The other day Horror Cult Films’ Matt Wavish bravely went down to the woods of Big Bear to have a little chat with director Jason Horton about his upcoming found footage horror, Monsters in the Woods. The interview went well, although throughout our discussions I kept seeing things moving in the background, trees were rustling, twigs were snapping, and a sense of being watched came over Me. Jason didn’t seem too concerned: calm and cool as a cucumber, Jason casually discussed his new film and shared some past stories while I tried to give him the attention he deserved. I couldn’t help but look at the woods though, why the Hell did we meet here, what was that moving in the distance, why can I hear bizarre noises, growling, a bad smell. I began to panic, had Jason brought me here to be monster feed, or did he really want to discuss his new film? I didn’t hang around too long, but I did stay long enough to get the lowdown on Monsters in the Woods, a superb throwback to the creature movies of old, with men in suites, a terrific cast and a real sense of fun. The film has no date set for the UK as yet, but keep it here for news on when we will get to see it, and tust me, it will be worth the wait.
You can read my review here.
1- So that our readers can get to know you better, please tell us a little about yourself and how you came to be in the movie business:
I’m from the Midwest (Indiana) and went to film school in Louisiana after working off-shore for a few years. I always wanted to be a director. I started off with a VHS camera in High school. (I wish I still had some of those movies). I used to edit all in-camera, luckily the camera had an audio dub function so I could add music later. In 2003, I shot Rise of the Undead in New Orleans. After Hurricane Katrina, I moved to Los Angeles, edited and Dp’d several movies and then wrote and directed “Edges of Darkness,” “Trap” and “Monsters in the Woods.” Somewhere in there I wrote 10 other scripts and directed “Should’ve Put a Ring on it” with Robin Givens.
2- Please tell us one interesting fact about yourself:
I was the lead singer in a semi-popular funk/rock band in my hometown.
3- Your new film, Monsters in the Woods, is about to be unleashed on the good people of the USA, are you confident that the film will be popular?
If our distributor gives us a decent sized release I think it will do very well indeed. I think it’s a much better movie than “Edges of Darkness” was, and EOD was very successful (at least financially.) The big difference is EOD was released in the US by Anchor Bay(a decent sized distributor), whereas Osiris Entertainment (a smaller distributor) is releasing MITW. It remains to be seen how well they can/will support the movie.
4- Having seen the film I can confirm that it is very good indeed. When do you intend to share it with us here in the UK and what are your thoughts on how the UK will react to it?
Thank you. I hope it is released in the UK as soon as possible. Again, it’s kind of up to our distributor now. They own the world rights. As far as I know Russia is the 1st territory that they’ve sold. But, it’s always interesting to see how your stuff plays in other countries. I think the Uk will dig it the most.
5- Monsters in the Woods uses the now very popular “found footage” genre and puts an interesting spin on the gimmick by adding the “film within a film” presentation. Where did this idea come from and what were your reasons for going forward with it?
I got the idea to use the found-footage for my 1st act pretty early on. 1st acts are always a bit tricky. You have to introduce all the characters and figure out what they’re about. It can be boring and functionary. I thought it might be fun to introduce the characters in interviews shot by a behind the scenes crew, and since the movie was about folks making a movie it made sense. And I’ve always wanted to use the “movie within a movie” cliché to make a comment on the nature of making micro-budget movies. It just all worked out.
6- The film uses all those wonderful ideas from classic B-movies, with some terrific comedy, no CGI and a cast of very likeable characters. Was your intention to give something back to those fans that miss the days of the man in a rubber suit with a real sense of fun?
Totally. I love the old creature-features; The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Thing, They Fly, It Came From Outer space. Ect.. But, I’d say MITW owes more to 80’s creature features like Critters, Tremors, Gremlins and Night of the Creeps. Those were fun movies with ultra-cool practical creatures. But what really make them stand out to me now are the characters. You really like those guys. I wanted to do something similar.
7- Glenn Plummer, probably the most recognisable face in the cast, gave a superb performance and really held the film together in his role as director Jayson. Was his character based on personal experience?
Yes. I loved Glenn in “South Central” and “Speed.” I got the chance to work with him a few years back on a never released micro called “Nuthouse.” I was DPing. He was awesome to work with and very humble. His character in Monsters in the Woods is loosely based on me. I made the best movie of my career (pre-Monsters in the Woods) a few years back. It was called “Trap.” It followed a middle-aged kidnapper who fell in love with his teen victim. But no distributor would take it. They all said pretty much the same thing, “Not enough sex! Not enough violence!” It was an extremely frustrating and depressing situation. But it was what inspired me to do Monsters in the Woods.
8- All horror films, sci-fi’s and B-movies benefit from a good looking cast, and Monsters in the Woods offers up its fair share of rather fine looking ladies. Would you agree to an extent that sex sells (much like what was forced on Jayson in the film), and who has the final say in the choice of casting?
Absolutely. Monsters in the Woods is all about making that statement. I have the characters talking about how the distributors want more sex and violence and then I have the movie actually deliver it (as much as I could on our budget.) The casting final say was pretty much mine on Monsters in the Woods. There were a few cast members that were “strongly recommended” by the producers.
9- Anyone watching Monsters in the Woods will clearly be able to see that the cast and crew were having a great time making the film. It appears that everyone involved were on the same level, they all appear to be getting on and your cast deliver their lines on screen with a real sense of fun. Was this the case on set, did it all go according to plan?
The cast and crew got along famously. It helps that a lot of us had worked together before in various combination and were already friends. We shot for like 6 days in Big Bear. We had rented two very large cabins. The accommodations were pretty nice, Jacuzzi’s and everything. It was a lot hard work during the day, but we had a pretty good time in the evening as well.
10- Whose idea was it to use old fashion style effects for the actual monsters roaming the woods and what are your thoughts on how the monsters themselves look?
I think the plan was always to use practical monsters, but we went through various different designs. Originally the movie was going to be done for less than half of what our final budget turned out to be. The original monsters were much less elaborate and we were going to show them much less. After our Executive Producer came on board and our budget went up a bit, we redesigned. Robert Bravo conceptualized them and Tom Devlin’s 1313 FX pulled them off. I’m really happy with how they turned out. I only wish we had more money to give 1313 so we could have had more physical interaction with the monsters and the cast, especially during the kills.
11- As your film will no doubt join the ever-growing list of “found footage” movies, what are your thoughts on the genre, and do you have any favourites?
Just like any genre, when it’s done right found footage movies rock. The REC movies are probably my favourites. They freakin rock! I can’t wait for REC 3. (Yes I know it only begins as found footage.) I also still really like Blair Witch, Cloverfield and kinda dug The Last Exorcism. I’m not huge Paranormal Activity fan, but thought they were ok.
12- Speaking of favourites, do you have a favourite horror you would like to share with us?
Tie for 1st. John Carpenter’s The Thing and Aliens.
13- While in the subject of favourite films, what is your favourite film of all time, and do you have a guilty pleasure, which you know you shouldn’t like, but you just can’t help yourself?
I don’t necessarily have an all time favourite, but there are 2 that really opened up my world. 1st was Evil Dead 2. It was the 1st low budget horror movie that I fell in love with. It showed me that you didn’t need money, big effects or name actors to have a great fun movie. Then a little later Reservoir Dogs became my gateway movie. I absolutely loved it, but it was through reading interviews with Tarantino that I discovered French New Wave, John Woo and Hong Kong Cinema, Peckinpaw, Walter Hill, ect…
14- In terms of making films, who are your influences and why?
Tarantino is a big one. I love the way he plays with structure. I’ve used non-linear structure in 3 of the 4 movies I’ve written and directed so far. I also love the way he mixed and matches genres and writes dialog (It’s between him and David Mammet for my favourite dialog.) John Carpenter is another big one. I just love the way he shoots. I also like how his fun horror flick have political subtext without being too overbearing (usually.) Michael Mann is a big influence on the way I shoot. I love his camera work on Collateral, Miami Vice and The Insider.
15- You started out directing with a number of horror films, Rise of the Undead and Edges of Darkness. Can you tell us a little about those films?
Rise of the Undead was a pretty cool idea with poor execution. Worst mistake = bad cg monster. I had just graduated college and wanted to make a movie. So I did. It wasn’t until after I moved to Los Angeles and worked on a bunch of other people’s movies that I really learned how to make movies. Edges of Darkness was a jump ahead. But the rushed nature of the project took its toll.
16- Your next venture in the world of movies was the crime thriller called Trap and then you moved into comedy with Should’ve Put a Ring on it. With Monsters in the Woods your are back in horror territory again, have you found your favourite genre with horror?
I just love movies. As far as writing and directing goes, I tend to gravitate more towards genre stuff. I have 10 other finished scripts. 4 are horror. 2 are Sci-fi. The other four are more dramatic thrillers.
(Shelter: A Monster Movie was never made. I’ve tried to get that taken down from IMDB but they won’t delete it.)
17- Coming back to Monsters in the Woods, the setting in the film I thought was gorgeous to look at. How did you choose the location?
I think Big Bear was Robert Bravo’s idea initially. We drove up from a location scout and talked to the rangers. We never looked anywhere else. (We did shoot a few pick ups in Malibu.)
18- Do you have any plans for a Monsters in the Woods part 2?
I do have an idea. I can’t really go into it, but it is very unexpected. If it doesn’t happen as a direct sequel, I might co-opt the idea as a stand-alone.
19- What can we expect to see next from Jason Horton?
One of two projects looks to be next. One is a cannibal siege flick called Chophouse. The other is a surrealist, thriller about Veterinary Technicians that moonlight as hitmen. But you never know, none of my movies was ever supposed to be the next one. They just kind of happen. Whatever the project is you can expect a quantum leap in quality. I learned so much on my last two flicks and have finally assembled a dream crew. I can’t wait to share the next one with the world.
20- Finally, here at Horror Cult Films we have a question which we like to ask all the people we interview, so, if you were able to spend a night in a pub talking movies with any director alive or dead, who would it be and why?
Tarantino. He knows more about movies than anyone and his enthusiasm for them is infectious.
Everyone here at HCF would like to thank Jason very much for spending some time with us to do this interview. We would all like to wish him all the very best with the release of Monsters in the Woods in the US, and we hope that when the film does make its way to UK shores, it is a huge success.
Many thanks again Jason!
Matt Wavish and the HCF team