Director Nicholas Humphries is no stranger to genre filmmaking, having directed the web series Riese: Kingdom Falling, and the award-winning Little Mermaid short, among many others. His debut feature film, Death Do Us Part, is a cabin in the woods slasher that sees a soon-to-be wed couple (Julia Benson and Peter Benson) and their friends killed off during a weekend getaway.
I sat down with Humphries to talk about his directorial debut, working with a low budget, and embracing the slasher genre. Death Do Us Part releases today on DVD today from Anchor Bay Entertainment.
Bloody-disgusting: You’ve directed a lot of short films, including the award winning Little Mermaid, and you have a background in web series. How was the transition into your first feature film?
Nicholas Humphries: Scary. I feel like you get to make a lot of mistakes making short films and nobody will notice. Features are another beast. They get distribution and lots of people see them. Combine that with indie film limitations and the pressure to make a good one can be intense. That said, getting to direct the Syfy digital series Riese: Kingdom Falling had kind of prepared me for the experience in a lot of ways. My cast and crew on Death Do Us Part were also very professional and passionate about the film. We had a pretty beautiful and remote location up on the coast too. It was cold and exhausting but we all had a really good time.
BD: Why did you choose Death Do Us Part as your feature debut?
NH: Death Do Us Part kind of chose me. Ryan Copple, who was one of the creators of Riese (along with Kaleena Kiff) had started a production company with Julia and Peter Benson and they wanted to make a horror movie for their first feature. Little Mermaid had just won Best Short at Screamfest so we all kind of just hit the ground running together. Additionally, all I want in life is to direct horror movies. So the simplicity of a tongue in cheek, cabin in the woods murder mystery seemed like a safe place to get my feet wet.
BD: You were working on a really low budget and had a very limited shooting period. How do you deal with those restrictions on set? Anything you wish you had more time for?
NH: I really wish I had more time to kill people. We shot something like 100 pages in about 12 days so I had to be pretty economical when it came to my shot list. We had 2 cameras so covering the more talky scenes was pretty straight forward but it hurt me to have to think efficiency during the scenes where building tension and scaring the crap out of your audience is so key. Although I’m still pleased with the result. There’s some off camera violence but I think there’s something really effective about allowing the audience to imagine what is scariest to them.
BD: Horror fans love their slasher movies, but so much has already been done with the genre that it’s hard to make one that stands out. Was this something you had to keep in mind while shooting? What’s your take on the genre?
NH: Absolutely. I think acknowledging what’s come before is essential. That’s why Scream was such an effective film and has become a classic in its own right. It didn’t try and masquerade as something new. It played with audience expectations for the genre, sure, but most importantly, was a love letter to slasher movies and the fans that continue to support those films. That’s what Death Do Us Part was for me.
BD: It’s also a cabin in the woods film, so you had a lot of tropes and conventions to deal with. Did you embrace them or try to break them?
NH: I think that there are certain beats that you have to hit. If an audience comes in expecting Texas Chainsaw and you give them a rom-com, they’re going to start checking the time and disengage. Simultaneously, we really wanted to take the time to give every character a motive so that everyone is a suspect. So the first act is very much a character study. But I think this juxtaposition intensifies that moment when all hell breaks loose. We’ve also got some neat twists at the end and all the information is properly setup. It was important to us not to lie to the audience. So I guess we were guided by the tropes and conventions but didn’t confine ourselves to them.
BD: I know you love your gore, and some of the promo pictures are quite bloody. How much can we expect in Death Do Us Part?
NH: I would say we have a classy amount of gore in this film. I feel like when movies become about the gore, we desensitize and the bloody stuff can wind up having less impact. My hope is that audiences will have an emotional reaction to these characters getting cut up rather than a visceral one at seeing something gross. Frankly I was a bit surprised at the R rating, but perhaps I’ve just seen more horror movies than your average film-goer.
BD: Canadian horror seems to be on the rise. Why do you think that is?
NH: Canada actually has a fairly rich history in the horror genre. From the low-budget runaway productions of the 70’s and 80’s like Prom Night, Black Christmas and The Changeling, to Cronenberg and beyond, we love making horror movies here. I see it as carrying on a tradition in a lot of ways. I do see a lot of horror movies being made nowadays as more of a business decision. They’re cheap to produce and they’re almost guaranteed to sell. And this saddens me. I can always tell when a filmmaker loves the genre. It radiates from the work.
BD: You’ve got your next film in development. What can you tell us about that?
NH: I’ve signed an NDA so not much unfortunately. I think I can say that it is extremely ambitious and will be my biggest challenge yet. But I’ve been blessed with an amazing and supportive team of people from my Producers to our key creatives. A lot of talent will be bringing this one to life and I can’t wait to get started. I go to camera in June.
BD: What’s next from Nicholas Humphries?
NH: The scariest thing about a career in filmmaking is that it’s kind of hard to make a plan. And you never stop proving yourself. I’ve got the next feature in pre-production and a pretty unique found footage feature script in development I’d like to shoot soon after. And then I guess I’ll see after that. I quit my day job to focus on filmmaking full time for the next little bit. It would be nice to hit the big time but honestly as long as I just keep getting to scare people I’ll be a happy director. Oh and a short film I made will be distributed by Drafthouse on ABC’s of Death 2.5 so keep an eye out for that!