Horror is more than what some people would have you think. In fact, it can cover so many different types of moods and thrills that it simply cheapens the genre to just think of FRIDAY THE 13th or even the SAW franchise. So why is it Hollywood can’t seem to get past the idea of trying to remake, repackage or whatever else they want to do with what was popular several years ago? Well, for one thing, “original” is a dangerous word. But it shouldn’t be. It seems like a no brainer to take an original idea, give it to skilled filmmakers and for a low budget, make something truly special.
I mention all of this because I believe that the latest collaboration between James Wan and Leigh Whannell may be that special something that horror fans have been waiting for. While a haunted house story that involves a family caught in a dark supernatural experience isn’t a new idea, the two gentlemen add sort of a new dimension in the form of astral projection, demons and all sorts of evil things that go bump in the night. And with this, we may very well have a movie that actually creeps its audience out and doesn’t simply make them sick or just go for a quick boo scare.
While on the set I had the chance to talk to both Leigh and James, and I even had the opportunity to glimpse at some of the footage. Yes, it was creepy and it sure helps that they have cast several talented actors that look to bring legitimacy to the film, which is currently titled INSIDIOUS. I really appreciated my time on the set, and I was very happy to get a stronger sense of what was going on in the film. Generally with a set visit you don’t have the opportunity to watch part of the all important climax. I did, and I can’t wait. But I won’t spoil it for you, as I made a promise to Mr. Wan. Besides the fact it wouldn’t be fair since it is not simply ‘a psycho goes on a killing spree plot’ or something else with little to no imagination.
So read on and find out what James (and then Leigh) had to say about working with Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne and Barbara Hershey, and of course, about ghosts and another dimension of chills and thrills.
Interview with James Wan
Judging from this particular set, this looks like a pretty big film for you. It looks very different from what you’ve done before, sort of like you’ve really expanded your horror world.
Yeah, this is like, I tell people to not judge – especially when they come and see this, like yourself, for the first time today – this particular set as a reference point for the rest of the movie because the whole film is not like this. The whole film is definitely, it’s more like in houses and such; this is like the one apex, or the climax of the film. Where in terms of production design it is a lot more ornate and more baroque compared to everything else. But the rest of the film has a very realistic, documentary style to it. To some degree it’s kind of slick, but this is definitely the much more fun set.
Are you looking for an R rating for this? Or do you care?
I actually do care, and here’s my reason. I feel like, if you can make a really scary movie that isn’t R-rated, that is one of the biggest achievements. Because shocking people with violence and blood and gore, I’m sick of that shit to be honest. I’m done with all that crap, you know. And I’m not really that kind of person, or that persona, yet I’m really lumped in as like “the grandfather of torture porn” which is the bane of my ex istence ‘cause that is so not me. But you know, that’s fine, I still think it’s a cool label and I’m not thumbing my nose down at it. But for Leigh and me, we always felt that people seem to, especially with Saw, people seem to gravitate it to the wrong thing. For us, the first film wasn’t really; a lot of it was off-camera…
It was a thriller…
Yeah, it was a thriller. And I only kind of show what I needed to show, which was really small compared to all the sequels that are so over the top right? We felt that people kind of overlooked all the hard work and effort that we put into trying to write a good script [Laughing]. We tried to tell good characters, good plot points, you know, trying to come up with clever stories and stuff. It wasn’t just the blood and guts but people just seemed to gravitate it to that one thing that popped out, all the traps, the booby traps and stuff. So with this film, we really wanted to make a… my last film was DEATH SENTENCE, and after that I took some time off to sort of recuperate. And now, I wanted to come back into it. But I said to Leigh, if we are going to make a scary movie, it needs to be something original. I wanted something cool and original and different. And I think we found it, and this got me very excited, to do something aside from all these terrible remakes and stuff. Some of my favorite scary movies are like THE OTHERS, THE SIXTH SENSE…
F*ckin’ go back to Seventies flicks like LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH…
Yeah, Jessica to Death, the scariest moment is when she is walking up the porch and you see the rocking chair, it rocks back and forth. To me, that is so scary, that’s eerie. And that is exactly what Leigh and I are trying to achieve with this film, Insidious, we want to make that classic, old school, creepy movie. Because to me, creepy is so much harder to do, you know. Shocking… okay, so there is like scary is much harder to do than shocking, creepy is so much harder to do than scary. To me, there are different levels and I always wanted to make creepy films above shocking or necessarily scary. If you can hit creepy on the head, that’s one of the biggest achievements for me, anyway, that’s how I feel. And this movie is really all about creaking doors; it’s all about, ‘Did I see someone there?’ like a lot of that off camera stuff. But it escalates, it starts off small and it builds and it builds and it builds.
Now Oren Peli [PARANORMAL ACTIVITY] is producing?
It’s Oren Peli, Jason Blum and Steven Schneider, it’s that team.
Was it partly that Paranormal Activity connection, the haunting and such that happens in this film behind this?
This has nothing to do with Paranormal Activity. This is an idea that Leigh and I have had for awhile. We’ve always wanted to make an astral projection film. And I’ve always loved haunted house films.
Big time genre bending going on here…
You know, that is what Leigh and I always love to do. I would describe this more as a supernatural thriller. It really is a supernatural thriller. And I kind of equate it to – and I’m not saying it is as good – but I’m equating it more to films like The Others and The Sixth Sense.
Now, let’s talk cast. You’ve got Barbara Hershey, Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson… what an amazing cast.
It’s ‘cause Leigh Whannell wrote such a f*cking great script that they all wanted to be a part of it. They liked the premise, and I met them and I said, let’s go do it, let’s have fun. Let’s go make a real scary movie that is original! I think horror fans love that, they want an original, scary movie that’s not a friggin’ remake.
Interview with Leigh Whannell
[In regards to how the film’s producers came on board.]
It was always nagging at us that we hadn’t done it right yet, we hadn’t gotten it the way we wanted to. And what happened was, Steven and Jason, the producers of Paranormal Activity came to us at the end of last year and said, ‘Listen, we are doing our little victory lap around town now, post Paranormal Activity, which I thought was great by the way…
I did too.
Fantastic. I thought it was genuinely scary. And they said all the right things, their references, the films they loved… I mean, they were just like you and I, they loved David Lynch, they thought the same things were scary that we did. So we knew our taste lined up with them. And then they said, ‘Listen, we’ve got this fund together to make horror films… ‘, I think they were going to make five or ten of them, ‘And we want you guys to be the first ones up.’ And we just felt like it was an opportunity to do it right this time. To right all the wrongs of DEAD SILENCE and actually make a film that was the ghost story that we always wanted to make. The astral projection element was something… you mentioned originality before, what you are trying to do with such a well-trodden genre as haunted house films or ghost films… every trope, every cliché has been sort of thrust out there a million times. I mean, you talk about a constricting genre; a haunted house film is so set in its ways. I think [Quentin] Tarantino said that the slasher film was the most constrictive genre in terms of the beats you have to hit and the things you have to do. But the haunted house film is so close behind. How many have you seen and how many were good? How many times have you seen the same tricks? And so, to think of something different… for me, astral projection was something that a film hadn’t really addressed before.
So I just started to get more and more excited about the idea [of astral projection intermixed with a haunted house film] and before I knew it… I mean that meeting I told you about with Jason and Steven happened in November. Then I flew back to Australia for Christmas holidays and I’m sitting there writing it. Before I knew what I was doing, I was sort of ducking out and saying, ‘Merry Christmas’ and stuff some turkey in my face, then back into the bedroom to write. And the script came out pretty fast for me, and it was fairly painless, as you know writing can be fairly torturous at times.
Yes it can.
It’s like trying to push boulders through an hourglass, it’s just this torturous process and it has been for me on scripts in the past. But something about this script just came out. It just all flowed out. And I actually enjoyed myself which is rare for me sometimes. I enjoy having written something. But writing something is sometimes painful. I like the sound of pages spitting out of a printer more than fingers on keys.
Exactly. I always felt like there was two fun parts with writing. I don’t know if you agree, but there is coming up with the idea part and having it float around it your head. That’s the first fun part. And then the next fun part is watching the finished draft spit out of the printer. The bit in-between…
The pain of having to spell check…
Yeah, that’s basically administration. It’s like you are doing your taxes or something. All that stuff sucks! The work in the middle… but the idea part and the finishing part are so great. This script actually seemed to be the first one I’d written where each of these three stages was cool. It was great fun. And then we have this amazing cast, you know, we’ve got Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson. And here’s what I really want to do, and this I hope is something that someone like you is excited about, I want to do a classy horror film where the family drama stuff wasn’t just filler between the scares, like THE EXORCIST. You go back and you watch The Exorcist and it has a documentary realism to it. And the characters are so real. That’s what we are going for. I don’t know if we achieved it but at least that’s what we are aiming for, that really classy stuff where the actors are great. What I love about the fact that we have Patrick Wilson and Ty [Simpkins] who is the young boy, who plays Patrick’s son in LITTLE CHILDREN, they are actors that bring the class with them by association. They make this movie more classy.
Well you also have Barbara Hershey…
Come on! A legend… she’s a legend and she’s such a nice person. I mean, watching Barbara, Patrick and Rose do a scene; there is nothing more humbling than when you are a writer and watching actors that great speak these words and make it better. They tweak it just one tiny tweak and then it just sounds so much better. And I’m hoping that that is what we end up with, a film that hearkens back to Seventies horror, before the Eighties came along and made it into this video nasty sub-genre that it became. I mean, The Exorcist was nominated for Best Picture for Christ’s sake.
Yeah it was. Or even something like ROSEMARY’S BABY…
Yeah, or THE SHINING… When you get these great filmmakers doing horror and they are not cheapening it, you get great stuff. And it can still happen today. I thought The Others was up there with those films. It was beautiful, the performances were amazing, it was heartbreaking and it was scary.
With that, I really have to thank the entire cast and crew of Insidious for making the set visit such a pleasant experience. And especially Mr. Whannell for letting me geek out about David Lynch and the beauty of FIRE WALK WITH ME, which we both dug!
Okay, since we are talking “classic” horror, what are your favorites? I’d have to start off with the original THE HAUNTING.