This past Thursday saw the World Premiere of the horror anthology NIGHTMARE CINEMA, which took place at the 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival. The anthology features some of the best horror directors in the industry, which include Mick Garris, Joe Dante, Alejandro Brugués, Ryûhei Kitamura, and David Slade, each of whom have their own individual short in the film. Recently, Shannon had the chance to speak with director Alejandro Brugués about his segment, “The Thing in the Woods” where they discussed everything from how the anthology came to be, working with practical effects, as well as the challenges faced when making a short film.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Hi Alejandro, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today about NIGHTMARE CINEMA! This horror anthology has brought together some of the best minds within the horror genre including you, Joe Dante, Mick Garris, Ryûhei Kitamura, and David Slade. How did it all come together and did the five of you know you wanted to do a film together?
Alejandro Brugués: The idea of the anthology was all Mick’s. I’ve known Mick for several years now, we met in one of his legendary Masters of Horror dinners where a bunch of horror directors get together. In those dinners I’ve also met David Slade (I remember the first time I sat right in front of him and we chatted for quite a while) and I had also met Joe Dante. Dante, of course, is one of the legends, and being the shy guy that I am, I never went and talked much to him. I had never met Ryuhei in person, but I was a big fan of his work. Back when I did Juan of the Dead I had to watch a ton of zombie movies and of course Versus was one I studied a lot.
[How everything came together] was that the phone rang and it was Mick saying, “Hey Ale, we want to make an anthology. It’s gonna be me, Joe Dante…” and I started screaming YES without hearing the other names. I really didn’t care. It turned out it was these fantastic directors, which totally freaked me out because I couldn’t fuck things up with that lineup. It even took some time after we had the scripts to figure out the order (again, all Mick, although I hear that Joe chimed in) and when he told me I was gonna be opening [the film], I freaked out again.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Your segment is called “The Thing in the Woods” and is one of my favorite vignettes in the anthology. For those who aren’t familiar with what it’s about, can you give us a brief description?
AB: I’m glad you liked it! It’s tricky to talk about it because I get enthusiastic and obviously it’s better to discover it, but I’d say it’s the third act of a slasher… with a twist.
I’ve never felt I’m good at shorts. I’m good at writing features but shorts are always a challenge. So in this case, I decided to write the last act of a slasher. Basically, the last 20 minutes of a movie. That way at least I felt in my element, and I love slashers and we’ve all seen so many that you know, the moment you see the first shot, everything that came before. It’s actually funny because there are exchanges in the short between the characters referencing things that probably happened early in the movie and the audience laughs at them, because we’ve seen so many of these movies that you know exactly what they’re talking about.
But just the third act wasn’t enough. That’s why… well, you know, that stuff happens.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Obviously, I don’t want to give too much away about your segment but what was the filming process like? Were there any big challenges you ran into, especially since a portion of the short was filmed outside?
AJ: Well, everything was a challenge because we had a tight budget for the scope that we were trying to attempt, and we only had five days to shoot and we had exteriors, interiors, days, nights, fights, FX, VFX, the whole thing. Thank god we had a great producer in Nancy Leopardi and we had a fantastic team. It couldn’t have been done any other way. There were things in the movie that we didn’t even know how to do when we were prepping, like “that” point of view that I don’t want to spoil, but Howard Berger and KNB just built the camera rig to shoot that and it was insane. If I showed you the raw footage you wouldn’t believe how complex the actual shot was and how that team nailed it. Also, our DP Matthias Schubert is a genius and he kicked ass. He also worked on Ryûhei’s short, which was way bigger, so after Ryûhei’s ours was kind of like a walk in the park for them.
One thing that was difficult, and you wouldn’t imagine it, was the location. Inside the cabin we couldn’t have smoke or blood, which was a bit of a challenge because our killer is called The Welder for a reason, and blood… well, let’s just say we have some.
I have to say that this short has been one of the best experiences of my life and one of the works I’m most proud of. Everyone working on it did an outstanding job. Some people, like my composer Kyle Newmaster, are old collaborators, some other were friends, like our editor Mike Mendez (who is a damn good director, too), and I came out of the experience with a bunch of new friendships and so many talented people I’m dying to work with again. I loved the crew and the actors were all so great that it was crushing it was over after just five days. I will be forever grateful to everyone involved and I’m looking forward to more collaborations with them.
Nightmarish Conjurings: I’m a huge fan of practical effects and I feel like the anthology, as a whole, really took care to use as much practical as possible. Was this a conscious decision that you all decided on?
AJ: I don’t know if it was conscious. I remember at first we didn’t know it was gonna be KNB and you’ve seen my short, there’s a big amount of practical effects, and especially one big moment that I knew we had to nail in order to get the reaction I was hoping to get from the audience. When Mick told me Howard Berger and KNB were gonna do it, I couldn’t believe it. The geek in me was screaming.
Needless to say, they came in and crushed it. You can’t even imagine the smile I had on set every day. For me, this profession still is all about feeling like a kid playing with toys, and I felt it had the best toys to play with.
Also, when you’re working with people like KNB there’s some stuff you assume is going to be CGI and they go “nah, we can do this.” Those are the most beautiful words a director can hear.
Nightmarish Conjurings: When you all were working together on the film, was there a common theme you were hoping would thread its way between each short? In terms of inspiration, besides the obvious 80’s nods, were you hoping to meld those horror tropes of the past with new forms of terror that had a bit of a modern spin to them?
AJ: No, we didn’t talk about anything. Also, I’m not sure it really works when you try to “meld horror tropes with new forms to give a modern spin”. I don’t know if that kind of thing happens. The truth is, Mick gave us absolute freedom to do whatever we wanted. I never actually saw the movie until it was done. We had each other’s scripts but I didn’t want to read them because I didn’t want to freak out more. I didn’t want to feel I was going up against someone. I had to do the best I could. Of course, you hear stuff like, “You think yours is hard? You should see what we have to do for Ryûhei’s!” or that someones took place in a hospital, or that Slade’s is shooting black and white, but I really didn’t know much about them until I saw the whole film. Once I did, I was happy to see how they all fit together!
Nightmarish Conjurings: Last, but not least, are there any projects you are working on that we should be keeping our eyes out for in the future?
AJ: Oh, I have a bunch of stuff. I’m not gonna talk about it because I don’t want to jinx it, but there’s definitely some interesting things in the works, so cross your fingers and get a good raincoat because there’s gonna be a huge splatter zone.