As some of you know, CHUD.com is working with the folks at Bigfoot Entertainment on a variety of fun projects [more on that in the near future] and one of those is the new “Killer Cut” of Midnight Movie [tickets], a low budget horror flick directed by Jack Messitt. The film involves a group of people trapped in a movie theater who are being menaced by a killer who literally is embedded in the old movie they’re watching. A movie the man made before going insane and becoming involved in all sorts of crazy ritualistic hootenanny. Reality and celluloid become one as these people get killed onscreen and in real life. It’s an interesting flick, and one with a few really nice kills and a lot ideas. Rare for a smaller horror flick. Messitt, a veteran cameraman (currently working on Bones) managed to craft a really well-made movie on a small budget and the film became a hit on video. As a result, he’s been given the tools to enhance the movie and make it bigger and more effective.
The film [official site] has its special premiere on Thursday at the Bigfoot Crest in Westwood, LA and if you live in Los Angeles and want to be in the audience on Thursday send them an email and tell them CHUD sent you!
I had a chance to speak with Jack about the new cut and his approach to filmmaking.
Nick Nunziata: The version of Midnight Movie I’ve seen is the old cut. What does this new version bring to the table?
Jack Messitt: It’s really a much better version of the movie. When we first brought out Midnight Movie, that production only had so much time and money to do what we wanted to do with it. With its success, Bigfoot came to me and said “let’s put together a director’s cut”. I said “I don’t want to put a bunch of stuff that didn’t belong there in the first place”. It was the best version we could put out with what we had. So I said “if we’re going to do this let’s do it right”. Let’s put in some more money for visual effects and do some additional shooting. Let me go back and see what I can do with the existing footage and utilize new visual effects to make scenes more powerful than they were. More than that there were things in the original cut that didn’t work as well for me so I streamlined a lot of areas. I don’t think you’re going to realize some things have changed but overall it’s going to feel better.
Nick Nunziata: What elements of the story did you address?
Jack Messitt: One of the main things was [the villain] Radford himself. We did this the low budget way, he’d walk into a scene or walked out of it. The ritual in the beginning where the old Radford embeds his soul into the film was all crammed into one day of shooting. The first six or eight minutes of the film were really the last day of shooting. I did as much as I could within that time but it really didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to. I reworked the entire ritual using visual effects and other footage to make that much more like the scene I intended it to be. In the first couple of minutes of the film you’re going to have a bunch of new and enhanced footage to make that first five minutes feel a lot better. And then as the movie goes on the way Radford goes in and out of this world is much more out there. More supernatural and menacing. What we’ve done is make Radford and his stalking of the audience of the film much more of a cat and mouse kind of feel we couldn’t originally do due to budget.
Nick Nunziata: It seems that there’s an interesting backstory to the character we really don’t see a lot of in the cut I saw, which is great for a potential horror series.
Jack Messitt: Yeah I think what we’ve added to the film and expanded ritual will expand that mythology. The mythology and how he does everything is not completely explained but I think we give enough of a backstory as to who this guy is so that potentially a future movie could explore. I think that the Killer Cut of the film makes that mythology so much stronger than the original and makes Radford a much more menacing character.
Nick Nunziata: Obviously the film was made on a budget and there are certain compromises, but it’s a really well-shot and constructed movie, especially considering how many lower budgeted horror flicks are ruined by bad filmmaking.
Jack Messitt: Any filmmaker that sits with his movie for couple of years looks back and sees things he would have done differently and I’m no exception with Midnight Movie. Even if I went back there now and were put under the same constraints for budget and time I wouldn’t do many things crazy different. You do the best you can under constraints you have. The Killer Cut basically added what would be fifteen percent to the budget. The visual effects, editing, scoring, audio mixing… a considerable amount of energy and budget went into this version of the film so if I had that money in the original I must have done things a little differently. We tried to make sure every penny we had in the original version made it to the screen. I think we allocated those resources really well. Shooting film, which is one of the big things that makes the look of this film what it is. Most million dollar films don’t get that as a feasible part of their budget and we made it work. We had a significant amount of effects, expensive ones. We went to Pixel Magic, who did 300, and they helped us design the electrocution of Mario. They composited the movie within the movie and one of the big effects- Josh’s face at the end of the film, they composited his wound. It’s an active wound. It was an expensive effect but it makes that scene. We put a lot of money into the original version but what we’re able to do with this new one is better.
Nick Nunziata: Can you tell me a little about your horror sensibilities and background. I was a little way you might shy away from the gore, or worse yet coast on it.
Jack Messitt: Gore to me is a double-edged sword. We as an audience want it but at the same time if you give your first scene an incredible amount of gore you have nowhere to go. For a combination of reasons I set up the kills in the movie to mirror the history of horror. In the beginning you see before and you see after. Nothing that actually happens. With each successive kill you see more and more. In the early horror it was all mood and had nothing to do with gore. Then Psycho showed a fair amount for its time. And then the 80’s come around where it’s full-on gore. Then you reach the 90’s and the “torture porn” kind of gore. It’s elevated and I structured the movie to be the same thing. Because it’s a group of kids watching a horror films, you can’t write a script like that without commenting on horror movies in general. There’s a lot of winks to the audience in Midnight Movie in what these characters are saying. You can see some of my sensibilities of horror in what the characters say, like, and don’t like. Horror is an interesting genre because of how many subgenres there are. The movies I go back to are movies from the 70’s. Late 60’s and 70’s were the heyday. Night of the Living Dead. The Shining. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. You put them in theaters today and they still work. They’re timeless. Horror has a tendency to date itself rather quickly, what scares people today may not work tomorrow. When you watch horror films you have to keep in mind when they were made.
Nick Nunziata: I’ve talked to a lot of filmmakers who don’t realize the intense and insanely in-depth grasp of horror that horror fans have. They know all the movies and all the killers and all the kills. While they’re a forgiving crowd, it’s very hard to bring them something they find fresh. How do you keep a movie fresh with an audience so savvy?
Jack Messitt: I think you’re spot on there. It’s difficult to satisfy hardcore horror fans with any movie. And if you just go after the hardcore you’re not going to satisfy the broader audience. It’s a really terrible dance to try and satisfy both. Surprisingly, Midnight Movie played well with both audiences. People who aren’t horror fans have really embraced it. I attribute that to the fact that the gore doesn’t come until later into the film. It slowly leads you in by the time the we’re at the gore it doesn’t turn those people off. And yet I think we have enough to satisfy the gorehounds. Hopefully The Killer Cut will only enhance it for both groups.
The Killer Cut arrives this weekend. If you live in Los Angeles and want a pass for two to the Thursday sneak, send them an email and tell them CHUD sent ya!