One of the most successful independent producers of recent years, the never-not-busy Jason Blum built his brand, Blumhouse, on low budget horror. Oh sure, he’s also got an Emmy to his name for producing the TV movie The Normal Heart, and was up for an Oscar for producing Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, but to the horror faithful, he’s the man who gave a home to Paranormal Activity, Insidious, Get Out, The Purge, and many more. With the latest Blumhouse production, the slasher comedy Happy Death Day, in cinemas today, we took the opportunity to talk terror with the preeminent horror honcho of our times.
How did Happy Death Day find itself under the Blumhouse banner?
So Christopher [Landon, the director] and I had done four movies together prior to this [Paranormal Activity 2 through to Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones] and I really wanted to do an original with him as opposed to another Paranormal Activity movie. I’d been prodding him and poking him, and finally he called up and said “I have something I love.”
So I was inclined to like it before I even read it, and I was pleasantly surprised because the idea of doing Groundhog Day in a genre/horror version had never occurred to me. And the throwback feel of the movie to movies like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer was really appealing to me and something that I’ve always wanted to try and do. So it was a combination primarily of Chris, but also the script and the new original feeling that’s in the script. Those are the reasons we decided to go forward with the movie.
What kind of shape was the script in when it came to you, and how much did it change before it went in front of the cameras?
Chris rewrote the script [credited to comics scribe Scott Lobdell] heavily and we had to work it into a budget. You know our movies are generally not much more than five million bucks – for Hollywood that’s very little, although the rest of the world it is not, and so we had to make the script fit the project So they always change a bit.
As you said, it’s very much a tribute to that late ’90s stream of slasher films that came out after Wes Craven’s Scream. Were they a big inspiration for you when you were coming up?
Oh yeah, and they were one of the big inspirations for this movie. It’s the kind of movie that hasn’t been out in a long time, and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to make the movie.
One of the things I really liked about the movie is that it is a lot of fun – there’s a lot of humor in it as well as scares, which is always fun to do – especially in Australia. You folks love a good horror with some funny moments and you have the best genre filmmakers in the world, really. You know there’s an unbelievable proportionate number of them that come from Australia, which is really interesting.
You also have a great Australian director of photography on this one, Toby Oliver, who also shot Get Out.
That’s exactly right. Yeah, he did a terrific job for us.
What is it about horror that attracts you, as a genre?
Well, I like the theatrical experience of horror movies. I think they’re really one of the few genres that really work theatrically. I grew up in the ’90s when independent film really kind of got its heyday and I like the idea of taking kind of drama and putting it into the shell of a horror movie. I often think that can make a movie better – I think Get Out is a terrific example of that, although Happy Death Day is an example of that too. I think that’s kind of a fun challenge and it’s something I love to do.
Blumhouse as a brand is also very good at activating its audience – you’re very active as a company on social media, you have the Shock Waves podcast and so on. How vital is that to your model?
I think for us it’s really important – it’s our business. You know, we do an enormous amount of television, we do movies, we have books, we have live events, and I think it’s important to engage with the horror audience through different media, whether it’s books, TV, movie, podcasts.
Is it sustainable just to engage with that specific fan base? what’s the trick to breaking out of that and engaging with a wider, more mainstream audience, as you did with Get Out and the Paranormal Activity movies?
I think the trick to that is pushing the boundaries like what we do in the genre. You know, I think Get Out pushes the boundaries of what we do, I think Split pushes the boundaries, I think The Gift, which was a terrific movie made by Joel Edgerton, really pushed the boundaries, so we’re not just doing horror, we’re doing thrillers, we’re doing all sorts of genre movies, and I think that’s how we kind of expand the palette of what a Blumhouse movie is.
Is the stigma around horror still as strong? Are you still toiling in the “genre ghetto”?
I think there’s still a stigma around it and I don’t know that we’ll ever get rid of that, but I love that there’s a stigma around horror – it wakes up my fighting spirit. I think people are ignorant about it and I like to I like to change their minds. My favourite thing is when people say “I hate horror movies but I love Get Out.” I’m like, “Well, you don;t hate horror movies because that’s what Get Out was.” So I love that there’s a stigma around them.
Speaking of Get Out, as we move towards awards season, that film has been noted as a potential contender. Is that something you have to plan for, to strategise about?
You cannot plan for it, but around that movie? A hundred percent. We’re going to try and press the case that the movie is a very relevant and important movie that had a very timely message, and the fact that it’s a genre movie and more people saw it than other movies shouldn’t be held against it.
With the notable exception of this year’s It, why do you think big studios struggle when it comes to horror?
I don’t think it’s necessarily they do or don’t get horror – a lot of them do, but some of them don’t. I think it’s more that horror is very suited to a low budget, and I don’t know if the studios are really built to make low budget movies. They can acquire them but I think it’s a challenge – they’re not they’re not built to make those budget movies. I think that makes it a little bit of a challenge for the big studios.
With so many different distribution streams now and low budget horror as a field growing so quickly, how do you stay across what’s out there?
I watch a ton of movies and TV shows – I really watch a lot. I keep up on who’s doing what you know and going to different conferences and things like that and try and stay ahead of it, but like you said, it is changing and it is moving really fast and it’s hard to do, but I try as much as I can to be informed and keep abreast of what’s happening.
And finally, what’s up next from the House of Blum?
After Happy Death Day we have Insidious 4 by your countryman, Leigh Whannell. And then we have the new Purge coming out next summer, and then we have Halloween next October, and then we have Glass, which is M. Night’s movie next January. So those are four big next releases.
And Leigh’s just shot STEM for you in Melbourne?
It’s finished! And it came out great. It came out terrific. I’m so happy about it.
Happy Death Day is in cinemas now. read our review here.