The Horror Crowd: Interview with Ruben Pla - SciFiNow

The Horror Crowd: Interview with Ruben Pla

The Horror Crowd gives a glimpse into making some of our favourite scary movies, we spoke to the documentary’s director Ruben Pla…

The Horror Crowd

It seems very fitting that The Horror Crowd is to be shown at Grimmfest this year; a horror film festival taking place as we head into the first week of October. This is the season that horror fans love. The nights are getting darker (all the more excuse to light those atmospheric candles!) and the days getting colder (time to snuggle up – or hide – under those blankets folks!) – perfect for settling down to watch a good horror movie.

But what about the people behind our favorutie horror films? Are they as excited as we are to grab the popcorn and scare ourselves senseless? Turns out… yep, they pretty much are, and there’s no better way to get a glimpse at what goes into making horror films than with The Horror Crowd.

Directed by actor and horror aficionado Ruben Pla, this documentary goes to the very heart of genre; giving a rare insight into the industry we love. We spoke to Ruben about making the documentary, the unexpected answers and his favourite horror films…

How did you first get involved in the horror community?

My gateway has to be Mike Mendez. I met him working on his promotional video for Overkill, a film he was trying to get off the ground. People came in and helped out, acted and produced, whatever. I did that and I met James Wan there. He was on the set because he was a friend of Mike’s and we hit it off. He saw how I was on set, how I behaved, saw I was a professional, he liked my work and then James goes to me: “So do you want to be in Insidious?” [and I was like] “haha okay!”

Adam Robitel (right), director of Insidious: The Last Key and Escape Room, speaks to Ruben Pla (left) in The Horror Crowd

How did The Horror Crowd documentary start for you?

I started travelling in those horror circles in Hollywood, Los Angeles and I started thinking: ‘Why don’t I start talking to some people and interview them, see what they say?’ Just like on my phone or something. Just to see what comes out, no big deal. Then I met with my buddy Hank Braxtan (who ended up being co-producer), we had lunch and I pitched him my idea. He said: “I like the idea, why don’t I throw in some cameras for you?” and I go “okay…” and he goes “and a lighting kit, and good sound recorder…” I said “sounds great man, thank you!” and he goes “and you know we can shoot some of the scenes at our studio…” Awesome! Later we approached his wife, who’s also a good friend of mine, Arielle Brachfeld and she came on as a producing partner with me.

So that’s how it started. I started asking some people: “Hey you want to do a little interview…?” and then they all said yeah! They all wanted to do it. They all wanted to reveal their innermost feelings and what scared them as a kid and all their passions and love for the audience!

Some of the interviews became very personal, did you expect that?

No! I had general ideas about what I was going to be talking about but then things started coming up, like about their parents, and “oh they supported me when I was a kid” to be in horror and others who didn’t support them. So I started [thinking] ‘okay parents are a big influence, let’s do a segment on parents’ and then that led to other segments.

Parents are parents – some are supportive, some aren’t. I luckily had parents (they’ve both passed away) who were always very supportive of me, and as did several others. [In the documentary], Cyrus Voris, who wrote Demon Night, says how his parents were so supportive of whatever he did. Mike Mendez, on the other hand, said there was a big rift in the family; that they were not supportive and they wanted [him] to be an electrician or a plumber! I think either one of those can lead you to be successful and lead you to have a passion for your future work.

What is the ‘horror crowd’?

It’s a group of filmmakers, directors, writers, producers, actors and the like. We also have several journalists in it who specialise in horror. They love horror movies. Some of them, like Lombardo Boyar and myself, do other things besides horror. But we all love horror, sci-fi and fantasy. We love that across the board. I think that’s what ties us together. Our love of horror trivia and also, more importantly, helping each other and each others’ projects. I’ll act in his film; he’ll act in mine. He’ll direct me in this, you know. We’ll just go back and forth and help each other any way we can.

Why do you think the horror crowd all get on so well together?

I think our mutual respect for the genre is part of it. The other part is the fact that we just like each other and enjoy being with each other. We [go] to parties together, invite each other to Christmas parties, Halloween parties… [We] dress up together and go out, go to screenings together. So that kind keeps the crowd a tight unit.

What is it about horror that creates such a friendly vibe?

Because it scares us and we like that. Seriously, I think horror films scare us in a safe way. It feels like you can go in there safely, have the crap scared out of you safely and you can go home safe and alive. Or in these times you’re home already, watching it. Quarantine times, you’re going to have to check the closet! When I acted in Insidious, I got scared that night and I thought: ‘Is that red lipstick demon in my closet?!’ Haha! I’m not joking! I was in the movie, I acted on the set, I was there and when I got home I checked the closet to make sure Joseph Bishara – who played the demon (and also composed the music) – was not hiding in my closet. Which actually would be very scary, even without his make up haha!

Ruben chats to legendary filmmaker Russell Mulcahy (right), director of Razorback, Highlander and Resident Evil: Extinction.

As a horror fan, does being in horror films take away any of the magic?

Well not in the case of Insidious! I think in other cases, yes it has. The film has to be super effective and moody and just right. The writing has to be super tight, the scare factor has to be there for it to affect you that way. I think most of the time no, it’s not ruined. You’re inside, so you’re experiencing it. You know the inner workings but I still love movies and TV shows. I love them so much that it doesn’t matter to me. I’ll just watch them and enjoy them!

You were in Big Ass Spider! – a film with a crazy premise that balances that brilliant line between horror and comedy. What’s the secret behind that balance?

It’s funny you should bring up Big Ass Spider! because Mike Mendez, my good friend, directed that and he’s a master at horror/comedy. There are different kinds of horrors, as we go into in the documentary. You can do horror/science fiction. You can do horror/film noir and then you can do horror with comedy. I think if you have a great comic sensibility as Mike Mendez does and [Big Ass Spider! co-star] Greg Grunberg does, you can make that work.

As Greg says in the documentary, it needed to have some comedic elements, it can’t just be all serious, I tune out, I’ve got to infuse [horror] with comedy. That’s what he does for most of his roles. I think what makes it work is having a twist on it. In this case with Big Ass Spider!, it scares you and then you laugh!

I guess any film that provokes emotion is a good film…

Very true, a lot of the filmmakers talk about it [in The Horror Crowd]; they say they want to get emotions out of the audiences. Comedians want to get audiences to laugh and we want to get them to scream and jump – induce the audience to have that visceral reaction, just jump like ‘oh my god I’m scared!’.

Whether it’s Insidious or Paranormal Activity or Final Destination as Jeffrey Reddick talks about [in the documentary], he loves that reaction from the audience – making them jump when they see a kill they haven’t seen before. I love that.

Ruben reunites with his Big Ass Spider! co-stars Greg Grunberg and Clare Kramer in The Horror Crowd

What was it like directing directors for the documentary?

So as far as me being the director and turning the tables, being an actor I knew exactly how to illicit things from these people, whether they were actors or filmmakers. I knew how to talk to them. I would ask questions that aren’t normally asked. I wasn’t asking “how did you first start acting?” I’m “tell me about your dark side, what about your parents? Did they support you?” and that’s what I tried to do. As an actor that’s what I would want to be asked. I want to be asked different kinds of questions!

What do you think the secret behind a successful horror is?

A great script. To me, a great script just crosses over. No matter what the genre, it could be an adventure, sci-fi, fantasy, rom-com, I don’t care as long as the script is great. People like James Cameron [with Aliens] and Spielberg with Jaws; these are all horror movies. These are incredibly tight scripts in addition to the horrible monster; the Alien Queen or Bruce the shark (they called it Bruce because Spielberg’s lawyer was called Bruce haha).

The Horror Crowd
Shaked Berenson (right), producer of Big Ass Spider!, shares his insights on horror…

What’s your favourite horror film that you’ve been part of?

Insidious. Not just because of James Wan and the success, it was such a tight script. The music by Joseph Bishara was so moody. The other actors, Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Lin Shaye, Barbara Hershey they were just so great. I got to go up there and act with Rose Byrne, Patrick Wilson and Barbara Hershey – I mean come on! These people, especially Barbara Hershey, are people I watched growing up and I got to act with them. You’ve got that tight acting, with the script and the music and the mood and the colours – I don’t see how it could have failed!

What’s your favourite horror film that you haven’t been part of?

It’s going to be Alien, and I know people will say “no that’s a sci-fi movie” – no, it’s a sci-fi haunted house movie. It’s a haunted house movie in space and to me that’s horror. There were jump scares all over the place! You probably already know this but Ridley Scott never told the actors, Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt all of them, where the alien was coming from, or when the alien was coming. When that (spoiler!) chest-burster comes out of John Hurt’s chest, they didn’t know what the heck was going to happen! Those reactions are real when Tom Skerritt is going through the tunnels and trying to find the Xenomorph and then it jumps out at him. He had no idea it was coming out then or there!

What’s it like being part of Grimmfest?

I want to thank Grimmfest for accepting The Horror Crowd into their festival – it’s coming up 7 October so I definitely need to shout out to them. They’ve been great. When I first presented the film, they wanted it right away and that really makes a filmmaker go ‘wow, they believe in it’. It’s a renowned film festival so I’m excited to be accepted.

What’s it like being part of a virtual festival?

I’ve been doing a lot of videos! I’ve been doing a few intros for a few festivals and I’m going through a cemetery saying “hello, this is…” so I do this intro from this lovely cemetery, it’s so appropriate! Then doing the virtual Q&A to me is fine. I would have flown to England to be in those festivals but you can’t right now, but as soon as I can, I’m flying everywhere!

What’s next for you?

As soon as things open up I’ll still be acting, going for auditions. I’m going to be directing again; I have several scripts that I’ve written that are polished and ready to go! As I mentioned, I go across the board in terms of genre, so horror, sci-fi, fantasy, adventure, supernatural thriller… I have a rom-com… I don’t care, if the script works, it’s tight and it’s truthful I don’t care, I’m ready to direct it!

The Horror Crowd is showing at the Grimmfest festival. Find out more information here.