Hellbenders 3D arrives on 3-D Blu-ray (includes 3-D and standard version of the film plus Digital HD UltraViolet), DVD (plus Digital UltraViolet) and Digital HD tomorrow February 18 from Lionsgate Home Entertainment. I really enjoyed this horror comedy, it has a great Coscarelli-esque vibe but also manages to bring its own vulgar brand of lunacy to the proceedings. The stakes are incredibly high, and the humor is executed well enough to serve that and not diminish it.
The film was written and directed by JT Petty (The Burrowers), whom I hopped on the phone with last week to talk about achieving the film’s delicate balance and pulling off a project that, to my eyes at least, feels incredibly fresh.
Clifton Collins Jr. (Pacific Rim), Clancy Brown (Cowboys and Aliens) Andre Royo (HBO’s “The Wire”), Dan Fogler (Take Me Home Tonight) and Robyn Rikoon (Bridge And Tunnel all star in this tale of rebel ministers who drag the worst demons back to hell.
The movie achieves a really nice tonal balance between horror and comedy. You really care about the characters. Can you talk about balancing all of those notes?
I think a lot of the character stuff works because the actors are so strong. Clancy [Brown] is obviously great and Clifton [Collins Jr.] can disappear into his roles. To me it’s a weird question because horror, when it works, is pretty funny. Even the least funny movie possible, like The Exorcist, if you watch that in a crowded theater there are at least three or four laughs in that movie. You’re so tense and you’ve got to do something, so you laugh. The last thing I wanted to do was make something like Scary Movie, where it’s making fun of horror movies. But I do feel that comedy and horror work together.
You mentioned this great cast. Clifton, Clancy, Andre Royo, Dan Fogler and this great newcomer Robyn Rikoon. It had to be a thrill as they each fell into place.
I was shocked when Clancy Brown signed on, and he’s a fan of these movies and loves all of this stuff. And Clifton I was always a fan of but didn’t even think to talk to because he always just seemed like the people he was playing, like in Capote or whatever. Half of me geeks out on getting to work with these guys and the other half just feels grateful that they’re up for it.
As a director, pulling something off with this kind of scope – what was the biggest challenge for you?
Shooting on 3D is pretty fucking terrible on a budget. I still love the idea creatively. I went into this with the idea that giant Hollywood blockbusters were killing 3D because if you’re making a 200 million movie it’s usually about giant robots or giant monsters and you’re putting them against these giant cityscapes. And anything that’s more than 100 feet away from you, the parallel axis between our eyeballs doesn’t read the 3D. Something like Gravity is different because even though it’s this giant thing you’re still 3 to 4 feet away from the characters and you’re getting all of the parallel axis information. It kills me that most people are probably going to watch this movie in 2D because I think for both comedy and gore all of the texture plays better in 3D.
The demons in the film have a simple yet striking design. Can you talk about bringing that to life?
I liked the idea going into this that the demons we are dealing with are pre-Christian. We’re going back to Norse mythology and that old Scandinavian writing. Our makeup guy, Brian Spears, who did a lot of Ti West’s stuff really helped. We really centralized what we were dealing with so that with the demons a lot of what you see are things they could have realistically done to themselves. This sort of self scarring with fingernails. And with Robyn at the end we went with this tiny little scratch writing to cover her face. We wanted them to look like demons, but also people. We wanted them to be somewhat believable.
What’s coming up next for you?
I wrote a video game last year called Outlast and we actually just recorded the voices for the DLC which should be out in a couple of months. I’m also working on a Walking Dead video game. As far as movies go, that’s anybody’s guess. I’ve been making movies long enough to know that it’s all kind of bullshit until you’re shooting.