The director of short horror film THE MAIDEN speaks.
Real estate agents never have it easy. Long hours. Demanding clients. Spooky old houses with demonic spirits residing within. That last one is guaranteed to lower the market value. It’s also the circumstances behind the disturbing nine-minute short, THE MAIDEN (you can watch the film at the bottom of this page).
The premise finds real estate agent Lucy looking to score a big commission after landing her promising new property, a massive deserted mansion. However, the tenacious Lucy soon discovers that the malevolent presence dwelling inside doesn’t take kindly to strangers – or promising home buyers. Closing this sale is going to be hell.
SHOCK recently spoke with director Michael Chaves about why movie shorts are perfect vehicles for horror, the haunted house subgenre, what makes a good scare and fleshing out THE MAIDEN into a feature film.
SHOCK: Why do shorts serve as such great platforms for the horror genre?
CHAVES: It’s a great way to showcase a scare. If it’s comedy, it should have laughs. If it’s action, there should definitely be some thrills. With a horror/thriller, you need scares. That’s just bite-size entertainment. It’s harder to do really honest, comprehensive character development in a short. The reality is people want an instant gratification with a short. That’s what works really well with a horror short.
SHOCK: How does a limited running time and smaller budget encourage creativity?
CHAVES: It makes you more focused on what the moments are that you want to capture. This is the shortest part of a bigger story that I was developing. I thought this was the best way to get it out. Part of me was thinking, “Well, maybe it should be more about the real estate agent’s story, how she got the house and then the tension gets ratcheted up. Her desperation to sell it got ratcheted up.” That didn’t feel like it would be that fun of a short. Then I thought, “Maybe I could touch on the mythology and the history of this house and how it existed for over 100 years. There are always these people that have been pulled into that.” Then I was thinking, “I don’t know if people dig mythology in a short. I don’t think you’ve earned that.” I went back and wanted to design the coolest scares possible and make them really fun. That’s how I circled around to it.
SHOCK: You could totally see a real estate agent going through this ordeal.
CHAVES: I talked to a bunch of real estate agents before I did it. They were like, “Oh no. I’d just walk away.” I said, “What if it was a really desperate situation? Just imagine ” And they were like, “No, no. I’d walk away.” “What if it is your only listing?” Basically I think everyone would just walk away. My real estate agent doesn’t have any options. This is the best she has.
SHOCK: What does the title THE MAIDEN refer to and where did the short’s concept evolve from?
CHAVES: First of all, I liked the idea that both the house and this dark mysterious character are very intertwined. Basically, she was named after the first resident. There was this dark cloud surrounding her and the house and their fates were intertwined.
As for the second part, I’ve always loved haunted house stories. I always wanted to do a short or a movie about one. I loved The Conjuring. My favorite ride at Disneyland is the Haunted Mansion. Something about it does not get old. I felt for THE MAIDEN to stand out, there needs to be some kind of twist on it or a nice hook. I was thinking about the structure of it and all of them begin with this young happy family as they move into the house. The real estate agent hands them the keys. I was thinking, “What if that’s the ending of the movie? What if we back up and see everything that led up to that moment? There’s that horrible real estate agent, who is basically handing over this terrible property. How did she get to that point? Is she a bad person or was she pushed into a really desperate situation?” That intrigued me. I liked the idea of someone pushed to the brink. So, that was basically it. Why do good people do bad things?
SHOCK: THE MAIDEN feels like an old-school haunted house romp. Who were some of your influences when putting this together?
CHAVES: Stanley Kubrick, first and foremost. I love that it was the biggest haunted house movie you can make. It’s a big property. It’s a hotel. But, there’s something so grand and cinematic and timeless about it. I feel that is a landmark film. Then, more recently, there’s The Conjuring. Honestly, that is one of my favorite recent movies. It reinvigorated horror to me. I’ve always loved horror. I grew up on horror. It was terrifying. It was such a scary movie. It was done at a really top level. It was a high-class horror film. It reminded me a little bit of JAWS and THE EXORCIST and that purity of filmmaking where horror was taken a little bit more seriously.
SHOCK: There seems to be a bit of James Wan and Japanese elements thrown in THE MAIDEN.
CHAVES: Absolutely. Those were big influences to me. Also, with the disembodied hands, that was something that was a little Evil Dead. Sam Raimi is a huge influence. I love the wild camera work. That was something I wanted to get, especially with that final moment, to make it feel big and nightmarish.
SHOCK: We only get glimpses of this evil specter. What did you want to accomplish with her?
CHAVES: I wanted it to feel like the shark in JAWS. I wanted it to be this glimpse of something horrific. We had an amazing actress who played her. We were going to do makeup, but what I decided to do was take her face and pop it into Photoshop. I made it a bit more aggressive looking and a little otherworldly. I wanted the features to be a little bent and a little wrong. So, you’re not too sure what you are looking at, but you know the proportions are wrong. Then I went back and tracked it on her face. It was just enough to be disturbing. I was even toying with the idea of doing something dramatic like dark blood coming out of her eyes or having something decomposing. But, as I got into that, it felt a little low class.
SHOCK: THE MAIDEN includes these creepy moments and then in-your-face jolts. Which do you find more effective?
CHAVES: They are one in the same. The jolts are really cathartic, but you wouldn’t have them without the build of the creepy tension. For me, sometimes those moments of tension do not pay off. You have to always be upsetting the rhythm and then you break it. I’m at least attempting to do it well.
SHOCK: If THE MAIDEN goes the same route as MAMA or the upcoming LIGHTS OUT, what are your thoughts on how this could be fleshed out into a feature film?
CHAVES: Definitely building up the character and building up the mythology is going to be really exciting. Making the lead a sympathetic character is what is ultimately going to bring you through an hour and a half of a movie. Then it’s about ratcheting up the scares. There were some good scares in this and I think I could take it a lot further given a little more time. Boom. That’s the endgame. That’s the plan.
Watch the entire THE MAIDEN film below!