Feb 15

Matt Davis, Jessica Lucas, Alona Tal & Robert Knepper in Cult


I’m not a fan of horror.  It scares me.  I know that’s the point.  But I’m already disturbed as it is, so I don’t need more unsettling images in my head.  I’m doing just not fine, thank you. Also, I saw Halloween when I was too young.  Maybe I was 10.  Michael Meyers (even typing his name feels like a sort of summoning, and that’s NOT my intention) gave me nightmares for weeks.  Because as you know, he’s still out there, so logically to a 10 year old, he could very well be in my closet.  And to a 40 year old, also, in my closet.  Since then, I have avoided horror as a genre. I just watch When Harry Met Sally on an endless loop.

Yet I’ve always known that many of my favorite directors got their start in horror: John Sayles wrote Piranha, followed by Alligator and The Howling.  Oliver Stone cut his teeth on Seizure with Herve Villachez, and The Hand with Michael Caine, about a cartoonist who’s severed hand takes on a life of its own.  Peter Jackson started with an alien invasion movie appropriately called Bad Taste before doing the comically grotesque Dead Alive. And the list goes on:  Roman Polanski (Rosemary’s Baby), Brian DePalma (Carrie), Francis Ford Coppola (Dementia 13 and The Terror), David Cronenberg (Shivers), etc…  In my own work, I’ve gravitated towards a sort of naturalistic heartfelt comedy. I think.  And while there’s nothing wrong with that, my old screenwriting professor said “our job as filmmakers is to make people laugh, and cry, and shudder in fright.”  And up until now, I haven’t made anyone shudder.  At least not because of anything I’ve done on film.

So when I got Rockne S. O’Bannon’s creepy script for Cult, I saw an opportunity.  I could study horror movies as part of research for a job.   I didn’t have to watch them as much as dissect them.  And by dissecting them, they wouldn’t scare me.  At least that was the theory.  I started small with things that were more thriller than horror: Jonathan Demme’s Silence of The Lambs, David Fincher’s Se7en, Adriane Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder.  But because Cult is genuinely disturbing,  I had no choice but to dig deeper.  And darker.  It was time to face my fears.  This is where things went wrong.  Because if you try to dissect Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, or Dario Argento’s Suspiria, or Friedkin’s  The Exorcist, the very spirit they were trying to capture, reaches through the screen and torments your very being, no matter how clinical your approach.  I’ve since reimbursed them by liberally paying “homage” in my lighting and color and staging, in the hopes that those same spirits would invade your consciousness when you watch Cult.  Is this too much to ask from a TV audience on The CW.  Probably. But man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s heaven for?  Or hell, for that matter.

The thrill of horror movies is something enjoyed statistically and primarily by younger audiences.  They’re more likely to seek out intense experiences and stimulation.  Once you get into your 30’s and 40’s, life is scary enough: divorce, unemployment, children, marriage.   So The CW is the perfect place then for this kind of distress.  In Danse Macabre, Stephen King describes narrative terror, as “the finest emotion.”  But part of that refinement is the safety that comes with knowing that even though you’re scared, you’re going to walk out of the theater in one piece and without demonic entities attached to your soul.   Or so you think.  And there’s a sort of ethical relativism to most horror films, which also provides a kind of assurance:  the young virgins who have sex too soon will die; the philandering couple that moves into the house where the murder occurred will die; and don’t you know you’re not supposed to pick up a deranged hitchhiker…because you’ll die. Ultimately there’s safety in seeing our most existential fear, that we’re all screwed anyway, dramatized in a work of fiction.

My hope is that Cult makes you feel unsafe.  For starters, it’s about fans of a cult TV show that start re-enacting the grizzly events on the show itself.  In a perfect dystopian world where TV shows act as propaganda, real fans of the show Cult will similarly lose their grip on reality.  This is a dangerous prophecy and most unlikely, but the possibility sits in your subconscious like the threat of Nuclear War or a Russian Meteor.  Hopefully, even in its most mild incarnation, there will be a sense of disorientation when wondering where one show ends and another begins.  And as far as Cult’s central premise, it’s very possible that you’re not watching TV, but TV is watching you.  That’s enough for me to wear pants when tuning in.  And I suggest you do the same.  Cult premieres Febuary 19th at 9pm on The CW.

You’re Next.

One Response to “CULT: A DISSECTION”

  1. The thought of Billy looking at me in my tv watching garb is pretty scary. I wouldn’t mind Jeff coming to look for me tho…..I’m lready hooked

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