Luckily for Dread Central, director Tom Nagel was available to talk about his new horror film The Toybox while one of his stars was off getting secretly married. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with capitalizing on celebrity gossip, especially when it might help a new indie horror film about a possessed RV that basically serves as a haunted house on wheels. Just in time for Halloween!
Okay, it’s only September but that never stopped Christmas. Nagel is coming off of the 2016 horror film Clowntown – a year that also saw Rob Zombie’s 31 make a mark. After having a circus showdown that, arguably, is the horror version of Deep Impact versus Armageddon back in 1998, Nagel’s new film wants to throw its hat in the ring and challenge all the haunted car/truck/hearse movies that have come before.
In the below interview, the director talks about the trials of making a horror film and, from our conversation, it’s obvious he’s passionate about the genre. He also seems like a great example for anyone who’s ever dreamed about making a horror movie. Okay, most have you have dreamed about making a horror movie with Denise Richards and Mischa Barton but that’s beside the point.
Jennifer (Richards) and her family go on a summer road trip in a used RV with her husband’s estranged father and brother. Along the way, they find Samantha (Barton) and her brother, broken down on the side of the highway. After driving into the middle of nowhere, the RV takes on a mind of its own, crashing and stranding them in the scorching and isolated desert. Little by little, the unsuspecting group of travelers is blindsided by the terrible secrets within the walls of the RV and find themselves fighting to survive.
The Toybox is available on Nationwide Digital and Blu-ray Release September 18th.
DC: I had forgotten that you directed Clowntown. I dig that movie, that must have been a crazy shoot.
TN: Oh, Clowntown? Yeah, that was a smaller budget than The Toybox and it was a crazy shoot, there were lots of locations and lots of things to do but it was fun.
DC: Clowntown is another high concept idea like The Toybox and both seem like they can be easily grasped during a pitch. Do you look for ideas that can be understood immediately just from the premise?
TN: Not necessarily, it’s funny. I tell young filmmakers…they write a script or have an idea that’s millions of dollars and sit around waiting and waiting to get that project made. I changed my way of thinking. What can I do with the assets I have right now? What can I pull off? Clowntown was one of them. We shot in Ohio so I had a lot of connections and a lot of family help and I was able to pull it off.
DC: Did you go back and look at the more notable haunted car movies like Christine and The Hearst and The Car?
TN: I didn’t want to, in my head, to accidentally copy stuff but I was very familiar with Christine. The biggest challenge for shooting this right off the bat was it’s basically a haunted house but it’s an RV. And it’s really tight and how are we going to shoot this? It’s not like we had RV doubles or could take a wall off to have the room to shoot. That was a big challenge. It was fun as a director and filmmaker, that’s part of the challenge. How are we going to do this? That’s part of the fun.
DC: You managed to get outside the RV, too, so it doesn’t feel that claustrophobic.
TN: For sure, and that’s part of what we wanted to do in working with Jeff Denton who wrote the script. I wanted the desert to play a character along with the RV. You’re in a survival situation so the RV is your only source of shelter.
DC: When I think of a haunted RV movie, I think there’s going to be a certain level of campiness to it. Obviously, you didn’t call it The Haunted RV. You called it The Toybox for a reason, there’s an explanation there. Why did you decide to go the opposite route and do more of a serious take?
TN: Clowntown was your straight up slasher. Teenagers get stranded and get chased around by a bunch of clowns. With Toybox, I wanted it to be a little more serious. Even with the survival aspect of everything, I didn’t want it to be too campy. That’s the choice we made and after speaking with Denise [Richards] and Mischa [Barton] and the other actors, they all were on board and agreed. So, we played it that way.
DC: With Denise Richards and Mischa Barton on board, they are big selling points. Could you have gotten this movie made without their involvement and the fan base they bring? If you would have done something that was more camp, maybe they wouldn’t have been as interested.
TN: They may not have been as interested if I approached them and said, hey, this is going to be a campy slasher film. Part of the reason we got both of them is that they both liked the script. Denise, I think, even had her oldest daughter read it and she was stoked about it, so that helped Denise’s decision.
DC: Especially with Denise Richards, there are a lot of dramatic scenes that she really has to go through.
TN: She was such a trooper. What we didn’t expect is we had major wind storms, like 60 or 70 mile per hour winds. You throw that in with the emotional scenes that Denise had to pull off and not one complaint. We became one big happy family.
DC: Did you guy do the practical effects out there, too?
TN: We did pretty much all practical effects except for the ghost girl. That’s not really her jaw! It was all practical and we had David Greathouse who plays Bob Gunthry, the killer. He’s an amazing special effects guy as is Beki Ingram. They both … were on the SyFy show Face Off. They both were on that and they both were incredible. I couldn’t be happier with the effects. I wanted it to be real and raw and gritty.
DC: Is there a next horror idea you have or one that you just can’t seem to get out of your head lately?
TN: There’s a couple projects. There’s actually a script called Daisy that we’re excited about but not sure if it’s next. It’s more of a psychological horror thriller. A little bit more like Sixth Sense. The script is really good, I will say that. But we’ll see!