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Q&A: Marcus Nispel talks “EXETER”, Remakes and Charles Manson

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To horror hounds, the name ‘Marcus Nispel’ is mostly associated with his Platinum Dunes-produced remakes of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (2003) and FRIDAY THE 13TH (2009). But in 2015, the talk has shifted to new, original territory with the bloody possession flick EXETER. The film, which follows a group of teenagers who decide to party in an old asylum only to find themselves systematically targeted by demons, has been shaking up fright fans on VOD (via DirectTV), and recently, Nispel sat down with FANGORIA to discuss his latest exorcism excursion…

FANGORIA: Where was the movie filmed and where did you find such a place to film it?

MARCUS NISPEL: You know, when the movie became real and we were looking for places to film it, Rhode Island seemed like the place. Rhode Island seems like a very polite place. It is a DENNIS THE MENACE-type of world with white picket fences. So I Googled “Scary places in Rhode Island” and Exeter kept popping up right and left.

Exeter itself is the one of the most haunted places in America. With the building that we were shooting in, they had to take down a cinder block wall to just get us in. Walking inside the building it was like walking into a time capsule; nothing had changed. If you saw the movie, all these wheelchairs were in a circle and we found them like that. The ceiling fell down and, over time, it turned into soil, like you can plant there. It was just very amazing. It was the first movie that I ever done that I did not go to a prop house; everything for the movie, we found in there. We walked through it and just made piles of props that we found and made the movie with that.

The most amazing thing about EXETER was that we wrote the script before we even found Exeter. We were talking about finding a place where people can be locked away, so I said, “Maybe an old insane asylum.” Then, as the story goes, there was a fire and then they opened as a rehab runned by the church so I arrive at Exeter and I saw some people around there and I asked who was there and it is all closed down. They said there was a fire and then reopened it as a rehab. The rehab kids kept coming in and doing graffiti, so in the movie, there was graffiti all over the walls. As you’re watching the movie, see if you can see it.  

FANGORIA: The title for the film had changed quite a bit. What’s the story behind that?

NISPEL: It’s really crazy. It is almost like we are trying to hide from an audience. Well originally it was called Backmask. The backmasking in the movie was lost, and there were still trances in the movie of [backmasking] but that wasn’t what the movie was about. Also, a lot of people did not know what backmasking was anymore. I think with this new world, everything has be spelled out and explained to people. EXETER means different things around the world.

FANGORIA: Watching EXETER I saw that there was more gore in it then other possession films. Do you think there should be more gorier films in this subgenre?

NISPEL: For me, after seeing THE EXORCIST, I could have never imagined that there would be another exorcism movie. Yet some started popping up after THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE, and it kept on going. Actually I liked EMILY ROSE a lot. There was so many of them that it becomes sort of a genre after a single movie defines the scene.

It became like a modern day exorcism genre, and when Steven Schneider called me after PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and INSIDIOUS hit, he told me I’d get to do whatever I want. I told him, “Here is what we are going to do, and it’s not going to be a found footage movie or a remake.” He asked what is it going to be, and I said, “It is going to be about the topic of exorcism but at the center of it, I want to see the young people who see these kinds of movie. In most exorcism movies, it’s usually very special people that it happens to. I wanted it to happen to amateurs.” 

We thought it would be a fun idea to do it in an amateur perspective and do a “do it yourself” exorcism. Usually in these movies, you don’t see cell phones or they are in spaces where there is no service, but in EXETER, they have all that stuff and they Google all these things. In a way, it is a game of clichés. There is one scene where it is like a cat scare and I was like, ‘Man, this is like the biggest cliché out of all of them.’

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FANGORIA: I noticed that you did not go with the stereotypical young adults being killed during sex. You actually stayed away from sex scenes.  

NISPEL: I’m not a prude type of guy, but it is just not my turn on. I wanted EXETER to be fun. I enjoyed the cast so much and the script so much that I decided we are not going to do what we commonly do. I just liked the atlas of the teenagers figuring out the mystery and stick with that as long as I can before they all go stir crazy and let us drag that out. One thing that I figured out is that you get three different movies. You watch the first act and you are watching some party scene or whatever, then you get the second act and you are watching some paranormal movie, and then you watch the third act and people get genuinely hurt.  

FANGORIA: You made the movie very relatablem as if it is exactly what the audience is thinking. For example, there is scene where a character gets stabbed with a spoon and he is just in shock over the fact that he got stabbed by a spoon.

NISPEL: They articulate all of their thoughts. I just liked the teenage perspective to it. I really had fun doing that.

FANGORIA: You are known for making remakes of films. How was it like making your own original film?   

NISPEL: Movies have always been very holy to me, and I always told myself if I ever did my first movie, it would be a defining movie. It’s not going to be a remake. It is not going to be a sequel and it is not going to be horror kind of a thing because those are the first time director things. So when TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE was offered to me, I was like “Hell, no!” I went to my long time friend, Daniel Pearl, who was the Cinematographer of the original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and I was like, “That is sacrilegious to remake your movie. How dare they!” And he goes “No, No. You’ve got to direct it,” and I ask “Why would I want to do that?” and he said, “You are going to hire me and I am going to do the same movie twice.” So I was like, “Let’s get Daniel into the world book of records for ‘The First D.P to Shoot The Same Movie Twice.’”

We started as a fun kind of thing but then you fall in love with the actors. So then you start to take it seriously. It changed me as a person and a filmmaker but I never ever wanted to be known as the remake guy. But it is sorta a safe way to make movies because the movie had a franchise early on, which also gets a lot of love like major studios behind it and lots of advertisement. But here, I got an opportunity with Steve to do a so-called “million-dollar movie” and do something that I owed to myself: a movie that I should have did in the first place. It is authentically mine. In a way, I have done my first movie last.  

FANGORIA: Can you see yourself making more original movies?

NISPEL: Yeah, it’s hard. I am fortunate that I do a lot of commercials and done a lot of movies now. I can go out and ask friends for favors now. This movie has been done on hot air and steam. I like to believe production-wise it was because of anything else I have ever done, as the way it was shot and the solid acting and so one. That was really important to me. I don’t want to punish my audience for doing a small budget movie. So to uphold to what I consider a household style it is important to me.

But I can imagine that it is very hard if you do not have the infrastructure to do that kind of movie at that kind of price, but it was very rewarding. If you do a remake, you are like a dog of many masters and there is a rulebook that you get thrown at you that is not similar to what I go through for like making commercials for Coca-Cola or Mercedes. It comes with a certain expectation and a certain brand expectation. So, to a certain extent, you are sort of carrying the torch for the people that I accepted.  

But EXETER was an experience. Original [films] take much longer. You develop it from scratch but it was worth it. As far as production goes, filming it and working with those actors, this film was my most favorite experience.  

FANGORIA: Any other projects you are working on?

NISPEL: There are a couple of things that I have been dealing with. This one thing that is getting very real right now is a passion of mine. I almost feel bad in conjunction to the slasher movies because I take the subject matter very seriously and my approach to it is very, very different from the typical R-rated movie approach, which what I have been guilty of in the past. But it is a story about the Charles Manson Family, and I did a lot of reading up on him with lots of books and what I learned from them is not the story that we get from the news media. What I found out about it is that Charles Manson is not an outsider or someone who was like a hermit who lived with his family in the mountains; he was a real Hollywood insider. He developed screenplays for Steve McQueen, recorded B-Sides for the Beach Boys and collaborated with them. He was in all the big Hollywood parties because he had the girls and the drugs. He wanted to be a superstar.

So to me, this story becomes an indictment of our celebrity obsession. I can’t say it is a satire on the entertainment industry but it comes pretty close. So it is a real interesting story coming from that point of view and I have been developing it. The script is really something else and I would love to do that next.

About the author
Carly Knaszak

Carly Knaszak attends Fredonia State University and is studying Journalism and English. This is her first time doing an internship for Fangoria. She has grown up with horror movies. She was deathly afraid of them when she was younger but the fear turned into a passion as she loved the adrenaline rush of them. She attends Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights every year just for the special effects of the haunted houses and to be scared. Carly writes for many different websites including NYS Music, iHorror and Back To The Movies. She is also one of the editors for the entertainment section of her school’s paper. Her horror icons are Elvira, Alice Cooper and Robert Englund.

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