Opening in limited release tomorrow, Havenhurst is a film that every self-respecting horror fan should make an effort to see. It stars Julie Benz as a recovering alcoholic who moves into the titular New York City apartment building, without knowing that it harbors a terrible secret.
I talked to director Andrew C. Erin about Havenhurst (review) on Skype; and boy, did he have some interesting things to say. We discussed everything from the inception of the idea to the experience of filming in New York City and Los Angeles, so I think you’ll find our talk to be highly informative.
Dread Central: I watched Havenhurst, and it was great.
Andrew C. Erin: Thank you.
DC: How did it all come about from an idea to a completed film?
ACE: Well, myself and Daniel Farrands, the other writer on it, came up with this idea many, many years ago when we were putting a room together and tasked with a horror concept that landed solidly in the genre and could be franchisable. We were going back and forth and back and forth, and really connecting as we’re both horror nerds, and we came across the story of H. H. Holmes, and from there we become very excited with the idea of “what if there were places in New York City (because he was all over the place, he traveled a lot) that hadn’t been discovered yet, and what if he had descendants that were doing the same things but in a much more modern and sophisticated level?”
So we got our juices flowing, and that’s when Havenhurst was born. And not that long after, we had set it up as a TV series with Twisted Pictures and Lionsgate, and then we got the rights back after it didn’t end up going. We got the script, financed it, got a production company, and then went back to Twisted Pictures, who got on board again, and we made the film that you watched.
DC: You said you wanted something franchisable. Does that mean there might be a sequel?
ACE: Well, it depends. We set it up, we put so much energy into developing the storyline as a TV series and a franchisable feature that we have ideas for the second one and the third one. So if this one does really well, then yeah, we’d love to do another one.
DC: The Havenhurst building was kind of like a maze. I thought that was quite an interesting design.
ACE: Yeah, that was taken straight out of H.H. Holmes and what he did with his house of horror in Chicago. So we built on that under the guise that this is 100, you know, almost 200 years later, with more resources and technology. So his descendants have really turned that building into quite a mechanism. And we were only able to achieve so much of it on the budget that we had, but we did the best we could.
DC: Did you film in New York City?
ACE: We did two days in New York City, where we shot the exterior of Havenhurst and Julie Benz walking through the city, and everything else was shot in Los Angeles. All of the interiors were shot on a stage, so we built all of the apartments and the hallways and the laundromat, and then we used other locations in and around Los Angeles. Like the basement and the car chase were done in downtown LA.
DC: Which building did you use as the Havenhurst exterior?
ACE: There’s a series of buildings on the East Side of New York called Tudor City. So from the very inception of the idea, we really focused on those Gothic-looking buildings. They were built in the early 1900s, and we just really liked the look of them.
DC: I got the impression that the film tackled the theme of redemption, with Julie Benz’s character being a recovering alcoholic, and there was also the abusive stepfather.
ACE: Yeah, it’s eh, y’know, it’s sort of a morality play, you know, in the sense that… I think that’s why Twisted Pictures liked it because it’s in the same sense as Saw. Because as backwards as these people are who run the building, they’re giving people a chance to better their lives for themselves and the people around them. So Eleanor, who runs the building, she has every intention of helping these people if they live a straight and good life. That’s her hope.
DC: Were there any other themes?
ACE: No, we tried to keep it… addiction is such a complex thing, such a human thing, that we really wanted to keep that simple and grounded. And this movie is really a marriage between the struggle of addiction and what H.H. Holmes did. As sort of a cure or punishment or a finality, using his viciousness, you know. And I think Eleanor, who initially wasn’t, way back when, wasn’t this evil human being, she saw an opportunity for given this, people who struggle so much, an opportunity to have a better life, and she supports that, up until the point where they continue doing their thing, and then she lets the family lineage do what it does. It’s complex enough, so we wanted to keep it grounded and dead.
DC: You had quite a cool villain, with the swords on his arms and stuff.
ACE: (Laughs) Yeah, that was Jed. That’s the modern version of H.H. Holmes, where this is a person who, for the most part, lives between the walls and spends his time developing different mechanisms to punish people, to kill people. So we had some fun coming up with that stuff.
DC: So do you think there really are unsolved mysteries about H.H. Holmes?
ACE: Oh definitely. Yeah. Up until recently, they talked about… he may even have been Jack the Ripper.
ACE: Yeah… there was a whole book written on it, but they were able to disprove that I think through DNA. But know, he traveled, he traveled up into Canada, he traveled through Europe; when he was caught in Texas, he was doing another house of horrors. He was building another hotel. So yeah, I think there’s some stuff we’ll never find out about what he was doing.
DC: Can you describe working with Julie Benz?
ACE: Oh it was great, you know, it’s every directors dream to find really talented, professional actors. We had a great casting director Ramirez, and because Daniel Farrands co-wrote, such a heavyweight in the horror genre, because Dan wrote Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers and produced Haunting in Connecticut, the next Amityville, so they had a pretty broad reach as far as talent. So with that combination we were able to get people like Julie Benz, who was a real professional. You never know what you’re going to get when you’ve got someone with that much experience, but she showed up every day, she was really into it, a real pro, she did a great job.
Fionnula Flanagan, who I was such a fan of from The Others, and Danielle Harris, who’s got such a strong pedigree in the horror genre… It was just a treat as a director to work with all of them.
DC: I liked the practical gore effects.
ACE: I always try to use as many practical effects as I can. Everything, almost… we had two incredible companies, Vincent Guastini of VGP Effects, and then we used Chris LeDoux, his VFX company is Crafty Apes, and they do some pretty huge things, so it was a great combination of both of them. So we really tried to do everything as practical as we could until we couldn’t afford to (laughs).
DC: What else do you think sets Havenhurst apart from other horror films?
ACE: You know, our goal from the get-go, because we’re such horror fans we didn’t want to reinvent the wheel, we just wanted to make something that we’d want to watch, something that lands solidly in the genre, that’s not reinventing the wheel, something that’s effective. And we really focused on the production value, and the cast, and just every aspect, to make it really well. You know, so hopefully those elements will not so much set it apart as satisfy horror fans.
DC: How did you come up with the name?
ACE: Well, Havenhurst is H.H., right?
DC: Oh, I didn’t notice that.
ACE: So we wanted to have the H.H. in there, we had a whole theme of H.H. stuff we wanted to do, and yeah, as we were coming up with names for the building, we would bounce names on each other and come up with lists, and Havenhurst just seemed like the perfect feel and fit.
DC: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
ACE: I hope everyone enjoys it as much as we enjoyed making the film.
DC: Are you working on anything else?
ACE: You know, I’ve got a couple of projects in development right now, but nothing finished and ready to go.
DC: All right, it was great talking to you.
ACE: Thank you, David; I’m glad you enjoyed the film.
Welcome to Havenhurst, a Gothic apartment complex in the heart of New York City’s historic Tudor City district. A beautifully maintained, turn-of-the-century building that houses over 3,000 residents… and countless dark secrets. The rent is what you can afford, and the rules are simple: Live a good and decent life, and you can stay forever. Break the rules and…
Jackie (Julie Benz), a troubled young woman with an unyielding alcohol addiction, is released from rehab and given a second chance with a new job and a furnished apartment at Havenhurst. Guilt-ridden over the tragic loss of her 8-year-old daughter, Jackie is quickly drawn into the mysteries of Havenhurst, in particular the unsolved disappearance of the apartment’s previous occupant, a young woman (Danielle Harris) she befriended in rehab who disappeared recently without a trace.
Aided by a hardened New York police detective (Josh Stamberg) and a lonely foster child (Belle Shouse) who lives under the shadow of her caretakers’ sadistic whims, Jackie must not only battle her inner demons… but the very real ones that live deep within the walls of Havenhurst.