After being thrust into the horror spotlight writing John Carpenter’s THE WARD, brothers Michael and Shawn Rasmussen continued to build on their success with shocker DARK FEED and are back with yet another horror treat THE INHABITANTS. To celebrate the release SGM’s Stuart Willis caught up with the brothers for a chat…
SGM: Thanks a lot for talking to us again. How have things been for you since we last spoke, when your feature directorial effort DARK FEED had just been released in the UK?
MICHAEL: They've been pretty hectic. I think at that time we were just starting pre-production on this film. It's been a long journey. And we're glad to finally see a light at the end of the tunnel.
SHAWN: Yeah, it's been three years, and it's great to see the film getting released.
SGM: What inspired you to write a haunted house story? And what research did this require?
MICHAEL: The inspiration for the story came from the location. A producer on our very first film had mentioned to us that he owned a haunted house. Being rather sceptical, we just shrugged it off. But over the years we've had a chance to visit the house and haunted or not, decided it would be the perfect setting for an old-fashioned ghost story. It's one of the oldest homes in New England, and it's an amazing location.
SHAWN: The house also has a very rich history. It was owned by the Reverend Samuel Parris whose daughter and niece made the initial accusations that led to the Salem Witch Trials in America. And then during the 19th century, it was a stop on the Underground Railroad as a location for hiding runaway slaves so it has all these creepy hidden passageways.
MICHAEL: So the history of that house was our jumping off point for the story. We did a bunch of research into witchcraft and why it took hold here in America during colonial times and discovered a lot of interesting facts that we tried to incorporate into our script. We visited Salem and explored their museums. Every time we learned something new we tried to revise the story to include it.
SGM: When it came to making THE INHABITANTS, how long is the preparation - in terms of raising finances, scouting locations, finding your cast etc?
SHAWN: This one was very different for us compared to the other projects we've worked on. The film was completely self-financed. And since our producer owns the house he had a vested interest in the project going forward.
MICHAEL: We wrote the script, cast the project, and began shooting in less than two months. We had our two leads in mind as we wrote the screenplay which was a huge help because it allowed us to play to their strengths as actors.
SGM: Speaking of the cast, you can tell us a little more about your leads, Michael Reed and Elise Couture? I felt that one of the film's greatest strengths was their chemistry: they made for a very natural, likeable couple.
MICHAEL: We had worked with both of them on our previous film DARK FEED. They only had one scene together but there was definitely a fun chemistry between them.
SHAWN: Once we knew we were going to use Michael and Elise, we were able to craft the characters around their personalities.
SGM: How important is it to you that your audience can empathise with your characters? Even your support characters are considerately written. It makes a refreshing change in an age where American horror films are mostly populated by smug, unlikeable people just asking to be killed.
MICHAEL: We think it's very important. We spend a huge chunk of the first act getting to know these characters and establishing them as a loving couple. That makes it so much more crushing when their marriage falls apart during the second and third acts.
SHAWN: We didn't want to create any throw-away characters. It's not one of those films where you're rooting for the characters to get killed off. Or at least I hope it's not.
MICHAEL: We wanted our audience to really care about these people. It's great watching the film with a crowd because there's an event that takes place roughly 30 minutes in that seems to throw everyone for a loop. And I think the reason it works is because they've really grown to like these characters.
SGM: It's great to see a modern genre film that seeks to spook their audience rather than appal them with buckets of gore. What films did you use as reference points?
MICHAEL: When we sat down to write this film we wanted to create something that was a throwback to the classic ghost stories we had seen growing up in the late 70's and early 80's. Films like THE CHANGELING, LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH, THE HAUNTING OF JULIA, and BURNT OFFERINGS.
SHAWN: I still think THE CHANGELING is one of the great overlooked classics from that time. The creepy atmosphere of that film was amazing. All those films Michael mentioned had a strange oddness too them. They were moody melodramas as much as they were creepy ghost stories. And I'm glad to see that there seem to be trend toward rediscovering these films at the moment.
SGM:... and how did you set about ensuring your film differed to other films in the same sub-genre, say THE INNKEEPERS?
MICHAEL: I think some of the historical facts we incorporate into the story help to make it very unique and distinguishes it from other films in this genre.
SHAWN: It's also one of the few New England set ghost stories that was actually shot here in New England.
SGM: How hard is it to scare a modern audience?
MICHAEL: It's very hard. We both had a discussion about this recently, about how all the new technology is really ruining horror films. It nearly impossible to isolate people and that's really where the best terror comes from. Being alone.
SHAWN: I think our film might be a challenge for some people who are used to jump scares every five minutes. THE INHABITANTS is a very slow burn. It requires some patience. But then when the scary moments happen they're that much scarier.
SGM: Is there a relevance to the New England setting?
MICHAEL: Absolutely. The Salem Witch Trials happened right here in our backyard. But beyond that there a definite atmosphere that comes from shooting a film here. There's something about this region that just can't be captured elsewhere.
SHAWN: We were lucky to be shooting in late autumn as well, so all the trees were bare. The sky was often gray. And we were cold. Very cold. All of which I think really added to the mood of the piece.
SGM: Your film was made on what appears to be a modest budget. What are the biggest hurdles to overcome when your budget is limited?
MICHAEL: Having to do everything yourself. That's the simple answer.
SHAWN: We really embraced it though. We had to. I think that's why the performances seem so real, because there wasn't a huge crew standing around. It was just the two of us and the actors. That made it much easier for them to get into the moment.
SGM: The pair of you wrote, directed and co-produced THE INHABITANTS. Michael, you also co-edited the film and handled the visual effects. That's a lot of work for two brothers to share. Does it ever become fraught between the pair of you? And which task is the most satisfying?
MICHAEL: Finishing. That's the most satisfying thing. Seriously though I think it's a huge help that we're siblings. We've been together for so long that we know how to balance the responsibilities.
SHAWN: It will be nice though when we do have enough of a budget that we can focus entirely on just directing.
SGM: What plans do you have for the film, following its impending VOD release in America?
MICHAEL: Yes, so the film is now out in North America on VOD. And the DVD and Blu-ray should be coming some time in January.
SHAWN: Next month at AFM is when we plan to sale the foreign territories and so hopefully it'll be available across the pond very soon.
SGM: And what comes next? Is the next screenplay already in the bag?
MICHAEL: We have a couple projects in the pipeline right now. We have a Lovecraftian tale that's inspired by THE SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH. We're just finishing the script for that. It's called BLACK AUTUMN. And then we have a subterranean creature feature that takes place beneath New York. That script is finished and we're in the process of finding investors.
SHAWN: There's also an interesting writing assignment that we hope to be tackling. It's a remake of a Spanish film. There's great team involved with that project. We're always on the lookout for talented folks to collaborate with.
THE INHABITANTS is available in the USA via VOD, stay tuned for other territory releases soon. Special thanks to Michael and Shawn for taking time out to chat.