Director Neil Jordan’s vampire drama Byzantium is finally getting a Canadian release this weekend. The melancholy film stars Saoirse Ronan (The Host) as Eleanor, a vampire (although that word is never used) tired of living on the run with Clara (Gemma Arterton, St. Trinians). The DLB had the chance to speak to Ronan during last year’s Toronto International Film Festival during a roundtable with the young Irish star.
While I had to miss opening night of Night of the Living Dead Live — damn you, Dark Prince Bunnykins! — the theatrical version of the classic zombie film, put on by the fine folks of Hamilton, Ontario’s Nictophobia Films at Toronto’s Theatre Passe Muraille, looks to be a fun (and funny) take on George Romero’s debut feature. The DLB spoke to co-writer/director Chris Bond, the man behind Evil Dead: The Musical, and executive producer Phil Pattison about resurrecting NotLD on stage.
Those of you curious as to why posts on The DLB have been so infrequent in recent months, please meet the reason: The Dark Prince Bunnykins! The past several months have been taken up serving this little fledgling Monster Kid on hand and foot, as well as his beloved mother. I am planning to ramp up posting, when time (and sanity) allows.
The DLB had the chance to speak to The Last Exorcist Part II director Ed Gass-Donnelly last week in his hometown of Toronto about working with series star Ashley Bell, shooting in New Orleans, his vision for the franchise, and working with a low budget
First of all, tell me about New Orleans. Tell me about, obviously the typical thing is it’s a character in the movie, certainly Louisiana was very much a character in the first one, in terms of depression of Ashley’s character, Nell; talk about working there and New Orleans as a character in your film.
Well, the big thing for me is that you’ve got this girl in the first movie that has lived in such a repressed environment. Her father won’t even let her go to school and won’t let her listen to music that’s not Christian music, so I loved the idea of what would it be like for that girl to suddenly be…the movie starts with her sort of lost and feral in the woods, almost no memory of what happened, and then she gets put into a transitional home in New Orleans, so you go from like a cabin in the woods where you have no sense of culture, to suddenly being in the middle of Mardi Gras, and certainly what I love about horror movies is it a chance to explore bigger themes and ideas but in a very sort of pop culture environment, so to me this movie is sort of a metaphor for ultimately girls discovering their own voice and sexuality.
The DLB recently spoke to Dark Skies producer Jason Blum about the alien abduction thriller about to hit theatres tomorrow. Blum is the name behind Blumhouse Productions, the production company behind low-budget horror successes like the first Paranormal Activity, Insidious, and Sinister. Amongst our topics: making scary movies on small budgets, working with director Scott Stewart (Priest, Legion), the next Paranormal Activity and Insidious films, as well as working with Rob Zombie on The Lords of Salem. Part 2 of our chat will be posted tomorrow.
How excited are you about the way Dark Skies turned out?
I’m really happy with it. It’s exactly the movie that Scott…Scott brought me the movie a year ago, pitched it at me, well not exactly but very close to what you saw. and I really like an emotional story, you know, character, emotional work and the family drama that is depicted in the movie and to have a family upset by this dark force and I’m really proud of the movie and I am really pleased at how it turned out. I wouldn’t be doing these calls if I felt differently, obviously.
And why did you want to make it?
I always look for the same things in the movies that we decide to do, which is, is there a great drama and is there a great story. I think unlike a lot of the other companies that make horror movies I really look at the story first and the scares second, and I actually think that makes the movies scarier. I think a lot of places say, well tell me the scares and then we’ll work the story out later, and I think that’s not super effective, and so that’s a long answer to your question, but Scott checked all the boxes with this movie. It’s exactly the kind of movie we’re looking for and I would continue to make. Obviously I don’t want to repeat ourselves, we want to excel. And I think the movie is very different than Sinister and Insidious but certainly just as scary.
Speaking of Scott, what is he really good at and why did you want to work with him?
I never met him before we started the movie so I could only look at his movies, and what I got from his movies relates to what I just said, is that I thought he was really good at directing actors, he’s gotten really good performances, and that’s what I was drawn to, and I think that he continued to get that. Both Josh [Hamilton] and Keri [Russell] have seen the finished film, they love it, they want to work again with Scott, and I don’t have to tell you this but that doesn’t happen too often. So that’s what I thought he was good at, and I’m not always right, but I was right about that and I was happy about it.
Speaking of Keri and Josh, why did you want to cast them, especially given that they don’t have backgrounds in horror films? Or is that an advantage?
To me that’s an advantage. I did theatre in New York but I was just starting out in my career. I had a company called Malaparte and Ethan Hart and Calista Flockheart and Steve Zahn and Robert Sean Leonard and Josh Hamilton, among a bunch of other people who were in the company and Ethan did Sinister and Ethan did a second film with me called The Purge and the casting of all of our movies, ultimately the directors have the final say, but I’ve encouraged them to cast actors who aren’t necessarily associated with horror. You can say that of Ethan, and you can certainly say that of Josh Hamilton and Keri, for that matter.
There are a lot of alien invasion films, a lot of alien abduction films, but to what extent do you think is Dark Skies scarier because it’s told on an intimate scale – it’s one family, as opposed to a more global invasion big-budget films like Battlefield Earth or Independence Day?
I don’t see this as an alien invasion movie at all. I know that may sound surprising after you saw it but an alien invasion movie implies exactly what you said, being a spectacle close-encounter, I see it as a family disrupted by a menacing force and to me, in Paranormal Activity you never see what the force is; in Sinister and Insidious you see it a bit more, but to me what the actual evil is, is much less interesting to me than what the evil causes. And that’s what I like about this movie, I don’t look at it like an alien invasion movie at all.
On that note though, how much discussion went into how much you would show the aliens and what they would look like, given that they are secondary as opposed to the effect upon the family itself?
Very little. I think less is more when you are showing evil forces, and again, I think the conversations were about who should be in the movie, who should play it, what problems they were facing and in all the films that our company works on, we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the…we give a personality to the evil by not showing the evil. We can’t compete with the bigger movies on showing evil forces, we just…so I feel we get a lot more mileage out of not showing them and letting people imagine. Whatever you can imagine is way worse than whatever we have the ability to show, so I encourage filmmakers to let audiences imagine what’s bad as opposed to see it.
Dark Skies opens Feb. 22.
TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D
Starring Alexandra Daddario, Trey Songz, and Tania Raymonde
Directed by John Luessenhop
Written by Adam Marcus & Debra Sullivan and Kirsten Elms
Nearly 40 years after its release, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is no longer “just” a horror classic. It is a brand, with the direct sequel Texas Chainsaw 3D, out today, just the latest iteration in a line of sequels, prequels, and remakes. The fact that this new Chainsaw manages to draw fresh blood makes it all the more impressive because, really, who thought this might actually be good?