By MICHAEL GINGOLD
As a longtime executive at Lionsgate, Peter Block oversaw the production of the SAW franchise (executive-producing all eight films), among many other successful horror titles. Today he runs A Bigger Boat, which was behind Adam Green’s FROZEN among others, and his latest release is writer/director Frank Sabatella’s THE SHED. Currently in select theaters and on VOD from RLJE Films, THE SHED combines a classic monster and up-to-date concerns, which Block discusses with RUE MORGUE below.
THE SHED (which Sabatella talks about here) is set in a small town where high-schooler Stan (Jay Jay Warren) has to deal with harassment and worse from both bullies and his abusive grandfather (Timothy Bottoms). His best friend Dommer (Cody Kostro) has similar problems—and when Stan finds that a vicious vampire (Frank Whaley) is holed up in a shed on his property, Dommer believes they can use the creature to their advantage. The theme of supernatural justice is one that Block will further explore in a remake of Stan Winston’s classic PUMPKINHEAD that he is currently developing.
The production notes for THE SHED note that the script went through quite a bit of development from its initial draft, so can you talk about the changes it went through?
Well, the writing was really good when it first came to me around 2012. Frank had basically written his love letter to FRIGHT NIGHT, with a little bit of 12 O’CLOCK HIGH thrown in, but years later, I was thinking more about movies like WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN than anything else. Those are the real horror films for me these days, and having watched news reports about a kid who was bullied, went home, got into his dad’s gun collection, went back and shot up the school, I had an epiphany about how to put those two ideas together.
I actually wanted to buy the script and rewrite it myself, and Frank was smart enough to say, “Hell no! I’m directing this movie, and if you want to make any changes, we have to do it together.” And we had a good time; we worked bi-coastally, and actually never met in person until we were both on set, but we would talk regularly. I’d throw out lines and he’d throw out ideas, and I’d type up dialogue on my phone and send it to him, and he’d figure out places for it. We were trying to preserve the great central conceit—a monster in a shed—and tailor it to this central idea of bullying and turn that on its head a little bit. It was very much us working together toward a common goal.
Has being a parent changed the way you view the horror genre in general?
Oh, sure. Certain things that didn’t used to scare me, scare me now. Now, I don’t think everybody wants to make movies about, you know, the crosswalk [laughs]. But while the nice thing is that they have the ability to call and text all the time, when they don’t for, say, 30 seconds, it’s like an elevator not opening: “Where are they? What’s the problem?” When you can’t control the world, you know? The worst thing that could happen when I went to school was you might get beat up, but it’s so much worse these days. And my kids are older now, so my issues are all about driving. If I was to make CHRISTINE now, it would be a different version!
The really frightening stuff is what can happen in the real world, and as you get older and more experienced, it’s like, I don’t think you can jump on a rollercoaster if you’ve never been on one at age 40. You’re too much aware of, hey, these seatbelts feel a little loose, or did somebody check those rivets? When you’re a kid, everything is nice and easy, and when you’re a parent, everything is a potential pitfall. That’s probably why on the set, I felt so paternal toward the young cast. But that made it fun too.
Can you talk about THE SHED in terms of the vampire genre, and putting your own spin on that?
It’s funny—we never used the word “vampire” in the script, except I think at one point Dommer says it. We didn’t even use it in a descriptive way, although we knew we were making a vampire movie, because we wanted to shortcut the mythology. We didn’t want to have to explain too much; we wanted people just to know what this thing was. I’m not a big fan of stopping a movie all of a sudden to explain the rules. We wanted to let people come in with what they knew already, and then we would shortcut it, because we really feel the monster is bullying. How Grandpa treats Stan, how the bullies treat the other kids. The vampire needed to be there as a conduit to what the true monster is.
In that sense, the story doesn’t go the way you might expect, in terms of the way Stan and Dommer each handle the situation.
To us, Stan is the rock of the movie, and he’s the guy through whose point of view the whole movie is seen. But it really is about Dommer, because he’s the one who gets infected—not with the vampire disease, but with this bad blood, if you will. That’s what THE SHED is actually about—the bad blood that comes from this ill treatment he gets all the time. His big thing is, “Don’t you get it? This is our way out. I’ve been kicked every day, this is finally my chance for payback.” It’s about pushing people too far. What we tried to make sure was that everybody had their own moment in the movie, and everybody does. Stan has the traditional horror conflict: kid vs. monster. Dommer has the conventional true-life horror: him against the bullies. And we parallel those two stories, so that the sequence outside the shed midway through is really what the movie’s about. That is the black heart of our story. It’s the scene we spent the most time on, both in the writing and the shooting.
How was your overall experience filming THE SHED?
I had a blast making it. You never know how the product will end up when you make a movie, but you can kind of dictate how the process is, and this one went great. Getting up every day and driving to the set with Frank and our 1st AD and our DP, and driving home with them and stopping off at Target or wherever we had to shop for stuff, and sitting in a bar afterward talking about the day—they taught me how to drink whiskey and play poker—I was like, “This is a blast!” I think the way the film turned out reflects a lot of that.
What made the production go so smoothly?
You know, it’s interesting. THE SHED came together really fast. I was supposed to shoot something else in Romania last summer, and I didn’t find out until April that it wasn’t happening. So I was thinking, “I’d love to stay home all summer with the kids, but I know they don’t want to stay home all summer with me. What am I going to do? I’m going to be bored!” My buddy Cory Neal, who was a producer on the film, asked me, “Can you get THE SHED ready?” and I said, “I don’t know…” It was May 1 at this point, and we were shooting in July. So I think the fact that we had to throw it all together so fast, and it actually started to happen on time, was part of what made it fun, because we never had a downturn of energy.
The decision to shoot in upstate New York also worked really well. We ended up having to bring in certain key people—not because they don’t have people up there, but because they were on other films. We did have some local crew, and they made the job easier because they knew all the shortcuts, but having your core group staying together in a hotel and not rushing home afterward breeds camaraderie. Now, I’ve been on sets where it breeds contempt, but that wasn’t the case here. Not only was it the four of us, but the young kids in the cast, and Timothy Bottoms; everybody would stop by and we’d eat dinner together, not because we had to but because we wanted to. On the off days, we’d all go to the movies or the mall, and it felt like this thrown-together bunch of people who felt like they had known each other for years but hadn’t. Best experience I ever had.
Moving on to upcoming projects, are you involved with the new SAW movie?
I am not involved in the new SAW movie—not by my own choice, so you’d have to ask the people who made that choice!
What can you tell us about the new PUMPKINHEAD?
We have some exciting news that I’m not allowed to share yet, but that should be making its way out soon. PUMPKINHEAD is a movie I just love, and it’s very similar in some ways to THE SHED when you think about it. It’s about the pain you suffer vs. the revenge you seek, and that being even greater in some respects. And while the original PUMPKINHEAD is a great movie, I think that there is more that can be done with that idea. Sometimes I loathe remakes and reboots because I don’t see the reason for them, but PUMPKINHEAD is one of those where I believe that the story and the themes of it are so good, but there’s also a way of updating it where less focus on the creature in the beginning will add to a lot of the suspense.