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AICN HORROR: Ambush Bug talks about the Jersey Devil, scaring little kids, and special effects nightmares with Darren Lynn Bousman, director of the new film THE BARRENS! Plus a review!

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Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. This time I got to catch up once again with Darren Lynn Bousman, a director who has made some pretty effective films in my opinion over the years with a few entries in the SAW series, MOTHER’S DAY, 11-11-11, and THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL. Darren’s new film THE BARRENS is released on DVD/BluRay this week and I had a chance to chat with him about it a few days ago. Here’s what transpired…

DARREN LYNN BOUSMAN (DLB): Mark, what’s going on man?

AMBUSH BUG (BUG): Hey, how’s it going? It’s good to talk with you again, Darren.

DLB: Yeah, it’s good talking to you.

BUG: I checked out the film just a few days ago. It’s another really cool film from you. I have a special interest in this, because I’ve read about the Jersey Devil from when I was a little kid. I was wondering, where did you first hear about the Jersey Devil and the myth that surrounds it to make this film?

DLB: I think when I grew up I was always been a fan of the unexplained and macabre and I know that my dad growing up always was into history channel, so I think I kind of grew up on documentaries, kind of non-fiction reality things usually about WWI or WWII or Vietnam, but late at night on those channels that he would watch there would always be mysteries of the unexplained and I was fascinated with it. I became fascinated with UFO’s and fascinated with anything that was crypto zoological from bigfoot to chupacabra. The one that I think always fascinated me the most was the Jersey Devil only because we had all heard of bigfoot. We have all heard of all of the above, but to me the Jersey Devil was one that I was not familiar with and that there was not an oversaturation of.

As I grew up I continued to be a huge fan of those kind of unexplained creatures that lived in the woods that we didn’t know about and to think there was an oversaturation of bigfoot movies or Loch Ness monster or whatever, but Jersey Devil remained one that I didn’t hear a lot about and I think more the legend of it. I have numerous books on it and what I think fascinates me the most is here is a creature that has been around since the late seventeen hundreds that has been reported by more people from reputable sources than any other creature out there. I mean doctors and lawyers and politicians and presidents and conquerors and town politicians and PTA mothers… If you look at the list of sightings of this thing, they’ve gone back hundreds and hundreds of years and everyone reports pretty much the identical thing with the way it looks, the way it sounds, the way it moves, so I think that’s always fascinated me.

BUG: The one thing it always brings back to is that picture of the horse…. It’s like a put together picture of a horse head and some type of body and there’s wings on it and everything.

DLB: One of the big things to talk about is it’s got the horse head, a kangaroo body, wings like a bat… it’s just a really weird looking thing. When you look at so many renderings of it, it’s not necessarily scary, it’s just this weird looking thing and I just loved it. I think the actual legend behind it is also pretty fascinating. There’s not one legend and I think that’s what is cool about it. There are multiple legends that get you there, mainly about a woman giving birth to a 13th child. I just love things that deal with witchcraft and Satan and all of that. It’s kind of got everything I love. It’s got a religious undertone. It’s got a witch craft thing. It’s got a monster. It’s crypto zoology. So It had all of the makings of a cool cryptozoic kind of creature.

BUG: And looking back at a couple of your films, at least the last couple of ones you’ve done with 11/11/11 and THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL, it does seem like there’s a really strong interest in witchcraft and things like that. Does that date back to a long time or is this just something that you’ve…

DLB: I worship our dark lord and savior. (Laughs) No, I’m joking. You know what? I don’t know. I love the macabre and I love things that are dark and to me I’ve always been fascinated with religion in the fact that you drive down the street and on any given street you’re going to pass a church and… Here’s a perfect example of what I find hypocritical and off at the same time. So I just got off this road tour where Terrence, Spooky Dan, and I traveled across sixty cities in van and we were four wall THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL every single night in a different city and as you get into middle America there was not a place that you could… We would stop at any diner anywhere and you’d walk in and there’s be a big sign in there “Praise the lord and savior, Jesus Christ. May he bless the food you’re about to eat.” You’d walk into these places and I’m like “Seriously? What would you do if you walked into my restaurant and had a picture of like Satan with an upside down cross saying Choke to death on your food while worshipping our dark lord?” You would be offended and you would be upset, but it’s okay to walk into these places and think that that’s okay. I’m not anti-religious at all, I’m just fascinated by the whole thing of it and so I think that it’s just always fascinated me that you can see churches on every single street corner and that’s accepted, that’s common practice, but what about the people that don’t worship that to have the other belief? The witchcraft, the Satanism, and all of that? I’ve just always found it fascinating.

BUG: Let’s talk a little bit about the stars that you have for this film. It looks like there are a couple of people that you brought in from MOTHER’S DAY, Sean Ashmore shows up in the very beginning. Is he a friend of yours? How did he get involved?

DLB: Yeah, Sean is a very, very good friend. I was actually just one of his groomsmen in his wedding, which was cool. Sean and I didn’t know each other until MOTHER’S DAY, but we met on MOTHER’S DAY and we are very similar in our tastes for things. We just started hanging out. His wife and my wife are really good friends and he’s a guy that I would put in any movie.

BUG: And then Stephen Moyer, who is huge right now. I actually met him at the premiere of THE CALLER and he seems like a really nice guy. What was it like working with him?

DLB: He’s fantastic. He’s such an awesome dude and you never know. It was kind of intimidating for me when I first met the guy, because he’s on the number one hit TV show and I was a little worried coming in, like “How is this guy going to take to me? I’ve done a bunch of kind of ridiculous rock operas” and he was awesome. He was so just on set to not only work, but to have a good time. I think that was pretty awesome. When I would yell “cut,” he wouldn’t run back to a trailer, he would sit behind the monitor and just sit and watch and hang out with everybody. I think that was really cool. You can tell that he wanted to be there. It wasn’t one of these things where he was just doing this, like he wanted to be there and I think that was great.

For me, the whole movie hinged on… I didn’t set off to go make some movie where there’s jump scares or whatever, I wanted to make a drama and I think one of the reasons my movies are so polarizing is that it’s hard, because the first three movies I directed right out of the gate were SAW and they were vicious and they were violent and they were scary and it’s all full of tortured death and dismemberment. Since then I really haven’t gone back to that. MOTHER’S DAY was a crime drama that had very horrific elements, but everyone tries to compare it to SAW. “It’s not X, Y, or Z.” The same thing I think is going to hold true with BARRENS. To me it was important to cast someone that could carry a movie on his dramatic ability, not the Jersey Devil. This is never a monster movie per se, it was a movie about a descent into madness that had a monster in it. I think that’s why I wanted to make it from the very beginning. I always thought it would be cool to make a movie where the monster was not the A story, the monster was the B or even C story, to make a family drama about a dude’s descent into madness and there happens to be a monster in it. I thought that was kind of a cool concept, so I needed someone that could really carry that and Moyer was amazing.

BUG: I was watching this and while I was watching it I knew I was going to be talking with you and I had to ask you one question, there were a couple of scenes where there are some big scares and the little kid reacts… it’s such a real performance for him and I mean there’s one scene where they find something in the water….

DLB: The dog.

(Both laugh)

BUG: Yeah! And his arms stiffen out and you could tell he’s seriously scared. How did you get permission to scare the crap out of this little kid like that?

DLB: Well first off the kid, Peter, was one of the… He was amazing and he was awesome and his family was very involved and they were on set and they were great too. The thing is when you’re making an independent movie like this, everyone has to be on the same team making the same movie or the whole thing’s going to fail miserably and so immediately I knew the cast got what we were doing and the kid you’re talking about is name Peter Dacunha. His mother was on set and she just loved it. She loved everything about it and so I would always go up to her before hand and say, “Listen, here’s what I would like to do. Is it okay if I do this?” So she trusted me pretty much off the bat, because I was never trying to do something just out of shock value for him. That being said, Peter was so smart. I forget how old he is, but I want to say like nine or ten and he’s so, so smart and it got to a point where he would say “I want to see it on camera. I want to give you real.” (Laughs) So it got to the point that he wouldn’t want to look at whatever we were setting up, he wanted to do it on the minute. For example, that dog that you’re talking about, that was exactly what happened, like he didn’t want to see it and then he came up and saw it that first time and that was his real reaction. Same thing with the bobcat and the scene with the bobcat, he didn’t’ see the bobcat until he actually saw it on screen and he was awesome.

BUG: Yeah. That was a really great scene. The film did seem like an homage to THE SHINING. Is that okay to say?

DLB: Yeah, no absolutely. My whole thing was I wanted to make a SHINING-esque movie. Here’s the thing, when I made the SAW films it was all about shock value. It was about “What’s the goriest thing that I can do? What am I going to shock the audience by doing?” It wasn’t until I left the SAW films that I realized that was a cheap parlor trick, that it really didn’t do anything. It’s not hard to shock an audience, so I turned my focus to doing things that I felt were a little more inspiring regarding acting, so I did MOTHER’S DAY. To me it was all about the performances and telling a really unique and intricate story and I focused ninety percent more on performance than I did any of the violence in the movie and I did the same thing with this where I wanted to focus on the performance of Stephen Moyer to try to have that kind of descent into madness and make it believable. I’ve seen too many monster movies where I don’t buy anything or believe the characters in them and if you don’t believe the characters, you’re not going to believe what you’re trying to sell, this whole idea of monster. So I think it was critical that you believe Stephen Moyer and you believe that kind of descent into madness if you ever wanted to believe that there was a real monster running around.

BUG: Yeah. And the design of the monster, how did you guys come up with that?

DLB: That is a nightmare of a story. So I used the same guy that had done all of my other films up until that point, named Francois. He did all of the SAW movies and his crew all did REPO. They had done MOTHER’S DAY and all the other stuff, so it was a comfort level that I went into with this group of people. The problem was, this was an extremely low budget movie. It might have been the lowest budget film we’ve done. We basically only filmed I think fifteen days when it was all said and done and we had no money and one of the problems was “How are we going to create a monster with no money?”

One of my things was I didn’t want digital effects. I didn’t want to rely on CGI, so I think we went to Francois and he had two and a half weeks or three weeks to build everything, which is nothing, an that is creating the concept and everything. So he had three weeks with the impossible task of making this Jersey Devil thing and it had to be a man in a suit. I wanted it to be a real person walking around in it and it actually showed up the first day on set. It was the first time we all had seen it and it was needed on camera immediately. One of the problems of doing that was we didn’t have time to work out any kinks. It was “Let’s hit the ground running.”

One of the things we realized immediately was it was way too big and heavy that it couldn’t move. So it was literally something like where you hear the stories about JAWS. The thing literally weight so much that the person inside it wasn't able to stand up in it. One of the issues was he was on stilts and the stilts caused him to lose his balance and then the head weighed something like a hundred pounds, because the head had animatronics in it. So immediately he put the stilts on and he teetered back and forth, because the head was something that weighed like a hundred pounds. So immediately the Jersey Devil would just collapse and fall over.

So it got to a point that we had to be very strategic in how we shot the Jersey Devil and how it was filmed. That’s one of the reasons you only see it in the movie for like twenty seconds. In total, it might be in the movie 25 seconds for that exact reason. It was trying to hide it a little bit. It was a cool looking thing if you actually got up to it. It was a mangled animal. That was one of the ideas from early on.

I’ve read so many legends about the Jersey Devil, the one that stuck with me the most was there was a picture of a guy standing next to a monster it appeared that he had shot and everyone had thought it was a fake image or it was a doctored image and this was something the ‘30s or ‘40s and he is standing there proudly with a shotgun and just killed this monster. Well come to find out that it was not a monster, it was a bison that had a skin disease, so it lost all of its fur and then it had boils on the back from the sun. Because of the skin disease, the boils popped and caused scars and it became rabid because of that. So when you’re looking at the animal, you’re looking at some unidentified creature and it’s really not at all. It’s a real animal that’s been deformed and mutated due to this skin disease. I thought that would be more interesting instead of going to the more demonic thing, which I could have gone, to go with more of an animalistic thing as if this could be a real animal that possibly really lived. And as such it’s kind of got the horse like features and a water buffalo kind of features on it about something that we’ve actually seen pictures of, which I always thought was more interesting than doing a completely demonic thing for this.

BUG: Sure, and I think that holding back on the amount of time you see the creature kind of adds to the effectiveness of it as well.

DLB: I agree and when we shot the movie there was a lot more Jersey Devil in it, but we edited out a lot. Moyer saw the Jersey Devil a lot more and it got to a point though that I felt you were tipping your hat too much and it was too much like Moyer and every time he turned the corner there was the Jersey Devil standing there. I thought it would quickly have audiences rolling their eyes, being like “All right, enough is enough” and so I think that we wisely went through… One of the notes from producer Richard Saperstein was to get rid of that and to make it where you weren’t really sure what he was seeing or if he was really losing his mind. I think that Moyer did such a great job with his whole kind of losing his mind mentality would have cheapened it if I showed the Jersey Devil any more.

BUG: Cool. So moving on to some of your other projects, when’s the next chapter of THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL going to be coming out?

DLB: We are in the middle of it right now trying to… THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL was a great success I think for all those involved in the fact that we were able to successfully put out a movie, self distribute it ourselves, release it ourselves, put the DVD out ourselves, tour all over the country and get it in movie theaters, and to me it was an amazing and liberating experience for an artist. I mean BARRENS was in one theater, maybe two and it kills you. You spend years of your life on something and then you’re basically told to go fuck yourself “here’s two theaters.”

With THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL we controlled everything. We were our own bosses, so we could take it as far as we wanted to and go as long as we wanted to. It was all up to us. There was something liberating about that. It was also extremely time consuming. Literally it was five people sitting in an apartment making phone calls and making agreements with theaters and four walling things and making deals on the DVD. That being said, we are getting back into it to do the same thing again. The hopes is we will be shooting in January or February and touring again around the same time in April.

BUG: Very cool. Well I can’t wait to check out the next chapter of that and yeah, it’s a shame that THE BARRENS isn’t out in more theaters. I think more people should see it, so it will be available on DVD and VOD pretty soon, right?

DLB: Yeah, coming out next week on DVD and on VOD, so that will be good. At least it’s going to get to a point that people that do have Video On Demand and all of that other stuff will be able to watch it.

BUG: It’s sad that horror just isn’t in theaters anymore. It’s really either the big budget watered down versions of it or sequels and it’s just sad that the only place you can get really good horror is on DVD and VOD these days.

DLB: I know, and it’s crazy, because… I’ve recently discovered Netflix. I’ve had it forever and I’ve just never actually gone on and it’s insane, like every night now I’ve watched a new movie that I’ve never heard of just in the horror section and I’ve found some great like hidden gems that I never would have discovered without Netflix. So I think that is the way of the future and I think that’s the reason why DEVIL’S CARNIVAL for us is so important, distribution is changing rapidly and you have two options, you can sit there and you can bitch about it like I am right now with BARRENS getting a one theater release, or you can do something about it to be ahead of the curve and that’s what we are trying to do with DEVIL’S CARNIVAL, just be ahead of the game, so when distribution completely does change that we are at least a part of the change and not sitting there trying to follow it.

BUG: So from here on out do you think that’s the way you’re going to go with your films?

DLB: You know, there’s always that hope that a big studio will get what I’m doing and get behind me and say “This is pretty awesome, we want to be involved,” but I’m not going to sit and wait for it and I think that’s the problem that a lot of filmmakers, really talented filmmakers that should be working a lot more aren’t working, because they are sitting there waiting for their big break and waiting for the Fox of Lionsgate or the Summits to call them and I’ll never sit back and wait. I am always going to create my next thing, be it a self financed road tour or something like DEVIL’S CARNIVAL. I think I’m just going to continue to do that and the hope is that one day Lionsgate will call or one of those studios will call, but in the meantime I’m not going to sit back and wait for them to.

BUG: Well best of luck to you. I think it’s a great fight you’re fighting there and congratulations on all of your success. It’s a really cool film. Thanks a lot for talking to me today.

DLB: Thanks Mark, I really appreciate it.

BUG: THE BARRRENS is out this week on DVD/BluRay! Below is my review of the film!

New this week on DVD/BluRay!


Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman
Written by Darren Lynn Bousman
Starring Stephen Moyer, Mia Kirschner, Erik Knudsen, Allie MacDonald, Peter Dacunha, Athena Karkanis, & Shawn Ashmore
Find out more about these films here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Though it hits all the right notes of a nicely paced monster movie, THE BARRENS, from director Darren Lynn Bousman, is at its heart a descent into madness where a loving father seeing his own sanity peel away with his family feeling the brunt of it. Some may try to compare this film to the Squatchploitation films of the 60’s and 70’s where the big reveal of the monster is the central highlight of the film. But that’s not what this film is about. More than anything, THE BARRENS is Darren Lynn Bousman’s answer to THE SHINING. And while stylistically the two films are very different, there are elements of the story that are definitely similar.

TRUE BLOOD’s Stephen Moyer delivers a strong performance as Richard, a big hearted father with good intentions, but suffering from a heavy burden we are not clued in on at first. When we are introduced to him in this story, he is doing his best Clark Griswald, trying desperately to get his family to spend some quality time together and relive great family vacations of the past by taking his family to a camp in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. He takes his new wife, their son, and his daughter from a previous marriage out to the woods to get back to nature. Right of the bat, Richard seals them off from society by confiscating cell phones and urging his family to live off the land. But though his intentions are noble, Moyer conveys a darkness that makes for some nice scenes of wonderment whether or not the Jersey Devil is actually haunting him.

The buildup to Richard and his family’s confrontation with the beast that has haunted him since his childhood is slow building, but the payoff during the climax is a big one. The way Bousman orchestrates Richard’s tumble from sanity is nicely done and Moyer seems to care not how bad he looks and acts in this bold performance. The rest of the cast ain’t too shabby either with Mia Kirschner playing the hot new mom and Shawn Ashmore making an appearance early on in the film.

My biggest problem with THE BARRENS lies in the first few minutes. I understand in these types of films, the horror movie’s got to grip you right away with a scare, but in doing so in the early minutes, it lets us know that there is some kind of monster in the woods. Later, as everyone is doubting whether or not Moyer is going crazy or if the monster exists, it’s difficult to buy into the mystery as a viewer who saw what looked to be the Jersey Devil in the opening moments. Personally, I think had the film began with Moyer and not the existing opener, it would have sustained that doubt in Moyer’s sanity and made for a cooler reveal of the monster later on in the film.

That said, I loved the look of the monster which is an amalgamation of many animals and quite unlike anything I’ve seen before on film. The conservative way Bousman uses the glimpses of the beast is fantastic and makes the reveal all the more shocking in the end. There will be those who might be pissed that so little of the monster is seen, but as I said above, THE BARRENS is a descent into madness more than a monster movie and a good one at that.

Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/reviewer/co-editor of AICN Comics for over ten years. He has written comics such as MUSCLES & FIGHTS, MUSCLES & FRIGHTS, VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, WONDERLAND ANNUAL 2010 & NANNY & HANK (soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND & has co-written their first ever comic book LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in late 2012 as an 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark has just announced his new comic book miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment to be released March-August 2012. Also look for Mark's exciting arc on GRIMM FAIRY TALES #76-80 which begins in August 2012.

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