U.S. horror directors could do well to learn a thing or two about cross-breeding horror and comedy from their brethren in the UK. More often than not, the British seem to get it right with the obvious, most recent, examples arguably being Shaun of the Dead and Severance. However, if you reach further back, you’ll a taste a layer of sardonic wit in classics like Robert Fuest’s The Abominable Dr. Phibes.
The latest film volleyed across the pond with laughs and filleted limbs is The Cottage, hitting DVD on May 13th from Sony Home Entertainment. Ex-Kong/Gollum Andy Serkis and The League of Gentlemen‘s Reece Shearsmith star as brothers attempting to execute a kidnapping. But their plans crumble when outside parties get involved and a deranged, scarred farmer gets in their way. The Cottage‘s writer-director Paul Andrew Williams recently spoke candidly to ShockTillYouDrop.com from the Tribeca Film Festival where his rabid horror debut – following the acclaimed indie drama London to Brighton – is making its American debut.
ShockTillYouDrop.com: Horror and comedy, separately, are tough to pull off, so what made you decide to take a crack at it?
Paul Andrew Williams: Horror-comedy is always difficult because you’re asking people to have two conflicting emotions when they watch something. For me, obviously [The Cottage] is a genre film, but if you just concentrate on the story, the story will hopefully find its own genre. The idea was to concentrate on the fun side of it and the actual characters – their backstory and journey. For me, this is the story, and I’m following these guys and they wind up on this farm and it all goes chaotic.
Shock: Do you have brothers yourself or was the sibling rivalry we see in the film inspired by people you knew?
Williams: I have a brother and a sister and they’re both younger than me. They’re both extremely jealous of my talent and my relationship with my parents. They’re not even worth mentioning, actually. [laughs] But, the sibling rivalry is something we all go through and there’s a deep bond that’s unbreakable between brothers and sisters. Someone could call me an asshole and I’ll get pissed off. But my brother could call me an asshole and that’s not a f**kin’ big deal. There’s always a love there – I love my brother and I love my sister very much, but my brother’s younger than me so I always kicked his ass growing up. I tried to capture that in the script, the banter and the nature of their conversations.
Shock: There are a lot of sly jokes in this film, for instance, the use of the coffee mugs that accurately identified the character’s role in the film…
Williams: Oh my gosh, you got that! I’m so glad you noticed that. There were three mugs in the film and it was really important for me…the first one was “I Love Tea.” And then there was actually a second mug Andy Serkis has that says, “I’m With Stupid” with the arrow pointing to whoever is stupid. I was just so pressed for time I missed getting the angle while he was holding it. And then obviously there was Jennifer’s mug with “I’m the Boss” because she was the most in command out of the three of them. So, first, I’m glad you picked up on that and secondly, I wish I had done a better job.
Shock: Talk about casting Andy and Reece, did you have both of these actors in mind when you wrote the script or was their pairing a case of serendipity?
Williams: I wrote this film with Reece in mind for Peter. I’m sure you know of his involvement in the series League of Gentleman in England. He’s got a certain manner about him and the characters he plays in that show…I wanted to find the most annoying person in the world and for some reason I thought of him. And Andy, he was with my agent in the UK and they showed me his reel. He was originally interested about three years ago when I was starting it. He’s a very well-established actor, has worked with some great filmmakers and he plays really varied roles.
Shock: You mentioned this getting going about three years ago, was there a reason for the stretched development period of the film?
Williams: I wrote the script about five years ago and since then it has been through various stages of development. Because I was a first-time filmmaker and the story was not maybe strictly a normal genre film because it had the two elements to it and two different story threads, people were a bit wary. How do they sell it? It’s comedy and horror, so they don’t understand. Then I made London to Brighton and everybody was like, Okay, he can actually direct a film. We should give him a little money to do this. What was interesting was that during the development process everybody told me I needed to put more horror in the beginning of the film. Something in the opening, a guy needed to get killed before the credits. So, reluctantly, we were trying to make that work and then we shot most of those elements. But then during the editing process they were like, Yeah, we need to get rid of the horror elements, it doesn’t work and hopefully throw it in where the people were not expecting it.
Shock: Were horror films something you were partial to in the past?
Shock: Still, I think The Cottage has a certain level of unpredictability to it.
Williams: Thank you. There are so many films of a certain nature, especially made by the studios, that try to gear towards the 16 to 24-year-old who gets a DVD out with popcorn and a Coke with their friends. Sometimes they can make films that are impossibly lazy. They’ve got hot girls and teens and there’s a masked killer who’s going to take them out. But if you can do something more than that… That’s why every now and again films – I’m not saying mine – come out that are really well-appreciated. I think the good thing about the genre is some genre films are just good films. It doesn’t matter if it’s horror. There are horror films that really stand the test of time and that’s why some people shouldn’t be making Jeepers Creepers 7.
Shock: Where did you shoot The Cottage – did everything run smoothly for your first time at the helm of a goofy gore flick?
Williams: We had six weeks of night shoots which, after a while, can destroy your brain. That was the biggest hurdle we had. Otherwise, I’ve made a film that cost a $115 thousand dollars that was called London to Brighton and that did really well. This one was a $2.5 million pounds sterling, so it bought us a lot more things and made a lot of things easy. However, every film is going to have problems. It was hard work, just really hard work.
Shock: How did The Cottage play in the UK?
Williams: It played interestingly. The first film I made was gritty and naturalistic. When it came out, I got awards and rave reviews and everyone was applauding me. Then I went on and made a horror film with comedy and big breasts. A lot of people were shocked I made a film of this nature. But, man, I’ve never seen people go this absolutely crazy. You see it with an audience and they go mad, it’s just fantastic. When you make a film of this nature, there are always going to be certain critics who are not going to be for this film and there are going to be critics for this film. You have to aim for the gap.
Read about Williams talking about his upcoming horror projects here!