It's been six years since 'Silent Hill' (based on the video game franchise) came out, and its sequel, 'Silent Hill: Revelation 3D," hits theaters this weekend. We talked to director Michael J. Bassett about his horror influences, directing Malcolm McDowell (a.k.a. Alex in 'A Clockwork Orange'), and how he plans to freak out the teenage dudes that come see his movie.
What lured you into horror movies?
I blame my older brother. He read all the horror magazines like Fangoria that had all those freaky images in them. A lot of horror movies were illegal, like 'Driller Killer' and 'I Spit On Your Grave.' They were banned in the U.K. [but] we had a local video store that would rent them to us. I remember getting caught for cutting school and getting dragged into the principal's office. He said, “You're wasting your time watching these movies, you need to study!” Cut to 10, 15 years later and I'm sitting in Wes Craven's office telling him that story.
Directing horror is different than directing comedies or dramas for sure. What do you think is the key to getting the audience to feel truly freaked out?
You've got to love the genre you're directing and engage the audience. There are different levels of fear. There's the “Boo!” where you get people to jump and have loud music or a loud sound. A lot of directors do that, but I like the slow burn. I like to freak the audience out with atmosphere. I like to pile on the atmosphere. You also have to have a main character the audience likes and cares about. The inevitability of fear is a great thing to create.
How did Malcolm McDowell get involved?
In the video game 'Silent Hill 3' there's a character named Leonard that's just a voice on the end of a phone. I wanted a human version of Leonard, a crazy old guy locked up in an asylum. Nobody is more perfect than Malcolm McDowell. Besides being a great actor he brings incredible film history with him from 'A Clockwork Orange' to 'Caligula.' I loved listening to his anecdotes.
"I started working for someone that made wildlife documentaries. They asked me, 'Do you want to make films about animals?' and I said, 'No. I want to blow shit up.'"
How were the monsters and creatures created? Was it mostly special FX?
A lot of horror films now are more subtle, domestic horror like 'Paranormal Activity' where there's a creaking door, things like that. I like monsters. In 'Silent Hill,' every monster is practical except one is visual FX. There are these beautiful women, nurses, that will be confusing to the teenage men in the audience because they're beautiful; they'll be attracted to them and then repulsed (when they turn grotesque).
What do you think is the freakiest moment in a horror film, besides your own films?
My favorite horror movie of all time is John Carpenter's 'The Thing.' There's a scene with a dog just before its face explodes; you watch knowing that something awful is about to happen and when it does happen it's more horrible than you imagined. 'Alien' is the reason I'm a filmmaker, and I also love 'Cat People.'
What would you be doing if you weren't a filmmaker?
I'd be a vet. I love science and nature and that's what I was going to be. I worked at zoos, but when it came to exam time I failed and had to rethink my future. I started working for someone that made wildlife documentaries. They asked me, “Do you want to make films about animals?” and I said, “No. I want to blow shit up.”