don’t know if I have ever been prouder of the CHUD home page two days
in a row. Yesterday we had our exclusive interview with Rian Johnson,
the director of Brick, a movie that announces him as a major new talent. Today we have our exclusive interview with James Gunn, whose Slither
opens this weekend and confirms what the folks who have been paying
attention always knew: this is one funny, twisted and talented guy.
Gunn’s been around for a while – you might remember him as the writer of the incredible Tromeo and Juliet, or the guy behind the Scooby Doo movies, or most controversially the man who reimagined Romero for the Dawn of the Dead remake. And of course there’s The Specials,
the sublime superhero comedy Gunn wrote and stars in as Minute Man
("My-noot man! Do I look like a soldier from the revolutionary war? I
don’t think so! Am I wearing a three-cornered hat?! No! I turn small!
Slither is pure Gunn, though, as he sits in the director chair for the first official time (the “Who directed Tromeo”
controversy lives!). Pure Gunn, it turns out, is damn funny, and more
than a little slimy. In real life pure Gunn is just as funny, and
slightly less slimy. I had a chance to sit down with him the morning
after the Slither
premiere, a rollicking affair where I bumped into Joss Whedon coming
out of a toilet stall. (For the record: I don’t know if he remembered
me, and if he did, whether he connected my face with my infamous
anti-Browncoats editorial. As usually happens in real life I didn’t say
anything witty or interesting at the time; later Collider’s Mr. Beaks
gave me the line I should have used: “Did you just drop a hate bomb in
The interview went twenty minutes, but it could have
just as easily gone twice or three times as long. Gunn’s got a lot to
say, but what makes him a good interview is that he says it in such an
Q: There were some cool people at the premiere. What were the reactions from some of the filmmakers who came?
don’t trust anything anybody says, because you just don’t know. But I
did trust a couple of things, and the person I trusted the most was
Judith O’Dea, the star of the original Night of the Living Dead, because she was sitting across from me. I saw her laughing for the
whole movie, and that was awesome. We talked earlier about favorite
horror movies, and man, Night was right up there. It was a huge movie
for me when I was a kid, and to see her laughing so hard, sitting right
across from me, the circle closed. The people who entertained me are
now being entertained by me. That was exciting.
was a great moment, and then Tobe Hooper was extremely complimentary.
He said it was the best movie he had seen in a couple of years. He
hadn’t had a better time in a theater for a long time, so that was a
great compliment. And I’m friends with Eli [Roth], and I know Eli’s not
lying to me and he had a great time. Zack Snyder. The guy whose
opinions I really care about. I would say that Eli and Zack, I care
about their opinions about as much as anyone out there. So to have both
those guys respond so positively was just a huge compliment.
Q: So I guess I have to ask about Night of the Creeps. It keeps getting brought up by people.
Gunn: Yeah. I didn’t see it until after [the movie was finished].
Q: Really? Not that I think you were ripping it off, but I’m surprised you didn’t see it.
Gunn: Listen, I ripped off plenty of other movies, so there’s no reason for me to lie. The truth is that Night of the Creeps is probably inspired by a lot of the stuff that I’m inspired by – basically, It Came From Within; Shivers.
Which is a huge inspiration to me, it’s one of my favorite horror
films. It’s very strange to me that people keep going on about Night of the Creeps when there’s a much earlier precedent. It seems like they have a shallow history of horror.
Q: I think that people just only go back so far.
Gunn: I guess. There’s Shivers, and the things in Night of the Creeps looked like the things in Shivers, which look like the things in Slither. And also The Puppet Masters the novel, by Heinlein, because it has a similar sort – there have been a few things, there was an Outer Limits episode
too that has a similar thing. I love parasites and I love these
parasites that sort of drive humans. It’s a pretty old idea. Also The Blob. The beginning of my movie is completely taken from the original Blob.
Q: Right, where Grant Grant is poking the alien with the stick.
Gunn: Totally. 100%. I loved that scene when I was a kid, and that’s what I thought of when I did that scene. Same thing with Night of the Creeps.
But the one thing that’s really uncannily strange is that [Fred] Dekker
named his cops after directors and I did the same thing. That is weird.
And I liked [Night of the Creeps]. I liked it quite a bit.
Q: And it has that great line – “The good news is your dates are here. The bad news is they’re dead.”
Gunn: It has a lot of great lines in it.
Q: Speaking of great lines, you have a bunch in Slither. How do you balance the great, funny lines with being gross and scary?
I was just trying to entertain myself as I was writing the script, and
I was trying to create something creepy. I think the line between
creepy and funny is very thin. Creepy is
funny, and funny can be creepy. I also think that one of the things we
tried to do was have the actors play it straight, so they’re reacting
to everything as if it was real. And because it’s so absurd that’s
exactly what makes it funny and that’s also what makes it scary –
they’re treating it real and at the same time it’s ridiculous when
Starla is talking to her deformed husband out in the field, telling him
that maybe he can get a little help and he’ll be OK. Like there’s some
ointment that will clear up the fact that he’s a giant slug.
Q: And is that also how you keep it from going into Scream territory? Is that how you keep it from making fun of the material?
never wanted to do that. I never wanted to comment on the material
itself. For me the humor is from the characters – the characters are
funny. I think the only way in which I’m post-modern, where I go
outside of the film itself, is that I reference a lot of movies
throughout, whether it be shots or scenes or character names or streets
or bars. I wanted to have something that would stand up to repeated
viewings by horror fans, where they could pick out those little
touches. There are hundreds of things – every street sign, everything
is named after a character from a horror movie or something.
Q: The mayor is named after Kurt Russell in The Thing. As a fan, do you think MacReady is The Thing at the end of the movie?
Gunn: No, I don’t think he is. Do you think he is?
Q: I don’t know.
Sometimes there’s obviously no reality to whether he is or not, because
it exists in the mind of the viewer. So if you believe he is, he is.
Q: There’s been talk of a remake. I doubt they would leave it so open in a new version.
Gunn: Strangely, Romero wants to remake it.
Q: Would you direct a remake?
what it is. Most likely not. I pretty much want to create original
stuff. If I did remake something, I would do it the way I did with Dawn of the Dead, which is to change everything besides the central premise and the title. But for the most part, Dawn of the Dead
allowed me to do this movie. That’s why I’m grateful for Dawn of the
Dead, it gave me the ability to do something I wouldn’t have otherwise.
Q: Were you nervous about Dawn of the Dead? You had to know the response was guaranteed to be negative in advance.
wasn’t scared. Before I took it on I had no idea. I had no idea. I
don’t think about those things when I am deciding what to do. I am
blessed by idiocy at times. It has served me throughout my career. I
did Scooby Doo, which I thought nobody would give a shit about, it was just a job. Then I wrote a novel [The Toy Collector]
in which the protagonist was my own name. My family and friends freaked
out on that, but I never thought about it once when I was writing the
whole novel. Then I did Dawn of the Dead,
thinking, “Sure, I’ll rewrite this movie, what a good idea.” I never
thought about it until the backlash started. And it was hard, and it
was hard because I really cared about the screenplay. I had more fun
writing that screenplay than any writing experience ever. I was very
passionately invested in that script. When I care about something so
much and people perceive it as something that’s crass, it’s hard. I’m a
human being, so I don’t like it.
honestly, the truth is, certain people we know have great power. I’m at
peace with Harry [Knowles]. I can say that now. But the truth is that
he wrote a scathing thing that I was writing Dawn of the Dead and people flipped out. I got death threats.
Oh yeah. “Put a gun in your mouth, Gunn.” “Shoot yourself in the head,”
“You’re better off dead.” All this shit. It’s like, fuck! And then a
few weeks later he read the script and he gave it a really positive
review on the same site and honestly, everything died out by 95%. Which
is weird. So it really did come from that one thing.
Q: That’s so weird that in this fanbase that people can be so passionate and yet so horrible.
The internet breeds a sort of negativity. I love going to the sites
that celebrate stuff. I actually think that’s one of the cool things
about MySpace right now. I think I just became your friend there.
Q: You did.
a positive place. Positive for child molesters. [laughs] No, but
honestly, it’s got a different type of feeling. And I would that CHUD’s
a pretty positive site in the bigger scheme of things [editorial note: LOL]. But
certain places, man, it’s frustrated people at home getting negative.
Everybody I know will on occasion read the message boards, and it’s
just so negative.
an outside perspective it’s interesting to see how, personally for me,
things have changed over the years. Things have changed a lot,
especially post-Dawn of the Dead. Because even though there are still
those people who are so angry about Dawn of the Dead… I went to the
Chicago FangoCon last weekend, and one of the first things someone
screams out was, “Fast zombies suck!” People are always trying to
discuss this with me – fast zombies versus slow zombies. They can’t run
because they’re fucking zombies! Of course they can’t run, they can’t
even walk slowly, there’s no such fucking thing! What are you talking
about? Why do you care? Plus, I didn’t invent that, Return of the Living Dead did!
Q: It’s unreal that no one ever remembers that.
Gunn: These people who consider themselves huge horror fans, they know Night of the Creeps, but they don’t know fucking Shivers? It’s a classic, classic horror film. They don’t know that? That’s sad.
When I was a kid I watched everything – I watched the stuff from the 30s, the 40s, I like the silent films. Haxxon is
one of my favorite fucking movies of all time. I wish people had a
better sense of the history of stuff. But I don’t want to complain
Q: I think
that availability of movies on DVD actually hurts. Once upon a time you
had to work to see something, so it was special. Now you just Netflix
I think that because we grew up in the cable era there was only so much
stuff. You’re going to get trapped. You may not really want to watch a
Hammer film that much, The Devil Rides Out
may not be that interesting to you, but it’s the only horror movie on
for two days, so you have to watch it! But then you watch it and you
get something out of it. I’m the type of guy who’s a voracious
filmgoer. I watch a lot of movies, still. I’m different because I do
see movies from a filmmaker’s perspective, so if I see a movie that has
something in it that I think is awesome, then I like that movie, even
if 90% sucks. If it had one thing in there that I think is awesome,
then it’s worth seeing that movie for me.
Have you ever seen Penn and Teller Get Killed?
It’s not a great movie by a long shot, and I can’t believe those guys
did some of the things they did in that film. But the ending –
Q: Everybody kills themselves.
Gunn: It’s this incredibly dark ending after something that’s like Weekend at Bernies! There he is, shooting himself in the head, and my God, that made the movie worth watching! For me that makes that a great movie.
brother, Brian, is different. He likes all these movies that are well
made. Like Jonathanemme – he makes good movies that are well made and
whole together, but there isn’t much about them that jumps outside the
box and does something incredibly interesting. They’re just really well
made movies. That’s not something that turns me on. I’d much rather see
something that was extremely flawed but had something extremely great
Q: Is the Troma stuff more your speed? Or are you more into the grimness of Eli’s Hostel?
Gunn: I like it all, man. I love Hostel, I love Devil’s Rejects.
Q: Rob Zombie is in Slither.
Gunn: Rob Zombie played the voice of Dr.Carl. The film I’m writing now is much darker. It’s not like Hostel, though. I like all kinds of movies. I joke about Slither being like Capote all the time, but I really like Capote.
me what I really like doing is dealing with stuff where it kind of
pushes things into a deeper realm of imagination, that has a little bit
of fantasy to it. Stuff that is dark and yet imaginative. That’s why as
a kid I liked Stephen King so much. I was a huge Stephen King fan, and
I met him a few times as a kid, I was very fortunate. His career was a
real inspiration – and it still is an inspiration to me. He’s got hits
and misses, things that are great and not so great, but his imagination
is always going 1000% and he doesn’t stop it. It keeps going and going.
Some of his ideas are great and some are not so great, but most of it
is entertaining. So I like to do that. I like to create worlds. And I
like to work with special effects.
Q: How much is CGI and how much is practical in Slither?
always hard to say. People ask me that all the time, but you can’t give
a percentage. If you give a percentage of shots, it’s almost 90%
practical because we have tons of practical stuff. I love the fact that
the question comes up because it means you can’t always tell.
have a lot of practical stuff, and what we did a lot of was puppeteer
removal, which is one of my favorite things to do because you’re still
dealing with something practically. You can’t really tell, like all the
Grant stuff in the field was all practical stuff, but if you watch the
original take there are these 12 guys dressed in black ninja costumes
working him. They looked so ludicrous in person. And that was hell
because we had to remove all those guys from between all those reeds,
and they were jumping in front of Grant. But I love the effect because
it may not look real, but you don’t know what the hell it is. You can’t
quite figure it out, and that makes it a lot of fun. And the
craftsmanship, the sculpting of what the creature really is, is a lot
fun for me to watch, so I love that part of it.
the tentacles at the end, we had those done in the same exact way and
they ended up looking awful, so I had to replace the tentacles, almost
all the tentacles with CGI tentacles. So
the tentacles are for the most part CGI at the end of the movie. And
for the most part the slithering things are CGI with some exceptions.
Q: What is the darker movie you’re working on now?
writing a movie about Satan. I think the guy deserves a break, so I’m
trying to give it an objective point of view, see it from his point of
view more and not be so one sided as most Satanic films have been.
Let’s give him a break.
Q: It’s going to be set in Hell or on Earth?
Gunn: On Earth, yeah. I’m part of the way through it so I don’t want to talk about it too much.
Q: Are you directing it?
Q: Are you directing from now on, or will you still write screenplays for other people?
I’m going to direct as much as I can. I like it, I really do. I’ve run
into problems being a screenwriter, and I almost feel like directing is
like writing the final draft of the script. I really don’t find it that
different from writing, it’s just taking the people and arranging them
visually in a way that is the final draft of the script. It’s always
been very frustrating for me to have other directors… fortunately I’ve
worked with some good ones, Zack in particular, who was able to have
his own vision of what I had written but keep the core of what I had
written. That was exciting for me. But a lot of times it’s hard, and
almost always people don’t know how to direct my dialogue. Never ever
has anyone known how to direct my dialogue.
Q: Did it come naturally to the actors on Slither?
I got to cast the movie so I got to cast people who understood the
dialogue. And I got to work with them, to explain where we were going
with everything. A lot of times I find that directors make people speak
too slowly. I wanted stuff fast.
I am always amazed that people want to be screenwriters, because
everything gets taken from you at the end. Would you want to write
Gunn: It takes a long time. I really like movies. Movies are my first love. I think that if you look
at what happens to old screenwriters, it’s not a pretty picture. If you
look at these guys who were great screenwriters, they all end up doing
rewrite work for twenty years. Robert Towne, William Goldman, they do
rewrite work. And they’re mega-rich, because they get paid a lot to do
rewrite work, but man, I got into this business to tell stories and
create. So I won’t do it.
did rewrite work a couple of times, but now I won’t take it. I mean, if
someone comes to me with a script that’s bad and they want it
completely rewritten and I get into the idea, maybe I would rewrite
that, but I’m never going to do these two week rewrite things I get
offered all the time. I keep telling my agent I’m not going to do it.
It’s easy for them to make a lot of money that way, but I don’t like
it. I don’t like doing it to another writer, first of all. They’ve come
all this way and there’s this weird studio mindset that you have to
baptize a script by putting a high price writer on at the end. It’s
happened to me and I don’t like it. And also, listen, I want credit for
my fucking jokes. Maybe it’s just me, but I go in there and think,
“This is pretty funny. Maybe I should save this for something with my
name on it.”