Q&A: Joe Begos & Josh Ethier dissect “ALMOST HUMAN”
When ALMOST HUMAN hit theaters earlier this year, audiences were pleasantly surprised by its fun, strange descent into macabre madness. Much of that came from the minds of writer/director Joe Begos and his partner-in-crime, ALMOST HUMAN star Josh Ethier. With fans now being able to see the eye-popping practical SFX on Blu-ray, FANGORIA spoke to Begos and Ethier about the film and what nightmarish insanity didn’t make it into ALMOST HUMAN…
FANGORIA: Where exactly did you find inspiration to make a genre hybrid like ALMOST HUMAN?
JOE BEGOS: Well, I knew I wanted to make an alien abduction film since I was young because there’s only a handful of good ones, like FIRE IN THE SKY and the one in the beginning of XTRO. I’ve always been fascinated with the subject, so when it came time to make ALMOST HUMAN, I decided to open up with the abduction as opposed to building up to it like the other ones do. Having done that, I came up with the idea for a slasher movie and I really liked that concept so I ran with it. We had a really low budget, so with that concept, I wrote it around this small town that we grew up in that thankfully reminded us of a little Stephen King town. So that all worked out for us.
FANG: The film thematically nods to many influences from ‘80s horror although it doesn’t try to emulate the filmmaking techniques of the time. Was that a conscious decision on your part?
BEGOS: I like the feeling and the marketing that the ‘80s elicited, especially with those ideas and subject matter. But I learned how to make films in the early ’00s and especially in the last few years, so my style is more contemporary and is informed by the older style. It’s kind of like a mish-mash between both styles, so I’m able to take the best of both worlds as far as filmmaking and tone go.
FANG: Josh, you’re credited as both a performer and as an editor on the film. How did you become involved in the project? Did one role on the film lead to the next?
JOSH ETHIER: I’ve known Joe for about a decade or so now, and we actually grew up in the same small town. My house is actually one of the locations we used in the movie. So we grew up together making these kinds of films, like little things on our weekends, and we ventured out to L.A. together to see if we could do something bigger. After having one of our shorts in a festival in London, we thought it was time we made a feature. So I was on ALMOST HUMAN since the beginning stages. But I used to appear in some of Joe’s films because I was equally as available as he was and because Joe didn’t have the budget for a big cast on ALMOST HUMAN, I naturally appeared in this to play the big guy that gets tossed around the whole time.
FANG: What influenced the look of the extraterrestrial element and the special effects in the film?
BEGOS: I knew ALMOST HUMAN was going to be super low budget from the get-go, but I also knew that I wanted all of these complicated practical effects in it, which is kind of an oxymoron. So I designed them to be as simple as possible and tried to be conscious of what we could get away with without getting too ridiculous. I tried to make this like a “greatest hits” of SFX that worked for me, so aside from some of the bigger things like the pods, I used all SFX that I had done in short films so I knew how it worked and how to pull it off easily.
Nobody had really seen my short films, so I knew I could liberally borrow from them and no one would notice. So when it came to scenes with the pods or the alien tentacles, I knew simple was better so I figured out the easiest ways to do them. Even then, the SFX guy would show up on set and you have to show him how you want it, but that’s the beauty of practical effects. Since you’re doing it on set, you have the ability to adapt and change what you’re doing to accommodate what is in front of you.
FANG: What was it like balancing the grounded tone of the first acts with the playfulness of the finale?
BEGOS: I’m a big fan of bleak tones, I guess [laughs]. A lot of my favorite horror movies are straight-up bleak movies with not a lot of humor, like TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, DAWN OF THE DEAD, the work of David Cronenberg, etc. PET SEMATARY was an influence on ALMOST HUMAN, as far as tone and setting goes. I don’t mind having a playful edge or comedic beats; I just don’t think I’m very good at it. So I try to stay away from it, and that’s what defined the tone of ALMOST HUMAN.
FANG: Was it important that you not try to mimic your influences or do anything that’s explicitly been homaged in the past?
BEGOS: I certainly mimicked a number of things while trying to add my own twist to them because it’s my first movie and I kept going, “I want to do this. I want to do that.” I did try to do things I haven’t seen before, but I did want a number of things that people could point at to see how I’m doing. But I also wanted to surprise people and give them something they weren’t expecting. So there was an even back-and-forth between those two mindsets.
FANG: Considering how much action and kill sequences you’re involved in, were you ever concerned about the stunts you were involved in, Josh?
ETHIER: Joe and I have been learning how to do these gags and planning kill sequences for a long time for short films, so I was really comfortable. I knew Joe could get exactly what he needs and I had gotten pretty comfortable swinging things around. We also had a really close, good team on set that was always around the camera. Everyone was doing their job perfectly towards whatever gag we were trying to shoot.
It also helped that all of the actors were either friends of mine or people I became friends with, so they all had a pretty good attitude when it was like, “Oh, I have to swing this thing into the top of your head, so it’d be better if you did this or we can try to do it that way.” So it was very collaborative as far as the stunts go. I never felt unsafe on set. The only time I ever felt unsafe was when Graham Skipper had to swing an axe at me and said, “You know, this is the first time I’ve ever swung an axe.” Other than that, it was all good.
FANG: Was there anything from the script stages of development, or even conceptually, that didn’t make it into the final film?
BEGOS: Once I knew how little the budget was going to be and we knew our shooting schedule, there were plenty of scenes that had to be discarded for various reasons. One of them was a nightmare sequence that opened up the movie right before the abduction sequence where Jen shows up with a pregnant stomach and it explodes. There were actually about three to four nightmare sequences that were ultimately discarded because the effects were so complicated.
There was also an angle in the film where Josh would get wounded a few times throughout and we’d see the wounds heal themselves. We didn’t have the money or the time to pull those off, so they got pulled from the script almost right away. And in the movie, whenever there’s a neck-snap, that means we didn’t have time to pull off the kill we wanted to do so let’s neck-snap and get the hell out of here [laughs]. There’s like three neck-snaps in the movie, and that’s the reason behind all of them.
It’s almost all effects-based stuff due to how elaborate they’d have to be and how little time we had to shoot them. Truth be told, when we were planning on doing an alien abduction story, we thought we were going to have a bigger budget. So there were more people who were infected and the story took place over a bigger area. But I like that ALMOST HUMAN turned out to be a simpler thing now. That’s worked out in our favor.
ALMOST HUMAN, directed by Joe Begos and starring Josh Ethier, Graham Skipper and Vanessa Leigh, is now on DVD/Blu-ray from IFC Midnight. You can read more on Begos’ plans for his sophomore feature and a possible ALMOST HUMAN sequel here, and you can also read our exclusive in-depth interview with Begos and co. in FANGORIA #331.