So, yeah, this was a huge interview. So I split it into two.
The first part, saw AJ talk openly about his experiences on House Of The Devil, on his friendship with director Ti West and about A Horrible Way To Die.
So, in this, the second part, we move on to discussing other projects including Rites Of Spring, date rape comedy What Fun We Were Having, Danielle Harris’ Among friends, the current state of the genre and perhaps, most importantly, Adam Wingard’s much anticipated, You’re Next.
AE – Everybody here in the UK is patiently awaiting a release for You’re Next. My patience is wearing thin, truth be told. Everyone has heard how amazing it is and everyone is dying to see it. Can you give us a little bit on what we, in the UK, can expect from You’re Next?
AJ – The complete opposite movie to AHWTD. I think Adam and Simon were tired of defending an art film and these intellectual concepts that we were trying to talk about and they saw my buddy James’ (Wan) movie, Insidious at Toronto and saw the audience eat it up and just lose their minds over it. We showed AHWTD there and when the film ended people would just sort of sit there depressed, and then they’d leave and go get pissed drunk.
Simon wrote ”You’re Next” after we played AHWTD at Toronto and the idea was to make something that was fun. So they thought, “What do we hate? We hate home invasion movies. What if we can make one of those that’s fun?”
I don’t know why this was the creative process. I don’t know why they pick things they hate and then try to make them passable but we got together and went back to the same place where we shot AHWTD. Back to the same town, with all of the same people and a few new people and made this movie. I know that myself and Joe were trying to do something very specific as actors but realised about 2 days in how silly the things we were dealing with were.
We decided to just try to make it like a comedy, so we tried to make it like the home invasion version of “Clue”. I have no idea if we pulled it off but we watched it at FantasticFest with an audience and they seemed to really like it.
My girlfriend in the movie, Sharni (Vinson), is amazing. I’m really fortunate because I’m a fairly unattractive gentleman and the reason no-one buys our movies is that no-one believes that I would ever be with Seimetz and certainly no-one believes that I would be with Sharni Vinson. It looks really weird on camera. If audiences can get past seeing us romantically involved, then we might have a movie but she was fantastic in it.
It’s also a lot of fun. It’s kind of like a really fucked up “Home Alone”. For grown-ups. It’s a family reunion and I bring my girlfriend home and people start attacking the house but what they don’t know and what I didn’t know, is that my girlfriend, this Australian chick, was raised as a survivalist. So she just starts murdering dozens of people, which is a lot of fun.
What I would like, is for it to play Frightfest but since we already have distribution, I don’t know if they will let us do that. I don’t know how that works. We weren’t done with the movie least year when UK Frightfest happened so it would be great if they would let us play it there just one time. I’d love it because I am planning on going there finally. I feel like an asshole because I have been fortunate enough to have a movie there every year for a few years and I somehow keep missing it. I keep making low budget movies in America and stuff instead of going out and partying at The Phoenix, which I’m told I am supposed to do.
AE – So the “Date Rape movie”, that’s been kind of rebadged as What Fun We Were Having?
AJ – Yeah. I think it’s a terrible title now. I think it was better when it was called “Date Rape”.
AE – I think it’s going to raise some eyebrows, regardless of the title. Are you able to tell us anything about your role in that?
We were done with that before we were done with AHWTD. I don’t even know what happened with the movie. I hope it comes out. It’s an anthology and it’s partly a comedy about sexual deviance and I made one and a couple of other people who actually wound up being involved with “You’re Next” and AHWTD made one. Joe Swanberg made one and Adam directed all of them.
I play a hypnotist who goes door-to-door and tries to convince unsuspecting women into being hypnotised so he can then have sexual relations with them. We improvised the script 100% so it’s sort of a film experiment. We would go down to Birmingham (Alabama, not UK) and spend 2 days there. One day talking about it and one day shooting it and getting very drunk. I’m really fond of it. It’s actually my mom’s favourite thing that I have done and if you ever see it, it seems strange. All I can say is my mom loved it, she laughed a lot, but my dad hated it. My dad is a retired marine. There are some things that happen in that film, possibly to me, that aren’t good.
AE – In Rites of Spring, you are kind of the good guy. The antihero almost. Padraig Reynolds told me that you were looking for something a little bit different to the Victor Ulman and Garrick Turrell roles that you had been working in. Can you tell me a bit more about that decision?
AJ – Yeah. My background is actually comedy. I looked up and had done several crazy people that were real, real bad and coming off AHWTD, I already knew I wasn’t going to play a bad guy again and after that I was certain. I was like, “I cant do it anymore.” Creatively, I cant, otherwise I am going to wind up at film conventions signing headshots of me as my various crazy guys and I don’t want to do that. I want to keep making movies.
So “Rites Of Spring” came along and the guy who produced it, and the reason I got involved, was Ti’s manager. So he contacted me and asked me if I would take a look at the script and I said “Can I go down and shoot this Date Rape movie when we get done with AHWTD and push the shoot a week” and they let me. So I got done with AHWTD, flew to Alabama, made “What Fun We Were Having” and then went straight over, one state, to Mississippi to do “Rites of Spring”. It was an opportunity to do something much more straightforward.
It reminded me a lot of the first “Wrong Turn”, because there wasn’t any humour in it and it was a very straightforward, lean story and I liked that element of it. The script felt like a late 70’s movie and so I was interested in doing that after what I did in AHWTD. Like you said, Ben is sort of the antihero, the reluctant good guy.
It got frustrating for me, making 5 movies back to back, because I got like, orca fat, for a movie that fell apart, so I felt bad for Padraig. I was stressing him out before I got down there. I was like “Padraig, I have like 45 pounds more on me than I normally do” and I had it on AHWTD, I had it on “Hatchet II”, and I did all of those back to back before I could lose the weight. So they were actually really stressed out about having clothes that would fit me and like, “He’s supposed to be the hero but he just looks like a fat child molester”, so we tried to do what we could to fix that.
I got to act again with Anessa (Ramsey) who I was in “The Signal” with, and to do something that was kind of physical. I was literally shooting that like 7 days after I got done with AHWTD. So it was fun. I had to try to grow my beard out really fast.
AE – It’s nice to see you without the beard.
AJ – I look like I’m twelve.
AE – It softens you.
AE – A lot of big budget, studio horror nowadays seems overly reliant on CGI and explosions and seems to just hop from one set piece to the next. Do you feel that big budget horror is losing sight of the human aspect and of real, developed characters?
AJ – Oh yeah. Absolutely and that’s why I don’t do them. I have had the opportunity to do a couple and I’ve turned them down. The pay would be great, but I didn’t really get into making movies to get rich. It would be nice if that happened and I wouldn’t turn that down but I got into it because I wanted to tell stories.
So, in that regard, the stories that interest me are characters. I want to see characters fleshed out and one of the things that I love about Ti’s movies so much, is they have really developed characters that wind up happening into a horror film and like you said, it’s not just set piece after set piece and I think that lots of times they lose sight of that.
“Paranormal Activity” does well and then we have five more years of found footage movies that reach a point where they are just totally fucking dumb. They don’t make any sense at all and there’s no acting in them, no photography and no special effects. They just start to get really, really dumb. It was the same thing back in the late 90’s when there was this revival of schlocky violence and then people started throwing around the “torture porn” thing and we looked up and there were just direct-to-video movies where girls were tied up in a basement and tortured for 75 minutes and they’d hire one person that used to be kind of famous and they would show up. They’d make it and then sell it to foreign markets and I just didn’t want to be involved in that at all.
I cant blame them. They put money up to make a movie and they need to make that money back. They see what plays well and they are not making anything to not make money. So when they make these films that are unintelligent and uninspired, they are making those because those are the movies that audiences are paying to go see. If audiences were paying to go see “The Deerhunter”, or “Taxi Driver”, then we would get like 8 of those a year, but thats not what audiences are going to see so, then studios are thinking “How dumb can we make this movie about giant robots with Shia La Boeuf. We will make like three of these and we will sell a lot of action figures”, but the movies suck.
On an independent level, all we have to do is keep the budget low enough so that we can sell it for a profit and a guarantee that the people that bought it make a profit when it comes out on VOD or a small theatrical release. That’s a comfortable world because it’s still about the story and the character and the product has a more responsible releationship between art and commerce and I think that with the big studio pictures, it’s all about commerce and not enough about art. They don’t even know what scares people anymore because they don’t do anything except write cheques.
Luckily, I was down at SXSW and I saw a lot of great independent genre films. It’s still kicking and it’s still going strong there. What I think will start happening is that studios, instead of spending the money to actually, physically, make movies, will start buying up more indies and putting them out, the way they did with “Paranormal Activity”, the way they did with “Insidious”. They’ll start getting hold of these movies and start spending the money they would’ve spent making it, on promoting it and having a special unrated DVD come out.
But as long as they keep letting me make my weird movies, I don’t give a shit what they do.
AE – Have you seen any genre films recently that really impressed you?
AJ – Yeah actually. I don’t even know how much of a horror it’s considered but I’m good friends with Don Coscarelli (Phantasm, Bubba Ho-Tep) and we were actually staying together down at SXSW, and I finally saw “John Dies At The End”. I was in love with that movie and was surprised that it hasn’t gotten distribution yet. It should and I’m sure it will. I really, really dug that because it’s strange.
We go through these periods every few years where what is considered “horror” kind of changes and that’s what I love so much, specifically about this genre is that it can be almost anything. It can be “Silence of The Lambs”, it can be “American Werewolf In London” and it’s still genre. It’s really free. It’s a really big, broad group and you can do a lot things within it and to that end, “John Dies At The End”, I know is a genre picture, and I really liked it.
I know a lot of people had a problem with “[REC]3″ and I saw that down there. I’m going to be honest, I didn’t watch the first two because they were found footage movies. I avoided them because I generally hate found footage. It’s something that’s always bothered me but I have been trying to change my opinion of it because I knew that people I had worked with, good friends of mine, had made a found footage anthology that was playing at SXSW so I knew I was going to have to watch it. I was thinking, “I better start watching some of these found footage movies”, so without seeing the first 2 “[REC]” films, I saw “[REC]3″ and it was broad and silly in a way that culturally and tonally, some of the Americans down there didn’t get but I actually enjoyed it a lot but I don’t know if I would enjoy it much on a repeat viewing.
“The Aggression Scale” was cool. I’m biased and people are going to say that I am, but I enjoyed “V/H/S”. It’s nice to watch my friends, again, making something that we all dislike. We don’t like found footage movies so they go off and make a damn found footage movie that everybody seems to like but “V/H/S” legitimately scared me in some spots.
Lately, I have been going back and watching old things. Again, I’m really lucky to have made these movies and that some people have seen them because it means that I get to be friends with people like Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator, Dagon), Don Coscarelli and Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator) and that means I get to go back and re-watch these movies and talk to them about possibly making a movie with them sometime.
So for me, there are probably four or five films a week that I watch that I have probably seen like 30 times. I’m always hunting for genre movies that I haven’t seen.
I worked with Michael Ironside this summer, and right before I did, I re-watched “Visiting Hours” and that’s a movie, at least over here, that nobody seems to like and I don’t get because I thought it was amazing, so I forced him to autograph that.
AE – Another film that was ridiculously banned here in the UK amidst the “Video Nasties” nonsense in the 80’s… I definitely think that, here, it’s only now that people are actually starting to appreciate it. What are your thoughts on the general condition of the genre. Do you think it’s in a good place?
AJ – I think that it’s very durable. You hear every couple of years that horror is dead, but it’s not. It just means that it has gotten too stagnant but then something interesting will come along but I think it’s strong. I think that studio genre pictures and independent genre pictures are wildly different. It’s exciting for me to be someone who makes independent genre films because it’s a community, both that I was a part of growing up and now that I have the good fortune to be a part of as a performer and as a storyteller. It’s a very loyal group of people and not only that, they are challenging, and they will hand you your ass if you give them something that they don’t like but still be your friend at the end of the day.
I like that we were talking about how broadly encompassing independent genre film-making is. It felt strange for me to do a “Hatchet” movie because it’s not my universe, of acting and if i wasn’t friends with Adam, I wouldn’t watch those movies, because it’s just not mentally my kind of storytelling, but thats what I love about genre stuff because there are so many different types of things in there.
So no, I don’t think that it’s stagnant, I think that it’s strong. I think that people need to keep making their own things because it’s exciting to see every few years to see some other young guy show up, now that I’m getting older, and see somebody else’s take on something and because the budget is generally low, you can really see a film-maker’s perspective on things, if they let you see it and that’s what I am interested in. That sincerity.
I’m really disinterested in insincerity when it comes to film-making so a movie can have poor squib effects and poor CGI blood. It can have rough editing and the sound can be a little fucked. Some of the acting could be suspect but if it is a sincere effort, then I can let all that go and see that I am getting something personal from somebody and I think that that happens much more in independent genre film-making than in any other type and I get excited to see that. The only thing that sucks is that we are changing how we watch them. It’s not as easy to find them because there is so many. I am still telling people in America to see “Rare Exports” and then I have to go buy the DVD and mail it to them because they don’t know what I am talking about.
I DON’T tell people that about “Human Centipede 2″.
AE – Smart move.
AE – Earlier, you mentioned Danielle Harris and your part in Among Friends. Are you able to give us any information on that, and on your role?
This summer, Danni called me and asked me if I would read a script. I swear to God, she told me that it was a short film and asked if I would do it. I don’t like making short films but as it was Danni, I said, “yeah, sure. I’ll do it”. She sent me the script and it was like 85 pages long and I said, “Danni, how much of this are you going to look to shoot in a short film”, and she said, “All of it”. So, she lied to me and then asked me if I would act in it. I said “Of course”.
It’s a fun movie. I have only seen the finished parts of what I was doing when I was doing ADR for my dialogue, but I’m going to be seeing it soon. It’s basically, a mixture of “April Fool’s Day”, not the poo-poo ca-ca remake but the original “April Fool’s Day”, and sort of like 80’s fun.
It was very important for Danielle to make something that she thought people would have fun watching and I get to be the comic relief for this movie. I also get to be the least attractive person in the movie because all of Danni’s friends are incredibly handsome and attractive, so I get to be the sort of Zach Galifianakis guy.
So it’s funny but we all go through some terrible things together. I cant give away too much plot, I can just tell you that we shot it over a couple of weeks in LA last summer, and it was really fun to get those people together in a house and to get to work as an actor for Danielle was great because, like I said, we have been friends a long time now and it’s great to work with someone who is only 34 but has been making movies for about 27 years, so there is a lot of knowledge there.
She got her friends together and Kane shows up for a bit. I can’t really say who else shows up but there are some other people and I think that the best case scenario, if everything comes together right, and if we are fortunate enough to have the opportunity, I think we would definitely want to premiere it at Frightfest, because I know that Danielle loves that festival.
I love the festival by proxy. I have never gotten to go. I keep trying to go but I am definitely going there so it would be nice to be able to take something that would be fun and not like what else is going on. It’s a quick, hopefully intentionally funny, movie. We will see once it’s all done.
AE – I guess the final question has to be, what else are you working on at present?
Well, last year I made seven movies and “Among Friends” was one of them. Many of those, are in various stages of post-production with the exception of “You’re Next”, which is done. So I am getting ready for those movies to come out and I am moving into producing.
I have always been a writer, but as an actor you cant really control the content or the story very much of the stuff you do. You just try to get it out of the way and not be shitty and not get in the way of the story but there’s not much more that you can do as an actor than that. So I started talking to a few people about maybe making a movie and it all kind of started to come together, so I am in the process of writing a movie right now that I am going to direct this summer.
I’ve also been back and forth with Paul Davis and James Moran. I’m doing a movie with them, in London. I think in fall or the beginning of winter called “Silent Night of The Living Dead“, so I am excited to work with those guys, also I get to play Tom Savini’s son. I get to be Sex Machine’s kid.
AE – Will you have matching moustaches?
AJ – I will if they want me to. I will do that for Tom Savini.
I have sort of been doing some other things too. I really hate when you hear people that love genre stuff or actors that profess to love it, suddenly want to jump out of it, and not ever make another one. I don’t feel that way at all because it’s my home. It will always be my home but I do feel creatively tapped out a little bit.
As an actor, there’s not an awful lot for me to do right now that sounds interesting within the genre, at least not the things that people have been sending to me. I have to try to do a couple of other things, so the thing that I am directing is going to be a comedy, in the hope that I can then come back home, inspired to do something different.
I don’t think that you are going to see a movie for a while with me looking like a bad guy and hurting women or anything like that. We took care of that with “A Horrible Way To Die” and I think I have done enough in that department for a while. I now want to be objectified for my good looks and my body and have to have sex with attractive women on camera. That’s my goal, professionally.
AE – It’s a hard life. Well, that’s it. Thanks very much for taking the time to talk to us. It’s hugely appreciated and I hope to see you at Frightfest in the summer.
AJ – Thank you for talking to me too. Take it easy. Enjoy your beer!
A Horrible Way To Die is available NOW on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK via Anchor Bay Entertainment.