There are certain filmmakers whose projects are going to be of interest to horror fans regardless of what genre they might fall into. John Carpenter comes to mind. Carpenter has often ventured into action territory, but we still consider him one of our own – one of our forefathers really. If John Carpenter makes a romantic comedy, you can bet that we’re still going to talk about it (he kind of has, by the way, and it was still awesome).
The point is, there are just some people that fans of the horror genre will always consider their kindred even if they venture into different territory. While he may have a ways to go to reach Carpenter-like status (though he’s gotten off to a pretty solid start), Ti West is one of those people from a more modern era. It’s hard not to associate West with horror after gems like The Roost, House of the Devil, The Innkeepers, and The Sacrament. Whether or not his film Trigger Man should be considered horror is debatable, I suppose, but either way, the man knows how to make a good horror movie.
If you disagree, carry on.
If you haven’t heard, West’s next film, In a Valley of Violence, is a western, and I for one, couldn’t be more excited about it. It may not be horror, but I’ll be shocked if it doesn’t whet our appetite for screen violence.
Now that we got that out of the way, let’s piece together what we know about this film, and get it moved up on our anticipation charts.
The film does include some genre vets, such as John Travolta (Carrie), Ethan Hawke (Sinister, The Purge), Karen Gillan (Oculus), Taissa Farmiga (American Horror Story), and Larry Fessenden (more genre films than I care to count, but including Session 9, You’re Next and Stake Land). Other cast member include: Burn Gorman, James Ransone, Toby Huss, James Lane, K. Harrison Sweeney, Tommy Nohilly, and Jeff Bairstow.
Fessenden, by the way, has been involved in one way or another (usually producer) with most of West’s films.
Back in June, ProjectCasting shared some details about a casting call, which included a character named Dollar Bill, a one-armed man extra. The Dollar Bill role call was for someone described as “over 50, skinny, not bald, gaunt, and can play the role of an easily intimidated individual.”
The movie was filmed in Santa Fe, New Mexico on 35mm, and wrapped in late July.
Glass Eye Pal @Ti_West has wrapped production on IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE! Fessenden features in the impressive cast! pic.twitter.com/eRPvEjLIxc
— Glass Eye Pix (@GlassEyePix) August 1, 2014
In a Valley of Violence is currently slated for a December 4, 2015 release. It’s a Blumhouse Production. Producers include West himself, Peter Phok, Jason Blum, and Jacob Jaffke. Executive producers are Jeanette Brill, Phillip Dawe, and Alix Taylor. John Ward is credited as line producer.
The film has been said to be a “revenge western” set in the 1890s in which a drifter named Paul (Hawke) arrives in a small town, seeking revenge on thugs who murdered his friend. Sisters Mary Anne (Taissa Farmiga) and Ellen (Karen Gillan), who run the town’s hotel, help Paul in his quest for vengeance. Travolta reportedly plays a marshall. Ransone reportedly plays Gilly, the husband of Ellen and son of the marshall.
Here’s what Jason Blum had to say about it in an interview with Collider earlier this year:
And yesterday I was in Santa Fe on the set of a Western and never in a million years did I think I was going to produce a Western. After Ethan [Hawke] and I did Sinister and The Purge he really really wanted to do a Western. He said, “I think together we could make it.” My barrier to entry is, of course, the price and he said “I really think we could do one inexpensively if we found the right script and found the right story. There’s no reason it should be expensive to make.” It took about a year to find In a Valley of Violence, which we’re shooting right now, which is Ti West’s movie. But I was there with [Ethan] and John Travolta, they had guns on their hips shooting at each other in an old crazy western town and it would be impossible not to be excited about that. I would not be – no human being should be in this business if you don’t get excited to be on a set with those two guys. I took a picture and put it on my private little Instagram page. I was like a little kid yesterday.
His [West’s] approach to filmmaking, I love. He pitched me this idea and I thought it was really cool and I said, “I’m flying you to New York. You’re going to go sit with Ethan and see if he likes the idea.” He pitched Ethan the idea and Ethan called me and said, “This is our Western.” We read about eight scripts, one of which we liked but couldn’t get our hands on, the other seven we didn’t really like. He just said, “This is it.” So I called up Ti and said, “Ti if we can have a script in six weeks-” And Ti said to me, this was November right before Christmas time I think, Ti said to me, “If you guarantee that I start this movie at the end of June, I will get you a finished script by January 15th.” [Laughs] I said, “Well, if I like the script I guarantee we’ll make the movie, you have to write the script first, but if I like it I guarantee you we’ll do it.” There are many of those deals made like that in Hollywood and they very rarely happen, but this one happened.
Following are some tweets and Instagram content from West from the time of production, which give us a little bit of a sense of his mindset during that time.
Caption: “Western Diamondback”
Caption: “Leftover Explosives”
Caption: “This is the gist of what directing a western looks like.”
And here’s this one from Farmiga:
— Taissa Farmiga (@taissafarmiga) July 3, 2014
As we referenced in an article about Cabin Fever 2, West appeared on the Bret Easton Ellis podcast a few months ago. While the two talked about a variety of topics, the conversation eventually turned to In a Valley of Violence and West’s departure from horror. If you’re a fan, I’d recommend listening to the whole episode, but this part happens near the end.
“I’m definitely horrored out,” West told Ellis. “It’s been ten years of like a great time making horror movies and having a career because of horror movies because…I’m very fortunate because of it, and I’m very proud of all of the movies that I’ve made, but I don’t at this time know how to make another horror movie that doesn’t feel like a horror movie I’ve already made. And Sacrament, I think, doesn’t, and that was like the last one I could figure out like a new way to do it…[With] that movie, I was very interested in realism and trying to create some kind of confronting realism. Now I have zero interest in realism whatsoever. I couldn’t be more bored by realism. So what I realized that I’m now interested in, and probably will be for a while, is what I’ve always been interesed in, but that I got away from a little bit, which is just like pure cinema.”
“Pure cinema to me is to see some sort of visual art from a voice that is so unique, and it has nothing to do with realism, but it is just pure cinema in a way it is what it is,” he continued. “You know, like a movie like Beetlejuice is pure cinema, where I don’t know what this is, but this is kind of incredible to see from like all sorts of visual…and the writing is great…not that my movie is anything like Beetlejuice, but I was like, ‘I want to do that. I want to do pure…that’s what I want to get back to is just doing that.’ And I think from a filmmaker’s standpoint, the western genre is in a way pure cinema, but I wasn’t planning on doing that. I was planning on doing a weird romantic comedy, and that’s what I wanted to be doing, and then I met Ethan Hawke, and I knew he wanted to do a western, and I’m a fan of Ethan Hawke, and I pitched him a western that I never thought I would make, and he liked it. And because he liked it, he was like doing Macbeth in New York, and he had like three weeks left of Macbeth and I was like, ‘I’m going to go write this script, and the day you wrap Macbeth, I’ll send it to you, and if you like it let’s make it. And if you don’t like it, no hard feelings. I’ll take the risk to write a script, and I’ll put all my eggs in a basket, and if it happens, cool, and if it doesn’t, eh, I’ll live.'”
So West wrote the script, and Hawke liked it. That was enough to get Blum interested, and they got the other actors and set out to make the movie.
West noted that it wasn’t like he wanted to “get away from horror,” but he felt like he didn’t have anything left to say in horror, but he thought he had something to say in a western or in a romantic comedy.
“I don’t think of it as like stepping away from the genre,” he said. “I feel like I just happened to make a lot of horror movies in a row. It wasn’t really a plan. It just happened that way.”
If you ask me, the genre will miss West, because his films have been some of the better entries in recent memory, but that doesn’t mean he won’t make equally pleasing films going forward, and it doesn’t mean that he won’t return to horror down the road. In fact, he appears to be such a fan of the genre, it’s kind of hard to imagine that he wouldn’t. Even if he never returns to horror, he’s already made a significant contribution which fans will be grateful for for a long time.
Featured Image: Ti West (Instagram)