Director Adam Wingard has received rave reviews for his R-rated, home invasion horror-comedy You’re Next, which screened at several film festivals over the past couple of years and will be released August 23. But his often gore-drenched creative sensibility — and twisted sense of humor — is not everyone’s cup of Darjeeling. In the spring of 2007, for instance, the then just the 24-year-old Wingard appeared on the premiere episode of Fox TV’s On The Lot, a much-hyped but now little-remembered, Steven Spielberg-produced filmmakers’ competition with the first prize of a million-dollar development deal at Dreamworks. As Wingard recalls, he was immediately put off by the reality show vibe of the televised contest and decided to self-sabotage. So in an unaired segment, he pitched a movie about a giant, skinless, suburbia-terrorizing dog named Roger to the show’s three judges: Brett Ratner, Carrie Fisher, and Pretty Woman director Garry Marshall. “I kept emphasizing how violent the film needed to be, and I was doing a dance as I was pitching,” says Wingard, who, it is probably worth noting, stands 6 feet 4 inches tall. “The whole thing was like a performance art piece. I was shocked they didn’t use it because I went out of my way to make an ass out of myself on national television. It was gold!” Needless to say, the Alabama-raised Wingard did not progress to the next round. “I don’t remember what the judges said,” he chuckles, “but I think they were really disappointed in me.”
Wingard’s inability to make the On The Lot cut did not stop him making films. Over the past decade, he has directed or codirected a remarkable 9 movies including the slasher film Home Sick, which he made at the age of 19, and a clutch of recent horror anthologies: V/H/S, V/H/S/2, and The ABC’s of Death. All of his films are the kind of projects you would expect to come from a man who thinks pitching a yarn about giant, skinless dog to the director of Pretty Woman is a darned funny idea and none of them could be confused with the glossy, multi-million dollar reboots of decades-old horror franchises which continue to pepper release schedules.
You’re Next is easily Wingard’s most commercial film to date, and the first to receive a wide theatrical release. However, this tale of a family reunion which is brutally interrupted by mask-wearing psychos is still far from being your (next) average horror movie. The movie’s stars include “real” actors Sharni Vinson (Step Up 3D), Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator), and Amy Seimetz (Upstream Color, AMC’s The Killing) but also an array of indie directors including Joe Swanberg (Hannah Takes the Stairs), Larry Fessenden (The Last Winter), and Calvin Reeder (The Oregonian). The film has blood to spare and the casting of Crampton is an obvious wink to the horror crowd. You’re Next writer Simon Barrett, meanwhile, admits he and Wingard were inspired by previous home invasion horror movies including The Strangers and Michael Haneke’s notorious Funny Games and that they “looked a lot” at Wes Craven’s 1996 horror-lampoon Scream while they were cooking up the film’s concept. But where the humor of Scream derived from directly referencing the horror genre — remember Jamie Kennedy’s detailing of the “rules” one must abide by to survive a terror flick? — You’re Next takes a more subtle approach, establishing an array of naturalistically-portrayed, believable characters and then clobbering them with the gruesome tropes of the terror flick. The movie also takes time to slyly wink at the indie auteur-heavy nature of the cast when Swanberg’s dick-ish character mocks an “underground” documentary-maker, played by yet another of the cast’s directors, Ti West (House of the Devil). “That’s one of the moments in the film where the actors did a lot of improvisation dialog-wise,” says Barrett. “It’s so funny, because Joe is completely, 100% doing an impression of real conversations he’s had with relatives about his own movies.” Swanberg himself recalls that it was “so fun to get to play an imbecile. Believe me, there’s about 20 minutes on the cutting room floor, where I’m riffing on underground film festivals.” But the actor-director emphasizes that it is Barrett who is mostly responsible for the movie’s often blacker-than-black sense of humor: “One of the reasons [it’s so funny] is that Simon is a really good writer and because he’s a cynical f— who’s super-funny and who hates the world.”
The result is a film about a family under attack which itself resembles an indie comedy-drama being savagely mauled by a horror film. Cast member Amy Seimetz says she is fascinated by such genre-bending. “That’s become more and more interesting to a lot of us,” says the actress, whose own recent directorial debut, Sun Don’t Shine, could be said to fuse the indie drama with the lovers-on-the-run crime movie. “This new form of horror, or new form of thriller, that’s straddling a fine line between naturalism and something that’s highly entertaining and pulpy.”
The “us” Seimetz refers to is a group of highly collaborative group of directors, writers, and actors whose low budget, naturalism-favoring movies have been described as “mumblecore” and which boasts a subset of horror-minded “mumblegore” filmmakers, notably Wingard, Barrett, Reeder, and West. Over the past decade, this loose collective has made some of the most inventive and original horror films around, which have entranced many horror fans but made little impact at the box office—at least until now. “We see every horror film that comes out,” says Wingard of himself and Barrett, “and we feel like we’re constantly being insulted.”
There has been much to insult the adventurous horror film fan over the past decade as release schedules clogged with the increasingly unoriginal found footage fad, whose roots date back to 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, and the by-definition-never-that-original remake craze which followed 2003’s Michael Bay-produced reboot of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. “The genre has become strangled by people who didn’t really want do anything interesting,” says Travis Stevens, whose company Snowfort Pictures produced Wingard and Barrett’s first collaboration, A Horrible Way to Die. “As a horror fan, you get so tired of the generic, five-kids-in-a-van-go-into-the-woods. Just shoot me in the face.”
But some horror filmmakers have ploughed their own bloody furrow, and few more independently than Larry Fessenden. The New York-based Fessenden resembles a younger Jack Nicholson in a world without dentistry — the director was mugged in 1985 and lost an upper front tooth he has never replaced — and his movies are equally idiosyncratic. The filmmaker’s first notable release was 1995’s Habit which starred Fessenden as a heavy-drinking restaurant manager whose new girlfriend might be a vampire. Made for $60,000 this grungily erotic film spends far more time exploring the lives of its downtown New York-dwelling cast of characters than it does the possibility a bloodsucker is dwelling among them. Although the film received an extremely limited release it greatly affected You’re Next writer Barrett, who saw Fessenden introduce a screening of Habit while he was a film student at Ithaca College. “When we were growing up he was one of the few American guys doing these weird genre hybrids,” says Barrett. Wingard too was impressed by Fessenden’s film. The director says it was a “huge influence” on his own early work, including 2007’s drug-fueled, sort-of ghost story Pop Skull.
Fessenden hasn’t just supplied inspiration—through his Glass Eye Pix production company he has helped mentor filmmakers such as Old Joy director Kelly Reichardt (whose 1994 debut, the drama River of Grass, Fessenden starred in and edited) and Ti West. In the early oughts, West attended New York’s School for Visual Arts and was the only “horror kid” in a class taught by Reichardt who brokered an introduction to Fessenden. The pair hit it off and Fessenden funded the filmmaker’s first film, the minimalist, bats-centric The Roost. “He said, ‘If I gave you a little bit of money, could you just go do it with not a lot of help?’” says West. “I probably lied and just said ‘Yes.’ So he gave us $50,000 and we made the Roost.’”
The Roost premiered at the South By Southwest Film Festival in the spring of 2005 but earned a mere $5,000 on its own limited release that fall. However, Fessenden’s Glass Eye Pix company backed several of West’s subsequent projects, including 2007’s Trigger Man, and 2009’s House of the Devil, a note perfect homage to ‘80s horror for which Lena Dunham, a friend of the director, voiced the role of a 911 operator. Dunham is also a friend of Seimetz and worked as boom operator on her 2009 short film Round Town Girls, which Seimetz codirected with Ronald and Mary Bronstein. “Lena was right out of Oberlin and she was a fan of Ronnie and Mary,” says Seimetz. “Mary and I had written this movie and Lena wanted to come on and just help out any way that she could, so she boom-opped for us. But she was so bad at boom-opping! The sound was incredibly bad and the boom was in the shot, or not close enough. I mean, here’s the thing: She was obviously destined for greater things.” Seimetz, in turn, worked as boom operator on Dunham’s web series Delusional Downtown Divas and then appeared in her big screen directing debut Tiny Furniture, whose credits thanked West.
In what would become something of a trope-cum-running gag for the mumblegore crowd West gave Fessenden cameos in his movies, appearances which frequently ended with the death of his character. “Yeah, we keep joking [about that],” West says. “He’s like, ‘You have to kill me! It’s been a while since you’ve killed me in a movie!” For his part, Fessenden says he is genuinely perplexed as to why so many people he has helped would wish him harm, at least onscreen. “I’d like to know!” he laughs. “I try to be polite and pleasant but somehow they see my face and they just want to mangle it, one way or another — which I’ve already done on my own, but they want to put in the final punch.”
When he was at SXSW with The Roost, West met Joe Swanberg whose own debut film, Kissing on the Mouth, was premiering at the festival. Swanberg’s movie, a sexually explicit rumination on post-college life, shared little with The Roost other than a micro-budget. However, the pair became friends and Swanberg cast West alongside Seimetz in his 2011 film Silver Bullets, about an actress who gets a part in a werewolf movie. By the time he was making Silver Bullets Swanberg had become well-known in the indie community as one of the leading lights of “mumblecore,” a loose grouping of filmmakers whose movies had low budgets and naturalistic vibe and whose membership included director Andrew Bujalski (Funny Ha Ha, this year’s Computer Chess). Other mumblecore notables include Greta Gerwig and Mark Duplass, both of whom starred in Swanberg’s best known film, 2007’s Hannah Takes the Stairs. The pair would soon explore the world of terror themselves: Duplass and his brother/co-director Jay cast Gerwig in 2008’s Baghead, about a group of actors whose horror movie idea invades their real-lives and the actress also appeared in West’s House of the Devil. In time, the term “mumblecore” spawned a dark sibling, “mumblegore,” a phrase used to denote those occasions when Swanberg, Duplass and other mumblecore-affiliated directors made a genre movie. Adam Wingard, whose films have appeared on lists of “mumblegore” movies says he is genuinely ambivalent about the phrase: “I don’t care. I think mumblecore is such an obscure term [that] if somebody calls You’re Next mumblegore people would probably be even more confused. But that’s totally fine with me. Mumblecore is still the best way to describe that world we came from.”
Certainly Wingard’s early budgets were up to — or maybe that should be down to — mumblecore-acceptable standards with his second film Pop Skull, costing just $2,000. Cowritten by Wingard, his film school buddy and fellow horror freak Evan “EL” Katz, and the film’s star Lane Hughes this highly psychotropic tale concerned an increasingly unhinged pill-popper whose drug consumption was an echo of Wingard’s own recreational activities at the time. Indeed, when the film was released on DVD in 2009, the disc included a filmed interview with Wingard and Hughes in which the director admitted that director and star had recorded the film’s rambling commentary while “totally f—ed up.” “We tried to do a commentary where we were just so baked out of out minds that we matched the mindset we had while making that movie,” says Wingard today. “If you thought that [commentary] was absurd, the first two versions we did were just us basically chanting.”
Pop Skull played a number of festivals and attracted admirers among the horror cognescenti. One of those impressed by the movie was movie executive Travis Stevens. “Adam and Evan Katz made a tiny, microbudget movie called Pop Skull that did the festival circuit,” recalls Stevens. “Even though the movie was small and didn’t get a wide release everybody was like, ‘These guys are brilliant!’”
Stevens was in the habit of hosting movie-watching nights for like-minded friends where he would screen some of the more original fare being produced abroad such as the 2007 Spanish rage virus movie [Rec] and the 2008 Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In. Both would receive big budget major studio remakes as, respectively, Quarantine and Let Me In. But the screenings at Stevens’ house helped inspire the gathered viewers, which included Barrett and Wingard, to further develop their own idiosyncratic terror visions. “It was a mix of horror journalists, horror filmmakers,” says Stevens. “Simon Barrett was coming over, Adam Wingard. Brad Miska from [the horror website] Bloody Disgusting. When stuff started coming in from Europe that had an intellectual approach to the material a lot of us were getting together and watching and being like, ‘This is f—ing awesome.’”
Wingard had met Barrett when the writer was working on a 2004 Civil War-set horror film called Dead Birds, which starred Henry Thomas, Patrick Fugit, and Michael Shannon and was shot in Mobile, Ala. Recalls Wingard, “EL Katz used to write for Fangoria sometimes and when he found there was a film shoot at Mobile he — like the little hustler he is — he was like, ‘I’m going to write an article for Fangoria.’ But really he was just going there to make contacts. I was like, ‘Okay, I’ll go with you’ and he drove me on to the set and that’s where we met Simon.’”
In 2010, Travis Stevens founded Snowfort Pictures, a boutique film production company specializing in what the executive describes as “elevated genre films. We’re really focused on finding emerging talent — filmmakers that have an interesting eye and some fresh ideas.” Snowfort’s debut movie was the first film Wingard and Barrett worked on together, A Horrible Way To Die. “We kept up with each other over the years,” says Barrett. “Simon really like my movies and I was always a big fan of his screenplays. My career was going nowhere, necessarily, and his career had been knocked down to nothing. So, [we said] ‘Let’s do this mumblecore film.’” The film starred Swanberg, who Wingard had met at the Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham, Ala., and Seimetz. The director had been impressed by the actress’s performance in 2010’s Bitter Feast, a horror movie about a vengeance-seeking sous-chef produced by, and costarring, Larry Fessenden. For the crucial role of Seimetz’s homicidal onscreen husband Wingard recruited actor AJ Bowen, another Horrible cast member who would return in You’re Next.
Just as Fessenden’s Habit can barely be considered a horror film, A Horrible Way To Die often seems less interested in slaughter than in exploring the troubled interior life of a recovering addict played by Seimetz who, like Fessenden, tends to have a terrible time of it on screen in “mumblegore” movies. The actress says she has no problem with the assorted torments her characters undergo in A Horrible Way to Die and You’re Next and, for that matter, Shane Carruth’s recent Upstream Color. “It’s so rare to see parts written for women where you actually do stuff and there are actual things happening [to you] as opposed to being this voice of reason for everyone,” she says. “But it is pretty funny. I called my mother because I had booked The Killing and I was like, ‘Oh, I booked another show.’ And she’s like, ‘Okay, what’s it called? I said, ‘It’s called The Killing.’ And she goes, ‘Jesus Christ.’”
Seimeitz’s character spends much of the lengthy, climactic sequence of A Horrible Way to Die, hanging upside down, at the mercy of the movie’s coterie of killers. “That was pretty brutal,” says Wingard, of shooting the scene. “That was actually one of the most intense nights for me ever as director. Basically the last 15 minutes of the film was all done in one night. We ran out of time and so we ended up shooting for over like 24 hours straight and it was maddening. Everybody just felt completely insane. But I remember even thinking at the time, If we don’t just push through this right now, then we just aren’t supposed to be making movies. It was one of those very affirming kind of moments where we got through it and it wasn’t exactly perfect in the way that we had conceived it but we got it done, we sold it, and that got us a bigger movie.”
A Horrible Way to Die played the Toronto Film Festival in 2010 was subsequently given a small cinema release by Anchor Bay. Today, Wingard and Barrett recall festival audiences being nonplussed by their bleak film, which Wingard describes as a “bummer” of a movie. It was in reaction to A Horrible Way To Die — and its reception — that Barrett and Wingard developed You’re Next, which was financed by Snoot Entertainment, a company run by producers Keith Calder and Jessica Wu. Wingard says the film is in part an attempt to re-create for cinemagoers the terrifying effect that terror tales such as The Shining, Scream, and director Paul W.S. Anderson’s sci-fi film Event Horizon had on him at a formative age. “Event Horizon was such a great moviegoing experience,” he recalls. “That movie is just so unapologetic about its jump scares and I think a lot of that carried through to now. I’ve always really liked that feeling of sitting in the theatre and having some of the s— scared out of just based on a little bit of sleight of hand and some insane noise.”
Certainly, You’re Next is much more upbeat than A Horrible Way To Die, metaphorically and literally. In the film’s opening sequence, one soon-to-be-killed character puts the Dwight Twilley Band’s 1977 pop-rock track “Looking for the Magic” on repeat play with the hilariously jarring consequence that all manner of mayhem subsequently occurs to the sound of this breezy hit-that-never-was. “In the script, Simon had written that there was a song on repeat, but it wasn’t specific,” says Wingard. “Nothing really clicked until the film’s composer, Kyle McKinnon, sent me a list of MP3s and ‘Looking for the Magic’ was on there. I was sleeping on Simon’s couch while we were developing the movie because I was too poor at the time and we both listened to it and were like, ‘This is it!’ Those scenes were mathematically designed around the way that song starts.”
Unfortunately, Wingard and Barrett, who is also one of the producers of You’re Next, hadn’t actually secured the rights to use the song. “That was scary,” says Barrett. “We emailed Dwight Twilley and his wife Jen trying to get ‘Looking for the Magic.’ There was a point during production when they called me on my cell phone and were like, ‘You went looking for the magic — but you can’t afford the magic!’ We hadn’t really budgeted anything for music, because we never [really] had on any of our previous films. Ultimately we were able to afford the magic and now we’re Facebook friends with Dwight Twilley and he really can’t wait to see You’re Next.”
The amount of effort Wingard and Barrett expended on choosing just the right song to be repeated in the film was matched by their search for just the right kind of masks for the film’s trio of home invaders to wear. “In the script, they are all written as a specific animal in the way that they are in the film, says Wingard. “Simon was very inspired by paganism and the subtle symbolism that each animal would take in terms of the type of killer that’s wearing it. For me, going into it, I knew that I wanted the mask to be very iconic. Growing up, I really fetishized the masks in Halloween and Scream. I even remember when I went to go see Scream 2 I was a little disappointed because I thought they were going to create more masks, you know. So, going into it, we had the blueprint of the animal-type of thing. We tried a whole bunch of things, even outside of that, just to make sure we were turning over every stone. But I was just thinking about how, in Halloween, John Carpenter basically took a pre-existing Captain Kirk mask and then essentially ghost-ified if by painting it white and texturizing it a little bit. That’s kind of what we ended up doing. It was just like, ‘Okay, let’s just take the Michael Myers approach.’ But they’re not as simple as they look. The actual masks in the film have over 30 layers of paint. There’s a subtle blue tinge, so it would be picked up in the dark in interesting ways. There’s a lot of thought and design put into them, just to make them look simple.”
Everyone involved in the film, which was shot in Columbia, Mo., stresses that the large number of directors on set was an asset rather than a too-many-cooks situation. “All of us know our place, when we’re acting,” says Amy Seimetz. “But when you’re doing stuff for limited means you want people who know how to solve problems in a filmmaking sense. You want a lot of those brains.” And presumably it’s also cheaper to fill your cast with filmmaking friends? “We’re getting less cheap,” laughs Seimetz, whose other acting credits include Christopher Guest’s HBO show Family Tree. “But, yeah, I will continue taking jobs where I get paid more so I can do this stuff.”
Joe Swanberg says he found the You’re Next shoot to be an inspirational experience, one which helped inform his own new movie Drinking Buddies, which is also released this Friday. Starring Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston, and Ti West, this comedy about brewery workers is both his most generously budgeted and most accessible film to date. “We rolled into You’re Next coming off a period when Adam and I had collaborated on a lot of things,” says the prolific auteur. “He had DP-ed a few movies for me. I had acted in [A Horrible Way to Die]. We were both operating in this like, $10,000, ultra-low budget world. I give Adam a lot of credit for pointing the way of how you can move from one thing to the other thing. When I think back on the production I mostly think how exciting it was to feel like we were on a real movie set and that Adam was the captain of this much bigger ship. We hoped at the time it would reach a much bigger audience and now it looks like it will. So it’s really cool.”
Something else which the cast agrees is really cool: The casting of Re-Animator star Barbara Crampton in a pivotal role as the film’s nervy matriarch. “I can’t speak highly enough of that woman,” says Sharni Vinson. “She is just so beautiful and such a pleasure to work with. She was like your best friend, your mum, your sister, your confidante, your everything on set. But you know who was geeking out totally? AJ Bowen. He’d pull us aside and be like, ‘Guys, Barbara Crampton’s on our set! I’m freaking out! I can’t even look at her!’ It took him a long time to get over it.”
Wingard says that he would like to “brag” about how little they spent making You’re Next but that he plans to wait until the film comes out. Nevertheless, the film’s budget was still his biggest to date. “Absolutely,” says the director. “By normal standards, it’s absurdly low. But for me it was the first time that I had enough money where I was like, ‘Okay, I have an opportunity to make a real film here.’ We didn’t just want to make another horror film, we wanted to do something that was going to stand up to mainstream films on some level hopefully and also something that be archived among memorable horror films.”
You’re Next premiered at the 2011 Toronto Film Festival and was bought by Lionsgate only to be shelved when the company acquired the company Summit — home of the Twilight movies — early in 2012. It took almost a year from its Toronto debut for the film to be given its release date. “It was a very complicated situation,” says Wingard. “But it’s all turned out great.” The company paid for further shooting on the film, including a sequence in which Fessenden’s character faced-off against one of the masked home invaders. “We did this one shot where he’s being tackled by a killer and it was very physical,” recalls Wingard. “We did it over 30 times and Larry just had the best attitude. He was just happy to f—ing to do it. Then he emailed us the next day telling us what a great time he had. I was like, ‘Thanks, I promise it was worth it — we used about take 24.’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, I knew we hit our stride around 22 or so…’” Fessenden remembers things slightly differently. “That’s not true, it was at least 45 times,” he laughs. “I’ll tell you, it was brutal. I was completely naked [except for] a towel and I had to be brutalized at the throat by a very sweet stuntman. Nevertheless, I kept ramming into his hand and my Adam’s apple hurt. In fact wanted to retitle the film Your Necks. Anyway, it was great fun. I hope he got what it wanted.”
Fessenden would also provide practical assistance to Amy Seimetz when the actress came to direct her movie, Sun Don’t Shine. “I had worked with him on Joe’s film Bitter Feast and he donated some money to Sun Don’t Shine,” she recalls. “What he’s doing for independent film is really inspiring to me. He’s just been incredibly giving to all of us with his time and mentorship.” Fessenden-the-producer has certainly been prolific over the past few years in terms of films he has helped shepherd to the screen, a list which includes Kelly Reichardt’s Michelle Williams-starring Wendy and Lucy, Jim Mickle’s apocalyptic vampire movie Stake Land, Rick Alverson’s The Comedy, a forthcoming documentary about Night of the Living Dead called Birth of the Living Dead, and Late Phases, a just-wrapped werewolf movie and the English language debut of much-tipped Argentinian director Adrian Garcia Bogliano. But Fessenden-the-auteur has had a leaner time of it lately. Indeed, since his 2006 eco-conscious horror movie The Last Winter he has directed just one movie, the recently released monster-fish movie, Beneath. “There’s no money for my kind of movie, a subtle approach to horror or a heartfelt terror-driven story that may or may not have enough gore or enough teenagers,” he says. “It’s very hard to get these films financed. The smart actors are scared of doing horror because it seems demeaning, and without a good actor you can’t pursue the kind of stories that I want to tell — which is smart, scary movies. But I live vicariously through the films I produce, and I get to see good work that I advocate for get made, and that’s always exciting.”
Fessenden also remains a busy actor whose credits over the past five years have included this summer’s Jug Face, Swanberg’s as-yet-unreleased drama All the Light In the Sky, and West’s 2009 horror film Cabin Fever 2, an ill-fated sequel to Eli Roth’s 2002 flesh-eating virus tale. West recalls shooting the film — which also featured an appearance from Swanberg– as a “great” experience but the director fell out badly with the film’s producers, which did not include Roth, in the editing process and departed the project. He now essentially disowns the film. “The way I describe it is, it’s like Dane Cook telling Seinfeld jokes,” says the director. “The material’s not so bad but the delivery is just messed up. I’m embarrassed to have my name on it.” West would recover his horror mojo on his next movie House of the Devil and is currently at work on an Eli Roth-produced film called The Sacrament about a Jonestown-style cult. The movie’s cast features three of his You’re Next costars: Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen, and Amy Seimetz. The actress declines to say too much about the film but describes it as “a pretty crazy movie. Ti is incredibly talented and has an incredible vision for exactly what he wants. Ti and Adam are directors who are working primarily in horror but have really shaped it into something interesting and transcendent beyond the genre. Even though The Sacrament is technically a horror film I think people will be surprised by how interesting on another level it is too.” Swanberg is similarly tight-lipped about The Sacrament — which is set to premiere at the forthcoming Toronto Film Festival — but similarly enthusiastic. “It’s very much a Ti West movie but there is a seriousness to it,” says the director. “What I’ll say is that those Jonestown-y elements are not being taken lightly. It’s something Ti did an incredible amount of research into and it’s treated in a very interesting way.”
West was at this year’s SXSW Festival to support both You’re Next and Drinking Buddies. Indeed, it would have been hard to avoid seeing movies by the mumblecore/mumblegore crew at the event. First-time filmmaker Jacob Vaughn unveiled his movie Bad Milo!, a horror comedy about a man, played by Party Down star Ken Marino, who has a demon living in his butt, which is executive produced by the Duplass brothers. “I got a call from Mark Duplass and he’s like, ‘Hey Ken, do you want to be in this movie about a monster that comes out of you’re a–?’” says Marino. “I was like, ‘Where do I sign up? And when’s the fitting?’” The festival also showcased The Rambler, the second film from You’re Next cast member Calvin Lee Reeder which like his first, The Oregonian, is an extremely strange and picaresque movie but, unlike that debut, features a couple of well-known actors: Dermot Mulroney and Natasha Lyonne. Then there was V/H/S/2, the latest in the horror anthology series which is produced by one of Travis Stevens’ horror movie night guests, Bloody Disgusting website head honcho Brad Miska, and for which Wingard directed a story while Barrett oversaw the wraparound segment (given Barrett also appears onscreen in You’re Next, his joining of the auteur ranks brings the number of filmmakers in the movie to a grand total of six: Barrett, West, Swanberg, Seimetz, Reeder, and Fessenden). Miska says he has plans for more V/H/S movies and would love to have Lena Dunham helm a story. “In a weird way, she feels like that she’s in that world of people that we’re all friends with. She’s part of the family,” Miska adds with a laugh, “whether she knows it or not!” Finally, Wingard’s former collaborator EL Katz debuted his first movie, a black comedy called Cheap Thrills which reunites Pat Healy and Sara Paxton, the lead actors in Ti West’s Innkeepeers and was coacquired by Drafthouse Films and You’re Next backers Snoot Entertainment. The film was produced by Travis Stevens’ Snowfort Pictures whose list of upcoming projects includes the rather self-explanatory giant arachnid horror film Big A—Spider, a documentary about cult director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s abortive attempt to adapt the sci-fi novel Dune in the ‘70s, and a bizarre-sounding revenge fantasy called American Muscle. “I feel it’s my most personal film because it has everything that I love in the world,” deadpans Stevens. “Naked tattooed chicks riding motorcycles with Uzis and a badass guy who doesn’t really speak too much.”
If that project seems like a long shot in terms of being embraced by the mainstream, there is a good chance You’re Next will find a place in the upper reaches of the box office top ten. Lionsgate has made up for delaying the film’s release by diligently, and cleverly, promoting the movie. For example, the company released a terrifying trailer soundtracked, with heavy irony, by Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” while earlier this year posters for Lionsgate offerings, including the Robert De Niro-starring family comedy The Big Wedding and Tyler Perry’s film The Peeples, were emblazoned with ghostly images of the movie’s masked maniacs. “I thought that was really brilliant,” says Wingard. “Simon and I are really only established filmmakers on the independent scene and by and large our cast is relatively unknown. So it’s an interesting way for Lionsgate to say, ‘We’ve got a lot of faith in this movie,’ and juxtaposing it with things that do have name value — like a movie with Robert De Niro, a Tyler Perry movie, etc. They’re just trying to find ways to make it something your everyday audience member can comprehend, just like using ‘Perfect Day’ in the trailer. They spent a lot of money putting that song in the trailer. Honestly, I think that trailer cost almost as much as the film.” At the recent Comic-Con in San Diego, Lionsgate distributed replicas of the You’re Next masks and the film received an unexpected publicity boost when Michael Fassbender appeared at the panel for X-Men: Days of Future Past wearing one. “That blew my mind,” says Wingard. “I don’t know what the deal is — or if he’s just passing a hint for You’re Next 2.”
The director is also upbeat about the fact that the delay in releasing You’re Next meant it was beaten to the big screen by The Purge, another low budget horror film about masked home invaders which earned an impressive $64 million when it came out in June. “I’m not too worried,” he says. “I honestly think any horror movie that does good is good for another horror film, as long as you’re not trying to rip off the other one. I think The Purge is such a different film. The only thing I was annoyed about was, I went to see Evil Dead and they played the You’re Next trailer after the Purge trailer. Which just made us look like assholes. But it’s fine.”
Wingard and Barrett spent much of this summer in New Mexico shooting their next movie The Guest, an action-thriller starring Dan Stevens from Downton Abbey, which is again being produced by Snoot Entertainment. But Barrett reveals they have a “cool idea” about how to turn You’re Next into a trilogy if the film makes the same impact nationally as it did at SXSW. “A friend of mine came to see it at SXSW and had to walk out,” says You’re Next actress Sharni Vinson. “I was completely in shock because this person is an actor themselves, so they know all the tricks of the trade and how this is obviously not real. I just thought ‘Wow, that’s awesome!’”
Garry Marshall? Consider yourself warned.
You can see the trailers for You’re Next, Sun Don’t Shine, Drinking Buddies, Beneath, V/H/S/2, and Cheap Thrills below.