Q&A with Dave Thorpe, Director of “Guest House”
Name a Horror character you relate to on a spiritual/personal level?
The baby from Insidious. The only horror film character who has appeared in a scene sprawled out fast asleep in the exact same position that I sleep in. She also spends most of the film either screaming in terror, or sleeping, with no idea what everyone else is doing. There’s no other character in film I relate to more.
You’ve gotta go through some bad ideas to get to the good ones. Tell us one of your bad ideas. How do you get past the bad ones to find your spark?
I think it would often be any idea that has come from a very obvious idea of “it’s a social commentary on…” Even scrolling through the notes on my phone now there’s a few that are painfully on the nose. I think in general the solution is often to strip it back more. Your initial thought could be that making an idea more complicated and more layered will make it more clever and interesting. But for the most part if you leave those ideas for a bit and come back to them, it will stand out what is needed to make them better, and it’s mostly to remove parts from it rather than add parts to it.
Scrolling along my phone here some of what I have down are just not fully thought out ideas though. Here’s one; “The blinking smoke alarm light and as it flashes it reveals people who died.” I apparently wrote that down on October 16th 2018. That gem of an idea hasn’t been made yet. I guess it’s more of a scare idea than a story, but who knows it could spark something… Hmm… Now I want to make my epic smoke alarm dead people story.
Joking aside, I think the answer to your question about getting to the good ideas is that I would say to anyone that it is better to just lash down ideas as much as you can. Don’t overthink them or you’re only going to shut off your brain from thinking creatively at all. If you just get as many ideas down as you can, you can always refine it later and see what works. But if you discourage yourself by telling yourself any idea is a bad one it will throw you off being creative at all.
Do you consider yourself part of a horror community?
I know some cool people who are big into horror, whether as fans or filmmakers themselves. I always find them to be the friendliest people there are. I think in general in most filmmaking circles and at a lot of film festivals there is a snobbery against horror films. Which is a shame because there are so many great horror films in recent years that you would hope that way of thinking would disappear but it hasn’t yet.
But the great thing about the horror communities that do exist is that they really champion the genre so much. Maybe that is a knock on effect of the wider view of the genre, I don’t know. But it really is great at how much horror fans are very supportive of each other and horror filmmakers. It’s a great community to be involved in and the nicest people you could meet.
When you’re building the world of your film, where do you look for inspiration?
For Guest House it was very much looking at a Stephen King influence. It was about having modern millennial characters but having them exist in this familiar classical horror world. Thankfully some people who have seen it have picked up on that which is cool to hear.
In general in terms of shot design or scares I always have The Descent and The Shining in mind. There are so many shots in those two films that are just perfectly designed for making scares work visually. But I think most horror fans would agree that it’s often the sound that makes it work more than visuals. A filmmaker I think has this down so perfectly is Mike Flanagan. His work is so well put together that it never has to hide behind the sound design. Hush is a perfect example but if you watch the two Ouija films back to back you’ll notice how well crafted his scares are.
From a tonal perspective I really think Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard’s work blends genre tones perfectly. I think You’re Next in particular is massively underrated. James Wan and Leigh Whannell I’m a big fan of too. That restaurant scene in The Invisible Man will stick with me for a long time.
What would you do if you woke up inside of your film?
I was initially thinking I hope I would get along with another version of myself but I’m not sure if anyone actually would get along with another version of themselves!
With the no WiFi or TV though, I would probably do exactly what Ged did and just drink wine to get through it all.
Who would be on your ultimate horror villain squad?
Michael Myers, Jack Torrance, Jigsaw, Norman Bates and any member of the family from Get Out. We’re all doomed if that lot get together.
Lightning round: Freddy or Jason? Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft? Practical or CGI? Post Apocalypse or Pre Apocalypse?
Jason. King. Both. Pre.
Bit of a cop out on the effects one there. But I don’t think that CGI is an ugly term or that everything has to be practical. Nobody wants to see the La Magra CGI blood on screen ever again but whether it be practical or CGI, I just think it’s whatever works best for the scene and what is achievable to make it work.
What scares you, and does it inspire your storytelling?
The shameful answer is everything scares me and that does very much help when influencing the stories I come up with. Y’know those horror fans who are so used to all of the genre conventions that they sit in the cinema absolutely numb to it all. They’ll enjoy it but never be fazed by it. Well that’s not me at all. I’m pretty much terrified of everything and unfortunately if you’re in the cinema with me watching a horror film you’ll hear me yelping and roaring a lot because it all just works on me so well.
There’s one jump scare in What Lies Beneath that absolutely terrifies me and gets me every time. Even though I’m expecting it. It’s where she is looking out the window and sees the guy looking back at her. Always gets me. Every. Single. Time.
And finally, Ghostface would like to know ‘What’s your favourite scary movie?’
That’s very tough and there are so many that inspired me, be it classic ones or more recent. The truth is there isn’t just one film that is my out and out favourite. I’m drawn to say Psycho though. I think that film is structurally perfect. It is all so masterfully put together with fantastic characters and set-piece horror moments.