In Terror, a group of friends check out their friend’s new haunted house before it opens for the public. They arrive in hopes of fun and adventure, but they’ll leave in pieces. I sat down with Jeremy Mitchell, the writer of Terror, to discuss his script, his inspiration behind his idea, and his plans to turn his dream into a reality.
Kalyn Corrigan: So tell me about your script.
Jeremy Mitchell: It’s called Terror, it’s a suspense-thriller horror. I mean it’s been an idea for years now, probably more than seven or eight years I’ve had the idea for this, and it’s just kind of been in the back of my head. So finally, I took some time, and I wrote out a general outline for it, put it together. The little tagline for it is: a group of friends go into a haunted house attraction, you know they’re having a good time, just ready for some fun, and the haunted house gets taken over by this cult group. So, I develop a little bit of the history behind it. It’s like this decades old cult group that has a history in the area, and this cult group comes into the haunted house, takes over, and basically starts killing everybody. One by one, kind of picking them a part. So, what they expected to be this great time, turns into an absolute nightmare. And from there, it’s just a one of those thrillers: people getting nabbed, people getting grabbed, people getting killed. That’s the general idea behind it. So, I wanted it to be a little bit more of a throwback to, you know, a lot of people use Hitchcockian, things like that. I didn’t want it be overtly gory, or anything like that. I want certain elements of it, but I didn’t want an absolute splatterfest. Don’t get me wrong, I love horror movies, I love every kind of horror movie, you know, the slaughterhouse movies, the ones that just are absolute, gore galore, those are great. But that’s not what I was wanting to do with this. I was wanted a little bit more of an emotional buy-in to it, trying to figure out “Well, who’s in on it? What’s going on?” kind of lure, thriller aspect.
KC: Kind of like John Carpenter’s Halloween?
JM: Yeah, kind of like that. Where, it’s a little bit more old school, too, like some of the movies that have been in the later ’70s, early ’80s kind of thing. So like, When A Stranger Calls, things like that.
KC: And the name of the cult group is “Shades of the Dead”?
KC: Did you base that on anything, or, how did you come up with that?
JM: Well, that one is actually a funny story. Originally, when I created the concept for it, I was like ‘well, I want this cult group’. Cult groups are scary, they’re just creepy. So, in developing the story behind it, originally, they were called “The Lords of Salem”, from the log line of one of Rob Zombie’s songs. So for a while, I always called them “The Lords of Salem”. I was just planning on using that, and then, several years ago, as I was actually working on the outline for Terror, it was announced that Rob Zombie would actually be creating a movie called The Lords of Salem, so I was like well, hell. Can’t do that any more. So, I had to scratch that out. So, I wrote down just, lists and lists and lists of names that sounded cool. I eventually settled on “Shades of the Dead” because it has an ominous feel to it. “Shades” as in, like, ghosts. Earlier cultures, that’s what they would sometimes call ghosts-“shades”. It just kinda sounded cool, so that’s what I wound up settling on.
KC: That’s cool. I noticed that one of your main characters has the same last name as you, Zane, so, was that done on purpose?
JM: No, no, (laughs) it was mostly just that I need a last name for him, so I just threw my name on there. That’s subject to change.
KC: So you don’t have any desire to own a haunted house?
JM: Actually, I do. The original concept for Terror came from an idea. I was sitting around with a couple of friends of mine, and it was around Halloween time, we had just gone into early promo for a friend of ours who was doing a haunted house in his film and it was a fraternity, and they always put together a haunted house every year and so they kind of brought us in to do similar to what happens for what happens in Terror, just to get a feel to see if everything works, to see things that might need to be done before they actually open. And, so I was sitting down one night, just talking with a bunch of my friends, and I was like ‘wouldn’t it be cool if all of these different things actually happened?’ Wouldn’t it be cool to have a haunted house that believe actually believe was taken over? And to create a sense of fear and terror that is actually genuine. Not made up, or faked, or anything like that. Because me, I go through haunted houses and I love them. I smile, ear to ear. I love it! It’s just so much fun, but there’s no, for me, element of realism or anything like that. I’m not actually frightened or scared. But, if we could convince people that this is real, that maybe their lives are actually in danger, then that would be the most terrifying haunted house I could ever imagine. Now, for legal reasons, you can’t actually do that. There’s just too many liabilities that go on with this. One of the questions I got asked the other night was ‘well, you know, if they sign a release wavier, would it be legal to chloroform people? And actually tie them down?’ No, that’s holding people against their will, you’re getting into borderline mass litigations and problems there. So, obviously, the idea would never work as a real haunted house, so I was like “well, why don’t I just write a movie about it?” That would be a cool movie.
KC: I like the concept of it, because I’ve heard of haunted houses where you sign huge release waivers, and they’re allowed to throw you into rooms by yourself and put spiders on you, so I thought it was kind of taking it to the next level.
JM: Precisely, because, those kind of haunted houses, in my opinion, are the ones that are worth it. I mean, you sign all these release waivers, you pay $50, and if you make it all the way through, then you get a partial refund. But those are the ones that I was kind of emulating off of, and taking it a step further, exactly what you said.
KC: Are you going to be filming any time soon?
JM: That is very much subject. Basically, at this point, the agenda that I have for it is, I’m creating a production schedule for it, I’ve got everything kind of in place, I’m working on the script breakdown right now, and the next step for me is to actually shoot a real trailer. Have you seen the promo trailer?
JM: Yeah, I mean I threw that together in like five minutes. It took me another day, I went and secured the rights for the Rob Simonsen song that I used, made sure that I could actually legally use that in any of the trailers, and then, just put it together. But, it’s just still images and basic editing softtware. So, I want to shoot a real trailer. I’ve written out a complete script, it takes certain scenes from the script, it takes certain scenes from the script, and it also incorporates scenes that are not in the script, that for a trailer, would work really well. So, I wanna shoot that, and from there, use that trailer to fundraise. Kickstarter, Indie Go-Go. There’s a small group of people that I’d like to approach, basically to have a pitch meeting with them to see if they’d be interested in financing, if I could get them on board, I probably wouldn’t have to do Kickstarter or anything like that, but I’m still going to just to see if I can get something off the ground. If I can get funds generated through donations, then absolutely, that’s gonna be the better way to do it. Versus having to worry about, “Am I going to be able to make the money back?” for the individual investors. So as far as shooting schedule goes right now, at the very earliest, I’m looking at something in 2013. It wouldn’t be anything this year.
KC: Would you want to film in Dallas?
JM: Yes. Absolutely. Currently, I am in talks with a few different haunted houses to film in their locations for certain scenes. So that’s gonna be the big thing for me, if I can get two or three different haunted houses to agree to let me go in and shoot in theirs, I might have to tweak some of the script to make it fit for the locations, but I’m absolutely fine with doing that because the other alternative is I’m going to have to get a big warehouse to create a haunted house. That could work on different levels, I could create a haunted house, open it up in the season, try to make some money, help fund Terror through that, but the time and energy in doing that is something that I can’t necessarily budget for right now. The amount of time, really, is the biggest restraint there. There’s five haunted houses here in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, …there’s an abundance of them. Naturally? So if I can just get in, film in those, then it would be a lot easier.
KC: And I saw that you referenced Dr. Caligari? I actually haven’t seen it, but I know that it’s famous for the German Expressionist type of architecture and set design, so, would you be using that sort of style for your haunted house?
JM: No, not necessarily. You know, the German Expressionist movement, I mean, it’s amazing, I love it, and in some regards, yes and no. A very large part of it is going to be darkly lit, whoever I end up getting as my cinematographer is definitely going to have their work cut out for them as far as lighting goes. If you think about it, part of the script takes place where there’s no power whatsoever, no lights, so creating that kind of illusion isn’t necessarily the easiest thing in the world to do. You still have to be able to see it. You can’t just show a pitch black screen, I don’t think people would appreciate that very much. For the most part, it’s just, you know, dark hallways, dark rooms, a few rooms that you can imagine seeing in a haunted house, that’s the feel I’m going for on that. Pretty straight forward, pretty simple.
KC: What’s your favorite room that you came up with for your haunted house?
JM: The refrigerator room. It’s the one I call the refrigerator room, in the script, I think the one you have, it’s called “large room 2”, or something like that, it’s the one that has the refrigerator in it, the cages with the animals, things like that. And especially, for that scene, my favorite part of it is them going to the refrigerator, they open it up, and going, “Oh my god what the fuck is that?” But never actually showing what’s in it, you know, it’s one of those “what’s in the brief case?”, like in Pulp Fiction. Your imagination is always more powerful than anything that I could ever show you. Another one of my favorite scenes is the hanger room. It’s just a bunch of dummies, hanging from nooses. I remember, one of my earliest experiences, going through a haunted house when I was like four, and my parents are very much still surprised that I remember a lot of it, but it really stood out in my mind, and I think that’s where a lot of my childhood love of horror comes from. I remember walking through a room that had that, I just thought it was one of the coolest things.
KC: What is going to make your movie stand out against others that have used haunted houses or haunted attractions?
JM: The biggest part of it is, you know, one of the emphasis that I have for Terror was creating something that’s realistic. A big question that I always ask people, as I was developing the outline, as I was writing the script, was “Hey, if this kind of situation happened to you, what would you do? In real life, if you believed that one of your friends was taken, what would you do? Would you go back and try to find them? Would you just immediately try to leave and call the cops?” So, just trying to create an element of realism to it. You know, now, you see a lot of haunted house movies and ghost moives. Supernatural, and Paranormal Activity, and things like that, and there’s a lot of those, and I didn’t want to create something like that, I wanted to ground it in reality. Make it something that could happen. Somebody could easily get into a haunted house and kill people.
KC: Well, I can’t wait to see the mock trailer.
JM: Yes, that’s the next project.
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