If the opening night reaction to Cooties (review) is any indication, Leigh Whannell (Saw, Insidious 2) may have a new career in comedy. After Lionsgate picked up the film out of Sundance, there hasn’t been any new buzz about Cooties until now. Stars Elijah Wood and Alison Pill, along with Whannell, sat down with us in the Stanley Hotel to talk about what makes this horror comedy so infectious.
DC: So, Leigh, I think the last time I spoke to you was way back at the Waldorf Astoria in New York for Insidious 2 and you were talking about Cooties. How long from start to finish has the whole process been, and when did you first get the spark for the idea?
LW: It’s probably been about a three-year process. The idea came from one of the producers, Josh Waller. Elijah had just formed a company and they were wanting to make horror films. We have a friend in common and he was randomly telling me about it one day and pitched the logline for Cooties and I just jumped on it. Every now and again someone will tell you an idea and you can instantly see it. You’re already in the theater, it all just unfolds and that’s so rare that I think you need to jump on it straight away. All in all, it wasn’t too bad, probably about three years.
Related Story: Directors Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott Talk Cooties
DC: When you first heard the name, did you immediately want to be in it?
AP: Yeah, I loved the title … I loved the script. I really thought it was legitimately very funny with these wonderfully political ideas floating underneath the whole thing of overmedication, of hormones in feedlots. All of these things, the monsters we’re making of children today.
EW: And not hitting you over the head with those references.
AP: Walking by the parents in the beginning sets so much of the tone of like, ‘Fuck you Mom! Fuck you!’ And then helmet kid and yoga girl and then PTA Mom, super high achieving mother who doesn’t know what the heck is happening with her actual children. All of those things kind of playing into this idea of this is all happening. These little flesh-eating creatures are an extension of what exists.
DC: Well, do you think Cooties will help pave the way to better school lunches?
AP: I hope so. That would be awesome.
DC: Leigh, was it tough to find a fresh approach to do the outbreak horror premise?
LW: I think it’s kind of an affectionate homage to the films that we love. I think it’s okay to tweak something, there’s a safety in that, in sort of using a shopworn genre and then tweaking it a little bit. I always felt safe knowing that the film was about these kids getting a virus and it was called cooties. Like that was unique enough that we could then draw upon a lot of the staples of the genre like crawling through the vents to save yourself scene. I felt safe going, ok, that’s something we’ve seen before but not in the context of this type of movie. Ian [Brennan] is such a funny writer that he was able to pull out those things about the craziness of the American education system today.
DC: Elijah, how was it for you repping a couple of films here with The Boy and now this as well? Do you enjoy that or would you rather have them be staggered out a little bit more?
EW: In real time they are really staggered out because we finished this over a year and a half, two years ago. But it’s great, it’s exciting to have started the company only four or five years ago and have these … to start representing these films. So I enjoy the process. In some ways it’s just as gratifying if not more so to be on the other side. I will say that the first Cooties screening at Sundance, I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervous to watch a movie before and it was because of that. I was suddenly in this place that I’ve never been before and I was so nervous that my friends and the people I respected in the genre community weren’t going to like the movie. I’d never experienced that kind of anxiety before. It freaked me out.
DC: What would you like to see SpectreVision become in the future? What would your mission statement be and do you guys just want to work completely in genre?
EW: Our initial intention was to create a space for horror films. I think we’ll always exist in the genre space but I think genre is a pretty wide umbrella and I think different kinds of films can fit within that umbrella. [Cooties] is a good example of that because it’s ultimately, inherently a comedy although it is a horror film as well. I think that there’s this thing where we know what is a SpectreVision film but it’s not quantifiable or articulable, do you know what I’m saying? It’s a feeling and it’s a tone.
AP: And it’s also just the filmmaker’s vision and sticking with something that is so specifically somebody’s vision, and the genre is kind of secondary to it.
DC: You coming from really technical films like Maniac, Open Windows, Grand Piano, was coming into Cooties something of a relief? Did you feel a little bit liberated knowing it wasn’t quite as much of a technical shoot?
EW: It had its technical aspects certainly towards the climax of the film. I think it was just liberating that we got to spend four weeks in the school, and in some ways we were shooting almost entirely in sequence, which is a real luxury. As the characters are changin,g we’re going through that and discovering it in real time. As an actor that’s a real luxury.
AP: And also just naturally things when you’re suddenly in a foggy dark room with red light or are lighting the scene yourself with a flashlight, the creep factor is already there. It’s changed from (singing) ‘Bright sunny day Monday morning’ to now we’re in a blacked out room that’s full of fog and horrible things.
Catch Cooties in theaters and VOD September 18!
SpectreVision and Glacier Films present Cooties, starring Elijah Wood, Rainn Wilson, Alison Pill, Jack McBrayer, Leigh Whannell, Nasim Pedrad, Ian Brennan, and Jorgé Garcia. The film is directed by Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion from a screenplay by Leigh Whannell and Ian Brennan. Daniel Noah, Josh C. Waller, and Elijah Wood produce along with Tove Christensen, Georgy Malkov, and Steven Schneider. Ian Brennan, Leigh Whannell, Gevond Andreasyan, Sarik Andreasyan, Hayden Christensen, Seth William Meier, and Vladmir Poliakov serve as executive producers.
When a cafeteria food virus turns elementary school children into killer zombies, a group of misfit teachers must band together to escape the playground carnage. The film stars Elijah Wood (The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings), Rainn Wilson (“The Office”), and Alison Pill (“The Newsroom”) as teachers who fight to survive the mayhem while hilariously bickering in an uncomfortable love triangle on the worst Monday of their lives.