In 1999 Eduardo Sanchez co-directed The Blair Witch Project with fellow filmmaker David Myrick and redefined the horror genre for a new generation. By tossing three perpetually scared twenty-somethings deep into the heart of the Maryland woods with nothing but a camcorder and a malicious witch for company, the duo inadvertently created the 'found-footage' genre that's thrown around so often in today's multiplexes. His latest feature Lovely Molly returns to the realm of the creepy by chronicling a young woman's descent into demonic possession while his next feature Exists reunites the director with the remote woodland for a search for the deadly Bigfoot. We sat down with Eduardo to discuss the formation of his latest horror, being scared, finding Sasquatch and the future of a certain witch...
Simon Bland: What do you personally like to see in a horror movie and what do you like a horror movie to do to you?
Eduardo Sanchez: It depends on what the horror movie is because horror movies…it’s an interesting genre, there are all kinds of different sub-genres within horror movies. Some horror movies are meant to make you laugh while others are just meant to terrify you and some are meant to gross you out. So for me, I don’t really like the gross kind of thing that much, I like being scared but I don’t like it that much, I’m kind of a chicken shit really. Like that movie The Strangers, I don’t want to see that movie. I don’t want to see anything about somebody coming into my house and terrorising my family, it’s a little too close to home. But to me a good horror movie surprises me and scares you and then doesn’t treat you like an idiot. I think that’s a big thing that it doesn’t try to trick you into being something that it’s not. A lot of the time that’s based on the marketing and the filmmakers have nothing to do with the decisions that the studio has made to market the movie a certain way but those are my things about horror movies. I like smart horror movies but I like dumb horror movies too, that’s what I love about the genre that it’s a completely mixed bag and enjoyable on almost every level.
SB: What scares you? You mentioned things being a little too close to home…
ES: Yeah, I mean I have three kids and a very happy family life so anything that can disrupt my family scares me, anything happening to my kids or my wife obviously. The dark still scares me, like I said I scare myself very easily, I don’t like going into my basement at night alone, late at night when everybody’s sleeping, I tend to imagine faces through windows and shit so I get freaked out. The scene in Lovely Molly where the alarm goes off, that’s actually happened to me and it’s terrifying, your alarm going off in the middle of the night – obviously it’s there to protect you but it’s also just terrifying because it means that somebody might be breaking into your house! It’s obviously better to know that and get that information up front but it’s really terrifying, so it doesn’t take a lot to scare me honestly!
SB: You started writing Lovely Molly in 2009. Why did the writing process take so long and what various states did the movie take on in that time?
ES: The original movie was a found footage movie about a woman videotaping herself going through some kind of demonic possession and I was really hesitant to do a first person found footage movie. I just didn’t really want to go there especially after I saw Paranormal Activity. I liked Paranormal Activity, not because I had anything against Paranormal Activity, but I just didn’t really want to go there especially after Paranormal Activity had done it pretty well. So what drove me, first of all, I’m a really slow writer and most of the time I have other people do most of the work, at least most of the writing and then I come in with ideas and I do polishes an things like that and Lovely Molly was the first time in a long time when I almost wrote the script completely by myself. Jamie Nash helped me out and he came up with the original idea and then I would bounce ideas of him every once in a while but really I kind of took the idea and ran with it. I’m just a slow writer and also the movie has a weird rhythm and it took me a while to figure that out and to also figure out whether it was working or not. I spent four or five months just by myself writing it and I had about sixty-five pages done and I didn’t know what the hell I had. I was like, ‘Is this worth anything?’ and I sent it to my partner Rob Cowie and I was like ‘Read this and see what the hell you think,’ and he came back and was like ‘It’s amazing keep going, I don’t know where it’s going but it’s a fucking crazy ride,’ so I just kept going at that point but it took me a while to find the tone and figure out how I was going to do a found footage movie without it really being a found footage movie.
SB: Did you know straight off the bat what kind of demon would be the main antagonist and what did you want to add to the film that would differentiate it from the other possession movies like The Exorcist?
ES: I set out to make an exorcism movie and then at the end I ran out of time for the exorcist to come in, right when the exorcist comes in, or the exorcist should come in, the movie ends so that was kind of a big thing for me because I originally had it mapped out that there was going to be some exorcist and actually I had this female exorcist come in and help her through this in a really weird, unique way. Not in the holy water and the basic thing – like a really unique way that she was going to help her through this and then I got to the end of the script and it wasn’t there so I realised that I’d written an ambiguous exorcism movie. My thing was that I didn’t want to pin-point what was really going on, I really wanted to set a case for the psychosis, set the case for demonic possession and even set the case for drug use and so I played around with all three of those motivations and then leave the decisions up to the audience and the individual viewer and also leave some room for possible investigations into some of the websites and back story that we have online. I set about to make a much more conventional exorcism movie and at the end of the day it ended up being a much more complex and much more unconventional kind of film.
SB: Lovely Molly and also The Blair Witch Project have roots in reality – albeit a heightened reality. Do you think this helps scare audiences?
ES: Yeah I mean it’s not the only way to scare audiences but it’s a good way to do it. It’s not only a good way to scare audiences but it’s a good way to engage them into the movie more carefully. It’s almost like subconsciously, when we’re watching somebody’s video there’s a little bit of us that even though we know it’s a movie and we know it’s actors, there’s just a little bit of us that still feels like it’s real, like we’re looking at something real or we’re looking at somebody’s POV which is something you don’t normally see in movies. So there’s a certain sense of intimacy there that is very hard to get with conventional filmmaking techniques as far as the horror genre is concerned or scare moments are concerned. So yeah it’s definitely a tool but like every cinematic tool it has its limits and it can be done right and it can be done wrong and that’s why I appreciate movies like Rec and Paranormal Activity and even Cloverfield because it’s difficult to make that work I’ve seen plenty of bad examples of those kind of movies.
SB: Lovely Molly has a great lead actress. How much was improvised and how much was scripted?
ES: I let them [the cast] run free during the auditions and during the rehearsals. We had two weeks of rehearsals on and off while we were prepping the movie and as the blocking changed and the rhythm of the scene changed or they took it in a different direction, I would re-write stuff based on what we had come up with during the rehearsals but once we got to the set, there were a few things that we tried to improvise and most of the time we ended up just going back to the page but I kept doing it even though it wasn’t completely working because there was a certain amount of freedom and a certain amount of raw energy that you get doing a scene like that that I always felt lingers even when you’re just reading lines from the script. It was still a really valuable exercise.
SB: Do you have any plans to return to The Blair Witch?
ES: Well we actually have a lot of ideas. We have a prequel idea, sequel ideas and found footage ideas and it’s just a matter of getting Lionsgate who owns the property to agree to something. We’ve been talking for years now with them, taking certain ideas down paths and the circling back but I think we’re ready, we at Haxan and the rest of the partners, we’re definitely ready to make another movie. I’m actually going to LA next month and we might meet with them and talk about some stuff so we’ll see what happens but we’re hoping that something will happen soon because we would love to go back to that world, we think there’s a lot of unfinished business there.
SB: Would the original stars appear and if so, in what capacity?
ES: You know there are certain ideas where they do appear and others where they don’t appear, so it’s just a matter of what we go with but whatever it is we would definitely try to get them in there, we love those guys and we think it would be cool to make them part of the extended mythology even more.
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