Interview with Jim Mickle, director of "We Are What We Are," a horror film in the guise of a serious drama

Jim Mickle carves out a niche as an art-house horror upstart.

By Ethan Gilsdorf at 11:12 am Thu, Oct 10, 2013

Bad taste.

How far to push it? How much gore can a director make a serious movie audience swallow before that audience retches? And does it only serve to demonstrate bad taste, when your characters dine on human flesh, when gross-outs upstage or harpoon a film's otherwise dramatic merits? Or can there be such a thing as a serious horror movie about cannibalism?

These are the issues and risks raised by Jim Mickle's We Are What We Are [Now playing in California and New York, and opening this weekend in Boston and other cities soon], a horror film in the guise of a serious drama, or if you prefer, an intimate family story masquerading as a shocker. Either way, the film takes the viewer on a unexpected journey into a fanatically religious family's creepy tradition of cannibalism. Patriarch Frank Parker (played by Bill Sage of Simple Men and Boardwalk Empire) won't waver from his beliefs, no matter the cost, and forces it upon his children. "We've kept our tradition, in its purity," Frank grumbles, with a grim and terrible seriousness. "We do it the way we have always done it." And the Parker family does.

Based on a 2010 Mexican film of the same name, We Are What We Are finds a way to use cannibalism as a metaphor for what has gone wrong with extremists in the religious right.

Mickle has already carved out a reputation for using horror to illuminate bigger issues. Prior to We Are What We Are, Mickle directed Stake Land, an intelligent post-apocalyptic action drama wrapped around the skeleton of a coming of age story. Mickle's first feature, Mulberry Street, was about a deadly virus that turns people into rat-like creatures; the effects are mapped on the lives of an already stressed-out Manhattan populace. These aren't dumb horror show shoot-'em-ups, but smartly written, gorgeously shot, and rigorously paced genre films. We Are What We Are wraps up this trilogy of horrific afflictions upon the American psyche.

We Are What We Are also stars Michael Parks (Django Unchained), Golden Globe Nominee Kelly McGillis (Witness, and also Stake Land) Nick Damici (Stake Land, also the film's co-writer), Ambyr Childers (The Master) and Julia Garner (Martha Macy May Marlene).

I recently met Mickle at the Eliot Hotel in Boston to talk about We Are What We Are, the appeal of the horror genre, shooting in a flood zone, the art of the storyboard, John Carpenter’s The Thing, and the unexpected comeback of Kelly McGillis, among other topics.

Ethan Gilsdorf: I was a huge fan of Stake Land when it came out, and I reviewed that for The Boston Globe . I’m their horror guy, for whatever reason. And I was very impressed with your take on the zombie apocalypse genre. I didn’t know what to expect when I walked into that. I haven’t seen your other one -- I haven’t seen Mulberry Street.

Jim Mickle: It’s like a really micro budget version of the Stake Land.

Ethan: I recall it's about a virus in New York City that turns its victims into a nasty, rodent-like species. Now you've got another movie in your, what shall we call the genre, "artsy horror," with We Are What We Are. Which is pretty gruesome. There are scenes of cannibalism with this Parker family. And it occurred to me, while I don’t want to give away the ending in the movie here, but it occurred to me as I watched it that perhaps people who were expecting a certain kind of film, and then there’s this pretty intense gore scene at the end of the film -- did you worry a little bit about what reaction you might get to it?

Jim: No, I didn’t. I think at the end of the day, I think we were probably going to lose people, because I think there’s going to be people that come in wanting something big and gory and then you get something sort of slow and pretty and they’re probably going to be bummed about that. And there’s going to be people that come in that hear that it’s slow and pretty and are psyched about that, and then when it hits the intense parts they’re going to be turned off. So, sure we’ll lose some people, but I’m not too, too concerned about that. And in the ending, no, I think once I read that version -- we played forever trying to find the best ending to that, and then once Nick [Damici, We Are What We Are co-writer and actor] found that, I thought, “This is it.” Once you’ve seen this on the page, you can’t do anything else. Not just for the extreme reaction but everything that it does narratively and thematically. I’m like, “This is so damn good.” So, no.

Ethan: So in the end, audience reaction doesn't affect how strong you wanted that final scene of cannibalism, or how much to play that up at the end?

Jim: What’s funny is we did an early screening just for friends and family and relatives and people that had all different walks of life, and one of my questions was like, “How was that scene? Was it too short? Was it too long? Because I can trim back on that, we wouldn’t be restrained.” And every girl in the room was like, “You have to make it longer. We want it so much longer.” It was like this female empowerment moment. So then I thought, “Okay, we’ve tapped into something pretty cool here.”

Ethan: That’s funny. I think it was Nick who told me that there was a pretty extreme reaction at the Deauville Film Festival in France. What actually happened?

Jim: That was crazy. It was a giant screening and I had just gotten off a plane. We had just wrapped another movie, and I hadn’t slept for less a couple hours. We walked in and it’s this giant screening. I think 1,500 people. Biggest theater that I’ve ever seen one of our movies in. And I was like, “I’m just going to stay and watching the opening.” And then we stayed and kept staying and we kept watching and kept watching. And then it got to the end and with about five minutes to go in the movie during the big scene, half the audience stood up and started booing and started shouting and yelling and then the distributor was leaning over and he’s like, “They’re saying ‘Fuck the director, fuck the director.’” And they were very loud about it, and they were heading toward the exits and the other half of the audience stood up and told them to shut up and then started giving a standing ovation. And it was like back and forth and it went on literally for the rest of the movie and then halfway through the credits it was like mayhem. I liked that. I like having that sort of strong reaction.

Ethan: Was there a Q and A afterwards? I wondered if you'd brave that.

Jim: There wasn’t. We went through the lobby, there were people waiting for us and yelling at us. And they were like, “Now is the press conference.” And we were like, “Press conference? What the hell?” We went to this other room and there was like sixty journalists. And the first guy stands up and you can tell -- it’s all in French -- and you can tell, he’s just like, “Blah blah blah!” He was very effusive and saying nice things about the movie, and then someone else started yelling at him and picked his camera up and walked out. It kept going and then every question was about whether it was necessary, whether it was too strong, whether it was too extreme. It was fascinating. I was like, “You guys made Irreversible. What is wrong with you?”

Ethan: That’s really surprising. I guess the French -- I’m imagining it’s mostly French journalists and French audiences -- would be particularly sensitive. I can’t imagine that happening in an American screening.

Jim: Me neither. Me neither. Maybe in the Bible Belt, but I don’t know if they’d pick that up all the connections to that. I think it was later they told us it was a festival crowd but specifically it was the Deauville Festival crowd, so it was a lot of sixty-year-old, gray haired, salmon colored sweaters, and boat shoes. It was a lot of that like, “We’re going to the festival.” And I think the day before was Fruitvale Station, and I think the slot the year before was Beasts of the Southern Wild. So it was very much like Sundance, on the road to the Oscars. I don’t think they were expecting a horror film.

Ethan: So, do you consider this a horror film? Because it occurs to me that the structure, the skeleton of the movie is really a family drama about a father and a son, daughters and sort of keeping the faith, of this very strange belief system.

Jim: I kind of pitched it as that. It’s a family drama with horrific backdrop. But I don’t think of it as a horror movie, and I hate that we have to classify things or put things in specific genres in order for it to be seen as something. So for marketing purposes, I hope people see it as a horror film and then when they see it go, “That wasn’t really a horror movie.”

Ethan: So the idea is that you would surprise them.

Jim: Yeah. The best reaction I get and I’m glad to get, we got it on Stake Land, too, is people that would say, “I hate horror films but my husband or boyfriend or girlfriend or friend dragged me along to see this and I really loved it.” I think that’s the coolest response.

Ethan: I talked about this a little bit with Nick, about issues of tone, because I think, if I understood correctly, in your writing relationship he would be inclined to be more over the top and you would bring him down to earth a bit. To what extent at any moment were you worried that people would find it all too much. Maybe they'd actually laugh? Like Evil Dead, horror scary but at a certain point it's comical. There’s a lot comedy in it. At what point do you wonder that the audience might become overwhelmed? Is there a tipping point at any place? Find it all too silly to believe?

Jim: I wasn’t too concerned with it only because I think it comes from such a strong place of character and, as big as those moments are, I think that hopefully we’ve been restrained enough up until then to let you know that we’re going there because we have to. Without it, I think, it would feel dishonest in a way because, at the end of the day, they are cannibals. I like that we’re able for so long to hold off and if anything presented, [it would be] as sort of beautiful and fragile and delicate. So that big ending, if anything, I hope it plays sort of in an absurd theater way. But I don’t worry that it will be. I hear a lot of laughter, I hear a lot of that. Some of that I think is nervous laughter and not knowing what to do, and a lot of people I think respond in way that’s like, “Yes!” and are kind of surprised that they have that feeling, which I think is great.

So, yeah, Nick goes big on stuff, and the times I pull him back are times when it doesn’t feel like it’s connecting to what’s going on and in that case [of the ending] it was, it felt good to go forward. In general, Nick pushes forward. I think a lot of times it’s my job to give him confidence and say, “You don’t need to go that big. You’ve done a great job of doing this.” It’s really tough, especially when you’re doing a script like this, because it’s so understated, it’s so repressed. And, of course, when you know what’s going on, it’s really tough to read it as if you don’t, or write it as if you don’t know what’s going on. So a lot of times I think it’s more my job to give him reassurance that you’re doing the right thing and have confidence in yourself and your characters.

Ethan: How does that writing relationship work? You’ve written several scripts together and two of them have been produced, or three?

Jim: At this point, four have been produced. We shot one this summer, so four have been produced and then probably two or three others that either we’re still working on or haven’t come. But I think it’s great. We sit, we talk, we germinate, and then I sort of leave him alone and give him space to do his thing. And we don’t outline or anything, he just starts form page one knowing the general gist of what we want to do and then he makes discoveries along the way. I think that can be good and that can be bad because sometimes you go down the wrong path. But I think he also uncovers things that are pretty great, like that ending. A lot of great moments of the film are moments that we don’t even talk about. They pop up. And sometimes we talk about stuff well in advance.

Ethan: So that ending [which I still don't want to reveal!] wasn’t in the original film, the script?

Jim: No, that wasn’t in the original film. It was really in one of the last drafts of the script. It took a long time to find it. And there were good endings up until then, but they were all big. I remember one of them took place on a cliff and they [the Parker family] all fall off a cliff and they land in a ravine and it goes back to the cave thing. And it felt good, but it always felt disingenuous to the first half of the movie because the first half is so small and so scaled down, it’s just people sitting around a table. So it felt dishonest to then open it up just to open it up. For a while I was pushing [Nick] to find something that was emotionally huge, but didn’t break our idea of almost doing it as a stage play, a one-room stage play. So I think that was what brought that about. But generally, yeah, he sends me stuff every day and I’ll read it every day and I’ll hoard over it and send back ideas. I think I’m more structure oriented. I think especially when he’s writing cold and finding things as he goes, I think I come in a help him find the roadmap for it.

Ethan: So Nick does most of on the ground, “This is what this character says.”

Jim: Yes, very much. I try to leave dialogue to him as much as I can. He writes great dialogue but he’s also an actor, and so he’s so good at writing dialogue that most people don’t write, which is really succinct. He has a Hemingway way of writing dialogue and action. It’s funny, we did Cold in July, this book that we just adapted, and first we both started writing it so I could play with what I wanted to play with and he could play with what he wanted to play with. And at some point, he had done the entire thing and I was maybe twenty pages into the script and my twenty pages encompassed just a few scenes in the book. It was long and had these directing flourishes and descriptions and long dialogue. He’s just great at finding economic ways of doing things. So I’ll leave most of that to him and then as it comes down, I’ll do a director’s pass on it. I think also because I come more from an editing background, I’ll start to almost edit the script as if it was a movie and if there’s something that I don’t know how to do than I’ll jump in and start to write and play around with dialogue. But for the most part it’s good when I leave him up to his own devices.

Ethan: I’ve gotten the impression that you’ve done pretty much everything on a set but acting. You’re a storyboard artist too. You’ve done some drawing as well.

Jim: I worked on set for a while. I was a grip for three or four years. And then storyboard artist, while I was in college. I was getting a lot of work while I was a junior and senior. I almost thought about leaving at some point because I was getting so much work and it’d be finals and I’d be storyboarding two features. It was great education because it was almost always with a first time director. The first things I did, I was 19, and I went to Arkansas, and it was just myself and the cinematographer and the director. We would just go from location to location and talk through everything. It was the greatest film school experience because I’d only done my freshman year in school and all of the sudden I was living with these guys, seeing how they do it.

Ethan: Where’d you go to school?

Jim: NYU undergrad for film production. So I did that for a while and then a lot of the producers I was working with, when September 11th came, a lot of people moved to LA. There was kind of a freeze on movies being made in New York for a while, at least indie movies. So I went the PA [Production Assistant] route when I graduated, did a lot of gripping. And I enjoyed that, and I met Linda Moran, my girlfriend. She’s going to produce all of the stuff that we’ve done on a film called Transamerica. Then at some point, I think Nick had done In The Cut, the Jane Campion thing, and I think he was hoping that was going to take off. That was a great role. He was great in that. The performances were great in that. And I think it seemed to everybody that, “Oh, Nick’s going to take off now.” And then I was frustrated because I had just worked on six romantic comedies and working sixteen hours a day and living out of a hotel room, and was like, “This is never going to lead to getting a movie made.” So I think out of frustration the two of us -- I jumped out and started editing, I just bought a tower and Final Cut Pro and started editing anything I could find and started working my way up. I started doing documentaries and corporate stuff, and then we decided at some point that we have all the tools we need to make our own movie, so that was Mulberry Street.

Ethan: That’s a pretty ballsy move. I mean, you did go to film school but just the idea that you were able to jump around in the industry so much. Many have made comparisons between you and Guillermo del Toro and people like that, directors who are also talented visual artists themselves, and have the ability to visualize what their film is going to look like. As opposed to someone like Hitchcock, who probably couldn’t draw a stick figure. But there are these amazing storyboards of his movies. They hired someone like you to do it, to bring his vision to life, as opposed to being able to do it yourself and say, “This is what the frame is going to look like.” That must be helpful as a director to have that skill.

Jim: It is, yeah. But I also learned a lot because my senior film then, I storyboarded everything to a T and it was this beautiful book at the time of the entire movie of everything I wanted it to be. But then the final result was this movie that felt like a slideshow of storyboards or paintings, because the cinematography was great and we really matched things up, but it just didn’t flow. I think I learned a lot about how much to rely on that stuff and also how to let things on set also dictate. If you get there and the set looks amazing, look in that [other] direction, move the camera. So I learned a lot through that. This is probably where I was the closest to that original style. But also my cinematographer was a good artist. We’ve gotten to the point now on the one we just did where we’d look at the shot list, but the shot list would just be, “two shot arrow blah blah blah.” It would be a quick thumbnail sketch of what it would be. So instead of shot lists or storyboards, we had just a whole book of thumbnails.

Ethan: So that allows you to be not so wedded to the storyboard, which is probably helpful.

Jim: Yeah, exactly.

Ethan: I want to talk a little bit about location and the decision as to why you shot where you did. I’d also like to talk about some of the casting decisions, particularly Kelly McGillis, because she’s been in your last two films and, unless I’ve missed parts of her career, it seems like she completely disappeared off the map and then came back for these movies, which seems like an interesting choice for her.

Jim: Yeah, I agree.

Ethan: How did that come about. Maybe you could talk about that first. I’d be very curious as to how you got her involved and how you persuaded her.

Jim: Well, Stake Land was a really hard role to cast because it was probably the worst movie to send around to people because, originally when we were sending it around to actors and actresses, we were shooting it in three chunks spread out over three seasons. So basically you had to be unavailable for anything else for three seasons, yet we were paying absolutely nothing. And each time it was like, “We’re going to be in the woods in upstate New York.” And then her character was just abused the entire movie.

Ethan: That’s right. And her character in that movie [a nun who goes by the name of "Sister"], it's a pretty harsh role.

Jim: There’s very little dialogue. So much of it is just acting with your body, and I don’t know, sometimes I think actors like seeing that, sometimes they hate it. So [the script] was the worst thing to send around in the world. I remember we set it at some point for a whole day of auditions and literally nobody showed up. And then we were sending it to certain people and nobody showed up, nobody would even call back. It was a nightmare. And then we started shooting the movie, and I think that role started the sixth day of the shoot.

It was day three and we still hadn’t even heard back from anyone mildly interested. They were going to put the shoot on hiatus and send everyone home until we could cast it, and then bring everyone back. And I said, “That’s a nightmare. We’re going to lose crew, we’re going to lose cast. This is a nightmare.” And then our casting director sent a list of like four people that he thought were outside the box choices. I forget who the other three were, but Kelly McGillis was on the list and I remember sending an email back and saying, “Nice try, but that’s the one way to make sure this movie doesn’t get finished is to lob a Hail Mary pass to somebody who hasn’t done a movie in eleven years and shows no sign of being interested in low budget horror films.” But for some reason he was convinced that she would be interested, and then I wrote a letter to her. And then complete luck, we were shooting in my dad’s backyard outside of Redding, Pennsylvania, and she actually had moved back to Redding after Witness a few months before and I completely forgot. She told me afterward that she took it because she didn’t have to go to New York or LA, she could just drive twenty minutes to work every day.

She was so much fun, she was really goofy. I think Hollywood had beaten up her up a lot. I think she got there [on our set] and found we liked to enjoy ourselves and we all look at it as a privilege, what we’re doing. I have a feeling that it was the first time in a long time that she had seen that, that she had just seen a lot of people who like to make movies and who do it and enjoy themselves and not taking themselves too seriously. Hopefully it went back to everything she liked about it. I think she had a great time. She never saw the movie.

Ethan: Oh, really? That’s weird.

Jim: Yeah, she came to Toronto and she stuck around for like two minutes. She doesn’t like horror movies. As far as I know, she hasn’t seen this either. But I think she knew that it did well and that people responded to it. Nick wrote it for her specifically, this role, and every script he wrote after that, there would always be a role for her. And so he wrote this one and we just called her and said, “Please come back,” and we started describing the script and she said, “I’m there. Forget it, I’m there.”

Ethan: Wow, that’s amazing.

Jim: Yeah, and she’s so much fun.

Ethan: Because her character meets an untimely -- I forget if her character in Stake Land meets an untimely end.

Jim: She does, she blows her head off in a cornfield.

Ethan: That’s right. If she’s not a fan of horror movies, particularly of your movie, the latest movie -- uh, there’s one gritty, gruesome, throat-slitting scene she's in. How did she react?

Jim: She had fun with that. She had fun with that because she can’t be like, “I’ve never done a stunt before.” It wasn’t a stunt. It was mildly leaning forward onto a mat. And she was pretty excited about that.


Ethan: What about the decision to cast Bill Sage [as Frank, the head of the Parker family]? I’m curious about how that decision came about?

Jim: I just I loved Bill. First I saw when we were looking at Julia [Garner, who plays his daughter in We Are What We Are], they sent scenes of her from Electric Children that I was kind of blown away by. And one of those scenes she was in with Bill Sage, and crazy enough I had kept having conversations about Bill Sage recently because I think my girlfriend Linda was casting something. They were looking at casting lists and I was helping, and I remember at one point we were looking and we saw Bill Sage, and I said, “I love Bill Sage.” And she said, “Everybody loves Bill Sage.”

And when I was falling in love with movies, I had seen a Hal Hartley film and that was one of the first auteur directors that I really fell in love with. Simple Men was a movie that I loved and owned on VHS and I would just watch and wear it out. I loved everything about that. And I kept seeing him over the years in stuff and every time he was completely different and he was one of those guys that I was like, “I wonder what that guy is like in real life.” Because you see him as kind of bookish in Simple Men, you see him as a coke fiend in America Psycho, and then Mysterious Skin, and then the next movie he stood out was in this movie called EvenHand where he played this Texas cop, like a really cocky macho Texas cop that blew me away because I was like, “How is that the same damn guy?” That kept happening and then I told the casting director, “We don’t want to go toward hillbilly redneck, which you could go easily with this role. We want somebody that they can step in and make it a character and hopefully somebody who’s really charismatic and likeable.” And right away he said Bill Sage, and I remember not being sure at first. I remember thinking, “I don’t know if he can stretch that far. He’s so good looking, he’s so chiseled, and he’s such a debonair guy.” And then he came in for an audition and I think he had read it the night before and then didn’t sleep, and stayed in the character, and then came in with every prop he had. And he did the scene with me and he had every beat down, and then we just sat and read Jon Krakauer’s Under The Banner of Heaven.

Ethan: He mentioned that when I spoke with him, that he was very affected by that book and the portrayals of violence and religious fanaticism.

Jim: I think he mentioned that, and that was one of the things I really hoped had come through in the script, and so we both just had an instant connection and we cast him. I was kind of nudging the casting director even before he started talking, I was like, “This is the guy, this is the guy, this is the guy.”

Ethan: You mentioned the hillbilly thing because I think initially it’s unclear where the film was talking place. You don’t make any explicit references to New York. Although if you know what houses look like in New England or in the Northeast, you can guess it’s probably New England.

Jim: Yeah, although some people think Southern.

Ethan: Yeah, particularly with the way Bill talks. It’s not with a Southern accent, but there’s kind of a country accent. And then at one point there’s a shot of their house and you see their truck pull in and you see the New York license plate. “Okay it’s probably somewhere in upstate New York.” But it could just as well be in Arkansas or whatever.

Jim: Anywhere.

Ethan: You were saying the stereotypical thing would be to have it set in some redneck town, backwater kind of thing. Did you willfully make, aside from having to have a New York license plate, the location be vague?

Jim: I think so. We knew we wanted to shoot there because we knew it was gorgeous and I’m sure Nick told you there was a flood there the year before and that was inspiration. Hurricane Irene had come through and just destroyed this town. So we shot Stake Land there.

Ethan: What was the town?

Jim: Margaretville, New York. We shot Stake Land there and my girlfriend had a place there and I had moved in with her, we sort of lived part time there. So we were very, very, very familiar with the area. And then Hurricane Irene came and skipped over New York City altogether. We went up there to get away and it just demolished that town. It just came up and washed the entire town away. It was amazing to see in an afternoon how quickly a storm could just wipe a town off the face of the earth. It was crazy. And we had just been there the year before with Stake Land doing an apocalyptic film, so it was the most surreal thing in the world to come back just a year later and see the real deal just a year later. So we knew we wanted to incorporate that into some film, no matter what it was, and that was the first thing when we connected it to the original We Are What We Are. It just transplanted to that.

Ethan: Obviously you didn’t get a backhoe in there to make all this debris and trees and so forth, and obviously there’s a sense in the movie that the bridge washes out, but it’s unclear that the whole town is inundated.

Jim: I think we wound up not wanting to go so far with it, that it engulfed the whole story. More just that idea of endless rain and that being the thing that kills their mom and also washes up their entire history and the fact that he’s completely powerless to stop it. So yeah, we knew we wanted to shoot there, we knew we wanted to take advantage of all that. And then I like stories that don’t take place now. I find now really boring. I find modernity boring in movies. I think Nick does too. Luckily, I think that’s one of the reasons why we like each other. So I think there’s an element to everything that we wind up doing that’s like, “What time period does this take place in?” It’s kind of like the cell phones and the license plate are the only thing that really anchor us and then hope for the rest the time that it can be anywhere. And also since this is such a stand in for any religion or any family values I wanted that it could be anywhere.

Ethan: What are the movies that you grew up on that influenced you most in the genre, would you say?

Jim: John Carpenter’s The Thing. It did such a great job of mashing up genres, and I kind of discovered Westerns out of that because I saw that, and I loved horror movies, and it’s that. It’s sci-fi, it did creature/monster effects and over the top effects without detracting from the story. So many times that comes in and all of the sudden you don’t take it seriously, but it actually did that and upped the ante on it. Dario Argento's Suspiria was the movie that just got under my skin and I spent a long time trying to figure out why it worked that way. Army of Darkness and the Evil Dead trilogy -- that was the thing that kicked it off and made me want to grow up to make movies. And then Dead Alive and Bad Taste, Peter Jackson’s stuff. But also his turn to go to Heavenly Creatures I think also had influence because that was also right when I was evolving from not just liking horror movies but movies in general, and seeing somebody that was mixing things up.

Ethan: Sounds about right. I was going to guess some of those people. Particularly Evil Dead and for some reason I was thinking of the Mad Max movies just from Stake Land. I mean, obviously once you get into the post-apocalyptic genre you’re up against this incredible list of movies, from Planet of the Apes world, whatever, go as far back as you want.

Jim: Also Robert Rodriguez as a filmmaker. I think anybody that makes those low budget movies now will reference that, but he’s huge.

Ethan: One last question. Why horror? Why that genre? Are you ultimately trying to scare people? Teach people? What is it about the genre that you find appealing?

Jim: I love it. I grew up watching it and I think I was scared as hell by it when I was younger. I think that’s part of it, a fascination with what had affected me so much when I was younger. But now I think it is such an interesting genre stylistically, and I think there’s very little change that happens in genres, and I think horror continues to evolve. It is fan based that’s incredibly passionate and incredibly loyal but they also encourage -- I think they’re the sharpest audience. They’ve seen every trick in the book and they really have a hunger for what’s next stylistically, narratively. And it’s so fun to engage in that.

I think it’s also the best genre to be able to explore bigger themes. Had we made a movie about a religious family and it was just a religious family, I don’t think I would’ve seen that movie and I don’t think people would really care. Same thing with it being vampires. Had we made a movie that was about the fall of the nation after an economic collapse and the rise of Tea Party and Fundamentalist Christians, I don’t think people would really care all that much. But I love that we were able to weave that into the story [of Stake Land] of a kid learning to fight vampires. So many people [asked], “Why make it with vampires? Why not do that?” And I [said], “That’s what’s fun about it because it gives you a little bit of a distance and it means you don’t have to be so literal. And then I think the metaphor makes everything that much richer.” So I think the horror genre is the best genre to be able to explore that kind of stuff.

We Are What We Are website

[Photo of Jim Mickle at the Eliot Hotel, Boston; credit: Ethan Gilsdorf]

Published 11:12 am Thu, Oct 10, 2013

About the Author

Ethan Gilsdorf is a journalist, memoirist, critic, poet, and teacher. He wrote the award-winning travel memoir investigation Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms. Gilsdorf's articles, essays, op-eds and reviews on the arts, pop culture, film, books, gaming, geek culture and travel regularly appear in the New York Times, Boston GlobeSalon.comBoingBoing.netPsychologyToday.com, GeekDad, Washington Post and wired.com and dozens of other magazines, newspapers, websites and guidebooks worldwide. As an expert on geek culture, Gilsdorf frequently speaks in public, and appears on TV, radio, Internet media and in documentary films. He is a lover of ELO and a hater of littering. Sometimes he wears a tunic and chainmail, or these grampy pants. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts. More info at ethangilsdorf.com or follow him on Twitter.

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