I recently reviewed one of my most anticipated movies of the year, V/H/S, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Keeping in tradition with a long line of anthology horror movies, the entire experience was a lot of FUN. It seems as though most contemporary horror filmmakers forget that part of their movie and forget that the primary goal of movies is to entertain people. It seems as though a lot of people stray away from including anything humorous from their films in order to get the most gritty realism possible. It seems as though everything is “based on a true story” or tries to convince you that these things could be happening to anyone in the audience, usually to poor effect. Writer/director Glenn McQuaid let go of those restraints with his first feature film, I Sell the Dead, which was more of a horror/comedy hybrid about grave robbers. It had a great cast, featuring Dominic Monaghan and Ron Perlman, and since it was a period piece, it really oozed the atmosphere of classic Hammer films. His segment in V/H/S, titled “Tuesday the 17th“, was about a group of stereotypical killers getting themselves into a stereotypical situation with a completely atypical force that was after them.
WolfMan: How did the whole project of V/H/S come together? Was there one person who kind of orchestrated the whole thing or was it that most of you guys wanted to work together in some way and this was the closest you could get?
Glenn McQuaid: I guess I got a shout from (Producer) Roxanne Benjamin, who asked me to submit some ideas, so it was a situation where I was being asked to submit some segment treatments. This was before I knew who else was involved. I knew that Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard shot a wraparound story, but I didn’t know Ti West was involved or Dave Bruckner or anyone else, so it was really those guys who were orchestrating the collection and reaching out to different people. I submitted a couple of ideas that I thought would be interesting for a found footage anthology, none of them were in the slasher genre. They got back to me, liked what I had shown them, and asked me to submit some ideas more in the slasher genre, so I gave them this idea for my segment and they liked it and went ahead.
WM: One thing that I enjoyed so much about Tuesday the 17th was the ambiguity of who, or what, the killer was. Did you know who the killer was and chose to avoid any specifics, or did you cut even yourself off from knowing who was responsible?
GM: I knew that I wanted a very different look to the killer, and very early on I was looking at all the different kinds of silhouettes, from Friday the 13th and all the way to Torso, and I wanted to present a new style of killer. Then I started playing around the idea of what it would be like if you didn’t physically show the silhouette of the killer and just showed what the killer did. The idea came from the desire of wanting to do something visually interesting but still keep it ambiguous.
A scene from Tuesday the 17th
WM: Out of all the segments of V/H/S, I think yours was the one with the best death, which was the shot of [REDACTED] getting [REDCATED], so congratulations, because you had some tough competition. Also, your segment was the only one that I felt could spawn either a sequel or a prequel. Any future plans to show more of the story?
GM: Certainly it’s an idea that’s out there, and things were vague enough that there could be some more explanation needed and so on, but right now I’m just working on some other things. It was a thrill to be involved in something that required improv and workshopping, as opposed to the way I normally work, which is storyboarding and animatics. It was definitely a different way of working for me.
WM: With your extensive background in special effects, were you intentionally setting yourself apart from the rest of the films by making it more special effects heavy, or was that something you didn’t realize until after you had seen everyone else’s work?
GM: I wasn’t sure what anyone else was up to, so I didn’t know how well it would all fit in. I kind of just trusted the producers and they did a great job of corralling everybody and steering everybody in the right direction. I think it’s because of those guys that V/H/S is successful and that the collection as a whole is pretty complimentary to everyone. The visual effects is not something that I tend to sell myself on, certainly not when I’m on set. My previous film (I Sell the Dead) was a period horror/comedy so I wanted to keep this as lo-fi as possible. The effects that I used in V/H/S came from this desire to present the new way of showing things and keeping it ambiguous.
Ron Perlman and Dominic Monaghan in I Sell the Dead
WM: The overall tone of V/H/S, in addition to being horror, is that it’s a lot of FUN, and considering your previous film, you’re certainly no stranger to incorporating humorous elements as often as horrific elements. Do you find yourself having to tone down some of those comedic moments for the sake of being scary, or do you use comedy to emphasize the scares, and how do you find that balance?
GM: I always want to have some levity in there, and some horror, and with the found footage genre, I didn’t want to go TOO real with it. I think the danger of doing slasher in this genre, things could get pretty nasty. It just wasn’t me. Certainly on set, I have a lot of fun with the actors, and in the editing room, and it’ll feel almost like pure comedy, like Porky’s or something like that, and I end up trimming a bunch of that stuff and trying to heighten characters to make it more realistic. Truthfully, the characters are all taken from stereotypes from the 80’s slasher films: the cheerleader, the geek, the goth, and the jock, and throwing in some found footage. I think I sacrificed some realism by doing that, but it also would’ve changed the entire mood of pretty much everyone.
The Blair Witch Project helped set the standards for contemporary found footage films
WM: Were there any unexpected challenges you faced in the process that gave you a new appreciation for what so many other found footage directors have done? Did this experience change your opinion on found footage movies?
I think it did both. When I jumped on board with V/H/S, I went and looked at a bunch of found footage movies because it wasn’t a genre I had kept up with. I had seen seen The Blair Witch Project, but I hadn’t seen any of the Paranormal Activity movies so I went and looked at those. I think it’s a very valid perspective, vital way of getting stories out there, so it’s good to know that. Personally, the challenge of letting go of the script and tight direction and blocking and just letting loose was pretty cool for me. It was something I hadn’t done before, and a bunch of scenes in the segment, such as the car scene at the start, I basically just handed the actors the cameras and told them to go drive for an hour and they came back with an hour’s worth of improv. It was nice to sit back and edit with all this footage that I had removed myself from entirely. That was a very cool way of working.
You can see V/H/S on VOD on August 30th and in select theatres October 5th.