The Revenant is a new kind of vampire film, promises writer/director Kerry Prior. We spoke to him about how he makes his undead old-skool, why it took three years to get distribution, and why he will never again use contact lenses.
Tell us about The Revenant.
It’s a movie about a guy who, to his surprise, comes back from the dead. He goes to his best friend’s apartment to try to figure out what is going on. After his friend’s initial shock, he gets on board and tries to help him figure this all out. And hi-jinx ensue.
It has a very Shaun of the Dead feel. Are you afraid of being compared to Shaun of the Dead or any other horror-comedy-action films?
I’m not afraid of it. I love Shaun of the Dead. That’s not what I was going for, particularly, but I think it’s a great movie.
Is this your feature directorial debut?
Well, not really. I directed a couple other films that never ended up making it to distribution and were, effectively, failures. This is the first one... I should knock on wood because it doesn’t come out until Friday. Anything could happen between now and then.
Is there a building excitement, or are you too nervous, waiting for it to come out?
I’m not nervous, no. It has been too long a road for me to be nervous. If it had gotten matched up at the first festival it played at and was released six months later, I’d be nervous. But it has been three years. Now, it’s really just more of a relief.
Wow, three years? That has to take a toll on you.
Yeah. It’s like purgatory. You really feel like you are kicking around purgatory, looking for a door.
What was the hold up? Was it just finding someone who would distribute it?
Yeah, mainly. We were looked at by some big studios, and passed on - even in the wake of movies like Zombieland. There were just some doors we couldn’t even open. I set out to make a movie in what I thought was a very commercial and safe genre. The more these types of movies became big money-makers, the more convinced I was that this was a great choice, that it shouldn’t be a problem getting distribution. But clearly there is something about the movie that is off-putting or the studios don’t get. Outside the idea that this movie just sucks, which I would prefer not to embrace.
The Revenant is a mashing of so many genres. Do you see it as one genre over another?
I guess I think of it as a dark comedy. When we were playing the festivals, we would get that in reviews, that it is a mashup of different genres. It never occurred to me that that was the case. I wasn’t trying to mashup genres, I was just making what I thought was a horror comedy.
And I think nowadays, people are really intent on jamming films into genre classifications.
Yeah, like think about a movie like Repulsion. What would people call that now? It’s hard to look back back and see that Roman Polanski was writing a horror movie. But he was.
It doesn’t feel like a “horror” movie in the modern sense.
It’s ironic when you look at scenes from, like, Nightmare on Elm Street, which directly ripped off scenes from Repulsion. A lot of big, 1980s horror movies were directly influenced by Repulsion. Black and white, Catherine Deneuve, a film about sexual repression... I don’t know, but it’s a great movie.
Your characters call themselves Revenants in the film. Do you see them as vampires or zombies or this new breed altogether?
Initially, I was writing a vampire movie. But the more I dug into vampire folklore, the more of the Hollywood conceptions of what the vampire was really fell away. The whole idea of being able to fly, turning into a bat, going into a trance... so much of that was invented by Hollywood right out of the gate, with movies like Dracula and Nosferatu. Nosferatu was just ripping off the Dracula novel - it was a copyright violation at the time. Every time someone took liberties with the vampire legend in movies, it would get passed on. Anyway, as you pare that away, what you are left with is this revenant: this non-glamorous, not-sexy, rockstar-looking, moldering corpse who, for some reason, is stumbling about at night, tormenting people. To me, that was the movie that I wanted to make.
Right. Like with [main character] Bart’s freaky eyes, which were a running gag.
It’s funny, we had the actors wearing contacts. David Anders, especially, was tormented by these contacts. It was this nightmare. We had to pay a lens tech to be on set, and no offense to lens techs, but they need to get real jobs because they don’t have fuck-all to do on set.
What exactly is a lens tech?
It’s a hedge against liability for insurance. So if someone gets an eye infection, and there is a lawsuit, we can say, “We had a lens tech!” Literally, that is what it is for. The worst part is that because she had nothing to do on set, she had to justify her presence by taking 20 minutes to put the lenses in. She made them lie down on a cot... all this nonsense.
But the post-script to that story is that the contacts didn’t even work! By the time we got back and put a little color curve on the image, the lenses all but disappeared. So I decided to just try to enhance the eyes. We finally did red-rimmed, whited-out eyes on one shot, and that looked great, so we did the whole scene, and sure as shit, it looked way better. So we decided we had to do it in every close-up shot. Then we would take it to a festival and realize we had to do the medium shots, too. Then we’d take it to another festival and realize we had to do it to all the wide shots, too. We did all but three shots in the movie [where you see their eyes].
What is coming up next for you?
I have a film called Merry Christmas From Me and Bubbles. It is about a guy who, at the behest of his shrink, adopts a little dog. But he hates dogs so he gets an old dog in hopes that it will die soon and relieve him of this duty. But he falls in love with the dog. In order to increase their connection, he tries to increase their ESP powers so they can communicate. So the guy trepans himself and the dog. It works and they do have an ESP connection, but it immediately transports him to another dimension where he meets his alter-dimensional self. It then goes on to involve a world conspiracy plot, the protocols of Zion, his girlfriend who works at PetSmart... It’s based on a chapter of my life from college.