The Splat Pack Documentary - Exclusive Interview

The Splat Pack Documentary - Exclusive Interview
We pick the brains (slowly and painfully, of course) of the filmmakers.
Updated: 08-20-2010

Exclusive interview with the directors of The Splat Pack, an original, independent documentary on the clique of filmmakers behind hard core "torture porn" films such as Saw, Hostel, and The Devil's Rejects.

Staci Layne Wilson / What sparked the idea to do a doc on the so-called Splat Pack?
FRANK H. WOODWARD: (Wyrd) were in production on LOVECRAFT and were thinking of topics for our next film. This was around the time that Time Magazine ran an article on The Splat Pack. Bill Janczewski knew that I was a horror fan and had enjoyed producing the “Working With A Master” segments for Masters of Horror Season One. He asked if I thought there was a documentary there. I was already a huge fan of High Tension, Dog Soliders and Hostel so the thought of doing a documentary about the Splat Pack filmmakers promised to be all sorts of fun.
That’s when I called Mark Henry. He’s an even bigger genre fan and much more knowledgeable about Asian horror (which is an essential part of any Splat Pack discussion). We’ve known each other since film school and one of our favorite pastimes is dissecting horror and sci-fi films. How could we not do a horror documentary together?
WILSON: You have the originator of the term in your doc -- who is it, and who are the "splat pack"?
FRANK: Alan Jones is a British film critic and journalist who also runs Frighfest, England’s premiere horror film festival. Alan was working with Total Film when his editor asked him to write about the current crop of filmmakers who were making successful, visceral horror films. It was Alan that coined the name Splat Pack.
MARK HENRY: Alan has been writing about horror/sci-fi/fantasy for a great many years for a great many genre publications. I remember reading his Star Wars Cinefantastique article when I was kid. (Damn, I wish still had that issue!) That’s one of those things that probably lead to me being a bit of a pack rat. But I digress… He’s also written a number of books including a fantastic one on the films of Dario Argento. He featured a number of these directors in his Total Film article, “The New Blood”. Rebecca Winters Keegan’s Time magazine story altered his original list by adding the Saw creative team. For some reason she also happens to omit Greg McLean. Hence the list of filmmakers we decided to try and interview for our film. Fortunately, we were able to get Alan to participate. I think that our having such a long time genre film historian in our camp gives the film some gravitas.
FRANK: At the time, Alan chose eight directors as part of the Splat Pack. They were Eli Roth, Neil Marshall, Rob Zombie, Alexandre Aja, Darren Lynn Bousman, Greg McLean, James Wan, and Leigh Whannell. These were the guys who brought blood and gore back to a genre that had gone soft.
The films of the Scream generation are perfectly entertaining movies, but they mostly played it safe. They were scary in a theme park kind of way, but they hardly got your heart pounding. They weren’t as disturbing as horror should be.
Horror was also becoming less and less successful at the box office. Then the Saw films came out. I remember when Hostel made #1 at the box office and that shocked the hell out of a studio system. Studios still looked at horror films as B-movie fare. These films were also garnering critical praise. Critics couldn’t easily dismiss films like the Saw and Wolf Creek especially after they played Sundance to great acclaim.
Now that we’ve been through the whole “torture porn” debate it’s easy to think that the Splat Pack were so named because they sprayed blood all over the screen. But gore was merely a foundation. These directors made solid, clever, successful films. They’re not just the best horror films of the past 10 years. Some of these films are the best of the last decade… period.
MARK: Rob Zombie is in some ways the sort of the de-facto father of the pack… or maybe just the crazy old uncle. His House of a 1,000 Corpses, a quirky, stylized and somewhat polished version of an old school 70’s style grind house exploitation horror film was a hint of things to come. I say polished in the sense that he had a $7 million dollar budget to work with for his first film. That’s substantially more than most of the other directors in the pack had to work with for their debut films. Even more than some of them had for their second efforts. Of course it would take three years for the film to be released after Universal rejected it until Lionsgate came to the rescue.
His follow up, The Devil’s Rejects is just one hell of a cinematic experience. Equally and artfully balancing genres… Horror, drama, thriller… action. So many elements are there and he does them all while providing a visceral violence that makes for a remarkably intense movie. It’s just a great all around film.
Of course there’s Eli Roth. Cabin Fever, along with Adam Greene’s Hatchet are the two films that most emulate American horror films of the 80’s while infusing them with new blood… so to speak. I remember reading about Cabin Fever and the twist of the flesh eating disease that was killing off people. I thought that sounded so cool. It was such a great way to allow for gory images in a very natural way. He also made it clear that he wanted to go back to the horror films he grew up on like The Evil Dead and Texas Chainsaw Massacre and those slew of films that had glimpses of sex and nudity amidst the bloodshed of the slasher out to terrorize party hearty teens. What I didn’t expect was the amount of quirky humor that was in it. But that’s part of Eli’s sensibilities as a filmmaker. While it certainly is not without its intensity, Cerina Vincent’s leg shaving scene comes to mind, I was just expecting a bit more of that.
Then came Hostel. It had the intensity in spades, as well as the humor, the sly and at times twisted social commentary, and a whole lotta blood. Again, Eli frames all of these elements within a very well crafted narrative. It’s his ability to go for the jugular… or fingers, thigh or ankles as the case may be, and to so with a real filmmaker’s eye. There are those who criticize his movies and/or the violence but look at the stories he’s telling. How would you delve into these worlds and not show what’s essential to the narrative?
Despite the fact that he wasn’t sited by the Time article, nor mentioned on the wikipedia entry, Adam Green’s Hatchet had garnered a lot of buzz among horror circles. Besides, Alan Jones assertion was that the Splat Pack was as much a horror film movement that would grow as other filmmakers embraced a similar approach. Let’s face it. He managed to land a trio of horror icons in Kane Hodder, Robert Englund and Tony Todd. How could you not take notice? When I first saw Hatchet, the scene where Patrika Darbo’s character becomes Victor Crowley’s first victim from the swamp tour by having her head ripped apart at the jaw line… sheer insanity. I really wish that film had gotten a wider release than it did.
James Wan and Leigh Whannel, director and writer/produce/actor respectively of Saw established a sort of bleak tonality that’s worked its way in some small measure to some of the other films of the pack. Saw executes its basic premise of two men trapped in a room so well, that a lot of people seem to forget how elaborately plotted the film is and that they managed to make a lot more with their $1 million dollar plus budget than a number of filmmakers who have larger budgets do. Conversely, so many indie film producers looking to make a quick low-budget horror movie point to Saw as an example, that they seem to forget that it still had a million plus to work with. I think it’s a testament to how seemingly effortless Wan made it seem. Yet, he manages to give the primary single shithole of a room setting a visual style that somehow manages to simultaneously be both slick and gritty. He and Whannell crafted a film that’s almost as equally a good cop-thriller as it is an intense, slow burn of a horror film. The creation of Jigsaw, an elusive killer that would fit quite well amidst the contemporary killers in modern mystery-crime thriller literature and his twisted method of elaborate traps that offer victim ways out proved to be a crucial component for the film. Whannell’s screenplay and his script work on Saw II and Saw III laid the ground work for the series. It’s rather remarkable how the subsequent sequels still link back to the first film.
Speaking of Saw sequels, Darren Lynn Bousman stepped in to fill James Wan’s shoes and not only did an admirable job, but his sense of style built on what Wan had started and continued to create a sort of a unique visual vocabulary to the series that grew with each subsequent film. Saw II was a challenge in that he had far more characters to try and service than the first film. He upped the ante with Saw III in terms of style but also in terms of how the films would either get under your skin or churn your stomach but also have you wonder where the ever evolving narrative was going. Bousman would leave after Saw IV and dive into the ambitious and underrated Repo. It’s a crazy cross blended horror, sci-fi, techno rock musical that is worth checking out if only for the fact that it takes a chance in being different.
Alexandre Aja’s Haute Tension, or High Tension if you prefer, was this nouveau slasher film with style to burn. I remember renting from the now defunct Jerry’s Video Rerun in Los Feliz because Jerry and Mel were urging me to get it. They had managed to get the European home video release long before the Lionsgate released it in theaters here in the U.S. The moment I heard Muse on the start-up menu, I knew that I was in for something. From the opening credits, to the unnervingly brutal home invasion and right to the very end, despite the controversial twist (which doesn’t work for me personally) the film is so well made and packs such a wallop, you can’t help but be impressed.
I was skeptical about his remake of The Hills Have Eyes. Wes Craven’s original is such a good, gritty low budget gem that I couldn’t see how a big budget (relatively speaking) remake would have the same intensity. Leave it to Aja to make a film that’s just as freaky and intense as Craven’s but has the same flair he showed on Haute Tension.
Greg McLean’s Wolf Creek is not a film for the faint of heart. I have issues with the film but it has more to do with a moment of character motivation. As for the film itself? I’m definitely a fan. I have such respect for McLean’s willingness to be unflinching in its depictions of the violence and madness on screen. Not only did he want to break and defy conventions, he wanted to have a disturbing level of realism. That takes guts because you know right off the bat, people are going to have serious problems with it.
His follow up Rogue, is much more fun and conventional. Jaws by way of Alligator in the Aussie Outback. Like Wolf Creek, it’s beautifully photographed by cinematographer Will Gibson who unfortunately passed away in early 2007. It’s an enjoyable film for what it is and McLean’s still not above breaking some conventions but the film is more of a “wait to see who’s going to get it next” movie.
Neil Marshall’s magnificent forays into the horror genre, Dog Soldiers and The Descent are both different from the rest of the pack’s film in that they’re both essentially monster movies, werewolves and weird carnivorous mutant humanoid creatures respectively. However, they share multiple traits with the pack. Dog Soldiers plays like Predator with werewolves but while Predator is a sci-fi/action film, Dog Soldiers is decidedly a horror film with gallows humor. And it’s a hell of lot bloodier than Predator. This was another one of those great Jerry’s Video Rerun rentals. The film is bloody, exciting, funny and just an absolute adrenaline rush. All achieved on a limited budget. Marshall’s editing background is evident. The film is so tightly constructed. You realize you’re in the hands of a skilled director from the very beginning of the film. Not to mention he managed to assemble a terrific ensemble of British actors which includes Kevin McKidd, Sean Pertwee and Liam Cunnigham.
Neil Marshall’s sophomore effort The Descent is one of the most tension filled movie going experiences I’ve ever had… and that’s before the creatures even show up! Harry Knowles talks about his father’s reaction in the documentary which is one a number of viewers seem to have. It’s ironic that Marshall went from a primarily all male cast in Dog Soldiers to an all female one in The Descent. These women are adventure seekers but they’re also dealing with past emotional turmoil. Marshall does a tremendous job with characterization in this film which only adds to level of tension and suspense. Marshall’s use of gore is so effective because it’s used in a way the truly enhances the film viewing experience. It’s simply part of his cinematic palette. I think that’s evident in Doomsday as well.

STACI: How did you two meet and who else makes up Wyrd? What kinds of films have you produced, and what's your goal in presenting documentaries to genre-specific viewers?
MARK: Frank and I met in film school back at Temple University in Philadelphia. I became friends with him and Bill Janczewski during sophomore year when they were working in the school’s post-production facility while I was working in the equipment room. I ended up joining them in post the following year. I subsequently met Jim Myers through the two of them. I think what the three of them have decided to do in tackling genre documentaries is commendable. Their films intend to reach out to what may be considered niche audiences but those audiences also tend to be very engaged. An event like Comic-Con tends to create a hodgepodge effect which allows people to be exposed to things or learn more about things they only know of peripherally. It creates a level curiosity that I think is somewhat unique to so-called genre fans.
FRANK: Everyone in Wyrd has known each other for over 20 years. The Splat Pack is Wyrd’s second documentary. Our first was Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown which was a chronicle of that famed author’s life, work and mind.
The reason we make films about the fantastic genres (horror, sci-fi, fantasy) is because we’re fans. We love standing in line at Comic Con or the New Beverly and getting into long, deep discussions about why Edgar Wright is a genius or how George Lucas continually rapes my childhood. You should have heard Mark and I go on about Zombie’s Halloween II!   It wasn’t for the casual filmgoer, let me tell you.
As part of the geek generation, this is what we do. With Wyrd’s documentaries, we’re trying to recreate that same level of intense discussion. If you look at Lovecraft you’ll not only see an in depth biography of the author. You’ll also see a group of writers and filmmakers geeking out about Cthulhu… just like we do.
We also think that these genres are worthy of exploring to the level we do with Wyrd documentaries. Horror is an art form and as such we should have more films that explore the craft.

STACI: What sets The Splat Pack apart from, say, Going To Pieces or Not Quite Hollywood? It's a lot shorter and more to the point — I like that!
MARK: I’m a fan of Going To Pieces. It was certainly something that we looked at. However, that film is pretty much an all-encompassing history of the slasher film. I think our film is a bit more a kin to The American Nightmare in that we’re really focusing on a group of filmmakers and their impact and influence on the filmic landscape and pop culture at large. I think this film also presents the notion that these filmmakers are skilled directors who happen to have affinity for making horror films. Not to mention, having a score from Mars of Dead House Music really makes our film feel a bit more like a horror film instead of just a documentary.
FRANK: I’d like to think that Wyrd documentaries stand apart because of the amount of work we put into them. We take a lot of time editing our interviews into a strong narrative and I think it shows.
We also try to inject some artistry into it. Just because The Splat Pack is a documentary doesn’t mean we can’t have killer music. This is my second film with Mars. Mars is like me in that we love the genre down to our bones. It comes across in Mars’ score.
Something else that was new for us this time around is that we gave The Splat Pack a title sequence. Markus Reyes did some twisted art for us to use in the doc. His work captures the spirit of the Splat Pack films and helps elevate our doc quite a bit.
Filmmakers always talk about how film is a collaborative medium. Documentaries are even more so. It wasn’t just Mark and I making The Splat Pack. It was my partners in Wyrd, Mars, and Markus. Most important, it was every person who was generous enough with their time to sit for an hour and talk about their work. Without great interviews, we wouldn’t have a film.

STACI: Do you yourselves enjoy the so-called torture porn genre? What are some really prime examples of good ones?
FRANK: I’m a monster kid. That means I respond more to The Descent than I do to Wolf Creek. It doesn’t mean, however, that I can’t recognize how effective and entertaining “torture porn” can be. Hostel is an absolute blast! The Jigsaw story at the heart of the Saw series is actually quite epic when you think about it.
The funny thing about “torture porn” is that it really only applies to a handful of Splat Pack films. Dog Soldiers is a werewolf movie. The Hills Have Eyes is all about mutant fun. Even The Devil’s Rejects isn’t about torture per se. Psychopaths who do nasty things to people, yes. Torture as an act is something more specific and different.
MARK: Well, according to David Edelstein Passion of the Christ is awesome torture porn flick… the most successful ever! His article is a good read and all but quite frankly I think he was fully aware of it being a loaded phrase. I mean why not call out the publishing industry for putting all manner of ghastly true crime books while he’s at it. Or the vast number of crime fiction featuring serial killers or sadistic murderers?
Something he mentions in his article that I think betrays his argument somewhat as someone who is supposed to have a certain appreciation for horror films, is his comparison of the films of the Splat Pack to those of the 70’s and 80’s. I’m paraphrasing here… but he mentions that the older films have characters that seem interchangeable and expendable while films like Hostel, and in particular Wolf Creek, have characters that are recognizable, decent and human. Unfortunately, that happens in real life. Decent people become the victims of horrific crimes. I realize a film like Wolf Creek isn’t for everyone but Greg McLean decided that he wanted to take this horror film seriously and realistically. Plenty of critics want to see that realism in a rich, character driven drama but condemn a filmmaker for doing that in a horror film. I think the negative reaction to that film for a lot of people is that it’s just so damn bleak and ugly… and maybe that’s just a little too real for some people to take. It’s a film that reminds us that ugliness exists. I understand if it doesn’t fit a person’s sensibilities for what they like in a movie but that certainly doesn’t make it a film bad.

STACI: Do you feel that this genre of film kind of opened the door to more graphic violence and unflinching looks at bodies on TV shows, such as CSI and Dexter? What about true crime shows like Cold Case Files or City Confidential? Those have more gory details than a Saw movie, sometimes!
FRANK: I think the Splat Pack films definitely influenced what was acceptable in more mainstream fare. I don’t think it started the change so much, however. It’s been a long time coming going all the way back to Arthur Hiller’s Bonnie & Clyde and Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. Then we had Seven and Silence of the Lambs making serial killers into popular figures. The success of the Splat Pack films did put graphic violence and body parts into the zeitgeist, though, and television writers tend to be of the generation that go to see Saw. There’s no doubt it made an impression. Like you said, Staci, when you look at The Dark Knight it’s hard not to think of the Splat Pack films. The Joker would be at home in a Rob Zombie film.
MARK: I actually think it worked both ways. CSI started in 2000 and they were doing some pretty shocking things then. I think in effort to sort “keep up” if you will they may have since take cues from the levels of visceral imagery of the Splat Pack style of film. At the end of the day, it’s a crime show that focuses on the science of determining how a homicide was committed. Let’s not forget that show and its spinoffs are all on network TV! A premium cable show like Dexter has horrific imagery one normally finds in R-rated horror films or crime thrillers. Or even better yet… True Blood! Vampires getting staked on that show make the vamps getting dusted on Buffy look a Saturday morning kids show.
STACI: Based on what you know from the inside out, what's the next trend in horror films?
MARK: Whatever makes money. But seriously… well, that is being serious to a point. My hope is that the trend is for good horror films no matter what type they are. I hate to say it… but even some remakes. In particular I’m talking about Darren Lynn Bousman’s Mother’s Day and Let Me In, the American remake of the amazing Swedish film Let The Right One In. I realize that may sound sacrilegious but what I’ve seen from Let Me In, I’ve really liked. Not to mention, the film is being co-produced and distributed under the new Hammer Films banner. As for Mother’s Day? Darren cast Rebecca De Mornay as the Mother. I am so there. I can’t wait to see Piranha 3D. The sequence we saw at Comic-Con was just jaw dropping. It’s the sort of you have to see it to believe it over the top blood and gore. Yet Alexandre Aja approaches it with such skill. And of course Victor Crowley returns in Adam Green’s Hatchet 2.
For those viewers that want a more atmospheric chiller… great. Let’s hope that the Eli Roth produced The Last Exorcism, Paranormal Activity 2 and James Wan and Leigh Whannel’s Insidious, which is ironically co-produced by Paranormal Activity director Oren Peli, satisfies horror fans and moviegoers. I for one am looking forward to all of them. Hopefully, the films will first and foremost be good ones.
FRANK: I’d like to think that the next trend is a return to originality. Sequels and remakes are part of the Hollywood game and while I’ll be enjoying Piranha 3D from the theater’s sweet spot this weekend, I want to see these talented filmmakers explore new stories. Whenever they do, it’s time well spent. See Repo! The Genetic Opera if you don’t believe me.
We’ve just suffered through a cycle of remakes and soft-core horror (Paranormal Activity). Only the indies have been holding up their end (films like Deadgirl and Grace). With Piranha 3D, though, gore is making a bigtime comeback. If it does well I think we’ll be seeing more films with the Splat Pack sensibility.
STACI: How can people see The Splat Pack?
FRANK: The Splat Pack’s initial release is through a new download service called Essentially it allows people to download a virtual DVD to their computer (and in the next month people will be able to play it on their iPad and iPhone). This allows The Splat Pack to come with a few extra goodies.
It will be $9.99 to rent and $4.25 to rent for 5 days. We’ll also be pressing a limited run of DVDs in the next month or so. We’ll keep you updated on that. We’re also working on making The Splat Pack available on other download services. The indie self-distribution game is an ongoing process.

STACI: What's next for Wyrd?
FRANK: Wyrd has two new documentaries in the works. One is called Men In Suits. The other will explore the counter culture of steampunk.
Suits will look the history of creature suits and the gifted actors who bring these characters to life. We’ve just passed the halfway mark on that one.
Our next stage is what we’re calling The Godzilla Interview. We’re planning to go to Tokyo and interview the Godzilla actors (Haruo Nakajima, the original Gojira, is still with us) and explore Japan’s love of guys in suits. We’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund this stage of production. If anyone wants to support The Godzilla Interview, you can look us up on
Outside of that… now that The Splat Pack is out I think Wyrd may take a much needed breath before getting back to work. We’re always working on something because we love what we do.
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