Recently, I had the privilege to be among a select group invited by Focus Features to the set of Insidious: Chapter 3 for an intimate, exclusive, and haunting look behind-the-scenes.
To say I was excited would be a vast understatement.
For me this was a dream made real. Having grown up in Salem, Massachusetts, I was surrounded by Halloween and horror movie memorabilia. As a child I became obsessed with horror movies through a local TV show called Creature Double Feature. This show had it all: aliens, vampires, werewolves, and Godzillas! But above all, my absolute favorites were the haunted house tales (man, if it was scary I would talk about nothing else for the next two weeks!)
My love for the scary movie genre has stalked me into adulthood. But I’ve grown bored with the unimaginative trend toward torture and gore in horror movies which, disappointingly, seems to hold audiences’ attention. Even more disappointingly, this tired trend looked as if it were here to stay. To me, this sub-genre isn’t frightening, it’s just gross.
But lately, more creative, gore-free scares have been making a huge comeback!
Enter Jason Blum, James Wan, Leigh Whannell, and Oren Peli. They are responsible for this new breed of classical horror, tackling the market with scare-fests like Paranormal Activity 1-4, Insidious: Chapters 1-3, Sinister 1-2, Oculus, Dark Skies, The Bay, and ABC’s super creepy foray into hour long, weekly horror programming, The River. I think it’s safe to assume that collectively they have a lot more up their sleeves, just waiting to be unleashed upon us in the future!
Arguably, one of the main reasons for this resurgence in tightly-written, well-plotted, well-acted and perfectly-edited films is specifically the influence of Jason Blum of Blumhouse Productions and his undeniably simple, yet incredibly successful business model: the “micro-budget” horror movie.
Says Blum, “If I was giving someone $30 million to make a horror movie, I would want every decision to be looked over by many, many people. But if you keep budgets down, you can let the director do what he does, fast, and let him focus on making the movie he wants to make. And if he wants to do something that seems a little out of the ordinary, if the budget is low it’s okay to let him do that.”
One of the beneficiaries of Blum’s theory is James Wan and his story of a haunted little boy in Insidious. Upon going to the local movieplex to screen it, I admittedly didn’t have very high expectations. To my surprise and elation, I found myself frightened and thrilled to the bone by a true and traditional horror movie not experienced since 1982’s Poltergeist or 2001’s The Others!
Fast-forward to my visit to the set of the third chapter in the Insidious franchise…
Just 15 minutes outside of Los Angeles, in the middle of a completely non-descript warehouse district, I found the studio and was directed inside to Stage 1 – a massive black, cavernous soundstage approximately the size of a football field, where I noticed 8 directors chairs placed side-by-side and lit for the cast.
My group was brought first to the active set, where cast and crew were currently filming. Immediately upon entering I could feel the electricity in the air. It was very quiet – like a library – dark and mysterious. We were led by cell phone lights to what the production crew called “Video Village” – an area close to the active set but far enough away to prevent distraction. It was full of screens and monitors, where the director and producers could watch the action being filmed.
The scene we were lucky enough to watch takes place in a dank, creepy hallway inside an old Hollywood hotel with a dilapidated elevator at the far end. As we took our seats in almost complete darkness, we could hear dozens of crew people scurrying around in the dark, quietly setting up the shot and then blanketing the floor with a thick, heavy ground fog from a massive hose near the elevator door. The director called for the actors to take their places as the fog-wranglers pulled the hose out of the camera’s view, and quietly, everyone waited for the fog to settle, creepily, along the floor.
Then we all watched with bated breath as director Leigh Whannell yelled the magic word: “ACTION!”
Right on cue, Lin Shaye, reprising her role as paranormal investigator Elise Rainier, appears from a darkened doorway in the hall carrying a ghostly lantern and runs down the hallway. This gets repeated several more times to get the perfect shot, each time having to refill the hallway with fog and wait
for it to settle along the floor. After making sure they got all the footage necessary, we watch as the crew set up the next scene, in which Shaye’s character is leads a frightened girl down the same hallway to the waiting elevator, while being chased by a terrifyingly and impossibly degenerated man, who is naked except for a filthy rag-like diaper and an oxygen mask on his face, its air hose trailing behind him.
Later, writer/director Whannell excitedly explained to us that the actor portraying the creepy old man is the same actor who played the “gluttony” victim from the movie Se7en, and that his character in this third chapter in the Insidious franchise is almost a living embodiment of cancer. This scene also gets filmed many times, from many different angles and, a few times, after finally getting through the whole scene perfectly, the elevator doors won’t close correctly! It was kind of hilarious and comforting to see that even in Hollywood, no one is safe from Murphy’s Law!
Our next stop is another set in the same soundstage, dressed to be the exact same building as in the first two scenes, but in this incarnation we see it as it would have looked in the 1970s.
Finally, we all return to the first location soundstage and participate in an informal meet-and-greet with writer/director Leigh Whannell, producer Jason Blum and members of the cast. They are all fascinating, gracious, and full of great insights into the making of this new installment. Newest cast member Dermot Mulroney, told us how he is often frightened while on set; the dark, dank atmosphere is constant and they never turn up the lights. One time he apparently jumped while sitting on set, not noticing the creepy, diapered old man sitting next to him until he moved, scaring the living daylights out of Mulroney.
When watching the first two chapters of Insidious back-to-back, one starts to notice pretty early on that they are perfectly interlocking puzzle pieces, so my first question to both Whannell and Blum was to ask if they had planned to make Insidious a series from inception.
Whannell was first to reply stating that they had no idea that they would be coming back to this title again and again, and jokingly chalked it up to excellent writing. Blum added that he tells people that the surest way to kill a movie is to plan for sequels. Instead, you should throw EVERYTHING you have at the first one as a stand-alone story and let it go. Then, if it’s successful, the sequel will work itself out later. Though he then added that after you get the green light on your first sequel, you might want to lay off killing major characters. Their deaths will require more and more creativity on the part of the writers to bring back from the dead key players if their characters are integral to the story in a future sequel.
All in all this was a fascinating and enlightening chance to glimpse the people responsible for making me wonder if I was absolutely certain the door was, in fact, locked at night, or whether I dare come out from under the covers to investigate that noise coming from the the closet after the lights are off…
It seems rather strange to me that such well-mannered, clean cut, and dare I say “wholesome” group of people are in charge of what is perhaps the best-run nightmare shop in Hollywood. But I, for one, will sleep better now (or perhaps…not?), knowing that the future of ghosts, ghouls and things that forever go bump in the night have an excellent (and EXTRA scary) future ahead of them. Insidious: Chapter 3 is scheduled for theatrical release June 5, 2015.
by Robbie Turner for ZayZay.Com