To help kick off the new year with this all new version of TrueHorror.net, we are bringing back our Dissecting Fear interview series. For this latest installment we are happy to have Jackson Stewart, Director and Co-writer of Beyond The Gates join us. We actually got to enjoy the film on the big screen with a packed house last August at the Popcorn Frights Film Festival. Since it’s official release this past December it has gone on to make it’s mark on horror fans all over who have enjoyed the films brand of heart and horror. Given the fact that much of Beyond The Gates revolves around a video store and a VHS board game, Jackson seemed like a perfect match for these questions and we are excited to share what he has to say.
This is a bit of a loaded question but the first memory I have of being pants-shitting/hide-under-the-covers scared was from ‘Indiana Jones And The Temple of Doom’ at age 7 when my parents had decided to leave me home alone for a couple of hours one Saturday night. Of course it was the scene where the homie got his heart ripped out in the cage and then gets lowered into a pit of volcanic fire — I had never seen anything like that before and the movie has always had a special place in my heart for that.
Not entirely — it really left an impression though. ‘Jaws’ has to this day made me terrified of being in any body of water deeper than a swimming pool though. Aquatic monsters have not been utilized enough in cinema.
2. 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?
So many of them. The horror section used to be right next to the entrance at my local video store and no matter how many times I told myself I wouldn’t look on my way to rent an NES game or ‘Batman’ for the 9000th time I always would. Off the top of my head, ‘Child’s Play 2’ (with Chucky chopping a jack-in-the-box’s head off with garden shears) and ‘Jason Goes To Hell’ were two big standouts. The idea of Jason being in hell was legit the scariest thing I could imagine. A lot of it is you are able to project all of your deep rooted fears onto the covers or posters of these movies before you see them — I wish it were possible to make a movie that scary for adults.
Circling back to the previous statement, that’s definitely changed a lot as I have grown older. Now the stuff that scares me are movies like ‘The Vanishing’ where you can picture yourself doing all the actions the protagonist takes in interest of finding the truth. Everyone is afraid of different stuff it seems.
4. What do you NOT consider scary or not like in your horror films?
I hate stuff or premises clearly pulled from popular movies. There are way too many movies that hop on a trend of whatever’s hot at the box office and it is really short sighted and lame. Copy cats are a big thumbs down.
Someone taking a familiar story and turning it on its head is wonderful. ‘The Strangers’ and ‘It Follows’ are the two best examples I’ve found in recent years. Both ‘feel’ like movies we love but blaze a totally new trail and stay very fresh.
6. What is your favorite recent horror film and why?
Not sure how far back I can go but the one I deeply love is ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ remake. It’s such an intense, take-no-prisoners movie and remains very upsetting and scary throughout the duration. It absolutely blew my mind the first time I saw it and totally flips genre conventions on their head. The aggravating thing about it is that when it came out a bunch of my friends said it was “terrible” so I stupidly waited until it came out on DVD and then it ended up being my favorite movie of that year.
It was chosen for a few reasons. The script was written with that location in mind. There’s nothing quite like being surrounded by tens of thousands of VHS tapes to ring in the feeling of a dead format — I wanted it to have echoes of walking through a mausoleum. Furthermore, I watched all of my favorite movies on VHS and they had a real magic to them (even if the format wasn’t the greatest).
The biggest ones influences were the original ‘Nightmare’, ‘Clue’ (for the layout) and Mario Bava’s ‘Black Sunday’ for the style of the VHS game. We also pulled stuff from ‘Sweet Home’ for the graphics.
9. 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 thing that made me want to write it was these two brothers searching for the missing Dad while closing down the family video store. It resonated with me a lot. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Steve Scarlata had this idea about a VCR board game that lead to another dimension and I loved that but I was obsessed with finding the story in it. The idea of this video store being on its way out set against finding a missing father coupled with a VCR board game seemed to have everything I was interested in seeing in a genre movie.
10. The film has a great deal of nostalgic value for many of the people I have discussed it with. Whether it’s the VHS fueled plot, Barbara Crampton, the (awesome) score by Wojciech Golczewski or the homages to films. I can only imagine inspired you in some form. How important were these elements to you as I imagine they come secondary to the story and characters, but still seem like things you wanted to feature and highlight as well.
Pretty damn important. I wanted to make this movie with the same constraints that the movies of the 80s had (I.E. using a dolly instead of a steady cam, shooting it in a similar fashion, the lighting, the music, etc.) Setting it at a video store for a good chunk was a way for me to tip my cap to the movies I grew up loving and were very formative in my teen years. Barbara was the perfect connection between the world of 80s supernatural horror and modern indie horror movies.
11. Lastly what is your favorite video store or VHS related memory?
My favorite video store was Director’s Chair Video in Tucson (the one a mile away from my house growing up). Since that’s closed, it’s a toss-up between Casa Video in Tucson and Eddie Brandt’s Saturday Matinee in North Hollywood. Gun to my head, I’d pick Eddie Brandt’s.
I recently started writing a sequel to this movie that would center around John (the younger brother) and Evelyn and Elric. Basically taking a cue from the late 70s/80s paranoia horror movies like ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’, ‘The Stuff’ and ‘Society’. A total inversion on the themes of the first movie — it’s going to be wildly unpredictable and a big left turn.
We want to give major thanks to Jackson for taking time out of his busy schedule to participate in this interview. Be sure to check out Beyond The Gates as it is available on all VOD services like Amazon, itunes, etc.