Director Jeff Wadlow has been making films since 2005, beginning with Cry Wolf, about a group of college teens who invent rumours about a serial killer on campus only to find themselves being stalked by one. In the years since, he’s written and directed the horror films Truth or Dare and Fantasy Island. His superhero outings involve co-writing Vin Diesel-starrer Bloodshot and writing and directing Kick Ass 2. He talks about putting an original spin on established franchises, working with Blumhouse Productions and why it’s a good time to be a horror filmmaker:
Fantasy Island is a remake of a 1977 television series. What about the project drew you to it?
I always liked the TV show. It was dark, weird and twisted and I remember seeing one episode in which the devil showed up. It had this promise and this ‘be careful what you wish for’ vibe. Ultimately, a lot of the best horror films have that idea at their core – that if you want something, you have to be able to suffer the consequences. It’s like (1902 short story) The Monkey’s Paw. Jordan Peele’s production company is named after that short story. It really is a touchstone for so many horror films. Many horror directors don’t even realise that they’re referencing The Monkey’s Paw when they are.
When your projects are adapted from pre-existing material like Fantasy Island or Bloodshot, what’s the challenge of keeping them fresh or coming up with an original take?
You can never forget why the underlying material has been popular or why it worked. But, to your question, we’ve got to have something new to say, otherwise we shouldn’t bother to adapt something in the first place. The challenge that I put to myself in the process of adaptation is I ask myself: What are the things that people love about the original? What do they want to see and experience, not just from a visual standpoint but also from a character or a narrative standpoint? What are the tentpoles of the material? Once I’ve identified those, I ask myself why those excite me and why I’m drawn to them. Once those questions are answered, I then ask myself how I can push this further. Once I’ve answered these questions as a fan, that leads me to what I want to do as a filmmaker. So it’s mostly a process of asking and answering questions myself and allowing those answers to create more questions until I come up with a plan.
You’ve been making horror movies since 2005, how have you seen the genre evolve?
It has changed so much. When Cry Wolf came out there was a torture porn horror movement and now we’re in this incredible horror renaissance thanks largely to Blumhouse, which has given so many opportunities and voices to filmmakers who want to say different things. I feel lucky to have been able to make movies in this time period, it’s been thrilling and incredible.
Since we’re talking about the evolution of horror, I’m curious about Blumhouse. They’ve been making films that are massive successes on very low budgets. What has been your experience with that?
It’s been fantastic. I love working with Blumhouse. I would like a little more money to make my movies, don’t get me wrong, but what comes with working with Blumhouse is total freedom and control. Jason (Blum) sets the tone and everybody in the company embraces the idea that it’s ultimately going to be the director’s call and the director has to stand by their film at the end of the day. Not only are the budgets small but so is the compensation, unless the movie is a big success. Jason and the entire company definitely let you make your movie the way you want and so I’m incredibly grateful to them. If it was up to me, I’d never make a movie with anyone else.
There’s an Atlantic article that talks about how low-budget horror is the only genre thriving during the pandemic. Is this the best time to be a horror filmmaker?
It’s a pretty great time for all the reasons I just outlined. I just watched Dave Franco’s The Rental (2020) on iTunes. I would’ve rather seen it in theatres, that would’ve been a much better experience. But I loved the film and really appreciated it. It’s a great example of this golden age of horror films that’s happening right now. It’s certainly a wonderful time and we’re seeing some incredible films made by incredible voices. I can’t wait for theatres to reopen and for horror movies to be seen by larger audiences again.
There’s been the rise of what people call ‘smart horror’ or ‘elevated horror’, movies that have a message. What’s your take on these movies?
I like any story that has multiple layers and nuance. I don’t like being preached to. That’s a sort of trap of saying that you’re going to do an elevated horror film. Any film that’s called an ‘elevated film’ can get preachy. And audiences don’t like that, in my experience. The term does imply that the genre needs to be somehow lifted up by films that are part of this ‘elevated’ subgenre or somehow other films are inferior and I don’t think that’s true. There is this great quote by Steven Spielberg: Don’t fault the rollercoaster for not being a cathedral. That’s how I think about a lot of different films. I try to think about what they’re trying to do. If the film is trying to be a rollercoaster, don’t get mad at it because it’s not a cathedral. All films make a promise and we should judge them on how they deliver on that promise and not on some external criteria which the filmmakers may not have even been considering when they began the process of telling their story.
What are some horror movies you’d recommend?
So many. Jaws (1991), Silence of the Lambs (1991), Aliens (1986), It Follows (2014), The Ring (2002). Any Blumhouse movie because they put characters first. I loved The Invisible Man (2020), I think Leigh Whannell is a genius. Get Out (2017) is obviously an incredible film and I believe it will be talked about forever and is part of film history.
Catch the Flix First Premiere of ‘Fantasy Island’ this Sunday, August 30, 2020, at 1PM, 7PM and 9 PM on &flix, 3PM and 11PM on &PrivéHD and 2PM on Zee Café.