With a few successful TV projects (including an episode of Steven Spielberg’s Taken) and a big budget action feature (Sahara) under his belt, Breck Eisner piqued the interest of a somewhat unexpected crowd with his hit 2009 horror flick The Crazies. The film, which came stamped with Romero’s seal of approval, delighted many horror fans and made the industry sit up and take note of this new force in ‘Genre’ filmmaking. After a few false rumours (including a supposed remake of Cronenberg’s The Brood) Eisner has officially announced a slate of exciting remakes and adaptions, including Flash Gordon and Escape from New York. Fan the Fire jumped at the chance to interview this exciting and prolific new horror filmmaker…
FtF: With The Crazies and many of the films on your slate at the moment, you have developed a clearly defined voice within the horror genre. Is this just an accident or is horror a genre that has been close to you heart since childhood?
BE: Well for me, ‘genre’ movies are my real love: Horror, Sci-Fi, and the specific world of ‘Genre’ movies. As a kid, I think it was when I saw Carpenter’s The Thing that I really got hooked. I’m a huge fan of Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers but it was really The Thing that got me. I have this memory of being in a packed movie theatre in Los Angeles and being absolutely terrified and not being able to sleep. For some reason I found that to be a really compelling draw into a genre movie. I think that is because I like horror movies that are ‘solid’ movies that really stand up on their own; that aren’t just about the kills but are also about the story and the characters’ journeys. Then when you add the element of horror it has the ability to sit with you for a while. I think it is a really interesting way to pull characters apart and explore their inner-core.
FtF: Hmmm, often quite literally! Well The Crazies is a perfect example of a horror film with a strong human story; but the thing that really stuck in my mind after watching the film were some of the excellent set-pieces (the combine harvester, the car wash, the truck stop, etc). Are these homages or just the result of throwing ideas around?
BE: Those elements really came from just throwing ideas around. I think the combine scene was one of the first things that I threw out there while developing the movie. I remember thinking about the fact that it was going to take place in a farming community so you are thinking about what elements can seem horrific when considered in a state other than the way that was intended. A combine is really a giant, rotating sharp blade, so it is clearly a fantastic use of a farm-based, everyday piece of technology in a horror setting. The car wash also just came about when we were throwing around ideas about what was the best thing we could use where water is a possible threat when people are contained within a car. When I was a kid, in Los Angeles you weren’t allowed to ride through the car wash in a car, there was an ordinance against it. But then on the East Coast my friends that I had grown up with were all allowed to ride through the car wash and they all loved the experience and as a child I was very jealous that I didn’t get to do it. So I think maybe that’s where that one came from.
FtF: The film, like any good horror, is respectful of its heritage and pays tribute to the genre it is contained within. But then the appearance of ‘the infected’ is unusually subtle and realistic. Was that a conscious decision throughout the development of the project or just an aesthetic ‘make-up’ decision?
BE: Well that is a result of multiple factors. In the beginning, when the people are first infected, there is no physical manifestation of the disease. It is simply behavioural; it doesn’t affect the way they walk or anything so you would have to know the person when they are first infected to know that they are sick, otherwise you would think that this is just the way they are. As the movie progresses and the infected become more and more ill, the disease takes on accelerated physical manifestations; we researched real events to help us design the ‘look’ of the disease.
FtF: There were rumours that you would be remaking Cronenberg’s The Brood but then you turned the project down. Did you feel this was a film that shouldn’t be remade?
BE: Well I am a huge fan of The Brood; it was very risky and it took some huge chances. I don’t think nowadays you can do that film justice and push the edge as far as Cronenberg did.
FtF: So how do you decide, on a personal level, which horror films you would like to have a creative involvement in remaking, and which should be left alone?
BE: Well, two of my favourite movies, as I mentioned, are Carpenter’s The Thing and Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and those are both remakes. And that gave me a great deal of confidence in my decision to remake The Crazies (as well as the fact that George Romero owned the rights and personally sanctioned it). But what is most important is, you have to decide if you can make a good movie. I believe that the horror audience is the most sophisticated film-going audience, they are the real cinephiles, and they will respect you if you make a good movie. It doesn’t matter necessarily what the title is or what the remake is or what the original was; if you set out to make a movie that has a strong plot, strong characters, and real character journeys, and I suppose a real message to the movie, then you can pull it off. So I think the key is to make sure that the source material you are using will allow you to do all of these things and to first and foremost make a movie that is good.
FtF: What inspired you to create a remake of Flash Gordon?
BE: Well I set up the rights for Flash Gordon with Sony about a year ago. We optioned the Hearst comic books from the 30s to the present day. We actually didn’t even option the 80s version of the movie; this is very much a movie based on the original comic books and the original strips, so it’s not in any way a remake of the De Laurentiis movie.
FtF: Escape from New York is another classic movie that has piqued your interest. What is it about that project that inspired you to get involved?
BE: Well as a kid I absolutely loved that movie, and this is a direct remake. I was hired by New Line and Canal+ who are co-financing the movie; and they had a good draft and I hired a writer to do the final production draft. Hopefully in a few months we’ll have that draft done and then we’ll go to talent and start budgeting the movie.
FtF: Most of the films on your slate are specifically American (The Crazies is firmly rooted in the mid-West farmland, and Escape from New York speaks for itself). Do you prefer making films about America?
BE: Not necessarily, I actually just started developing a comic book, Blood of the Innocent, by a guy named Mark Wheatley, which is about Jack the Ripper. Specifically, it is about Jack the Ripper versus Dracula; it sort of twists history on its side and suggests that Jack the Ripper was actually fighting vampire brides and trying to prevent a vampire infection and chasing Dracula across England. I am certainly interested in the middle-American world explored in The Crazies, but the history and origins of great horror really are not from the United States, so I’m very interested in exploring other areas.
The Crazies is out on DVD and Blu-Ray from July 19th.