AICN HORROR: Ambush Bug talks with director Nicholas McCarthy about ghosts, horror, and topping the UK Box Office with his new film THE PACT!!!
Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. This time around I catch up with writer/director Nicholas McCarthy whose film THE PACT was a downright pleasant surprise to me when I reviewed it a few weeks ago and it’s currently available on Video On Demand. I had a chance to touch base with Nicholas about the film, where the story came from, and what it is like to have his first hit horror film. I’ve included my previously posted review at the bottom of the column as well. Here’s what Nicholas had to say…
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): Hi, Nicholas.
NICHOLAS MCCARTHY (NC): Hey, Mark. How’s it going?
BUG: Good, good. I’m glad to speak with you, I’m glad you have time to talk with me today. I just wanted to touch base about THE PACT. I saw the movie a while back, and I got the review, and I think, actually, you emailed me a little while afterwards, I might have corresponded...
BUG: ...with you then. But, it was a fantastic film. Can you tell people who don’t know much about the film what it’s about?
NC: Oh wow, that question, huh? You know, it’s funny. I’ve been doing a lot of interviews, and like, no one ever asks me to actually just, like, summarize the movie.
NC: It’s a movie about a pair of sisters, and their mother passes away. They’ve been estranged from her for a while because of a troubled past they have with their family. They return home, to their childhood home, to take care of the business of their mom’s estate, and once they get there they realize that there’s, they sense some other kind of presence in the house with them. They get there to stay two months more with the remnants. I remember you now, Mark, you said you watched it with your girlfriend, right?
BUG: Yes, I did. Yeah, I did, and it really scared the hell out of us. So, what has been the reaction of people who have seen this? I saw it on TV, but on a small screen, but it’s been in limited release, or it’s going to be in limited release, is that correct?
NC: Yeah. Well, it’s interesting. You know, the movie premiered at Sundance, and I think when it premiered there was this sort of talk that some of the buyers had about the movie, that some people believed that it could be like a giant, multi-screen release a la Insidious, or something like that? And then others, you know, were like, “well, it’s a modest little horror movie, so should be treated as such.” And what we’re seeing with the release, which is kind of interesting, is that here, in America, it’s been released! You know, a few cities it premiered on Video on Demand a few weeks back, and we kind of went that route. And in England, this distributor named E1 put it out as a, you know, a big movie. It opened there two or three weeks ago, and the top five films, top four films were, for that Nicholas McCarthy con’t: weekend at the box office, were PROMOETHEUS, MEN IN BLACK III, SNOW WHITE & THE HUNTSMAN, and then THE PACT.
NC: The next week, we had only dropped to number 5. Our drop at the theater was only forty-something percent, which is really good!
BUG: Well, congratulations on that, that’s pretty amazing.
NC: Well, it’s a funny thing because we never really planned it that way. I mean, nothing was planned, it was just kind of, I kind of looked at my notes on the grounds that I just wanted to make a movie that I wanted to see. It was written very quickly, we shot very quickly, and when we premiered at Sundance, I had never even watched it with an audience before, and it was such a crazy thing to think so many of these people over there in England, and now everywhere, are getting to see it.
BUG: Yeah, that’s great. What was it like sitting in the crowd there watching people watch your movie at Sundance?
NC: Well, I watched it twice up there, the only two times I watched the movie with an audience, and the first time was such a kind of surreal experience. It was very difficult to measure, really, how the film was playing because there were these massive screams in the audience, kind of roof shaking. When you premiere at Sundance, it’s a really great place to premiere for obvious reasons, and it’s like the worst place of the worst because essentially the room is filled with literally fifty percent of industry people who are buyers, who are trying to assess your movie into product?
NC: Then, the other, you know, let’s say forty percent are internet journalists who are trying to decide whether your movie is either BLACK SWAN or NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, or the next PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE. And then there’s, like, the ten percent left of the crowd that are actually there just to see a movie. It wasn’t until I watched the movie a few days later that it struck me in parts to me that I was like, “oh, this is working.”
NC: At one point I just went to the bathroom, and I ran into my producer of the movie because we both were taking piss at the same time because we both knew, “OK, this is the section where nothing happens for a few minutes.” And I was like, “wow! It’s Nicholas McCarthy con’t: playing great!” And he was like, “yeah man, people are really into this movie!” And there was some other guy who was also taking piss, and he was like, “this movie is freaking me out!”
BUG: That’s awesome! You do walk a fine line between the supernatural and the real world horrors that are in your story. How did you decide what to put in as far as the supernatural aspects? And was it a, I’m sure it was a conscious decision, to keep the two intertwined but separate? Is that a good way of describing it?
NC: Yeah. Well, you know, that kind of changed, when we made changes when looking at release boards. I think I was just a fan of movies and having been the guy who not only took a great experience two years ago, like, I tried to just, you know, reading it. But, what I realized I liked to do is proofread what I was writing, which tried to find those moments that were like the equivalent of, “the call is coming from inside the house!” You know?
NC: That’s the kind of moment that, you know, there are some of those moments in film, like, you know, I don’t know, the adrenaline shot scene in PULP FICTION or something when I’m like, “God, if I could do something like that, I would, I’d be happy.” I’m not sure how it came about that I made that decision that there would be this real thrill, but when I kind of came across it, I was like, “that’s the moment,” you know? That’s the moment that kind of starts their third act. It’s like anything when you write, you just kind of, if something excites you, you just kind of follow that. And for me, I think, in retrospect, it wouldn’t be in front of us, at least wouldn’t be conscious, it’s almost like a meditation, where horror would come since I was a kid in the eighties, kind of. In the nineties, horror kind of split into these two different kinds of subgenres, and that was, like, the supernatural of ghost stories that was representative of kind of seminal J horror films that were made in the nineties. And then, the serial killer subgenre, which, you know, SE7EN were then into the kind of horror into the hands of another, like, diabolical, kind of HOSTEL type, you know, R rated, slasher stuff.
NC: I like both of those films, you know, I like both of those subgenres, and I was like, “oh, this seems cool, they kind of go together like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.”
BUG: Well, did you, as far as edits or anything like that, what was this film rated? I’m not sure, is it PG-13 or is it R?
NC: That’s funny because when we were just about to shoot the movie, our executive producer, who is the financier, was like, “give me a call,” and he was like, “so, what is this movie rated?” And I felt like I had been, like, you know, avoiding that question for a long time because one of my favourite things in a film is just that all bets are off, you don’t really know where it’s going to go.
NC: And, in a way I didn’t want to be a slave to anyone that this has to be PG-13. Because there’s a point, you know, in about an hour into the film where Casper gets stabbed in the throat, when it’s like, “OK, this is an R rated moment.”
NC: You know? And that was the thing that excited me. So, I just kind of avoided it? And there’s actually even some suggestion, not really so much about the rating, but of preserving the mystery that maybe you wouldn’t see Casper die? And I was like, “that is just stupid. We have to f**king see that guy die.” That’s what I want to see in that movie, is Casper Van Dien get stabbed in the throat. S, at the end of the day, it’s not rated in America.
NC: Because it’s, you know, just limited release, but in England it got a 15 for strong bloody violence and threat.
BUG: Threat. Oh, wow. Well, I guess there is a lot of threat in there. My observation was, I that think the scares, they were these really big scares, but it wasn’t like it was over the top gore or anything like that. A lot of it was just a movement in the background or a shifting in the background or things like that, and that gets under my skin a lot more than a lot of the other things. What films did you watch to kind of model your film after, or the style or the tone? Or any ideas that you got for the film?
NC: I think a bunch of the Argento movies from the seventies. I watched FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET again a couple years ago. It was a movie that I had only seen, like, in a print a couple times, and I never had really liked it as much at other times, and then I watched it again, and there was just something about some of the sequences in that film and the way he moved the camera that really kind of stuck with me. So, a lot of the way that the camera moves and follows the characters in THE PACT is modeled after some of the sequences in that film. Like how it sizes the frame, like where they are in the frame, and that kind of heading to the camera. The film, in a way, and yet it wasn’t really conscious, kind of moves from kind of that person in the middle of the night in a dark room thing that, I guess Nicholas McCarthy con’t: some people would say was J horror because it’s about, there’s a ghost there, but that to me, that stuff when she’s walking around in the dark in the first chapter, actually feels more slasher to me or something.
BUG: Yeah. As far as the cast is concerned, what was it like tearing out Casper Van Dien’s throat?
NC: Working with them?
BUG: Yeah, working with the cast. And as far as with Casper Van Dien, what was it like being able to tear out his throat there?
NC: That was like a dream come true. When the movie screened at Sundance, I hadn’t seen a friend of mine in about fifteen years, a guy I went to highschool with, and he came out and saw the movie, and we were having drinks afterwards. He always knew me as the guy who loved horror movies and B-movies, and he was laughing about the fact that I made this movie where I got to stab Casper Van Dien in the throat. I got to stab this B-movie actor in the throat. It was sort of like a primal moment for me as a filmmaker because, really, THE PACT was made as a kind of film that I wanted to see when I was PG, that’s kind of what I imagined. The short film that inspired it, a kind of controlled and grating, and ambiguous film, which is another kind of movie that I like. To answer your question about the cast, there’s people in the movie who came in the room when we were having our auditions who just came and did something totally different with the part and just really kicked my ass. Haley Hudson, who plays the psychic. It’s such a joy to write something, and then someone comes in and performs it, and they just do something that you never could plan. Casper was cast while we were shooting the movie.
BUG: Oh, OK.
NC: Had him fill that role. Because we made this film so fast. I wrote it in six weeks, and we were casting shortly after that, and then when we were making the movie, we had never cast that role, so what we did were shuffle all of his scenes to later in the shoot, and they held a casting call during the shoot. So, I couldn’t actually attend those auditions. Then, one day my friend Sam, who is one of the producers of the movie, came up to me after we were finished shooting, and I said, “how did the testing go for the detective,” and he was like, he took a little pause and said, “Casper Van Dien came in.” And I was like, “The Casper Van Dien? You’ve got to be kidding me!” Then, I met Casper, and I just really liked him. He’s such an interesting kind of personality. It did feel kind of left field, but I think he’s such a Nicholas McCarthy con’t: wonderful guy and has such an interesting presence, and it was really fun just working with him, he has so many stories--Robert Mitchum. I would talk to him about movies, and he actually knows a lot about the history of film, and we would sit around and talk, and Caity Lotz, our star she doesn’t know. She was like, “Robert Mitchum who?” And I would say, “Robert Mitchum. The great actor.” It was a blast working with him.
BUG: Very cool, and he really does a great job with this role, and it’s interesting because I haven’t seen him for quite a long time, and he’s aged into this kind of gruff looking P.I. sort of guy.
NC: It’s funny. He really got into the role because there’s a certain part of his personal life that he put into it. That’s what you do with actors, you talk to them and kind of give them an idea of what this person is, and then they figure out a way to kind of draw a line between something in that character’s life to their own life, and he definitely did that with that character.
BUG: Cool. You said that this was a short film beforehand. Was that your first film that you did, the short film?
NC: No, I’ve been making short films since I was ten years old. I always was the guy who loved to watch movies and wanted to make them. It really wasn’t until I got into my thirties that I started to think maybe I should really try to do this thing that I’ve always wanted to do, which is direct in film. At some point I started to put a little more effort and intent into the shorts that I was making. I was never making genre films. What I was doing while I was making short films and started to play them at festivals, I started to write screenplays, and I had never done that before, writing feature scripts. I started about four or five years ago, and I instantly gravitated towards doing horror because it’s the genre that I just love, and I felt really comfortable writing them. I had a couple of mini screenwriting jobs which could barely justify me ever being called a professional screenwriter, and it was pathetic money, but it was just enough to me a little hope. I was like, “OK, I got hired for this slasher movie, now they’re going to pay me $7,000 for like five drafts,” and that’s cool, for a few months I can live on that. By the time of THE PACT short, I kind of developed a skill as a writer and director, but I did The Pact short kind of out of frustration. It wasn’t designed to be a thriller for a feature, and it was very much of a piece with the other things that I had been doing in short films, and they were kind of more art films in some ways. The difference with this movie was that it used a horror atmosphere. It got into Sundance, and we cleared it there. It was clear that the movie was working because everyone who walked up to me to talk about the movie all said the same thing. They all said, “that movie scared the s**t out of me.” I realized that maybe I have this ability to kind of take that stuff that I had put on a page and actually could put it on a screen. There was a guy who saw the movie up at Sundance, the short film, and he knows Jamie Carmichael, and she is the president of the film division of Nicholas McCarthy con’t: Content Media Corporation. They finance indie films, and she just brought me in for a meeting, my only meeting, and she said, “let’s make a movie.”
BUG: Very cool. Is that film available because I actually did try to look up the short film on Youtube, and I couldn’t find it? It is available or is it...?
NC: I think it’s going to be available really soon. When I made it, I had this whole thing about how I didn’t want it on the internet because just I thought that was just a terrible place to watch something. If they have it in the future, I just figure it’s fine, people should see it. I think it’s going to be an extra on the DVD. I think it’s going to be put on iTunes, etc. soon. It’s seven minutes long. It’s a movie that I’m really, really proud of. I think in some ways it’s the best short film that I ever made. It got me just a little bit of attention from this one company. It was kind of an obscure short film in a lot of ways, but it was just enough so a few guys saw it and were like, “wow, I’ll bet this guy could do a movie of this. Let’s spend a Q amount of money on this guy and see if he can come up with something that’s saleable.” That’s how THE PACT was born.
BUG: Now that you do have that notoriety, and you have a top five grossing film over in England...
NC: In the U. K.
BUG: ...in the UK, so what is your next project? What are you going to be working on next?
NC: Well, I know that you’re a genre fan.
BUG: Yes, I am.
NC: I’ve read your genre reviews, that’s the first time I read it. I love Ain’t It Cool, and of course, for you to review it has meant a lot to me because it’s such an awesome comic site. I am doing another independent genre film that we’re going to be shooting in the fall. Basically, what happens after Sundance there’s a lot of this, kind of, your head kind of fuzzes with all the things that you think you want to be. I got some new agents and a new manager, and they’re all great. They just wanted to indulge me in whatever I wanted to do, but what I realized is that they’re really not that into this because my heroes are people like David Cronenberg, and I look at Cronenberg’s career after he made THEY CAME FROM WITHIN, one of my favourite movies, he made RABID, he made a movie that’s just maybe slightly bigger, but a lot of it concerns written and directed by independent film, and that’s what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to f**k around doing a studio movie or trust sites to get one of those, or be one a million people that goes in and pitches on the TV or whatever. I got into this to make stuff, and make stuff I think would be cool, so I went away and wrote another Nicholas McCarthy con’t: script, and we’re going to shoot it in the fall.
BUG: That’s pretty much all of my questions. I really was impressed with THE PACT. It was a really fantastic film, and I can’t wait to find out what you have next coming up for us. Please stay in touch, and congratulations on a great film.
NC: Thank you so much. The fact that you gave me such a great review on that site, it just means a lot to me because that’s really, there’s so many voices out there. There are some voices that you feel as though you can trust, and I feel like I can trust in yours because of Ain’t It Cool and because I read your others, so you’re doing good stuff over there, so I’m glad you dug it.
BUG: Well, thank you. Yeah, thanks a lot. Alright, take care, and best of luck on your upcoming projects, and congratulations on THE PACT. It really was a great film.
NC: OK, cool. Thank you, Mark.
BUG: Great, thanks a lot. Take Care.
And now here’s my review of THE PACT!
Available on VOD on IFC Midnight and in limited theaters July 6th!
THE PACT (2012)Directed by Nicholas McCarthy
Written by Nicholas McCarthy
Starring Caity Lotz, Casper Van Dien, Agnes Bruckner, Mark Steger, Haley Hudson, Kathleen Rose Perkins
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Though I wasn’t expecting much going into THE PACT, by the five minute mark I found myself leaping from my chair in fear at what was going on. There were a few leaps in logic in the making of this one, but filled with moments of pure creep and terror, THE PACT is a film I’m recommending for those who love all things scary. An old fashioned ghost story, more along the lines of THE OTHERS and INSIDIOUS than PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, THE PACT is a ghost story worth getting behind.
Originally a short film, director Nicholas McCarthy has expanded on the concept without making it seem stretched too thin. The story follows a pair of sisters whose mother has recently passed away. The mother leaves the sisters a house and a horrible secret. When the first sister (Kathleen Rose Perkins) comes to the home, she soon disappears after a freaky interaction with her child over Skype. Then Annie the other sister (a loner motorcyclist played by Caity Lotz) arrives, she finds an empty house full of mystery. After a night of sheer horror that will surely make you jump out of your skin in fear, she realizes that otherworldly things are going on. Things get even creepier when a secret room is found with holes drilled in the walls giving someone or something a secret viewing room for everything that transpired in the house.
Great performances all around help make THE PACT easy to get caught up in. Caity Lotz is great and gruff as Annie the tough sister who is scared shitless, but perseveres against the forces of the unknown. Casper Van Dien even gives a good turn as the chiseled yet unshaven cop who somewhat believes the story of the distraught woman. And Haley Hudson has a nice smaller role as a creepy medium.
A creepy house, an otherworldly presence, a dark closet, and secret rooms all contribute to the thrills that pile atop one another in THE PACT. McCarthy takes his time unfolding this intricate plot of betrayal and secrets between mothers and daughters. McCarthy uses forced camera angles, trick photography and sincerely frightening imagery to scare the pants off of you in this little film. One of the aspects that is most rewarding is that the action rarely goes outside of this creepy abode, keeping this a tight thriller that never overshoots or shows the rough edges of a film made for this budget.
McCarthy got me more than once in this film, which hits hard in its action and isn’t afraid to get in your face with the scares. I don’t want to ruin too much of the terrors within THE PACT, but I will say you will be scared. The name of the film leaves a lot to be desired and I think many will overlook this one because of it. Another detriment is that people are wandering in and out of a crime scene investigated by the police with no worry. This plot hole is only a minor distraction from a truly great horror film.
THE PACT can be seen on VOD now at IFC Midnight and will have a limited theatrical run soon. No matter how you catch it, make sure you do. THE PACT is not to be missed.
THE PACT is opening in select theaters this weekend and is available on Video On Demand now! Do yourself a favor and check it out!
See ya Friday, folks!
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/reviewer/co-editor of AICN Comics for over ten years. He has written comics such as MUSCLES & FIGHTS, MUSCLES & FRIGHTS, VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, WONDERLAND ANNUAL 2010 & NANNY & HANK (soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND & has co-written their first ever comic book LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in October 2012 as an 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark has just announced his new comic book miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment to be released in March 2012.
Interested in illustrated films, fringe cinema, and other oddities?
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July 5, 2012, 10:34 a.m. CST
It's a decent slow-burn, with some quite effective scenes.
July 5, 2012, 10:54 a.m. CST
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