This weekend sees the release of Grave Encounters, a new independent horror movie from The Vicious Brothers that we here at CraveOnline called "clever, well-shot and genuinely creepy." We took some time with The Vicious Brothers, born Stuart Ortiz and Colin Minihan, to find out about the genesis of the found footage haunted asylum picture, some of the other projects they abandoned because they were too expensive (including a killer lumberjack picture), and the issues surrounding horror films today.
CraveOnline: So I saw Grave Encounters… and it’s good.
Stuart Ortiz: Thank you.
CraveOnline: I’m actually a tough audience on horror and it’s actually kind of a creepy movie, and I wish I’d seen it in crowded theater. So I’m glad it’s getting a theatrical release, but I’m curious how you feel about a Video on Demand release at the same time?
Stuart Ortiz: Well, you know, me and Colin obviously… Kind of the Holy Grail for the filmmaker is a theatrical release, but at the same time me and Colin both feel this is where everything is heading. This is where the technology is going, and I think for a long time people weren’t really jumping on board with this. […] I really feel like in the last two years or something that it really is taking off, and that people are… I buy everything that I watch now, pretty much, on like the iTunes store or something like on Apple TV. So you know, we’re happy that it’s going to get out there and that a lot of people are going to see it, and the other part of the thing is, a lot of people these days have these 50” plasmas, you know? That’s not exactly a “small screen,” so as long as people are going to take the time to sit down in the dark, you know, and kind of try to get into the vibe of the film I think they’ll enjoy.
CraveOnline: So what was the impetus for Grave Encounters? Were you guys just watching Ghost Hunters and wanted them to get their just desserts?
Stuart Ortiz: Yeah, basically. I mean, we were writing a couple other scripts and we were kind of getting burnt because we knew that we needed to make a low budget film. The budgets of the other projects were kind of escalating out of control as we were writing them. You know, it’s kind of hard to be like, “We want to make a low budget film. What the hell can we make that will be a low budget film?” And we kept finding ourselves watching all these different ghost hunting shows, and starting reading about how much of a kind of pop culture fad it is. And for me it’s like, reality TV has become such a big thing that wanted to parody it to a certain extent as well.
CraveOnline: If you don’t mind talking about it, what were some of the earlier, more expensive ideas? Were you going to do an alien invasion thing, or…?
Colin Minihan: Oh yeah, we had a couple different scripts. We’ve got with aliens in it, we’ve got one with a vampire in [it], we’ve got one that is extremely huge budget that is about a homicidal lumberjack. That’s just an awesome […] slasher movie that’s like, inspired by the 80’s remake of The Blob. […] We’re huge fans of that.
CraveOnline: How large a budget does that get? Is he like Paul Bunyan, just dropping logs on top of cities and s**t?
Stuart Ortiz: (Laughs)
Colin Minihan: Yeah! All of the above.
CraveOnline: (Laughs.) I don’t know if you’re joking or not, but let’s talk about Grave Encounters, because Grave Encounters is actually really cool. So this is an independent movie. Where did you acquire the money for this?
Colin Minihan: Well, basically we dumped down some of our own money and then we brought on a couple independent investors that we knew through friends, so I think Stu and I together dumped like 60 [thousand] of our own cash down on the table to let the other investors know that we were serious and wanted to do it. And it paid off so far… Because you know, Lesson #1 in Filmmaking is “Never spend your money making a film,” but we made our money back by now.
CraveOnline: That’s good. Where did you find this… Was it all one location, or did you have to cheat that?
Colin Minihan: No, the whole film, it’s all shot at this one location. It’s a real abandoned mental institution in Vancouver. We just knew about it because we’d worked on some music videos there, but I mean it’s one of the most shot-at locations in all of Canada. You see it everywhere, in The X-Files a bunch of times and a ton of hellraising kind of movies. So we knew from the get-go that’s where we wanted to set it, and it just seemed like… It’s one thing if ghosts are haunting you, and it’s even worse if the ghosts are people who used to be crazy. It couldn’t be much worse than that.
CraveOnline: On your website you have sort of a mission statement, and one of the things you say on it is that, “Over the last decade, American horror films have become increasingly safe and predictable.” Not that I disagree, because I really don’t, what really cheeses you off about horror right now that you’re trying to respond to with Grave Encounters?
Stuart Ortiz: You know, I don’t want to specific films, really, but like, obviously… I just feel that so many films just kind of play it safe, and are just so conservative and afraid to really make people uncomfortable. […] Obviously there’s a whole bunch of these torture porn films or whatever out there now, and those are pretty gory or whatever, but I wouldn’t say they’re particularly disturbing at the same time. There’s not a lot of horror that you see anymore that’s kind of more cerebral or something, that kind of taps into something else, and at the same time takes it really seriously. I think another problem me and Colin have with a lot of horror or genre movies in general is that they’re kind of made for little kids. And they’re not really very “adult” in their nature, you know? And we wanted to do something more adult, that wouldn’t insult your intelligence when you watch it.
CraveOnline: That’s very apt! It’s interesting that one of the problems with horror is that there are so many horror movies that elements, even in more original movies, elements seem to get recycled. In Grave Encounters, obviously it’s a “found footage” horror film, it’s got a haunted asylum… Is originality even possible?
Colin Minihan: Is originality even possible… (Laughs.) That is a bold question. Um… I mean originality, of course it’s possible. However, you know, even with this film, Stu and I watching ghost hunting show thinking this would be a great idea for a found footage film, that’s an original idea right there. And then we go and we make the film and we realize months later that, you know, scrolling through Netflix, that there’s already been a film about a couple of ghost hunters that have gone into a building. And although it’s disappointing to a certain point, I think execution is an extremely important thing because anyone can kind of come up with an idea, but having a clue as to how to deliver it in an effective manner is a whole other ball game.
CraveOnline: I do agree. It’s not what it’s about, it’s how it’s about it. If your take is interesting, and I think yours is. What movies actually do inspire you? I remember watching Grave Encounters and thinking you guys were probably fans of Session 9.
Colin Minihan: Yeah, Session 9 is great!
Stuart Ortiz: I’m a huge fan. I think me and Colin both, our favorite horror movie of all time is probably John Carpenter’s The Thing. There’s a movie that basically has a kind of absurd idea, but it’s just so well done – talking about execution – it’s so well-acted, and the effects are still the best makeup effects that were ever done […] It’s just a beautiful thing. The tone of The Thing, too… We’re real big on tone.
CraveOnline: I realize this is pretty antithetical to your “safe and predictable” comment, but has there been any talk or interest for a sequel to Grave Encounters yet?
Colin Minihan: A sequel would be something that Stu and I would be interested in probably writing, but I don’t think that getting behind it to direct it would be something that we’re interested in, because we’re so close to getting a couple other projects off the ground right now. It really is a matter of if the audience demands it and they want it, then I don’t really see a problem… When I do have a problem […] it’s when a studio promises that an entry to a particular franchise will the last entry of it, and then it does well and do another one after that and another one after that.
CraveOnline: So you guys did a lot of the visual effects for Grave Encounters yourself, right? You didn’t bring anyone else on?
Stuart Ortiz: Yeah, all the visual effects in the film are done by me or Colin, basically on a MacBook computer.
CraveOnline: What was the trickiest sequence in that regard?
Stuart Ortiz: Well, a good example… One of the most difficult effects was something we actually wanted to do as a physical, practical effect on the day, which was a shot where it looks like a guy gets launched down the hallway about forty feet. And the idea was to do it [as a] real physical effect. We had a stunt coordinator there, and the stunt guy was rigged on a wire, and they were all set to do it. And we sat there and watched their test before we were about to roll, and it was about the most unimpressive thing we could possibly imagine. I mean, the guy basically shot forward and was so low to the ground that his feet were literally dragging on the floor. And me and Colin were just looking at each other, like, “Oh my God, this is horrible.” It was supposed to be a huge moment in the film. It was going to be this kind of trailer moment that was going to be this epic throw, and we pretty much just realized that this ain’t happening. We’re not going to get it because the ceiling was too low to really accommodate this guy thrown way off the ground. So we looked at each other and were like, “I think we’re probably going to have to save this in post.” So we had the stunt guy just basically do a bunch of jumps in the air… with no rig or anything, just running and jumping onto the ground. And then it was just a whole computer generated job of basically animating and making him shoot off the ground, and to get the physics right to make it look real. It took a long time to get that […] but I think if you watch it now it looks pretty seamless.