Scott Kosar first made his name known in the horror world by being the lucky bastard (depending on your view of the film) to write the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for Platinum Dune. After showing he knew his stuff, the production house tapped his talents again when it came time for an Amityville Horror remake, and he recently granted Dread Central an exclusive interview (i.e., not part of a junket) to discuss his new film as well as the upcoming remake of The Crazies he’s working on. Read on!
Sean Clark: In writing The Amityville Horror remake did you try to make it more like the book, the film, or a mixture of both? I had heard this was geared more towards the Jay Anson book which I have always felt was a bit of a sloppy mess.
Scott Kosar: I agree.
SC: So how did you approach this?
SK: Somewhere in-between. I tried to take things that were in the book and elaborate on them more. For instance the book doesn’t really give a definitive answer as to the mythology of the house. I think there is one paragraph that deals with the back story of the house, that there were Shinicock Indians leaving in the area at the time and that they used that same piece of land where the Lutz’s house was eventually built as a sort of asylum or mental institute where the Shinicock Indians put their sick and crazy members of the tribe and kept them in enclosure pens in that area, leaving them there to die. There wasn’t much to go on so we had to kind of elaborate on that. There was also some mention in the same paragraph that there was a settler by the name of John Ketchum who was drummed out of Salem for practicing witchcraft and eventually resurfaced in Amityville. So we had to create more of a back story and use that as a subplot in the movie. There wasn’t much mention of the Defeo tragedy. It was referred to very scantly. It didn’t go into detail much. So I had to do some research reading old newspaper articles and magazine articles on the subject and try to make more of that tragic back story and use it in the movie.
SC: What is your personal opinion about the realism behind the haunting?
SK: That is something I would rather not comment on, though I will say that the most horrific aspect of the story is definitely the Defeo massacre. There is no disputing that story. There are different accounts of what Ronnie Defeo’s motivation was. He claimed at one point that he was possessed by demons and heard voices telling him to do it. I can say that that is one aspect of the story I don’t believe. I think that was just an excuse to try to get off on an insanity defense, but there are very puzzling facts concerning that murder. Specifically that all of the family members were found face down in their beds and it begs the question; how is it that none of the family members heard the shotgun blasts in the dead of night and tried to run for cover? One might think that some of them probably did and were killed in other parts of the house and later placed on the bed, but the investigation proved that these people were actually shot face down in their beds, the bodies weren’t moved. That’s a mystery that to this day hasn’t been answered. That’s something that we weren’t able to solve as well or even try to give an explanation for. But again, the Defeo part of the story is by far the most horrific.
SC: Has anyone tried to get in contact with Ronald Defeo for an interview to your knowledge?
SK: Well I know there was a writer by the name of Ric Osuna who wrote a book called The Night the Defeos Died. I believe he tried to contact Defeo and I think he met with him. If I remember right I think there was a photograph of Osuna standing with Ronnie Defeo. I guess Defeo read what Osuna wrote later and they had a big falling out. Defeo didn’t agree with what was written about him. I think that’s accurate. Other than that I’m not sure. The producers on our film tried to contact the prison to see if we could arrange some sort of correspondence him. I was told that the request was denied and we were not allowed access to him.
SC: Did anyone try contacting the current owners of the actual home?
SK: I couldn’t tell you. I have no idea who lives in the home at the time.
SC: I know that they have gone through some trouble to keep tourists away by changing the address and the famous windows.
SK: Yeah, I don’t know if the current owners made those changes or not. That could have been done sometime in the 80’s. I know that the community of Amityville wasn’t exactly thrilled at the prospect of having another movie done, and it was never even a consideration to go film there. I think we all realized that we wouldn’t be welcome so the movie was filmed in the outside of Chicago instead.
SC: Now on to The Crazies. I had heard sometime back that you would be writing the remake and now, coincidentally, Brad Anderson’s name has become attached to it, whom you recently worked with on The Machinist. How did that happen and what’s going on currently with it?
SK: It is true we are working on the movie together. He was just hired. I think it was really a case of the studio liking the film The Machinist I did with Brad and felt that we had a good chemistry. I was thrilled. They asked about it and I said, “He’d be my first choice.” I had a tremendous experience working with him on The Machinist, and then the producers came to me when the studio submitted a list of directors and Brad was at the very top of their list; he was the first and only person they talked to so I couldn’t be happier. Brad took a script that I thought was good in The Machinist and actually helped me make it better and then wound up making the movie that was actually even better than the script that I had written, and that doesn’t happen very often so any time I get the chance to work with him again it’s a blessing. I’m all for it.
SC: Is George Romero involved in any capacity?
SK: He is. He is involved as an executive producer, although I’m not certain. I haven’t had a chance to meet him or talk to him yet. I think that will happen once we have a final script. Brad is now on board and he is going to supervise the next rewrite. I think that once we all have the script that we love and want to go into production with, then we’re going to contact George and have him sign off on it and give his input.
SC: What studio will this be for?
SK: Paramount Pictures.
SC: At what stage is the script in right now?
SK: Well it’s hard to say because I’m between rewrites. I’ve written a couple of drafts of the script so far and got it to the point where the studio decided that they wanted to make the movie and to attach a director. I think the script is in good shape but now that there is a director on board I’m going to leave it to Brad to decide how much rewriting we need to do. I’m actually sitting down with him tomorrow, Easter Sunday, to jump into it.
SC: Not too many people are familiar with The Crazies, so how do you keep it fresh without making people think you are ripping off 28 Days Later that although came out three decades after but is much more known and deals with similar subject matter?
SK: Well 28 Days Later is a remarkable movie. It’s set a new standard for zombie films. It made Hollywood wake up to the fact that zombie movies can be fantastic, artistic, profitable, clever, intelligent, and every studio now wants to do a movie in the spirit of 28 Days Later. It’s funny, in all of the meetings I’ve had in Hollywood as a horror writer I’ve heard so many times studio executives say that they want a movie like Rosemary’s Baby. That’s like the standard that everybody wants to return to; to do a smart psychological horror film that is not very gory. And now 28 Day Later has become another one of those movies that the studio executives really refer to. That’s been a challenge from the beginning of the process of writing The Crazies; how to do a version of this that doesn’t feel derivative, that feels fresh. The answer is the victims in this story, the townsfolk that are exposed to a biological agent that drives them all insane and makes them murderous. We are not portraying them as zombies. We are portraying them as realistic as possible, as infected people who are aware they are infected. They don’t die; they are not zombies, they are people who were driven to madness as a result of this infection. These ordinary law abiding citizens become dangerously primal, impulsive people who act on these murderous impulses. So that has been a challenge, finding the right balance to portray the people as villains and yet to also understand what has caused this and have empathy for them. It’s a tricky balance to find. We’re still working on it (laughs).
SC: Any idea where you might be filming this? You did your last film together in Spain and the original Crazies was filmed in Pittsburgh. Have you had any discussion as to where?
SK: Right. I thought it would be more interesting to set it in Kansas, right in the heartland of America and to make use of sprawling fields of golden wheat and very iconic mid-western American imagery. So that is where the story is set.
SC: So do you think that it will actually be filmed in Kansas or some place standing in for Kansas? Because The Machinist was supposed to take place in Los Angeles but ended up filming in Spain.
SK: I was just going to say that. That movie was really set in San Pedro, California, and we wound up filming it in Barcelona (laughs). So you never know, especially with Brad Anderson who is pretty skilled at taking one location and turning it into something else. I don’t see why we wouldn’t film it in Kansas. I know that Brad is excited about the idea. That was another aspect about it that really interested me in doing this remake, that at the time it was presented to me I thought that there were a lot of issues that made a retelling of the story very topical. Romero’s film was very much an anti-Vietnam response and we are sort of in another Vietnam now. At the time I was considering this movie these images from AbuGrab were coming out and I thought it would be really chilling and topical to do a version of this where you wake up one day in the heartland of America, in this classic midwestern town and suddenly your town is being occupied by this invasion that happens to be your own government. American citizen are suddenly being treated like enemy combatants because they are infectious and potentially very dangerous. So we have, as in the original, an emergency shelter which is set up at the local high school. There are things in the air and things happening in the world politically right now that are relevant to what we are doing with this movie. So that added to my interest in the project.
SC: You are sort of becoming the remake king here in the world of horror. Do you view that as a blessing or as a curse as far as your career is concerned?
SK: Well it really is a blessing. You know I’ve had a lot of lousy jobs most of my life so if you told me seven years ago I would be doing this for a living now I would have keeled over with excitement and dropped dead probably (laughs). So it is definitely a blessing. I have been tagged as the remake king and I have turned down dozens of remake offers.
SC: Any that you can mention?
SK: There are remakes of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Blob that are in the works and they’re both really interesting projects, but when I was asked to do them I was already working on Amityville Horror or The Crazies. I sort of made a decision in the last year that I don’t want to do any more horror film remakes in the near future. It’s launched my career. It’s been very fulfilling to do those but I am more interested in doing original stories or in optioning material that I could develop. The Machinist was the most gratifying experience I had. It was something that I wrote on my own; an original story I wrote in a writing workshop about five years ago and I’d like to get back to writing original stories.
SC: Do you have any involvement whatsoever in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre prequel?
SC: Did they ask you to be involved?
SK: Yeah, we talked about it several months ago but there was just a schedule conflict. I was already involved with The Crazies and will continue to be involved for a while and that didn’t really work with their timetable. So they’re going with other writers and I’m doing the job that I’m on.
SC: How gratifying was it to make a successful film in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre when so many fans were against remaking it initially?
SK: It’s gratifying. I don’t take particular pleasure in thumbing my nose at the naysayers, though. One of the things that helped us with the movie was because there was so much indignation in the beginning from the horror community that we had the audacity to remake that movie, the expectations were very, very low. So we came out with a movie that wound up being better than most people expected, and that helps. I was really aware from the beginning. That was the first professional job I had doing Chainsaw and I couldn’t possibly say no to my first big break, and I also thought it was such a thrill and an honor to have my first job be a remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I also knew that we were dealing with one of the seminal works of the genre and it was a thankless job and no one in the world could make a better version of Tobe Hooper’s film; no one has and no one ever will. So in the beginning when I had my story meetings with Platinum Dunes that was very much part of the discussion. Look let’s not try to compete with the original. It was a very different movie made under very different circumstances. It’s almost like a piece of folk art that was made by real Texans on a shoestring budget and it was very much of its era. There was a great alchemical process that happened in the making of that movie that resulted in just this very raw savage, primal movie. For me that film more than any other film I have ever seen has the texture of a nightmare. It feels like you’re watching someone’s nightmare for an hour and a half. I have nothing but love for the movie so it was challenging and very daunting to take it on, but ultimately I am pretty satisfied with what we wound up with and the fact that it did well with an audience is very gratifying. Apparently a lot of people liked it, a lot of people didn’t, but you can’t please everybody. I’m glad that there are a lot of fans out there that liked the movie.
A big thanks to Scott for taking the time to chat with us exclusively about the Amityville and Crazies remakes! The Amityville Horror opens up nationwide on April 15th, be sure to check out its official site right here!
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