CHEWIN’ THE FAT with Writer/Director Jackson Stewart

Filmmaker Jackson Stewart grew up terrified of horror films, but ended up creating one of the most talked about indie horror flicks of 2016, Beyond the Gates. A faithful throwback to 1970’s Italian horror and 1980’s board game horror (yes, that was a sub-genre), the film stars Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, From Beyond) and Chase Williamson (John Dies at the End, The Guest) and is now available to purchase in the U.K., though horror nuts in the States will have to wait until May 2nd, unless your player knows no regions!

Filmmaker Jackson Stewart.

I first met Jackson at Bruce Campbell’s Horror Film Festival last year. My feature (Show Yourself) was world premiering and Beyond the Gates was one of the special screenings at the fest. With all he madness and mayhem surrounding a world premiere, I didn’t get the chance to pick Jackson’s brain the way I wanted. Flash forward a few months and he graciously agreed to ‘chew the fat’ with me about a number of different horror related items. With the future of the genre in hands like his, we have some exciting films to look forward to on the horizon.

Billy Ray Brewton: So – Beyond the Gates is now available to purchase in the UK, which means anyone, anywhere, from Los Angeles to New York, from Argentina to Botswana, can own your movie. As someone who obviously grew up salivating over cinema – what does that mean to you?

Jackson Stewart: The fun thing to me about that was always seeing the differences in key art between the various countries/regions.  I was a huge fan of the Italian posters from the mid-60s up until the early 90s where they switched over to photography rather than the hand painted stuff.  It’s a huge thrill seeing the crazy Last Unicorn/Stranger Things artwork they made in the UK — it’s so wild.  I love that some bloke in Manchester can pop it in on DVD and get to watch it for the first time.  Quite cool!

I know sometimes a title of a film changes, from region to region. Will Beyond the Gates be known as anything else around the globe? Is that something you’d even be clued in on?

I’m not sure — I learned it had been released in Australia from someone tagging me in a post on Instagram so probably not!  IFC Midnight asked about changing the title when I met with them (due to the vastly inferior Beyond The Gates from 2005) and I refused.  The sequel will be called ‘From Beyond The Gates.’ I’d love it if there was some absurdly literal title in Japan like ‘Brothers VCR Quest.’

Dueling artwork for “Beyond the Gates”

You’ve been all over the place with Beyond the Gates. Looking back, what would you say was the standout moment for you and the film, and maybe the biggest lesson you’ve learned?

This is a terrific question.  It was unbelievably hectic — you have very little time to write during these things and due to time changes and other factors; it can be difficult to gain your bearings in new countries. My two favorite festivals (outside of our premiere) were Frightfest and Sitges. Both of those were incredible. Amazing fans, cool filmmakers and a great overall community in both of them. Bruce Campbell’s Horror Fest was also a blast, where you and I met. The standout moment for the premiere was actually on our second screening where Daniel Waters (Heathers), Larry Karaszewski (Ed Wood), Bobcat Goldthwait, Bill Lustig, and Amanda Wyss all came up afterward and told me how much they liked the movie.  It was a real highlight of my life having grown up admiring all of their respective bodies of work.  Biggest lesson I have learned is that if you have a gut feeling on something, always follow it — the few times I went against it and listened to someone else or an idea I didn’t feel fully lined up, I have always regretted it.

Yeah, that’s a pretty amazing group of folks to dote on your movie. Growing up, what were the films that really got your juices flowing? What was the horror franchise for you, as a kid? Or was horror something you didn’t really discover until you got older? 

Growing up — I used to be utterly terrified of horror movies.  I saw Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master when I was 9 or 10 and it wrecked me.  I had never seen that level of violence in a movie before and the idea of this guy being able to get in your dreams and kill you was all too real to me at that young age.  The one that really got me in my pre-teens was Evil Dead 2 (then subsequently Army of Darkness, and Evil Dead) – that franchise blew my mind.  I tried showing Evil Dead 2 to some of my friends and they thought it was rubbish and I was thrilled to meet these cats who liked it as I got older. I became a true video store obsessive around age 16.  I’d watch everything, Scorsese films, Don Siegel movies, Antonioni stuff and of course every Italian genre movie I could get my hands on from 1965-1988 or so. Slashers were my gateway drug into just about every other genre.  As far as what got my juices flowing, Back To The Future — the idea of seeing Doc get gunned down in the opening and maybe being able to save him and then NOT being able to save him again when we return to the right timeline was crushing; then he ends up having read that note Marty wrote and it’s, well, it is the best and it’s what great cinema is about to me.  Another one I watched at that age that doesn’t get enough love is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie.  The coolest thing about it is that they don’t beat Shredder at the end — they lose and Splinter returns to defeat his old nemesis before Casey Jones crushes him in a trash compactor.  It’s amazing they got away with that back then.

“A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: Dream Master”

 

I feel like the horror genre, right now, is poised to really dominate the entertainment landscape. Horror really is everywhere these days. What are your thoughts on the current state of the genre? How do you see yourself factoring in to it?

To me, horror never really goes away.  It’s just occasionally studios take a chance on something and (surprise, surprise) it turns out to be profitable.  My big prediction for the next trend in horror is that comedy people are going to start directing the big franchises (like Nightmare, etc.)  I predict Get Out is going to make a zillion dollars and the new Halloween will be massively successful.  More than likely, some of our contemporaries will get shots at bigger properties or Netflix original movies.  Some will rise, some will fall, but it should be interesting.  I am hoping I get a crack at doing a movie like ‘Streets Of Rage’ or writing on the new Castlevania show.  I would love to adapt ‘Clock Tower’ or something of that 90s video game era.

On that same line, are there any horror filmmakers out there right now that you can really say – “Those guys are doing it right”?

For sure — Jason Krawzcyk (He Never Died), is an absurdly talented, wonderful individual.  David Bruckner (Southbound) is brilliant.  Anna Biller (The Love Witch) might be the most precise and exacting filmmaker I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, Nick McCarthy (The Pact), Corin Hardy (The Hallow) — the Radio Silence guys need to make another movie ASAP.  Carles Torrens (Pet) is another guy I’d love to collaborate with on something.  Graham Reznick’s Until Dawn is the best thing I experienced in 2016.  That was probably way too many!

Touching back to what you said about comedy folks getting involved with horror: What do you think about the latest news that David Gordon Green and Danny McBride are going to be spearheading the new Halloween sequel?

Surprisingly, I am really excited about it.  I was afraid that they were going to get someone really obvious to direct it and it would be yet another attempt to recapture the magic of the first film with tepid results.  I am a massive D.G.G. and Danny McBride fan (and no lie, the only ticket stub I have on my fridge is for Your Highness).  It’s smart to disregard the other entries, however, they did a similar thing with H20 back in 1998 and I find it odd that no one’s mentioned that.  Those two guys being involved really sparks my curiosity.  The one hurdle they have never quite gotten over is that Myers is so conclusively dead at the end of Part II, it feels impossible to justify him coming back to life or having survived that.  I’m hoping he’s a little more supernatural in the new one.  We’ll see.  1, 2 and 3 for that series are all untouchable.

“Your Highness” (David Gordon Green, Director)

If someone said, “Jackson – you can direct a sequel to any horror franchise you want,” which one do you choose and why?

For a really long time, the answer was Phantasm, however I used most of those ideas in Beyond The Gates.  Sequels are really tough. So much of those movies were rooted in the time that they were made and it is nigh-impossible to recapture their magic. I’d love to do a Sleepaway Camp movie or The Gate. Some of the huge franchises will always be met with negativity, so I would want to avoid those. Actually, fuck it — I’ll just go back and say Phantasm. The first one is perfect, but you could do a side story in another universe utilizing the same characters and not un-doing any of the mythology. It’s such a rich world to explore and it has always held strong in my mind. The themes of that movie really resonate and the iconography is perfect.

Enough hypotheticals: What’s next? Any actual projects in the pipeline that you can discuss? 

Yes indeed.  My next one is planned for fall — it’s titled ‘The Day After Halloween’ and it basically examines what happens to the final girl after the end of a slasher movie. It’s a little more surreal and strange — a little like Stephen King’s The Dark Half. I’m quite excited about it. Zach Hagen (He Never Died) and Mia Chang (It Follows) are attached as producers. Additionally, I’m almost finished writing ‘Beyond The Gates II’ (or ‘From Beyond The Gates’) — that would center around John (Chase Williamson) and what happens when VHS experiences a vinyl-like resurgence and Elric (Jesse Merlin) capitalizes on that. It’s very much in the vein of late 70s/80s paranoia horror movies like The Stuff,  Society, and the Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake. I equate it to the Batman to Batman Returns jump — it will definitely alienate some fans of the first one.

What’s the film that you wish people loved but don’t? At least, not as much as you think they should?

Two way tie between Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master and the sleaze masterpiece Friday The 13th Part V: A New Beginning.  I don’t get why people don’t love these wonderful movies!  For fun; a non-horror that doesn’t get enough appreciation is Your Highness.  That movie fucking rules.

Excellent selections. Digging the A New Beginning love. Final question: Re-caption the picture below?

JS: Would that it were so simple…

 

And, with that, the fat was chewed and there was nothing left to say. Big thanks to Jackson Stewart, the writer and director of Beyond the Gates, and overall swell individual. #ChewTheFat

Beyond the Gates is currently available to rent, and is now available for purchase in the UK. It will be available in the States on May 2nd from Scream Factory: https://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Gates-Barbara-Crampton/dp/B01NAGK1WH

Billy Ray Brewton

Billy Ray Brewton

Billy Ray Brewton is a writer/director of stage and screen from Alabama, California, and anywhere else that will take him. Until late-2013, he called Birmingham home, where he founded Theatre Downtown, a community theatre specializing in original and contemporary works. His original musical comedy, “Skanks in a One Horse Town”, was the subject of the documentary, “Skanks”, which premiered at the 2014 Slamdance Film Festival. His debut feature horror film, “Show Yourself”, world premiered at Bruce Campbell’s Horror Film Festival and is currently on the festival circuit. He is in pre-production for his second feature, “Midnights at the Sad Captain”, filming in 2017.
Billy Ray Brewton
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