Throughout the month of October, Audiences Everywhere will be publishing a 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 landscape. Our final interview in this series is a conversation with Ted Geoghegan, the director of this year’s exceptional breakthrough horror film We Are Still Here.
In a way, Ted Geoghegan is the perfect person with whom to wrap up this amazing and insightful interview series. The initial thesis behind the Horrortown series indicated that we were seeking to investigate just what makes the contemporary horror movie scene so unique and exceptional. Geoghegan and his new film We Are Still Here are both openly influenced by horror’s strongest and most celebration-worthy traditions. The experience of watching We Are Still Here is an undeniable reminder that good horror films are not the product of a moment, an era, or even a trope or sub-genre. As is the case with all good films, the best horror movies are timeless.
You can read the transcript of my discussion with Ted Geoghegan below, and be sure to catch his film We Are Still Here, which is now available on home release and VOD platforms:
David Shreve (Audiences Everywhere): When you’re making a film that is so inspired by traditional horror films, and you know that it will appeal to certain fans, is there any extra pressure?
Ted Geoghegan: There’s always a hope. You want those fans’ favor. I don’t purposefully go out of my way to cater anything toward a specific demographic. But in the meantime, it’s extremely important that you make a product that’s going to be accessible to people. While I want to make what I want to make, I’m aware that filmmaking, aside from being an art, is also a business. You have to get butts into those seats. You can’t make a product that won’t be marketable. At the same time, you can go about that as cleverly as possible and make something as close to your vision as you’ve dreamt, and still make it work for all parties involved. In terms of my film, yes, it was influenced by many films and filmmakers that came before us, but we did it in a way that we feel is very accessible. Not just to fans of those films and filmmakers, but also people who go in just wanting a movie.
AE: Speaking of traditional horror elements, was there any added pressures in having Barbara Crampton in your film?
TG: None whatsoever. Barbara is a very close friend of mine and I had actually written the role for Barbara. Not only was there no fear or pressure. It was actually just the complete opposite. She’s actually a breath of fresh air for me. She’s someone that I’ve known for years. I consider her kind of extended family. Having her on set actually calmed me down and calmed down a lot of other people. She’s about the most laid back wonderful person anyone could ask to have as part of their project. It was very eye opening to be working with her in a professional capacity, having only known her as a friend for years. On the flipside, it was fun to treat each other as peers. I’m a director and she’s an actress but that’s never how we have looked at each other over the years.
AE: Did you watch the movie together when it was over?
TG: Oh yeah, absolutely. She was at South by Southwest. We had our whole cast there. She’d seen the film before the premiere because she’d wanted a sneak peak. She was very happy. I’m extremely grateful that all the cast seems happy with how the film turned out. Not only that, Barbara in particular had been called out by a lot of press for a performance that was so stark and different than what she’d done beforehand. A lot of people are calling it “brave” given the fact that she’s not a sexspot, she’s not MILF-y, or a scream queen. She’s a sad, depressed wreck of a person and it relies very heavily on her skills as an actress as opposed to her ability to scream and look cute.
AE: Well, it seems the critical community loved a lot about this movie outside of her performance. It’s currently sitting at 94% on Rotten Tomatoes. Is there one reaction that has stood out to you?
TG: I can’t say there’s been one response that’s stood out more than any other. I’m extremely grateful that it’s been so well-received. I can’t say in my heart that I always knew it would find an audience, but, at the same time, I can’t say that I didn’t. It’s a movie that I knew what I wanted it to be as we were working on it. I know there are horror movie fans and traditional cinema fans who would enjoy this. It was really a matter of convincing a lot of the people who worked on the film with me that I knew what I was doing. And that I knew where I ultimately wanted this movie to land. Thankfully, I had an amazing crew that all believed in my vision and we were able to turn it into exactly the movie I wanted it to be. Out of South by Southwest, our world premiere, we did get some really wonderful positive reviews, including the trade, like Variety and Hollywood Reporter. That, of course, means a lot. To get the trades to enjoy it. I guess in my heart, I knew the horror community would like it more than the mainstream press. It’s been a real joy watching everyone across the board getting it. We recently were reviewed out of Minneapolis and Colin Colbert, a critic I very much like, reviewed it and liked it a lot. The illustrious Mr. Rex Reed also really liked it a lot and thought it was fun. As the year’s go by with Rex, no one is ever quite sure what will land with him and what won’t. Or if he’ll make it all the way through. He made it through mine, so I’m very grateful. It’s been extremely humbling. It takes a lot to accept all these positive reviews.
AE: It’s very much a film built of precise elements and one of those elements it the music from Wojciech Golczewsk. Your movie contains one of my favorite scores this year.
TG: It’s really fun working with Wojciech. We did it all remotely. He worked overseas. He’s Polish and we sent him pieces of the film that he scored bit-by-bit. The producers of the film at Dark Sky had worked with him previously on the werewolf movie Late Phases by Adrian Garcia McDonagh and they really enjoyed their collaboration with him. I listened to that score and liked it and I listened to a few others and they just really blew me away. It’s this very interesting mix of minimalist music with orchestral compositions. We wanted something authentic to the time-period. Given that the film is set in the late 70s, we didn’t want anything electronic. Or anything synth-y or modern. We gave Wolcheck very specific notes on what we were looking for and he just went with them and it was exactly what we wanted. A lot of the score is done on very non-traditional instruments. Like pieces of wood or pieces of metal being tapped on or rapped upon. We like the idea of the sounds of the score mimicking the sounds of a creaky old house. So a lot of the music of the film also doubles as sound design. There are points in the movie where you can’t tell if you’re listening to the score or the sounds of the house. That was fun to work with and he was totally game for that stuff.
AE: Is there anything you want to see more of in horror films in general?
TG: Not particularly. I’ll be one of the rare folks that says that I don’t really have that many issues with the current state of horror. Horror is in a really good place right now. I think a lot of it has to with the current state of American genre film. I think America has stepped up and is coming up with some really creative, innovative stuff. I feel like for the past few decades, perhaps, we’ve been looking overseas for innovation and we’ve had absolutely incredible stuff coming out of Europe, Japan, and China. And that’s phenomenal. But now, it’s a wonderful mix of indie stalwarts who are coming up with outside-of-the-box genre fare like E.L. Katz with Cheap Thrills. And Ti West with the films he’s been doing for the past decade. That’s stuff I enjoy a lot. You mix that with the studio stuff that’s coming out, most of which I also enjoy (I actually am a fan of Jason Blum and the Blumhouse fare. While not all of them land, more often they do than don’t) and that’s a pretty good batting average for a genre that gets left for dead. Right now, I have no real grievances. People often say “I wish they did less remakes.” But you know, some of those remakes are pretty good. And even those that aren’t that good call attention to the original films.
AE: I’m with you. For instance, I am a huge fan of The Evil Dead remake.
TG: I really enjoyed The Evil Dead remake a lot. I think it’s incredibly clever. I love how wildly gory it is. It’s arguably the goriest studio film of the last few decades, if not ever. I genuinely cannot think of a gorier studio film. The fact that Sony released that with non-stop splatter and an R rating. It’s a lot of fun. I realize the movie has a lot of detractors out there. What I would say to them is, “You realize that The Evil Dead remake didn’t go into your house and steal your Blu-Rays of Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2, and Army of Darkness?” You can still watch them whenever you want and that’s perfectly fine. I’m sure there are lots of kids who never saw the originals but they went to the theater, saw the new one, and hopefully that inspired them to check out the classics.
AE: I know you mentioned E.L. Katz and Ti West. Do you have any other favorite up-and-coming filmmakers?
TG: Well, I’m more up-and-coming more than most filmmakers I know. Rather than use the term “up-and-coming,” I’ll say that there are directors in the indie scene who I love and want to see get a chance to step into something bigger. I’ve been friends with Jason Eisner for years and I’ve been a fan of Hobo and the films he worked on. I read he just signed on to do a film with Fox and it’s been a long time coming for him to do another feature. I’m excited to see something new from him. I’m really excited to see Ti West’s new film In the Valley of Violence, this ultra-violent revenge Western starring John Travolta. A lot of these guys are stepping out and doing some really creative, cool shit and I love it. Even Adam Wingard, who has made a name for himself with more traditional horror fare– The Guest was really innovative and did something new. Whatever he does next, he has my money.
AE: Is there any one horror trope that you would like to do away with?
TG: I don’t know if there’s a trope I’d want to get rid of. One of my really good friends, a producer pal of mine, we talk all the time and one thing we snicker about: When are we going to reach a point where characters on television shows and in movies just know what a zombie is when they see one? At no point in movies, if you find someone with two holes in their neck, does anyone not know what a vampire is. Even if they live in a world where vampires are fake, they’re willing to acknowledge that that’s a vampire attack. And yet it seems like, even with The Walking Dead and all this stuff that we’ve got, every time there’s a zombie outbreak, we have to have a whole sequence where no one knows what’s going on and everyone has to figure it out. They’re shooting these people and they just keep coming back. I feel like the zombie has become so ingrained in our pop-culture lexicon that there’s absolutely no reason whatsoever, even in a world where zombies don’t exist, that characters shouldn’t know what a zombie is.
AE: Are there any well-known, popular, or classic horror movies that you are willing to admit that you don’t understand or enjoy?
TG: I tend to really love the classics, both for enjoyment and out of respect. For the most part, I dig the films most people enjoy. I can tell you that I do not get why people enjoy Blade Runner. I’ve tried watching the movie a dozen times and it does not resonate with me. I respect that people enjoy it and I’m glad people like it. That’s what’s so great about art. It offers us this wonderful venue to discuss very passionately. We never have to take out the knives or guns. We can just agree to disagree.
AE: Is there something that you would like to see adapted into a horror movie? A folk tale, a non-fiction event, a book?
TG: The Tunguska explosion would be a really cool plot device for a film. I know it’s been referenced in a lot of films but it’s a neat event. It happened in desolate Russia, in the early 1900s. A gigantic explosion destroyed hundreds and hundreds of square miles of land. It flattened the trees and created this giant circle. Everyone kind of believes a meteor was flying past the Earth but it got caught in the atmosphere and got super heated and exploded over Russia. A lot of people have said that they believe it was an alien attack or all these crazy things. But the explosion was 1000 times greater than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. No one died, but it knocked over 80 million trees. There’s never been an explanation as to what happened. There’s nothing in the way of proof whatsoever. It’s believed that it was an asteroid that got to close and exploded before the Earth. There’s no crater. There’s no impact anywhere.
AE: Plus, all those black and white photos of flat-lying trees would make great dressing for a horror movie.
TG: Absolutely. I’m not a conspiracy theorist. I believe it probably was a mid-air explosion of a comet. But I like toying with historic events and turning them into strange stories. And I think that one is rather ripe for it.
AE: I’m the same way with conspiracy theories. I was born and raised in West Virginia so my favorite is the Mothman. And I believe in the Occam’s razor explanation, but I can and will play the “What if?” game on the topic for hours on end. I love the mythology.
TG: And it’s very fun! I’m originally from rural Montana and when my wife and I first drove to New York City where we now live, and you’re damn right we stopped in West Virginia in the Mothman’s town and took our photos with the statue. It’s fun! Like they say in X-Files, I want to believe. I don’t, but I want to. It makes life way more fun.
AE: Let’s say we establish a Classic Horror Mt. Rushmore. What four directors are we carving into the mountain?
TG: Oh let’s see. That is good. Are these my favorites or who I consider the greatest?
AE: I’d say greatest is pretty consensus. Let’s go with your favorites.
TG: Dario Argento. Lucio Fulci. John Carpenter. And… I’d be hard pressed to pick that fourth. There are so many folks out there who have influenced me and made me happy over the years. When people ask me what’s my favorite horror movie, there’s no way I could ever answer that. Picking one, or picking five, or picking ten forces me to leave out so many films I love. So I’m going to go with those three and say it’s impossible to pick a fourth.
AE: What’s your response to people who say there aren’t any good horror films these days?
TG: I think people aren’t looking hard enough. There are a lot of good horror films coming out these days. Some of it’s studio and some of it’s indie. I just genuinely think you have to keep your eyes open and keep your fingers on the pulse of the genre just to know what’s going on. I’m constantly and happily surprised when I find something new that’s exciting and fun. Just the other night, for example. I’ve heard from countless people how fun this movie was, and I’d avoided it for over a year because it was found footage. Not to say I have anything against found footage movies, but I tend to find that they usually don’t bring anything new or innovative to the table, but I sat down with my wife and we watched The Taking of Deborah Logan, finally. What a fun movie! It was fun, well-acted, well-structured and had great scares in it. That movie had just been sitting on Netflix for a year and no one is talking about it outside of our echo chamber in the horror industry. It’s really nice to find something like that. Even outside of that, you look at something like It Follows. Brilliant modern horror that digs deep into current themes and very real fears. That stuff is not rare. For every garbage horror film that comes out, there’s something good hiding on the shelves, or digital shelves, as we are these days. There’s no shortage of scary, horrifying films these days.
AE: What can we expect next from you?
TG: I’m currently working on a screenplay that I’m not going to direct. It’s a project that I was hired to work on that’s very fun, but I can’t quite say what part of horror it is. But it’s definitely a horror film. I have a couple of projects that I’m shopping around and I have a very strong suspicion that one will be happening in the very near future. I’m a big genre film guy. I watch them almost exclusively. Almost every film I’ve ever made — as a writer, producer, and now as a director — is a genre film. I have no desire to work outside of genre. Even without being able to say much more about my upcoming projects, it’s always a safe bet to assume that whatever project I’m working on is going to be weird and bloody.
AE: So we’ll just keep checking your IMDb.
TG: Just keep refreshing that page.