Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. This time I catch up with director Steven C. Miller on his new film UNDER THE BED. Miller’s latest is a bit of a departure for the director of AUTOMATON TRANSFUSION, SCREAM OF THE BANSHEE, THE AGGRESSION SCALE (reviewed here) and SILENT NIGHT (reviewed here). Here’s what Miller had to say when I caught up with him last week about his new film UNDER THE BED…
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): Hey Steven, what’s up?
STEVEN C. MILLER (SCM): What’s up, dude? Long time, no see.
BUG: Yeah, lets jump right in with UNDER THE BED. I saw it last week. So how do you describe this film to people?
SCM: I describe it as a bother and sister movie that dips into horror. I think that’s the goal for me, to make that movie where it’s about sisters and brothers, but how far can we take that story and how deep into the horror world can we take these people and how violent can we get it?
BUG: Do you have a brother yourself?
SCM: I do. I have three brothers and so we were a pretty tight group. We are all about less than a year apart and so our thing was to hang out, build forts, play in the yard, watch movies, and we grew up with horror movies, so it’s like we were this group that just did everything together. I guess that’s where this came from and why it’s about brothers and not just friends. I feel like there’s just such a strong bond there that we wanted to have.
BUG: Yeah, those types of films are a personal favorite of mine too. I have a brother too and it really does a great job of articulating just the complex relationships between brothers and things like that.
SCM: It’s like LITTLE MONSTERS. LITTLE MONSTERS did it so well that I was like “It’d be fun to try to do something like that.”
BUG: Speaking of that, there are quite few movies that they made in the eighties that were kind of like this, like EXPLORERS and GREMLINS and THE GATE and things like that. Did you look at those for inspiration or did you see those when they first came out?
SCM: Yeah, I grew up with those movies and those are movies that have always been in my head and I’ve always tried to make or emulate something like that that has that sort of vibe and it’s been a goal of mine, because you don’t see those kinds of movies anymore and especially like THE GATE. That was definitely a movie that I went back and revisited before we made this movie, because I wanted to see how that movie did it… LITTLE MONSTERS. GREMLINS is a good choice, because GREMLINS could be a horror movie, but it’s really not. It’s also rated PG13 and I think if you showed it now, it’d be rated R. You know what I mean? It’s just such different times, so it felt like something really fun and different for me that I haven’t done and that was sort of the goal too, like what could I do that separates from everything I’ve been doing and just slow it down a little bit, focus on family a little bit and having this element of horror that’s going to get you in that third act. It just felt like something like the sort of movies I great up with.
BUG: Yeah, well I know that you recently had a baby and everything. Do you think that affected the way you wanted to make this film? It does definitely have a different tone than previous films.
SCM: Yeah, I mean I just felt like I wanted to not… The movie does get pretty violent, but I felt like I wanted to try my hand at doing something a little bit softer, a little bit more in the GOOSEBUMPS world and it is, because when you have a kid you look at things a lot differently, but I don’t’ think it changed my attitude as far as violence in cinema, it’s changed my attitude as far as “What would I enjoy trying to make at the moment, because I haven’t done it?” It was just that kind of thing, like “What kind of film can I do where I have this slow driving pace, yet build tension and then I can give the third act to the real horror fans and have real fun with it.” We did and we tried to make it work.
BUG: Yeah, and that third act definitely has a shift there. As I was watching it I was like “Wow, this is something really new for Steven” and then it gets to that last half hour and then it’s the stuff that I’ve seen in your previous films.
SCM: Right, that’s one of the things where I didn’t want to totally alienate the audience that I know that loves to watch my movies and likes stuff like that, but I didn’t want to alienate them completely. I also just felt like it was shocking. It was “What can we do in this kind of a movie where people would say “Oh shit, I didn’t see that coming” and so it felt like the right thing to do.
BUG: Yeah, and it looks like you used mostly practical effects during this. Is that true?
SCM: Yeah, it’s one hundred percent practical.
BUG: Was that due to budget or a conscious choice for you? Do you have a personal affinity towards practical effects?
SCM: Yeah, that’s a conscious choice. I mean even budget-wise I don’t think we could pull it off, but the idea of shooting it practical made the most sense. I mean if you go back and watch any of those old movies, it’s all practical and we just felt like we’ve been hitting these kids like in the past ten years, we’ve been hitting them so hard with CGI that it just felt to me I wanted something physical and practical on screen, so that might scare them just as bad as it scared us when we first saw this, because it’s the first time they are seeing this physical thing on screen. That was another thing too, like “Maybe this is new for the kids who’ve been watching CGI for the past ten years.”
BUG: Yeah and the monster under the bed, it’s a guy in a full body suit. How did the design of that come about?
SCM: Well the same team did he design work for the movie CONSTANTINE for all the demons and stuff like that and he was a guy who I met through Vincent Guastini, who does all my effects, and we just hit it off and once we decided we had to get a guy in a suit to do this, we had to scale it back, but it was just a really fun process to see this come to life. It was cool to do a full monster suit that was built from the ground up by physical people with a physical guy in it. There was just something really cool about that.
BUG: Definitely and was there any direction you gave as far as the initial design of it? What did you want to see in this monster?
SCM: Yeah, we talked about why it was there and what it could possibly do. It could leap up and eat them. At one point we had a scene where he’s like licking the bed, like his tongue comes out and he’s licking the bed. The idea was he also has this suction vacuum thing inside his skin and once he touched you then it sort of sucked your skin off and that was sort of eluded to when he grabs the dad and the dad’s face is sort of burning or frying before he breaks his face off. That’s sort of where we were going with that and I know that’s my initial idea, so I think that’s where we got to. When you come to the budget and time, you have to go “Okay, what’s the most important thing?” and focus on that. That’s what we did.
BUG: The kids in this movie swear and seem like real kids. Was that important for you to have them act that way?
SCM: Yeah. I felt like when I watched THE GOONIES for the first time, I felt like those were my friends, like STAND BY ME where one of them was smoking, one of them was cursing.. It wasn’t like this cookie cutter kid movie where they are all clean and they don’t do anything. It really was important that they felt like kids were growing up and going through experiences or had gone through experiences and were trying to deal with the world, so that was definitely important.
BUG: As far as choosing the child actors, what was it like working with kids? What was the process of finding the right actors for those roles?
SCM: As far as finding them goes we had a really great casting director who came on and worked with Gattlin and Jonny before. We saw probably two or three hundred kids. We saw a lot, but Jonny and Gattlin were both pretty much in the front. We saw them, but we had to keep going and then came back and put them in a room together and then once we put them in a room together it was really apparent that they were just great, that instantaneous connection, which is important since we were moving so fast. And so for that, I thought they were perfect and then working with them was even more perfect, because I’ve never seen two young guys so professional in my life where it’s like they’d show up on set, they knew their lines, they knew what they wanted to do. If they wanted to reword something, they were really fast. We probably never did more than three or two takes and that’s crazy with kids. So they just were really great and their parents were fantastic. In fact, Gattlin, the younger brother, his dad was our stuntman, so all of the stunts in the movie, he was the guy to do it.
BUG: Great. So as a kid were you afraid of the monster under the bed? That’s something that really haunted my dreams forever, how about you?
SCM: Yeah, it’s always been something for me. It’s always been that issue of “Do I look under there? Do I not look under there?” or having the light on versus not having the light on. You know what I mean, transitioning from that… I don’t really remember transitioning out of that as much as I remember just trying to convince my parents that I was over it. (Laughs) It’s definitely a thing I think people can connect to and that’s what I enjoyed about it too, it’s one of those universal things that everyone understands and so we just tried to have fun with it.
BUG: So what’s next for you? You said you’re off filing another movie soon. Is it another horror film?
SCM: It is not another horror film. The next movie I’m going to be doing is a thriller and so it’s more in the world of… It’s definitely a really fun sort of action-thriller, more in the world of AGGRESSION SCALE. I think I’m just trying to step outside the horror genre for a bit this year and see what I can do and just keep making different projects.
BUG: Fantastic. I really enjoy your films. I’ve seen all of them so far and I think you’re just getting better and better and they are getting more interesting, so congratulations on the success of this film. When can people see this? It’s in a limited theatrical run right now, correct?
SCM: It’s coming out July nineteenth, so that’s next week. As of right now they have it on two On Demand places like Comcast and Amazon Instant and then they will do the limited theatrical July nineteenth and July 30th they will do iTunes, RedBox, DVD, BluRay and so I think throughout the month you will have plenty of chances to try and catch it.
BUG: Okay, great. One last question, I ask it every time I interview you, what’s the word on MOTEL HELL?
SCM: (Laughs) What is the word on MOTEL HELL? I just talked Craig Berry, who is the producer on HOTEL HELL like three weeks ago and just said, “Hey man, are you going to get that movie going?” It’s really all about MGM. MGM is holding on. I know there are a few instances where the producers tried to buy the property to go make the movie and MGM is like “Oh, understandably. It’s a great project.” But I’m still on it, it’s just wandering around over there trying to figure out when… I think a lot of it has to do with ROBOCOP. I think if ROBOCOP does well, then MGM’s got to open back up their library, so let’s hope that movie does well.
BUG: Yeah, I hope so. Well I can’t wait to see that one, too. I’ve heard some of your ideas from that and I really want to see it. Congratulations and it’s great talking with you again.
SCM: You too, man. Have a great day.
BUG: You too, bye. UNDER THE BED is currently available on VOD, theatrical on July 19th, DVD/Blu-ray on July 30th!
Currently available on VOD, limited theatrical on July 19th, DVD/Blu-ray on July 30th!
(Find this film on Netflix here!)
UNDER THE BED (2013)Directed by Steven C. Miller
Written by Eric Stolze
Starring Jonny Weston, Gattlin Griffith, Peter Holden, Musetta Vander
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
UNDER THE BED is another impressive effort from Stephen C. Miller, a filmmaker I’ve been following since his first film AUTOMATON TRANSFUSION. Though his last film, SILENT NIGHT was just shy of the greatness of THE AGGRESSION SCALE (which is Miller’s best film to date), his new film feels more along the lines of THE AGGRESSION SCALE in terms of level of intensity and story told from the perspective of youth.
It seems in the 80’s (a time when both Miller and myself grew up) it was ok to place kids in dire danger. Films like GOONIES, EXPLORERS, LITTLE MONSTERS, and THE GATE thrilled and scared us because the kids in the film looked and acted like kids we knew, making it all the more effective when they were put up against danger and the forces of the unknown. Because they acted real, the threat to them felt all the more real as well. That 80’s Amblin feel which was sort of reproduced in JJ Abrams SUPER 8, is captured once again in UNDER THE BED. The film takes an age old childhood fear and does a pretty great job of bringing it to life.
The story follows troubled teen Neal (Jonny Weston), who returns home after spending time in a detention center when he was a part of a house fire which has grown to the size of legend in the small town. The local kids make fun of him and no one really seems to want to accept the return of the lost youth. Only his little brother, Paulie (Gattlin Griffith) seems happy to have him back, but he seems to be as troubled as Neal. His protective parents obviously are trying to cover up and live in denial of the bad stuff that has happened to the family in the past and the filmmakers are slow in giving away what exactly it is that haunts them. As with many of these films which pit the fantastic vs the really real world, the troubles of the kids are disbelieved by the parents and anyone of real authority. Turns out there’s some kind of monster lurking in the shadows under Paulie’s bed which is actually a gateway to a hellish otherworld. The story follows the kids as they both try to convince their parents of the monster’s existence and their subsequent battle with the beast when all of the adults fail to believe.
The strength of UNDER THE BED lies in the strong voice of the two brothers. This is their film and the relationship between the two is both believable and highly emotional. Seeing Paulie hug Neal desperately when he returns home is a touching scene as you can see the torment this kid has endured without his older brother’s nightly protection. Miller (from Stolze’s story) makes you really care about these two boys and root for them to make it out of this alive. The story also has some nice little details taking tidbits of all of those fears of the monster under the bed and bringing them into real life. I especially like the detail that the monster is both drawn to and can be harmed by dead skin cells, which we shed while sleeping every night. Something about that hits me as especially cool.
The design of the monster itself is great as well. The full body prosthetic is refreshing to see in this day and age of CG inundation. One can tell this film was done with heart and most likely didn’t have a lot to spend in terms of effects, so they spent their money on the main monster which really does pay off giving life to the monster that has plagued us all at one time or another in our lives.
That said, UNDER THE BED suffers from what I will call INSIDIOUS syndrome as it loses some steam in the third act when Neal must venture into the world of the monster. The film just doesn’t have the budget for that and as it did in INSIDIOUS’ final reel, it’s pretty obvious. Still, with what they had to work with, the final scenes are not awful. They just feel less genuine, as if it were something one might see in a fun house attraction rather than a real world to adventure around in.
The film takes an odd and somewhat redeeming turn in the final half hour and what started out as an Amblin film, ends drenched in blood. I’ve read of this being off putting to some of those who have seen the film, but to me, it feels much more in line with the type of film I wanted to see as a kid who groaned when the camera pulled away from the horror or a drop of blood is used when a bucket would have been all the more cool. The gory rampage of the monster made the inner 80’s kid in me laugh out loud. While somewhat uneven in terms of tone and obviously hit by budgetary setbacks in the final moments, UNDER THE BED has enough heart and soul to entertain. It’s a throwback film, making us remember both the fears we had as a kid and the films that both inspired and was about them.
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 12 years & AICN HORROR for 3. He has written comics such as VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS THE TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, & NANNY & HANK (soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He has co-written FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND’s LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in 2013 as a 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark wrote the critically acclaimed GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment & GRIMM FAIRY TALES #76-81. Look for GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK: LAST OF THE SPECIES available in February-July 2013 and the new UNLEASHED crossover miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS WEREWOLVES: THE HUNGER #1-3 available in May-July 2013! Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitter @Mark_L_Miller.
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