Interview: Opening Weekend With Stewart Hendler

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The director of Sorority Row

Even though we caught up to him on the set of Sorority Row, I got on the phone with director Stewart Hendler for one final chat about his remake starring Briana Evigan, Rumer Willis, Audrina Patridge, Carrie Fisher, Julian Morris, Jamie Chung, Leah Pipes and Margo Harshman. He was hours away from heading out to Hollywood for the evening for the requisite drinks and tour of the theater circuit to gauge the audience reaction of the film which opened this weekend.

Ryan Rotten: After completing Whisper, you went through a sour time with distribution – did that whole experience make you think, ‘Shit, none of this is worth it?’

Stewart Hendler: That was a trial by fire. I think a lot of first time directors went through something similar. It was just a lot of chefs in a small kitchen. I was this 25-year-old wide-eyed kid, I had no idea how to handle all of those personalities. The studio changed their mind about what they were looking for halfway through. The script was a supernatural thriller, it wasn’t hard horror. And then there was an evolution over the course of production where the studio thought, well, maybe we can it more horror with jump [scares]. I learned a ton on that movie. It was heartbreaking in a lot of ways but you have to go through that and learn how to make the next one better.

Rotten: You’ve done a few short films over the last few years…

Hendler: Yes, they’re available over at my website. The one that really helped me out was called One. That was the first thing I ever did. It went to Sundance and got an audience award there and that triggered the commercial work, which I never thought I would do but really enjoyed it. Seeds was produced this year and we’re getting that one out to festivals.

Rotten: What’s that one about?

Hendler: I make horror movies and as an escape I make these sappy, Hallmark short films. [laughs] It’s about a woman whose marriage is falling apart and it’s a total indie festival, masturbatory short film. [laughs]

Rotten: You mentioned learning how to make the next feature better – how does this apply to Sorority Row? What did you learn on this production?

Hendler: I think the nice thing about this process is the script read very popcorn. I got to go in and make a movie that was unabashedly fun. That was not something that was not really on my mind during Whisper because I was coming out of film school arrogance where I think everything is going to be an art film. This was unabashedly having a good time with all of the elements of the genre and reveling in it all the way through. We wanted to give the audience something to do on a Friday night. Having that license, it’s just pure popcorn.

Rotten: What was your first experience seeing The House on Sorority Row for the first time?

Hendler: I didn’t see it when I read [the remake’s] script and I set out for it immediately. It’s a prototypical, low budget guilty pleasure. And it’s so charming in that way. Calling it a classic is a stretch, but a cult classic, absolutely. It has all of the hallmarks of a movie that flew under the radar of a lot of people in the ’80s, but you go back now and watch it, you have a great time. You’re laughing at it in a good way.

Rotten: Who’s calling that movie a classic?

Hendler: I have seen that all over the place and I’m like, okay, however you want to spin it.

Rotten: You’re the latest director to jump into the remake fray. What are your thoughts on horror’s persistence to recreate the past?

Hendler: I think you can categorize it in two different sections. There are movies that were icons. Halloween, Friday the 13th and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Those are dicey propositions. But this movie, I think we’re lucky because it’s not a movie that caught on with the masses. It’s not like we had to worry about ruining it for anybody else. Mark Rosman, the director of the original, we sat down and he was like, ‘That movie is what it is, I had a great time making it. Do whatever you want. You don’t have to be a slave to it.” We had his blessing to use the set piece of the story and take our own path.

Rotten: What do you say to those who are criticizing the film for being another late-’90s, post-Scream horror film?

Hendler: I love that. That’s what we were going for. It’s not going to please everybody as a horror film, but those popcorn horror movies of the ’90s were fun. I grew up on horror in the ’80s and those ’90s movies brought back the fun. Reading the script, before we began prep, there were the Hostel movies and the Saw movies. While all of those movies are visceral and engaging, they’re not necessarily the ones I go and sit down to for a great time. This read like that. That was the spirit we were going for, take it or leave it, I guess.

Rotten: Now what’s up next for you?

Hendler: It looks like there’s going to be a web project I’m doing for Warner Bros. that Bryan Singer is producing and is sci-fi. It’s set in the future, with twenty countries and is this post-apocalyptic thing in the vein of Lost. If that makes any sense. [laughs] I can’t say a lot about it. I’m also reading a ton of stuff. Obviously the horror scripts are coming in. I want to try something other than that, but we’ll see.

To read what he had to say about the film’s DVD and Blu-Ray release, click here.


Source: Ryan Rotten, Managing Editor