Director Harrison Smith is no stranger to the horror genre. While he is relatively new to the director’s chair he knows how to deliver high quality genre films on a surprisingly modest budget. Smith’s titles include; 2011’s The Fields as writer, 2012’s Six Degrees of Hell as writer, 2014’s Camp Dread as writer and director, and 2015’s ZK: Elephant’s Graveyard (aka Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard) as writer and director. In fact, it was at Zombie Killers where Harrison Smith was approached to do the film Death House.
At the screening of ZK, Entertainment Factory producers Rick Finklestein and Steven Chase pitched Harrison the idea originally conceived the late and great Gunnar Hansen, star of 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. While another writer had initially tried to flesh out the idea into a workable movie script, Entertainment Factory wanted Harrison Smith to re-write the project and direct it. After hearing their idea Smith took on the project, scrapped the re-write, and used Hansen’s bare bones of a great concept to go to work.
Two years later we finally have a trailer for a movie that looks like it will be one hell of a good time!
I had the honor of interviewing Harrison Smith, so please read bellow and learn all about the making of Death House!
iHorror: In your own words, what is Death House about?
Harrison Smith: The film is about good and evil and its place in the world and universe. We are living in dangerous times, and the line between what is good and bad is blurred beyond recognition. We have groups on all sides of the spectrum dictating to us what is good, what is pure, what is bad, what is evil and what is politically correct and incorrect. The grey area between good and evil is perhaps the deadliest.
Take this answer and apply it to a facility that churns out death as its product, packaged as good, and you have real horror. Why? Because it’s happening all around us now.
iH: Originally Death House is the brainchild of Gunnar Hansen. How, and when, did you join the project?
HS: My Cynema Series found here: http://horrorfuel.com/author/harrison/
This has several “Road to Death House” pieces which answer this in detail. It’s a question I get all the time, but this should give you plenty to answer.
iHorror note: This story is a MUST read if you want to know how Harrison became involved with the movie. I read it and attempted to condense it, but you’ll be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t go read it in its entirety.
iH: Why has it taken so long to bring Death House to the fans?
HS: There are a number of issues and I think you will see that in those articles I listed. However the big thing was finding the right story. Gunnar was not happy with his original script, which he feared was too art house. He did let someone take a second pass and it turned into torture porn. He wasn’t happy about that, and then it came to me. On top of, add actor availability, finding the money and getting all of that together, and you see why it took over five years to get it done.
iH: What was it like bringing this ensemble of actors together?
HS: This can also be found in those articles. However it was a dream come true to be surrounded by so many of these folks. They are actors, not just horror icons, and their work is so varied and diverse. From stage to film to TV and in between you have writers, musicians…they are just such fun and eclectic people.
iH: The trailer shows one beautiful practical effect in particular, can we expect more gore?
HS: There is plenty of blood and gore. The recent CENFLO film festival had audiences groaning, hiding eyes, clapping, laughing at the blood and gore. No one is going to accuse Death House of not having enough blood. Roy Knyrim and SOTA FX outdid themselves in this department.
iH: Can horror fans expect any small nods to the movies that made these men and women famous, either in the script or the set design?
HS: This film is LOADED with Easter eggs and references to other horror. However it never trips over itself in that regard. I was once given a script which had all the characters named after major horror characters and it’s so ham fisted and dumb it takes you out of the movie before it even starts. Naming characters “Regan” or having last names like “Strode” or “Voorhees” are signs of bad writing. However, if you know your horror, you’re gonna see and hear a lot of subtle things, and if you stay for the ending credits we have the ultimate and ACTUAL best Easter Egg in the film for viewers.
iH: Did any pissing competitions take place on set for who’s the biggest, bad ass horror villain?
HS: Absolutely not. Only if you count them ragging and teasing each other. It was a pleasant and fun shoot with each one knowing they were there for Gunnar. The only issues came from a few actors who were not in the film who thought it might be all about them.
iH: Kane Hodder is a notorious on set prankster. Did you witness any such pranks amongst the cast on set?
HS: Yes. A few I can’t say because it might piss off some people who were victims to them. However he regularly quoted Blazing Saddles, always had a funny insight, and when you got him, Moseley and Berryman together it was a class clown convention.
iH: What was your favorite scene to direct?
HS: Wow. Wasn’t asked that one before. I guess I would have to say, without offense to everyone else, that I really enjoyed the scene with Dee, Cody and Cortney making their way through the dark hallway which was this fun house tour of terror. I never let them know the things they were gonna see. They knew they were gonna see SOMETHING, but I never told them exactly what. That way their reactions would be real. And we got that. It’s terrific.
iH: Who was your favorite on screen combination of horror veterans?
HS: All of them. There were so many scenes, one does not stand out. Each one was individual in its own way.
iH: When and where can we see Death House?
HS: The film is getting a large theatrical release starting January 2017. Cities and markets to be announced but opening in 44 states.
iH: What do you hope fans take away from Death House?
HS: An open mind, lots of questions and the need to see it again to catch all that they missed. Also I hope they take away a new appreciation for the actors and the work they have given us and to the genre. It’s not all about superheroes, Marvel and Star Wars, and franchises.
iH: If Gunnar Hansen was able to see the finished movie, what do you think he would say?
HS: Being that he read the shooting script and said personally he approved of it and it had his blessing, I believe he would be happy with the finished film. I stuck to his hope to keep art in the film and not just make a splatter movie. He wanted something smart as well as entertaining, and frankly, why can’t something be both? Horror can be smart. Expect more from your entertainment and you will see better product come forth.
iHorror would like to thank Harrison Smith for taking the time out of his busy schedule for this interview!