A Chat with Ti West (“House of the Devil”)

Writer / director Ti West has been in the business for a decade now, helming such memorable – if low-budget – films as 2005’s “The Roost” and 2007’s “Trigger Man,” but it wasn’t until this past year that he finally began to rack up some major critical acclaim, courtesy of a mighty darned cool horror flick called “House of the Devil.” The film made the festival rounds and picked up a lot of buzz, then did a stint on the VOD circuit, but now it’s finally hitting home video, and you can count on it developing a cult following in a rapid fashion. Bullz-Eye talked to Ti in connection with the DVD release of “House of the Devil,” and in addition to discussing how such familiar faces as Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov came into the picture, he also chatted about some of his earlier directorial efforts and acknowledged that he’d much rather Alan Smithee’s name appeared on “Cabin Fever 2” instead of his own.

Bullz-Eye: Big fan of the movie. I heard a lot of the buzz about it, but I only finally got to see it once it came out on DVD.

Ti West: Oh, good. I’m glad it delivered. A lot of times, people hear a lot of buzz, and then they say, “What the fuck…?” That’s the great thing about getting buzz for a movie: it’s like free promotion. And then the bad thing is that the message boards sometimes run wild on you. (Laughs)

BE: Well, in this case, I was more or less familiar with a lot of the films that it was stylistically emulating, so I was, like, “This is sweet.” So what gave you the idea to do this…I don’t know, would you call it an homage?

TW: I wouldn’t. People do. But I more just think of it as a period piece. I mean, it’s set in the early ‘80s, so I tried to make it look like it was the early ‘80s, the same way if, it was set in the ‘50s, maybe it would be, like, Technicolor-looking or something like that. I just think that, because that period is so en vogue to reference and it’s so hip and retro to make movies about it, the word “homage” gets thrown around a little bit more than it should.

BE: So what inspired you to do a period piece, then? (Laughs)

TW: Well, I mean, since the story was about Satanism, more or less, the early ‘80s was really the height of this sort of cultural phenomenon within the United States. Now it’s called “Satanic Panic.” I just remember that growing up very vividly. I don’t know why, but I guess growing up in the suburbs, I just remember that if you went down to the park by yourself, you’d get kidnapped in a van with no windows and they’d sacrifice you to the Devil. And I remember seeing, like, Geraldo and people talking about it on TV, and I just found it really fascinating, so it always stuck with me. So when it came time to make another horror movie, I just wanted to make something Satanic, because I also really like the sort of evocative imagery and all that sort of stuff, so the only time that made sense for me to set that movie was in the early ‘80s. Nowadays, nobody’s worried about the Devil because there’s so many other things to be worried about, whereas in the ‘80s, there was this weird, almost fantasy element to what people were afraid of.

BE: You’ve definitely got a couple of actors in the film who are, if not genre specific, certainly bring to mind a few other creepy movies, like Tom Noonan (“Manhunter”) and Mary Woronov (“Silent Night, Deadly Night”).

TW: Definitely, yeah. I’m huge fans of both of them, and I’d worked with Tom before, so it was a pleasure to do it again.

BE: Had you always considered him for the role of Mr. Ulman?

TW: Not necessarily. It was one of those things where I was so focused on “how the hell am I going to find a girl who’s going to be in every frame of this movie?” that I hadn’t really given a lot of serious thought to who we were going to cast in that part. And then he E-mailed me and had gotten hold of the script somehow…I still don’t know how he did that…but he’d somehow gotten hold of the script, and he liked it and said, “I think I’d be great for it.” And I was just, like, “Done!” It made it really easy. It wasn’t necessarily written with him in mind, but it wasn’t necessarily not, either, because I know him and I knew he’d be perfect for it.

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Friday movie news dump: the first Salinger movie, the Sundance beat goes on, etc.

Hey folks. I’ve got a relatively limited amount of time today and, just to add to the drama, the usually excellent free wi-fi at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf slowed down today to a relative crawl for a time while I was researching this. Let’s see how much I can cover.

* Just as I was ready to wrap things up, we have a breaking story. As I sorta alluded to yesterday regarding J.D. Salinger, it’s inevitable his death will pave the way for some new films. It turns out I was, if anything, way behind the curve. Working screenwriter Shane Salerno — whose work, like the planned James Cameron-produced “Fantastic Voyage” remake, bends toward the geek — has been working on a documentary about the writer who became almost as famous for his escape from the public eye as for his actual work, and it’s apparently nearly completed. Mike Fleming has not only broken the news of the formerly under-wraps project, he’s seen most of the movie

* Of course, Sundance continues slogging away, and word of acquisitions by film distributors have been making their way round the usual spots. Indiewire’s Eugene Hernandez has news on the well-regarded “Blue Valentine” with Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. He also gives a quick nod to such other highish profile films as “The Tilman Story” (a documentary about the late Pat Tilman), “The Kids Are Alright” (not to be confused with the old rock-doc about the Who) and “Hesher,” a not very appealing sounding film that nevertheless has Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the lead. The “Valentine” sale is of particular interesting as it was the troubled Weinstein Company that picked it up. Coincidentally, the company named for Harvey and Bob Weinstein’s parents, Mira and Max, has gone on the block.

miramax

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A chat with Mark Duplass of “Humpday”

Mark DuplassMark Duplass, along with Joshua Leonard (“The Blair Witch Project”), is one of the two stars of one of the funniest and just plain nicest movies I’ve seen in awhile. If you haven’t yet read my review, writer-director Lynn Shelton’s Indie Spirit award-nominated “Humpday” is a really funny comedy about two completely heterosexual best friends who become possessed by the idea of making an art-porno in which the two of them take their bromance to its highly illogical extreme.

Duplass may be best known as one half of the film-making Duplass Brothers, who had a big indie/festival hit with “The Puffy Chair,” one of the most acclaimed films in the so-called “mumblecore” movement — improvised, usually comic, films in which no one actually mumbles much but in which the dialogue is largely improvised. While the “mumblecore” tag has become more than a little dated, the Brothers D are currently completing their first movie with big-name stars (specifically, Jonah Hill, Marisa Tomei, and John C. Reilly), which was without a title when this interview was conducted but we’ve just learned via Anne Thompson is going to be named “Cyrus.”

“Humpday” technically could be considered mumblecore because, while it was for the most part tightly plotted, the dialogue was improvised. It’s a technique Duplass was clearly comfortable with as he has acted in the films he has been making with his brother, Jay Duplass, for over a decade, as well as in such other ‘core hits as “Hannah Takes the Stairs.” We caught up with Mark via phone a bit early in the day (my time), one recent Friday morning…

PH: Just before I saw “Humpday,” I reviewed the DVD of “The Odd Couple.” I was just thinking, now that you’ve had time to think about the movie and everything, and we have this recently coined word “bromance,” which this movie obviously deals with – how do you think “Humpday” fits in with all these other movies that have been out there?

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“This Is It” is it

This week’s box office preview is going to be pretty thin because essentially nothing is happening in the way of major new releases, except for Michael Jackson’s last hurrah, and that’s been out since Tuesday.

Michael Jackson in

This Is It” has already earned about $20 million worldwide and been declared a disappointment by Nikki Finke. She reports that most expect roughly a $50 million domestic five day total.

Overall, expectations are not too huge for this weekend and the usual trade-paper prognosticators are taking the day off. For one thing, with Halloween falling on a Saturday this year, a lot of folks we’ll be scaring themselves in places other than the multiplex, including watching scary movies at home where its cheaper and excess imbibing, etc. is less problematic.

Woody Harrelson in On the other hand, it’ll be fun to see how “Paranormal Activity,” “Zombieland” and even “Saw VI” fair over the holiday. In addition, the fun/scary sounding eighties-style horror flick, available since October 1 via video on demand, called “House of the Devil” is only going to be in three theaters according to Box Office Mojo, but still may enjoy a bit of a Halloween bump.

Other than that, the closest thing to a major new release this weekend is “The Boondock Saints II: All Saint’s Day,” which will be released into 68 theaters by Sony’s Apparition arm. A couple of weeks back, the outstanding “Black Dynamite” was released by the same outfit and it is currently teetering on the edge of complete box office oblivion (if you’re anyway near a theater showing it — go now!), so let’s say I have less than complete confidence in their releasing strategy.

With a rather crappy 23% Rotten Tomatoes rating, Troy Duffy’s “sub-Tarantino” testostafest may do better based on the cult notoriety of the original film, but it sure doesn’t sound like it will break out much beyond the hardcore fans of the original. Certainly, when the best pull quotes RT can muster is a defensive “Personally, I loved it” and a disarming “I find enough to keep me in a satiated stupor here,” enthusiasm seeems muted. On the other hand, “The Boondocks Saints” itself only has a 16% RT “fresh” rating as compared to 79% for “Overnight,” the unmaking-of documentary about it writer-director. As I’ve learned in countless video store conversations with guys under thirty, there is a market for this thing.

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