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Home Exclusive Interviews Interview: Jay Baruchel on Directing, Effects, and His Top Horror Movies

Interview: Jay Baruchel on Directing, Effects, and His Top Horror Movies

by Kelly McNeely
Jay Baruchel

Kelly McNeely: One last question for you. I know I’ve gotta let you go. As the massive horror fan that I know you are, if you were to recommend three to five horror films, what would you pick as just a general recommendation?

Jay Baruchel: Oh, awesome. Yeah, absolutely. Sadly, three of them are probably going to be on anyone’s list, but I’d say The Exorcist. There’s nothing better than William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. I think it’s still to me the scariest film ever made. And the best example of like, what the medium can be. But even you know, it’s a masterpiece. It’s a good film. It’s a good film, regardless of whether or not you like horror films. But on the list of recommended horror films, it’s the scariest fucking film there is, hands down. Especially for me, who went to Catholic school and was raised by a Catholic mother. If you’re remotely Christian, or know anybody that is, that movie lands especially hard on you. 

The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre by Tobe Hooper. I think that’s the other scariest film ever made. That’s like the first punk record. That shit goes hard! And it’s amazing to me that that shit goes as hard as it does, and it’s never once irresponsible. I don’t think that that’s a fucking ugly film. You can tell from what happens in the movie, but the people behind it are probably ugly, or their beliefs are ugly, their beliefs towards women, their beliefs towards other cultures, whatever it is. I think that that movie is harsh, but I don’t think it’s ugly. But regardless — that’s a great debate, I think — but regardless, it’s really fucking scary. And still, the scariest. It still goes hard. 

John Carpenter’s The Thing, obviously. For a billion different reasons. Best visual effects in any film, I think I would call 2001: A Space Odyssey. That’s one of the scariest films, I think, ever made. That’s scary in ways that I can’t tell you why, which is, you know, the scariest. 

Kelly McNeely: You just feel it. 

Jay Baruchel: You just feel it! Yeah! It’s like that time that I was just talking about when we didn’t have words to describe why we were scared. 2001 makes us go there. It makes us tiny, useless. And it is like — even though it has nothing to do with HP Lovecraft — it’s my favorite HP Lovecraft.

And I’d have to say Gravity. That’s the last movie that actually scared me. Legit scared me when I saw it in the theater, and I started having a panic attack. That first 20 minutes, I kept saying to my friend, Jesse [Chabot], who I wrote Random Acts of Violence with, I was like, I’m gonna… I’m gonna have to tell him… I have to meet him in the lobby. I’m going to tell him I can’t be here. I can’t finish this. I’m really scared. Like, my heart was — I was, like, dying there. And then I was just on this bed of anxiety for the rest of the fucking film and I can’t think of another film in the last, like, decade that’s done that to me.

Kelly McNeely: It’s such an amazing feeling as well when you get that feeling of, like, “I don’t want to be here but I have to stay here”. 

Jay Baruchel: I have to see this! That’s correct! That’s all I ever want to feel in a scary movie, that’s all I ever want to feel. 

I would have to put Poltergeist in there because I learned everything from watching that film when I was a kid. I adore that film. There’s so much value in it and I still think it’s scary as fuck, and I hate ghost shit usually. Most ghost movies are all set up and no punch line. I hate any movie that starts with 10 shots of empty hallways in the house. I’m already turning it off. And yet Poltergeist pulls it off. Poltergeist is damn near the only one that I think actually fucking works, and is actually scary. 

Kelly McNeely: It’s kind of the perfect ghost film, I think. 

Jay Baruchel: Yes. Yeah, definitely! Definitely. And then I would also have to say Zodiac, that movie is profoundly scary. In such an honest real way, like in a way that no other serial killer movie has ever come close to. And there’s other serial killer movies that I even like more, like I probably like Manhunter better, but Zodiac is way fucking scarier than Manhunter. Zodiac is scarier than any serial killer movie I can think of.

And you can do a lot worse than Psycho. And I know I’m listing the fucking holy canon here, but watching Psycho for the first time when I was 13 with my buddy Carl at a sleepover, we were gore hounds — him especially, more than me, in particular — so we’d seen all manner of shit. And for us to sit there watching a black and white flick made in the old way from an era that doesn’t look like ours. In an era that at that point — especially for my friend — anything from that era was goofy. Nothing real, silly, quaint, out of date.

And holy fuck did we stay up all night and were we not able to go to sleep because that movie fucking got to us. And when I still watch it, it still holds up, because it’s scary at its core. It’s not about the set pieces. It’s not about the editing and the shoot and the photography. It’s all those things, yes, but that’s not why the movie is still scary. The movie is still scary because it has an angry fucking soul. And what Psycho says — and that’s some fucking heavy weighted shit — it’s looking into the abyss, and you get to spend two hours looking into the abyss. 

So yeah, those would be my recommendations. And sorry, honorable mention. It’s not scary, but it’s probably the most difficult film I’ve seen, which is this movie called 7 Days. Les 7 Jours du Talion, it’s a Quebecois film. It’s a movie that I believe Prisoners ripped off a shitload. Prisoners ripped off 7 Days in a massive way. 7 Days has probably the best prosthetics I’ve ever seen in any movie. And a friend of Karim’s did that, actually. But it’s about this dude that finds the guy that killed his daughter, and he ties them up and says, you know, in a week, my daughter would have been five, and so I’m going to torture you every day until then. And it never once gets to a torture porn place. The movie is remarkably mature and remarkably responsible, and one of the hardest fucking things I’ve ever seen. I’m someone who loves a good revenge movie. This is the only revenge movie that makes the audience earn the kill the way the hero has to. That movie is special.

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