Interview: V/H/S ‘Tuesday The 17th’ Director Glenn McQuaid

‘I would really love to see an all-female written and directed version, to see where they take it.’

Earlier this week we brought you an interview with one of the twisted minds behind the brilliant horror anthology V/H/S, David Bruckner, and in the week of the film’s DVD and Blu-ray release, we chat to director Glenn McQuaid.

We got on the phone with Dublin-born McQuaid, now based in New York, to talk about his segment in the found-footage collection, ‘Tuesday the 17th’. The creepy yet witty slasher-in-the-woods short sits alongside contributions from Ti West of House of the Devil and Innkeepers fame, the collective Radio Silence, plus LOL and Hannah Takes the Stairs helmer Joe Swanberg, with his buddy Adam Wingard (A Horrible Way to Die) taking care of the sinister wraparound arc. Read our review here.

McQuaid started as a visual effects supervisor and an art director in advertising, before making his acclaimed feature debut with 2008’s grave-robbing horror comedy I Sell the Dead, which starred Dominic Monaghan and Larry Fessenden. We find out more about the very interesting projects McQuaid has in the pipeline below.

How was your FrightFest experience last year? When V/H/S screened it really felt like the festival ramped up a gear.
Both me and David Bruckner, who directed the first piece, were going to be presenting, and it ended up just being me. There was a lot of love. I saw The Seasoning House and a couple of other movies before we showed V/H/S, it was interesting… it’s always interesting to get the reaction, as when we got to V/H/S people were really excited, and there were laughs and shrieks so it went really well. I really love Paul, Ian, Alan and the guys so it was great to be there again.

Did you know about the other directors’ themes when you were working on V/H/S? What did you think about the thread of misogyny that ran through all the films?
I didn’t know what the other guys were up to. They let us know it was okay to be a little bit fantastical, and not po-faced and sold on realism. When it comes to misogyny, in a way, when you hand a bunch of guys a video camera, I think voyeurism and sexuality is going to come into it. The nudity in my piece is all the guys basically! Looking back at it, there is a theme of voyeurism. I would really love to see an all-female written and directed version, to see where they take it.

What do you think about the current state of the genre?
The horror that I love isn’t that hardcore. Like Texas Chainsaw Massacre - while I accept the brilliance of it, I never want to see it again. It’s disturbing for me. Recently I watched The Snowtown Murders, it’s a great movie, but I don’t know what I got from it other than really depressed! I’m a bit of a sucker in that I just want to be entertained. Concerning movies like The Human Centipede and A Serbian Film, I tend to avoid films like that. In a way it almost seems too easy to be as shocking and as cruel as you want, and you can make a name for yourself pretty quickly by doing that. It’s not to say that those guys aren’t talented, but I was joking with my partner recently - what’s the opposite of an exploitation movie about violence? You know, make a film about people being really kind to one another? It’s probably a porno [laughs], I don’t know! The stuff I like is light-hearted, and sometimes I think I should challenge myself to go a little bit darker. Certainly a lot of the new horror, I’ve got no interest in it.

I believe that you’re not actually a fan of slasher movies?
I am in that I like a lot of the earlier ones, like Black Sunday, The Burning and Friday the 13th. I like those a lot, but I haven’t caught up with it. I dropped off after Scream, which kind of ruined a lot of horror for me, in that it became too self-aware and ironic. The last good slasher movie for me was Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI - I felt it was good-humoured, and it referenced horror like Frankenstein, but it wasn’t so self-aware that every scene was a gag. The slashers I do love are from the early ’80s. I feel like I’m watching a movie rather than a series of scenes referencing other movies.

So, what do you think about The Cabin in the Woods?
I have to say I wasn’t a huge fan. I appreciate the artistry and the ideas behind it, but at the end of the day, I want to go and watch a story. I don’t want to watch a movie about the movies, you know?

So how did you end up doing Tuesday the 17th, which is based around the slasher genre?
Roxanne Benjamin approached me to submit an idea for V/H/S, and I actually submitted a fake lost episode a 1970s television show about strange children with ESP, almost like an Arthur C. Clarke Mysterious World thing. While they liked it, they said they really needed a slasher segment, so would I be interested. I just said, look, the slashers I like are from the ’80s, so I will want a throwback to that. They said, go for it, and left me to my own devices.

How long did you work on it?
We probably had about two months to get the ideas down, and I shot it over three days in the Catskills. We actually shot it in Larry Fessenden’s farm. Larry’s a good mate, and we tend to work together, so I knew I could ask his advice about making it.

Is it true you re-shot the short?
Yeah, it’s interesting, the first time I shot for two days, and it was pretty scripted. When I got back to the edit room what I saw was pretty broad comedy and there was clearly no sense of any realism to it. So while I got a giggle out of it, I thought it’s really not going to work as found-footage. So I got everyone back together again, and went back up, and just handed the cast the camera and snuck away. It was a pretty cool way of working. Most of the time I storyboard and get animatronics done, as I’m interested in the choreography between camera and actors, and I just let go of that.

Yours is the most old-fashioned of the lot, one that looks like it came from an actual tape - did you have a lot of fun designing around that?
In post it was a lot of fun. It came about in that we really didn’t know what we wanted the killer to look like. I was designing all these crazy silhouettes in the style of Jason and Freddy, and I thought, what’s new? What’s different? I thought, what if he’s invisible, and from there we started to have fun with it. I wanted to show what the killer could do rather than what he looked like. It’s for the audience to paint their own picture.

What actually scares you when watching films?
On V/H/S I really like David Bruckner’s piece Amateur Night. There’s a really dark tone to that piece, as it feels like the real world. It starts with a bunch of arseholes going out and trying to get women drunk and have sex with them. So I just thought this was really fucking creepy, these shitheads are in the real world. It left a really ominous tone, then it pulled the plug by having this woman turn the tables. They walk the audience down a really dark path, and when the horror comes into it, it’s a justifiable release.

Do you find the horror community especially supportive as a filmmaker?
Definitely. When I started, the first film festival I ever went to was Fantasia, up in Montreal. Mitch Davis runs that, and he was one of the first to appreciate what I was doing and show it to an audience. Mitch has remained a good mate. The guys, including those at FrightFest, are supportive and want you to get more work so you’ll be back. It means an awful lot.

Is horror a genre you’ll stay in?
I love the genre. I worked in advertising for many years, and I was itching to get back into filmmaking, and I knew that it had to be horror, because it was what I loved. I wanted to do something I was going to be enthusiastic about. But at the same I’ve wanted to get in and do some drama. I grew up in Ireland and I have all these great aunts, and my mother, and the strength of Irish women I know is so inspiring. I was recently at home in Dublin for Christmas, with all my aunts and uncles, and I just recorded a conversation about Dublin in the Fifties, growing up working class in the shipping district. All those stories are hugely important to me. If anything, stories like that are more inspiring that figuring out what the next great way to scare somebody is.

What will be next for you?
I’ve written a pretty big budget script called This Island, which is a play on The Most Dangerous Game scenario with a lot of different vampires - you’ve got the Chinese hopping vampire, the Malaysian vampire, African vampires, so am channelling all that mythology. The script is in a good place, and I’m making a comic book out of it, which is nearly finished. I’m investigating opportunities to make it into an R-rated animation, almost like the pages of an old horror comic come to life. I’m working on a bunch of other things. I have a show that I do with Larry Fessenden called Tales from Beyond the Pale, which is all about getting new concepts out there from the community. It’s radio-based horror - close your eyes and it’s based purely on sound and performance.

Watch Filmbeat’s interview with McQuaid at last summer’s FrightFest.