The following is an interview conducted with Toby Wilkins, director of “The Grudge 3” and “Splinter”, as well as numerous short films. He has been intimately involved with Ghost House Pictures for several years now, and he was kind enough to take time out of his day for Killer Reviews. Topics of discussion: “The Grudge 3” and “Splinter”, of course. But also Shawnee Smith, Sam Raimi, the difference between English and American taste… and yet another attempt to dig up dirt on David Hasselhoff.
GS: I’m here with Toby Wilkins, director of “Splinter” and “The Grudge 3” in the Green Room on the evening of Saturday, March 7 at the 2009 Fangoria Weekend of Horrors in Chicago… nice Green Room. Plenty of potato chips, but it isn’t green. Toby has also done the visual effects on countless other films.
TW: Twenty or so short films.
GS: Many of which can be viewed on the website.
TW: Many of the episodes of the web series. I think there’s something like twenty-five.
GS: It’s a lot to sort through, for those who are interested. Toby, could you give us a general background of your work in film?
TW: Sure. I grew up in England and moved to America in the mid-90s to get deeper into film. I was working on the periphery of film in England, but obviously there’s no way better to do that than through Hollywood. I went there and started pretty much on a parallel track, doing graphic design, title sequences, visual effects and directing all at the same time. I was using directing as more of a free, creative outlet. I couldn’t quit my day job, mind you, but working on other people’s films was always a great inspiration. You know, I was working with some of the biggest, most respected names in the business. Having peopel sit next to you and tell you, “Hey, if you wan to direct, just go out and do it,” was a huge… well, you can imagine.
TW: It was a real inspiration. It just gives you that extra kick. So I started directing about 1999, and after many, many years of film festivals, I won a few awards along the way and here I am.
GS: Very good. Your big break into the horror industry was “Splinter”, I believe.
TW: It was the feature, yeah. I got pretty deep into horror before that, working for Ghost House Pictures, working for Sam Raimi. They had a mobile division and then they kept giving me bigger and bigger projects to do until “The Grudge 3”.
GS: Could you recap “Splinter” for those of us who haven’t seen it yet? I don’t believe it had very wide theatrical screening around here.
TW: It didn’t play in Chicago. It played coast to coast but skipped over Chicago. What were you looking for?
GS: Just a run down of the story.
TW: It’s a throw-back to creature features of the 70s and 80s. People trapped in a confined space being attacked by a creature. Much the same as “The Grudge”, really, which has people trapped in a confined space being attacked by the ghost of Kayato.
GS: And it works. That’s classic horror.
TW: Yeah, exactly. It’s classic horror. You create characters you care about, take the audience on a journey that surprises them, and then give them a reason to watch.
GS: “The Grudge 3” comes out on DVD May 12. This is sort of a snarky question, take it how you will. What more really needed to be said in the “Grudge” series?
TW: I think a lot of people wanted closure. I think “Grudge 2” left a lot of open doors. The curse moved to America, and that opened a whole new can of worms. I think that was a great step for the “Grudge” family of films. Something you often see in horror films is the fish out of water concept. In “The Grudge”, Sarah Michelle Gellar is in…
TW: Japan, yeah, living and working in Japan. She’s a fish out of water and is inundated with the horror. And to take then the curse, and bring it to America, it becomes a fish out of water itself and becomes a great spin. And in “The Grudge 3” we bring someone from Japan to America to try to put a stop to the curse once and for all.
GS: It’s not just an excuse to have a sequel.
TW: Oh, no. Honestly, it was the same reason that was behind doing the short films. Everyone involved felt there were untold stories, more pieces to this puzzle that hadn’t been shown to audiences. And so when we were doing the short films to promote “The Grudge 2”, we were laying the groundwork for the concept of this curse being portable — the fact that it could travel. It could imbed itself in a person, and no matter how far you run it’s always going to follow you and it’s going to track you down and get you one way or another. And I still feel there are a lot of untold stories, a lot of history. The ghost had a lot of impact on a lot of people. Where’s it going next?
GS: Well, if there’s a “Grudge 4”, we’ll find out. And the third part stars Shawnee Smith, who is obviously huge in the world of horror with “The Blob” and the “Saw” franchise. Will her name draw extra attention to this film?
TW: I think so, yeah. I mean, even Marina Sirtis is a recognizable name and is absolutely beloved by the audience of her movies. People love to see the entire canon of someone’s work. So yeah, and obviously she lends a great performance to the film, as well. Shawnee is a great actress and when she comes on board a project like this, she really gives it her all. And she is genuinely scared. There are interviews with her where she said she thought all the stuff with Kayato was going to be done in CG in post [production]. Then the real Kayato walked on the set and terrified her. She doesn’t watch a lot of horror movies, strangely enough, so she’s very effected and genuinely scared.
GS: Well, that means the makeup department is doing their job well. Let’s talk about producer Sam Raimi, who you’ve been working with for a while now. I don’t even know what to say — Sam Raimi is about as huge as it gets.
TW: Absolutely. He’s built a really, really great team and Ghost House has been so supportive of me, ever since the short films in 2005. They were on the judging panel for my short film and they picked it as the winner of the festival. They’ve taken me under their wing since then. “Grudge 3” is the latest in a long line of work I’ve done with them.
GS: It’s nice to see a production company run by someone you know who cares about the industry.
TW: Absolutely. And they’re as much into doing short films as they are into finding the next generation of directors, trying to give everyone a chance. And they’re doing new and different things, from the web series to HD. For example, “Devil’s Trade”, which was a series I did for them on HD on Demand. It’s great that they’re taking those kinds of risks. Experimenting, finding new ways to get the genre out there.
GS: Now let’s move on to the general questions. You’re an Englishman.
GS: I don’t know about English mentality in general, but an English sense of humor is much different than an American sense of humor.
TW: I would agree with that.
GS: So, do you think as an Englishman you bring something to an American horror film that an American wouldn’t bring to it?
TW: I don’t know if that’s necessarily the case. There’s so much crossover between American movies and English movies. I grew up watching great movies like “Hellraiser”, “American Werewolf in London” and “Alien”. And they’re all either American directors or English directors or shot in England or — they’re all basically telling stories, introducing characters… I don’t know if there’s necessarily an English style or an American style. There’s certainly a great track record with English directors in horror, even recently. Take Danny Boyle and “28 Days Later”. Horror films have perhaps allowed English directors to be discovered in a way that wasn’t possible ten years ago, fifteen years ago. But I don’t know if there’s a different… I know what you mean about humor. Take “Severance” — lots of English actors, and the humor is very dry, very English. But the horror, I think, is the same.
GS: This is a question I always ask everybody — do you have any dirt on David Hasselhoff?
TW: I saw David Hasselhoff getting lunch in Beverly Hills about three weeks ago [roughly mid-February 2009]. I have no dirt, but I happen to know he was in Los Angeles.
GS: You said earlier during your Q&A that you submitted a script to studios that you can’t talk about. What can you tell us about that?
TW: It’s 98 pages long.
GS: And you hinted that it was comic book related?
TW: No, no. That’s a different project. What I was getting at is that there are several properties that I’ve had my eye on, and one of them is a comic book.
GS: If you had any other upcoming projects, this would be the time to mention them.
TW: Nothing I can talk about, unfortunately.
GS: Well, that’s all I have for you. Thanks for sitting down with us today.
TW: Thank you very much.