It’s been a couple of months, now, since I sat down to chat with Christopher Landon for iHorror’s first ever Horror Pride Month celebration. He was preparing to fly out to New Orleans to begin filming on Happy Death Day 2, but he was excited to take some time out of his very busy schedule to talk about what he thinks is an important subject.
“I want people who see my movies to know that the guy who comes up with that weird, fucked-up stuff in that movie they like is also gay,” Landon said. “He’s a gay man who is a husband and a father.”
Christopher, whose father was none other than television star Michael Landon, became a horror fan early in life and says he’s grateful that he grew up in the time of Romero, Carpenter, and Craven. It was Carpenter’s work that stood out the most for him, however, and he credits the horror master with shaping his desire to be a part of the industry.
“I remember going to the video store a lot when I was younger and I’d rent ten horror movies at a time,” he said, “but Halloween, The Fog, and The Thing were always in a pretty steady rotation.”
It was only a matter of time before he’d be steadily working in the industry, himself, writing scripts for short films and making a name for himself. It wasn’t until 2007, however, that he would find his name on a major film release.
That film was Blood & Chocolate, but, he says, it was not really his film and he is still a bit bummed about it.
“I wrote such a fun movie but they took it in a very different direction,” Landon explained. “My movie was decidedly ‘poppier’. It still had that Romeo & Juliet element but it was set in a high school in the States. My vision was weirder and definitely quirkier.”
The studio brought in Ehren Kruger to work on the script and it was ultimately Kruger’s vision that made it to the screen. Still, he learned a lot, and another project he wrote landed the same year with a much more satisfying result. That film was Disturbia and Landon could not have been happier with how it turned out.
He points out that this is why he thinks so many writers eventually turn to directing. It allows them to completely follow their vision from start to finish and hold onto some control over the final outcome.
Unfortunately, having a script changed or disagreeing on the importance of a plot point is not the only issue for a gay man in the film industry. According to Landon, discrimination is alive and well, and he recalled two instances in particular that have stuck with him over the years.
The first involved a disagreement over a casting decision for a role. Landon had a definite idea of who the character was and who the actress should be, but a studio executive disagreed.
“I was interested in performance, and they were interested the way she looked,” Landon explained. “So this studio executive, in front of everyone else in the room says,’Yeah, but you don’t even know what a hot girl is.’ I remember, I leaned forward in the chair and said, ‘Because I’m gay?'”
The exec froze on the spot and attempted to backtrack but the damage had already been done and Landon was not quite finished with him.
“I was furious,” the writer/director continued. “I told him ‘Don’t think for a second that a gay man doesn’t know what a hot woman is. There’s a long history of gay men helping women look hot.'”
The experience left a mark on Landon who says that while he was making Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse he ran into a similar situation with the studio over some of the elements in the film including a Scout Leader who is obsessed with Dolly Parton and a homeless man who leads a Britney Spears sing-along.
“I filled that movie with gay references,” he laughed. “I did those things because I like to bring my gayness into my work. Even if it’s not a character who is out, I’m still going to bring certain sensibilities to the table.”
The studio pushed back against some of these choices, and while they never said it, Landon said it was easy to figure out what they were thinking.
“They’ll never say ‘You’re making it too gay,'” he explained. “It’s all a reading-between-the-lines type of situation.”
There were better days to come for Landon, however, and he spoke fondly of working with Universal and Blumhouse while creating Happy Death Day, and his inclusion of a closeted gay character in the film.
In one of the films more memorable scenes, he and writer Scott Lobdell crafted a moment where Tree (Jessica Rothe) discovers that Tim (Caleb Spillyards), a frat guy who has been trying to get her to go out with him, is actually gay. Tree takes a moment in one iteration of the film’s time loop to tell Tim that she knows and that it’s okay to be himself.
“Universal was awesome and Jason Blum is the best,” he said. “The loved that I got to tuck in a message about helping someone come out of the closet and not be afraid of who they are. It was so nice to be able to do that in a movie and not have any push-back or concern.”
The scene resonated with audiences more than Landon anticipated and he pointed to one Twitter user who reached out to him to relate his own experience.
“He said he had always been unsure of himself and uncomfortable in his own skin,” Landon explained, “and then that moment happened and he saw audience members actually cheering and applauding and he realized that maybe it wasn’t as scary as he thought it was.”
He went on to say that ultimately visibility is key. The more someone sees something, the more comfortable they become with it. In fact, it’s this very philosophy that has been behind his prominent and open social media presence.
“It’s all there on social media and Instagram for people to see,” he said. “Myself, my husband, our son. I want them to see that we’re just like everyone else.”
Unfortunately, not everyone in the film industry is allowed to be so open, and as our discussion turned to the actors and actresses who are told to keep their sexual orientation a secret, Landon became heated.
“I’ve heard agents and management tell their actors to hide this part of themselves away and it pisses me off,” he said. “The whole point of being an actor is bringing part of yourself to the table but also inhabiting another person’s life. It’s crazy to me that people are told to hide and ignore a significant part of their life experience.”
When we talked more about issues of inclusion, the director’s passion about the subject was palpable.
“The LGBTQ community, like every other minority in this country, really knows the feeling of going out into the world and fearing for you life just for being who you are,” Landon explained. “I think that translates into the work, and the conversations that are going on right now about inclusion. We want Wakanda and we want more gay characters. We want stories told from a woman’s point of view and we want female superheroes.”
As our interview came to a close, Christopher became more introspective and thoughtful about the industry at large and the people who are working in horror today. He also seemed to come to a conclusion about his own involvement.
“There are a lot of queer people working in the horror business, and I don’t think it’s surprising at all, really,” he pointed out. “For me, it was a coping mechanism. I had so much fear inside me and writing horror helped exorcise some of that, I think. It’s been cathartic for me.”
Thankfully, that catharsis has been good for all of us in the audience, as well.