Fantastic Fest 2021: Catching Up with the Class of V/H/S/94

As a fan of the series from inception, getting to do a V/H/S director/producer roundtable interview via Zoom (This is important later) at Fantastic Fest, has to be one of the most surreal things to come my way in 2021. I got to speak with four of the five directors Jennifer Reeder (Knives & Skin), Ryan Prows (Lowlife), Chloe Okuno (Slut), Simon Barrett (V/H/S, Seance) and Producer and fellow Philly resident Josh Goldbloom. I think it was the last interview of the day, because to describe them as punchy would be an understatement, as this group was a force to be reckoned with. There was also a palpable excitement since this was pre the film’s premiere and you could sense the chaotic energy in the room as they were finally getting to talk about this thing they had been working on for a year at this point, which was about to be unleashed on the ideal audience at Fantastic Fest.

To be honest, I can’t say I would have wanted anything less. It was a blast chatting with these guys and gals about what was easily one of my favorite films at the fest.

Dan T: Why did you decide to bring back the V/H/S series and what was the process as a producer like?

Josh Goldbloom: Oh that’s a loaded question. From a filmmaker or producer, or anyone who works in film it all really starts from a fan perspective. So obviously I wasn’t involved in any of the previous V/H/S movies, but I’ve always been a fan. I had been working closely with Brad Miska on a couple of projects and this had been in development for at least a year prior to me coming on board. I think it was just really about coming in and being able to license the property and kind of moving really, really quick on this project.

Essentially the process, we are sitting here like less than a year after the property was licensed. It all came together rather quickly and you know we got to deal with Shudder.

Dan T: So, let’s start in story order, So Jennifer Reeder (Holy Hell) you did the wraparound, given the return to form for this entry in the series, did Simon (Barrett) have any input since he was sort of the story architect for the first few films?

Jennifer Reeder: Well the input I got was that the wraparounds are notoriously hard and people mostly don’t like the wraparounds, so do you want to do it? (Laughs)

Simon Barrett: That’s true.

Jennifer Reeder: I don’t think when I heard that sentence I really understood it, and I was like, ‘yeah, sure!’ What did you just say? For the current wrap I tried to do something that was ambitious, I wanted the wraparound to have its own storyline and character arcs. I wanted it to be something that wasn’t just a way to bridge one of the shorts to the other shorts I wanted it to have its own narrative, I wanted it to be connected to the shorts and finally for it to be connected to the other V\H\Ses. Maybe that’s a tall order, but anyway, that’s what I tried to do.

I just hope that my wraparound isn’t the most hated wraparound of all the hated wraparounds. (Laughs)

Ryan Prows: It’s still Simon’s. (EVERYONE Laughs)

Dan T: I think your wraparound was great, it propelled the stories forward and definitely connected to them as well.

Jennifer Reeder: But real talk. Do you like mine better than Simon’s?

Dan T: They’re so different, they’re like apples and oranges.

Josh Goldbloom: This is where you freeze frame Dan and go, oh sorry, lost the connection.

Dan T: So… Chloe, I fucking loved Storm Drain and a bit part of that was the urban legend angle, and part of that was Anna Hopkins performance, since we experience this through Holly’s perspective. What was the casting like and how did she come to the project?

Chloe Okuno: First thank you for all of that and I am so happy you brought up Anna, because she’s incredible. We had a great casting director Stephanie, a lot of great actresses auditioned for this part, Holly. Anna was really charismatic, also really natural. The thing that I found watching the auditions was some of those actresses could play the humor of the part, or the sadness of the journalist, but they couldn’t deliver lines as a news reporter that was convincing. There were a lot of things that an actress had to do convincingly and she just nailed it. Honestly it’s one of my favorite collaborations with an actor.

She’s really good too, about like, because I write dialog sometimes, that’s not unnaturalistic, but it’s just, a lot. But with her we found ways to simplify it and just make it sound more natural. I can’t say enough about her, I think she’s just incredible and a lot of what is good about that segment is because of her, and our camera man because he is equally incredible.

Dan T: Why tackle an urban legend?

Chloe Okuno: Partially it was inspired by an actual news story, where people were talking about sightings of this supposed Leprechaun.

Dan T: I know that one….(Laughs)

Chloe Okuno: That always tickled me. I always thought it was so funny. I always like the idea of doing a riff off of that.

Simon Barrett: If you had actually seen the Leprechaun in the tree, it would actually be terrifying.

Chloe Okuno: Yeah.

Simon Barrett: You would go insane, you would be so scared.

Chloe Okuno: I feel like we need to do some kind of Raatma/Leprechaun hybrid movie. Like Leprechaun Versus Raatma

Dan T: Simon (Barrett), Empty Wake isn’t as wordy as some of your other pieces, but rather a masterclass in suspense and misdirection, was that on purpose, as more of a challenge to yourself as a writer/director?

Simon Barrett: It was definitely on purpose. I would say at this point, I have done enough found footage that for me the creative spark when Brad and Josh first presented this project to me, is trying to do something with the cameras that I specifically haven’t seen done before. And a reason for the characters to be filming that I haven’t specifically seen done. In this case I chose a memorial video where the family has asked for speeches from the wake to be recorded, which is a real thing. You could probably sustain a feature that way, but what it bought me was that static three camera setup.

After our first day of filming, my cinematographer and I respectively went back to our rooms and vomited, because we thought the footage looked so horrible. Because it was just three cameras on tripods, in a brightly lit room, with my actor Kyal Legend, just walking around, doing nothing and at the end of the day, I was like this is a fucking disaster. I fucked up so royally thinking this was going to be suspenseful and it’s boring and stagey.

The next day we got into the stuff with the handheld, and we started to realize it was okay. But I really wanted to try to find a way to do a V/H/S short, that was for the most part visually very static and was kind of a suspenseful slow burn, just because I hadn’t tried anything like that before and I thought that format would be interesting. Like could you do a V/H/S short that like instead of the handheld movement, it’s just a camera sitting there watching someone stand around? You know we’ll see what they think.

Dan T: Is this a preamble for a longer film? Would you want to make a zombie film?

Simon Barrett: I couldn’t watch another zombie film. I find that to be one of the most exhausted horror genres. Not to say that greatness can’t be achieved in it, but I think that’s why when I do a zombie thing, like I guess all the V/H/S things I’ve written are zombie things, except the Swanberg/Emily one and Adam’s ghost one. I think of it more as corpse horror, like the horror is just being in a room with a dead body, which I have found unnerving in the times I have experienced it. Whether it’s an open casket funeral for a friend or whatever, there’s something unsettling about that visceral reminder of our mortality, so I was kind of going back to the Russian movie Viy and Roxanne Benjamin’s Body At Brighton Rock for inspiration.

Dan T: Ryan (Prows), so I think Terror probably caught me off guard the most, what was your seed for that story?

Ryan Prows: Well, Trump came into power for four despicable years.

No, literally it was thinking about what scares me, idiot militia Nazi dudes, that were there in 94 and are there today and will someday be wiped out and smashed. I think this film could have a little to do with that, personally.

The plot to kidnap the Michigan governor was definitely a seed of it and the fact that the story sort of immediately went away, or was really talked about was interesting to me. I mean that was pretty wild, that, that happened. I mean there was so much stuff happening, and as we were prepping January 6th happened. Well I feel like, I guess it’s pretty relevant.

Dan T: Given how your segment deals with a creature that folks are probably very familiar with, how much thought went into our specific flavor of this character? Because believe it I’ve been thinking way too much about how much thought went into your take on these vampires?

Ryan Prows: A lot of thought. You definitely see where my mind goes. We’ve got vampires, how can we turn them into some kind of weapon?

It was cool when I pitched it to Josh and Brad Miska, Brad was like the initial idea of V/H/S was going to be our take on mythological creatures and different monsters and such and they hadn’t done a vampire movie, so it was cool to add my voice to that.

It felt like a way to go in and talk about these guy’s mentality, how they would see something pretty awesome and turn it into something horrible. I mean because, let’s all be honest, vampires rule. If there were vampires, they would definitely be the sparkly variety, I am sure and these guys are just dragging vampires down, for sure.

Simon Barrett: See, I think that story would be even more interesting. Instead of incendiary blood, they were putting the vampire at the Michigan state capitol to just awe people with the vampire’s beauty.

Ryan Prows: Coming at you V/H/S/96. No, I will wait to skip one, to bring it back around.

Dan T: That leads into my final question: are we going to see another one? Do you have a wish list for future directors?

Josh Goldbloom: I don’t know, did you like the movie?

Dan T: I dug it. I thought it was a return to form for the series. You can see behind me (Turns around to my massive wall do DVDs/Blu-rays) I have the first one and the second one and this is going to go alongside those two. I would love to see more of this, please.

Simon Barrett: So in other words you do have a least favorite wraparound….

(Everyone Breaks into laughter at this point)

Josh Goldbloom: Yeah, I mean as long as people like it I will keep cranking them out. We’ve already got ideas for the next one, we’ve spoken to a lot of different filmmakers, that we were definitely very interested in coming aboard this time around so we hoping to capitalize on that the next time through.

Simon Barrett: I’ve already had like five people reach out to me and I have nothing to do with it. Like leave me alone, but I will pass this along.

Josh Goldbloom: Yeah, it’s a fun playground for me, the filmmakers and the audience. A lot of it is dependent on the reactions. I think we are genuinely stoked for what we were able to put together and if the audience is enjoying it we are going to keep making more.

Simon Barrett: I am going to go a bit further, if you have Shudder or AMC Plus, and you’re going to go grocery shopping or leave the house for a bit. Just start V/H/S/94, starting October 6th, just hit play and make sure you play the whole thing so the algorithm recognizes it as a full view, and that’s what I would say.

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