Ted Geoghegan's We Are Still Here, a throwback to the haunted house films of the late 1970s and early 1980s, is the longtime writer/producer's feature directorial debut. The film, about a mourning couple (Barbara Crampton and Andrew Sensenig) being terrorized by vengeful ghouls in their new home, is terrifying fun and in anticipation of its theatrical release, the NYC local director sat down with us to discuss the making of his film and his love for the horror genre.
So, let’s start with your inspirations for this film. I see a lot of The Changeling in there…
I’ve had a couple of people bring up The Changeling recently. It wasn’t a direct influence stylistically. The Changeling was a huge influence in terms of casting. The fact that the lead actor in that movie, George C. Scott, was 53 when he was the star of it? You just don’t see that anymore. I really wanted to make a film where all of the leads were at least in their fifties. Just because I feel like it’s such an underused part of the genre. It’s also reminiscent of all the films I grew up watching because I feel like so many of the movies from the late 1970s and early 1980s had these more mature casts. I love seeing adults making adult decisions in a totally unreal environment. It’s like, what would my mom and dad do if they met a ghost? That’s way more interesting then what my little sister would do if she met a ghost. I love the idea of taking people who think they completely understand the world they’re living in and then throwing the wrench into the gears. So, in that capacity The Changeling was a big influence. But stylistically, it’s almost all Euro horror, lots of it is Lucio Fulci. That’s my biggest influence on the film, especially House by the Cemetery which is my favorite of his films. Even tonally, I wanted it to feel like those Euro films I grew up watching. A lot of people have told me, “I like how it’s a slow burn.” I don’t think of my movie as a slow burn. I like Ti West movies a lot. I really like House of the Devil and The Innkeepers. Those are slow burn in the sense that they are slowly ratcheting up the tension bit by bit so by the ending of the movie it just explodes and you get that ending you’re nervously waiting for.
I don't see your film as a slow burn, either. I mean, there are a lot of moments where you keep the suspense bobbing up and down.
The film is very melodramatic on purpose. There are a lot of scenes of just dialogue where characters are talking to each other and being melodramatic and I don't think of that as a slow burn but a drama that occasionally explodes into violence because when the violence hits, it hits really hard and out of nowhere. A lot of those Fulci films, like The Beyond or Gates of Hell, have these 20 minutes of just chatting and then someone's head explodes and it’s so jarring and unexpected. That's the thrill of it. With this movie you don't know it's coming and by the final act, the film is just a complete bloodbath.
It's very satisfying.
Thank you. Hopefully, when you're watching the first five minutes you never in a million years expect the movie to end the way it does. The first five and last five minutes should seem like different films. You can't believe they exist in the same universe.
Your film has an amazing séance scene. Larry Fessenden completely goes for it and he's awesome in it. How much fun was it directing that scene?
It's so good because it's such an intimate scene and it's the only time in the movie where the two male characters are alone together. It feels a little awkward to have this ultra conservative guy, Paul (Sensenig), and this super hippie guy, Jacob (Fessenden), forced to be together. It's my favorite scene in the whole film by far. I'm a big fan of all the splattery stuff but just them talking during the séance and as it culminates towards what it's going towards...I love the tension of that scene and it's one hundred percent because of Larry and Andrew.
That séance scene is also my favorite in the film. Let's talk about the casting. You have a lot of veteran actors in this film. Who was targeted and who was found through traditional casting?
I wrote the role of Anne for Barbara and Jacob for Larry. I just hoped that when the movie got made that the producers would want them. I'd written the roles for them. They’re very close friends of mine. Lisa Marie and Monte Markham came through traditional casting. I grew up in love with Lisa Marie from Mars Attacks and Ed Wood. She's so iconic. Monte I knew from the 60's and 70's classic exploitation films and he was also the star of a William Castle film so to have someone like him who has that sort of gravitas is intimidating. Lisa Marie working with Tim Burton, Andrew with Shane Carruth, Barbara with Stuart Gordon... all with incredible directors but they were all so eager to be a part of the film. All of that intimidation was gone in minutes.
Did the wealth of experience in the cast lead to a more collaborative process on set?
Somewhat. Barbara had a lot of insight into her character. She and Andrew are both parents. They used a lot of their parenting skills in their roles. Larry who is a very prolific producer, writer, director as well as actor, he told me on day one, "look, I'm not going to direct this thing but if I ever think of something that’s going to help, do you mind if I say it?" I said, "Not at all, I'd love your input." I feel like his input is invaluable. He knows how to make wonderful films being a part of the industry for 25 years.
What keeps you coming back to horror?
I love the thrill of horror. I like that it's a safe scare. I love roller coasters because I love that feeling of terror knowing that I'm completely safe. Horror films do that for me. I would never jump out of a plane. I don't like genuinely being terrified. I think that’s why I like horror movies. I love that safe thrill.
Are you going to direct again?
I'd love to direct again. I hope I can do it sooner than later. I wear a lot of hats. I do publicity. I'm a producer, writer, and dabble in acting. I do a lot of things and I'd like to continue wearing all those hats. Directing has made me realize how awesome it is to have that much control of your projects. As a writer, you write something, hand it to the director and walk away and it's pretty cool not to walk away. Hopefully I’ll get to do that again, fingers crossed.
We Are Still Here opens in theaters on June 5.