I think everyone who is a frequent visitor to my site knows I’m a huge fan of The House of the Devil, so I was thrilled to find out that not only was it being shown on 35mm on the big screen in a double feature with Ti West’s newest film, The Innkeepers, but also that Mr. West would be there in person. This would be my second time watching The Innkeepers, and even though I enjoyed it the first time on a small screen, I caught new details on this viewing that made me enjoy it even more. One scene involved Sara Paxton’s character gathering up all of her clothes and shoving them into a bag, when I have sworn I saw a Bad Brains shirt crumpled up in there. I ignored it, thinking it could have been ANY shirt, until I noticed in the credits, under the “Special Thanks” section, sure enough I saw “BAD BRAINS”. You’re telling me this guy makes great movies and likes hardcore? When I asked him about it, Ti also mentioned there was a Descendants shirt in there somewhere too. Maybe I’ll catch that on the third viewing.
WolfMan: With both The Innkeepers and The House of the Devil, you have these strong female characters that really have to carry the weight of the movie. I thoroughly enjoyed those characters and the way they broke the conventions of most female leads, especially Jocelin Donahue who felt like Mia Farrow in “Rosemary’s Baby”. While you were writing those characters, did you intentionally try to break those molds or were you just writing characters that happened to be female?
Ti West: It’s a little bit of both. I mean, I wrote movies that had female leads trying to do that, but the movies that I’ve written about guys don’t get made. So the fact that I’ve made two in a row and there seems to be this kind of feminist angle, that is an accident. It’s there, I guess, in the work to some degree but I’ve got movies about dudes that just for some reason don’t get made. In the case of The House of the Devil, it was a babysitting movie and would be a tough sell if it were a guy. I try to just write hopefully three-dimensional characters and if it’s about a guy or a girl, it doesn’t really make any difference, I just try to make them good. It’s just I’ve made two in a row and the third one’s going to be about a woman in space and it’s going to be this weird trilogy.
WM: From the beginning of The House of the Devil, I knew that it took place in New England. Did you intentionally shoot it in New England because there was something about that part of the country or was it just happenstance that you shot it there?
TW: Filmmaking was on sale in Connecticut so there was a big tax incentive to go there. I wanted I wanted to shoot it in Pennsylvania and then we found out it was on sale in Connecticut. I wasn’t sure if we’d find a place we wanted. It’s funny, I didn’t want to use that house at all and now I can’t imagine it not being that house. So it’s one of those things … financially that’s why we shot there and we just scoured the state looking for a place.
WM: When The House of the Devil came out, you also had that limited edition clamshell VHS. DVDs left, Blu-rays are gonna leave, do you think there’s something about VHS that might hold the test of time as some sort of collector’s item or was that just a fun novelty thing for that movie?
TW: I think it ties into that movie … if we did one for this movie (The Innkeepers), it wouldn’t make any sense. So I think it’s kind of a one-off, where we had the opportunity to make that. … I think it’ll be a cool collector’s item for anyone who has nostalgia for it. It’s like people (who say) “Oh it’s like records”…it’s not really like records, it’s like 8-tracks. It’s not a particularly good format, we just have a nostalgia to it, whereas records, actually you could make the argument that they sound better or the experience of putting on a record and flipping it over and doing those things is valuable. It’s a cool collector’s thing. I’m fine with VHS being like baseball cards.
WM: One of my favorite moments of The Innkeepers was the scene where Claire takes the trash out. I read in an interview that you said that was your favorite thing that you’ve ever shot. Did you know it was going to turn out so well going into that scene? Did you know “This is going to end up being my favorite thing” or was it just that between Sara (Paxton), the direction, the writing, what was it that made it your favorite scene?
TW: It was a scene that kind of meant something to me because I thought it would be funny, but it wasn’t until she going (imitates groaning sounds) and not getting it in and stuff was pouring out exactly … it’s just one of those things that everything lined up perfectly, so no. It was when the execution was done it was like the high-five kind of moment.
Image from the upcoming horror anthology “V/H/S”
WM: Lastly, you kind of touched upon it earlier (during an onstage Q & A following The Innkeepers), just found footage movies and how sick of found footage movies everybody kind of is, that with V/H/S (of which he wrote/produced/directed a segment in), it’s been described as a found footage movie for people who don’t like found footage movies. What is it that you find so frustrating about those types of movies and why is V/H/S going to be any different?
TW: I don’t have a problem with found footage movies, I have a problem with bad found footage movies. I don’t have a problem with Blair Witch, I don’t have a problem with Paranormal Activity, those movies make sense to me, they are what they are … whereas there’s all these ripoffs of them. It sort of peaked with that “Devil Inside” movie, a movie that I haven’t seen and I have no reason to dislike it, but everyone else seems to hate it. I feel like that was just a scam, it was like a three-card monte scam … when I see a trailer that comes out of nowhere that’s a found footage, exorcism thing, I’m like “I don’t know if I trust this”, but everyone else kind of just fell for it and I feel like that’s the gullible nature of audiences that just got duped on that one. The thing with V/H/S is that none of us are particularly psyched on found footage but there’s a reason for the found footage, it’s not just because that’s popular so we went and made something that way to sell out with. All of them are very clever uses of the found footage. But I think found footage is fine because it’s the age that we live in, everyone has cameras on their phone and are making movies on YouTube, everyone’s accustomed to that so it is an aesthetic that has to stick around, it’s not gonna go away. It would just be nice if it was used, not less often, but if there was just more of a reason to use it.
And on the subject of found footage, this conversation took place on the day that “Chronicle” opened, I asked if he was running out to see it, and he joked about how all the trailer consists of is people throwing things, even though everyone’s been saying it’s great. Between hearing his Q & A and speaking to him personally, I understand more and more that he is a filmmaker first, horror movie maker second. I have praised his work for a few years as someone who is helping to pave the way for the next generation of horror movie makers, and only now am I realizing that one doesn’t need to solely do horror movies to still be able to make great horror movies. The Innkeepers relies just as much on horror elements as much as a sitcom likes Parks and Recreation relies on the business of running that department of the government. The horror elements of two people working in a “haunted” hotel help move the story in one direction, but it’s the characters and their interactions that make it so enjoyable. West’s next movie, called “Side Effects”, will star Liv Tyler and is a science fiction movie set in space. I’m sure that will still appease the horror fans, but will venture into a direction. I think the next genre should be the vampire genre. Except instead of making it about the vampires, it’s a movie about some vampire killers…ones that are without fear. Yeah, I think he’d do a great job making a movie about fearless vampire killers…if you got that joke, give yourself five bonus points and then stagedive off your desk.