There aren't very many brand-name filmmakers in mainstream horror anymore. More than ever the genre is seen as a stepping stone, and those that start in it tend to move on after a hit. Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, however, hit it big and still stuck around. Yes, they're branching out into other fields with writing credits on big upcoming films like Pacific Rim and God of War, but they're still very much so a horror-loving duo. They wrote most of the Saw franchise, all of the Feast trilogy, and Piranha 3DD.
Their latest is The Collection, a sequel to their best collaboration together, The Collector. Both were not only written by the duo, but directed by Dunstan, and the result is a pair of films that is unmistakably them. And if you love movies with a soaring body count and gore to spare, you're going to really dig The Collection, a film about a team of mercenaries tasked with retrieving a young woman from the clutches of an elaborate serial killer.
The film recently enjoyed its world premiere at Fantastic Fest, which gave us the opportunity to sit down with the pair and talk about their love for sequels, as well as get quick updates on the myriad of other films and TV shows their names have been attached to over the years, including an adaptation of a very cool genre-blending book they cowrote with Stephen Romano called Black Light, about an exorcist (of sorts) pulling spirits off of a futuristic train.
Movies.com: What was on your check list of things you wanted in the sequel?
Marcus Dunstan: Basically it came down to the freedom that was allotted to the storytelling by the Liddel Group. A lot of the time when it comes to sequels, the mandate is to not complicate it, just give more. And more is tough to put a new coat of paint on it and surprise anyone. So with this it was absolutely liberating to have more resources, more creative outlets, and the ability to actually mess with the structure of the story. We promise you an entire teen-driven story, and then yank that out and let the adults from that Frankenheimer action movie step over their bodies and, oops, they walk into a horror movie.
Patrick Melton: We all grew up on horror movies. We know the pitfalls of sequels. We know that well, right?
Movies.com: Have you written more sequels than anyone in the industry? Has anyone crunched those numbers?
Melton: There should be a pie graph about it. But at least this one doesn't have a number after the title. That was nice.
I've seen too many great first movies, only to see the second one and go, “Oh, really, that was it?” I don't want to call any movies out, but there's certain pale cash grabs. And often they're rushed, because it's like, “Oh, sh*t, it was a success? Now we've got to get this out there!” And that's what was so amazing about how Saw 2 was so different, because that was not the movie I was expecting. They could easily have just done the same version again, some guy wakes up in a room and has to do bad sh*t. So we were aware of movies that were successful and ones that weren't. It's often a little bit of laziness of not trying to figure out what worked and what didn't. For us and the first movie, some people liked the ending and some didn't. It is a downer ending, which works for all the depraved people like us. But those looking for hope in the world didn't like it.
We knew how we wanted this one to end, so we had to work backward from that. Then you also get mandates from the producers and the financiers, which for us was to get a younger and prettier cast. And so we go, “Okay, I can see the bad version of that. I can see the parameters of that and I can see how it could turn into a lame version of the movie. But... how long do they have to survive?” And they're like, “Oh, it doesn't matter,” and so we're like “Okay! We'll just kill the teens in 10 minutes!”
We're all aware of movies with young hot kids who are like, “Yay, we're awesome!” and they've got crushes on each other and little things here and there that will play out for the whole movie and the pretty girl is going to survive to the end. And we wanted to set all that up in the first 10 minutes, then kind of destroy it. “Oh, that young girl you thought was cute and you were hoping to see her boobs later? Nope, she's going to die like everybody else.”
It was just trying to do things that were a little bit different, that would take the predictable and give it a few surprises. We looked at successful sequels. We looked a lot at Aliens. I didn't see Alien in theaters because I was too young, but I did see Aliens in the theater, and that movie upped the stakes big time.
Dunstan: And you didn't need the experience of Alien to love it. I saw Aliens first in a hotel room, and then I was able to do research and go,”Wait, there's another one? And it's a slasher movie in space with a xenomorph? Cool!”
Melton: An underserved subgenre of horror is the action field, I think. So that was big for us.
Movies.com: Another comparison was the jump from [REC] to [REC 2], which also combines an action, SWAT-team element with a teen element.
Melton: I like [REC 2] a lot. It takes the first one in a lot of interesting directions. For us... this one takes place in his lair, and has outsiders going into it, so for us that's always Aliens. They did it the best. So how are we going to do a different version of that?
Dunstan: There's a 30 Days of Night sequel that has the armed group going in, too. For us the biggest compliment so far is people saying that it's like Aliens because it's not us pitching it as Aliens, but if you can evoke that spirit, great. Because the thing about Aliens that I've never seen in any of the other sequels we're talking about is that Ripley was not born with a machine gun in her hands. She was just a shattered mom and it was the maternal instinct she followed. Whereas, others have a gal who is an army of one-liners in the third act, after she's been underdressed and terrorized. All of a sudden she knows how to sniper shoot and do all that? No.
Emma Fitzpatrick and Josh Stewart always kept them grounded and very real. And the archetype of the action heroes is that they just wandered into the wrong film. An action stereotype can't beat the killer, they can't do it. They're unprepared. They'd be ready for an army or for a shootout, but this is something else. This is evil taking over, and that's what I love. Give them both vulnerability and see what they do with the pieces.
Movies.com: Since you two have so many other projects you've been attached to, we just want to quickly run down the list and get the status of each them. First, God of War?
Melton: Writing the script.
Movies.com: The Outer Limits?
Melton: That's dead.
Movies.com: Were you on Halloween 3 at one point, or just Hellraiser?
Melton: Both. We helped out on Halloween 2 a little bit, though we really didn't do anything, and we were on Hellraiser but Dimension just couldn't get its act together.
Dunstan: He wrote this Hellraiser outline that was just awesome. It's not dead yet. We worked on it for some time, and we really hope it comes together at some point.
Melton: That was a TV show with Clive Barker. It's dead.
Movies.com: The last one is Black Light. Where's that at?
Melton: We've written a script, and we're in the middle of tweaking it with Michael De Luca, the producer.
Dunstan: I love that script. It's just badass. It began in the hotel room in between Feast pitches way back when. He had the idea to put a ghost hunter on a train, full scream ahead, and it became a book and now it's back to a screenplay. That journey has really resulted in a wonderful screenplay. That guy deserves to live on celluloid.
Melton: It's coming. I think the script is better than the book, because a lot of stuff in the book was streamlined to a certain extent. It's pretty visual because the black light needs to be realized in a certain way. I hope it comes together, but it's not very cheap, unfortunately.
Dunstan: If we want to challenge ourselves 30 degrees in a different way, to have the nice impact of violence that you get in the opening of Iron Man, or even a lot of the violence in The Avengers that looked like it hurt, if you can stay in that PG-13 yard maybe we'll get the freedom to take the character of Buck through that gauntlet and keep it emotional and intense. It's supernatural and spectral violence, so I think we can get away with it.
Movies.com: Anything else you're working on you'd like to talk about?
Dunstan: Rise! It's for Warner Bros. It's kind of like the Battle of Algiers with robots, and that thing is going to kick ass.
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