If you have been paying attention to any number of horror films in recent years, you definitely will recognize Graham Skipper. After starring in a number of noteworthy films such as Almost Human, The Mind’s Eye and Beyond The Gates along with cameos in many others, he takes a break and heads to the other side of the camera with his new sci-fi/horror/romance film Sequence Break (which he also wrote). Sequence Break tells the story of a lonely arcade technician (Chase Williamson) who meets the girl of his dreams (Fabianne Therese) while also discovering the arcade machine of his nightmares that threatens his very reality. I had the pleasure of meeting Graham at last years Popcorn Frights Film Festival screening of the film and it was immediately evident how much passion he has for films and horror. So with Sequence Break ready to debut on Shudder this week, I am very happy he was down to participate in this interview because I really think you guys are going to enjoy, appreciate and relate to a lot of what he has to say.
As a child what horror film and/or character scared you the most and why do you feel they had this effect on you?
As a kid I was always fascinated with the horror icons. I had a pop-up book with the Universal Monsters in it and also a big book of pictures of famous villains: Jason, Freddy, Chucky, Leatherface…and I thought they were all interesting (even though I never wanted to watch the movies for fear of being too afraid). But the one image that always terrified me was the one in the book of Regan from THE EXORCIST in her full makeup. I couldn’t even look at the page. So eventually I told my dad that I wanted to watch a horror movie, and my thinking was that if I watched the scariest of all of them then I could conquer anything after that. So we watched THE EXORCIST. I was 12. And that movie changed me. It absolutely terrified me. I couldn’t sleep at all that night. But for the first time it made me realize that horror films could do things to me that no other film could. So the next morning I wanted to get up and analyze it and see what this director did to make me so goddamn scared. And from then on, I was hooked.
Do you have an example telling of an instance or two where this fear really manifested itself and had an impact on you or your behavior?
Aside from the above example of it opening my eyes to the power of filmmaking, I can’t say it really changed much about the way I went about life. I grew up going to church, but about the only affect of my real life The Exorcist had on me was I prayed a bit more than usual for a few months after seeing it. But oddly, I think diving into the filmmaking and wanting to learn more about its process helped me – no pun intended – process the fear a bit more.
What horror movie VHS covers or posters scared you as a kid and why do you feel the poster or cover had this effect on you?
I remember THE EVIL DEAD box art – with the girl reaching up out of the dirt as a hand pulled it down – that always freaked me out. It’s just so visual and iconic. I think VHS box art was so great at what it did because it immediately drew your eye to something ghastly. THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE box art I remember also being really scary. It also might have been the title, but I remember specifically thinking that Jason and Freddy at that point were kind of fun – they were almost cartoon characters in a way. But Leatherface didn’t have a franchise like those guys, and I didn’t even know part 2 or 3 existed, so here was an “icon” that was iconic for only one film. In my mind: “Oh shit, what must this maniac have done to be instantly at the top with these others…”
What is your favorite video store or vhs related memory? (if you haven’t addressed this in previous answers)
Every Friday after school my mom would take us to Blockbuster down the road from our school and my sister and I could rent one movie each for the weekend. I would scour the horror section and I remember one of the first ones I picked up (maybe the first) was IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS. I just loved the title, the box art, the description on the back…and I had heard about HALLOWEEN, but never seen it. But when it said it was from the director of that movie I knew it must be good. So I rented it and had never seen anything like it. It terrified me. I loved it. It was so weird and out there and hard to describe – I think that has a lot to do with my love for any movie that can surprise me.
What is your definition of “scary” when it comes to modern horror films these days? So many people are quick to say a film isn’t scary but each person has a different definition of “scary” and what that means.
Yeah that’s a really hard question for exactly the reasons you said. For me personally, any movie about losing one’s mind really terrifies me, so any movie about that will get under my skin. I think atmosphere and tension go a long way for me too – I want to feel tired by the end of a movie. THE DESCENT, 28 DAYS LATER, TEXAS CHAIN SAW, all of those have such dread leading up to an explosion, and all remain some of the scariest movies to me. So it’s all about the build-up.
What do you NOT consider scary or not like in your horror films?
I’m not a huge fan of tongue-in-cheek “winking at the camera” sort of stuff. Self-aware horror only works if you’re earnest about it. That’s what movies like EVIL DEAD 2, SCREAM, CABIN IN THE WOODS, or TUCKER AND DALE VS EVIL get right, is they’re aware of what they are, but they never play it as a joke. It’s all played straight, and that’s where the fun is.
What do you look for or want to get out of horror films these days?
I just want to see something new. I care less about technical mastery than I do about originality. Just show me something I’ve never seen before, some new idea, some new twist. Make it original.
What is your favorite recent horror film and why?
Gosh, there are so many. We’re really in a golden age of indie horror, I feel. So much new and original work is coming out by some incredibly talented people. I guess I’ll join the chorus and say that GET OUT is a total masterpiece. Horror films have a unique ability to comment on current social issues and aside from Romero’s NIGHT and DAWN, or maybe THEY LIVE, can I remember seeing a movie that so nailed the message it was trying to send.
At this point you have made your mark in a number of popular horror films, whether it’s by showing up in scene stealing cameos ala Psychopaths, The Devils Dolls or Carnage Park, or in the lead role ala The Mind’s Eye and Beyond the Gates.
In doing so it seems you have become part of a tight knit family of those who love the genre. What do you think it is about horror that creates such a tight bond between those who work together in it ?
You know, I think it takes a special kind of person to want to make their living in the horror field. We’re all “monster kids” of some kind, and I think all of us share that in common. Further, we take the art seriously, in a business which still largely shuns what we consider to be true art, so when you meet someone else that takes it as seriously as you do, you form a tight bond.
This is kind of a typical question but since we don’t have a commentary yet to get this info, what was the genesis of the project for you? Which part of the story came first in your creative process that made you say “this is the story I want to tell and expand on”? (I apologize in advance if you have answered this 100 times before)
The genesis was really rooted in some issues I was going through personally a few years ago, when I was really having difficulty reconciling my professional ambitions and my desire to have a strong, “settled down” family life. As an artist you have to make a lot of personal sacrifices, and I found that very hard to navigate in conjunction with being newly married and wanting to spend more time at home. So I felt the need to tell a story about someone torn between two passions, and since making horror movies often feels like you’re just a grown-up kid having fun, I felt it was a nice opportunity to comment on the power of nostalgia and obsession. So it really blossomed from there.
Sequence Break is by your own admission a weird film (in a good way), I personally loved just how weird things get. At what point in developing it did you decide that you were just going to push it that far?
I try to live my life by a quote I once heard Anthony Hopkins say (I don’t know if it’s his or if he was quoting someone else): “Be bold, and mighty forces will come to your aid.” I wanted my movie to be bold and to truly be something people hadn’t seen before, so the rule was always, “make the bolder choice.” So that’s what we did!
You have a lot of crazy visuals and fx in this film, a lot of slime and moving wires among other things. I am curious as to what it was like to deal with all of that as it seems like a lot of stuff that could be difficult to get right on the first or even third try.
One piece of advise Stuart Gordon gave me was that special effects never work right the first time, and to be prepared for that, so that was helpful to be aware of going in. I also had the fortune of working with Joe Begos twice before in effects-heavy movies, and that guy knows better than just about anyone how to shoot practical effects, so I learned a tremendous amount from him. Then finally, having Josh and Sierra Russell (the amazing effects team) there helped tremendously because not only are they total pros, but they understand the process and our communication through the process was easy and made everything so much smoother.
For those who watch or about to watch Sequence Break what do you hope the take away is when they are finished with it or what do you hope they get out of it?
I just want them to think about it! There’s a lot in there and I love hearing peoples’ theories after they see it. The greatest joy I get is when I hear people wanted to go back a second or third time to explore the themes of the film. That’s a true gift, so I hope people enjoy the unravelling of the ideas inside.
Anything you would like to add or let our readers know before we finish?
May 24th on Shudder, baby! Get your eyeballs on it!
Sequence Break :”A surreal sci-fi romance wherein a beautiful young woman and strange metaphysical forces threaten the reality of a reclusive video arcade technician, resulting in bizarre biomechanical mutations and a shocking self-realization.”