Interview: Wolfman Director Joe Johnston — "I don't want the audience ever to feel relaxed…"
Wed, 10 Feb 2010 08:18:08
Everybody needs to howl at the moon once in awhile.
Director Joe Johnston got his chance to do just that with his update of Universal monster movie classic The Wolfman. As any modern horror fanatic would hope, Johnston's Wolfman has much sharper teeth and claws than the original. Johnston breaks down the character's psychological conflicts, while adding in heaps of action and gore, creating the perfect cinematic adrenaline rush. Once the film sinks its teeth in, you'll be howling its praises for a long time to come. Also, it doesn't hurt that Johnston's Victorian period piece setting is populated by the likes of Benicio Del Toro as the eponymous monster, Anthony Hopkins as his dad, Emily Blunt as the love interest and Hugo Weaving as the Scotland Yard detective on his tail—literally.
Joe Johnston spoke to ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino in this exclusive interview about creating intensity in the film, how important the music is, his favorite horror movies and so much more.
How important is music to a film like this?
I think it's extremely important. Because the trailer was so successful when it came out, someone in charge at Universal said, "Why don't we try that kind of score for the entire film?" Danny Elfman had scored a much longer version of the film; there was about 35 minutes more. We continued to cut the movie though. When we put Danny's music with the shorter cut, the themes were much closer together and it started to feel repetitive. It wasn't working as well as we'd hoped, so there was this notion that we should try this electronic score. We did, and it didn't work. We went back to Danny Elfman's stuff and recorded 15 minutes of new music for the movie. It pointed out to everyone how important the music is to the picture.
Do you feel like the music can increase the intensity?
Absolutely, and the parts of the movie that don't have music can create intensity too. Music is so amazing. You can do anything with it. You can edit it the way you can edit the picture. You can stretch it, shrink it and chop it up. A good music editor can create a completely different score out of raw material.
It's almost like a Bernard Hermann score.
Danny was very conscious of the kind of movie he was scoring. He knew that there were elements of a classic gothic horror film in this. He needed to do something that would support that and not feel out of context. I think he did an amazing job.
Did you spend a lot of time watching the original Wolfman?
I watched the original a few times. I'd seen it so many times as a kid before the days of VCR. It'd be on Channel 13's "Creature Features," and I had to watch it even though I was staying up past midnight as a ten-year-old. I saw it many times on the little screen. The first time I saw it I remember being terrified. Then, five years later, I was like, "This is really charming." [Laughs] There's something so simple and naïve about it in a way now, but it's my favorite of the Universal monster films absolutely.
What are some of your favorite horror movies?
I like Silence of the Lambs. I like The Uninvited. The original is a great ghost story. It's Ray Miland, and it's so simple. It's about this brother and sister who move into this house, and there's a ghost in it. I like the psychological thriller aspect of things more than the horror-violence-gore thing. If you can set people up with a psychological story of dread and some kind of supernatural element and then introduce the violence and gore, you can have the best of both worlds. I think what makes Jaws the best horror film ever is you know that thing is swimming around out there somewhere. It's absolutely real, and it's the most the terrifying killing machine on the planet. It does exist. It's remorseless, you're not going to reason with it [Laughs].
How do you get into viewers' heads?
Up front, you know things are going to jump out at you. You're never at ease. I don't want the audience ever to feel relaxed. If you can involve the audience in that and not just have images wash over them, that's the goal. If you can have them be patient, pay attention and be involved in the story, it's a more rewarding film-going experience. You're going to forget the imagery, but if you can hook into their psyche, it's a success.
Check out Rick Florino's new novel Dolor available now for FREE here…