With this year’s Film4 FrightFest fast approaching, featuring the premiere of Franck Khalfoun’s much-anticipated remake of the classic Maniac, producer/director Alejandre Aja took some time to chat with us.
It wasn’t that long after pretty much kicking off the new wave of European extreme splatter films with 2003’s excellent High Tension (released under the name Switchblade Romance in the UK) that Hollywood came calling, serving Aja the opportunity to apply his well executed blend of scares and splatter to the 2006 reboot of Wes Craven’s cult cannibal classic The Hills Have Eyes. Proving a commercial and critical success, the young director would later go on to scripting and producing duties for P2 and take the helm again for the Kiefer Sutherland-starring Mirrors.
Hot off the success of his tongue-in-cheek bikini-babe-munching Piranha 3D, it seems that Aja has a bright future ahead of him in the genre, most recently on producing duties for the Maniac remake starring, surprisingly, Elijah Wood. Alexandre dished the dirt on his career so far and dropped a hint of things to come…
Dread Central: How does it feel after all these years looking back at Haute Tension?
Alejandre Aja: Honestly, I don’t like to re-watch my films once I’ve completed them so it’s been a while since I’ve seen it! But I’m always touched when I meet people who share their experience of the movie with me, and I can see how traumatizing and inspiring it was for many people. We made this film down and dirty, on a tiny budget, as an homage to all the horror films that inspired me to become a filmmaker, and we never expected that this twisted love story would take us so far. Ten years have passed since the actual shoot, and I’m still working with the same crew – Maxime Alexandre, my DP; Gregory Levasseur, my co-writer; and Baxter, my editor. It’s like a family.
Dread Central: How do you feel looking back at your take of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes?
Alejandre Aja: At the time it felt like the obvious choice after High Tension, to explore another survivor story, and the perfect opportunity to make an English-speaking movie. But we were really scared to lose our soul, conviction and creative freedom by making movies in the US. But the opposite happened; it was an amazing collaboration to have Wes Craven’s support and an overall success in the end. I wanted to make a movie in the vein of Deliverance and Straw Dogs, and I think we succeeded.
Dread Central: How was the production experience on Mirrors?
Alejandre Aja: I know Mirrors was less liked by audiences, even if it was an international success. But for me it was a very personal movie and not a remake. We approached the subject as if the material were fresh, and as we had to dig inside our own childhood and personal fear to craft the story, I felt like this film came out at the wrong time after a series of cursed VHS, camera, wig and other electronic device ghost movies. Mirrors, which to me seemed an incredibly universal element, felt somehow cliché to others.
On set my experience with Kiefer was unforgettable. He’s extremely detail-driven, but it was a challenge to transform him from his Jack Bauer character and bring the Lost Boy, Flatliners Kiefer to the screen again.
Dread Central: What was the inspiration behind P2?
Alejandre Aja: I think there is a universal fear of being trapped in an isolated, dark and underground space – so a parking lot seemed like a perfect set. Like High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes and Piranha, P2 was a survival film that took place during the course of one night.
Dread Central: What attracted you to such a project as Piranha 3D? Were you impressed with its sequel?
Alejandre Aja: I read that script 8 years ago when I arrived in LA, and what I loved in the early version was the excessive side of the project – a kind of Gremlins for adults. So when Dimension approached me again a few years ago to do it, I realized it was the ultimate guilty-pleasure film I was always waiting for. I didn’t see the sequel… I suggested a few ideas, but they were too expensive.
Dread Central: How did it feel to potentially kick off the French new wave of extreme horror?
Alejandre Aja: We didn’t even realize we initiated the movement at the time, but in hindsight I’m happy that so many French directors have been able to get financing and better reception for their work.
Dread Central: Have you seen any of the other films in the extreme new wave cannon, and what are your favorites?
Alejandre Aja: I really liked The Ordeal.
Dread Central: How much can you talk about the upcoming Maniac remake starring Elijah Wood? What can we expect from this one?
Alejandre Aja: It’s very different from the original film. The expectations are very high, and the midnight screening at Cannes was very encouraging. I feel audiences will be shocked, disturbed and emotionally invested in Elijah’s amazing performance. The film is more of a psychological thriller than a pure horror.
Dread Central: Any other exciting projects in the pipeline you can talk about?
Alejandre Aja: I’ll be shooting the adaptation of Joe Hill’s cult novel Horns with Daniel Radcliffe in the fall. At the same time I’m producing a feature film directed by my long-time partner, Gregory Levasseur, a found-footage horror set in a lost Egyptian pyramid.
Dread Central: Any advice for those aspiring horror filmmakers out there?
Alejandre Aja: Fear is always personal, and the more you can draw from your personal experience, the more original and true it will be.
Many thanks to Alexandre for taking the time to chat with us!
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