Horror—What Works and What Doesn’t: The Fewdio Interview
Peter GutiérrezA member of the Online Film Critics Society, Peter writes for Twitch, the Financial Times, and Rue Morgue. He is also a contributing editor at Metro magazine, and a columnist on blockbuster movies for Screen Education. Get too-frequent updates about comics, books, movies, and TV via Twitter: @Peter_Gutierrez View all articles by Peter Gutiérrez
And if you aren’t familiar with the output of this L.A.-based alt-collective of filmmakers over the past eighteen months, then head over to Fewdio.com or just check out YouTube, where these shorts first became hits. Originally started by five Hollywood vets who found themselves with some time on their hands during the writers’ strike, Fewdio has evolved into a wider group of talent that, together, produces effective short-form horror with alarming regularity.
Now, with Nightmare House, which contains 13 shorts plus bonuses, fans can enjoy these nifty films on their TV screens. By the way, they even look good on theatrical screens, which should not be too surprising: these are not shaky-cam offerings from guys running through their backyards as they track some huge dude with a machete. Rather, the Fewdio shorts often represent throwbacks to story-driven, old-style horror but told with a contemporary sensibility and modern technique.
How (and why) can Fewdio do this—consistently create polished, above-industry fare when others who attempt short horror tend toward the formulaic and the amateurish? I sat down with writer-directors Drew Daywalt and David Schneider to learn their secrets. And if you’d like to meet the rest of the core troupe—Paul Hungerford, Jon Crye, Kirk B.R. Woller, Todd Sharp and Marshall Carr—you might want to drop by the Fewdio booth at Comic-Con.
Firefox News: This first volume of Nightmare House clocks in at an hour and forty minutes, but how cohesive is it as a package? I’m guessing there’s no Crypt Keeper-like character linking all the films for the audience.
Dave: The Nightmare House shorts can all be viewed independently. But watched together, they’re not entirely disparate, either. Characters come and go. For example, the main character in “The Feed” is a minor (but pivotal) character in “The Tale of Haunted Mike.” Certain themes are touched on throughout the shorts, and there are also little background surprises that careful viewers of all the films might catch. The second grouping [of shorts] will be called “Cursed Earth,” and will have an even more defined running theme. It will actually run perpendicular to Nightmare House and, in fact, a film that is part of Nightmare House, “Curse,” is also a very important part of Cursed Earth.
Does FEWDIO represent a “hobby that took over your lives”? That is, have you spent far more time and effort—including the launch of the first all-horror-shorts Web site—on it than you originally planned?
Dave: It definitely started as a hobby that became much more. “Curse” was actually the first one we shot. It was really just friends getting together to make a short film, but we had so much fun, and were so happy with the results, and felt we had so many more stories to tell… why not? We couldn’t think of a better way to spend a weekend than hanging out with a bunch of friends, making movies.
Drew: We got into horror to explore the dark side for ourselves. And if we're totally honest and vulnerable about what scares us, we'll create real fear and dread for our fans.
All right, so what’s “good horror” to you guys?
Drew: Good horror is about three things. Isolation. Personal danger. And the unknown enemy. The twist ending is optional. When we started doing horror, we realized that, structurally, it’s the same as comedy – or a magic trick – set up, set up, sudden unexpected left-hand turn. It was there that we found the importance of the twist ending, or the prestige as it’s known in magic. But in horror storytelling, it’s not a necessity to use the twist.
The films are not awash in gore, but they don’t avoid it either. The emphasis instead seems to be on storytelling, and the result is that the viewer gets a little of the vibe of old school anthology comics. But because the pieces are so short, there’s also a literary vibe—you can almost see the paragraph breaks. In fact, the best ones screen like adaptations of classic short stories except these short stories were never published. So I’m wondering, how does the work of the masters influence you?
Drew: When I was five or six, my Grandpa, who smelled like old cigars, told me the only thing that ever scared him was the man he couldn’t see. He meant it as advice to keep my eyes open, but what I thought was that there was always some boogieman, off in my peripheral vision that I couldn’t see. And THAT’S the monster that haunted me for years. If it scared you as a child, there’s a good chance we’re filming it. In the concept that “we create nightmares,” we want to bring horror back to the primal sense of creep and dread, not just cat-jumping-out-at-you startles. Lovecraft and Poe spring to mind. Their subtle imagery is horrifying and awful in a way that has been entirely lost in the last 20 years of gorehounding and literal cat-out-of-the-closet fake-outs.
Can you cite any specific short story titles that you admire and maybe that the Fewdio films aspire to in some way?
Drew: For me, my influences have been less about other filmmakers or writers and more about what really scares me. I was a frightened child, the youngest of 6, and we grew up in a massive 160 year old house with back staircases and servants quarters. When my parents moved in, the place was abandoned and well known as the town’s most haunted house. When it was first built, it was a stagecoach stop and an inn, and some of the stories around it were horrifying.
That said, I’m a big fan of "The Whisperer in the Darkness" and "The Thing on the Doorstep" by Lovecraft. My only regret about trying to make Lovecraft into film is that it’s damn near unfilmable. The guy articulated his evils almost entirely in the negative. For instance, “The unimaginable terror which crept through me was instigated by the unearthly, indescribable awfulness which stood now before me.” Okay… try handing THAT to a production designer to draw. Lovecraft had the advantage of using our own imaginations as his palette. Sadly, something that’s hard to replicate as a filmmaker.
Dave: Pretty much the entire H. P. Lovecraft catalog, take your pick. We’re also big fans of Poe. As a ghost story fan, I have always been a fan of the short stories of E.F. Benson. I remember discovering a collection of his short stories as a kid and being particularly spooked by "The Thing in the Hall" and "The Other Bed." I love the way he shapes tension in such constrained spaces, and it’s definitely had an effect on my storytelling. As far as more modern writers… I love what I’ve seen from Joe Hill so far. His novel, Heart-Shaped Box, sucked me in from the very beginning. His short story collection, 20th Century Ghosts, was a bit hit-or-miss, but more hit than miss. I particularly liked the title story, and "The Widow’s Breakfast."