Beyond the Gates won the Los Angeles Film Festival’s Nightfall Award for director Jackson Stewart, so I’m glad I talked to Stewart and his cast when they were in L.A. Chase Williamson and Graham Skipper play brothers sorting through their father’s belongings. They find a VHS board game and decide to play it. Barbara Crampton plays the host of the board game, which forces the boys to solve gruesome puzzles to learn the answer to their father’s disappearance. It even gets Skipper’s character’s girlfriend (Brea Grant) involved.
I sat with the cast, Stewart and screenwriter Stephen Scarlata in the Culver Hotel, where Crampton introduced me to everyone and bragged about our friendship and past coverage. We became genuine friends when I met her at the Toronto premiere of You’re Next, and she has sincerely kept in touch and championed my work ever since. Look for Beyond the Gates coming soon.
Barbara, was this your first time actually working in black and white?
Barbara Crampton: Yeah, I’m not that old yet. [Laughs] Almost, but yeah.
As a horror movie actor, was that monumental?
Barbara Crampton: The truth of it is I hadn’t actually realized that I was going to be in black and white until afterwards. Maybe you told me that but it didn’t compute to me until I saw it. It was quite striking, the image of that, being the host of the game, being sort of retro.
Jackson Stewart: Basically, we decided to do whatever he ‘80s throwback version of a horror movie would be. I love Mario Bava. We kind of settled on doing a Black Sunday themed board game and then just basically put Barbara in a sort of Barbara Steele role there.
Stephen Scarlata: Usually with those VHS boardgames, it’s like the face of a person coming at you. Jackson had the idea, he didn’t want to do the typical ‘90s VHS board game look with all the colors on the face because that would also take away from the rest of the film. By going stark black and white gave it just this really cool visceral feel to it. You don’t know what time or what place or what it was even shot on. That was the attitude as well.
Barbara Crampton: I wasn’t really familiar with those board games at all. I just took the direction from Jackson which was very specific. Having to have the feeling of Barbara Steele in Black Sunday and how she holds herself in that movie. To also not blink. And to be commanding, so we just played around with it on set. We just talked about it, played around with it and he gave me a few different turns, trying a couple things and we honed in on the character on set.
Were her scenes all done in one day?
Jackson Stewart: Pretty much.
Barbara Crampton: We had to do some reshoots, or added scenes.
Jackson Stewart: We did a reshoot day later on because we —
Barbara Crampton: Added some moments.
Are they actually watching the video playback or is it added in later?
Jackson Stewart: They were watching it and we were playing it on set. There’s a couple spots where it’s from reshoots that we ended up dropping it in. Basically any time you have a serious closeup on her and don’t see anything else, that’s from when we did a reshoot. Apart from that, we wanted it to be when they were interacting with it on set, which created a lot of technical problems at the time. It’s like they deliver a line and there’s not enough of a gap between what Barbara’s saying for them to deliver it and she cuts them off.
Did they miss any lines because the video caught up to them?
Jackson Stewart: We’d figure it out timing-wise, but it was a lot trickier than we anticipated.
Graham Skipper: There was a lot of trial and error I remember. The funniest part was sitting there and just kind of watching it first to get a sense of okay, what is it? A lot of it is pausing and Barbara staring at us. So I remember all of us sitting around the TV just watching Barbara stare and going, “That’s how much time we have, okay.”
Brea Grant: And I think there parts where we actually physically paused the video while we were on us. Not that you would see that, but it was just too hard to [match the video].
Barbara Crampton: I think it was pretty technical too as I remember because there were some times I remember Jack saying to me, “Okay, so why don’t you look at the camera this way? And we don’t know if our heroes are going to be standing here or here. So when you look, look this way and say that line. Now say the same line and look this way.” So that when it was all put together I think you had enough footage that you could make it work.
Graham Skipper: In the end we just hired a warlock to put Barbara inside the TV. It was just like Josie inside the doorknob in Twin Peaks, that sort of thing.
Stephen Scarlata: I gotta say, one of the highlights was the first day they tried to get the TV and the VHS to work, it was at the end of the tape when Barbara is laughing really sinister. It was the first time anyone saw the tape and it was just this image of her laughing. Everyone on set stopped because it actually freaked everyone out for a second.
Barbara Crampton: Really?
Which of you had ever played a VHS game?
Graham Skipper: I own Nightmare. Nightmare is in my closet at home.
Stephen Scarlata: I got them the moment they came out as a kid, but unfortunately I had no one to play with. No one ever wanted to play.
Brea Grant: Now we’re going to delve into your childhood.
You can really only play it once, right? It’s a tape.
Graham Skipper: Nope, not for me. I fully believed that that monster man, whatever his name was in Nightmare, was talking to me. I was nine or something. My family would sit around and play it. It was totally scary.
I had a different VHS Indiana Jones ripoff, not the one that’s in the movie.
Stephen Scarlata: Doorways to Adventure.
Stephen Scarlata: I had Doorways to Horror.
Oh, it was a franchise?
Stephen Scarlata: Yes, so you had the adventure one. It was the same exact game, the cards spin on the screen, because I used to watch the tape over and over because I had no one to play the game with. It was horror movie clips and people melting, and the card would flip around. There were all these cool playing cards of Dracula, zombies. You also had penalties and traps in Doorways to Adventure. That was the first VHS game I believe.
Graham Skipper: Do you remember there was a WWF game? You would play it and Hulk Hogan would pop up and be like, “Look, you’ve gotta move ahead four spaces.” Andre the Giant would do something. I love that one.
Brea Grant: I have an older brother so some of this stuff will resonate, but other than that, no. We owned a lot of board games but nothing like that.
Chase Williamson: No, I didn’t know what that was.
Did you shoot in the real interior of Eddie Brandt?
Jackson Stewart: Yes. Everything was shot on location with the exception of the basement which is impossible to find in Los Angeles.
Brea Grant: But I don’t think you notice. No one would ever be like, “No, that basement wasn’t in that house.” The house is kind of set up too so it looks like it would have a basement. It’s strange.
So this movie is all about VHS board games but what are your other VHS obsessions?
Jackson Stewart: That was honestly my, no pun intended, gateway into film was watching all those horror VHS tapes from the ‘80s. The big ones were Phantasm, The Gate, The Beyond, The Gates of Hell. We have a few other references in there too like Blood Rage was one of the VHS tapes they pick up. It’s called Blood Messiah now which is just a combination of Messiah of Evil and Blood Rage. It was one of my favorite slasher movies. I really just glommed onto VHS when I was young. I think Steve probably did too.
Stephen Scarlata: I grew up at the video store. Like I said, I had no one to play the games with. I had older brothers. I didn’t really have a lot of kids to hang out with, so I just spent every day at the video store. My dad was a big movie fan so video stores were very, very important to me. This is one of the last video stores. We actually shot in a real one. I would say 10 years from now, kids are going to watch this film and be like, “What is that? What’s a video store?” I think it’s cool that a real video store is actually documented in this film.
Graham Skipper: It was always the highlight of my week. Every Friday after school my parents would take me to Blockbuster. You could rent one video for the weekend. Me and my sister each got one and then my parents would rent one. It was the most important hour of my week, figuring out which video I was going to get.
Did you ever try to negotiate with your sister to rent something you wanted too?
Graham Skipper: Not really because she was four and a half years younger than me, so there was never any crossover really.
Brea Grant: As a teen girl this was a big thing, to go with your girlfriends on a Friday night. You would rent a horror movie for the weekend and you would watch it and scream together.
Chase Williamson: We thought that Sarah Michelle Gellar and Tara Reid were the same person when we were in fifth grade. We were like, “Buffy dies in every movie.” It’s the original Netflix and chill.
Stephen Scarlata: I remember in the ‘90s going through phone books and calling video stores to find certain horror films and I’d drive really far out to go rent them.
Between takes would you browse the shelves of Eddie Brandt’s?
Graham Skipper: Oh yeah, I bought stuff from Eddie Brandt’s. Seriously, we would go through and go, “Oh man, look at this.”
Chase Williamson: That’s all we did. What was that horror workout VHS?
Graham Skipper: Oh yeah, Linnea Quigley’s Horror Workout.
Barbara Crampton: Oh right, I remember she did that.
Graham Skipper: I found all the old Beetlejuice cartoons which I used to love watching when I was a kid. I bought some laserdiscs.
Brea Grant: Do you own a laserdisc player?
Graham Skipper: I do own a laserdisc player. It’s one of the fancy ones that flips it for you. My mom was going to throw it out. It was the one from our house. I said, “What are you doing? Why are you throwing out the laserdisc player?” We don’t watch laserdiscs often but it makes me feel happy that it’s there.
What do you want to do next?
Jackson Stewart: I actually just finished writing a sequel to this movie and then there’s another thing I’ve written as a vehicle for Brea that’s kind of like a take off on slasher movies.
Chase Williamson: A Brehicle?
Brea Grant: A Brehicle if you will.
Would a sequel involve the same cast, or different characters get the VHS game?
Graham Skipper: Yeah, would it?
Jackson Stewart: Everyone that survived this movie would be back in it and I’m not sure how much I should say about it. There are some pretty big events right out of the gate, no pun intended, that change the dynamics of the movie. None of you guys have read it, have you?
Graham Skipper: I haven’t read it, no.
Chase Williamson: I haven’t read it yet.
Barbara Crampton: I haven’t.
Jackson Stewart: But they’re all doing it.
Brea Grant: Jesse read it. He told me about it.