LAFF Interview: Darren Lynn Bousman on Abattoir

Darren Lynn Bousman directed more Saw movies than any other Saw director. As the first director after James Wan, he stayed on for three straight films. Since Saw he’s branched out within the horror genre with a musical (Repo! The Genetic Opera), a remake (Mother’s Day) and even a roadshow (Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival).

Abattoir is his latest, premiering at the Los Angeles Film Festival this week. Jessica Lowndes plays a real estate reporter investigating a series of murder houses that were purchased after the crime, and the scene of the crime removed. Joe Anderson plays a detective grudgingly working with her, and they meet a host of creepy character along the way. I spoke with Bousman about his latest film. You can see Abattoir at the LA Film Festival June 7 and 8.

Are you by any chance a fan of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt?

I love that, the Abattoir dog. That’s funny. What’s funny is I didn’t watch it until obviously after I finished it, but now I’ve gotten 10 people sending me a GIF file of the whole Abattoir thing which is funny.

It seems like this could actually be a good real estate plan. You could buy a murder house cheap, remove the offending room and flip that house.

You know what’s crazy? When we were doing research, this is actually a thing. There are real estate agents that only deal with houses where murders have taken place. So I thought that was an interesting thing because at least in California, you have to reveal to the person buying the house that a murder’s taken place in there, or a death or a crime which led us to researching that there are certain real estate companies that that’s what they deal with. Houses that crimes have taken place in or tragedies or fires, they basically deal in the macabre which I thought was pretty fascinating.

How did you find all the locations in the movie?

Some of these are actually based on real killings that we researched, but we shot this in Louisiana which was a unique thing. The first time we were there, we actually went back and forth a few times, but it was 150 degrees. I’m not even joking. It was the hottest I’ve ever been in my life. A lot of the places that we shot in had no air conditioning. A lot of them were played that had not really been cleaned up since Katrina. There was a church that we shot in.

I pretend that I’m a badass but I’m the most squeamish person in the world. There was no electricity in there so we had to go scout it, we had to go through with flashlights. There was the smell of mildew and mold. We shined the flashlight to the right and cockroaches, the biggest cockroaches you’ve ever seen, just scattered. It was like something out of a horror movie. I’m not talking five or six cockroaches. I’m talking about hundreds of cockroaches. So every time you’d throw the light somewhere, you’d just get cockroaches galore. It’s pretty horrible. We lucked out on some cool places that our production designer, Jen Spence, found and then retrofitted to make look like the Abattoir.

Did you build any of the sets yourself?

No, nothing was constructed. The abattoir that you see in the final part of the movie was a house that Jen went in and retrofitted and popped the pieces in. Our budget was pretty minimal. We didn’t have the ability to build anything. Everything was practical locations.

How long have you been a film noir/hard boiled detective fan?

I’m glad you picked that up. I wanted to make a horror movie where literally I was like: what if Bogart and Bacall made a horror film? Here’s my thing. Obviously I love horror films but I’m sick of seeing the same horror films just redone over and over and over again. I always wanted to make a haunted house movie, but how can I try to add to that subgenre? James Wan kind of cornered that market between The Conjuring and Insidious.

I didn’t want to do something that had been seen before again and again. I took my love and admiration for, as you said, the hard boiled detective, those movies that came out in the ‘40s and ‘50s, usually with Bogart, and said, “How can I put my spin on this?” Which is telling a hard boiled crime thing that’s got a supernatural element to it. The thing which I also like about the script and what Monfette wrote is for the first 60 minutes, it’s not a horror film at all. It’s a murder mystery. It’s a murder investigation and then it becomes supernatural in the last 25 to 30 minutes of it. So you have 2/3 of Se7en and 1/3 of Hellraiser.

How did you hook up with Chris Monfette?

IGN. I think he had written a couple of reviews of my films, but I met him when he used to work at IGN way, way back in the day. But I became a fan of his when he sent me a script of his to read called Down Satan which was a Clive Barker short story that I read and I fell in love with his writing style. He’s got this unique voice that I was like, “I’ve got to work with this guy.” When Abattoir came up, I sent the script Down Satan to everyone. I was like, “This is the guy that needs to write this.”

How much time did you have to shoot Abattoir?

I think it was done in 20 days and then we did a couple of pickup days after the edit. It was 22 days maybe in total but it was not a lot of time. This is probably one of the most challenging shoots that I’ve been on because we didn’t have a lot of time and we didn’t have a lot of money. It was trying to tell this very dense story with extremely dense mythology, with very, very limited resources. There was a time in the very early preproduction time that we didn’t have the money to build the abattoir, so the abattoir was going to be like Jaws that you were just going to hear about it. You might see an exterior shot of it once or twice, but then luckily Jen Spence worked her magic and we were able to construct part of the abattoir. This was definitely a run and gun type thing.

One of your dream projects was the musical Repo: The Genetic Opera and this is your film noir. Are there any other genres you love that you haven’t had a chance to work into a film yet?

I’ve always wanted to do a heist movie. It’s not official yet but it looks like the next film I’m going to be doing, I’m going to get that opportunity to do a heist film. I’m a huge, huge heist guy. I’ve always had a dream to do something like that but again in the same kind of style as Abattoir. You take the idea of a heist film but then you put that sinister macabre twist in it. This was my love of noir with a sinister macabre twist in it and I think when I do a heist film, it’ll be the same type of thing. It’ll have all the staples of a heist film but there’s going to be a lot of blood and people dying in it too.

At this point, when you have blood and people dying, is it a challenge to think of new ways to show that?

It is and that’s why this is not a violent movie. There’s blood in it, a couple people die in it, but it’s nowhere near the level of violence in the Saw films or Mother’s Day. I’d rather be more clever than try to think of how can I blow someone’s head off in a way that I haven’t done in previous films? How can I slit someone’s throat in a way that I haven’t done it before? So what I tried to do this time around was, the violence is secondary to what it is. I think I spent more time on the characters, Jebediah Crone, making a cool iconic villain and the style itself of really capturing my love for the noir genre. The look, the cars and the way they dressed, all of that became more important to me than how can I make blood and arteries spray across walls, which I’ve done. I tried to take this into a different direction to make it more of that murder mystery thing than it was about hey, let’s do a gore fest here.

When is Abattoir set? Is it modern day?

Well, it is and it’s not. This is the thing about it. One of my favorite directors, Julie Taymor, did a movie called Titus which is based on the Shakespeare play. She took the past and mixed it with the present. That’s kind of what this is. They’re wearing clothes and they’re talking as if it was the ‘50s, but they’re still using iPhones, they still use computers and do all of that. It’s undefinable.

There’s two ways I look at that. If you go to my house, my house is full of old sh*t, typewriters and old school lights from the ‘50s. All the painting and artwork is from the ‘50s but I’m now. I live now. I just love that look. I took the same approach on Grady and Julie, that they are fans of the era and they immerse themselves in the era, but they also have modern things as well. So there’s a couple of times you see them pull out an iPhone or if they’re looking at a TV, it’s a normal TV. Mixing it with that kind of fantastical thing of they don’t use Blu-rays, they use VHS tapes. They don’t listen to modern music, they listen to 1940s music on CDs. It’s a more stylistic approach of addressing that noir thing.

Where was that ghost town they go to near the end of the film?

That’s a place in Louisiana, about an hour outside of New Orleans. The actual place is a steel mill. We just made it look like a town. Jen painted blinds on the street, put signs up, but it’s actually a steel mill. The house in which Allie, Lin Shaye’s character, lives in, was an old plantation house in the middle of New Orleans proper. Which is crazy because you’re in the middle of a city and you go a couple miles out, you’re surrounded in this crazy weird plantation house. It’s been actually used in a lot of movies. It’s funny because now you go, “Oh sh*t, that’s the house we used in Abattoir.”

When Lin Shaye shows up, did she get that character immediately?

She did. Two things about Lin Shaye. One, she’s a national treasure. Two, she was one of the first people involved with the movie. I pitched it to her really early on. She’s been attached to it for years. I think she probably never thought it was going to happen. I was like, “Oh, we’re going to make it this year, we’re going to make it this year.” A year passed. “No, Lin, tomorrow we’re going to leave, I promise you.” Then it’d get pushed. I think Lin Shaye attached herself when she was 31 to the movie and it took a couple years to get made. It was interesting to watch her work and her process. She got it right away.

I could say that with all the cast. Dayton Callie, Jesus, that guy is my favorite. He’s one of the creepiest dudes that I’ve had a chance to work with. He reminded be a little bit of Tobin Bell in his work ethic. You give him lines and he makes everything sound like poetry. You give him something to say and it’s just going to sound awesome. So that became a problem because he made everything sound so good, we just kept writing him awesome, awesome things. No, no, say this, say this. He was a fun guy and did a really good job as Jedediah Crone.

Jessica is someone you’ve worked with a lot, right?

Yeah, I actually met Jessica Lowndes when she first moved to Los Angeles. I ended up working with her a few years back on The Devil’s Carnival. We just clicked and connected. I really dug her as a person, so when I needed somebody to play this role, I thought of Jessica. She’s great.

Is this your first film with Joe Anderson?

It is. Joe actually auditioned for me for Mother’s Day. I really, really liked him. I liked his energy. He didn’t fit in well for what I was trying to do with Mother’s Day but he was a guy that I’d been a fan of from The Crazies to Horns to Across the Universe to The Grey. He’s a great actor as well.

Was Michael Pare someone you went after? Did he come and audition?

You know what’s funny about Michael, that role became written as we were filming the movie. I thought I needed this thing, so we were filming and they came up to me and said, “What about this guy?” It was funny because I looked at his headshot and I said, this is in the middle of production, I’m like, “Yeah, yeah, sure, he’s great.” Afterwards I realized, wait a minute, that’s Eddie and the Cruisers. That’s f***ing Streets of Fire. I geeked out on set when he showed up. It finally hit me who he was. I was like, “Oh my God, I grew up on your movies.” I really had a fanboy geek out moment which I don’t do often.