Marcus Nispel knows his way around a horror movie, and so his film Exeter should be top on any modern horror fans to-see list. Before the film airs exclusively on DIRECTV CINEMA, we asked the director of the modern twists on Friday the 13th and Texas Chainsaw Massacre how he came up with this DIY exorcism plot and what he watches to decompress.
How did you come up with the story for Exeter?
Steve Schneider (of Paranormal Activity fame) called me and asked if I would want to do a million dollar movie. He challenged me to come up with a one page idea for a horror film. He wanted me to base it on the scariest movie I’d ever seen, which is The Exorcist. So many other movies like it have been made, but I was interested in doing a film based on the culture of young people—you know, a sort of “do-it-yourself-exorcism”—taking into account what real kids might do.
I didn’t want it be another “found footage” movie or a remake. We swore to ourselves in making this movie that we weren’t going to screw the genre. We fought to distribute the film that we originally wanted to make. DIRECTV had respect for the movie that I made; not for what they “thought” I should make. I held on to Exeter for a full year to find a distributor who would allow me to be fiercely independent. Most filmmakers do this with their first film, like Sam Raimi did with The Evil Dead, but I did it later in my career.
Fans love films like this. Look at The Evil Dead, Halloween and Friday the 13th. They all gained audiences through the years on VHS, then DVD and now VOD. My film has now found a home on VOD where it’s not about mass marketing rules. It’s about allowing the fans to enjoy something much more tactile. I’m very excited about this release plan. It’s a first time for me and this is the perfect movie for this platform.
There are many legends and conspiracy theories about playing recordings backwards to reveal secret messages. How is Exeter different, or are you feeding the terror already associated with those wives’ tales?
The movie I made was originally titled Backmask but we found that a lot of people (mainly our test audiences) didn’t know what “backmask” meant. I grew up with albums being played backwards—The Beatles and Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” It was common but audiences today didn’t understand the title. Personally, I like movies where I don’t always know what the titles mean.
When we wrote the film, we had never heard of “Exeter.” I kept getting calls to film in Rhode Island and I thought Rhode Island? I just thought of it as a very polite place but when I googled “scary places in Rhode Island,” this old asylum came up. Articles about human rights violations, etc. When we got there, we found exactly what you see on screen—it’s a bit crazy but we didn’t rent any props. The wheelchairs and other items, they were already there. What we found there is what you see. We ended up landing at a place that we had wrote about. Art imitating life. That was a real shock and it amazed us all. Lots of paranormal shows were wondering how we got to shoot there.
Were there any scenes of the movie you cut that you want audiences to see after the release?
No. As I said earlier, with this film, I didn’t feel compromised. All the changes that we did were changes that I readily made because I felt it was key to the film. We did have a constant balance act between being funny and making a film that affects you. I wanted it to get under your skin. But I made the film I wanted to make without restrictions so you won’t have to see the “director’s cut” version. This is it.
What’s your favorite horror movie of all time?
The Exorcist is my favorite. I also love Alien.
Are there any TV shows you’re currently watching that you just can’t live without?
I don’t watch much TV but while shooting Exeter, I would come back to the hotel and watch Storage Wars. It deprogrammed me from the horror and mayhem on the set.
Don’t miss Exeter now playing On Demand.