Popcorn Frights 2018: Chuck Russell Discusses 30 Years of THE BLOB, Humor in Horror, and More
Coming up on its 30th anniversary this year on August 5th, Chuck Russell’s The Blob remains one of the most beloved films to horror fans everywhere. He is also to thank for the widely adored Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, as well as other non-horror titles such as The Mask and The Scorpion King. Seeing as though Russell’s The Blob is a remake, and that Dream Warriors is the third film in an already established franchise, his ability to make these projects his own continues to make his work fascinating to those who may be coming across it for the first time, even today.
In celebration of 30 years of The Blob, on August 14th, Popcorn Frights Film Festival will be hosting special screenings of both The Blob and Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors as part of their festival this year. These special screenings will be hosted by Chuck Russell himself, who will also offer a special Q&A after the films. We took this opportunity to speak with Chuck about how he handled taking on these projects, potential The Blob remakes, and more!
Dread Central: Before talking about The Blob and Nightmare on Elm Street 3, I wanted to know how you got into directing. After producing movies like Dreamscape, Girls Just Want to Have Fun, and Back to School, as well as writing contributions to others, what spurred your decision to move in to directing? Was it always a conscious goal or was it more about the specific opportunity of working on Dream Warriors?
Chuck Russell: It was a very conscious goal. After writing, directing, and acting in theater from early high school on, I knew I wanted to direct films. I got the rights to remake The Blob to try to get my first shot at directing. Bob Shay at New Line passed on The Blob, but ended up offering me Elm Street 3 instead…. so The Blob became my second directing gig.
DC: Your first two directorial projects, The Blob and Dream Warriors, both found you stepping in to something that already existed. How did you approach honoring what came before while leaving your own mark?
CR: I wouldn’t have done either film if I didn’t. First, I love the originals. Also, I had my own belief in that they could be taken further. There are rules to fantasy and horror and in both cases I took it upon myself to be true to those rules but to advance their mythology. I enjoyed inventing deeper back-stories to both Freddy and The Blob. I will also admit to injecting a bit of my own sense of humor in both films, but never at the expense of the scares. In the case of Nightmare on Elm Street 3, I saw a metaphor for the horror of teen suicide in Freddy and played the theme of standing up to that specific evil through the Dream Warriors. In the first two films, Freddy was very effective but rarely spoke and never changed wardrobe. I wanted him to become a more surreal creature that played on his victims fears by changing into the most imaginative things possible, including a TV set and a giant snake,and not to mention, the tuxedo. After all, I was staging literal nightmares where anything is possible. New Line executives were concerned about this to say the least, but finally let me run with it (thank you Robert Englund!). Still, I always did my best to be true to Wes Craven’s vision as one of the most original and compelling in the genre.
DC: So you mentioned that in many of your films, you like to inject a bit of your own sense of humor. You’ve made bold decisions that were balked at—adding that comedy to Freddy, or the “Cuban Pete” scene in The Mask—but ended up becoming highlights of the films and characters. What enabled you to maintain that confidence in your approach in the face of studio (or fan) criticisms?
CR: Good question! It’s honestly a passion for storytelling that can overcome rational doubts, and a weird connection with pop culture I’ve always had. So, I’m looking for what’s never been done before that is still truly organic to a story. When I write fantasy or horror, Im hoping that concepts evolve that I actually have no idea how to achieve on film.That’s a good sign that it will be unique. The fun of working out those illusions comes later. But that also means doing all the research to be certain a fresh approach can also be practical.
DC: This year, The Blob turns 30 years old. There are constantly stories that The Blob is going to be remade again. What, to you, are the most important elements to carry over for a successful Blob movie? Are there particular scenes, characters, or themes that should be present in every version?
CR: I’d suggest keeping the sense of a growing, evolving Blob in a limited time frame and landscape. That sense of doom (will it finally grow to cover the world?) makes the concept epic. And of course there were classic relatable “everyman” heroes in both the original and my remake. One of the best things about the genre is wrapping up all our fears in one horrible event, and dramatizing how a good person might rise to face those fears. The Blob itself is a wonderfully elemental evil that simply can’t be reasoned with and a great way to play out that classic theme. I think The Blob deserves a another remake, but I challenge the filmmakers to beat our physical effects!
DC: They are some of the best! Speaking of, having worked extensively with both practical F/X in The Blob and Dream Warriors, as well as lots of envelope-pushing CGI work in The Mask and Eraser, where do you see the strengths and weaknesses in each approach? Is there one that you personally prefer over the other or does it all boil down to the genre you’re working with?
CR: I still prefer physical FX for horror in particular, as on some level we sense CGI is less threatening. Nothing beats a well staged physical threat, whether it’s a brilliant make-up or a large scale creature effect (as in the original Alien). But, then enhancing or manipulating a physical effect with CGI can take it to the next level. My favorite physical effect sequence in The Blob is the killing of Donovan Lietch’s character, which was done as a combination of full scale and miniature FX. Donovan was really inside a large scale Blob with a very uncomfortable “sheet” of Blob stuff sliding upward over his face! The look of horror on Shawnee Smith’s face had a lot to do with how it all really looked live on set. CGI is of course an amazing “world creation” tool that allows unlimited multiple characters and landscapes we’ve never imagined before. It was exciting to help pioneer those techniques at such an early stage. CGI worked so well for The Mask because I was careful to stage it as part of Jim’s performance, rather than replace him with a CGI character.
DC: Finally, we had to ask you this so we could all sleep at night again – the first time we see Joey in Dream Warriors, he has a teardrop tattoo on his face. It is never seen again after that initial scene. What’s the story behind that?
CR: I had the idea for that eerie tat to give Joey a doomed “look”, then I found out it had a jailhouse implication that he was a murderer…so I dropped it. I didn’t think that little mistake would be so noticeable, but clearly I was wrong!