Nobody can deny that the horror genre has transformed into a quick money making vehicle in Hollywood. The House of the Devil director Ti West is well aware of the trend, but his movie is far from that. The House of the Devil wasn’t made to appeal to the masses; it was made to satiate Ti’s own creative mind and share his vision with anyone who’ll appreciate it. The result is a very different kind of scary movie that has a depth unlike its peers.
Adding to the film’s peculiarity are stars Greta Gerwig and Tom Noonan. I was completely taken aback by Gerwig’s attitude. The character she plays in the film, Megan, is crass and unruly while Greta herself is soft-spoken and extremely polite. Then there’s Noonan who’s exactly like his character, Mr. Ulman. Even his kids are uneasy about introducing him to their friends fearing he might scare them off. Ironically, Noonan has a fantastic sense of humor.
There’s something terrifying about sitting down for a roundtable interview with those responsible for creating a horror film. You think the director must be insane for coming up with such a concept and it’s extremely difficult to separate the actors from their characters. By the end of the session I was fully convinced that West is a deeply passionate filmmaker, Gerwig is a kindhearted up and coming actress and Noonan is just a very tall guy who likes to crack jokes. No satanic rituals were performed and I survived.
The best part? Ti addressed my burning question regarding the foul tasting pizza.
The house is a prominent figure in the film. What was the process like choosing the home to use?
West: Yeah, the location is really a testament I think mostly to Jade Healy, the production designer, because the house is not very secluded. It’s not actually secluded at all and the interior doesn’t look anything – it might as well look like this room. Like, it doesn’t look anything like it does in the movie. We completely – and the reason it took so long to pick that house was because I was like ‘Well the outside’s cool but it’s not secluded and the inside is like a super bummer’ so it would be so much work to redo it and we should try to make life easier. But, as with everything, you just always choose the hardest battles. So, you know, we went in there and Jade gutted everything and redid everything but she’s terrific. I feel like when you watch the movie the interior of the house looks like we just walked in there and started shooting and it couldn’t be further from the truth.
It’s rare to see the main female characters of a horror movie dressed so conservatively. Did you consciously avoid the skimpy outfits and high heels the scream queens typically wear?
West: Well, for me the movie was a period piece and I wanted to be very specific with that and I think a lot of times like the word ‘homage’ gets thrown around which I sometimes get bummed out by because I didn’t really think of it as an homage. Again, I’m not so ignorant to say that I don’t know there’s a few moments, but for the most part, I wanted it to be a very accurate early 1980s period piece, the same way if I made it a 50s movie it would have been very accurate to the 50s and that’s the style that I remember as clear as possible. You know, even from casting everyone, you know like Jocelin especially, tons of like babes came in and auditioned but they didn’t get the movie. You know what I mean? And they came in in like the tank tops and it was just like ‘Um, this is a different movie.’ This isn’t about, you know, a particular statement on sexuality so that shouldn’t be on display. And even Jocelin was always like ‘You know what’s cool about this is that I don’t have a love interest in the movie.’ I was like ‘Uh, I never even thought of that.’ [Jocelin] just had a very old fashioned classic kind of beauty appeal I think which is more attractive and more alluring than say the babe angle. Not that she’s not a babe. Cause we could have not feathered their hair that extreme. I was very adamant about like no, no, no it will be – especially for you [nods at Gerwig], very Farrah Fawcetty.
Gerwig: Yes, it would not really have worked if you’d put me in heels and had me running around like that. Yeah, it was really fun. I think that was the first thing we did is we sat down and they feathered my hair and I knew it was going to be great.
West: We actually feathered both their hair and put them in different outfits and then went out with like a Polaroid camera around Torrington and shot weird like best friend photos. They’re in the dorm room like on her board but you can’t quite see them too well but there’s all these really – did you keep any of those?
Gerwig: Oh, I have them on my bulletin board.
West: They’re all these weird like jumping up high fiving photos in the middle of traffic and things like that. They’re pretty cool.
Tom, you were the only love interest in the movie.
Noonan: Mary, yes. I’ve loved Mary for years. Mary’s great, she scares me though a little bit. She was sort of heavy so I got to be sort of like the good cop. Kind of like, you know, ‘everything’s okay, don’t worry’ and she was like, oy. She comes and sits down next to Jocelin on the couch it’s like –
West: Mary has a pretty amazing screen presence, unlike anyone. She just sits down on the couch and you’re like whoa.
People nowadays expect a gory opening scene. They don’t want to wait for the bloody stuff. Your movie uses a long build-up to get to that point. Do you think people will respond well to that?
West: I’m sure some people will actually probably dislike it. But you know, you can’t make a movie for everybody and I think it’s polarizing. I think this kind of movie where reviews will be like ‘Oh my god, it’s great for all these reasons’ and then ‘This is the worst movie of all time.’ I don’t think there will be a lot of ‘Well, it was okay’ because it doesn’t – I don’t think it provokes a ‘hm’ reaction. I think it provokes, you know, kind of a strong hatred for the style or a strong appreciation for the style and I just happen to be in the latter crowd and I kind of make personal movies so, I want audiences to like them but at the same time I’m trying to accomplish my own, you know, plans the best that I can. What are you going to do? It’s subjective.
Speaking of your own plans; I read that the producers took out four minutes of the film.
West: Yeah, but it’s all back in now. That was a one-time deal. That was right before Tribeca there was a cold feet situation where everyone thought if there was a little bit less it would be more accessible and I strongly disagreed. And then, you know, everyone just kind of came to reality later that, you know what, it just doesn’t make– it’s still the same movie just with four minutes of less good stuff. So it was put in when Magnolia got on board, they were like ‘Yeah, we’ll put it back’ and everything was – it’s all water under the bridge now. It was really just that one time it screened that way and it doesn’t, you know, it doesn’t devastate the movie but I do believe it’s better and I think the four minutes are Jocelin – so much of the movie she plays the straight man and she has to carry the plot which is a bummer job for any actor and that’s the one section of the movie where she really doesn’t have any responsibility and she can just be the character. I was always fascinated with when you’re in someone else’s house that like, you find yourself snooping through their stuff and go ‘What am I doing?’ You’re just for some reason inclined to do it and that was huge part of making the movie for me so that’s why I felt important about that stuff personally and I also think upon repeat viewings that there’s a lot of cool little plot foreshadowing things that are in there like the little kid’s room and things that you wouldn’t get on the first viewing. And I think, you know like I said, it gives her time to just snoop around and put on glasses and talk to a fish and it also establishes a really great geography of the house and spatial relationships which I think in low-budget independent films you don’t see that a lot. And lastly, you know, I like the idea that she would go into a room and the whole audience would go ‘Oh my god! What’s gunna happen?’ and then it’s like she puts on glasses and leaves and you go ‘Alright, oh! She’s going into this other room. Oh no!’ and then it doesn’t happen and if that happens a certain amount of times, as an audience, you then go ‘Shit, I don’t know what’s ever going to happen in this movie because I’m just now aligned to think that nothing will ever happen’ so that way when it does happen it’s like a legitimate surprise and I think that contrast is effective.
How’d you come up with the funny answering machine concept?
West: Yeah, that was always very specifically written. When I grew up a weird thing is that my parents didn’t want people calling and being bothered with that so I had my own phone line. And so, I had my own phone line with my own answering machine so I would just make these ridiculous messages all the time and one of them was exactly that, like ‘Hello? [pause] Oh!’ cause they’d start going ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ ‘Oh! I’m not actually here’ because that’s something I used to do. So that’s where that comes from but I also really like the idea that like, how if you’re in the most horrifying situation that you have to listen to that over and over again. Like, that’s so aggravating. You’d have to wait four fuckin’ rings and then the answering machine picks up ‘Hello? Oh!’ and you’re like ‘I might be dying right now and this is what I have to deal with’ and I like that kind of, that realism that comes in these sort of horrific situations and I liked having every time it got worse and worse she still had to listen to that same dumb answering machine.
Tom, will you watch it with an audience to see the scare factor?
West: Have you seen it? Have you sneakily watched it?
Noonan: I actually saw it.
With an audience?
Noonan: Yeah, they were there. [Laughs] It was really scary. I sorted of hated it. I wanted to leave but I couldn’t because I thought people would think I didn’t like it. It was really scary. I didn’t really [whispers] read the script.
West: I will say and maybe you won’t remember this conversation either but I will say that you came up to me afterwards and I feel that you had a generally surprised look on your face and you went ‘It was really good!’
Noonan: Well, I mean, it’s rare to be in a movie that’s actually good. I was like, ‘Wow, this guy made a good movie.’ It’s really quite a good movie.
Tom, you’re cast in these types of films a lot. What is it about you that connects you to the genre? Noonan: I think I’m sort of unpredictable and, you know, I could do anything at any minute and also I think I’m just sort of creepy. I asked my kids once if they really thought I was and they said ‘I’m sorry but, yeah. You are.’
Why does the pizza taste bad?
West: Well, okay, I mean, the first pizza, well that was a mixture of things. One, I wanted Greta to be very obnoxious, eating style, because that’s something that bugs me and I think you did a very good job being obnoxious with the pizza. There’s some people who are like ‘Oh, that scene.’ [Laughs] But, cause I think we kept being like ‘Lick your fingers some more.’
Gerwig: I know!
West: And then also that was kind of like foreshadowing to later that like pizza would be a problem and things like that. There’s a lot of little things like that that I think on repeat viewings you’d be like, ‘Oh, weird, there’s like a weird little setup for that.’
Noonan: That was the other title, wasn’t it? Besides House of the Devil it was Pizza Could Be A Problem.
MAJOR SPOILER ALERT
What was it like when you go to your part in the script, you know, your big finale?
Gerwig: That was pretty strange. They made a cast of my head and there was a dummy and I did – we were huddled around a monitor and we watched my head explode and that was a strange moment in my life. It was like three in the morning and they shot from one angle and then they were shooting the other angle and I’m watching my own head explode and I’m thinking ‘My life is so strange! I don’t know what I’ve done, to get here!’ But, it was neat.