Haunter was the film to close out this year’s Screamfest and it opened in theaters last week after a VOD run. This week it expands to more theaters, particularly Los Angeles, this weekend. Abigail Breslin stars as a teen repeating the day before her birthday, stuck in the house with her parents and sibling. Vincenzo Natali directs the festival favorite, which premiered at SXSW this year. We got to speak with Natali by phone from Canada, and we also got into his previous films Splice (major spoiler towards the last question), Nothing and Cube, as well as development on his film adaptation of William Gibson’s Neuromancer.
CraveOnline: Haunter is one of the few movies you did not write yourself. How involved were you with the development of the script?
Vincenzo Natali: I was sort of accidentally involved with the development. What I mean by that is Brian King who wrote the script is a very good friend of mine and he wrote my second movie, Cypher. We’ve made it a habit of trading scripts with each other to get feedback, so I had been reading Haunter, various iterations of it for about two years before it occurred to me, well, why don’t I direct this? So it was kind of a very gradual slow love affair with the script and that’s how it came to be.
Obviously it goes in many more directions than this, but the reaction people might have in the beginning is: Did it start as an idea to do a more scary version of Groundhog Day?
Speaking for Brian, because truly this is his creation. It began with him, but I believe his impetus to write it was very much a response to what was known as “torture porn” movies. He was kind of tired of that brand of horror and he wanted to do something that was much more lyrical and classical and in tune with haunted house films of the past. Albeit, Brian King-ized them, turned it into something that was very much his own.
It’s also the idea that the concept of Groundhog Day could be used for comedic purposes or horrifying purposes.
Yeah, I think it’s the Jungian thing. I’ve seen a number of scripts and things floating around that deal with this notion of eternal reoccurrence which is a Nietzschean concept that I’m sure was what inspired Groundhog Day and it’s in the air. Somebody smarter than I should try to analyze why that is.
They weren’t the first either, but it’s the most common reference at this point.
Totally, no, no, they deserve all the credit. Absolutely, it’s a great film and the first time in a movie I think that had been done that I was aware of. Run Lola Run was after that. I think you’re exactly right, but I will also say that if that’s all Haunter was then I wouldn’t have been interested, because that was one aspect of a much bigger puzzle.
Right, so the next question is, if we think we know the rules, are you going to mess with us throughout the movie?
Yeah, that’s just it. Even though the film takes place entirely in this house, the house is in itself a kind of universe. It’s a universe composed of various strata of different time periods and I loved the way the script opened up. We thought we were in one kind of world and then as this thing unravels, we realize that it’s something much larger than that.
Did you use the Atari Pac-Man because they’re stuck in the ‘80s?
Oh yeah, absolutely. I was just about Lisa’s age in 1985 so I was very sensitive to recreating that period accurately and it was a lot of fun to do that. It was a little trip down memory lane actually. I worked very hard to get Pac-Man into this movie, let me tell you.
Do you have to pay for the sound of Atari Pac-Man? Because it’s very unique.
It’s funny you should ask that. I’m not even sure we had to pay for it. Of course we had to get permission to use it and I have to commend you, it is the Atari version of Pac-Man which is its own unique thing.
Was it also an added benefit that in that era there were no computers or cell phones?
Yes, it’s nice not to have that stuff. I don’t want to give too much away but in fact we do have some of that in our movie but not too much.