In 2005, Anchor Bay released the zombie-horror-comedy DEAD AND BREAKFAST, to much acclaim and extremely profitable DVD sales. Director Matthew Leutwyler instantly became one of those names in the horror-genre that fanboys were looking out for, and when he stated that his follow-up would be a monster movie of the old-school variety, interest went up even further. UNEARTHED (scroll all the way down to see the trailer) premiered at the last Tribeca Film Festival and saw a brief theatrical last November as part of After Dark's 8 Films To Die For series, no news as to the DVD just yet. Hopefully 2008 will give us that answer! Now, Matthew took a few minutes to talk to me over the phone after the film's Tribeca premiere a while back and here's what went down..
How did UNEARTHED first come about? What was its origin?
I wanted to do a more traditional horror film, after the comedy of DEAD AND BREAKFAST. I was talking to D.J. Marini and he and his partner TyRuben Ellingson came on - Ty also created the creature- and we just started throwing around ideas and talking about old movies that we loved like THE THING and ALIEN, stuff like that. Ty started to doing some conceptual designs and we just kinda moved from there. I always wanted to do a movie with a female lead where she has a past and she’s more of an anti-hero, and it evolved from there. It’s really a simple movie -
A straight forward monster movie...
Yeah, we’re not reinventing the wheel at all, that was never our intention.
Would you say that ALIEN and THE THING were your primary influences?
I would say for sure, yeah.
What other movies inspired you?
Any horror movies where you’re dealing with isolation, desolation... Where nobody can come and help you. That’s what’s so good about ALIEN and THE THING, it's not just the creature, it’s that there’s no getting away. If you’re in outer-space, there’s nowhere to go. If you’re out in the middle of the ice, there’s nowhere to go. We put ourselves in the desert - there’s a couple reasons why - but it was mainly because we wanted a place out in the middle of nowhere, just feeling alone and isolated. Because our lead, Annie (Emmanuelle Vaugier) that's kind of her whole deal anyway, she’s completely cut-off, even if she was living in the big city she’d be isolated.
Do you remember the first movie you saw that made you want to become a horror filmmaker?
The first movie that I saw that really scared the shit out of me - I saw it when I was like 10, it was on cable - was the original HILLS HAVE EYES. Freaked me out, I remember sitting on the sofa watching it and I couldn’t get up to change the channel. “Fuck I’m just stuck here.” I saw LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, my brother brought that home. (Laughs) That was kind inspiring, you know EVIL DEAD was inspiring... I stood in line 10 times for STAR WARS...Those are the seminal moments where you’re watching it and it’s completely taking you into another world. It’s like “Holy Shit!”
Are you eyeing a theatrical release for UNEARTHED, or will it be straight-to-DVD?
Probably a limited release. I’ve had a few people talk to me about doing something small, it’ll never be more than a limited theatrical.
Straight-to-DVD is such a huge business nowadays, its not like it'll be ignored...
Oh, enormous. That’s the problem, its so expensive to put movies in theaters now, people are offering you more money for straight to video on a smaller movie than they are for a theatrical one, because they’ve got to put up the V&A (video and ancillary)... You’ve got to weigh that too, the finances of it.
Speaking of finances, a lot of independent filmmakers are choosing to shoot on DV rather than film for budgetary reasons - was UNEARTHED always going to be shot on 35mm or did you consider DV?
It was always 35. You know we shot DEAD AND BREAKFAST on 35 also, and we made that thing for half a million bucks. I’m not that scared of keeping the budget down - we’re using the proper tools. It was a consideration to shoot on HD, thought about that, and I’m looking into that for a film we’re prepping for the end of the year, BELOW THE SURFACE. But that movie should be shot on HD, it fits, it’s not a budgetary thing, it’s just the proper format to do that movie on.
Unearthed star Emmanuelle Vaugier.
How long was the production?
Is a mostly night schedule tough on the cast and crew?
I think its always tough, especially since on your day off you’re just sleeping. It’s kinda weird - and it’s always cold at night. We were up in Utah and the nights would dip into the 30s. It was freezing.
Let's talk about the creature. How was he conceived, because his back story is kind complex...
Yeah, we talked about the tools he would have. And Ty came up with all this crazy stuff, the little “snot balls” that shoot out of him, bore under the skin, organic chainsaw hands, and all this kind stuff. We never got a chance to fully realize those things as much as we would’ve liked, they were very complex, and we had so many problems with the practical creature that we were losing hours a day. So we had to scrap some of the cool, smaller details that the creature had on him that Ty designed... He’s just a really collaborative, really inventive guy, I can see why Guillermo del Toro hires him.
How much of it is practical, and how much is CG?
There's certainly a lot of recognizable faces in the cast, can you talk about your casting process?
Most of them came through a regular casting process, we really didn’t have anyone specific in mind. Luke Goss came in, I had a meeting with him I liked his work and he has this kind simmering intensity that I thought would be great. Beau (Garrett) was cast kind last minute, I didn’t know very much about her, but I’d seen her on “ENTOURAGE” and thought “She looks great, she’s kind earthy, and a good actor,” but I didn’t realize she’s as good as she is, I would’ve made the role a little bigger if I had known how great she is. And Emmanuelle, I had seen her work and I talked to her manager for a while, and she said “She’d be great for it, why don’t you bring her in?” And I met with her and said, “Oh shit, she’s perfect.” She exceeded all expectations. She’ll just do whatever it takes to make the scene better.
She's carving out a bit of a niche for herself in these kinds of movies.
She is, but you know, she’s a lot more than that, it’s a little frustrating for me, I’d like to see her move on to other things so people can see she’s a lot more than a hot chick who’s kicking butt.
What about M.C. Gainey? I think most people know him from LOST now, was he shooting that when he came aboard your project?
He was. I just think he’s the f*cking greatest. I would put him in everything I do. He’s just a really great actor, an easy-going guy that other actors look to, because he’s been around forever, been in so many projects, he’s got a very old-school work ethic where acting is a privilege. He doesn’t have any kind of diva shit about him. He just comes there and if he sees anyone bitching and moaning about stuff, he’s the first one to pull them aside and go “Listen motherf*cker, you don’t realize how f*cking lucky you are, you could be rototilling a wall right now.”
And finally how about Charlie Murphy? He's a bit of an unusual choice to be in this.
Actually that was the one guy that we did actually go directly after. All the producers here, we’re big fans of “CHAPELLE’S SHOW,” and he was just lighting up a storm on it at that point, when we were getting started, so we went directly after him for the comic relief of the movie.
He's pretty huge right about now.
He is, he is. He’s a good guy. The cast was, overall, very easy to work with. It was a different experience for me because I didn’t know any of them, and on DEAD AND BREAKFAST it was just a lot of friends, people who had worked with each other before, getting together and making a movie... That was a unique experience that I’ll never have again. This was much more normal, but you know, still very familial, everyone got along great, and a lot of them became close friends after the movie.
Your last two movies have been pretty bloody. Do you have any blood-less movies in your future?
The next one is really more in the direction of the films I want to make, it’s definitely got some scares in it, but it’s not really a horror movie, it’s more of a JACOB’S LADDER-type psychological, creepy thriller.
Final Question: This movie seems pretty ripe for a sequel. Will we be seeing an UNEARTHED 2?
(Laughs) I don’t know, maybe, that remains to be seen...
Thanks very much to Matthew Leutwyler for his time.