Blasting onto the indie horror scene in 2011 with My Pure Joy, James Cullen Bressack will soon begin filming his 11th feature film, and all at the ripe age of twenty-three. In anticipation of his film Pernicious, coming out on VOD and in limited theatrical release June 19, Mr. Bressack was kind enough to take time out of a lazy Sunday and answer some questions about this seriously violent and outrageously fun film.
We’re talking about Pernicious. I would like to know where you got the idea.
So, Pernicious came from when I was doing some research on these different Thai folklores and I found this strange black market practice that was like some dark magic stuff, where in Thailand in the 1800’s they used to take babies and cover them in the blood of tortured animals and encase them in solid gold and they thought that would trap the spirit in the object and it would bring them good luck. I read that and I thought, that’s a horror movie. That’s just insane and the fact that it really happened, I needed to turn this into a movie because what if one of those spirits becomes evil and that’s where it's spawned from.
Did you choose the Thai culture specifically?
I was approached by Benetone films, one of the biggest film production companies. I was approached to write and direct a horror movie that takes place in Thailand. So, it was always going to be a Thai movie. I just needed to do research.
When you were filming in Thailand, what was uniquely difficult about that?
Other than, like, translators - I had a translator for my translator - but one thing that I definitely dealt with was, I would get like 100 mosquito bites a day. That was wild and then the other thing, we were filming during monsoon season, so there's this beautiful shot where they drive up to the house on a big boat across a river. They land on a pier and walk across the pier to the house. We built that pier over night because that flooded and that was not a river, it was the front yard and they were originally supposed to drive up in a cab, but it was so flooded, they came up in a boat.
I actually wondered about that. I‘ve been to Thailand and I didn’t get to roll up to a house in a boat. Did you find the people in Thailand to be helpful?
I definitely did. The people in Thailand seem to be super experienced. It seems like they do a lot of films over there. Thailand has a booming film industry at the moment. Benetone films was the producer of this film and they’re the biggest production company in Thailand in television and commercials. They’ve done tons and tons of commercials. They’ve done something like 260 commercials over there, so they definitely have some of the most experienced crews in Thailand.
Now, there is a lot of … You love Eli Roth and the Hostel influence is definitely in here. Have you received any backlash from that?
No, I haven’t. It seems like everyone is kind of digging it. So far, at least. Who knows when it gets a wider release, but all of the reviews so far have been positive. I definitely do an homage to Hostel in this film and there is a lot of violence and torture and I think people have really accepted it because torture porn was really big ten years ago. I think it’s been so long, that people are kind of ready to see it again.
Well, I never thought about that.
When was the last time we had a Saw movie in theaters? It’s been a while?
Yeah, it’s been five years.
Well, I think also, in your movie, the way that is comes about, I get a little excited about it because the girls are doing the torture. It’s good. I like it.
Definitely. It’s reversed and although the torture - it’s a long torture scene - it’s definitely grotesque, it’s not really prolonged on one individual continuously being tortured. It’s more like three individuals being tortured.
I really loved this movie because the girls are strong and smart and they take care of business. Have you been getting good feedback about that?
Definitely. I’ve been getting a lot of good feedback about it. I got a couple of reviews who have knocked me about the girls not getting naked in the movie, but definitely people seem to enjoy seeing strong female leads. I mean, some of my favorite movies have strong female leads. I was super happy when I saw Mad Max: Fury Road and Furiosa is one of the most badass characters ever.
Wait. You’ve gotten flack for the girls not being naked?
Yeah, a couple of reviews have said "the only thing I can say is that this movie should have nudity."
Well, O.k. Well, I focused on the fact, in my review, that there wasn’t nudity and I loved you for it, so those people are stupid and that is what I have decided.
Now, at the end, you kind of built it up for a sequel.
Yeah, I will say right now that I had a talk with the producers yesterday and if the film does well, it comes out June 19 in limited theatrical and VOD, and then you know, we come out on DVD, BluRay. If the film does well, there will be a sequel.
Well, I don’t know why it wouldn’t.
If it doesn’t do well, then there won’t be, so basically, if people like it, they should tell their friends and there will be another one. I promise the second one will be crazier.
Do you already have the storyline planned out?
Somewhat. I just promise it will definitely be crazier.
How long were you in Thailand for the filming of Pernicious?
I was In Thailand for three or four months. It was wild. It’s definitely something I will remember for the rest of my life.
What was your biggest take away from being in that culture?
I think one of the biggest things I experienced was, the streets are much more narrow and I don’t understand how people drove on both sides of the street. Another thing is that , in Thailand, I definitely realized that we are very privileged in America. Poverty is much more rampant over there and you definitely see much more of a divide of what we actually have and are given. I remember I ended up giving my entire wardrobe to one of the crew members when I found out he only owned one shirt and that was quite shocking to me. I guess, coming from America and living over here we're kind of blind to that kind of poverty.
I found it humbling to be there and they’re really happy.
Yeah, definitely humbling and they are definitely super happy.
We’re never happy and we have twenty thousand tee shirts.
Yeah, well, I think when you’re given everything you have, you don’t appreciate everything. So, when you have to work for it, you appreciate everything.
What did you find to be the most difficult thing about Pernicious? Was there one thing that was especially taxing?
I would have to wade through water up to my waist sometimes just to get to set. That was kind of wild.
Did anybody get sick while they were there?
I did. I was hospitalized. I got food poisoning and food poisoning in Thailand is a very different experience than food poisoning in America.
How long were you hospitalized!?
Oh, just a day.
Oh, no big deal. Did any of the locals get upset that you were dealing with this black magic story?
No, not at all. Actually, the only thing I experienced of it, was they had us do a ritual. It was strange to me just because I had never experienced anything like it before. They had us do a ritual around the house that we were filming in. A ceremony to bless the house and ward away evil spirits.
You have been working really, really hard lately. Do you sleep, first of all , and what is driving you to get all of these things done?
Well, you actually thought I was asleep at the start of this conversation.
Maybe you were getting your five minutes in for the day.
Yeah, I was getting my five minutes in for the day and you interrupted it. That was my only five minutes this month.
You have a crazy work ethic. Did you get this from your parents?
I don’t know where it came from. I think I’m just singularly focused and obsessive about certain stuff. It cracks me up when people say I have a work ethic because in high school, middle school, basically the first half of my life, I had no work ethic.
With Hate Crime being banned in the U.K., has that helped at all with more people finding out about you?
Um… I’m not quite sure. Definitely, probably more British people. I don’t know if horror fans in general. You know, the film was banned, it got a lot of press , but I don’t think it made as much of an impact as Human Centipede 2 being banned. That might just be because Hate Crime is a five or four year old movie. It’s actually kind of shocking, that it was banned five years later.
That was the strangest thing about all of that to me. It took this long for somebody to call it out for something. It just seemed really random.
Yeah, it was super random. To me, I think that’s part of why it didn’t get as much hype. Had it happened right when the movie was doing the festival circuit, it would have made way more sense.
I was kind of hoping that would work out positively for you because everyone wants to have a banned film.
It worked out positively in the sense that, I definitely forever have a badge of honor, that I am one of few to be banned in the U.K.
Where do you hope to go with your future career?
I would like to get out of indie and go into larger budget features. I believe in myself and I live and breathe film and I definitely am a strong leader and I think I'm ready to move to a higher caliber.
Now, when you say big budget are you speaking about horror only or are you open to all genres?
I’m definitely open to all genres. I would love to do a superhero movie or something at some time, but I definitely would like to move forward on larger projects from now on.
So, how would you feel if you were approached to do a remake of a horror film?
Depends on what the movie is. It all depends on the film.
Is there one that you wouldn’t do?
I wouldn’t remake a movie that I am a huge fan of. The only movies I would remake is something that, I think, ends up being dated by time. If you look back and watch the original King Kong, the original is super awesome, but is something that actually benefits from the technical capabilities that we have now. I would only be interested in remaking a movie that was made a while ago and would benefit from technology because it’s actually a completely different rendition because of the fact that we have better technology.
What about when we remake movies from other cultures? Like, how I Saw The Devil is being remade and people were really upset about the Oldboy remake?
I definitely always usually like the original, but I’m not mad at people who remake these movies because when they do, it quickly the broadens the original to a wider audience.
Exactly. It does seem like an extra special project to remake something from another culture, so would you be comfortable with that.
Yeah, I definitely would. I would have loved to have done the remake of Audition.
I forgot that was happening. That’s totally your speed too, because she’s a fierce lady.
I think, eventually, a lot of movies are going to end up being remade. It’s just the way of the world at the moment and I don’t blame Hollywood. I think Hollywood is trying to remain safe in their choices. You know, if something was good in the past, then it will do well in the future.
Let’s pretend you had to reboot A Nightmare On Elm Street. Again.
I would bring Robert Englund back.
Alright. Why do people need to see Pernicious?
I think people should definitely see Pernicious because it’s a wild movie that is a throwback to some of my favorite films from the early '90s and '80s. It has some qualities that I think horror fans would like. It’s a popcorn film, it’s a fun ride and I hope everyone enjoys it.
Do you find the level of gore to be just right or a little bit too much?
Well, I never thought any amount of blood is too much, so I’ll never be the one who says it’s too much, but it’s definitely a violent film.
James, is there anything that you would like to add?
I would like to encourage everyone to check out my films and I’d like to invite them to follow me on Twitter @JamesCullenB. Shoot me a tweet and say Hi.
You are really good at engaging with your fans. You’re very sweet, accessible and real. Do you ever have a hard time keeping up with everything?
Sometimes, yeah, it’s definitely a full time job. Sometimes it’s hard to follow a conversation, but if people ask a question, I definitely respond.
Well, I really appreciate you taking time out of your Sunday to talk to me.
Of course, I would take time out of my Sunday anytime to chat with you.
See, you’re a charmer, I like you.
Pernicious is available on VOD and in a limited theatrical release June 19.