Last week I had the pleasure of attending the pop-up haunt, The Strangers Experience, in Hollywood for the upcoming release of THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT, the sequel to the 2008 hit horror film, THE STRANGERS. While there, I had the opportunity to speak with director Johannes Roberts (THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR, 47 METERS DOWN), about paying homage to the original film, making the sequel his own, and incorporating his love of Jim Steinman and 80’s music to the soundtrack.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Hi Johannes, it’s a pleasure to speak with you today! To start things off, how did you get involved with THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT?
Johannes Roberts: I was doing some meetings off the back of 47 METERS DOWN while in Los Angeles and the producers of 47 met me for dinner and said they had a script come across their desks for PREY AT NIGHT and would I be interested in looking at it. I read it and I was like whoa, this is a minefield. I love the first one, but I asked myself if I wanted to get involved in the sequel; it’s been 10 years, people are going to crucify me (laughs). Then I re-read the script and I thought to myself, this is pretty cool, there is a way in which I can bring my own personality into the movie. I loved the idea of paying homage to writer/director Bryan Bertino’s film (THE STRANGERS) and playing with things like how he used the space in the original movie, the use of sound which is fucking phenomenal, and the knock on the door which reminds me of Carpenter’s THE FOG, which I love. I’ve always wanted to find a movie that I could get the zoom lenses out of the box for and I’ve always wanted to remake CHRISTINE and I thought, this is it. I took it on with the idea that I was showing love for the first one but then also doing my own thing.
Nightmarish Conjurings: I think that’s what makes PREY AT NIGHT so good. You didn’t copy the style of the first film, you made it completely your own. When it comes to the films, one of the best parts is the use of music. I know you individually picked the music so what inspired the 80’s soundtrack for this film?
JR: I knew there was going to be an 80’s soundtrack during the pool sequence and we designed it all for that. I’m a huge Jim Steinman fan and we used the Bonnie Tyler track, “Total Eclipse of the Heart” over that and it just worked. That scene is the movie in a nutshell.
My editor and I were going over the movie together and obviously the car was becoming a bigger and bigger thing in the film so I said, “Look Martin (editor), I want to make CHRISTINE and in the movie the car is always playing music so why don’t we do that.” We tried the country/western creepy music and it was okay but I had seen that before but I wanted to play around with this 80’s vibe. Initially, we tried a few different tracks and it started to come together but then we put “Kids in America” by Kim Wilde at the beginning, which felt like a John Carpenter track going into an 80’s song, and it all just fell into place from there.
A lot of the music was from my childhood and a lot of it was from me sitting there at night just going through all of these unheard songs. I love that we used Air Supply’s “Making Love Out of Nothing At All” while having a burning car like CHRISTINE. It’s crazy and I thought that someone was going to ask me what the fuck I was doing. I had no idea how it was going to all play out nor did anyone else but when we tested it everyone was like this could go wrong but people sort of went with it.
Nightmarish Conjurings: After I watched PREY AT NIGHT, I went back and re-watched THE STRANGERS since it had been a few years since I had seen it. As we talked about earlier, I loved how you really made this film your own, but you also gave subtle nods to the first film. Was that something that was really important to you?
JR: Yeah, we tried a whole load of things. Initially I shot, but didn’t use, a scene where the strangers come and knock on the door and when the old lady goes to see who it is, there’s a leaflet under the door which is the “Christian Living” leaflet from the first film. I ended up thinking that scene might be too vague and people wouldn’t catch on so we didn’t use it. However, there were a lot of little nods here and there. I normally write and direct my films but obviously in the case of PREY AT NIGHT it was co-written by Bryan Bertino and Ben Ketai which allowed for a real freedom in being its storyteller. I really got to pay homage to THE STRANGERS yet at the same time do my own thing which was great fun.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Something I noticed during the film was it seemed as though you used practical effects throughout the majority of the movie. Was that the case?
JR: Oh yeah, there’s a few visual effects in terms of paint-outs but yeah, everything was practical. I wanted to do a retro movie, so when you see those cars driving into other cars and windshields blowing up they’re actually happening (laughs). It got pretty intense with the fire balls and all that, it was pretty crazy stuff. It was great fun to go proper old school. I didn’t want to make a super gory movie but I do like incorporating some of that stuff.
Nightmarish Conjurings: My last question for you is what would you like die-hard fans to take away from PREY AT NIGHT?
JR: Uh, that they need to listen to more Jim Steinman. They need to get his records and bring him back in to fashion, not that he’s ever gone out of fashion (laughs). What I want audiences to feel is my love of Carpenter, of the movies that are in that wheelhouse. A lot of these people may be too young to get these references there but I hope that they come out and think, “I really fucking enjoyed that movie!”
THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT arrives in theaters March 9, 2018