[Interview] ‘Cheap Thrills’ Director E.L. Katz!

cheap thrills

In Cheap Thrills, Craig (Pat Healy) and Vince (Ethan Embry) are two former high school friends who could both use some financial help. In a wild night of partying, Colin (David Koechner) and Violet (Sara Paxton) engage them in a series of dares that results in their financial gain. Although the film can’t be pigeonholed into one genre specifically, there are quite a few horrific things in store for Craig and Vince and they find out how far they’re willing to go to make a quick buck. Cheap Thrills was one of my favorite films on the festival circuit for 2013 and it was at Fantastic Fest that I got to sit down and chat with director E.L. Katz. Hard to believe that this is his directorial debut as it’s gripping, frenetic, and a challenging film to sit through, even if you’re laughing throughout most of it. Katz will also be featured in the upcoming ABCs of Death 2 and I can assure you that he will be a big name in horror that will be able to do more on a smaller budget than almost any other Hollywood director could with millions. You can read my review here.

WolfMan: You know I like the movie. I know I liked the movie. The internet knows I liked the movie.

E.L. Katz: This is not news.

WM: I didn’t do any research is what I’m saying. I’m just gonna give you the questions I gave the other guys.

ELK: Okay.

WM: So what was it like being in Anchorman 2?

ELK: …well, I was afraid of being typecast. There are several things that I’m great at, and there are some things that I’m specifically great at, and I was afraid of that. But I think people are gonna love the movie and that it’s going to make a lot of money.

WM: Hmm, good, interesting. Now you’ve got the Empire Records 20th anniversary coming up, what was it like working with Rory Cochrane? Ya know, he was coming off of Dazed and Confused

ELK: Typically when you act, it’s a collaboration, so if someone’s not giving you anything to work with, what would you do? You’d just stand there, you’re not living in it, it’s not real.

WM: Yesterday we were talking about your Fulci tattoo, so is The Beyond your favorite Fulci movie?

ELK: I love a lot of his stuff, but it’s also kind of random. Like, Contraband is such a gory crime movie. Fulci was really sort of my introduction to the weirder horror. I grew up with John Carpenter and Tobe (Hooper) and once I found the Italians and what they did, all I watched for a while was horrible Italian movies. Horrible ones. I watched all of them. Like, horrible shit. I really enjoyed it. It felt so much riskier and that it was being made by crazy people.

WM: They get you in that context where what you’re seeing isn’t a linear narrative so you, as an individual, have a hard time figuring it out. Have you seen Room 237? They talk about how Kubrick constructed the hotel to be a building that could never actually exist so your brain can’t really figure it out.

ELK: And that’s awesome. You’re constantly trying to place everything in a box to understand it, and the Fulci stuff, I think people didn’t give him credit. He did have a lot of sloppy movies too, for sure, but he did some that were really well constructed and his influences of Lovecraft and Poe. He was a smart guy, I just think he had bad luck, and (Dario) Argento came from wealth, and he’s an amazing filmmaker, but if you give somebody the best DP in the world and the best composers, it’s going to be a win. Fulci died right before his biggest movie was going to be made, The Wax Mask, and he had a bit more money for it but he was sick, he was suffering for awhile. I like Fulci, I know he was kind of a beast on the set.

WM: Just knowing that at any moment in any of his films, you could enter an apocalyptic Hellscape. You could open a door and it would be Hell.

ELK: The whole world can change. It’s so dangerous. His movies are fucking dangerous. Bad things will happen to really good characters just because of where they were. It was really influential to show that much gruesome stuff. The filmmaker in me, I love his gore, but when it happens, it’s fucking there and it’s practical and it’s really mean.

WM: My favorite Fulci movie is the one where something happens to that guy’s eye…or that girl’s eye…

ELK: And I think head wounds are one of my favorite things. Anything that can happen to somebody’s noggin, I’m happy. Both Fulci and David Lynch do a lot of head trauma. It’s just my favorite. I was attacked by a dog when I was younger so I have like 20 scars in my head.

WM: You and I have talked a lot about music before, and with Agent Orange being tied into the movie, how often did you keep music in mind while reworking the script?

ELK: I really think there’s nothing more evil than techno music. It really is the most sinister soundtrack.

WM: Have you seen Man of Steel? They have a goddamned dubstep machine going “WOMP WOMP WOMP WOMP”.

ELK: That’s evil. All that rave shit is evil.

WM: You heard it here first, ladies and gentlemen, “Punk Rock Prince of Hollywood proclaims Electronic Music Evil”.

ELK: Well our composer did the music for You’re Next–

WM: Which had an awesome soundtrack.

ELK: And he doesn’t really make techno music. In Denmark, we has like this Danish Mr. Bungle and it was kind of weird for me to force him to make this kind of music that he didn’t relate to. My whole thing was that it needed to be douchey, cokehead party music. It fed into the bad decisions. For me, I had that shit playing while I wrote it because it was the voice of Colin (Dave Koechner). It was just imagining him listening to that stuff and thinking “Isn’t this cool?!” and it was a little out of date, so it was probably the coolest version of that stuff.

WM: Which we know is really cool.

ELK: Super cool. At first, we wanted it to feel like it was just this shit that they had on, then it starts to become a little weirder and more thriller-horror music. But make it at least seem like transitional, you’re not 100% sure what’s score and what’s just douchey party music.

WM: That you couldn’t tell the difference between what the characters were listening to and what the score was.

ELK: Exactly. We didn’t have a lot of tricks, we just had people in a house the whole time, so we asked what we could use. Is it going to be score the whole time or whether it be music in their world and every choice would be different music they put on, and that was shitty.

WM: In the bar, early on, I swear I could hear Joy Division playing, but I wasn’t sure if that was them or not.

ELK: If we had that money, we would’ve blasted that the whole time. We just used a lot of bar bands that we thought we could get. I know a couple of record labels and they helped out on tracks but we didn’t have any recognizable stuff. The most well-known thing in there was Bloodstains.

WM: And even that, I’m sure a lot of people have no ideas about. “Whoa, they wrote this song for the movie! They’re saying  ‘Cheap Thrills!’”

ELK: It was almost like a theme song, where you have this bummer ending and then that comes on.

Read the full interview here.

Cheap Thrills is available now on VOD and in select theaters March 21st.