Ti West is making a name for himself as a horror film director and someone who’s breathing life into the genre, especially with his latest film The Innkeepers – starring Sara Paxton (Last House On The Left, Shark Night 3D). He tells us about his influences, his next projects and whether he believes in ghosts.
You’re a young director known for horror films, what is it about that genre that attracts you to it?
Well, from a filmmaker’s perspective there’s something appealing as it’s borderline an experimental genre.
The problem is, because horror became so successful in the last ten years everything becomes derivative and aimed at the lowest common denominator. So within a genre that you could do almost anything people were doing the same things over and over again.
What’s appealing to me is trying different things; I’ve made six horror movies in the past seven years but despite them all being horror I think they’re all very different.
From a schematic side of things – I might just be a dark pessimistic person who’s constantly having my own existential crisis… I don’t know the psychology behind it! As a kid I was always attracted to the horror section of the video store because it was the section you weren’t supposed to be in and it was where the creeps hung out – anything that was counter-culture was interesting to me.
So you watched a lot of horror films as a kid – can you pick out a few key influences?
I think The Shining was the first movie that really scared me. And the complete opposite of the spectrum – the first movie that really made me think I could make a movie was Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste.
The ones I really responded to were The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, The Changeling, Don’t Look Now, Poltergeist – very traditional, classic storytelling. And pretty much any genre movie that treats it as a movie first and a genre movie second were the ones I liked the most because they cared more, took themselves seriously, and were more relatable because of that.
Are you desensitised to horror movies or do you still get a buzz from watching them?
Very rarely do I get a buzz because it’s become so derivative. I’ve also just become so analytical of it and so familiar with it that I’m always three steps ahead of the film. That’s why what I do in my own films is subvert expectations – it may take a little while but I’ll eventually get the audience to where they don’t know what’s going to happen.
That’s very true of your latest film The Innkeepers, which has some very unexpected moments, but also relies very heavily on audio to bring the scares.
Yeah, I’d seen so many movies recently with the grainy, shaky video camera footage of a ghost that it really didn’t have any impact, but what I’d not seen was something around EVP recordings. And it’s sort of a bold move as film is a visual medium, so to divert into an audio-driven section was an interesting experiment.
For a film that builds tension through suggestion it was surprising to actually get to see the ghost in The Inkeepers…
I wanted to recreate the ghost characters in an old fashioned, traditional, Charles Dickens kind of way, so I had sketches for the make up artist. I wanted to do the archetypal story of the bride who killed herself and do it like a children’s story.
The film is set in a real-life inn, in Connecticut, that’s supposed to be haunted and that’s what inspired your script – so do you believe in ghosts?
Well, weird shit happens there. There’s a weird vibe like doors opening and closing by themselves, TVs turning on and off, lights flickering… the town is obsessed with it.
There’s no lack of hauntings at The Yankee Pedlar Inn – it’s just that I’ve never seen a ghost. I would like to see a ghost, it would be cool to believe in ghosts, but it’s easier for me not to believe. Staying there is the closest I’ve come. Certainly a lot of the cast and crew really believe it’s haunted.
You’ve just worked on a couple of horror film anthologies but what’s next for you as a solo project?
I’ve got three things in the pipeline – a science fiction movie [The Side Effect, due out in 2014] with Liv Tyler, a werewolf movie with someone I’m not allowed to talk about yet, and then I’ve got this movie called Which Way Is Out – a kind of ‘hooker road movie’ part Thelma And Louise and part True Romance.