore as possible, but you can't control what gets featured in the marketing.
It seems like you always have an eye to telling a serious story regardless of the packaging. In fact, one of the recurring themes in your work is a search for the appropriate way to value life, especially in the face of a life cut short.
Will you talk some about what continues to draw you to that theme?
I'm so glad you pointed it out. Because it can't all just be about sawing legs off. It irks me a bit when people talk about SAW and put it down, and all they talk about is blood and guts and torture. The first film had very little torture in it. It was more about suspense and that theme of appreciating life. I'm not preaching to anyone, but it is something I like to explore at this point in my life.
My father died from cancer when I was really young, and I think psychologically that has rubbed off on me. I grew up with a very loving, close family. That's why I find a movie like DEATH SENTENCE so interesting, because if that happened to your family what would you do? I'm not a guy who's all about taking justice into your own hands - I think that's wrong too. I feel like DEATH SENTENCE addresses how wrong vigilantism can be, the lead character pays for it big time. But at the same time we're human and we are driven by passion.
So there are these themes running through, and even though it's all supposed to be just fun, dumb horror films - they can be about more than just fun dumbness.
Certainly your villains act in a way that makes sense from their particular moral perspective.
Exactly. Jigsaw thinks he's doing the right thing. He's wrong - that's what makes him crazy - but he thinks he's doing the right thing. Very different from a Michael or a Jason who function essentially as Jaws on legs - y'know they stalk, they kill, and they come back from the dead to make sequels.
I have to ask at least one SAW IV question. Producer Oren Koules recently discussed how some scenes from SAW III appeared fairly innocent, even inexplicable, but are actually set ups for SAW IV. Can you give our readers a little taste of what he's talking about?
The SAW films are so hard to talk about because of the secrecy that surrounds the plot details, but we did set up a lot of elements that we did not pay off in SAW III. Like Jigsaw pouring candle wax onto a cassette tape. Little things like that through the film that are set ups. We really could have shot III and IV back to back if we had wanted to because there is an underlying story that ties them strongly together.
Cool. So the reason he poured the candle wax on the cassette was...?
[laughs] That's one of my favorite plot elements and I don't want to give it away. What if I just say that I don't know.
Hey, I had to try. I'm getting the wrap up message now, so let me just ask what's the number that everyone is hoping to hit this weekend?
I honestly have no idea. When great movies like ZODIAC open at No. 13 sometimes you just go, "huh". Hopefully all those people who checked out 300 last week are now free to see DEAD SILENCE. Really all I care about is getting smashed with John Fallon and Berge.
Talk about a party I wish I could be at!! A big thanks to James for taking time out of an incredibly hectic day to chat. Gotta love a guy who knows what role a movie is supposed to fill, and delivers in spades while still shooting for even more. Now go get you some DEAD SILENCE compadres!