We’re only a few days away from the premiere of the 2010 After Dark Horrorfest so we decided to talk to first time writer/director and die hard splatter fan Brian Pulido about his entry to the fest, The Graves. Not only is Brian responsible for the comic creations Evil Ernie and Lady Death, but he’s written a ton of comics featuring iconic horror characters like Chucky, Leatherface and Jason Vorhees. Find out who Pulido considers to be the Al Pacino and Robert De Niro of the horror world and why he considers The Graves to be a cross between Buffy The Vampire Slayer and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
After Dark Horrorfest is in theaters January 29nd–February 5th, titles include: ZMD:Zombies of Mass Destruction, The Final, The Graves, Hidden, Dread, Lake Mungo, Kill Theory and The Reeds.
FEARnet: I'm excited to see The Graves, so can you tell us what the story is all about?
Brian Pulido: The Graves is about Megan and Abigail Graves, two sisters who are rock and roll loving comic geek chicks. Megan is gonna take off for a job in NY so the girls are gonna have a last weekend together. A last hurrah. Meghan likes to go out and find weird obscure places to visit and as they do this they get very lost in a town called Unity. And while in Unity, the waitress there played by Amanda Wyss (A Nightmare on Elm Street) suggests that they visit a place called Skull City Mine. This begins a very twisted mind bending fight for survival against menaces both real and supernatural. Including a mass murderer, religious cults, serial killer and a supernatural force.
Wow, it sounds like you've thrown a little bit of everything in there.
You know it doesn't feel like a hodgepodge when you see it. But as a genre fan I wanted to have a chase film where you felt like you were walking through all these different sections. On top of that too, it's a coming of age story for Abby. She's always lived in her big sister's shadow and because of the stuff that happens in the film she's gonna have to step up and the question is, can she?
If you had to place The Graves within a horror subgenre, where would you cram it in?
It's solid survival horror film. It really is about the question of whether or not these girls survive this night or not and how they come out on the other end. This may send you for a loop but I'd say it's Joss Whedon Buffy The Vampire Slayer meets The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There's nothing really to compare it to in tone because the angle of attack is different. Typical to survival horror you have 7 good looking people knocked off one at a time. I'm inspired more by a film like Jeepers Creepers where you have a brother and sister and see how they survive. I knew I wanted to deal with two sisters who are best friends and they are put through the night of their life. Now, this doesn't mean we don't have a ton of violence in our movie, we have like 22 murders. But really the question is, are these two going to survive or not?
Did the casting of people like Tony Todd, Bill Moseley and Amanda Wyss come from you as a fan wanting these people who starred in films you admire to also star in your film?
Yes, and I have to give all the credit to my producers. They were adamant about getting big name genre stars and I was totally with it. And although I didn't write the parts specifically for Tony and Bill, it fit them like a glove. We knew in the role of Darlene (played by Amanda Wyss), the waitress in this place called Screamers Diner we knew we wanted the classic genre final girl.
Do you find that you look back on their previous roles and say that you either do or don't want a little bit of this character?
Interestingly I found that I was interested in the opposite of that. I thought to attract quality actors I'd have to give them something fresh to chew on. And also as a genre fan one of the things I've learned is that somehow these movies have to present something fresh. So as opposed to trying to duplicate what we've seen in the past, my drive is to give people what they'd expect to see from the genre, but in unexpected ways. Sure Bill Moseley is playing a bad guy but I assure you this is no bad guy you've seen him play before. This is a guy that's killed over 2M people; he's killing his way trying to find his wife. He's not played maniacally he's very puckish, extremely playful because he's in a place he's totally comfortable with and knows like the back of his hand. These girls wind up playing in his backyard, he's actually very affable strangely until things get real nasty. Then with Tony, once he was onboard I said let's just see a different color of emotion from you and he was totally all about that hence the creation of Reverend Abraham, a character he really hadn't played before.
It's refreshing to hear you say that because guys like Tony and Bill, they really are good actors. They're much more than the iconic horror characters they are known for.
That's exactly what we saw. We knew that these guys were underutilized and wanted to give them a chance to really fly. Even on set, I gave them all the freedom in the world to invent more inside their role. I felt strongly that the screenplay had the needs and wants of the characters inside it and as far as putting the window dressing on it and the excitement, I said bring it, and they did. They just went bananas with their roles.
Did you have any reservations coming into your directorial debut with these horror icons on set?
I think anyone who meets Tony Todd for the first 5 seconds is intimidated by his size. But then I think I just got him, I loved working with Tony. On set he's really fun and accessible. He loves to poke people and mess with people. I found that to be a blast. I just felt that the movie was in great hands. They really cared, you knew from the beginning this was no phone in thing. I felt supported the whole time, I loved it. I think that they're the Al Pacino and the Robert De Niro of the genre.
Why is it that the mainstream can't see this in these actors?
In a recent article Stephen King noted that even the finest portrayals in a horror film are rarely recognized critically, I don't know why that is, but if you and I can sit down as fans and say, 'Wow, this really needs to be recognized on a bigger scale', but I think mainstream folks are just afraid to look at this stuff. Where as most of us that are into it understand we really are exploring morality and how we feel about the world through the genre but I think other folks maybe just view it differently.
Did you have any issues with the MPAA?
Well, we got an R and I'm really proud it was for 'strong bloody violence'. Like in some of the comics I've written like Evil Ernie it's a true celebration of my adoration of the splatter punk movement and splatter movies of the 80's. And we have our fair share of splatter in this film and we have a moment or two that you definitely have not seen in a horror film before.
Were there any red flags you were concerned the MPAA might react to?
There were a couple of moments that were red flags but we never had a Plan B for how to cut it or shoot it. We just shot it violent and intense. Then when we submitted, I was wondering how a few of the bits would come over. We're bloody and violent but not heinous. We're not demeaning towards women specifically. Maybe our violence is just a little more like the glee of splatter as opposed to we're degrading women and chopping them up, it's more like watch this happen...kaboom! Awesome!
So do you think The Graves might appeal to a more mainstream audience then, like Zombieland?
I don't know if it will, but my intention was to bring women back into theaters to see horror films. Cause as a writer of comics like Lady Death, I know half my audience is women and I think often people forget that women like these movies too. And I saw a trend veering away from a female audience. It wasn't designed to be something in the French new wave of splatter where after you've seen these films you need to check out for a few days because you're destroyed. My intention was to create a date night horror flick. Something that has a fun tone, but you didn't feel annihilated after you left it. You have a good time, there are a lot of thrills and then afterwards you can talk about it and go out for pizza.