While I was digging around in my hard drive today I discovered a treasure trove of old interviews and other documents I wrote about a decade ago for a horror website I started with friends. Some of it isn’t really relevant anymore (transcripts of conversations with blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em-micro-scene-celebrities, and more than a few with people who would eventually be revealed as genuinely and dangerously disturbed) but there are some real gems there, too: Chats with people like Max Brooks, Bruce Campbell, and Joe Bob Briggs.
I landed a lot (but not all – thanks Joe S.!) of these interviews just by asking very nicely via – get ready – Myspace messages. Social media was just starting to be a “thing” then, and online communities like MySpace had already radically changed the way that fans and celebrities communicate. Also, some of the people I interviewed were just starting to really come into their own – like James Gunn.
I’ve been a fan of Gunn’s since his days with Troma, and his movie Slither had just been released to DVD when I sent him a message on Myspace. Frankly, I was shocked when I checked my messages a day later to find that he had agreed to an interview. I remember dropping everything I was doing to quickly type out a handful of questions before he changed his mind. A day or two later, I had my answers.
I pulled the plug on my old horror website nearly a decade ago, and when I did, interviews like I did with James Gunn disappeared into the ether. Well, it doesn’t seem fair not to share some of them with people who missed them the first time around – which would be pretty much all of you. With Guardians of the Galaxy in full promotion mode, I thought it might be fun to revisit my conversation with Gunn. I hope you enjoy.
You and your brothers are all involved in creative lines of work, and I’ve got to ask – what was it like growing up in the Gunn family?
F***ing crazy. We were dysfunctional as shit, and my brothers and I would bash the hell out of each other. Outside of the home, we would team up and bash the hell out of outsiders. However, we laughed a lot. Other families are competitive with sports or academics – we were competitive with how much we would make each other laugh. Very few days would go by where we wouldn’t drop to the floor with laughter. We were obsessed with movie and music from the time we were quite small. Because we’re very close in age – there were six of us born in seven years – we were very close. We’re still close today.
I’ve noticed that in what I’ve read about you it seems like you work with a lot of the same people from project to project, and tend to remember your friends. Is this tendency connected in any way at all to the relationship you have with your own siblings?
Nice question. Probably. I cherish close friendships. I enjoy closely knit clusters of friends, like what I had on SLiTHER or TROMEO & JULIET. That’s one of my favorite aspects of making movies. I’ve never related it to my upbringing, but it probably is.
To me, “SLiTHER” seemed to be a throw-back to an earlier era of horror film-making. I was reminded of all of the great low budget thrillers I watched growing up, most notably “Night of the Creeps,” and “Return of the Living Dead”. What is it about this period of movie-making that appeals most to you?
It was f***ing fun and not at all pretentious. The pseudo-seriousness of so many of today’s horror films bores me. If it’s truly a serious film, fine. But the fake sheen covering the incredibly dumb stories is just pathetic.
I understand that “SLiTHER” didn’t perform very well at the box office; have the DVD sales been better?
Yes, the DVD sales are a lot better.
A follow-up question to that: everyone I know that saw it loved “SLiTHER”, yet there are quite a few folks that didn’t get out to see it. Was there some bad marketing decisions that played into the movie’s performance?
Probably. But the film was difficult to market. It was a mixture of genres – the horror film, the independent black comedy, the gross-out film – and that was difficult for people to understand through a two minute trailer. Hell, it was difficult for some people to understand through the entire film!
I have to thank you for releasing “SLiTHER”, regardless of its performance. I feel like it was a great big breath of fresh air in amongst all of the J-Horror remakes and inane slasher films. Will you be venturing into this kind of horror-comedy genre again?
Not in the near future, no. I like to change it up from film to film, so I’ll be doing something very different next.
What was the casting process like for SLiTHER?
Rigorous. I worked hard, and kept pressing the casting directors to bring in more actors after they told me there was nobody left to see. I also background checked all of the actors with director and producer contacts, to make sure they were easy to work with. I didn’t want any pricks or divas on set. We held auditions for all of the characters, and simply cast who we thought was best, without much regard to anything else.
Some were easy – Elizabeth Banks and Michael Rooker were two of the first people who read. Some were hard – we searched far and wide before getting to Gregg Henry and Tania Saulnier.
Elizabeth Banks was a big surprise for me. My only prior exposure to her had been as “Beth” in “The 40 Year Old Virgin”. To see her take on such a relatively passive role is a credit to her range. How did you end up casting her and Nathan Fillion?
Elizabeth was number one on my want list for Starla even before she read. I loved her elegance in SEABISCUIT, and her sense of humor in WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER – two completely different roles and tones that she’d have to merge for SLiTHER. I loved Nathan from FIREFLY and knew he had the combination of humor and machismo we needed for Bill Pardy.
What I most enjoyed about “SLiTHER” was the sly comedy that was easy to miss unless you paid close attention. A good example was Michael Rooker’s Grant Grant carefully labeling all of the types of meat he had accumulated in the basement, “Coyote”, etc. What are some other gags that I might have missed?
Oh, Christ, there’s a billion. It’s like reading Mad magazine with all the little references and fun sh*t in the background.
The music featured in “SLiTHER” was fantastic – were all of these bands that you yourself enjoyed or knew about prior to shooting the film, or did they send in music on spec?
Most of them I knew about, but I delved deeper into the alternative country scene to find stuff. Our music supervisor was pretty knowledgeable. I drove her as crazy as everyone else, however, always trying to get new stuff and get better deals. Music is expensive, and some stuff we wanted we couldn’t afford.
Briefly, let’s talk about “Dawn of the Dead”. I know that you and Zack caught a lot of hell from Romero devotees when the remake was announced. What is your general stance on remakes of popular films?
Who gives a sh*t? If the movie’s good, that’s great. I don’t think it hurts the original in any way. However, just remaking a movie as it was originally done is pretty boring.
How would you react if someone decided to remake “SLiTHER” twenty years from now?
I’d love it. If they wanted to do it next year I’d love it. I’d enjoy seeing a different take on the same story.
A lot of noise was made about the “running zombies”. I had rationalized it by assuming that newly-turned zombies would still be fresh and able to move at full capacity, but more decomposed specimens might be slower. Am I right, or way off?
Well, that’s what the original script was like. But, eventually, they all became fast for simplicity’s sake. But, come on. People are talking about the reality of how fast dead people can or cannot move? THEY’RE DEAD PEOPLE. Zombies are, by their very nature, ridiculous.
If you could remake any other movie, which would you choose and why?
Mmm… I’m always uncomfortable when I answer this question, because, if I had an answer (which I don’t off the top of my head), a producer could steal up the rights away from me.
You and my wife have something in common: both of you speak very highly of “Rosemary’s Baby”. What is the allure of this movie for you?
It’s the scariest, most well acted, and well directed horror film ever. It works as a film AND as a horror film.
Where are you most comfortable, creatively speaking? As a director, screenwriter or novelist?
I just like to tell stories. Whatever way I get to do that, I’m happy.
What’s next for you? Got any big projects?
I’m finishing up a screenplay now. And I’m also working on another project that’s not a movie.
If you could work with any actor alive today, who might that be?
Meryl Streep. Honestly. She’s awesome.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?