Andrew van den Houten is primarily a producer, director and president of Modernciné. His films include The Girl Next Door, The Woman and Offspring.
When was the first time you watched a horror film, and how did it affect you?
I saw one of the early Friday the 13th movies on TV when I was a kid and it completely scared the living cripes out of me! I was immediately intrigued by horror. Another early horror film for me was The Silence of the Lambs. I was staying with a friend in Boca Raton, Florida and his mother took us to the film. It became so disturbing to her she asked us to leave, that film was amazing and seeing the musical Silence that spoofs it, in NYC, was a complete fanboy moment for me!
What was it that first attracted you to horror?
I really enjoyed the suspense and appreciated the detail in lighting for horror films. Also, the sound design and overall camera work in good horror film is so effective. It’s fun you can live with such crazy characters for two hours of your life and then walk away and still be safe to go home and sleep in your own bed…but are we really safe?
What achievement are you most proud of?
Honestly, pulling off Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door was a feat. Nobody had the guts to try and make the film until we did. Honestly, I couldn’t have been more pleased with the results. On a tight budget – like we had – to make a successful period piece was a challenge. Director Gregory M. Wilson did a phenomenal job incorporating the drama and social horror as well as the coming of age elements. It really is the most painful type of unfulfilled love story to watch. Totally a car crash…
Going to Sundance with The Woman was an amazing experience I didn’t expect. It was truly an invigorating time to have a film get into Sundance, seeing as they had rejected my previous eight movies. You keep at it and eventually things work out. I believe the hardest challenge for the genre is that we are put into obscure categories and many times neglected the attention of the mainstream. Trevor Groth did a wonderful job at programming the 2011 midnight movies and The Woman really stirred things up. If you make art you want a response and Sundance couldn’t have been a better platform for Lucky McKee’s film to get that response.
What are you working on now?
Lucky and I are starting to prep his next feature. It’s going to be very exciting!
So many people actually. Of course Kubrick, Polanski, Carpenter and Cronenberg always come to mind.
Do you prefer gore or psychological horror?
I love it all actually. I tend to find gore is more effective when embedded into a suspenseful movie that has psychological elements as well. Gore for shock value is fun but for me it’s all about supporting the narrative and being visceral when it really counts for something.
How important is it to unsettle a viewer?
Unsettling the viewer is important, however, being truthful to your core story is the most important thing. To tell a tried and true horror yarn you must earn your audiences respect and take them down a path they may not want to go on. Ultimately it is your job to convince them coming along for the ride is well worth it. The more trust you build, the more unsettling you can make them feel because they know it’s ultimately going to get them somewhere. Watching Mikke’s Audition I was very impressed with the first act and how drastically different things get as you move towards the rest of the film. It really is a mind fuck!
How do you evoke fear?
By playing with peoples’ psyches. The best horror stories I read bend your perception of the norms and the world we live. They have characters that do things we think but never would do in a million years. It’s like bringing peoples’ worst nightmares to life.
What scares you?
People scare me. What humanity is capable of and how ignorant and impulsive we can be is frightening. It’s perplexing how much damage one person can do as well. Bad leadership and human desperation also scare me. I am so disappointed in the greed of our modern day world and the lack of focus towards building towards a peaceful happy society. Values and human communication have become so depersonalised as well. Hopefully some of the human horror tales we tell shed light on why some of the social horrors exist. If not just to help make you think about life a bit differently. Fear is a powerful medium when trying to get people to rethink their lives. Look at the media and news for example and how it infiltrates our homes. At least with our movies you know it’s based in fiction, most of the time.
Why should people watch your films?
To be entertained and to see the freshest and most uniquely original side of the genre. We are trying to make cutting edge genre movies that transcend the genre but also deliver for the fans.
How far is too far when it comes to horror cinema?
I don’t know how to answer this question. That really is something best left up to each individual. It’s a personal question and different for everyone, I think subjectively is how one responds to art, good and bad. For me if you tell a good story and don’t alienate your audience, while pushing the envelope, you are doing a successful job. When half your audience walks out of the theatre in the first five minutes of your movie, you may want to reconsider your career choice. I like to think we make entertainment for an audience not just for ourselves so trying to understand that audience is incredibly important.
Undoubtedly we will see more exploration of technology in genre movies and certainly environment. These two topics are going to be incredibly relevant moving into the next decade and there is no question our values and comforts will be challenged and changed as the new world comes. To explore these elements in horror will raise a lot of questions as to who we are and why we do the things we do to our planet and ourselves.
Recommend a film.
I would suggest people go see Vertigo by Alfred Hitchcock. The restored print is gorgeous and it really is a masterpiece. Any kids thinking about watching the Twilight saga should see Vertigo first to see how bad cinema has gotten. Also, I am a big fan of Existenz by Cronenberg over The Matrix. I recommend that film and the original Ring, Ringu, as well. See you at the movies!