Beginning in the last week of October, Audiences Everywhere will be continuing its Horrortown series of interviews with renowned horror directors in which we will discuss current and upcoming films and also get the artists’ take on the contemporary horror.
If you’ve surfed through Netflix’s horror selection recently, you’ve likely come across the film He Never Died. If your taste is refined or your sense of good film quality is intuitive, you’ve also watched it. If that’s the case, then you know there’s something exceptional about the film’s director, Jason Krawczyk. The film is quickly surpassing contemporary cult classic status, in large part due to its writer/director’s sense of comedic timing and his ability to balance that with a solid understanding of perhaps the most familiar horror fable. I had the opportunity to discuss the film with Mr. Krawczyk, as well as his inspirations, plans, and his favorite contemporary horror artists.
David Shreve (AE): I’ll admit. I was a bit behind on my research, but managed to watch The Briefcase just in time this week. I was pleased to find that it’s a movie that has the same sense of comedic timing as He Never Died. Together the two films give you two comedy credits, one thriller credit, and one horror movie credit. How much of your film-loving heart is owned by horror?
Jason Krawczyk: Wow! The Briefcase, you’re one of the few, but welcome to a very limited group outside of friends and family. Thank you, that’s really cool to know. I know it’s was made with a budget of bubble gum and grit, but I feel like it has an audience. It has a really odd appeal I think could resonate with some of the kookier folks out there.
I don’t think my heart belongs to any genre in particular; I just want to make sure the production has something to say, is a little bit different, and is entertaining. I also feel like there’s a Jason Krawczyk corkiness I can’t shake. I’ve done a fair amount of punch-up work and ghost writing and if we’re not on the same wavelength they hate what I hand them. I know I’m a required taste, so I have to make sure the story is as tight as possible and the direction does it justice.
AE: It’s known that Henry Rollins is a skilled comedic actor, but I think his timing is maybe sharper than ever in your film. How impressed were you by his ability to absolutely nail that cold, world-weary humor?
JK: The fact Jack’s the funniest guy in the room, but doesn’t know it, is something Henry immediately picked up on. Henry’s also funny as well as hyper-intelligent and humble. He’s kind of the pinnacle of human potential in a lot of ways. I was impressed with him, not just with his head for comedy, but his devotion to the material. He was so incredible, prepared, kind to everyone, and whatever ideas he had were well thought out. The guy inspired me when I was in high school and he inspires me in my 30s.
AE: How did you initially become interested in existentially exploring a traditional monster with a sympathetic narrative lens?
JK: I’m sure there’s thousands of variables that were absorbed in my childhood. I remember a scene from Kenneth Branagh’s Frankenstein where the monster helps a family with their crops in the middle of the night and then when they see him, they shun him. That scene hit me pretty hard when I was young. The whole debate if evil is innate within you or if it’s something you nurtured into is fascinating to me.
Also, the book The Lucifer Effect by Philip Zimbardo resonated with me. It’s basic philosophy is that your environment, along with a myriad of variables, can pretty much make anyone do anything. So, I wanted to explore the worse person on earth and give him a shred of sympathy by displaying his circumstances. Some bad guys just want to watch the world burn, but Jack isn’t one of them . . . all the time.
AE: I’ve read that there’s a TV series in the works? Can you tell us anything about that?
JK: Not really other than I really, really, really, really, really, really want it to happen. Gears are turning, but nothing new to report.
AE: There’s been a sizeable fan response to He Never Died from its time on Netflix. I’ve noticed that you’re very appreciative of their appreciation. What does it mean to you that fans are clamouring for more of your character and story?
JK: I’m genuinely humbled by the fan base. I didn’t think I’d have anything to do with a project that would have fan art or people asking for a sequel. I had no idea what the audience’s reaction would be. I love the trailer, but I can see people diving into it thinking it’s a supernatural Taken. Nor is it a really a horror movie. It’s kind of genre-less as it’s a noir, violent, supernatural dramedy. That’s a hard elevator pitch. It’s more of a character study of the psychological repercussions of a vampiric biology. I usually just tell people, “Henry Rollins eats people.”
AE: I saw that you’ve worked on some shorts in your past. Are any of those horror exercises? Do you have any future plans for horror projects?
JK: Audrey is the one I’m the most proud of, and that couldn’t be further away from horror. It’s about an elderly widow that owns a building, trying to connect with her tenants. As far as horror shorts, not really. I think I gravitated toward comedy more than anything because it was cheaper, I guess. I’m not sure. Not that I don’t want to go back to shorts. I think there should be more of a demand as some stories don’t need to 70 plus minutes. Like that Pixar short that just came out; “Burrowed Time?” My god, there is no fat on that thing and it hit every emotional beat with a sledgehammer. I’d have that over a drawn out 90 minute movie that feels diluted.
AE: Is it easier or more difficult to work with a humanized narrative with fantastic elements?
JK: They both have their difficulties. I think the hard thing about the fantastical elements (besides the technical) is finding the through line to reality. You want the fantasy to be a symbol for something relatable, right? Like Hellboy vs Batman! I love batman, but he’s a billionaire playboy with coping issues. I can relate to that to a degree, but he’s mostly fantasy for me. Hellboy on the other hand likes nachos, feels left out, and has romantic issues. Sold. I’m in. I can totally relate.
As for the humanized narrative, it’s the balance between the relatable and the interesting. You want the emotions to feel authentic, but you also want them not to feel mundane.
AE: What do you want to see more of in new horror movies?
JK: Vulnerability. I know that sounds weird for something that’s supposed to be hard boiled and terrifying, but I think it propels the horror more than anything technical. I just think if the consequences for the characters are just as much psychological as physical, they’re resonance would have more weight. The Thing had more of an impact due to its creeping paranoia, The Babadook is about grieving after the death of a loved one, and Carrie is more about teenage repression than anything else. When the characters have incentives beyond survival, the stakes leave fantasy and enter something the audience can recognize.
AE: Let’s say we make a horror director Mt. Rushmore. Whose faces are we carving?
JK: John Carpenter, William Friekdien, James Whale, and George Romero with Wes Craven, Sam Rami, and Guillermo del Toro on deck.
AE: Is there a well-known/popular/classic horror movie that you’re willing to admit that you don’t understand? Or just don’t enjoy?
JK: Scream. I know it’s supposed to turn the slasher genre on its head, but I don’t really enjoy the movie as a whole. I wasn’t rooting for anyone. At least I like Jason Vorhees or Freddy Krueger when the humans are dull.
AE: What film first made inspired your interest in making horror films?
JK: Jeepers Creepers and here’s why. I liked it and I thought I could make something (eventually) at least as good as that. It looked fun to make. Now that was a thought filled with hubris and ignorance, but it gave me the push to at least take the first step. I watched it again not too long ago. It’s solid. I’m still waiting for 3.
AE: Who are some of your favorite up-and-coming or working horror filmmakers?
JK: Jackson Stewart who wrote and directed the wonderfully spooky Beyond the Gate, Mickey Keating who I want to punch in the face because of how fucking nice he is and he makes like two awesome movies a year (Carnage Park, Darling, Pod), Billy O’Brien because I absolutely loved I am Not a Serial Killer and the choices he made for that film. After Deathgasm I’ll watch whatever Jason Lei Howden does next, and Jason Eisner just keeps upping the ante on things I like with movies like Hobo With A Shotgun. There’s more. I could write a book on up and coming talent. The future of genre cinema is in good hands.
AE: What’s one thing—be it a story, an event, a folktale, etc.–that you’d love to see become a horror movie?
JK: When it comes to folklore or cryptozoological marvels, we haven’t even scratched the surface for the crazy shit out there. It doesn’t always have to be a werwolf or vampire. What about Bubak? He’s a scarecrow monster that eats souls and screams like a baby to lure in his victims. I’d watch a Bubak movie.
As far as an event, I would love love love to see a narrative version of the making of Island of Dr. Monroe. I know it wouldn’t be a horror, per se, but it would be a comedy of errors about horror. From what that catastrophe sounded like, I would really like to see that produced. Between Richard Stanley getting fired and hanging out as background, Val Kilmer’s ego drug trip, the months upon months of production delays, and crazy demands of Marlon Brando, it seemingly writes itself.
AE: What’s one horror trope we can do away with?
JK: Mediums. Anytime someone walks into a haunted house and they reach out to someone to contact the dead via seance or crystals or chicken bones, I check out. Figure it out yourself. I find it lazy if not done incredibly well a la Insidious or Poltergeist.
AE: What’s your response to folks who say there aren’t any good horror movies these days?
JK: With anything in life, you have to look for substance, not let it come to you. They’re out there.
And “horror” is an ambiguous label anyway. It’s like saying “comedy” or “music.” What kind? There’s a wide palette of horror these days so take your pick. Ghosts? Home Invasion? “Comedy Horror?” I wouldn’t just say yes to, “Hey, want to go to a music show, tonight?”
Featured Image: Jason Krawczyk