|From left to right: House of Bad co-writer and producer Scott Frazelle, director Jim Towns, and producer Dorota Skrzypek.|
Jim Towns was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and has been making horror films since he got a video camera as a child. After graduating from the Savannah College of Art & Design and working in Philadelphia and New York City for a number of years, Towns returned to Pittsburgh in 1999 where he and childhood friend Mike McKown produced their first professional short, The Sleep of Reason. After forming Robot Monkey Studios, Towns and McKown made two features: Prometheus Triumphant and Stiff (which Towns co-directed).
Towns then returned to California to where he both filmed House of Bad and wrote Survival Knife (directed by McKown).
Judging from the trailer, the movie looks disturbing as hell. Was that the intention?
To some degree, yes, of course – any filmmaker worth their salt wants to affect the viewer on some primal level – honestly, that's the only way we know we did our job well. Horror is probably the most challenging genre because it critically hinges on eliciting terror in the audience – if you don't manage that you don't really have anything. To that end, a horror filmmaker like me does everything they can to manipulate the viewer- we drag shots out, intentionally compose them awkwardly, purposely kill most of the lighting until people just become moving shadows… all to create that tension. It's really the art of manufacturing unease.
In House of Bad there's an additional dramatic element between the lead characters, who are all sisters – they have a long backstory of neglect, abuse and violence in their collective past. This damage is what has led them all to the point where they hatch this desperate plan of stealing a suitcase full of drugs to sell off, in the hopes of making a new life for themselves – but it's also the trigger for much of the supernatural terror in the film. The dynamic of three siblings with a complicated history stuck in a confined area together gives our story an additional unsettling element – one that I think many viewers can empathize with to some degree. That sympathetic connection with the main characters is what I think helps make the story more real for someone watching House of Bad, and therefore makes it easier to believe when all the supernatural stuff starts going down.
How long has the movie been in the works for? Did it take a long time to come together?
JT: I had been working on the script for a year or two, off and on between other projects. It was always kind of on the back burner. Then in March 2011 our producers Scott Frazelle and Dorota Skrzypek came on board the project and things got real. We shot principal photography in Spring of 2011, over about two weeks – a very condensed and very intense shoot that had to be intricately planned out. That done, we then took our time editing the film, and over the course of a year we assembled the footage and also did about three days of pickup shoots and some second unit-type filming. By the end of 2012 we had the cut finished, scored, visual effects, etc. Only then did we start shopping it around, and submitting to some film fests. We did the Big Bear Horror-Fi fest in May, and won the Fan Favorite award, which was great as we were going after distributors right then. Not long after Big Bear, we signed with Osiris Entertainment and now here we are, doing press and getting ready for the DVD/VOD release. It definitely takes a long time, especially if your goal is to make something of quality, rather than just churn out a product to make a quick buck but it's worth it in the end if you're really proud of what you created, and have made great lasting relationships with the people involved. House of Bad has been a big part of my life for over two years now, and of course I'm anxious to move on to my next film, as I'm sure everyone involved is – but it's ultimately been a completely rewarding journey, and I feel very lucky to have worked with all the talented folks that have been part of this project.
|From left to right: Sadie Katz (Sirah), Scott Frazelle, Heather Tyler (Teig) and Cheryl Sands (Lily).|
How did you pitch it to investors?
JT: It's a story about three gorgeous girls trapped in a haunted house. I'm not sure what's more watchable than that, really, haha. No, really – that was the pitch.
I was lucky that (executive producers) Scott Frazelle and Dorota Skrzypek decided that this was a project worth investing not only money in, but a sizable period of their lives as well. They've been great collaborators all along the journey and have been instrumental in the business of actually selling the film. We've also been very lucky in that people who have watched even early footage from the film have caught the spirit of the production and helped in many ways: with funding, with their expertise and assistance, with promotion, screenings… you name it. House of Bad taught me if you really believe in what you're doing, and are willing to work your ass off for it, people will see that and will jump on and help. There's a complete shortage of passion projects in film right now. Something to really believe in is rare.
Is there a message in the movie, do you think?
JT: Never trust your siblings!!!
No, seriously… if there's a message I think it's that trying to forget about bad things in your past never resolves the problem – all that ignoring pain and loss accomplishes is to allow it to linger and fester and grow, until it finally poisons you from the inside.
The horror/thriller genre seems to change every few months -- one minute, torture porn is all the rage, the next old-school practical-effects movies are popular. What do you prefer from the genre?
Film is really a populist medium, and horror is like any other film style – it flexes and bends to the will of the masses. The zeitgeist of the culture-at-large is really what determines what type of horror film is popular at any given point – largely because whatever it is – torture stuff like Hostel, supernatural docu-style films like Paranormal Activity – they become popular because they fulfil some unconscious NEED in people… they give them a release that they crave, so they do really well and then there are a gazillion copycat films made until the subgenre has run its course and the culture moves on. That's why people who take issue with the content of horror films are fundamentally deluded… because horror films don't influence society, they reflect it. Movies are made by artists who live in the real world, and who are influenced by it to create larger-than-life stories, not the other way 'round.
|Heather Tyler as Teig.|
JT: Personally, I really like watching anything that a) tells a good story with strong and interesting characters or b) brings some new or inventive element to the genre or c) just is really well made and fun. Lately my favorite horror films have been the offbeat ones like Let the Right One In and Stakeland… at the same time I love a really well-produced studio film like Chernobyl Diaries. Of course I also dig good indie's like the Soska sisters' American Mary, which I thought was really strong.
What I don't like is this glut of films that play off of some repressed violent voyeurism or nihilistic fetish to see people mutilated without any real reason or purpose. Don't get me wrong: I'm no prude. I love my violence and gore in films, it just has to have a point, man… tell me a compelling story about people and their conflicts that pivots on all this sadism, don't just put me through some 90-minute ultraviolent masturbatory vanity project you made because your uncle gave you ten grand and you couldn't think of a real story to tell… honestly it's just childish. I'd rather watch Tremors for the fortieth time. Seriously, that movie's scary and a ton of fun, to boot.
Film's hard, man. I come from painting and let me tell you, film's hard. There's the opportunity to make like ten thousand mistakes along the path, and every one you make will be on display and some could easily sink you and no one will ever see what you've worked so hard to make. It's an incredibly competitive and highly-unforgiving art form to work in, especially right now – so honestly I appreciate anyone who can get a feature made and have it be something watchable, because seriously just doing that is a humongous challenge.
Who is releasing the film and when and where can we get it?
House of Bad is being released on December 3rd through Osiris Entertainment on DVD through most major retailers, and on VOD on a variety of streaming platforms. You can pre-order it now on Amazon.com. You can like the film on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Both social sites feature exclusive behind-the-scenes content about our actresses and the filming that are worth checking out. Thanks and I hope you enjoy it!
HorrorTalk would like to thank Jim Towns for taking the time for this Q&A!
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