Ti West, writer and director known for such horror achievements as The Innkeepers, V/H/S, Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever and The House of the Devil is back with The Sacrament, another crazy creepfest, opening June 6, which is sure to once again please the horror aficionados. West recently shared his Five Favorite Films with us, displaying enthusiasm for the art of filmmaking and for the films that inspired him to become such an avid contributor to the industry. Here is his list:
Bad Taste (Peter Jackson, 1987; 68% Tomatometer)
I can say that, in thinking about it, I was thinking five favorite-ish movies that seemed to be relatively inspiring to me as a filmmaker or something like that. One is a movie called Bad Taste by Peter Jackson. The reason that movie is one of my favorite films is because… two things. One, I saw it when I was very young because it had a very sort of provocative box cover of an alien giving you the middle finger, in the video store; that was very charming to me. It seemed like something that needed to be rented for a sleep over. It’s one of the grossest movies ever, so it was always the benchmark of, like, “Is there a more disgusting movie than this?” And also not a lot of people had seen it so it was like a badge of honor. But more importantly, when I decided that maybe movies was something I wanted to do, that movie was actually the first movie that I think made me think I could maybe do this. Because it was the first time I’d ever seen a movie where I realized how the movie was made. And I realized, “He’s just putting a camera on the back of the car;” “Oh, that’s just him with his friend doing this;” and, “I can see how he built that effect” or “I can see how he used ketchup for blood” or whatever. It was so rough around the edges, yet still compelling and well-made that it kind of gave me this sort of inspiration and confidence to be like, “All I have to do is go do it, like this guy just went and did it.” So that movie is, like, the number one movie that made me think, “Maybe I can try this.”
You know what I think is so great too about knowing movies like Bad Taste and Meet the Feebles is when I first saw those movies, I never would have guessed that that guy would go on to direct one of the highest grossing and most important trilogies of our time.
Yeah, not in a million years. It’s wild. Feebles, especially, is like the most bonkers movie ever. Also if you watch, I think, on the Bad Taste DVD — even though nobody really has DVDs anymore — on that DVD there’s like a “making of,” for lack of a better term, about the making of that movie. It’s basically Peter Jackson explaining how he made the movie and it’s all this old footage of how he built the gun and how he built the effects and how he built a rig for the camera and that he used his parents’ oven for this thing and how he built a scale model for the house, and you realize, “Oh, this person is a genius.” That was the other thing. That movie was inspiring but it’s also… like, I came up against a wall once I watched that because I was like, “Oh my God; he was this absolutely brilliant person who made these guns out of scrap metal and baked these masks in his mom’s oven by just experimentation,” and I was like, “Oof, I don’t know if I’m trying that hard.” So it was both an intimidating film but also a very inspirational one.
And just a note: I do think that the box of The Innkeepers could only be made better by someone giving a middle finger. Probably Pat Healy.
Look, it was the one disagreement we had over the art. I was like, it has to have… it actually has to be on every film I’ve made. In The Sacrament, hopefully, it will be Gene Jones giving the middle finger
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (Steven Spielberg, 1984; 84% Tomatometer)
Number two would be The Temple of Doom, because when I was a kid I was obsessed with Raiders of the Lost Ark. It was, like, my favorite movie. As soon as I saw it I was like, “This movie is amazing.” I was so obsessed with it, and my parents… I don’t know if they knew there was Temple of Doom or if they just didn’t want me to see it because it was a little, like, edgier. Indiana Jones was my life. And then I remember at school one time someone said, “Oh, what about the other movie?” And the idea that there was another movie that I was unaware of was, like, nothing has been more of a shocking reveal since that day. And so I went and tracked down that movie, and what’s really amazing about that movie is it totally defies genre constraints. That movie is totally bonkers and totally sincere. It doesn’t really fit into any genre category.
That’s what I always found so amazing and inspiring about that movie. It just seemed like this movie is so great, so any movie could be, like anything is possible. Because in this movie, people’s hearts are getting ripped out, and they’re closing up and then they’re still alive, and children are being enslaved by these sort of like ancient Indian mystical people, and they’re trying to find these stones that, put together, have powers, and there’s famine in the village, and they jump out of a plane on a raft, and everything is so turned up in that movie that it just — all the way down to the mine car race — it’s like one of the most awe-inspiring action or adventure movies I’ve ever seen. Yet it’s still totally grounded in the world of, like, this relatable character. I think that movie shows that a lot of other movies aren’t trying hard enough. Because, even the monkey brains part, it’s just such a memorable movie, it’s so bonkers, and yet it never feels like a joke, it always feels sincere. That to me was like, wow, you can do all these really fantastical elements in movies and you can still take them seriously and it works.
The Shining. It was the first movie that I saw when I was a kid that, like, really traumatized me. It was mostly the two little girls as well as being in room 237. That was one of the movies that I remember really, after watching that movie, having a problem sleeping. But as I’ve sort of grown up with that movie, what’s been so inspirational about that movie… if you watch that movie, like everybody watches that movie, it’s terrifying, it’s one of the scariest movies of all time. And what I think’s great about it is that it’s not only a horror movie, it’s more a movie about an alcoholic man who hates his family, and then it’s a horror movie. To me, all the best horror movies are a regular movie first and then they’re a horror movie. That’s true with the The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby as well as The Shining.
But what’s most exciting to me about The Shining, and there’s a famous quote from the Vivian Kubrick documentary, from Jack Nicholson, where he says he’s been spending his whole career trying to make his performances real, like no one’s ever seen realness onscreen and he’s going to be the one to make it real and he’s going to do something no one’s ever seen before, this quest to make it authentic. And then he’s like, “Then you get someone like Stanley who says, ‘Yeah, Jack, it’s real, but it’s just not interesting.'”
After I heard that conversation, if you watch The Shining and don’t get sucked into it just being a great scary movie, if you walk into it and just watch the choices that are being made, it’s an insane movie. Like, everybody’s performance is, like, the stakes are so high, as if every line they say is the end of the world. Every shot is so grandiose. The locations are so unbelievable, and they’re all built, which is also totally insane. It’s like this constructed movie that’s so hypnotic because every time Shelly Duval comes on the screen and screams, “[falsetto] They’re trying to kill Danny!” and it’s like, in any other movie that would just be like a joke. Or Jack Nicholson, if you look at every take of his in the movie, [it] shouldn’t work. It’s all so extreme with his performance.
But it’s consistent and, I guess as Stanley Kubrick said, it’s interesting. Because it’s consistent, the movie has this very hypnotic tone to it and it’s something that Kubrick is obviously very known for. It not only is an amazingly terrifying movie and one of the best horror movies of all time, it also is just this really unique approach to filmmaking that I’ve always found really fascinating. It seems to, across the board, raise the stakes and make everybody just operate on this much higher level, and that’s always been very hypnotic to me.
Because I think this movie exists outside the world of the book almost completely, the thing that I love asking myself even years after seeing it is, did he start crazy or did he get crazy?
I think he gets crazy, but I think it’s such a built-in thing that… I think he gets very crazy, but there’s this idea that before he was also doing something terrible. The hatred that he’s holding for his family is so dark, and you just kind of see it unraveling. But most people don’t see it because they see the ghosts and everything. What’s brilliant about horror movies is using it as a metaphor and I think he does it really well in that film.
Number four is the documentary American Movie. The reason I like this movie so much is I’m a big fan of sort of vérité documentaries and, while this is not exactly a vérité documentary, it’s a movie from the late ’90s and it’s sort of the end of the 16mm personal documentary era. I suppose there are some that exist after that, but for the most part, as someone who really likes movies like Grey Gardens and Seventeen and all these great sort of authentic… Filmmakers went and experienced their experiences with their subjects. American Movie is really like the pinnacle of that for me in that it’s a movie that took two years to make and two years to edit. It’s the kind of movie where when you hear Chris Smith, the director, ask a question, you almost get excited because it’s like, “Oh, the guy from behind the camera is a part of the story also?” Or the boom dips in. It’s charming because you know they’ve been there for two years living with these people.
The movie’s amazing because it’s an incredible critique on filmmaking that’s both funny and also sort of sentimental and inspiring in that the Murphy’s Law of filmmaking is that anything that can go wrong will go wrong and, you know, in the case of [subject] Mark Borchardt, it really does. But you’ve never seen someone more impassioned and more determined to sort of accomplish… I don’t know if I want to say something as silly as “their dreams,” but he’s dedicated to doing this and that. To me as a filmmaker or as someone who’s trying to do any sort of artistic endeavor, it’s really amazing to watch, and the movie is very sincere and very honest and very charming and very funny. It gives you an idea of, like, what to avoid when making movies, but it also gives you an idea of what movies are going to be very hard — I would say that making movies is very traumatic — and you’ve just sort of got to stick with it, and this movie is a great example of that.
And it’s a great example of getting to know the characters personally, or the subjects personally, and it’s the kind of movie that, when it’s over, you feel like you know everybody in that movie. It’s incredibly charming and it’s one of those movies that I think, as a filmmaker or just a film fan in general, it’s a very essential movie to see. I always try to watch it or show it to people right before we make a movie to say, like, hopefully it won’t go like this.
I met him at Sundance in 2002 and it might as well have been Tom Cruise to me, because just getting to talk to that guy at cocktail hour for thirty minutes was the greatest thing ever. He was so nice.
I want to take you one step further: I made a movie several years ago, a movie that I spent two years trying to get my name taken off of, but before it was a disaster, it was a really great experience. I cast Mark Borchardt, and I spent a week with him in North Carolina filming the movie. I had some really incredible conversations, and it was really a pleasure to spend the time with him, and one of the great tragedies of that movie was that that movie was ultimately taken away from me, and it’s a disaster and it’s a shame because I worked so hard to get someone like Mark that I was so passionate about being there. It’s bad enough for me the way that movie turned out, but what’s really hard is for certain cast members that, like, I brought you into this and I was there to sort of, I guess, protect this whole experience, and it got taken away from me and that’s a bummer. So I’ve gotta somehow write that s— at some point and get Mark in on this movie.
OK so number five is sort of topical because at the moment I’m in the midst of pre-production to start this western that I’m about to make. So number five is Unforgiven. For me, Unforgiven is a great film and it’s a great traditional sort of American western, and it’s a great critique about an older guy whose past is very different than who he is now. Being dragged into his past is complicated, even down to the details that it’s hard for him to get on his horse again. It’s a western that deals with violence in a very unique way in that it’s one of the only westerns where you get to see the ramifications and the accountability of violence. You see how it affects people. And you see how some people are capable of it and some people are not, and the people that act like they are often times are not, and I think those are really important, complicated issues in this genre that is known for glorifying violence. I think it’s a really brilliant take on that. I also think that it’s a very good representation of the culmination of someone’s career. If you can define Clint Eastwood in a nutshell — him as an actor, and him as a director — he’s older when he made this movie, but you can really see that he’s figured everything out, and then he made this movie. It’s an example of all that stuff being figured out, and it’s just done so masterfully. I think that’s a credit to him and the time he spent making westerns or films in general as both an actor and a director. There’s a control of that film that is really unlike many other westerns and it’s very inspirational.
The Sacrament opens June 6, 2014 in limited release.