In anthology films that feature multiple directors, it’s not difficult to realize which contributor is the odd man out. Whether it’s Steven Spielberg’s kindred spirit penetrating through frightful cacophony in Twilight Zone: The Movie or Quentin Tarantino showcasing a bizarre twist on insider baseball amongst unfocused mind-games in Four Rooms, there’s an element of fascination that surrounds the outsider segment. These segments are discussed, analyzed and argued between fans of these anthologies, but they cannot be outright dismissed.
So when V/H/S hit the independent horror community last year, the shockwaves of the film ultimately culminated in segment-by-segment discussions, with much focus falling on Glenn McQuaid’s innovative and chaotic “Tuesday the 17th”, a comedically inspired riff on the slasher genre as told through the lens of a returning “survivor girl”. And by making this survival girl use her friends as bait for an obscured and ferocious killer, “Tuesday the 17th” hit audiences like a cannonball, unsure what to make of a segment so radically different than its immediate predecessor and successor. One thing was for certain: McQuaid was still an effective and visually adept storyteller, twisting expectations following his well-received debut feature, I Sell The Dead. So Diabolique was incredibly gracious that McQuaid would speak about his foray into found footage and what’s next for his unlikely crusaders of corpse thievery…
DIABOLIQUE: At BAMfest last year, you said that you approached your V/H/S segment as a spoof of the slasher genre and its conventions. Why did you choose to create a thematically comedic segment for this anthology? Were you afraid that the segment may cause a tonal imbalance with some of the other horror-heavy segments?
GLENN MCQUAID: When making V/H/S, I wasn’t really aware of what the other directors were doing. But the types of slasher films that I like have a broader tone, which I was going for for “Tuesday the 17th.” My favorite slasher film is probably Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. But I shot a whole lot more that I didn’t end up using that was even broader. I had to hold it back a little bit because it was getting too broad. I think there are some issues with my segment in V/H/S. I felt that our energy was a little off, and I really wish I could change where we were in the order, but I think it was a great thing that I set out for myself to see how far we can inject that kind of humor into found footage with those stock characters, if you will, by putting those stock situations of the slasher genre into found footage.
DIABOLIQUE: Considering the structure of the V/H/S series lies in the execution of found footage, did you find that particular filmmaking format to be constricting or more flexible? Was it somewhat of an advantage to approach the subgenre as a director who doesn’t carry an inherently American point-of-view?
MCQUAID: Well, when I first set out to make “Tuesday the 17th”, I thought I was probably too traditional in my filmmaking. We actually had two rounds of shooting on my segment. But when I went up and shot with the actors, I had a fairly large crew. I had a lot of sound people and a lot of people running around, so it was harder to be extra loose and to just go out and shoot. So the second time I went up [to the location], it was just me, a couple of blokes and the actors. The actors just shot themselves, because we just handed them the camera. For the scene when they were in the car, they were just handed the camera and then they took off for a drive. I didn’t even look at that footage until I was in the editing room. So there was eventually something liberating about the way that we approached V/H/S.
But I definitely did resist that initially. I love the art of making a movie before you’re on set through animatics and storyboarding. It was a very good experience, though. When we were up there, it was like it was just ourselves. It was a very improvised, spur-of-the-moment thing, so if something didn’t work, it didn’t matter because we came back with a ton of footage. That was quite nice, and I walked away with the value of looseness from this project.
Regarding coming to the project from a non-American point-of-view, I think that brought something to it. I mean, my influences were not only Hammer [films], and I’d had a lot of American influences anyway, so I don’t think it brought anything too different. I do think there’s a lot of humor running throughout V/H/S, including Bruckner’s piece, which I think is more of a black comedy, and the Radio Silence piece was a triumph of humor.
DIABOLIQUE: According to the directors of V/H/S/2, their effort was much more regimented and informed, to an extent, than V/H/S, which I understand had very little of an overall game plan. “Tuesday the 17th” is incredibly ambitious in its own right, however. Was that level of ambition a conscious challenge that you wanted to try, considering the found footage aesthetics, or did the ambition progress organically in the story?
MCQUAID: It was a natural progression. A lot of the visual effects came out of our desire to show a new type of killer. I was doing a lot of sketching and getting inspired by the crazy killers and the iconic killers, like Freddy [Kreuger], Jason [Vorhees] and even Chucky. Even movies like The Burning, which I thought was great. Those killers had such a great look about them, especially Jason. After Jason becomes a zombie in Part VI, he gets such an awesome look for a killer. To be honest, I wanted him to look cool, and it was a gradual process to get the look that we did.
DIABOLIQUE: Outside of the V/H/S franchise, you’re most well known for your directorial debut, I Sell The Dead. How did you come up with the concept for I Sell The Dead?
MCQUAID: Well, initially, I Sell The Dead came from a short movie that I had made, which is called The Resurrection Apprentice. That short was a somber drama about a young boy on his first night of being a graverobber, and that starred Larry [Fessenden] and Daniel Manche. When I put the movie around and showed it at a few festivals, it was received well but because it was this odd little drama, there wasn’t as big of an audience response from it. So when I went to turn The Resurrection Apprentice into a feature film, I knew that I really wanted to engage the audience more. So my desire was to connect with an audience and the easiest way to do that was through having it be a little bit broader and be inspired by the movies that gave me my love for horror, which was the Hammer movies, the Abbott and Costello series and even Young Frankensteini and so on.
DIABOLIQUE: I Sell The Dead has a very funny, naturally charismatic and eclectic cast that includes Dominic Monaghan, Larry Fessenden, Ron Perlman and Angus Scrimm. How did you assemble that specific band of genre actors?
MCQUAID: It was interesting. I’d work with Ron Perlman before as Second Unit Director on Larry Fessenden’s The Last Winter, which we shot up in Iceland. Ron and I had spent a few weeks together and knew each other somewhat from that experience. When I wrote I Sell The Dead and I wrote the role of Father Duffy, I definitely had Ron in mind. But when I sent him the script, [Ron] declined because he thought that the role didn’t have enough of an arc and he didn’t want to come in and spend time on a character that he felt wasn’t 100% where it could be.
Instead of going away with my tail between my legs, I listened to what Ron said about the character and I addressed it. A week later, I sent him the new script, and I think Ron really enjoyed the fact that I listened to him. Ron is an actor with a lot of set experience and a lot of film experience, and I think he liked the fact that I was listening and learning. Also, [those changes] improved the character in the script, so that’s how Ron came on board.
With Dominic Monaghan, that was [producer] Peter Phok’s suggestion. Peter was a big fan of Lost, and he throw out Dom’s name in the office one day and we thought, “Why not give his agent a call?” So we called his agent, and he was reading scripts at the time, and an interesting thing about Dom was one of his earliest acting experiences was playing a graverobber in a Manchester Burke and Hare play. So there were enough stars aligning that he may have thought it was a fun role for him. I think it was really important that we got Dom because even the look that Dom would bring to [Arthur] would compliment the look that Larry would bring to [Willy]. I was pretty sure their personalities would gel in just the right way.
When Dom came on board, it was very cool to see him react to Larry and Larry’s portrayal of Willy. Larry was definitely the broader, goofier one of the two [actors]. It was nice to see Dom sometimes take a back seat to Larry and then give it a go when the opportunity arose.
DIABOLIQUE: When it came to your direction of the actors in I Sell The Dead, were you more “hands-on” towards their performances or was there room for organic improvisation?
MCQUAID: When I wrote the script, I put a lot of direction in there for the performances as well. So amongst the prose, there was the direction I wrote in where I adjusted a few of the looks and glances as well. By and large, I think that the direction in the script gave way to the tone I was going for. Very quickly, everybody got that the film was going to be in its own universe that we were creating.
Having said that, I Sell The Dead basically had two chunks of production. We shot for two and a half weeks and then we stopped because we basically lost Ron Perlman to Hellboy II: The Golden Army. So we had to hold off for five months basically until we got [Ron] back, and my skill set as a director between Phase I and Phase II had greatly improved. So after we got Ron back, I was maybe a little bit looser and a little more experimental, and not only did I let the actors improvise more but also [improvisation] with the camera .
I’m a big believer in storyboarding and animatics, and I wanted to go into this film as prepared visually as possible, but even though I brought that back to the second round of production, to an extent, I felt I was looser if something had struck me. Literally, when we were shooting I was changing things up because I had a lot of confidence in mixing things up a little bit and goofing around a little bit. For instance, all of that vampire stuff when they were pulling the stake in and out, that was all last minute, “Let’s do it again” kind of thing.
DIABOLIQUE: I Sell The Dead has a really great balance between effective moments of comedy and effective moments of horror. What do you think it is about these two genres that work together so well?
MCQUAID: For me, I’ve never wanted to really disturb an audience. What I love and am drawn to about horror is that it’s always been escapism, at least for me. The films that I gravitate towards may be a little bit older, like RKO, Hammer, Universal, because I feel like there’s a fantasy to them. So for me, it’s a relief. I’ll go watch one of these horror movies because they’re really not that terrifying. I don’t want to go into a movie and be disturbed too much. I don’t want to go and watch a movie like A Serbian Film. I want to go in and give myself a break. I think life is hard enough.
So when I went in to make I Sell The Dead, I knew [horror-comedy] is what I wanted to do. I wanted to create a little universe that wasn’t going to freak anyone out, really. I wanted [the film] to be a romp. I think there’s a sense of relief when the comedy comes into [horror], like when you’re so scared that you burst out laughing. I think a lot of the humor from I Sell the Dead is coming from watching these two guys dare themselves to get deeper and deeper into a very bad situation, because you can laugh at them and laugh with them . All the things that scare the shit out of Grimes and Blake are things that they can laugh about afterwards down at the pub. So, for me, the goal was to keep the tone jovial. Again, the film was inspired by the work of Gene Wilder, Freddie Francis and Terence Fisher .
DIABOLIQUE: One fascinating aspect about I Sell The Dead is how many subgenres it successfully navigates between, including elements of zombie, vampire and alien films. Was there any subgenre that you had planned or wanted to incorporate into the film that you couldn’t or chose later not to use?
MCQUAID: The thing about Grimes and Blake was that because they were graverobbers, there was much of a desire to mix up their graverobbing schemes as you would with anything else. I was worried that these guys would be spending a lot of the film doing the same thing. So, instead of all the corpses being zombies, we came up with the idea of having one be a vampire and even pushing it to the extreme and having there be in alien in [the film]. I thought it’d be fun to jump genres briefly throughout the movie, but that was always a goal: to just see if we can try something like an alien and still remain in the I Sell The Dead universe.
Other than that, the only other thing that I would have liked would be to throw in there a monster corpse, like a Yeti or something. One day, I went to Larry and said, “Can we shoot one more session that happened in the Arctic?” Larry just shook his head. I feel that with Grime and Blake, there are a lot more stories and a lot more types of undead, that they can reach for.
DIABOLIQUE: Your two biggest theatrical efforts as a director thus far, V/H/S and I Sell The Dead, leaned independently, which is also true of much of your other second unit and visual effects work. Is there an ideological attraction to working in independent films on your end?
MCQUAID: In considering my independent film roots, I think about the American horror filmmakers whom I respond to, which include Joe Dante and especially John Sayles. John Sayles has been a huge influence on me for many years, through The Howling and Piranha but also The Secret of Roan Inish, which my friend Eileen Colgan was the star of. When John Sayles was in Ireland making that movie, it was like all of my worlds were colliding.
I didn’t understand it. How could this man who writes these incredible cult movies be in Ireland? I didn’t understand how movies even were made until they ended up getting closer to me. Then, I saw Passion Fish and it blew my mind. It’s probably still one of my favorite movies. So I think independent movies and independent filmmaking is where I need to be, because I couldn’t continue my journey and find my voice [in Hollywood]. I feel that I’m still a journeyman in the world of storytelling.
It’s not just in filmmaking, though. I also do audio dramas with Larry Fessenden and I’ve also been doing comic books, too. I feel like I’m still finding my voice, and I feel that the best way to do that is to stay in the independent world. I feel that the worst thing that could happen to me right now would be to spend years developing something in Hollywood, working on a horror piece that went nowhere. I feel right now that I’m only capable of shooting something for under $1 million, independently. That’s where I feel the next two projects are going to happen.
DIABOLIQUE: Your films exude a very curious visual flair to them, which often compliments the extraordinary horror stories that you tell. When in pre-productions for your films, what do you find draws your focus: the visual element of the film or cohesive storytelling?
MCQUAID: In the past, it’s always been visual. I think very visually, and as a storyteller, I’m particularly a “visualist”. With I Sell The Dead, I put a huge visual look-book together that not only has visuals from other movies, but horror comics and artwork, basically. I had a couple pages of the look and tone I was going for in each scene. That’s always been my strength. Only recently have I decided that I needed to reach out and collaborate with other writers because I feel like [writing] is not my strong suit. I feel like I can twirl around great ideas but they take years to get out of me. So there’s been an effort recently to collaborate with other writers so I can spend my time doing what I feel like I’m good at doing, which is the visuals and let someone else worry about the structure who is better at that kind of work than I am.
DIABOLIQUE: Do you have any projects coming up in the near future? There’s been talk of a sequel to I Sell The Dead for quite some time now.
MCQUAID: Well, I’ll talk about the I Sell The Dead sequel first. It’s a concept that pretty much everyone involved in the first film would love to see happen. My goal would be not to make a sequel per se as much as I’d love to get back into that world with those characters again. Basically, the idea of the I Sell The Dead sequel is almost like a heist movie, where the first film is more of an anthology movie with all those flashbacks. There would be an element of that [in the sequel], but the film would be The Great Train Robbery, but with the undead. Most of it would take place on an old train.
So it would be a real journey from start to finish as opposed to just Grimes and Blake. They’d be assembling a whole team, some of whom they’d even be reluctant about approaching. It’d be a fun, epic piece. I’ve got a first draft written, I’m just looking for the right collaborator to help me finish up that script. But I’m very proud of it. It lives up to the potential of what Grimes and Blake could be.
Other than that, I’ve been working on Tales from Beyond the Pale, which are radio dramas that Larry Fessenden and I produce. We’ve been putting them online since last October, and I just did a piece with these guys Sean Young and James Le Gros called “The Crush”, which is like Falcon Crest meets Creepshow. That’s got some of my best writing. Right now, I’ve got two scripts that I’ve written, both as collaborations. One is called This Island Damned, which is a humorous horror set in the 1920’s, and I just got done collaborating with Clay Mcleod Chapman on a pulpy piece and I have to say that it’s one of the greatest scripts I’ve ever read. That’s the property that I really want to push forward with.
V/H/S/2, which features segments from V/H/S director Adam Wingard, as well as Simon Barrett, Jason Eisener, Gareth Evans, Timo Tjahjanto, Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale, will be in select theaters from Magnet Releasing this Friday, July 12th, and is currently available for rental on VOD, iTunes, Amazon and other streaming services. For more from Glenn McQuaid, visit TalesfromBeyondThePale.com or you can follow him on Twitter: @MrGlennMcQuaid. As mentioned, McQuaid’s work can be seen in I Sell The Dead and V/H/S, both currently available on DVD/Blu-ray and Netflix Instant Streaming. For more on the I Sell The Dead sequel and more of McQuaid’s future projects, as well as our blow-out coverage for V/H/S/2, keep checking back at DiaboliqueMagazine.com! And don’t forget to pick up Diabolique #17 later this month, which features more on Horror Comedy from the likes of Alex Winter, Doug Benson and Lloyd Kaufman, and even more exclusive comments on V/H/S/2!
– By Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine, as well as a contributing writer for Diabolique Magazine and Fangoria Magazine. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on several screenplays spanning over different genres and subject matter, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.