Based on an urban legend revolving around a haunted house so scary that guests are paid if they survive it, House of Purgatory is writer-director Tyler Christensen’s debut feature. But the openly gay Christensen adds an interesting social subtext to the proceedings here by concentrating on the youthful fears and tortured secrets of his protagonists. Excited about the recent release of this emotional, horror filled outing on various media platforms, Christensen took a moment to chat with me about his inspirations for the film, his eclectic and talented cast and the film’s psychological repercussions.
BGHF: Hi, Tyler! I’m calling you on a surprisingly summer like fall day in Chicago. Tyler: Well, it’s raining here in L.A.
I stole your thunder, man! You did!
I’ll give it back, I swear. Probably by tomorrow! No worries. I’m actually enjoying this. It reminds me of growing up in Wisconsin.
Is that where the concept for House of Purgatory began? I had heard the urban legend in it, growing up. Was it something you were familiar with?
No. I had never heard of that one. It was a very popular legend in Wisconsin. Every Halloween, someone was talking about someone’s cousin who had done it or someone’s brother. So, then I went to college in Oshkosh and, years later, I sat down to write a film. I knew, specifically, that I wanted to produce it and put it together. You write a lot of projects that are pie in the sky. Things that you’d love to make…one day, once money is no object. So, this is the first time that I decided to write a script that was producible. I planned on directing it. So, what could it be? I came across this very urban legend again. What? I couldn’t believe it was an urban legend. I totally fell for it when I was growing up. I was intrigued by it. I decided to pretend that it was a real thing. If it was, what would be so scary in a haunted house that people wouldn’t be able to make it through? It would have to be tailor made to each person. We all, obviously, have much different fears. So, if I’m going to tailor make the house, I decided it was going to know their secrets and it just grew from that.
I was a little worried that the characters were going to turn out to be dead like Mary Henry in Carnival of Souls. I think that reveal has been used once too often. Carnival of Souls did that so well. Other movies have done it since. If it’s not done well, technically, which 90% of the time it isn’t, it just comes off as a cop out. Oh, this is how we’re going to explain all these supernatural things. They’re dead! Come on!
I just get disappointed because it’s easy to figure out what’s going on. Oh, fuck, I know what’s going on halfway through. Exactly!
There’s no surprise. So, I appreciated that it didn’t happen here. Thank you! (Laughing) I said I know what Brian wants…and he’s going to be disappointed if I don’t do it!
Finally! A man who knows what I want! It took awhile, but the day has arrived. (Laughing) Nice!
So, let’s talk about your cast. Anne Leighton, the lead, is doing quite well now with Grimm and other projects. How did you discover her and what was it like working with her? She was great. Travis Moody, the producer, had worked with her on a project. She wasn’t doing quite as much as she is doing now, but she was still very successful. He told me to send the script over to her because he thought that she would react well to it, that it was right up her alley. She has a thing for the genre, in general. It was fun coming in, being a first time feature director; you can tell when you’re working with professionals. People not only come prepared, but they ask you questions and have thoughts. Anne would come to me with ideas about Melanie’s relationship with her mother. I would be like, “Sure, I totally had that planned out.” It was fun because she would dive into it, even deeper than I did.
Of course, your veteran was Brian Krause from such projects as Sleepwalkers and Charmed. He was great. I was a little nervous. He was a bigger name. While he has done some low budget stuff, I thought he might come in like, “Really guys? This tiny little thing?” But, he was great. He was so hands on and ready to go with his ideas and thoughts about the role. It took some trial and error to get his make-up just right. He was a trooper. He and the make-up artist would sit there and do an hour or two of work. Then I’d see it and go, “Nope. That’s not what I’m thinking. Start over.” So, it took a lot of time to get the make-up right. I guess I thought, “Here’s the star in our movie and let’s cover him up with make-up so no one knows it’s him.” (Laughs) The marketing team just loves that.
Was there a moment that you enjoyed the most when filming? I think the most fun was the moment when the cast has that first conversation with Brian, as The Skeleton, at the ticket booth. That was the first time that the actors had seen his make-up. It was in this field, in the middle of the woods. The night was perfect. It was a cool night with fog. It just lent itself so well to the mood. It was also Brian’s first scene on set, so there was this extra buzz and excitement about having him there. When I saw him in his make-up, after they had gotten it right, and in his costume…I was like, “I have Brian Krause in my movie! How cool is this?” When you write something, you have one vision. As you are producing it and putting it together, it sort of becomes another vision. When you’re directing and looking at the monitor, it becomes a third vision. More often than not, it goes downhill. You wrote it, you had this great vision, but reality sets in, and its nothing like you imagined and you get mad. But, this was exactly what I had envisioned. It was such a cool feeling. There’s a scene in the pumpkin patch, as well, that was special for me. As soon as we had it lit, I was standing in the middle of it, turning around and staring at all these pumpkins. It was the coolest thing ever.
I liked that there is some social subtext to this piece. It is more emotionally resonant than the typical slasher.
I, obviously, related to the gay character. Growing up, I never thought my friends and family would act in a nightmarish way upon my coming out. But I think everyone has those sorts of things to deal with. At that age, you’re so concerned and one of your biggest fears is disappointing your parents. When you do something and they yell at you, it’s bad. But when you do something and they say that they are disappointed in you, it cuts so much deeper. A lot of the teen slashers, we’ve seen it. You smoke weed, you die. You drink, you die. You have sex, you die. There’s so much more to kids at that age. We don’t always see it unless the movie, as a whole, is a statement. We don’t get to see their everyday issues. There is a lot of fear.
I appreciated that you walked a fine line with the film. There are people who could feel that you are condemning the characters. There were a couple people who read it, who didn’t know my background, and thought I was taking some kind of stance. They thought I was making an anti-this or anti-that film. I did go back and tweak things. I was so upset when I first got that reaction. I couldn’t believe people thought that I would write something like that. I went back and reread and dove in to make sure that it is clear that these are their secrets and that they are not being punished for sins. It never once says sin in the script. It’s always a secret. Even the sign on the door as they walk up to the house says “Secrets, secrets are so fun. Your secrets here can come undone”. I’m saying the word secret three times in a sentence. I think I’m safe. But, I think anytime that you are dealing with real world, hot button issues, issues that people can be really divided on…there’s going to be talk. That’s a good thing. I’d rather make a movie that starts dialogue. There are very few movies, especially in the horror world, that you can talk about.
House of Purgatory is available, currently, on iTunes, Xbox, Amazon Instant, Google Play, Vudu, PlayStation, YouTube, and Vimeo On Demand. The film is also set to be released on Amazon Prime, 24-Hour Movie Channel on Roku, DVD and Cable VOD at a later date.
More information is available at https://www.facebook.com/HouseofPurgatory.
Until the next time – SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!