The remake of 1985’s vamp-camp classic Fright Night opens in theaters this weekend, and we had the chance to speak with the (somewhat surprising) directorial choice for the film, indi-film favorite Craig Gillespie. Among the topics we discussed were what drew him to this project, finding the aesthetic balance between practical and digital effects, and the tonal balance between comedy and horror.
Standing on a rooftop of the San Diego convention center amidst the bustle and mayhem of Comic-Con weekend, it initially seemed as though the conversation Gillespie and I were scheduled to have was destined to be thwarted. After three attempts and three dropped calls I bested the demons of bad cell service and got through to the director.
“Roth! How did I do on my last interview?”
SR: It was the best thirty second interview of my life. I feel like I can now reasonably retire.
“I know – I went on for about ten minutes before I asked if you were there.”
SR: So this is a fairly different project for you.
“Oh, just a wee bit. What do you mean! I know, I know, it was not on my radar. I was working on some very small independent stuff for a couple of years but it’s a really hard market with the economy with that (independent films). And I wasn’t sort of looking around for this but I’d had a relationship with Dreamworks and I was going in for a meeting and my agent called and said, ‘Hey, they’re looking for a director on this movie “Fright Night.”‘ And I vaguely knew it honestly, I wasn’t that familiar with it from the 80s. You know I remember the iconic “Amy Mouth.” But, it was a vampire movie and there’s so much of that going on right now that I was very reluctant, and he said, ‘Just read it!’ So I said, ‘alright, alright fine! I’ll read it.’ Incredibly reluctantly actually. So I read it and it was such a good read. It just moved so well and the horror and the action sequences but then the humor that was in there as well. And I still put it down and said, ‘But I still don’t really want to do a vampire movie.’ And the next day before I was going into Dreamworks I couldn’t get it out of my head, what Marti (Noxon – the screenwriter – see our interview HERE) had written and I was just visualizing it and so I said, ‘You know what, I really would have fun doing this movie.’ So I brought it up to Dreamworks and gave them the whole pitch and luckily enough…”
“Amy Mouth” – Working With The Effects:
SR: I have to say that I was such a huge fan of the original. It just had this incredible balance of camp, humor, horror and outlandish effects. And Chris Sarandon managed this perfect blend of seduction and terror. Were you drawn by that balance in tone and how much did you want to incorporate that into your film?
“Well, I think that’s partly how I got the job. Because even though ‘Lars’ is so drastically different than this, it’s about tone, and it’s a mix of genres. ‘Lars’ is this incredibly emotional material with humor involved in it, and the tone in this one was something that I was really excited about and what I pitched to Dreamworks. It’s really so much more reminiscent of the horror films of the 80s. One of my favorites was ‘American Werewolf in London’ – I saw that six times the opening weekend when I was 13 years old. I just loved that ride of being scared to death and then laughing out loud and just the craziness of it, the opportunity to jump between those two emotions. But I said to Dreamworks, ‘First of all, it has to be scary, and then we’ll figure out how much humor we want to get in there.’ And we would do that as I was working with the actors. You know we would have the scene and they’ve got to be emotionally invested in and then as a safety we would throw a few more jokes in there, or throw some lines out, so it could be balanced in the edit with how far I could go with it.”
SR: You mentioned the iconic “Amy mouth” and the original Fright Night was known for these extraordinary and extravagant effects. You were shooting this in 3D, at a moment in cinema history where CGI is often the order of the day. How did you balance that with working with practical effects?
“I always try to do as much in camera as I can. We take that as far as we can take it. And in terms of when we’re working — Howard Berger at K.N.B (an effects house in Los Angeles) did all the visual effects for the vampires and there’s such a rich history with that, they’ve done so many classic films over the years — we were lucky to have them. And we had five stages to Colin (Farrell) and we decided that we wanted to pay homage to the original mouthful of fangs that they had — particularly Amy. You haven’t seen that in other vampire movies really – it was so extreme. I remember early on I showed that element to Steven Spielberg and he said, ‘Oh great, I’m glad you guys didn’t shy away from that.’ So Howard and his team designed it all the way up to stage five where really it was just augmenting what they built to really get that mouthful of fangs that you really couldn’t quite get the depth of practically. He would have all that make-up on and then we would just enhance the mouth and the eyes and just tweak what we shot practically. Even in the case of Amy, that jaw is all practical and then we just put teeth into it. So it’s this kind of mix of both.”
SR: How challenging is that when you add in the element of working in 3D?
“Yeah (laughing) it certainly wasn’t less challenging. The funny thing about 3D, particularly on the effects side in post, is that it’s merciless. Because there is this dimensionality to it and you’ve got two cameras… There are certain tricks that effects guys have in their arsenals or slight of hand that they can get away with in 2D, and in 3D they can’t get away with it. You know just in terms of fire, you’ve got to see it very clearly in both cameras and the distance and the perspective – it gets much more complicated and time consuming.”
Recasting Previously Established And Vividly Drawn Characters:
SR: Some of these characters remain vivid in the minds of horror fans: Stephen Geoffreys as Evil Ed, Chris Sarandon as Jerry Dandrige (the vampire) and David Tennant’s character, Peter Vincent (originally played by Roddy McDowall). How do you approach casting a film like that?
“I was so lucky with the actors that I had, and the range that they had. And they’re all very generous. It’s like in the case of David Tennant – he showed me an old 70s classic English film with an alcoholic because that was the large part of his character in this film. As successful as he is, he has this incredible self-loathing and self-destructive quality that you see, and you wonder where it’s coming from – and as the film progresses you see where it’s coming from in his youth. Then within that there was a range of how comedic that should be. And he would give me that range, you know he would give me stuff that was more like loaded with drama and then stuff that played more off the humor of it, and he worked that dance beautifully. We had an embarrassment of riches in the edit.”
SR: How much did they bring to the film in terms of improvisation?
“We stuck to the script a lot but within that I always give room for improve because (as long as the intent is there) it keeps things fresh… Great lines can come from anywhere – Christopher Mintz-Plasse’ line came from his audition.
SR: Which line?
“Take Stretch Armstrong and wrap it around your balls”
Putting The “V”icious Back In Vampire:
SR: Nice. You know we often see such a romanticized and sanitized version of vampires today, but Colin Farrell’s vampire Jerry is just about as animalistic and bloodthirsty a beast as you can get without actually being a killer shark. Was that a draw for the both of you? I know Colin had been a huge fan of the original.
“Colin will say this as well – what I immediately responded to with Marti’s script is that he is such a brutal villain – a brutal monster. And almost like a serial killer – is where my head went. Particularly with that scene in his house early on in the movie. It was one of my favorite scenes, and it gave me a lot of information about how to portray that character in the sense of a serial killer. He’s incredibly charismatic and unassuming and alluring, but then he’s also devoid of emotion. And then we go into all the back-story of you know, he’s been doing this for 400 years, anyone would be bored to death. You know it’s the tedium of waking up every day and saying, ‘what do I do now?’ And basically he’s got to feed, and you get into the psychology of all of that and just the primal aspect of it. So he has a girl that he keeps, there’s no hunt involved in that now, so how does he get himself worked up to show his fangs? We went into all that with make-up, and the psychology of that in a primal way – when he would flare up. When his adrenaline would kick in whether it was for an attack or defense… So it became a very primal, animalistic kind of thing that we added into it. And I loved that it was devoid of the lovesick aspect. As much as even in the old vampire and ‘Dracula’ films, they really are yearning for that because of their eternal life – there’s that love that they’re missing. It was kind of refreshing, and what excited me was to have this practical, brutal killer. That was exciting to me to get that on the screen, I wanted to see that vampire.”
Many horror fans agree and are more than ready to see a depiction of a vampire that truly is – a monster. They will get that chance this weekend when Fright Night opens in theaters.
Craig Gillespie directs a cast that includes Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, David Tennant, Toni Collette Imogen Poots and Christopher Mintz-Plasse from a script by Marti Noxon.
Fright Night opens in theaters today.
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