You might be over survival horror like your previous night’s fling, but survival horror isn’t done with you. A bloody slice of counter-programming called Timber Falls arrives in theaters this month to do battle with the holiday fare inundating the big screen with good cheer and happy thoughts. Brianna Brown and Josh Randall star as a young couple who set out on a backpacking excursion in the mountains only to fall victim to a pair of bible-thumping locals and a deranged killer who looks like Cropsy of The Burning‘s long lost sibling. The man behind this “Hills Have Eyes” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” amalgam is director Tony Giglio, making his horror debut after helming the wartime thriller In Enemy Hands and Chaos starring Jason Statham and Ryan Phillippe.
In spite of these efforts outside of the realm of terror, Giglio insists, “Evil Dead II was one of the films that changed me – that was actually the first movie that made me wonder how they made it. How they physically moved the camera through the cabins and the woods inspired me.” The Massachusetts native would later go on to write to “Spider-Man” franchise super-director Sam Raimi. This would pave the way for a P.A. gig on the Sharon Stone-starring western The Quick and the Dead. “I was a gopher and did whatever Raimi needed me to do – lug storyboards, walk his dog, anything.”
And so began Giglio’s term in Hollywood. He bounced from production to production, working under James Cameron and Michael Mann before “realizing, I’m still poor so I taught myself to write scripts.” Giglio’s directorial debut – a horror film of another kind, Soccer Dog: The Movie – arrived in ’99. Timber Falls is his fifth outing behind the camera.
ShockTillYouDrop.com: After so many years of being a fan, how did this leap into horror come about?
Tony Giglio: My agency had done a really good job of setting up screenings of “Chaos” and I had some meetings that put me close to some jobs [“Resident Evil: Extinction” and “Aliens vs. Predator – Requiem”]. [Producer] Arnold Rifkin’s company signed a deal with a company called A-Mark to do five low-budget horror movies and I wanted to get back to my horror roots, the stuff I had been inspired by early on with my career and Sam Raimi. At the time, I was getting sent scripts I didn’t like and scripts I liked but I couldn’t get the jobs for – basically I wasn’t getting the jobs because the number one response was that I had never done a genre picture. I really hated hearing that – I was bumping around genres, but sometimes they wanted to have the security that I had done something in this genre before. Rifkin didn’t care, he said, If you like this script and can turn it into what you need it to be, then you’ve got the job.
Shock: What was your response to the “Falls” story when they handed it to you?
Giglio: Well, I went back and pitched them a different version of the screenplay I was sent in. Dan Kay – the writer of “Timber Falls” – I think he was paid to deliver on an idea that the company wanted to make.
Shock: Which was…
Giglio: Their parameters were that they wanted to make it in Romania, they wanted to spend little on production design – and they came up with a “Misery”-type story of a couple kidnapping a couple. Arnold had said they took the story as far as it could go without a director. I came on and thought there were so many good things in the script. I grew up with twelve years of Catholic school education and there was this little undercurrent of religion. I’m not a practicing Catholic and I’m not a bible beater, but I’ve always thought there was some hypocrisy going on with some Christian groups. I told Arnold I wanted to turn up the religious aspects of the film – it didn’t have a couple of other elements like the Deacon character. One of the horror films I tried to model it after was “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” where the first thirty minutes of that movie you’re thinking about the Leatherface killer. For me the movie got great when you realize it’s the family, the cannibalism and all of that – that was scarier than anything a guy with a chainsaw could do. That was my goal with “Falls” and what I tried to bring into it.
Shock: So the draw to the project for you was an opportunity to explore and purge some of the religious angst? Or was this merely a means to get a horror film under your belt…
Giglio: Whatever project I’m considering – it’s two years of my life from the moment I’m brought on to rewrite it, it becomes part of you. I haven’t had the experience yet where it’s just a job, so I take everything seriously. The experience has to be satisfying for me. Yes, from the start it was just an idea, my agents were going out to try to find me a film that could wet my beak in the horror world. This was a chance for me to make another film and to tell a cool, new story. Arnold Rifkin really swayed me to take this on, he was putting his own money into it. This was the first movie I had done where we were cash-flowed. Two million of our $2.6 million budget came from A-Mark and $600 thousand came from Arnold and his partner. He was putting his money where his mouth is and this film became a passion for him – his belief was this was the right project for him and I was the right guy for it. That was a selling point for me.
Shock: You take an overt swipe at the institution of marriage in “Falls.” You’ve got a guy who’s not willing to commit just yet, but then he’s forced to do so and is tortured for it. What are you saying here, Tony?
Giglio: Marriage is a very scary thing. It started off because all of my friends are getting married and it scared the hell out of them. [laughs] In the original script, Mike [Randall] and Sheryl [Brown] were planning to get married and they’re trip was a getaway weekend before that happened. I really wanted to accentuate the hypocrisy of the bad couple – “We don’t mind kidnapping and torturing people to get what we want, but I don’t want to kidnap a couple that’s going to get married in a church, I want to kidnap a sinning couple.” Little things like that. I thought Mike really epitomized the guy who doesn’t want to commit and not only is this a shotgun wedding but it’s the ultimate shotgun wedding in a way.
Shock: You mention working with a low budget, however, a picture like this doesn’t dictate needing a wealth of cash like, say, the “Resident Evil” gang works with. There’s a charm and a gritty edge to lower budgeted features where ingenuity has to come into play. Did you think from the beginning that you needed more money to pull a script like this off?
Giglio: Only because I have the experience, I knew it didn’t need all of that. I agree with you. The things that you struggle with as a filmmaker now, because media and video games are so advanced – I look at some of the video game graphics, I think they’re better than the movies, sometimes. If I had the FX that Raimi did in “Evil Dead II” I don’t think it’d play as well. The movies in that time were so cutting edge, nowadays there’s so much exposure to other stuff you have to find out how to best spend your money. So when it came to the gore and makeup aspects of the film, I actually trimmed it down. I’d rather maximize my dollars on four great kills than having eight mediocre kills. I only had twenty-eight days to do the film.
Shock: Was finding the right couple to play Mike and Sheryl difficult?
Giglio: The worry was always finding the right girl ’cause we do have a little bit of nudity in the film and I usually think the female role is the star role. I was watching “Entourage” and Brianna had a small part in one episode, so I looked her up. She came in, we had several meetings – before I auditioned anybody, I went through the script with them to make sure they were comfortable with everything. I’m friends with Eli Roth and he gave me the advice, ‘If there’s nudity in your film, you have to make sure they’ll get naked before you go to a foreign country to shoot.’ Brianna came in and lit the room on fire, she fit all of the criteria. I wanted an all-American, good-looking girl who would be on a camping trip. She brought so much to the role and went through an insane regimen to prepare for it. During the film there’s a lake that she goes in that is zero degrees. It’s not a hidden lake. She strips down, walks completely naked into a lake that was, to the touch, freezing. I felt like I was beating the crap out of her…
Shock: You certainly beat the crap out of Josh.
Giglio: He did all of his own stunts. When he wrapped in Romania, he could not walk for three weeks. I think he went through a bunch of procedures on his back afterward – we kicked the crap out of him. He was an actor on one of my favorite TV shows, “Ed.” The comedy that he had was what I liked. He seemed liked the Everyman. His preparation on this film is insane. I hope some of his outtakes make the DVD because he went through profanity-laced tirades before every take to psyche himself up, it was hilarious. He would do forty push-ups before every take. The level of commitment from the two of my lead actors was amazing.
Shock: How did the design for Deacon come about?
Giglio: My thoughts were pretty much black and white on the page. When I went to Autonomous FX, I told them to bring me their ideas first. They got it seventy-five to eighty percent close. They brought me a Deacon where his face was half burned, half wasn’t. The character has a couple of little things where he could be sweet – he’s obviously dutiful to his sister, he develops a crush on the young girl. We wanted to keep a half human/half monster aspect to him. We made a conscious effort to show a complexity in him, that a battle is going on inside him. And Sascha Rosemann, the actor playing Deacon, was a good sport about it. He had to go through a four hour makeup session every day.
Shock: The film straddles two vibes – the gnarly, survival horror gusto of the ’70s and today’s torture horror craze. Was the latter a conscious effort to tap into a profitable zeitgeist?
Giglio: There’s the script that you write and the script you shoot and edit – and I’m not bagging on Dan’s original draft, but the torture element was ten times more powerful than what we ended up with. It felt like we kept repeating ourselves, so I took eight of the torture scenes and made three. What I tried to do was bring in a different structure. “Texas Chainsaw” was a great guideline. One of the things I try to do is mislead the audience in the first act and then switch it up. And what I thought about here was, how are they going to market this movie? What are they going to show in the trailer? That spawned the Deacon idea. Once I had the monster character and the family, it all seemed natural. I felt if I could justify each torture scene…for me, if it doesn’t make sense to the story, then lose it. That said, I tried to limit the gratuitous use of torture but tried to keep it scary in those areas.