CS Interview: Christopher Landon talks Freaky, potential sequel & HDD crossover
Just in time for the hit horror-comedy to hit shelves, ComingSoon.net got the opportunity to chat with co-writer/director Christopher Landon to discuss the body-swapping slasher Freaky, his thoughts on a potential sequel and the fan-desired crossover with the Jessica Rothe-starring horror-comedy Happy Death Day series!
ComingSoon.net: You’ve already made such a penchant for yourself for making these really high concept, horror genre mash-ups, so how did Freaky sort of come to your mind?
Christopher Landon: So this one was actually brought to me by my partner, Michael Kennedy, it was a pitch that he was working on and was going to go out with. So I was just going to kind of help be a soundboard for him, but as soon as I heard the idea I just fell in love with it and immediately started pitching tons of ideas and scenes and moments in the movie. We just decided we should write it together.
CS: What were some of your favorite ideas that you pitched and some of your favorites from Michael?
CL: I think Michael had the characters, you know? I kind of immediately fell in love with Millie and her family, her mom and her sister, so I was really drawn to those elements and I love the concept. I think one of the very first moments that I pitched him was the kiss in the back of the car with Booker. It was just a moment in my head, because I thought, you know, the whole movie is about how this girl has felt really kicked on and unseen. And here in this crazy situation, where she’s suddenly very vulnerable but also really excited, that she kind of lets her guard down and tells this tells this guy how she really feels and that this kid sees her for who she is on the inside, you know that it’s not just about looks and it’s not just about how pretty you are. So for me it just kind of fired on all the kind of fun cylinders that I that I was hoping for and then I also just had a really good time. I mean, I kind of came up with I think most or all of the kills because that’s kind of my bag. I had a lot of fun coming up with those and Michael and I both agreed that we wanted the movie to be really gory.
CS: I was going to say you did the Happy Death Day movies back to back and those were very PG-13, but you definitely went hard-R with this one, how did you and Michael land on that tone in comparison to those?
CL: I think it was really different and it struck me immediately when I heard the pitch, because the Happy Death Day movies I think benefited from their PG-13 rating. Because, you know, as a rule you don’t actually see the moment of trees death, it was always sort of an implied thing, but you’re really catching it right before she dies. So it worked, I think, in its favor, and also just because it felt like a sweeter kind of broader movie. Here, I kind of felt like conceptually, if you really want the the idea of these two very different people swapping bodies, it had to be gory and bloody, just for contrast purposes. There was something to me very amusing about this sort of shy, sweet girl in high school and suddenly she walks around like brutally murdering people. So it just kind of worked better for me.
CS: So what was it like, from a director’s standpoint, getting back into the bloody practical effects since Scouts Guide?
CL: I love practical effects, I think most filmmakers do. I think a lot of times we have a tendency to sort of lean on visual effects to sort of clean things up or fix things, it’s sometimes an easier way to go, but I love doing this stuff. I mean, they’re always a pain in the ass to actually do, just because there’s just a lot of moving parts and there’s a lot of human error involved. But at the end of the day, I think that it still just looks better and is a lot more fun when you can do stuff like that so I had a blast.
CS: The Alan Ruck sequence I imagine must have been one of the more complicated of the bunch, how many chances did you have to get it just right?
CL: That was a tough on me, because we have such limited budgets on these movies, so I only had to two shots at that one. It took a lot of technical work, not just with the gory part, but also that kind of a table saw, it doesn’t exist. So we had to build that table saw and it was really, very challenging and also just really dangerous. It definitely made me nervous, because that thing was mean and big. There’s lot of things that are involved in stuff like that, it’s not just sort of the effects themselves, but it’s also you know the safety issues and all the other things that go into doing a sequence like that, so it was hard for sure. But you know, I felt confident in the team and we pulled it off.
CS: When it came to building the cast, you had worked with Kathryn Newton prior, did you and Michael have her in mind when you were fleshing out the characters or was she someone through your research you realized you wanted to go back and work with?
CL: I definitely had her in mind when when we were writing, I had both Kathryn and Vince in mind while we were writing. I was just really lucky and really happy that they both ended up doing it, because that rarely happens. But yeah, Kathryn, she’s such a pro. She’s such a good actor and it did help that I had kind of a shorthand with her, since we had worked together several years back, so it was kind of a no brainer for me.
CS: When I spoke with her she mentioned that she was able to do improv work on Paranormal Activity, which it certainly lent itself to, but did you allow your cast the chance to improv here and there on this one?
CL: Yeah, I mean, whenever there’s an opportunity to do that I always want the actors to feel like they can throw the script away and just go for it and it works really well in comedy. Obviously, when you’re doing these complicated sequences where you’re sort of stalking people and killing people, you can’t get too crazy. But certainly we gave them opportunities, especially Vince, you know Vince is an actor who I think really shines when he’s allowed to go off script. A lot of some of my favorite bits in the movie are just sort of Vince riffing and just being him, so I’m definitely a big fan of the improv stuff.
CS: What were some of your favorite bits of cast improv that made it into the film?
CL: God, there’s so many. There was definitely in the car scene, when when they arrive outside the sheriff’s station, and Nyla jumped out of the car, Vince is alone with Booker and he starts to do all these hashtags and those are just random, like he just literally pulled that out of nowhere. He did “#StressCited, #NervesofSteel” and then he says “#WhatAmIDoing,” There are all these like little bits that he did that were super funny and that’s some of my favorite stuff.
CS: What was it then like also looking for the perfect people to play Nyla and Josh, since they’re so integral to Millie’s story?
CL: I think that was really the key for Michael and I, because they’re not sidekicks, you know, they’re leads. I think a lot of times you have certain characters around sort of to either react or die in a movie like this. What was really important to us about Joshua and Nyla, is that we have an out gay character and a black character that aren’t there to react to things, like they’re actively pursuing ways to help their friend survive this situation. I think we just wanted a certain kind of authenticity and a certain kind of person that felt like people that we knew and relate to and I think that was really the most important factor. I think that we got really, really lucky with Celeste and with Misha, who both are incredibly talented, super authentic people.
CS: I find it funny thinking back in development when rumors were swirling this might be a Scream reboot and now with one actually in the works, what are your feeling looking back on when those theories were going on?
CL: [Laughs] I mean, it’s always fun to kind of see people start trying to figure these things out. But for me I was just really excited that we had an original movie that we were making that I felt really strongly about and that I thought was gonna be a lot of fun. But, you know, I could see how people start to draw those conclusions or start to connect those dots.
CS: What was it like setting up the Beyond Fest drive-in premiere and seeing the really positive response from it a month before it went wide?
CL: I was thrilled, I mean, it’s really hard because, you know, we’ve been in the middle of a really shitty situation, collectively [chuckles]. It was hard because on one hand, I wanted to be in a movie theater with all my friends and my family watching this movie, but I was so grateful to Beyond Fest that they pulled it off, because they understand that people love movies and that we need to see movies a certain way. So it was my first time at a drive-in, I’d never been to a driving drive-in before, that was awesome, it was just a really cool experience. I was elated by the reaction to the movie and it’s so nice that, especially because it’s kind of like you know that fans are going to get it, but sometimes it’s hard for a filmmaker because so often when you make movies like this, you get crushed by critics. So it felt really nice to be acknowledged by both you know, that critics and fans really understood what we were going for and got it and liked it. It was the silver lining to an otherwise totally shitty year.
CS: In the months since the release and it did so well, there’s been plenty of talk from both you and Jason Blum about possibly coming back for a follow-up or even seeing a crossover with Millie and Tree from Happy Death Day, but what do you hope to be the next step for either?
CL: Well, look it’s funny, like the crossover thing is certainly a fun idea and I think that people are very into this sort of shared universe concept. But, I really, first and foremost, had wanted and continue to want to make a third movie in the Happy Death Day franchise just because I’ve wrote an idea. I didn’t write the whole script, I’m not that crazy. But I had outlined a third movie because I really knew what I wanted it to be and it was sort of the conclusion to it. It was a trilogy for me, so it’s a bummer that I haven’t had the opportunity yet to make that movie and I know that Jessica Rothe really wants to do it. In terms of a sequel to Freaky, you know, I don’t think it’s ever gonna happen, because I honestly don’t know if the studio has an appetite for a sequel. I think they’re quite comfortable with it being a standalone movie, and to be honest, I am too, because we didn’t really have an idea for a sequel. It wasn’t like, “Oh, this has to be the continuation of this story,” whereas with the Happy Death Movies movies they kind of had a whole life after after that, but you never know. You never know what can happen. I would love to see, you know, Millie and Tree in a movie together. But I just don’t know what that movie is.
CS: So now that Freaky is coming to Blu-ray and is already another hit, do you have any ideas for what high concept thing we can expect next from you?
CL: It’s funny, I think that just when you start to become expected for something or that people start to want a certain thing from you, I think the best thing you can do for your career is to pivot. I think the next thing I’m doing is probably less obvious to people and I’m actually really okay with that, because I don’t want to become the guy that’s like, “Oh, he takes classic comedic ideas and flips them into horror movies,” because, you know, you don’t want to get typecast. But I’m always open to a clever idea, I do love a high-concept idea, I’m a big whore when it comes to that.
BONUS FEATURES on BLU-RAY, DVD and Digital:
In Freaky, seventeen-year-old Millie Kessler is just trying to survive the bloodthirsty halls of Blissfield High and the cruelty of the popular crowd. But when she becomes the newest target of The Butcher, her town’s infamous serial killer, her senior year becomes the least of her worries. When The Butcher’s mystical ancient dagger causes him and Millie to wake up in each other’s bodies, Millie learns that she has just 24 hours to get her body back before the switch becomes permanent and she’s trapped in the form of a middle-aged maniac forever. The only problem is she now looks like a towering psychopath who’s the target of a city-wide manhunt while The Butcher looks like her and has brought his appetite for carnage to Homecoming. With some help from her friends—ultra-woke Nyla, ultra-fabulous Joshua and her crush Booker —Millie races against the clock to reverse the curse while The Butcher discovers that having a female teen body is the perfect cover for a little Homecoming killing spree.
Freaky is led by Kathryn Newton (Big Little Lies, The Society, Blockers) and Vince Vaughn (Wedding Crashers, True Detective). It will also feature Celeste O’Connor (Selah and the Spades), Misha Osherovich (The Goldfinch), Uriah Shelton (Enter the Warriors Gate) Alan Ruck (Succession), Katie Finneran (Why Women Kill), and Dana Drori (High Fidelity series).
The film is directed by Landon, who co-wrote the script with Michael Kennedy. It is produced by Blumhouse’s Jason Blum with Couper Samuelson and Jeanette Volturno set as executive producers. The horror-comedy is available on digital platforms and hits shelves on Blu-ray and DVD tomorrow!