Writer/director Bryan Bertino made quite the impression with feature debut, The Strangers, in 2008. Inspired by the Manson family Tate murders and a series of break-ins during his own childhood, Bertino’s feature saw its leads terrorized by three masked killers over the course of an evening. The film became a surprise hit, grossing $82.4 million at the box office worldwide, and left fans clamoring for a sequel. Finally, that long wait for a follow up is nearly at an end; the lethal masked trio is back to terrorize a new set of victims with 47 Meters Down director Johannes Roberts at the helm.
While the 2008 movie was praised for its atmosphere and tension, the remote childhood summer home in which the film was set contributed a great deal to what made The Strangers so special. The warm, everyday nature of the well-lived in home juxtaposed with the creepy, remote location made the house an uncredited character among an already minimal cast. So, it’s no surprise that followup film looks to recapture that same feeling with a unique setting of its own.
In June of 2017, I was fortunate enough to visit the set of The Strangers: Prey at Night, nestled in the dense woods of northern Kentucky, and tour a small portion of the 56-acre plot of land dedicated to recreating a summer lakeside mobile home community. Speaking with the cast and crew, I learned a lot about what we can expect from the sequel, and I’m happy to report that it looks as though it’s going to be a very thrilling continuation of the beloved modern horror classic.
“For the story, we wanted to go with this so that it doesn’t feel dated when you look at it in five years. The first Strangers film I thought did it really well; I look at it now and the lack of technology doesn’t date it. It doesn’t necessarily say ‘2008,’” production designer Freddy Waff (Bone Tomahawk, Burying the Ex) explains on his approach to designing a timeless set that features 22 retro mobile homes and 8 RVs, all strategically placed to avoid giving a sense of location or direction.
Over the years, though, mobile home communities have built up an unsavory reputation, which is the opposite of the almost retro, vacation aesthetic that Waff created, adding, “They built mobile home parks in the ‘50s as sort of getaway places for people with money, like out in Palm Springs. There’s a couple of really big mobile home parks on the way out to Palm Springs, which were sort of pushed as vacation getaways. I did a lot of research on styles of trailers and brands of trailers and this is where we landed because this seemed to be the best version for what we were doing here.”
Having done extensive research on mobile homes, mobile home parks, and the aesthetic of the original film, Waff’s extensive research didn’t end there. He revealed an impressive catalog of classic horror that he watched with director Johannes Roberts when trying to hone in on what made a horror film endure the test of time, namely the films of John Carpenter. “Have you seen Christine lately? Man, it’s great,” Waff exclaimed as he dubbed the film an underappreciated classic, particularly for its impressive practical effects when it came to the titular car’s destruction. There’s no better reassurance that this sequel is in the right hands than a crew that knows and loves the genre as much as the fans; that are fans themselves.
As we walked down a desolate street lined with mobile homes, Waff gave us a peek inside two of the mobile homes that will feature key scenes in the film. Stepping into both felt like stepping into a time capsule, each one decorated in great vintage detail, right down to the retro wallpaper. Each mobile home brought on to the set were manufactured between 1970- 1986 to keep with the style Waff selected, and though Waff had to start from scratch to recreate the empty interiors, the homes reflect that dated era almost completely, save for a few details that places the film in a modern setting. There are also a good number of visual throwbacks to the original film, including a vinyl turntable located in what was dubbed the “hero’s trailer.” Though Waff warns it won’t be utilized in quite the same way as it was in The Strangers.
The scale of the mobile home park recreated in the dense Kentucky woods is impressive, and Freddy Waff’s intelligent production design makes such a large space still feel claustrophobic. With the film set after summer, most of these mobile homes have emptied out as the inhabitants have returned to their lives, making for several interesting places for both the victims and their masked pursuers to hide. It’s clear that Waff and Roberts have taken great care to retain the essence of what made the original film special, while widening the scope at the same time. The playground for the masked killers to play on has grown bigger and more interesting, and that’s very exciting.
Click here for the next part of my set visit, which includes details on the scene being filmed during my visit, and an interview with actress Bailee Madison about her character.
The masked maniacs return on March 9, 2018.