Previously in this column, the writing team of Scott Swan and David Bond revealed details about a film that looks to be the ultimate word on the “extreme haunt” trend — appropriately titled EXTREMITY. They also revealed that one of my favorite genre filmmakers, Anthony DiBlasi (LAST SHIFT, MOST LIKELY TO DIE), would be helming the project, so naturally I had to learn even more.
Production recently wrapped on EXTREMITY, and I was eager to get a firsthand account from the director about this intense and harrowing project — which turned out to be both physically and emotionally grueling for the actors involved.
Not only did DiBlasi reveal some fascinating details about the film, but traced its themes back to his earlier work with Clive Barker (including the underrated DREAD, adapted from a story from Barker’s BOOKS OF BLOOD), and discussed his philosophy about pushing the boundaries of horror in all forms of art and entertainment.
BLUMHOUSE.COM: I’d like to catch our readers up on your career path — from your earliest films through your latest project EXTREMITY. How did you first come to work with Clive Barker?
ANTHONY DIBLASI: It actually goes back to my very first days in Los Angeles — I had been at Emerson college in Boston, and I was planning to move to L.A. and finish my last semester here. I was interning at Marvel Studios, and this was back before the first SPIDER-MAN came out, so surprisingly little was going on there at the time, and I ended up with a lot of free time on my hands… so I went looking for work in the horror genre.
I’ve always been a fan of Clive’s creative sensibilities, so I wanted to find out if I could get in touch with him; Joe Daley, who’s my producing partner, got me a meeting. Clive and I discovered we had a lot in common, and he hired me almost immediately. At the time, Clive had sold the rights for his ABARAT stories to Disney, and while that never came to pass, it enabled Joe and me to set up projects with just about every studio in town, and I spent the next 7-8 years in development.
Clive’s name was hot at the time, but most studio execs hadn’t actually read his books! They would read a Barker story for the first time and say, “Oh shit! We can’t make this, it’s too dark and strange!” So I spent a lot of time convincing them that Barker’s stories were marketable as films… until THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN came out, and they realized these stories had an audience after all.
BH: That’s surprising, since it’s actually one of the more extreme stories from BOOKS OF BLOOD. I guess the studios got over their timidity?
DIBLASI: I think it’s partly because the company, Lakeshore Entertainment, was smaller and more independent, and had also partnered with Lionsgate, so that kind of project was right up their alley. Also, hiring Ryuhei Kitamura to direct was a big part of securing certain territories ahead of time, and Bradley Cooper had just come off of WEDDING CRASHERS and we really wanted him for the lead role. That combination was enough to make it happen, and it was actually a decent-sized budget for the time.
BH: Part of your association with Barker led to your feature directing debut on DREAD. Was that your first time working with Scott Swan [who co-wrote both of John Carpenter’s entries in MASTERS OF HORROR]?
DIBLASI: Yeah, he was one of the original writers attached. It was one of those “development hell” kind of situations, where the studio wanted to make DREAD a PG-13 movie…
BH: Wait, seriously?
DIBLASI: Yes! It would have been impossible. Thankfully, after about a year, we were able to bring it back to the source material, and I ended up directing it.
BH: I dig that film a lot. It manages to be extreme without leaning heavily on graphic violence… which makes the moments of violence more shocking when they hit.
DIBLASI: Thanks! It’s a favorite for me among my own films, and I’m really proud of it. My horror proclivities do usually fall more on the psychological side, even though it’s always effective to have those outbursts of violence. I think that’s why Clive and I worked together so well, is because we tend to confront things people really don’t want to talk about.
“Dread” and “Pig Blood Blues” are two of my favorite Barker stories, and they both tackle uncomfortable issues without a lot of supernatural elements… in fact, “Dread” is probably the only BOOKS OF BLOOD story with nothing supernatural happening at all.
BH: Was PIG BLOOD BLUES in development during your time working with Clive?
DIBLASI: Yes, we spend a long, long time trying to get that one made. It was actually supposed to be the first to go into production, but an opportunity opened up with DREAD and it took over the first position… sadly, we never got back to it. Had MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN performed more to Lionsgate’s satisfaction, I think we could have moved forward on a full slate of Barker films.
BH: Would that slate have included “In the Hills, the Cities?” It’s one of my personal favorites.
DIBLASI: Yes, actually David Bond really wanted to develop that story, and we tried for a while to get that one off the ground… it was such a strange story, and we were in love with the way David approached it in terms of expanding it into a feature. Who knows, maybe it can still happen.
BH: You’re working with David on EXTREMITY now as well, so things have really come full circle.
DIBLASI: Yes, David came to me about a year ago and asked if I was interested in this new script he’d done with Scott, and I gravitated toward the story because it felt very much like a bookend to DREAD, and dealt with most of the same issues, but from a very different perspective. All three of us contributed to the script, and it came together really fast.
BH: Were you familiar with the world of extreme haunts before you came aboard EXTREMITY?
DIBLASI: I knew about some of them, like Blackout and McKamey Manor, but EXTREMITY really took me down the rabbit hole into that world. The psychology behind those haunts really fascinates me — the people who create them, and the people who willingly subject themselves to them. I saw it as an opportunity to really work closely with actors the way I did with DREAD, and confronting those emotional extremes, which is something I love to do.
BH: Can you describe that process that you went through with the cast?
DIBLASI: As a director, the first part of that is to make sure the actors feel safe, and keep the sheer hell of production away from their “bubble,” so they can live in the moment and find that place for their characters, while trying to forget there’s a camera and 40 people surrounding them.
It was tough… I knew going in that it would be, but still it turned out to be the toughest movie I ever shot; it was physically and mentally very demanding, between the extreme conditions and the extreme subject matter… but I knew that if those haunts were putting people through it, then I needed to put my actors through it too. It was particularly challenging for my lead actress, Dana — who is amazing — and this role just tore her up. I’ve never seen any actor go through something this physically punishing and still embrace it.
BH: In our earlier interview, David told me that once you’re messing around inside someone’s head, with their perception of reality, you’ve reached the limits of horror. Would you agree?
DIBLASI: Well, that’s true in the sense of reality, but once you’re inside someone’s mind, there are other physical ramifications that can open up as a result. How do you ever really know where the edge is? I think if there is one, these extreme haunts are probably going to be the ones to find it.
BH: Other horror movies have addressed the topic of extreme haunts, but this is the first time I think a fictional film is looking realistically at what could happen when someone finally takes this kind of thing too far… which I think is going to happen for real, eventually, don’t you?
DIBLASI: Yes, with more and more of these haunts opening up each year, and no real standards for safety and not a lot of legal protection, you have to wonder when someone is going to slip through the cracks… someone who is drawn to those kinds of situations where people on both sides of the equation are being pushed to their limits.
BH: Now that EXTREMITY is in post-production, is there a release deal in the works yet?
DIBLASI: David has been working on that during production, and talking to a lot of people. Ideally, we’ll have a finished cut in August, at which point we want to start out on a strong festival run, with a planned screening at Cannes this year, and then we’ll see what happens.
BH: David showed me a few short clips from the film, and the widescreen compositions are really beautiful.
DIBLASI: We really approached this as an art-house film, so we used these vintage Cinemascope lenses — literally the same ones used for EX MACHINA and NEON DEMON. The images these lenses can deliver are gorgeous. Design and composition were a very critical part of the process.
When you combine that with the Canadian locations, which incorporate that harshness and desolation of deep-winter conditions into the formula. We shot a lot of exteriors in below-freezing temperatures… and it was the first time in my life I got frostbite! But we really felt like we accomplished something, and it was worth the sacrifices we all made when you see what comes across on camera.
BH: How did the actors deal with the winter weather in those scenes where they’re wearing next to nothing?
DIBLASI: They were amazing; they just committed completely to the work, and put themselves out there to make it as real as possible… it was real, in a sense, in that they had to suffer for their art. For one example, we had an actress in the cast who was also a fetish model, and had done Japanese rope bondage and things like that, so she was a pretty tough cookie… I told her she’d have to do a scene totally naked in the freezing cold, and she just went for it.
It’s crazy how little the human body can take in those temperatures, though… one take and that’s it, you have to get inside and warm back up for an hour!
Stay tuned for more updates on EXTREMITY in the coming weeks… including an exclusive clip!