By now everyone knows the story: a boy meets a girl, a girl agrees to marry a boy, a boy ventures to a distant land and meets the lord of the vampires, a boy realizes that the girl gets in trouble, and… well, you know the rest. The story of Dracula has been told on the big screen many times since it was first published in 1897 with filmmakers as varied as FW Murnau, Mel Brooks and Francis Ford Coppola tackling (ahem) the tale.
Now, acclaimed playwright and director Neil LaBute tackles the venerable story, but with a muted twist that downplays the fangs and gore and focuses more on the power dynamics between its male and female characters. In a chat with Digital Trends, LaBute and actress Gia Crovatin discuss what drew them to house of darknesswhat their favorite horror movies are and why the movie might appeal to jaded horror fans.
Note: This interview has been condensed for clarity and length.
Digital trends: what made you do house of darkness?
Neil La Bute: There were artistic and economic reasons, to be honest. The idea for this movie started when COVID was at its peak, and I was looking for something that I wanted to do in a difficult situation to mount a full-fledged normal production. I already had a script that required a small cast and limited locations. This resulted in fewer production days.
Also, I’ve always liked bedroom pieces. I did a lot of theater and cinema, so house of darkness felt more controlled and smaller than other things. It fit perfectly with the work I had done before, and I felt like it was the right time to do it.
Gia Crovatin: I love Neil’s work. I often collaborated with him on other projects. I find his writing superb. He writes about how people talk and think. I’ve played a vampire before, but that character had a very special underground vibe that I liked. I also loved the sisterly dynamic between her and Kate Bosworth’s character, Mina.
I’m a super bubbly person in real life and Lucy is a bit of an introvert. She’s a sleuth of what’s going on in the world and she’s had a lot of time to reflect on her life and why it happened the way it did.
house of darkness reminiscent of 1960s Hammer horror films and still has the Labutian touch. How did you maintain that balance and what kind of research, if any, did you do to successfully create your own horror movie?
The Bute: In terms of balance, the visuals that I would hand over to the team I was working with: the costume designer, the production design team, etc. We found this beautiful house in Arkansas that was perfect for the movie. Cinematographer Daniel Katz captured this modern take on an old gothic look that looked and felt really stylish yet spooky. It was just slightly hyperrealized, as if the events of the movie could realistically happen, but the feel is slightly heightened.
I must have been a bit of a magician with that stuff. I led the audience in one direction, then secretly led them in another. For me, it was about taking what felt like a stereotypical bad date at the start of the movie and reversing the tables a bit, which is part of the fun of house of darkness. I always talk about the power dynamics in relationships that I’ve always talked about on stage and on screen, but I just put that in a neo-gothic movie.
When it comes to how I make my own horror movie, sometimes you back off on what people might expect. For example, in a scene from Accommodation, there should be a jump scare there, but instead I cut and don’t do a jump scare. It’s just a moment; there is no real terror there. I underlined the anticipation horror rather than traditional scares.
But I don’t want to lie to the public. In the last 10 minutes of the film, I give them what they want, with shredded flesh and squirting blood. For some people that’s probably not enough, but I give them that element of horror. I may have deceived them, but I didn’t lie to them.
Gia, what draws you to the horror genre?
Crovatin: To be honest with you, I don’t really like the horror genre as a viewer. I’m a super sensitive person and get scared very easily so horror isn’t a comfortable place for me to live or work. Sometimes, though, you have to run towards the things that scare you, and fear is one thing that scares me. [Laughs]
I also think gender is a great way to talk about our society as a whole. You use this huge metaphor, vampires, and how it reflects our own world in a really interesting way.
house of darkness looks less like a horror movie and more like a psychological thriller. For me, I can see the direct lineage of this movie to some of Neil’s earlier work like In the company of men. They’re exactly the same except there’s just more blood. Pain and human cruelty is what connects these two films.
Neil, with your Wicker Man remake with Nicolas Cage and, more recently, the Van Helsing series, you have shown an interest in the horror genre and, more specifically, vampires. Why use the horror genre to comment on power dynamics between men and women in 2022?
The Bute: With some of my previous movies like In the company of men and Your friends and neighbors, I have already commented on these relational dynamics in a direct way. I had found a new way to enter that felt fresh and with house of darknessI did it while making a Hammer Films-style horror movie.
What are some of your favorite horror movies?
The Bute: i love the original Dracula with Bela Lugosi, The only lovers still alive with Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston, and problems every day. I’m all over the map with vampire movies. I love old Hammer movies. almost dark is one of my favorites.
Crovatin: I’m going to go with a classic: psychology. It’s so psychological. It’s art. But a recent movie that I saw and absolutely loved was Mike Flanagan’s silence with Kate Siegel. It was just a revelation. Kate was so good in this movie. I love when horror movies take things and turn them around. What you expect turns out to be the opposite of what you thought. And I think our film does that.
What do you want viewers to take away from house of darkness?
Crovatin: I think the movie is about being honest and confessing. The truth will set you free and karma will come after you if you don’t tell the truth.
The Bute: house of darkness is just a fun time at the movies. It’s an extra avenue in the dark. For 90 minutes, it allows you to escape and allows the public to experience a fun and fantastic story. Even if you’ve seen this story before, there will be twists and turns you don’t expect.
house of darkness is now in theaters and is available on demand.