Icons of Fright Talks EXETER With Director Marcus Nispel!!

exeter-poster01Director Marcus Nispel might be primarily known for helming 2003’s THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and 2009’s FRIDAY THE 13th remakes, as well as being in my opinion, one of the best music video directors of all time, but this week sees the release of EXETER, a film that has went through three years of shuffled release dates and name changes. Originally titled BACKMASK, EXETER is a breath of fresh air when it comes to the exorcism subgenre, a film that knows what its audience is, and revels in that self aware approach.

Nispel was nice enough to chat with us for a bit, regarding the long journey of EXETER and its do it yourself approach, the difference between a film like this and a big studio reboot, and…Charles Manson? Read on for one entertaining conversation with one of the nicest filmmakers working today, and catch EXETER when it hits DirecTV tomorrow (July 3rd), before making its theatrical run next month. Read on!


It’s been quite the journey to get EXETER out and available to an audience, how does it feel to finally have this one ready for people to see?

Quite a journey is putting it mildly (laughs). When Steven Schneider called me, he just produced PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and INSIDIOUS and asked me, “Do you want to do one of those One Million dollar movies for change? You can do whatever you want.”, and after doing all of these franchise movies, where you’re sort of a dog of many masters, it felt like a good idea. Here we are, three years later! (laughs). To make something out of nothing, is not easy, ya know?

Yeah totally. 

You write it, you try to raise the money for it, and you try to get it out there. It was totally worth it though, it was kind of the movie I owed to myself, one that I maybe should have made first, with that totally independent experience.

In a lot of ways, you’re very responsible for bringing a lot of those iconic characters back again, with you remakes of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and FRIDAY THE 13TH. How does it feel to do something that was very original and your idea, as opposed to those films?

It was different for me in every kind of way. When I talked to Steven (Schneider), I told him, “I don’t know what it’s going to be yet, but I know that it’s not going to be a found footage movie, and it’s not going to be a remake”. The next step was asking myself, “If I could do whatever I wanted to do, what is my favorite horror movie?”, and it was always THE EXORCIST. I would have never approached anything like that film though, I actually felt that “exorcism” was the final word in possession movies, don’t even dare to try to touch THE EXORCIST. Many movies, though, have tried, and some of them I’ve actually liked, like THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE.

Yeah, I think that movie is great. 

It was terrific. What I’ve found about these movies though, is that it always happens to a very select kind of family. It’s always movie stars or senators, and I thought to myself, “Why does it never happen to the guys who watch these kinds of movies?”. Surely THEY would know about exorcisms and THE EXORCIST, and in the film, when the character’s little brother gets befallen, it’s kind of like “Look what Max Von Sydow did, let’s do that”, so we wanted to make a ride that was kind of like a do-it-yourself exorcism movie, it seemed like a good reason to venture into this. So then you get a cast and you really love them, and LOVE what they improvise, and for tax reasons, we went to Rhode Island. It was a nice place, a very pastoral-like place, so I google’d “Scary Places in Rhode Island” and Exeter pops up, so I was like, “OK, let’s go there!”. It’s sort of like finding all of these elements and cooking something up with them. When we checked out the location, it was walled up with cinder-blocks, we had to break through it just to get in.  What we found inside is exactly what you see in the movie, it was just creepy as hell. It was the first movie I’ve done, where we didn’t have a go-to prop house. Everything you see in the movie, we found there, minus maybe a crucifix or two that we’d bring in. We found the bed, we found the lamp, it was just perfect. We never HAD to go to a prop house.

Essentially, the whole movie came together, with elements, things you just see floating around. It’s the first movie I’ve ever done, where I didn’t storyboard it. I came out of storyboarding, so I was used to doing a typical amount of probably 2,000 storyboards for a movie, and I did zero for this one. It was largely improvised. It was such a different experience from the Hollywood thing.

Did it feel liberating or hindering to do a film that you weren’t quite sure about initially, one that didn’t have that set fanbase already? Was that even a thought to you, or did you just go for it, not caring about that stuff?

I didn’t think about it much, and that was never a reason why I took on the franchise films. I never took them on because they had an already built-in audience. It’s nice to work with a studio that actually cares about making sure nobody drops the baby, and is invested in the film. There’s something to be said about that. It’s also nice to work on something where people have a sort of common idea, and it feels safe to you and you have less explaining to do. With the remakes or franchises, I never took those because it felt safe, in many cases, it felt like the opposite. I felt like the fans would eat me alive, I mean look at great franchises like what followed DIE HARD or ALIEN. It’s not guaranteed that they’re going to love you for doing them. (Laughs). I never saw the remakes as easy, I mean just by virtue of Michael Bay producing them, it’s not just like you’re doing horror, instead horror becomes a good excuse for doing an action movie, and I’m sensitively aware of that. They’re essentially hybrids now, and that’s got to do with some of the dubious successes. I’m making movies for the sixteen year-old in me, and I’ll continue to do that. Even though this (EXETER) is not a remake,  it’s kind of referencing every single kind of exorcism movie that you have ever seen.

There are a lot of exorcism movies coming out these days, but one thing that really stood out to me about EXETER, is how rock and roll it feels. It stands on it’s own and feels pretty original and refreshing. 

Thank you. I wanted it to be fun. My disconnect with a lot of those movies, is that exorcism doesn’t exist in their minds, like they’re thinking “exorcism, what’s an exorcism?”. (Laughs). It’s like they’ve never heard about it before, but these guys, they’re like “Yeah, Max Von Sydow”, they’re completely fluent in it. Also, in almost every supernatural movie, there’s this odd absence of both social media and cell phones and in this one, they’re using that throughout the movie, as ways to help. I really tried to put something in there that is synonymous with the people who watch these movies, you know?

Yeah, definitely, and it works well.

At a recent screening (at the Los Angeles Cinefamily theater), I sat with everybody and they all looked alike and that was fun. I read something the other day that a blogger wrote, “When will studios finally learn that the best horror movies are not made by horror directors?”. I’m well aware of that, and I feel the same way, but in EXETER, we’re very referential, without being a spoof movie like SCARY MOVIE. Every morning, I had make sure to stay away from it becoming a gag movie, because when the characters get hurt, I really wanted you to feel for them. It’s just that essentially, they’re amateurs, they’re not pros. There’s no Max Von Sydow or Ellen Burstyn, they’re just trying to stay alive.

Usually, when one of the actors would ask me if there’s a certain movie that they should watch, and they’d expect some horror movie, but I would tell them BREAKING AWAY (Laughs).

(Laughs). That’s hilarious, I love that movie. 

My two favorite movies are ROCKY and BREAKING AWAY. I think I’ve watched them a hundred times.

Speaking of that humor that you mentioned, I felt that though there were definitely humorous moments, they never felt like a satire.

Yeah, I tried not to be spoofy.

Yeah definitely, the humorous moments fit within the context of what was happening. You mentioned improvising earlier, I’m curious how much of the film was improvised, especially the party scene in the film, with the guy passed out and his body lined up with beer bottles or the cheeto-puff stuck to the guy’s back for a good amount of  the film. 

A lot was improvised and a lot was just made up on the spot. That was actually my biggest joy in all of that. There were some scenes though, that I would watch and think “He improvised that really well!,” and the actor would do that for every take, and I finally looked, and it was in the script! (Laughs). You go through so many drafts, by the end, you don’t even know what you wrote. They did such a good job with the scripted scenes that it came off improvised. I always cherish that stuff though, and I’ve felt that most of my favorite movies did have that improvised feel to them. Most of my past movies, that was not encouraged, to say the least.

One of my favorite directors is John Cassavetes, so I’m a huge fan of improvisation. 

There you go.

So now that you did EXETER, a film that was a very different film than you had done before, and a very independent type of film, what’s next for you? Are you interested in going down that route again?

You mean six kids in a van? (laughs). The kids in a van movie is essentially a kill list, and my next film isn’t going to be a kill list movie. It’s going to be very different actually, and I took that very seriously. I have a long standing obsession with Charles Manson, and not just the “family”, but the time and what it did to our culture and the culture that he came from. People think of him as some outsider from society, with that clan up in Topanga, but the reality is that he was extremely fluent in the entertainment industry. He was developing and writing screenplays for Steve McQueen, he recorded b-sides for The Beach Boys, he interviewed for The Monkees with Terry Melcher. The guy wanted to be a superstar and to be, it’s an indictment of our celebrity-obsessed culture. It’s far away from a slasher movie, actually my movie is over before the killing even starts. In a way, it’s very similar to this movie, because they were all doing that for the first time also, it’s crazy how it all came together and the innocence of the amateurism. It has a great script, it’s called MOONCHILD and is the Linda Kasabian story.

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