Last week, the French filmmaking duo Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury (INSIDE, LIVIDE, AMONG THE LIVING) stopped off at the 50th anniversary of The SITGES – International Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia to present their latest endeavour, the unsettling origin story of one of horror’s most feared icons, LEATHERFACE.
Going against the slasher grain to serve up a novel road movie approach to the franchise, LEATHERFACE follows four escaped mental patients and a kidnapped nurse as they attempt to flee local law enforcement, with one particular Texas Ranger, Hal Hartman (Stephen Dorff) our for vengeance. SCREAM sat down with Bustillo and Maury at Sitges to discuss reviving, and living up to, the legacy of Leatherface….
SCREAM: You’ve been involved in various attempts to reinvent franchises with projects such as Friday the 13th, Hellraiser, Halloween 2 and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Despite having created your very own cult classic, Inside, which has a huge fan base of its own, what is it that draws you to already established franchises. What was it specifically about Leatherface’s backstory that had you on board?
Julien Maury: When we read the script for the first time, we were very surprised because most other slasher stories always follow a very similar narrative structure but this was much more of a road movie. Obviously, you can’t make a remake or a reboot of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE because Tobe Hooper’s movie is probably the most powerful movie of all time. So what we did was try to forget the cult movie entirely and just try and do something very different and bring our own touch to the saga and we thought we could do exactly that when we read this script. Ultimately, we were trying to make a horror movie for the kids who were still in our own hearts rather than for the fans who were crying out that we had no right to make an entry in the Chainsaw franchise.
You mentioned the late, great Tobe Hooper. He was on board as Exec. Producer along with Kim Henkel. How involved were they with the project?
JM: Unfortunately, they were not involved in the project at all. We were actually really disappointed because when we agreed to do this project, one of our motivations was to be able to work and chat with Tobe and to hear his take on the story. Once the ball started rolling, the producers told us that Tobe was not involved and that it was just a contractual mention in the credits. I think he protected himself from the sequels and I don’t think he had a lot of interest in any of them.
We hoped to maybe get some feedback from him at the end of the project but he sadly passed away the day after the very first screening. We had our world premiere at FrightFest in the UK and he passed away the day after. We were shocked. Maybe he did see the film but, if he did, we aren’t aware of it.
Whenever films or television series explore the roots of a villain, very often explaining the underlying causes for their actions later on in life ends up marring a whole franchise as the audience are in a way forced to empathise with the psychopaths they’ve learned to love to hate. Was that something you were particularly concerned with when telling Leatherface’s backstory?
JM: As an audience, we don’t like to have all the keys and all the explanations. Like you said, it often spoils a franchise but sometimes it can be really interesting and I think that in Leatherface we’ve tried not to explain everything. We are just telling a tiny part of his youth and we don’t really go into too much detail about how he became the character we all know. At the end of the film, he is far away from being the crazy guy that we all know.
As brutal as Tobe Hooper’s original film is, there wasn’t actually all that much blood and gore in there. I was interested to hear that the only thing you requested to alter in Seth M. Sherwood’s script was some gore scenes that went way over the top for your liking, despite your love affair with all things gory.
Alexandre Bustillo: The script was way more over the top than the final film. When we first read the script, we asked the producers if we could rewrite the violent sequences because they were all just too much. To give you an example, at the end of the movie, about 30 people got killed in different ways with the chainsaw. It was like reading the end of Braindead again. We were like, “Guys! It’s too much! We LOVE gore but 30 people killed with a chainsaw? This is going to come across as more of a parody than anything else.” What we loved about the original was that there was only the odd splash of blood when necessary. It’s a very overwhelming movie and you can’t breathe all the way through the original.
I wanted to ask you about the score because you have John Frizzell on board who, of course, also scored TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D. Did you hand pick him because of his previous involvement in the franchise?
JM: No. That was the producer’s decision.
AB: If we’d have had the choice, we would have brought on board our regular composer. We did try during the prep and asked if we could bring Raphaël Gesqua into the mix but they wanted to use an American composer. We didn’t have the power to bring people on. It was a very difficult deal to have some people from France and some from America. We also asked to have our French DoP and our Editor, and the Set Director was French too.
One character we can’t not mention is the chainsaw itself. I believe you found the perfect tool of destruction on eBay?
AB: Yes. The art directors found that for us. It’s a real chainsaw from the ’50s so it was a real monster. It was like Christmas time when it arrived. We had to test it immediately and my God, it was a real engine of death. From the word go, we didn’t want to have to design something from scratch and we wanted to have this realness in terms of the design to fit in with the era the film was set in. Of course, we had to make some replicas on set but the special effects guys were amazing in that aspect and they managed to make a perfect replica so we had to be very careful which one we used for each different scene (laughs)…
Just to finish off, can you share anything about any imminent plans?
AB: Yeah, of course. We’re about to head off to the beach and then enjoy a good meal at a restaurant here in Sitges and then head back to Paris…
JM: (Laughs) We are working on five projects right now. Obviously, that doesn’t mean we’re making five movies. They are all things that we’d like to get off the ground eventually. We are obliged to work on a lot of different projects if we want to succeed. We honestly aren’t sure which of those projects will be our next movie, but we hope to know the answer in the next few months.
LEATHERFACE receives a limited theatrical run and full VOD release today, October 20, 2017.
Words: Howard Gorman