Whether or not horror film aficionados would like to admit it or not, there’s a strange correlation between the horror film world and the culture of popular music. The fandom between both is incredibly loyal and resourceful, especially when factoring in the social stigma associated with both communities, and the waves of subgenres that flow through each culture like storms through passing seasons is oddly similar. And much like popular music, the stars of each community are just as likely to burn out like a match after a single hit as they are to alter their craft entirely over a long, fulfilling career.
It’s with this mentality of fearful persistence, and an overflow of wayward creativity, that Canadian director Jason Eisener has become a sporadic yet consistently powerful force of genre filmmaking. If horror is akin to pop music, then Eisener would be the equivalent to the Beastie Boys, living on the fringe of the genre and showing off his skills when he’s damn ready to reveal them. Yet with one feature film under his belt and four critically acclaimed shorts in less than half of a decade, one of which is his hilarious and incredibly scary V/H/S/2 segment, “Slumber Party Alien Abduction,” Eisener still has much more crazy cinematic carnage to bring to the table. Eisener, who is profiled in this month’s issue of Diabolique Magazine (#17) alongside with V/H/S/2, spoke to Diabolique about his eerie extraterrestrial entry into the V/H/S franchise…
DIABOLIQUE: At the Tribeca Film Festival, you cited Robert Lieberman’s Fire in the Sky as a direct inspiration for your segment, “Slumber Party Alien Abduction”. Was this why you chose a more “traditional” look for your aliens?
JASON EISENER: Well, in Fire in the Sky, the aliens have somewhat human features to them. Their eyes look like human eyes. But when I was a kid, after seeing that movie, I was obsessed with studying alien abductions and UFOs. I pulled out every book from the libraries around here that I could on [aliens]. So they were based on the image that I had for them as a kid when I was terrified of them. A lot of that came from old images of grey aliens, and these aliens are just an amalgamation of all of the images [of the aliens] that I saw as a kid.
DIABOLIQUE: Not only does “Alien Abduction Slumber Party” feel big in scale, despite being set on a singular property, but the film also feels like an old-fashioned, pick-‘em-off suspense movie. Was it important for you to balance the tension of the piece with the immediacy of the narrative?
EISENER: Well, for me, one of the fears I had for aliens as a kid was that abductions were sort of random. They could come for anyone, and they could come out of nowhere at anytime. I wanted to capture that feeling of kids living their normal life and then all of the sudden, it gets cut off by aliens attacking them and trying to abduct them. I wanted to capture that feeling that you’re just living life as a kid and then, all of the sudden, something terrible happens, there’s no time to explain it and you just have to run.
DIABOLIQUE: For V/H/S/2, you used an all-child cast, aside from the people playing the aliens, which is fascinating since child actors also play a big part in your ABC’s of Death segment, and in Hobo with a Shotgun to an extent. Is there any particular fascination to you to get the perspective of children in these stories or are they more or less a narrative device?
EISENER: It definitely comes from going into making my movies from a kid’s perspective. I’m still going in [to these projects] as that kid who takes a bunch of action figures and mashes them up to create a scenario for them. Whenever there’s a tough, creative decision on set, I’m always going back to the kid inside me, and I ask that kid, “What would you do? What would you be into?” And when I get the thumbs up from the kid inside, that’s the decision that I usually go with.
So I always go into my projects with a youthful spirit, and I guess that’s where my perspective comes from, because I’m always grabbing inspiration from my childhood. I’m very inspired by my childhood, and I feel it’s shaped all of my artistic sensibilities. So when I’m making The ABC’s of Death or V/H/S/2, I want to show that I can make accessible movies with kids. One of my dreams is to make a movie like The Monster Squad. That’s one of my all-time goals. I want to make the ultimate tree fort movie some day. When I was a kid, whenever I’d see The Monster Squad, The Goonies, The Sandlot, I would go outside afterwards to build tree forts and get my knees and elbows scraped up. I want to make movies that gets kids to do that again.
DIABOLIQUE: At Tribeca, you also said that Steven Spielberg and Richard Donner were influences on your work in V/H/S/2 because of how they’ve portrayed children that felt realistic. However, your work in general is often reminiscent of more violence-prone, adult-oriented filmmakers like Walter Hill and John Carpenter. Who would you cite as the most influential on your work, and why?
EISENER: Oh man. It’s really hard to say. Walter Hill and John Carpenter were definitely huge influences. A lot of their films are in my top 10. But I don’t know. I can’t really tell you because I can’t really pin it down to one. Honestly, I attribute a lot of my inspiration to my childhood: growing up in the ‘80s, and watching ‘80s cartoons and ‘80s movies. I grew up watching Ghostbusters and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers, Voltron and BraveStarr. Those always had very high concept ideas, so I’ve always been drawn to high concept ideas. Also, Gary Goddard, who did the Masters of the Universe movie, was a huge inspiration on me as a kid. He went on to do all these crazy cool kid shows like Captain Power, Skeleton Warriors and then went on to do the Terminator 2: 3D ride at Universal Studios. He was a big influence, too.
Also, Fred Dekker, who did Night of the Creeps and The Monster Squad. If anything, I think the kids from “Alien Abduction Slumber Party” are inspired by the kids from The Monster Squad. That’s my all time favorite kids movie, and I’ve always wanted to make a kids movie that had that feel. Somebody asked me before, “If you could have a billion dollars to make a movie, what would you do with it?” and I said, “I would give it to Fred Dekker and let him make some more films.” I even love Robocop 3. I think that movie’s amazing. I’m a fan of all of his work.
DIABOLIQUE: There’s a good amount of comedy prevalent in most of your work, and it’s definitely apparent in “Slumber Party Alien Abduction”. Is there a particular favorite horror comedy of yours? Something that might have been forgotten or underrated, perhaps?
EISENER: Oh man, I’m sure I could come up with some. It’s hard to say. I’d definitely say Night of the Creeps, but wouldn’t you say that that’s kind of well known?
DIABOLIQUE: Well, it’s not really forgotten but it’s not as well known as, comparatively speaking, The Monster Squad or anything like that.
JE: Yeah. Well, there’s Nothing But Trouble, from 1991. I first saw that when I was a kid, and it scared the shit out of me. But it’s actually super silly and messed up. I still love it, even thought I don’t think many folks feel the same way. Also, and this might be my #1 pick, the film Parents, from 1989, which I saw for the first time 2 years ago. I thought it was horrifying, and hilarious, and it’s probably the best film to ever capture the feeling of growing up and realizing how weird your parents are. Remember that moment in your life when you’re starting to understand the world, but your parents still talk to you and treat you like a child? It just feels awkward and weird. I think Parents is a masterpiece and everyone should see it. We watched it with a bunch of friends and everyone could connect with it.
DIABOLIQUE: Considering V/H/S/2 is the second anthology you’ve appeared in this year, following The ABC’s of Death, do you want to continue short form filmmaking or are you more comfortable with feature length?
EISENER: I love making shorts, but the only problem now is that with both of those anthologies, the budgets were so low that we didn’t have money to pay people. So, right now, I feel that all of my favors have dried up. I dried up the well of favors, so I’d love to continue making them, but I can’t find it in myself to ask people to work for free. But I’d love to do it. I’d love to make music videos, too. I never really got the chance to dive into that world, so that’s something I’d also love to do more of. But it sucks, because you get to make a feature film andpeople just expect that you probably have money to make more movies, which isn’t the case. So I have to find some work for my friends before I can get them out again.
DIABOLIQUE: Your ABC’s of Death segment is quite impressive, and particularly, that synthesizer score was absolutely insane and memorable. What’s the story behind that bit of ‘80s synth-rock nostalgia?
EISENER: Oh, sweet! Yeah, the score was done by this group, some friends of mine from Australia called Power Glove. They did a song for me in Hobo. It’s the song that plays when The Plague come into the movie during the hospital scene. Recently, I got them a gig on this video game called Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, and they scored the whole video game. It’s amazing.
DIABOLIQUE: I’ve played Far Cry 3, but haven’t played Blood Dragon yet. I want to so badly. It’s whole aesthetic and story has me chomping at the bit, and to hear that you’re associated with it even draws me closer to getting it.
EISENER: I had a lot of fun working on that game. It’s pretty insane. I haven’t played all of it. I’ve played like an hours worth of the game, but it’s pretty nuts.
DIABOLIQUE: As a young, independent horror filmmaker, you’re coming into the genre at a strange time where, because the horror genre has become so formulaic or identifiable, filmmakers are wearing their homages on their sleeves and often referencing the horror genre within dialogue and character motivation. Why do you think genre filmmaking as of late has embraced meta and self-reflexive storytelling?
EISENER: I think why filmmakers now are drawn to that is that when those influential movies were made, it felt like this lawless time where you could get away with anything, and I think that’s exciting for filmmakers working today. Filmmakers can go out with cameras that look amazing that cost nothing, so they can go out on the streets and get wild and crazy, and do whatever the hell they want with them. They don’t want anyone to tell them that they can’t do what they’re doing. Especially now that there’s so many filmmakers now, and so many people can shoot films and get them out there.
It’s reminiscent of the times where exploitation movies are being made, and they want to do something wild and crazy to get attention because they couldn’t afford to have stars in their movies unlike Hollywood films. So [filmmakers] would come up with crazy, outrageous ideas so that they could break in [to the business] without having the big stars of the big budgets. I don’t know. I think we’re in somewhat of a similar time where filmmakers are trying to think up ways to make their films to stand out amongst millions of other movies.
DIABOLIQUE: So, do you have any other projects in the pipeline? Feature, short, otherwise?
JE: I’ve got a couple of projects we’re developing. I can’t really say what they are yet, and I’m not too sure when they’re going to go down. I don’t know. I’m trying! I’m trying my best. It’s been tough because I’ve gotten offers for some big movies and some amazing opportunities that would change my life and definitely my financial life, for sure, but I don’t know man. I can’t sell out. I have to do what I’m passionate about, and I feel like a filmmaker who has to go into a movie willing to take a bullet for the movie. When I was making Hobo, my ABC’s short, my V/H/S/2 short, I would have jumped in front of guns for those movies. I’m just busting it trying to get people behind our projects.
DIABOLIQUE: Well, that’s an interesting ideological viewpoint, but let me ask you this: if you were offered the chance to remake The Monster Squad, would you do it?
EISENER: Oh, in a heartbeat. In a heartbeat. And I’ve been offered remakes, and usually I’m just like, “Why? There’s no reason for this.” But I feel like The Monster Squad, there’s a reason why kids need a movie like that today. So I would definitely jump to the challenge and I’d put my heart and soul and everything I had into a Monster Squad remake, for sure. BUT I would want to do it with Fred Dekker. He’d had to be involved.
V/H/S/2, which features segments from Eisener, Adam Wingard, Simon Barrett, Gregg Hale, Eduardo Sanchez, Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Evans, will be in select theaters from Magnet Releasing today, July 12th, and is currently available for rental on VOD, iTunes, Amazon and other streaming services. For more from Eisener, you can follow him on Twitter: @Jasoneisener, or you can subscribe to his Tumblr account, jasoneisener.tumblr.com. You can find Treevenge and the original Hobo with a Shotgun trailer in their entireties on Youtube. Hobo with a Shotgun and The ABC’s of Death are available on DVD/Blu-ray as well as on Netflix Instant Streaming. For more on Eisener, Hobo with a Shotgun and Magnet Releasing, 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 exclusive comments from Eisener 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.