Every once in a while, a powerful and unforgettable horror film comes along. Director Ti West takes a moment to speak with Film Monthly writer, Calhoun Kersten to explain what went into this labor of love.
C: Now, The House of the Devil was filmed, obviously, several years before The Innkeepers. What was it about this location that made you want to return to it, even several years later?
T: Well, it wasn’t that I really wanted to- it’s just what happened was, we stayed in this hotel because it was a cheap place to stay while we made The House of the Devil and, like, weird stuff would happen- it was kinda a kooky place to stay and I didn’t think much of it because I was so stressed making House of the Devil and about a year and a half later I was thinking that I wanted to make a ghost movie and I was trying to think of ideas and I had this idea about minimum wage jobs and how I wanted to incorporate that and I thought, “well, what if it was the hotel staff at this place?” because that was kinda what it was like, like these kids with minimum wage jobs working at this hotel. And I know that place exists and I know there’s a tax incentive in Connecticut, so what if I just wrote that about that place? Then we went back there and made it. So I incorporated all of this personal stuff and that’s what happened. I mean, if they had said no, it would’ve really messed the whole thing up, but thankfully they said I could shoot.
C: Well, and it’s also, the entire film, so much of the personality of it is caught up in the location, but it’s also sort of in the scares. It’s sort of an “old school” style of scares, what was it that interested in making this sort of horror film?
T: You know, I didn’t wanna repeat myself, I hadn’t done a ghost story before and it was on my list of things to do and ya know, my taste is old fashioned. It’s like, I’ve given up on trying to spin it any other way. The way that I approach making a movie, or what seems like very modern to me, comes out as very old fashioned to people, so it just is, it’s kinda like hearing your voice on tape and you go, “I don’t sound like that!” but to everybody else, you do.
C: Absolutely. Well, one of the things that’s so interesting about The Innkeepers is the way that they offset the scares with a sense of humor about itself. Was that something you were conscious of in making the film?
T: Yeah, I wanted to make a charming horror movie, because there aren’t many of those. I wanted to- the minimum wage job thing is something I have a lot of experience with and I really wanted to create what- I wanted to make a relatable experience for people who have been those “stuck at work” jobs and the kind of insular world that you create with your work friends as opposed to your real friends. And one way to make it charming and make the characters likeable was to make it funny and if the characters are funny and if it’s funny and likeable, it’s especially scary once the horror elements come in because you care about them.
C: You’ve mentioned several times the whole, “stuck in a minimum wage job” thing. One of the taglines for the film is, “A ghost story for the minimum wage.” What inspired this socially conscious horror film?
T: Well, I mean, for me, it’s like, I’m not cut out for anything. I either make movies or be a busboy. For 10 years, I had every minimum wage job known to man and I don’t wanna do that anymore, but I’m kinda forever endeared by it. And I’m endeared by people who are moderately talented, at most, but like, I like that his (Luke) website sucks and he’s not very good at it, but it’s not like he could be better at it. That’s all he’s got. I like people who, things are stacked against them and they don’t have- they didn’t come to the table with anything because, in a way, I guess I feel that way, a little bit. Anyone could do these jobs and there’s something kinda depressing about that, but it’s intriguing to me. But for me, the real correlation was that I feel like being stuck in a minimum wage job would be similar to being stuck as a ghost in a haunted place. It’s not horrible, but you know, you don’t have any aspirations to do anything different, you don’t have anywhere to go, you’re just kinda coasting along, getting by, and I felt like those were similar identities and there’s where I kinda came up with it.
C: It’s interesting because this movie has so many classic scares, but it also feels weirdly topical. Was that something you were aware of when you were making the film?
T: Yeah, absolutely. I think of myself as a personal filmmaker and for me, there’s got to be something more than just the surface level plot stuff that makes you want to show up and do it, and make it interesting for you and that was a big part of it. It’s a lot harder to make movies now than it used to be, with financing anyway, because everybody wants to make $50,000 dollar movies on their first movie that go on to make $200 million and that’s great, but that’s sort of like, winning the lottery. Yeah, of course it’s great to win the lottery but just because someone won that you know, doesn’t mean you’re going to win. It’s hard out there, and because it’s hard out there and it’s hard to raise money and because the economy is fucked and all those things, making a movie about a hotel going out of business and the people left behind- and that town in real life is kind of, the light is dimming in that town. When we made The House of the Devil there were four or five places open, when we came back with The Innkeepers I think it was more like two or three, and when I went back for a screening of Innkeepers there, there were, like, none. The hotel is all that’s left and it’s hard not to be affected by that when you see it happening and it’s hard not to incorporate that when you’re making a movie about it.
(The Innkeepers will be making its DVD/Blu ray debut on April 24 through MPI/Dark Sky Films)