I thought I had given up horror for good. I know, ye Devin of little faith, but the 90s were such a dank decade for the genre that I had essentially quit. I would enjoy old favorites from back in the day, but I essentially quit following new releases. 2006 has shown me that I was far too premature, and the latest film in the assault is Abominable, a goddamn blast of a monster movie.
Directed by Ryan Schifrin – son of famed composer Lalo, who scored the movie – Abominable sets up a classic beastie scenario. There’s a guy in a wheelchair being aided by a dickish and often absent male nurse. There are a couple of local rednecks in the woods looking for the monster that has been killing their cattle. And best of all there’s a house being rented out by five young hotties – all of the fodder for the pissed off Sasquatch.
Abominable is the kind of horror movie that has a guy in a big, cool-looking suit running around, stomping on girls’ stomachs so hard their guts pop out. It walks the fine line between humor and horror really well, never taking itself too seriously but also not winking at us too much. It’s Schifrin’s first feature, but he has real command of the perfect tone for a great, creepy, fun creature feature.
Abominable is now playing at the Metro in Seattle and will be opening in Los Angeles this Friday. It will also be premiering on the Sci Fi Channel – more on that in the interview. To keep up with the latest Abominable news, check out their message board here.
Q: Abominable has some really great kills. At what stage of the process did you decide you wanted to have the Yeti bite a guy’s face off?
Schifrin: Pretty early. Growing up, one of my favorite horror movies was Creepshow, and when I saw it and that monster came out of the crate, the way I remember it is that it bit off half the guy’s head. If you go back and watch it, it’s probably not quite so severe, but it made a big impression on me, and I wanted to do something like that.
Q: I literally squealed with delight when that happened. And it looks great – you have some top notch FX people on this film. They aren’t all behind the scenes, right? You have an FX acting in this.
Schifrin: I have to give all credit to Christien Tinsley, who I met doing a short film that I did called Evil Hill a few years back, which was a spoof of Notting Hill starring Dr. Evil. Christien did our prosthetics for that and we became friends, so when it came time to do Abominable, I of course asked him if he would be interested in doing it, which I was. Then he read the script and asked if I had cast anyone for the role of Otis, the obnoxious male nurse. I hadn’t, so he asked if he could audition. Once I saw him read the part I couldn’t picture anybody else in the role. He was great and he made me laugh; he and I have the same kind of twisted sense of humor. So he pulled double duty on this one, and he went all out – he even shaved a bald spot. He went all Method on it.
Q: It worked out because Otis is a great character who has an arc all his own. You even sort of like him by the end.
Schifrin: That was one of the things we wanted to do, was make you dislike him, but at the redeem himself.
Q: Your lead Matt McCoy has the whole Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window thing going on. When did you decide to put him in a wheelchair? Was that part of the original concept?
Schifrin: Yeah, the original concept was Rear Window as a creature feature. I actually knew Matt, we were both tennis players. We had met a few years before randomly on a tennis court in Southern California, and we had become friends hitting a tennis ball once in a while. When I was writing the movie I wrote it specifically in mind – I didn’t know if he’d want to do it when I was finished, but I knew his voice, I knew his persona so I really tailored the character to Matt. I wanted to showcase how good of an actor he is, I wanted to give him something where he could show wide range. Jimmy Stewart is his favorite actor and they have the same birthday, so he was pretty stoked when I gave him the script.
Q: I looked up Matt McCoy and he’s been in another Bigfoot movie.
Schifrin: He’s been in a couple, actually. He didn’t tell me about that. I found out he’s been in one called Bigfoot and another called Baby Bigfoot. And then it turns out Lance Henriksen had done Sasquatch and has another one coming out as well. If anyone was in a Bigfoot movie, I had to cast them.
Q: The creature itself – how tall is the guy in that suit? He looks huge.
Schifrin: The guy in the suit is Mike Deak, who has been a suit performer in monster movies, and also works at KNB. I think he’s about 6 foot 7, he’s a big guy. And in the suit with the mask and everything he was well over seven feet.
Q: What influenced the design of the creature?
Schifrin: A storyboard artist, Federico D’Alessandro, he’s a Bigfoot fanatic, and he did some conceptual sketches for me, which I gave to Christien who went on to sculpt the creature from that. What we discussed was taking Bigfoot and making him an inbred, mutated, ugly version. Not Harry and the Hendersons. We actually debated whether he should have hair on his upper lip or not and we went with it, which someone said gives him a Ron Jeremy look.
Q: How did you get Lance Henriksen and Jeffrey Combs?
Schifrin: With Jeffrey, I’ve always been a huge fan of Re-Animator, it’s one of my all-time favorite horror films. When it came time to cast the movie, obviously the main lead is Matt but there were smaller parts in the film, and they were my chance to go to the casting director and say, ‘I love these actors and I’ve always wanted to work with them – can we just get them in the movie somehow?’ So basically I had a meeting with Jeffrey – where I was extremely starstruck – and he said, Let’s do it.
He came up with the whole look of the character. He envisioned this really oddball guy up in the mountains with the air hose in his nose and the big goggle glasses. That was all him.
Q: Lance is playing against type a little bit. He’s maybe a little more bumbling than usual.
Schifrin: I thought it would be fun to show a different side of Lance. Everybody knows the serious side of Lance, and I thought it would be kind of fun to show him as the kind of character Bruce Campbell might play. I had never seen Lance do that.
The way we got Lance was kind of a fluke, because he’s in a scene that we added later. I had wanted to get these horror icon guys together in a scene, and a friend of mine just happened to be in the Arclight Theater in LA and saw Lance in the lobby and went up to him and told him about Abominable. Lance said, ‘That sounds cool, I’ll do it.’
Schifrin: He gave us his home phone and I called him up the next day and faxed him over the scene and he said, ‘Sounds fun, let’s do it.’ I have to credit my friend for having the balls to go up to Lance.
Q: This is going to be on the Sci Fi Channel, right?
Schifrin: It has a very limited theatrical release. It’s playing in Seattle now and it opens Friday in Los Angeles. And in a month it’ll be on the Sci Fi Channel.
Q: I don’t want to tell anyone not to watch it on the Sci Fi Channel, but the movie in its uncut form has great gore and some nice gratuitous nudity – I imagine that won’t be in the TV version.
Schifrin: From what I understand the gore is no problem, which is good to hear. Of course the nudity is a problem, so they’ll probably blur it out or something.
Q: So people can see the face chomping on the Sci Fi Channel?
Schifrin: Yeah, I think the face bite will be on TV. Don’t hold me to it, but that’s what they led me to believe.
Q: What’s the future of this on DVD?
Schifrin: Basically 90 days after it’s been on Sci Fi we can release it on DVD – we don’t have a release date yet, but it’ll be the usual extras on the DVD. We’re putting it together now.
Q: Your cinematographer on this film passed away, right?
Schifrin: Yeah, Neal Fredericks. His famous film was The Blair Witch Project, he was the DP on that. After that he on to do like 18 or 20 other features. When I saw his reel and saw the stuff he had done on 35 and 16, just the wide range of things he could do – and we just got along really well. He collaborated on this movie. Neal leant his expertise to this film and helped through pre-production and acted almost like a producer.
One of the things we did was sit down and shotlist the film together, and based off that I asked Neal to almost act like an AD and kind of devise a schedule, based upon his experience and the crew he was used to working with, of how many days we would need based on that shotlist. And he was spot on – I think we went a day over because of weather delays.
We dedicated the film to Neal. He tragically died in a plane crash. He was working on a film called Crossbones, in Florida. The plane he was in crashed in the water and everybody else got out but he was strapped in with the camera equipment. I was devastated when we got the news –we were still in post-production on the film. I went to work every day and looked at the images he had shot. There’s no way to escape dealing with it.
He did get to see the final cut of the film, and he was very proud of it. He said he thought it was something even his parents would enjoy seeing – which wasn’t maybe the case, maybe they’re not big horror fans, but he thought it was mainstream enough that even they could enjoy it.
Q: You guys definitely ended up with a film that he could be proud of – you made a very fun, very good film. But it’s also part of a new resurgence of horror movies – why do you think there have been so many good horror films in the last few years?
Schifrin: I think like anything else it used to be a niche thing but it became mainstream. They used to be B movies or low quality, but now you have very talented people involved. Once they become successful, very talented people gravitate to them. You have people like James Wan with Saw – once these films become successful there’s a lot more competition and a lot more product, and a lot more stuff of quality. I think it’s a cultural thing where horror has become mainstream, and with that you get bigger budgets and longer shooting schedules and wider releases.
Q: As a longtime horror fan, what are some of your favorite horror films of the last few years?
Schifrin: I mentioned Saw. I loved what they did, and knowing that they did it in 18 days with a limited budget and it was so clever to use a limited location like that – I really admire it. I like The Grudge, I thought the sound design in The Grudge was really effective. I liked Hostel, I thought that was really cool. I know I’m forgetting a bunch… I enjoyed 2001 Maniacs as a splatstick kind of movie. I thought it was entertaining.
My classic favorites are John Carpenter’s The Thing and Re-Animator. I’m a big fan of Day of the Dead. I think most people like Dawn, but I always loved Day of the Dead.
Q: So what’s next? The movie is done and being released – do you have something else lined up?
Schifrin: I love horror, so I want to stay in the genre. I’ve written a few things I’d like to do, monster movies and stuff like that. I have a big budget one called Spooks that I’m working on with Daniel Alter. We might turn it into a graphic novel first; we’re still debating what to do with it. It’s sort of a Ghostbusters meets Men In Black with monsters.
Q: So you’re a die hard horror guy? Would you want to go outside the genre ever?
Schifrin: Good stories are good stories. I love action, adventure, I love fantasy. I would at some point like to work on other things, but if I could only do horror I would be cool with that. I’ve loved horror ever since I read Fangoria as a little kid.
Q: And you have a very famous composer who does the score… how hard was it to get him?
Schifrin: It’s funny because with both Matt and my dad their concern was that we have a certain relationship, and that when you mix business into things it could strain the relationship if things don’t go well. My dad basically said, ‘What if you don’t like the score?’ I just had to laugh. There’s no danger of that. I said I was grateful for anything he would do.
But it was that easy. Once he agreed to work with me he treated me like any other director and he was very professional. The first time I heard his score it was a great moment, because not only was the music amazing but the fact that he did my first film was special to me.
Q: And you guys have a killer poster as well.
Schifrin: Drew Struzan did the poster.
Q: How hard was it to get him?
Schifrin: Drew lives in Southern California. I didn’t know him but I contacted him and we met for lunch. I told him about the film, he saw the film, and basically he believed in me and the project. He must have seen something he liked and he agreed to do the poster for us, which was a dream come true for me. I was thrilled. When he sent me the finished poster a few weeks later it was better than I imagined it could be. I geeked out on it.
Q: I don’t blame you. I imagine Matt must have been excited – getting painted by Drew Struzan is about the coolest thing possible in the world of movie posters.
Schifrin: Matt and Hayley Joel, who’s our lead actress – this is her first film – it was definitely a treat for them to be in one of Drew’s paintings. I love that style of artwork. The reason I wanted to do that style of painting is because of the poster for Jaws. They couldn’t show the shark as a normal photograph, as they would know, but as a painting you could get away with showing it. I was thinking along the same line s – we don’t want to show the Bigfoot, but if it’s a painting why not?
Q: Is there going to be a sequel?
Schifrin: I don’t want to give away the ending, but it’s set up for one. I haven’t written it or anything like that, let’s see how this one works. But the way this business is set up there might be demand for one, so anything’s possible.
Q: And has anybody approached you about merchandising? Might we see the Abominable action figure?
Schifrin: It’s funny that you say that. I’m friends with a guy who makes toys, and he’s going to make some prototype action figures we’re going to have at the Burbank Fangoria convention this June. Depending on how the demand is, we might end up mass-producing them.