If you’ve seen any of the Broken Lizard movies then you’re certainly familiar with Paul Soter, a key member of the group who not only performs in films like Beerfest, Super Troopers, The Slammin’ Salmon and their horror-comedy Club Dread but helps shape their material as a writer as well.
While Broken Lizard is still alive and well, Soter has now decided to step out on his own every now and then with the express purpose of wading deep into one of his favorite genres – horror.
I caught up with Soter a few weeks ago to talk about his transition into a new genre and what real-life events inspired him to write and direct his first full-on horror feature, Dark Circles, starring Pell James (The Lincoln Lawyer, Zodiac) and Jonathan Schaech (The Doom Generation, Prom Night,Quarantine).
In the film, “When new parents Alex and Penny retreat from the city and move into a place outside town, the stress and massive sleep-deprivation caused by their infant has both of them seeing things in the house that may or may not exist. Persistent sightings of a strange woman has each of them wondering if they are suffering from hallucinations, or if their new home holds a dark, supernatural presence. As their fragile grasp on reality spirals into delirium, Alex and Penny find themselves nearly helpless to deal with the horrific truth of what is really going in this house.”
Hit the jump to check out the interview! Does Dark Circles have any comedic elements or is it a pretty big departure? “There’s no attempt for it to be a crossover or a hybrid. It’s more of a pure horror thriller. If there are light moments it’s in the way a married couple will talk to each other when they’re miserable, things go so bad for these people that you just have to sit back and make a little joke about how f*cked they are. So there are moments like that, but the idea is to make a horror movie.”
So it’s definitely a break from Club Dread? “I look at ‘Club Dread’ and I like it. I enjoy it, but that was where I learned how difficult achieving that tonal balance [between comedy and horror] can be. ‘Shaun Of The Dead’ did it. I think ‘Student Bodies’ did it. It’s a hard thing to do and I’m glad we took a stab at it but it’s a hard little tonal tightrope to walk.”
What was the genesis of this idea? “I have two kids now, my son is almost five. When my wife was pregnant with our first child she really wanted to settle in LA and buy a house. We bought this house in Laurel Canyon and weren’t really paying attention to what was going on, we didn’t check it out very well. And we had our baby, moved into this house and then realized that almost every single house around us was in the middle of a teardown. And it was just torture. Constant cacophony all day long and a screaming baby all night long. It was just such a miserable experience. Sleep deprivation is torture. I get it now. Not being able to sleep is absolute misery and when you throw in those parental pressures… it’s just absolute misery. You really deteriorate. It led to some really weird sh*t happening in our household. But once we got through it I took a step back and looked at the situation and saw that it was a great landscape for a horror movie. Especially a haunted house movie.”
Is there anything in the genre you wanted to address or do differently in your film? “My frustration with haunted house movies has always been why people aren’t out the door immediately right after something f*cked up happens. But in this case it gets interesting because you get to a place where you don’t trust your eyes anymore. You don’t know whether you’re asleep or awake and it’s a nice underlying scenario for people in a house not knowing if there’s actually a presence in the house or if they’re just mentally falling apart. I thought that was a nice back bone for a scary movie.”
You seem very engaged by this, is horror really where your heart is? “I love comedy and I love doing Broken Lizard, but as far as a consumer – I watch horror movies all day long. ”
Do you see yourself continuing down this path? “I just decided that if I’m going to to a few things on my own, I’d wanted to be in this genre. I’ve got the next one written and half of the one after that written. I’ve got some horror TV pitches and I’m interested in going all the way.”
On going the indie route, “I wanted to make a specific kind of movie and just decided I was going to do it for half a million dollars. I’ve always liked Pell James (Zodiac, The Lincoln Lawyer), the lead actress in the movie, so I approached her and she was really cool and got into it and she knew multiple people who wanted to step up and help. And After Dark was willing to do it right away and really sort of leave me alone and let me make it. So we shot it in March and April in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.”
Who is the audience for this film? “It’s a scary movie more for adults. I never felt very scared about anything until I had a kid. It’s then that you realize how much you can really f*ck up, how many things can go horribly wrong when you’re taking care of a child.”
What’s your takeaway now that you’ve wrapped? “I think I wound up making a really thoughtful horror movie. I remember horror movies from when I was a kid as being a little more sensitive and serious and I think this has depth to it and characters you can believe.”
A lot of horror films face an uphill battle when it comes to incorporating relatable characters. “I get the economic realities and I get that it’s a business, that’s the financial beauty of a franchise. But I get a little sad and think that what gets lost in that logic are both characters and things that are actually terrifying”.
Dark Circles has just wrapped post-production and we’ll have an update regarding its release quite soon!
And Broken Lizard fans, don’t worry. Soter is still very much a part of that troupe.