What do you do when you’re asked to pitch your take on a franchise that is known for being quite disjointed to say the least? If you’re screenwriter/director Seth Sherwood, you take a swing for the bleachers and try something very different yet completely respectful to the films that came before it. That’s what Sherwood did when it came time to write the upcoming (now in post-production) TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE original story, LEATHERFACE.
Influenced by the original film and a desire to give fans of the chainsaw-wielding madman and family a new approach, the sci-fi and horror fanatic (and all around nice guy!) wrote one hell of a script. I read an early draft and it kept me on the edge of my seat until the very last page.
INSIDE directors Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury were hired to helm what could be described as a road trip horror film from hell. Now in post-production, the Millennium Films produced latest entry into the series is on its way, so we thought it would be fun to chat with Sherwood about what led to his involvement, real life horror and genre fans’ responses to remakes, sequels and prequels.
Blumhouse.com: Let’s start with LEATHERFACE, which sounds pretty awesome from what I’ve read. Were you a fan of the series prior to your writing of the new film and if so, what led to your involvement?
Seth Sherwood: I saw the original film pretty young. My cousin and I would basically rent horror movies to see boobs, because we were ten years old (laughs). We would grab one cartoon, one family comedy and put a horror movie in between them before handing them off to our grandma. She would just rent them without knowing what we picked. I saw so many movies because of my cousin; he would be at a video store, judge a book by its cover so to speak and just grab what looked really cool. Most of the movies that influenced me were ones I saw because of that. Back in the day, before a lot of video stores were around, the place you would rent your videos from, would be whichever department store you bought your VCR from. So, there would be a refrigerator, a washer & dryer, and then a single shelf of tapes next to the VCRs. The place we’d go to was full of Roger Corman B-movies and horror films. Somewhere in there, I found THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and it was so intense that I thought it surely must be real. There were always these rumors that they used real bodies for the opening scene with the mutilated corpses, so that just fueled this terrifying movie for me as a kid. So somewhere in my head, that was real to me and I know that I didn’t make it through the whole movie at that point, it was just too intense. That put it in a whole different category for me. I got into following Michael, Freddy and Jason a bit later, as a teenager. That’s why I loved those movies, them being about older teenagers getting picked off. CHAINSAW was different because it never felt like those other movies, ones you’d watch and get scared & laugh with your friends; it just wasn’t that kind of movie. It wasn’t until I was in grad school and was in a horror class that I watched it again; there was a lot of time that passed between attempting to watch it as a kid and finally watching the whole thing.
BH.com: My father and my uncle picked me up from second grade once and they had just watched the movie prior to that and I remember being absolutely terrified while sitting in the backseat, just listening to them talk about CHAIN SAW. I purposely avoided it for decades. Didn’t sit down to watch it until I was 26 actually. I had seen TCM 2 and so on before watching the original film.
SS: Yeah! It was the same kind of thing for me. When I did see it again, I was finally able to see the genius in the film and how it was marketed and I was surprised by how gory it wasn’t. Obviously the first HALLOWEEN is the ultimate slow-burn kind of horror movie, but there was just something about CHAINSAW that felt like you were watching this madness unravel like that.
BH.com: What has always been interesting to me, if not frustrating, is how out of all of the horror franchises around, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE series has been by far, the most fractured continuity ever. I adore the first three films in the series, but it drives me crazy at times, thinking of how little some of the films have to do with each other. Was that something that you felt a pressure to either fix with the upcoming film or just tackle in general?
SS: Yeah. In terms of just approaching it, when I was given the opportunity to pitch the movie, I told my reps “I love the movies, but the continuity is so disjointed, I don’t know if I want to be the guy that writes part 8 of a franchise that can be all over the place.” So my pitch was always about doing it completely out of left field and making it different, so it wouldn’t just be another sequel. The first thing I said to Millennium (the studio behind the film, as well as 2013’s TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D) was “I bet I can tell you what everybody else is pitching you and it’s ‘X-Y-Z’, but I want to do ‘1-2-3’ “ and luckily, that’s the direction they were interested in going as well. A lot of the negative comments I’ve seen from the fans so far are ones that think it’ll be teenage Leatherface getting picked on at school and it’s not like that at all. If I was going to do a film about what evil was behind the mask, I wanted to go in more of a BATMAN BEGINS route than say, a PHANTOM MENACE one (laughs). I do love each of the films in the series, in their own broken way, so I wanted to kind of pay homage to those films while trying to do something that hadn’t been done before.
BH.com: I’m sure you have gotten a lot of crap for tackling another reboot or origin story but just the plot of LEATHERFACE seems to be quite different than your typical sequel like this. The script is very smart and it’s a refreshing take on the series.
SS: I think horror fans tend to be really smart and love to see films come out within the different franchises that they love. When part 10 of whichever series they’re into doesn’t come out, they usually just say, “What the hell?!” Horror has this kind of mythology and I don’t mean in a George Lucas-type of way, but in a sit around the campfire and tell stories kind of way. When a bard would come to your village and tell you a story, you’d wouldn’t get pissed if he came back again next season and told the same exact story, you know? You’d want something you’re into and like, but something a little different at the same time. I think horror fans are the people who understand that the most.
BH.com: Any real life scares or things you recall spooking you out just by seeing them?
SS: I don’t remember which one happened first, but there were two instances that really just spooked me for life. The first one happened one night while my dad was watching a movie that ended up taking me years to figure out what it was. It was late at night and I tried to be quiet and sneaky and see what he was watching, which ended up being THE DEAD ZONE. It was during the scene where the Castle Rock Killer cuts the woman’s top and starts to cut her up. I was probably five at the time and it really just shook me up at that age. Mostly because as we all know, Stephen King writes a lot of his stuff around Castle Rock and where I lived, there was a Castle Rock street. So, when I heard the words “Castle Rock Killer” as I was walking by, I was convinced as a little kid that it was the news. The second one was when my dad and my aunt went to the drive in and I was supposed to be dead asleep. At some point I woke up and wanted to see what they were watching and it ended up being DRESSED TO KILL and the elevator scene (laughs).
BH.com: Oh no.
SS: Yeah. Just the sight of the blood going against the wall and the elevator door trying to close, it was enough to really scare me. Those two instances really made me aware that movies could not only scare you, but also affect your reality to the point of making you afraid to go outside. What made me want to check horror films out was HALLOWEEN. It wasn’t a “go to your room and play Nintendo” kind of thing; I watched tons and tons of movies because there wasn’t anything for to do really. We had one TV in the house and it was usually whatever the adults were watching. If they thought it was too much for me, they’d just say, “Ok, look at the wall, look at the floor,” not realizing that I could still HEAR everything.
BH.com: Are there any films or subgenres that you find inspiration from? I typically find that a lot of writers and creators in general are influenced by a lot films outside of the genre.
SS: For me, STAR WARS was always my go-to series. I was obsessed growing up and it led to a lot of other discoveries. BACK TO THE FUTURE got me wanting to see anything with the future or flying cars in them. It’s like a trickling down kind of thing. One thing leads to another and eventually to BLADE RUNNER, which ended up being not only that kind of movie but a really great cop movie set in that world. That’s the movie that really blew me away at many different points in my life. It went from a really cool futuristic cop movie to years later in high school, picking up the poetry of it. When I was in college, I appreciated the production design of it, and years later, as a screenwriter, I can pick up and appreciate the million layers of subtext. It’s my favorite movie.
BH.com: What’s next up for you, after LEATHERFACE?
SS: I have stuff cooking—a classic horror reboot that I can’t name just yet, a few horror specs have been set-up, but most of my energy right now is devoted to a TV project I’m developing with Gale Anne Hurd’s Valhalla Entertainment.