Chris Peckover (Director, Better Watch Out)
The Horror Revolution: First off, what’s your favorite horror movie? What movie scared you the most?
Chris Peckover: I have too many favorites. There are 24 horror movies I've seen that I think are perfect. I want horror to challenge me beyond the jumps. Emotionally, creatively. Take me somewhere my own imagination wouldn't have gone. Find a dread I didn't know I had. Right now, Alien and Poltergeist are near the top. In the past ten years, it's been It Follows, Get Out, Annihilation, and A Quiet Place. THR: I first got a chance to watch Better Watch Out last year, and it quickly made its way onto my must-watch list every Christmas. What inspired you to make the film?
CP: It all started with our deep love for John Hughes, our love for how honest he was about the awkwardness and darker sides of teenage life, and our desire to find out how this generation of teens compares. How Home Alone might look today.
THR: I’ve always thought holiday-themed horror movies were great because it gives an excuse to watch horror movies for people who otherwise don’t take the time to watch them. Are you a fan of the holiday horror genre in general?
CP: My favorite by far is Gremlins. Christmas horror works best when there's humor. There's just something inherently funny about things going wrong during Christmas. It's already so idealized and heightened – warm fireplaces, decorated houses, everybody on their best behavior. A time when everything is supposed to go right. So it's endlessly satisfying when it doesn't.
THR: Levi Miller’s performance in Better Watch Out was downright chilling. What inspired you to write the role as the anti-Kevin McCallister?
CP: I can't take credit for that. This started out as a script by Zack Kahn, and Luke was 100% fully formed when I came on. Interestingly, Luke was almost too powerful, so my contribution was to give him some blind spots and strengthen everyone else in the story, also to bring more fun to an otherwise dire and uncomfortable turn of events. We read over 200 boys for the movie, and nobody came close to Levi. He had just turned 13, and the level of script analysis he did, adding nuances that weren't there, was utterly mind blowing. I never had to do more than gentle nudging -- it was all him.
THR: What inspired you to become a filmmaker? Were there any particular movies that made you know that this is what you wanted to do?
CP: I was pre-med in college. Up until my junior year. Had never considered going into the arts. I was thinking about mid-life crises, how people wake up one day and say "what am I doing?" with this pain of a wasted life, and then finally decide to follow their hearts. I guess I wanted to skip that step. So I asked myself "if money didn't matter, what would I do?" It didn't take long. I love movies. I love being transported. I love the idea that you can have a mealy, satisfying conversation with a stranger that you've never met. Or better, inspire them, or change their day. How could you not want to become a filmmaker?
THR: Undocumented is also fantastic, another film that will have a review from me very shortly. It’s also a prescient film, one that was made in 2010 before the plight of immigrants was thrust into the mainstream. What was it like to tell that story in pre-Donald Trump America, and were there any particular events that drew your interest in the topic?
CP: I was inspired by one of my friend’s stories about crossing the border when he was young. It was terrifying. Our sequence in the back of the U-Haul is ripped almost straight from his story. At the time, I was working at Google, which had just acquired YouTube. You wouldn't believe some of the videos people uploaded before they were flagged and taken down. Just harrowing stuff. All these violent sentiments toward foreigners, they've always been there. The only difference between pre- and post-Trump to me is that whispered hate has been given permission to become shameless conversation. My biggest fear by far was that Hispanic audiences would reject Undocumented as some stupid white guy’s views on a subject he knows nothing about. I'm so relieved the opposite has been true. White audiences tend to get the most uncomfortable, while Hispanic audiences are all like, “I hear about shit like this happening all the time!”
THR: Is horror your preferred genre to work in? Are there any other styles of movie that you’d like to make?
CP: Writing horror is a big part of how I process and deal with all the bad stuff in my life. What I’m going through, what my friends or society as a whole is going through. It’s a way to talk about it, and maybe conquer it. I wonder if it's the same draw for audiences. We escape into somebody else's nightmare and make it our own, keeping it with us after. It's a very empathetic genre.
But I'm working on all kinds of projects. Sci-fi, thrillers. To me it's all the same. When people argue about whether JAWS and ALIENS is action or horror or sci-fi, it's just so myopic. Horror is a spice. You can add it to any story. Just like comedy. And action. I look at JURASSIC PARK and think, among other things, it's horror. It's an action adventure with horror/thriller set pieces. How would you want to pigeonhole that into a single genre?
CP: Better Watch Out wears its Home Alone inspiration on it’s sleeve, but remakes of horror movies are often looked down upon by genre fans. Is there a horror movie that you’d like to see remade, and if so, would you be the one to make it?
In my opinion, it's best to remake a great idea that was done mediocrely (think Invasion of the Bodysnatchers from 1978), or a movie that elevates the original idea with a new element or perspective (think The Invisible Man), or both (Cronenberg's The Fly). I have an idea for The Blob that does both, and I've been trying on and off for years to hunt down who owns the rights. One studio will say another studio has the rights, and then neither actually do. It seems to be tied up in a rights knot. This is all to say, if you're reading and you know who owns the rights, do I have a sick idea in mind for how to elevate it.
THR: What’s next for you? Anything new that you’re working on?
CP: You can definitely expect something supernatural from me next, and not sharing the stage with comedy as much. Two movies actively pushing toward production, and I'm sitting on two more scripts for when studios are ready for me to handle a larger budget. I'm very proud of Undocumented and Better Watch Out, but fair warning -- I've gotten better.
THR: Finally, if you became a brand-new Batman villain, what would your superpower be?
CP: Surviving studio development