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Today we continue our chat with DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK
producer/co-writer Guillermo del Toro and lead actress Katie Holmes, talking up
one of the year’s best—and scariest—horror flicks. See part one here, and our review of the movie here. The Troy Nixey-directed remake opens this Friday from FilmDistrict.
FANGORIA: Katie Holmes mentioned that one of the things that
attracted her to DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK was the fact that it was about two
young women. You’ve featured women as the protagonists before. What is the
attraction of that?
GUILLERMO DEL TORO: If you go with the scream-queen
mentality, you create victims. But some of the greatest female roles go to, in
horror, great actresses. Mia Farrow in ROSEMARY’S BABY is a super-compelling
role that any actor would be happy to do. Nicole Kidman in THE OTHERS, Bélen
Rueda in THE ORPHANAGE… The genre can create some of the most powerful female
roles ever, and in our society, to reinforce horror films that just create
victims, and creating female characters that are just waiting to be rescued, is
really, really immoral. In any of the films I am involved with, even the most
commercial ones, we try to avoid creating weak, rescuable female characters.
FANG: Katie, did you watch any of those strong characters
when you were doing research for this role?
KATIE HOLMES: Absolutely. I looked up those films and also
rewatched THE EXORCIST. And not only are these strong female characters, but
what I loved about those movies was you were so invested in those women. They
were so real. You saw them in the kitchen making dinner, Mia Farrow was excited
about moving into her apartment and suddenly you’re that person. And when the
weird stuff starts happening, suddenly your heart is beating very fast when
their hearts are beating very fast. So I looked at this script and wanted to
find as many things that were human and normal and just everyday stuff. And when
we have the dinner scene where Alex [Guy Pearce] and I fight, it’s like, let’s
have our work around us and be doing stuff that families do and make it a
little bit awkward, because they aren’t one big happy family.
DEL TORO: And take Ellen Burstyn in THE EXORCIST; you can
substitute cancer or some other disease for demonic possession, and she would
still be playing the same movie. She would play it just as real, the anguish of
a mother going through that and saying, “How can I save my child?” When you have
that reality, that’s where you can find that greater horror movie. If you set
it in a weird environment, with weird people, it can only become a sort of
guilty pleasure for the few in which I count [laughs], but the greater movies
are when you recognize the characters, even when the playing field is grim.
Like Gregory Peck in THE OMEN; he is the ambassador, but he is recognizable as
a father who wants to keep a secret from his wife, because he has done
something horrible, and he doesn’t want her to find out. He’s fantastic.
FANG: Did you do anything to make young actress Bailee
Madison more comfortable or to get to know her better before shooting?
HOLMES: It was a pleasure working with Bailee and getting to
know her mom, Patti, and all of Bailee’s siblings. So lovely, and such a nice
family. It’s really great to work on movies because everyone’s families get to
know each other. And I know Guillermo’s family, and we all stay in touch, and
we’re all raising children in a very creative environment. Bailee, she is a
very strong human being. And she is so good at what she does. We are going to
see her in many over time. She helped all of us. She was very concerned with
what we were doing, and very lovely in that way.
FANG: What was it about the original DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE
DARK that you wanted to accentuate in the new version?
DEL TORO: When [co-writer] Matt [Robbins] and I started, we
had a shopping list of what we wanted to hit. The ending not being a happy
ending, having that little twist at the end. The phrase, “We want you, Sally.”
And we wanted a creature in the flowers, a creature under the table, the
opening of the chimney, having one of the main characters dragged. And keeping
the intelligence and strategic wit that the creatures have. Because these
little suckers are really, really good strategists. You see how they are
playing everyone, and the last 20 minutes [in the story] were planned [by the
creatures] like a battle. In reality, these creatures in the open, I would
crush them. But they trick you into coming down the steps…the wire…all these
things they do, they are winning little battles to win the war.
FANG: Was there ever any thought about not revealing the
creatures at all and keeping them in the dark?
DEL TORO: Part of what I loved about the first movie was the
creatures. At some point, you’re going to show your hand, because you cannot
get away by bluffing the whole time. At some point you gotta go, “Four queens.”
And it was very important with the creatures to find the strongest point to
reveal them. I very, very clearly had the idea of the under-the-sheets moment
in the bed. Originally it was written that the creature came on top of the bed.
And I said to Troy, “That’s exactly like PAN’S LABYRINTH. Let me think of
something else.” And the next day I talked to Troy and I said, “What do you
think of this?” So she goes under the covers, and it becomes a long journey,
and then you have a [creature’s] face. And I thought, “If that’s not an
effective reveal, I don’t know what it could be!” That was the strongest reveal
I could aspire to.
Horror movies and comedies have the exact same duel with the
audience. “Come on, motherf**ker, make me smile.” “Come on, motherf**ker, scare
me.” You sit down and you go, “I’m not a dumb guy, you’re not going to scare
me.” You have to very methodically execute a hostage to show that you’re not
kidding. Some audiences will never be disarmed. People will just say, “I don’t
like stupid comedies and I don’t like horror movies.” And that’s one type of
audience you’re never going to get. They’re always going to go, “There’s a
lapse in logic.” There’s a lapse in logic in FRANKENSTEIN, there’s a lapse in
logic in DRACULA… You cannot execute it for that audience.
FANG: How did the screenplay affect you when you first read
HOLMES: When I read this script, I was so terrified that I
started hearing noises and I held my daughter closer and looked in the corners
of my bedroom for the first time. So I really enjoyed being a part of this,
because it really does take the audience for a ride.
FANG: Besides being a remake of an old TV movie, the new
film harks back to other ’70s endangered-family movies, like BURNT OFFERINGS
and SOMETHING EVIL.
DEL TORO: BURNT OFFERINGS was a great movie and a great
book. I love that book and I love that movie. That was the golden era of TV
horror movies: BAD RONALD, NIGHT STALKER, THE NORLISS TAPES, TRILOGY OF
TERROR—it doesn’t get better than that era for TV horror movies. With the
music, we used ’70s instruments on the soundtrack. We had a xylophone and glass
xylophone, things that are completely outdated, sampling stuff and electronic
music that sounds old. My wife was saying, “Why are you putting old music?” And
I said, “It’s part of the vibe I think we need.”
FANG: What aspects of that endangered-family genre did you
try to avoid?
DEL TORO: I tried to avoid the [typical] family. I tried to
actually show three very different people living under a roof and not just
articulating the normal thing, which is “Father knows best.” Father doesn’t know
shit! Like trying to show they don’t find themselves as mother and daughter,
they find each other as pals. They find each other as equals. And Kim
recognizes herself in Sally. The worst monster in the movie is the mother on
the phone. Hitchcock used to be great at, in three little brush strokes,
painting the absent mothers of the characters really, really gorgeously. Like
the two or three times you see the mother in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, you
understand exactly where Robert Walker is coming from. And we tried to make it
sort of like the Hitchcock-mother. And you see the girl doesn’t need a mother,
the girl needs someone who listens. So we tried very hard to create not a
family, but [people who] create bonds where they can.
And Alex, who I don’t think is a bad guy, and Guy Pearce was
very good at playing the role, is just self-absorbed and really thinks what
he’s doing is important, and that is a childish concern. Both Katie and Guy
were very, very exacting when we did the screenplay work of how much their characters
knew not to leave the house. “If I know this, game’s over, I’m taking the
girl.” So we did the screenplay so they come to the realization just in time to
go, “Let’s get the hell out of here.” The first character who realizes is the
girl, so she gets the hell out. Then Katie, Guy and so forth.
FANG: Katie, you want to do more horror?
HOLMES: Absolutely. I would love to work with Guillermo
again and again.
Watch for an interview with DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK star
Bailee Madison tomorrow, and read more from del Toro in FANGORIA #306, on sale
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