When you think of Josh Ruben, what instantly comes to mind? Does your brain immediately think of “CollegeHumor Originals”? How about “Adam Ruins Everything”? Comedy is an ever-prevalent thread in the award-winning creative’s career and it all accumulates in his feature horror-comedy film, SCARE ME. For the upcoming release of SCARE ME, I got a chance to chat with Josh, where we discussed his writing process, the horror Easter eggs within the film, and what he hopes people take away from SCARE ME.
In SCARE ME, Fred (Josh Ruben) a frustrated copywriter, checks into a winter cabin to start his first novel. While jogging in the nearby woods, he meets Fanny (Aya Cash), a successful and smug young horror author who fuels his insecurities. During a power outage, Fanny challenges Fred to tell a scary story. As a storm sets in, they pass the time spinning spooky tales fueled by the tensions between them, and Fred is forced to confront his ultimate fear: Fanny is the better storyteller. The stakes are raised when they’re visited by a horror fan (Chris Redd) who delivers levity (and a pizza) to the proceedings.
When we meet Fred he’s a struggling writer trying to find his groove while isolated in a cabin in the woods. Is your writing process similar to that of your characters?
Josh Ruben: (laughs) I think it is, I think it is. I think it’s a lot of nothing. I think Patton Oswalt mentioned it about his former wife, Michelle McNamara, how he wanted to give her seven hours to write because six of those hours would be getting the gears going. I think that’s a big part of the process, especially in these days in lock down. I’ll tell my fiancé I need to write and she’s like, “You’re not doing anything” and it’s like, “No, gosh, I’m getting there. I’m thinking about writing” (laughs). There’s something spiritual about it, it kind of has to come to you. Luckily, I’m a bit better at it than Fred. A little more motivated, probably, but yes, I think it is similar.
Not only did you write and direct the film but you also star in it. How was the process of wearing all those hats?
Josh Ruben: It was such a dream! Aya reminded me, we had an interview earlier and she’s like, “You know, Josh was self-editing” which is a way I didn’t really quite think of it but that is quite what I did because I knew what I wanted. I had self-directed several times, especially having made thousands of videos for College Humor back in the day. I kind of went in through the back door, having made movies and having made shorts – when I say movies I mean narrative short projects, this is my first film. But it was very sort of all technique it wasn’t like, you know, I’m gearing myself up like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, getting all method. I really had to rely on my technique of I’m going to look sad, I’m going to look scared, I’m going to be a sad sack and rely on my cinematographer, Brendan Banks, to be my eyes behind the camera to make sure that I was giving all that I could in the limited time that we had to get it as good as it was. But it was a cathartic, wonderful, at times stressful, situation. I have nothing negative to say about making it other than that there were blizzards.
Speaking blizzards and Jack Nicholson, I noticed that there were some homages to The Shining and other horror films sprinkled throughout the movie. Why were those Easter Eggs important to you?
Josh Ruben: It’s funny, Dead by Dawn, I think because when I got that DVD, like when I discovered it for the first time, I must’ve watched it like 600 times. There was a time when I watched it twice a day for a certain period of time, maybe every other day. There’s something so visceral and fun and imaginative about it because it is visceral and fun and imaginative. I think those movies and TV shows, and anthology films, everything from Cat’s Eye to Tales from the Dark Side to The Twilight Zone the Movie to, I don’t know, Basket Case and the Basket Case Trilogy, they’re all in my blood. They’re all in my blood and my bones because I watched them so young. I was like most of us horror geeks who were the friendless odd kid or the kid with few friends who would find an odd kinship with the characters and situations in films, a lot of underdogs. Even Pet Sematary and Pet Sematary Two sticks with me as a great underdog story with a lot of bullies; I was a kid who was bullied quite a bit. There’s so much I pulled in from what’s already in my body and my brain that was ingrained from such an early age from a genre that I love, that I put into this film. So there’s a lot of references and probably some that are subconscious as well. Even if I wasn’t going for a direct reference to Evil Dead, we do have a caribou on the wall. By nature the fact that it is a cabin in the woods, you could sort of assume that there are many references that we don’t directly call out.
What are your favorite types of horror stories? And out of the ones that you performed, which was your favorite?
Josh Ruben: I loved performing the troll [segment] with Aya. I think that was my most favorite. It was probably the one I was least prepared to do and yet turned out probably the most punchy. As far as horror films as a kid, probably like Dream Warriors, Nightmare on Elm Street, you know? Kids that could dream and become superheroes to take on this cartoonish dark figure was really exciting to me. Those kinds of brighter horror films…I can tell you the kind of horror fan I’m not, like I probably will never be able to muster the courage or the guts of steel to be able to see The Human Centipede or Hostel. I’m just not…I can’t go that far. I love Arachnophobia more than anything, I like the brighter horror films, especially of our past. What was wonderful and serendipitous coming off of SCARE ME was that I got the opportunity to make a werewolf movie right away, totally by happenstance, called Werewolves Within. I got to sort of approach it by wanting to recreate the feeling I had watching Arachnophobia as a kid, those kind of brighter horror films with an Amblin veneer and the social message to boot.
Speaking of social messaging, what are you hoping people take away from this film after they have watched it?
Josh Ruben: I hope that people will at least have conversations about the gender tropes and dynamics and upends and undo the expectations of what it is to be a man and what’s expected of us to be more successful in the eyes of success. It’s an unfortunate thing where a lot of men who were brought up to be a “man” to be “masculine” and how fractured men can become when they can’t succeed the success of a woman’s greatness and of the women in their life. I think the best-case scenario is that people will pop on this movie and have a little bit of escapism from the horrors of our world, especially today; but also, that men can have conversations with other men about having that feeling of competition with women and that it’s okay to be equal or not as equal as far as financial success, as far as accolades go and also in their own competition. Fred is sort of based on an amalgamation of not only personal feelings I’ve had and achiness in myself but an emptiness with people who I’ve worked with; a lot of men who favor the value of an article and of accolades over celebrating others, especially women. And that is an unfortunate and really fascinating quality that I just love to make fun of but that I also want to keep having conversations about. It’s why if I still keep making TikTok and Snapchat characters, most of them are going to be about men interrupting their female co-workers on Zoom.