They don’t make ‘80s movies like they used to. Sure, some modern films try to pay homage to the classic cinematic era, but usually do it as an over the top homage or spoof. One horror movie actually could have been released in 1985 and fit in just perfectly.
Lost After Dark is the classic tale of teenagers who sneak away from the school dance to get into some trouble, but end up getting picked off one by one by a killer. They’re not acting like caricatures of ‘80s horror, they’re just playing them. Lost After Dark premiered in the U.S. at Screamfest and is now available on Blu-ray and DVD from Anchor Bay, and I spoke with director Ian Kessner and screenwriter Bo Ransdell about the film, and their future plans for a sequel and a remake of Waxwork.
Nerd Report: A lot of horror movies say they’re doing an ‘80s movie, but doing something the style of the ‘80s is different than spoofing the ‘80s, right?
Ian Kessner: Absolutely. That was a big concern. We didn’t really want to make it a parody and we didn’t want to make it too campy. I think the thing that works for the film is that we played it straight. That’s what gives it the heart that it has, the earnestness.
Bo Ransdell: I think you can be absolutely aware of the tropes of a particular genre, and the ‘80s slasher is kind of its own subgenre in a way. Even more so than just the slasher film. So to Ian’s credit certainly in the shooting, but the idea early on was to do that style of filmmaking but also to understand that there are things that just have changed about movies in general. There’s a heavy moralistic component to those kind of Reagen-era slashers that we wanted to play with. We wanted to say what if those rules didn’t exist? Then how did the trops change at that point. It was a lot of fun. It’s nice to be able to play in a very familiar playground with a new set of toys.
Nerd Report: You still break some of the rules though. Was that important too?
Ian Kessner: I think that was really important. That’s the key to the movie in large part is taking something everybody knows and turning it inside out. There’s a major twist that happens early on that we had to fight very hard for. That changes the whole dynamic of the film and your viewing experience. It’s really about taking that old wine and packaging it in a new bottle. Without spoiling it, it was important that we showed you stuff you recognized but then did it in fresh and innovative ways.
Bo Ransdell: To get a little high-minded about it, which is the purview of the writer, there is a philosophy in the slashers of the ‘80s that has this very conservative Judeo-Christian sort of ethic to it. If you behave a certain way, you will be punished for that behavior. And I feel like Lost After Dark is a bit more existentialist in nature in that it doesn’t necessarily apply those same rules, and instead, I think presents the idea of the inevitable death that is coming to you as something that you don’t necessarily earn or deserves. Sometimes it just happens. I know that is a bit high-minded but when you’re working on something like this and thinking about what the ultimate effect is and what the ultimate difference is between this movie and, say, another slasher from that era, for me that’s the key difference is the underlying philosophy of why this is all happening.
Nerd Report: Are all the girls named after scream queens and all the guys after directors?
Ian Kessner: That’s fun. I love that you picked that up. That was Bo’s touch because Bo put together the original draft so Bo, you can speak to that.
Bo Ransdell: That was really just me being greedy. I had seen that done a couple of other times, but most pointedly in Fred Dekker’s Night of the Creeps. He does that there and I just felt like I want to do that too. It’s certainly a nod towards those films and those filmmakers that I really enjoy, but it’s also just a “me too” kind of thing of well, if Dekker can do it, I can too. Which is probably not right because Night of the Creeps is maybe one of the great horror films of all time. I hope Lost After Dark gets there. We’ll see.
Nerd Report: I suppose it would be great if you could name all the women after directors but we weren’t there yet in the ‘80s.
Bo Ransdell: Sadly no. Today it’s certainly getting better like Jennifer Kent in The Babadook.
Nerd Report: Jen and Sylvia.
Bo Ransdell: Yes, the Soska sisters, absolutely. So you’re starting to see more of those voices emerge which is fantastic for all of us because all horror films are ultimately an expression of a personal fear or perspective and there’s just no way that any man is going to direct a movie like The Babadook in as successful a way as Jennifer Kent did.
Nerd Report: You use the degraded film effect really sparingly. Were you worried not to overdo it?
Ian Kessner: It was a combination of things to be honest. I wanted to give you the sense that it was an old print, even a rediscovered work print, but I didn’t want to overdo it so that it affected your experience. I thought we did it just the right amount but it was tricky. Also the stuff I was working with, CineGrain which is great, it’s on a loop, so you can only use so many of those scratches before the pattern becomes apparent. So that was another thing I factored into it. Also I was dealing with the producer and some of the powers that be in terms of how much I could degrade it and they would still be happy releasing it and people would still want to watch it through that. I knew true horror fans would but we want it to reach a bit of a wider audience. There was a lot of discussion about how much of the CineGrain effects to use. I think we picked our spots and it worked,
Nerd Report: I think you did it exactly when the reel changes would be, which is where projectionists would be handling the film the most.
Ian Kessner: Yeah, we tried to time it. In going through the film, we had to figure out how to lay it in. There had to be a rhyme and a reason to it. It’s nice you picked up on that.
Nerd Report: I’m a former projectionist.
Ian Kessner: Oh really? I wanted to shoot this whole thing on film but when we shot in Canada, by the time we got the production up and running, all the labs were shut down. The last one had shut two months earlier so I had to go to digital. I had planned to shoot it on 35.
Nerd Report: Your Blu-ray actually looks like an ‘80s film transferred to Blu-ray too.
Ian Kessner: That’s Anchor Bay. I delivered the DCP and I guess they just went off of that but I’m glad that all the colors held up and everything we did to the picture worked in the transfer. I can tell you my colorist was a rockstar. He not only helped color the film but he was also the guy who helped me design that vintage look.
Nerd Report: What are your favorite vintage horror films?
Bo Ransdell: It depends on how far back you want to go. I think there’s a great case for Freaks as one of the great all time horror films. For me personally growing up it was Carpenter’s original Halloween. It was Carpenter’s The Thing. You can probably sense a theme. I really enjoyed Alien a bunch and I think where horror films started to feel kind of dangerous for me was when I first saw the original Evil Dead because that was a movie that made you feel like you were in the hands of someone who didn’t necessarily care about your piece of mind and was really aggressive. I saw it at an age where I shouldn’t have seen that movie. I had to watch it in two sittings because it scared me too much the first time. When I look back, you’re constantly chasing that dragon where after you get good and truly scared by a movie, it’s almost never as good again. But that’s what you’re always crossing your fingers for is that you run across that film that just scares the bejesus out of you.
Ian Kessner: For my money, growing up I would say for me, Friday the 13th is the touchstone. I saw that at a very young age and it scared me so bad that I jumped out of my chair and flipped over. For me that had a lot of impact. I love Carrie. I also love Jaws. It’s more of a monster movie but that scared the hell out of me when I was younger. The Legend of Hell House. I also love stuff like Happy Birthday to Me. I love that movie. The Burning. I was a fan of Freddy and the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, all that stuff and of course Carpenter and Halloween was just epic.
Bo Ransdell: I feel like we want to at least mention the movie Hell Night because no one ever does. Are you familiar with the Linda Blair film where there is a crazed killer beneath the floors of an old mansion during rush week for some pledges? That’s a movie that I saw multiple times when I was a kid and I went back and watched it again not too long ago. I was surprised to find how much of that movie had snuck its way into Lost After Dark. Not as directly but there are certainly moments when I watch it now that I see, “Oh yeah, that was the thing that just was lurking in my subconscious for a number of years.” Certainly a film done on the cheap. It was of that era where everyone was doing a slasher. It also just happens to be one of the better ones that is completely overlooked in my mind. I think it’s actually quite good. There’s sort of a Happy Birthday to Me style scene in that that I think is actually even better than Happy Birthday to Me. I could spend so many hours why there’s this crappy other movie that does what well known movies do slightly better.
Ian Kessner: You brought up Linda Blair, I’m a huge fan of The Exorcist and The Omen. Those are all some biggies I would say. The Changeling.
Nerd Report: Are there any other genres you love as much as horror?
Ian Kessner: I love fantasy. I’m a huge Game of Thrones fan and I grew up playing Dungeons & Dragons. They still haven’t made a good Conan but I’m a huge fantasy guy and I also love sci-fi.
Bo Ransdell: I’m probably more western. I love westerns. There are a handful of really good horror westerns which are two great tastes that taste great together. I’m really curious about Bone Tomahawk and J.T. Petty did a movie called The Burrowers not long ago that was quite good as well. But I love a good western and I’m a sucker for a good comedy. The more absurd a comedy it is, the better.
Nerd Report: What’s next then, another horror movie or a different genre entirely?
Ian Kessner: Right now we’re working on a couple of other horror projects. One of them is a reboot of the ‘80s classic Waxwork.
Bo Ransdell: There is a sequel to Lost After Dark. That’s not a foregone conclusion. We don’t know if we would get to make it, but we definitely wanted to continue the story but in a different way. One of the original ideas was to be able to do a different sort of subgenre of horror with every film, assuming we get to make more than one. You don’t just want to make another slasher, even though that’s what people expect but the whole point of Lost After Dark is to do the thing that people don’t expect. So with a sequel to it, as we discuss it and as we have written it thus far, is a different kind of film. It tackles a different subgenre. I would love to see that get made. I would love to see Waxwork get some legs under it. I think we’ve got a real fun take on that and actually have the blessing of Anthony Hickox who wrote and directed the original so we’re not just doing fan fiction. We can see a path to this getting made potentially and I would love to see that happen for sure.
Nerd Report: Would a new Waxwork have anything to do with Madame Tussauds?
Bo Ransdell: Not directly but all wax figures are weird and creepy. I don’t necessarily care where they arise from. They’re just all unsettling to me.
Ian Kessner: It’s got a Something Wicked This Way Comes vibe where the waxwork appears in town overnight. It’s really fun. It’s also an opportunity for us to play in a whole bunch of horror genres, kind of an anthology where the characters keep falling into these different vignettes or the different worlds where they tackle different horror tropes, and they tackle the best parts of it, the climax. So it’s really fun for us if we get to make it because we get to explore all these different genres within the horror, sort of like Cabin in the Woods.
Nerd Report: For a Lost After Dark sequel, there’s also the trope of the sequel picking up right where the first one left off, or the next day.
Bo Ransdell: Especially with Rick Rosenthal who was the sheriff in Lost After Dark and did Halloween II, that was one of the classic examples of starting your movie immediately afterwards.
Nerd Report: The first few Friday the 13ths did that too.
Bo Ransdell: Yeah, sure. I don’t want to give anything away but I would say I don’t know that we would take the most expected route.