'Freaky' director Christopher Landon reveals the gory moment he loved shooting (exclusive)

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·9 min read

Watch: Freaky director reveals his favourite blood-soaked scene from the film

The cinemas are open and, if Freaky director Christopher Landon has anything to say about it, there will be blood.

With the likes of A Quiet Place Part II and The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It already gracing the insides of multiplexes since the big reopening in May, horror has been a huge part of the return to cinemas, but Freaky delivers something entirely different.

Co-written and directed by Landon, who also made both Happy Death Day movies, it's a comedy-inflected slasher in which Vince Vaughn's serial killer — known as The Blissfield Butcher — switches bodies with his latest victim Millie (Kathryn Newton).

Read more: Best horror movies of 2020

While Millie battles to get her body back, the butcher enjoys even more freedom for bloodshed now that he's in the non-threatening guise of a high school girl.

"I felt like there was a real opportunity to update the idea of what a slasher film is and can be, really play with the 'final girl' trope and modernise them," Landon tells Yahoo Entertainment UK.

Vince Vaughn and Kathryn Newton swap bodies in the wry slasher movie 'Freaky'. (Universal Pictures)
Vince Vaughn and Kathryn Newton swap bodies in the wry slasher movie 'Freaky'. (Universal Pictures)

Despite his attempts to create a "mash-up" of slasher horror and comedy elements, Landon confesses he has a real affection for old school gore, achieved via practical effects.

"I love gore when it meets the film, when it's the right kind of movie. And this definitely felt like the right kind of movie," he says. 

Read more: Samara Weaving on reinventing the "final girl" trope

"All of the scenes were a load of fun to do. They're hard because we're a low-budget movie by most standards, so we're always kind of pressed for time. 

"I think the Mr Bernardi set piece in the woodshop was my favourite one to shoot. It was the most challenging and it took a lot of people to crack that nut and make it work. 

Kathryn Newton uses the tools of a woodshop to gruesome effect in 'Freaky'. (Universal Pictures)
Kathryn Newton uses the tools of a woodshop to gruesome effect in 'Freaky'. (Universal Pictures)

"What I think I really enjoy about it, without being too spoilery, is that I think typically in a sequence like that, most people would cut away. But we designed it to stay, and that's what I think is really fun about it. It's in your face and disgusting. 

"I have a couple of friends who are really squeamish and so I always use them as the barometer, where I force them to watch things. If I gross them out, then I feel like I've succeeded."

Read more: Most disturbing movie scenes of all time

The movie marks another collaboration between Landon and Blumhouse, which produced both Happy Death Day films as well as the Paranormal Activity franchise in which the director was involved in a writing capacity, as well as behind the camera for 2014 sequel The Marked Ones.

Landon says his close relationship with the studio enables him to have creative freedom and, in this case, protected his love of violent set pieces.

Christopher Landon and producer Jason Blum have worked together on numerous films, including the 'Happy Death Day' franchise. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for Universal Studios Hollywood)
Christopher Landon and producer Jason Blum have worked together on numerous films, including the 'Happy Death Day' franchise. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for Universal Studios Hollywood)

"I think for this movie a lot of studios would have baulked at the R-rating and at the gore," confesses the filmmaker. 

"It's a teen-centric movie and they tend to want to make those movies PG-13 now, but [Blumhouse] supported me on that."

Depending on the strength of your stomach, you'll be thanking Jason Blum for that one.

Read our full interview with Christopher Landon, in which he reveals the importance of casting Vince Vaughn and why he thinks the slasher movie is emerging from decades of rest...

Yahoo Entertainment UK: This is a film that gets both elements of Vince Vaughn. Obviously, we know him for his comedy work, but he's also this big, imposing guy in things like Brawl in Cell Block 99. How significant was it to have someone in this role who could do both of those things?

Christopher Landon: The whole movie would succeed or fail on that alone. That's why, when I was writing the movie with my writing partner [Michael Kennedy], he was like the guy that we talked about. He was the guy that was in my head. I can't think of anybody else who has the same skill set, who can be all of those things and more. It was like a big wish. Whenever you write something, you inevitably imagine actors and people that you would love to see in your films, but it rarely ever works out that you get them. Vince and Kathryn were both my first choice actors and I was really thrilled that I got them. 

The slasher movie feels like it fell out of fashion a bit. But between Happy Death Day and this film, it feels like you're a big part of bringing it back. What is it that draws you to slashers?

I grew up on them. I was raised on the Halloweens and the Friday the 13ths and tonnes of others. I think, for me, I felt like there was a real opportunity to update the idea of what a slasher film is and can be, really play with the "final girl" trope and modernise them. And also see them through this different lens, where obviously I've taken a mash-up approach to both of those films. 

Vince Vaughn utilises both his comedic and horror sides as the Butcher in 'Freaky'. (Brian Douglas/Universal Pictures)
Vince Vaughn utilises both his comedic and horror sides as the Butcher in 'Freaky'. (Brian Douglas/Universal Pictures)

It has just been a lot of fun because I get to play in a sandbox where I'm using my own vast, I think, knowledge of horror films — just because I've been raised on a steady diet of them my whole life — but also getting to do stuff that I think is more character-driven, which is what I think hasn't happened in slashers. I think, outside of the mash-up stuff, what has separated a lot of my work from old school slasher films is that I try to create characters you are really rooting for and have an actual arc. So that has been my approach to it. 

I think it's fun that slasher movies are kind of coming back in some way, but in a different way. And I think that's what horror is evolving with right now. A great example is Leigh Whannell. Leigh did The Invisible Man, but he did The Invisible Man meets Sleeping With the Enemy, and that was a brilliant way to approach that particular story. It made it feel modern and it made it feel really fresh. I think that's what we're seeing a lot in horror right now.

You mentioned mash-ups and the horror/comedy combination is something that runs through a lot of your work. Does that balance come easily to you now, or is it still something you have to calibrate really precisely?

I don't want to say it comes easily, because the work is always challenging and difficult, but it's not as calculated as it may seem. I'm not sitting there like a chemist working ratios. I always go with "how does the story want to unfold?" and usually, if I'm doing it properly, the balance is already there. I try not to over-think it. I really try to write as a fan, as somebody sitting in a movie theatre and watching it. That's really my guiding principle.

Christopher Landon says he wants to 'modernise' the slasher with films like 'Freaky'. (Brian Douglas/Universal Pictures)
Christopher Landon says he wants to 'modernise' the slasher with films like 'Freaky'. (Brian Douglas/Universal Pictures)

Some of those comedy-inflected horrors can soft-pedal on the gore and the horror, but this one definitely doesn't do that. Did you have a favourite gory set piece and what was it like to shoot those scenes?

I love gore. But I love gore when it meets the film, when it's the right kind of movie. And this definitely felt like the right kind of movie. I think every filmmaker says this, because it's usually true, but I do try to do everything practically. It's a lot more fun to shoot and I think it looks better, usually. All of the scenes were a load of fun to do. They're hard because we're a low-budget movie by most standards, so we're always kind of pressed for time. 

I think the Mr Bernardi set piece in the woodshop was my favourite one to shoot. It was the most challenging and it took a lot of people to crack that nut and make it work. What I think I really enjoy about it, without being too spoilery, is that I think typically in a sequence like that, most people would cut away. But we designed it to stay, and that's what I think is really fun about it. It's in your face and disgusting. I have a couple of friends who are really squeamish and so I always use them as the barometer, where I force them to watch things. If I gross them out, then I feel like I've succeeded.

Kathryn Newton plays Millie in twisted slasher film 'Freaky'. (Universal Pictures)
Kathryn Newton plays Millie in twisted slasher film 'Freaky'. (Universal Pictures)

You've obviously done so much work with Blumhouse. What is it that keeps you coming back to work with them?

It's the fact that I have a lot of freedom. I think that's what most filmmakers are hoping for. I always get to make the movie that I want to make, as long as I stay within budget. It's having that flexibility and also knowing you have somebody in your corner who's going to fight for things that you want. I think for this movie a lot of studios would have baulked at the R-rating and at the gore. It's a teen-centric movie and they tend to want to make those movies PG-13 now, but [Blumhouse] supported me on that. So I think that's a big reason to keep coming back. 

And also, it's not to say that I don't want to do or won't do bigger budget movies, but when you start to get into those really big budget movies, it's not just you. It's a committee. There's a fine line between collaboration and committee. I'm all for working with other people and collaborating because that's the best part of the job, but when it feels like a board room of people who are like 'this is what you're gonna do and this is how you're gonna do it', then it gets less creative and less fun.

Freaky is in UK cinemas from 2 July.

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