05th Mar2018

‘Death House’ Interview: Director Harrison Smith (Part 2)

by Philip Rogers

With the highly-anticipated horror Death House released in cinemas this past weekend, I got a chance to talk to director Harrison Smith about the film. In this second part of our chat, Smith talks about the planned Death House sequels AND prequel, along with this other projects Garlic and Gunpowder, Skulk and Keepsake, plus he offer advice on how to break into filmmaking.

If you haven’t read part one of our interview, you can check that out right here DEFINITELY read that part before reading further!


So there’s going to be an prequel and five sequels to Death House.. how many of these have go completed scripts so far and when are you looking to start shooting them?

Death House 2 has a completed script, the others are in treatment phase. As for shooting dates I don’t know. The problem with this industry is that everybody bullshi*ts. So if I gave you an arbitrary date, an artificial deadline of say next year and it doesn’t come out… Well then fans would be like “Err… Harrison Smith said it would be coming out this year!” So I don’t do that. We have them planned but it all depends on how well Death House does, if the investors get their money back. If they get their money back we’ll see a Death House 2 and then you’ll see the prequel – the working title of which is “The Dawn of Five Evils” and the title for Death House 2 is NOT Death House 2 – its just all working titles for now.

Will you be directing the prequel and sequels?

That’s the plan unless the projects come up. I am looking forward to directing the sequel, I really am. It’s going to be a lot of fun as it’s even more darker than this one.

Can you let us in on what we can expect from the sequel or is it under wraps?

Sure… The sequel builds off of Tony Todd’s character a little bit and one of the five evils. In fact each of the sequels will feature one of the five evils in their own movie. The sequel also involves organ trafficking. That’s the most I’ll tell you… But I will say it’s wild!

As a director you’re know predominantly for horror but your next film, Garlic and Gunpowder, is a comedy. What attracted you to the film?

To be honest it was a comedy and I wanted to do something light (laughs). I really did. So when the original story cam to me I asked the producers if I could take a directors pass at it because I wanted it to be more… the original story was dark and I thought it should be lighter, more like It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. I wanted a little bit more slapstick and zaniness to it, I wanted something lighter. After I did Death House, Camp Dread and all these [horror] films I thought “lighten up!”

So that was the big thing that attracted me to it – getting the chance to do something light and fun and I love It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, it’s one of my favourite movies of all time, I absolutely adore it and I wanted to make something similar but I could never get the budget. We still don’t have the budget but I think for the budget we have people will be pretty impressed with Garlic and Gunpowder.

Having made horror movies, and now a comedy, are there any other genres you’d like to tackle?

I’d love to do a drama, I’d love to do some studio work too – whether its television or feature film work, I’d love to make the crossover into studio work… If Blumhouse is reading I’d love Blumhouse to take a crack at me, give me a shot at something and let me see what I can do.

Are there any other projects you’re working on at the moment?

Yeah we’re working on a film called Skulk, which I can’t say too much about right now. We also have Keepsake, a supernatural horror film which is ready to shoot in Puerto Rico this month, and that’s going to be a big one I think. I’m excited about it – I wrote the original story and I’m producing but I’m not directing. I will be producing and directing on Skulk.

If someone’s looking to direct their first film, what advice would you give them?

Wow. Well it’s really simple and a lot of people will argue it isn’t. It’s as simple as make your movie, don’t talk about it. I say that a lot… There’s so much talk out there these days, everybody says there’re going to do this and plans to do that but it’s all talk. Just go out and make your movie. You find the money, you work at it, you do what you have to do.

You see all these wonderful, inspirational things, online about how its hard work, its about failing that matters. But our public schools, I don’t know about overseas, but they teach you can’t fail, you shouldn’t fail, it hurts self-esteem. Failure hurts children, ruins them, its terrible… but at the same time you see all these things online that say we must embrace failure to finally succeed. But you can’t have it both ways. Schools are wrong. You need to fail, you need to get the zero, you need to be told you’re wrong. The playing field is not level and it shouldn’t be, its why we have first place and second place, winners and losers; and lousy filmmaker should be weeded out, just as lousy doctors and lousy teachers should be.

Why should lousy filmmakers be allowed to go out and make movies? They do, because Hollywood bucks that system – every industry does it: they reward the incompetent, it’s the Peter Principle, people promoted to the highest level of their incompetence. Hollywood is a shining example of that. We can name filmmakers, studios and films right now that are examples of it… Ghostbusters 2016 is a shining example of when ineptitude, arrogance and stupidity all form together with a lot of money – you make one big, expensive, unfunny movie that NOBODY was asking for; not even Bill Murray. And we can thank Bill Murray for Ghostbusters 2016, for as much as every hates on [the new Ghostbusters] he prevented a third Ghostbusters movie from being made when Harold Ramis was still alive – he kept saying “no it’s gotta be good, I’m not doing something that’s terrible or half-baked”, but he then turns around and gives a cameo in the new movie?! For the time he was in that movie he could’ve given us Peter Venkman passing the torch to the ladies and that would’ve lessened the uproar against the film – by the old cast handing the torch over and making it a quasi-reboot/sequel like Jurassic World was. But instead of doing it that way you just p*ssed off people who loved the original film. It falls under the idea of just because you can doesn’t mean you should…. I could’ve shot two movies just on their catering budget!

I know how I sound, I know how I come across, especially online, I don’t know it all and I’m not a know it all… I see the tweets of some film reviewers and critics and they’re presented like they’re the definitive authority and there’s no problem there but if I speak my mind [they say] I’m angry, I’m frustrated. I’m not. I’m just passionate about things… The lighting rod for me – the one thing that people think I’m a terrible person for – is my opinion of the 1980s The Shining. I think that version of the film, with Jack Nicholson, is a beautiful motion picture, it’s well shot, well produced, it has some striking imagery, but in the ending its dull… It’s dull and it has no surprises and it moves a mile every five weeks. It has, basically, nothing to do with the source material and the casting of Jack Nicholson, whereas everyone says its awesome, it’s just Jack… and without Jack, well you’ve got jack! If you replaced him with another actor through CGI, well it ain’t the same movie; and the reason why is because it was a Jack Nicholson tour-de-force that took away from the fact the the movie, while out looks good, is pretty empty.

Even Kubrick said it himself – he said he was the wrong director for the movie, he se out to make an anti-ghost story. Why? I said in the interview earlier about giving people what they want? It’s like if I made Death House as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a social commentary movie instead of a horror film? I bet you a lot of p*ssed off fans would be really upset about it! Let’s make Jaws an environmental film, give it to Kubrick… No one would argue with him because he’s the master. He was the wrong director for the project and everybody forgets that The Shining was met with a mediocre “Meh!” response when it was first released; even the reviews were tepid. It’s only become a classic in the twenty-odd years since; and it’s only achieved that as it’s one of the few well-made Stephen King films – not all of them can say that.

Stephen King has been booted around pretty hard in Hollywood – for every Carrie there’s a Sleepwalkers or a Maximum Overdrive – even Pet Sematary. When somebody said “oh I can’t believe they’re remaking Pet Sematary” I could see there actually a good chance of improving on that film. And that’s what remakes should do, improve on the original. No one’s arguing that Chuck Russell’s The Blob is a better film that the Steve McQueen original but it was. It was made better, it was written better. OK [the original] was Steven McQueen, it was his breakout film but that’s really all it has. If Steven McQueen hadn’t gone on to be such a major star we wouldn’t be taking about [his version of] The Blob. But that’s the thing, nobody wants to hear that, we all have to stick to the narrative – or people will come running out like the aliens, pointing that finger and screaming at you like the aliens in Invasion of the Body Snatchers… And everyone believes online that their opinion is the right one, the most important and you can’t speak up [against that].

I’m not saying what I say is important, express what I think and people can agree with it or not; and you know what? People can say the same thing about Death House: “Oh Harrison, I saw Death House and it isn’t anything like Escape From New York and it sucked!” OK, that’s your opinion. But at least I didn’t set out to make the anti-horror movie… I didn’t take Tony Todd and everyone else and make them into characters nobody wants, well unless they want Candyman [again]. Interestingly Tony Todd, in his panel at Scare-A-Con, revealed that he was offered an incredible amount of money to return to Candyman in Candyman vs. Leprechaun(!) and he turned it down. And I’m glad he did. But there were people in the audience who said “Oh, I’d pay to see that” and I wanted to say that THEY are the problem, they’re the problem with horror, It’s why horror is in the state its in right now. No want REALLY wants to see that!

One last thing… is there any word on a UK release for Death House at all?

We’re talking about it, trying to finalise the details. All I can say is that Sony will be handling the release there.


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