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Ti West Gives Horror a Good Name

Ti West Gives Horror a Good Name  (photo)

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With mainstream horror now defined by cruddy PG-13 originals and even cruddier remakes, Ti West’s “The House of the Devil” couldn’t have arrived at a better time. An unpredictable saga of teenage boredom and Satanic cults in which a college student makes the mistake of taking a babysitting gig at Tom Noonan’s titular residence, West’s third film (after “The Roost” and “Trigger Man”) assumes the guise of an ’80s genre flick — from its title credits to its hair styles — without ever treating those trappings as jokes. More faux-relic than cheeky homage, the film confirms West’s status as a distinctive indie auteur, with his preference for long, languorous takes and his sincere interest in human behavior lending his horror show a uniquely ominous chill. While in Manhattan, he sat down with me to discuss the sorry state of contemporary horror, his unpleasant experiences making the still-unreleased “Cabin Fever 2” and the insanity of test screenings.

Given how many lousy horror remakes have come out lately, did you have any concerns about making such a deliberate ’80s throwback?

No. Now that you say it, I can understand maybe being more concerned than I was at the time. I came up with the idea back in 2005. Right now, would I be doing it? Probably not. But as much as I get credit for it being an homage, that wasn’t really my plan as much as it was a period piece. Not to say there aren’t freeze frames, or the copyright image under the title, or zooms and things like that. But when I put everyone in the period setting, that’s just what happened. As I started fooling with it, it just became clear that this style looked best for the movie. I tried to be authentic to the period. It just happens that this ’70s-’80s retro thing is in vogue. It’s a happy, or unhappy, accident, depending on how you look at it.

Your use of drawn-out character-building scenes and general avoidance of jolt scares, gore and T&A seemed to me like a rebuke to modern horror. Was that what you were going for?

No, there was nothing reactionary. It’s partially my style, it’s old fashioned, and this movie has a classic three-act horror structure. It wasn’t because there are movies like “Saw,” and I wanted to throw it in their face and go the other way. I just don’t particularly like those kind of movies, and I don’t make them. And maybe right now, there are so many bad movies out there that it helps highlight something different.

Did you feel any pressure from outside voices to conform to modern genre conventions?

No, thankfully not. There was a situation right before the premiere at Tribeca where outside forces got involved and said that it’d be more successful if it were a little shorter in the middle. I think there were just some cold feet: “We like this movie, but whew, we hope we’re not the only people who like it.” And I felt like, no, no, it’s going to be fine. But other than that one spat, everyone was very supportive and understood the movie we made. Probably partially due to my complaints, Magnolia swooped in and everyone agreed to revert the film back to the way it was. Other than that, it was easy.

The sequence in question is the one where Donahue’s protagonist dances around the mansion, right?

Before that. There’s a three-and-a-half-minute minute chunk where she explores the house. For me, it was important because she plays the straight character throughout much of the movie, and that’s kind of a bummer for an actor, because she doesn’t get to be as behavioral as some of the other people. So there’s this section where she could wander the house, snoop through their drawers, all these things that gave away tiny foreshadowing plot elements. And you see her play “Heart and Soul” on the piano, these lighthearted moments where the character didn’t have any responsibility except to be herself.

10272009_hotd6.jpgThat’s part of the reason I made the movie — the weird things you start doing when you’re alone in someone’s house, like snooping through drawers. And part of its style is to fool people with all the conventions. So, she walks into a room and you think, “Oh my god, something’s going to jump out!”, and then she talks to a fish and leaves. It takes you out of your comfort zone. I wanted to make everyone who knows horror movies go, “I don’t know where the next thing’s coming from.” Jump scares are cheesy, but I think the few of them in the movie are very successful because they’re spaced out appropriately and they come out of nowhere. You get kind of entranced by the lulling style, so that when something extreme happens, it’s more effective. That contrast is really important to me.

That contrast seems particularly important to “HoTD,” considering that modern horror films telegraph everything.

[With today’s horror films], there’s never a moment where nothing’s happening, so it gets to be almost like porn, just one money shot after another. And you begin to feel like, if there was just some story present, I’d be more inclined to give a shit. That contrast is what makes any art accessible.

I’ve seen a lot of dead people. I’m not a good person to hang out with, because people have died on the subway with me. I’ve been on a train that hit someone. One time I was at a horse gambling establishment and the guy a couple seats down just died. And what always amazed me was, everyone’s there betting on horses, having a great time, and no one knew. Once we realized what had happened, the whole tone shifted. If you were the girl in “HoTD” who got involved in a Satanic plot, before it happened you were just hanging out, doing your homework. Whenever you see real death or real horror, it’s not cinematic in any way. It’s clumsy and awkward, and that’s what you wind up feeling jarred by, because it’s not what you were expecting.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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