Interview: Ti West and Jocelin Donahue of ‘The House of the Devil’
Interview conducted by Marc Patterson
We recently had the chance to talk with Ti West, director of The House of the Devil, which hits theaters this October 30th. Along with him was Jocelin Donahue, who plays the leading character of Samantha. We talked about the “Satanic Panic” scares from the 80’s, feathered hair, the much-publicized Cabin Fever 2 drama, and the upcoming film Ti is directing, The Haunting in Georgia.
Brutal As Hell: Ti, Can you tell us about your inspiration for the The House of the Devil? You wrote and directed the film. Where did the idea come from?
Ti West: I had two ideas. One when I got out of college and was broke had to do with my personal situation at that time. And then one idea had to do with Satanism because I was always obsessed with, well I just think Satanic cults are really cool and was always fascinated by the early 80’s “satanic panic”. So you know, it was a way to combine two ideas at once and I found people who wanted to make that movie so it worked out pretty well.
Brutal As Hell: I grew up in a fairly repressed church environment and I very much remember being force-fed all this satanic panic stuff during that time, and it was crazy, but now I love that stuff.
Ti West: Yeah I’ve always been really fascinated with the idea that if you went down to a park there was some van full of people that was going to come along and kidnap you and sacrifice you to the devil. And then you know there was a time when everyone thought that was going to happen and no one thinks about that anymore. People think about much worse stuff but the devil is no longer something that people are afraid of.
Brutal As Hell: This film in particular really captured what it was like to grow up in the 80’s. It actually seems like this film is an 80’s film. It doesn’t feel like a modern day film meant to look like the 80’s, it just feels really authentic to the era.
Ti West: Yeah I’m pretty obsessive compulsive about details so I didn’t think it was an homage. Some people call it homage, but I didn’t think of it that way. There are definitely a few elements that are a slight nods but for the most part it was just like if we were making a fifties movie I would try to make it as accurate as possible, so the film took place in the early eighties and I just wanted to be as brutally accurate and specific as I could be. And I thought we did a pretty good job, but everyone who has seen the movie it’s all that everyone talks about. So we must have done a better job than we thought.
Brutal As Hell: I love the throwback films, and a lot of the ones I’ve seen, they utilize a lot of the neon 80’s stuff and your 80’s was the 80’s I remember.
Ti West: Jade Healy, our production designer deserves a lot of the credit for how the film looks saying it was not going to be like ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ 80’s its going to be brown, feathered hair, wood paneling 80’s.
Brutal As Hell: Exactly, and I think that’s an 80’s a lot of us would identify with. Now, one of the criticisms that I’ve heard is that the film is almost too slow. I think fans today are used to quick cut editing, and a more MTV style of horror. What’s your response been to this?
Ti West: Umm, Whatever. There are going to be people who are going to really like the slow pace of the movie and there are going to be people who really hate it. And it’s subjective and had I made a really fast paced film you’d get that too. I can’t really make films to please people. I make sort of personal films that I like, and I like slow paced films. I like films like Repulsion and The Tenant, and Rosemary’s Baby, and stuff like that, and I’m not the kind of person who goes to see a movie and has something planned to do afterwards. And I’m a firm believer that contrast is what makes horror effective and I think that if you don’t really have realism in the mundane reality played out before all the crazy fantastic horror, without that contrast I don’t think it’s accessible to people. I don’t think it’s effective. You know, for me the people getting killed part is the least interesting. What’s interesting to me is the characters around that.
Brutal As Hell: And I would agree, and I think that when the film reaches that point where you see what’s on the other side of that door, Samantha, Jocelin’s character, goes up to the door and you see that you’re like “Oh shit, now the movie has blow open”. And everything up to that, and this leads into my next question, is that you stretch the audience like a rubber band with the amount of tension. Some of the long takes were excruciating to watch. Because the viewer essentially knows she’s in this house and bad things are going to happen. And I understand from reading a couple articles that the producers wanted to pull scenes out or shorten them up. So as a filmmaker what’s your gauge when you’re making the film on how far you feel you can effectively pull the audience before that tension snaps and you lose them?
Ti West: Well again, I’m like a personal filmmaker, so it’s my own personal aesthetic that leads into it. You know they actually cut a section of the film out for Tribeca but after that I kind of bitched and moaned about putting it back in and Magnolia was very supportive about putting it back in, but that’s all over and done with. But I remember I read an article a long time ago by Polanski about Repulsion where he said You want to lull the audience just to the brink of losing them and right when you’re about to lose them you hit them with this craziness so that people almost jolt out of their seats and suddenly feel like they missed something and they become very proactive, and that was part of the inspiration for that, and also I think that it’s personal taste.
Brutal As Hell: Now I don’t want to forget we have Jocelin here with us. Jocelin, You nailed this part and effectively carried the film single-handedly. How did you prepare yourself for this role?
Jocelin Donahue: Thanks. Ti and I spent a lot of time talking about the classic horror paradigms, and their style. And then we watched a lot of movies and looked at the pop cultural references to get in that space and that was a lot of fun.
Brutal As Hell: So what movies did you watch to familiarize yourself with this period?
Jocelin Donahue: Well I had never seen the original Halloween so I watched Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Polanski’s Apartment Trilogy, Suspiria, Don’t Look Now, The Changeling, a lot of the slow burn, highly stylized films that Ti references.
Brutal As Hell: So Ti you really put her through the ringer here.
Ti West: Yeah, I gave her a big stack of DVD’s…
Jocelin Donahue: (Laughs) And also a bunch of 80’s films including Teen Wolf and The Karate Kid (laughs) but I had seen Karate Kid, but their characters kind of shared a bumming around, kicking around life, mundane, everyday quality.
Brutal As Hell: What drew you to the part of Samantha?
Jocelin Donahue: Well I came to it through the regular avenues of casting, but Samantha was a character I was interested in playing because I don’t really read a lot of roles where the girl doesn’t make so many stupid decisions, and she’s not just some girl who’s there to be killed. So she was a character I’m really proud I got to play and show to my family and friends, which you don’t always get to do with horror films. And she’s innocent in a way that many modern females aren’t and she’s smart and she’s thoughtful and it was really a cool project for me.
Brutal As Hell: Cabin Fever 2, Ti, I have to ask about it. You’ve kind of distanced yourself from that film and enough publications have said its because it didn’t turn out to be the film you wanted because of some disagreements. Can you set the record straight for our readers?
Ti West: Yeah, I would love to talk to you about this, and I’m not dodging this but my only concern would be that it’s a super long story, so we’ll get cut off. Basically, it’s an Alan Smithee (pseudonym) movie. There’s an interview that’s coming out in the next day or so that will shed some light on it, but if you Google stuff about it it’s not 100% accurate, but it’s not far from the truth either. It was the greatest experience ever and then they decided they wanted a different movie. And I really didn’t want to make a different movie and I didn’t think there was the footage to do that. So they deleted everything that I did and started from scratch and I wasn’t really in support of it and that went on, and eventually I just kinda left and I wanted to give Alan Smithee the credit. And I’m not DGA (Directors Guild of America) and since I’m not DGA you have to get approval of the producers. And they wouldn’t do it. And that’s where I’m at with it. On the same token, as much as I don’t want the blame for it, because I don’t feel that I did it, I can’t take any credit if people like it either. So essentially it’s a movie made by the producers, the executives, and the editors and not me.
Brutal As Hell: Fair enough. Now that you’ve worked in both environments, a studio environment, and an indie environment, which one would you say that you prefer at this point? And I say this understanding that you’re working on The Haunting in Georgia as well.
Ti West: Well they’re not radically different. There are really only seven people who make the movie pretty much. When you do a bigger movie and there’s more money everyone’s a little happier. The food’s a little better and the hours aren’t quite as bad and people are actually getting paid, so that boosts morale, and morale being up is good. But you know I write, direct, and edit my own movies and I like auteur filmmaking and I like people who sort of take chances. And the more money you get involved, a la Cabin Fever, the more stuff, the more people suddenly have to put themselves out there. And I more than willing to put myself out there and fail if I have to. But that’s not really the MO of other people. They’re very concerned. So it’s difficult because I’m a very strong personality in what I’m trying to do and in contrast to people who aren’t that way. But if you can do a big budget movie and do what you want to do, or most of what you want to do that is fantastic.
Brutal As Hell: I just mentioned The Haunting in Georgia, and I’m somewhat familiar with the documentary and there are a lot of similarities between that film and The House of the Devil, both being set in the 80’s.
Ti West: Yeah, it’s not a huge surprise as to why they thought I would be good for it. And it’s fairly similar to the documentary, but there are some changes. I’m really interested in the family dynamic in that movie.
Brutal As Hell: Is there anything we can come to expect at this point?
Ti West: It’s probably too early. Anything I say will probably turn out to be not true.
Brutal As Hell: Jocelin, the last question is for you. Now that you have a couple well-received horror films under your belt, you’ve done the Burrowers, and now this one, do you have plans to return to the genre? Are you working on anything now?
Jocelin Donahue: I’m not sure what’s on the horizon. I have no problems doing more horror where you can relate to the role and respect what the filmmaker is trying to do. So whatever the genre I hope I can continue making evocative films with integrity.
Brutal As Hell: Well I think I’ve literally skimmed under the time limit and stayed within our time allocation.
Ti: Yeah they’re giving us the stare now.
Brutal As Hell: Well I’d like to thank both of you for taking the time out to talk to us.
Jocelin Donahue: Thank you so much
Ti West: Thanks, and thanks for being supportive!