Gretel & Hansel Director Osgood Perkins could be considered Hollywood horror royalty. For those who don’t know his father is legendary actor Anthony Perkins who played the conflicted killer Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and its subsequent sequels.
Osgood’s latest work is Gretel & Hansel which just opened to some critical acclaim. Horror movies have had a recent renaissance in the past few years, some good, some bad, but ask a horror fan what is considered horror–and what isn’t–and you’ll get varied answers.
I sat down with Osgood to discuss this very topic among other things including what he considers horror. What I discovered is he has a definite vision of where he wants to take things and that includes making the genre just as frightening and just as moody for a younger audience.
iHorror: When you first saw the script for Gretel & Hansel with the names switched, how did you react?
Osgood Perkins: It seemed to me right off the bat that it was an opportunity to push—not in the direction of, ‘Oh, How can we make this into a pointless horror movie?’—but push it into the direction of making this into a coming-of-age story. For me, I started more thinking of it as ‘becoming of age’ right? And so this quality of like ‘oh if Gretel’s name is foreground then it implies that she’s going to experience a growth’ and so it became about what can that growth be and more importantly what can that growth be vis-à-vis Hansel?
Because if the expectation is that these two go together, how can we make this both a coming-of-age story and make that coming-of-age be related to this intrinsic relationship?
Were you afraid that people would expect more of an action film like the adaptation released in 2013?
Yeah and luckily the draft of the script that came to me was so faithful to the original telling and didn’t clutter the narrative with a bunch of additional characters or dragons or armies or Orcs—nothing was apologized for. We weren’t approaching it from an apologist’s standpoint. I felt the fact that it was such a nice, faithful and humble adherence to the source material is the best part about it by far.
There have been things like Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, which by the way was successful and people liked—I never saw it, I don’t know. But it [Gretel & Hansel] never felt prohibited because of that. If anything it felt like we had rights on our side. We were going to be doing a thing that was gonna be most honorably reflective of what the story actually was, so that was exciting.
You’ve done some things for A24 and fandom is really polarizing right now. Some people think The Witch is horror, some people would argue that. What does horror mean to you?
For me horror is less about turning you off with gruesome, sort of aggressive defiling, all that stuff–which I get–was for a long time the expectation of horror movies and it was going to be like negatively reflective of the ugliness of things.
I think that’s valid.
I think that what I am excited to do is bring the humanist quality back to horror movies and horror stories; the sort of mournfulness of what it’s like to lose, what it’s like to not understand, what it’s like to have your experience clouded, what’s hidden from us. It’s much more about what’s hidden and what’s waiting as opposed to what’s assaulting us at all times.
It’s almost like there’s someone following us, or watching us, in no hurry. It’s called death. I think that is such a richer place to be than how ugly can we make the world seem. I don’t want to be doing that with my day, making the world ugly.
As far as special effects for Gretel & Hansel, are they in real-time, practical?
Yeah, everything we did we tried to do practically in the camera with the actors as much as we could.
It just fits the tempo better. It fits the rhythm of what we’re doing better. Everybody’s seen the bit of the witch pulling the hair out of her mouth at the table. That, in the movie, is a very slow thing.
In the trailers, they sped it up for the sake of marketing, but in the movie, it’s almost like this sort of silent expression of these horrible things I can do, but with elegance and in no hurry.
And I think there’s a feeling when you let the actor be in control of the timing as opposed to letting the VFX house be in control of the timing. Let the actor feel it and let it be revealed.
With disturbing, moody horror films coming from directors such as Ari Aster and Jordan Peele what are you hoping audiences get from this film?
My aspiration for this movie was to make a scary movie that’s PG-13 and there are very few if any of those. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is maybe the only one that can be named recently.
The idea was to sort of say to younger audiences, ‘You’re welcome into this genre, which is a little too much for you, but we’re gonna couch it in a recognizable story of children, we’re gonna couch it in coming-of-age so there’s going to be an uplifting, ultimate feeling but we’re going to paint it very darkly.
We’re gonna stay as close to this original telling as we can–it’s going to be simple, it’s not going to be in your face. To me, if you’re reading a child a fairy tale there’s no in-your-face version of that.
There’s the page-turning version of that. There’s the ‘Now we turn the page and it’s the next thing, and now we turn the page and it’s the next thing,’ so the picture that we make is supposed to have a page-turning quality to it as opposed to rushing toward scares all the time, it’s supposed to be: and then this, and then this, and then this, and then this, in a more measured and composed way that really never gets in your face.
It’s meant to have sort of a presentation of a storybook.
What are you working on next?
The next thing I am doing immediately is I wrote and am going to be directing an episode of the new “Twilight Zone for Jordan Peele who you mentioned before.
They were nice enough to suggest that I kind of build my own episode which is kind of uncommon for that show, so I wrote an original idea and I’m directing it. Which is really fun to honor the all-time great Twilight Zone but to do it with a new flair
Osgood Perkins’ Gretel & Hansel is now playing in theaters nationwide.