From Saw II–IV and Repo! The Genetic Opera to the upcoming Spiral: From the Book of Saw and the immersive Tension Experience, Darren Lynn Bousman has been bringing imaginative nightmares to life for years alongside other L.A. filmmakers who come from all walks of life. In his new documentary The Horror Crowd, prolific actor Ruben Pla explores this diverse community of horror creators through in-depth interviews with Bousman, Lin Shaye, Brea Grant, Jeffrey Reddick, and many more filmmakers.
With The Horror Crowd making its world premiere at the FrightFest Digital Edition on August 29th on the Arrow Video Screen, we caught up virtually with Bousman to discuss his involvement in the documentary, and he also chatted about finding creative ways to do immersive experiences in the COVID era, his upcoming film Death of Me, and what it was like returning to the Saw franchise to direct Spiral: From the Book of Saw, which is now slated to come out on May 21st, 2021.
To learn more about The Horror Crowd and to purchase digital screening tickets for the documentary, visit:
How did you initially get involved with this documentary? Did you know Ruben before all of this came about?
Darren Lynn Bousman: Yes. The thing about the documentary is it is so real in what it's saying, the friendships and the narrative. We've all known each other for over a decade. Maybe back 10 years ago, 11 and a half years ago, there was something called Fight Club that they touch on in the documentary, where basically us filmmakers, and writers, and actors, and producers, and so on, would get together every weekend, we'd go see the newest horror movie. We would go drinking afterwards and we'd go to parties at each other's houses. And so, it's such a small, tight-knit community that everyone knows everyone. That's how I met Ruben and that's how I met most of the people that are in that documentary.
Yeah, so we all know each other. And then, Ruben, he approached me again at an event. We see each other at least once a month, sometimes more if there's more going on like towards Halloweentime. We were at an event and he said he wanted to do a documentary based on the horror community.
You get to talk about your formative years of horror, how you got interested in it. I thought what was cool is that you had this connection with literature. You had these four Universal monsters books that you said you took with you everywhere.
Darren Lynn Bousman: It's so funny. They still sit on my desk. These four: The Mummy, Jekyll and Hyde, Dracula, and Frankenstein. I got them at the book fair. Remember that thing that happened at your grade school when they would show up in a gymnasium and they would sell books? I got them there. This is 1983 and 1984 and they've gone with me everywhere. These were the four books that got me interested in horror. When I was a kid, I was always getting these type of books than I was anything else.
Nice. Was that your gateway drug for horror in general? Was that the thing that was the tipping point?
Darren Lynn Bousman: Yeah. There's a couple of different. Halloween was my gateway. Halloween was huge where I grew up. I grew up in Kansas City and the haunted houses were a huge, huge thing there. In L.A. there's haunted houses, but nothing like what I'm talking about now. These haunted houses lasted anywhere from 60 minutes to 90 minutes to go through. You waited in line two hours to get in, tickets were relatively expensive, and it was an event. Every Halloween, my dad and I would get on with some of our friends and there was that. And then after the houses, I would have a sleepover with my friends and we'd always get Elvira movies. And so, Elvira was one of my gateway horror drugs because she was taboo. She was sexy. She showing these little fun macabre movies, so I was always into it. Literally, from as early as I can remember, I was into the darker side of things.
Did that come out in your work when you first started? Were you tapping into more personal stuff or were you just trying to figure out what would stick? Because you came at it at an independent level before jumping into the studio system.
Darren Lynn Bousman: No, it's crazy. I don't think I ever meant to start in horror. It was never my necessary intention to say, "I want to make horror films." It always just was what I loved. And so I think that just shined through: my love of dark and nefarious stories were always just my thing. I was always dark and my humor is very dark, so when I wrote my first script, it was never intended to be a horror film. It was just a dark, fucked-up thing about what I was going through in my life, and that ended up selling and becoming The Desperate, which became Saw II.
My brother, he probably fucked me up more than anyone because I remember that when I was in middle school, seventh grade, maybe even younger than that, he showed me Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. And then, after that, it was Cannibal Holocaust. I'll never forget Cannibal Holocaust because I saw a VHS of it and I had no idea what the fuck I was in for, and it was the unedited, the one with the turtle. I was repulsed, but it was a feeling that I kept going back to because true horror, to me, it's truly scary when it has the ability to stay with you. It's such a raw and powerful feeling.
I always talk about comedy and drama. You could laugh or you could be sad, but those feelings are so common, they go away. They don't imprint themselves on you. But being utterly disgusted or utterly horrified is something that doesn't go away as easy. And so, I think that those movies just stayed with me longer than other genre for other movies that I had seen.
One of the other cool things about this documentary is that it dives into indie filmmaking versus the studio system, and you've definitely been involved on both sides of that: the Saw universe, but then also The Devil's Carnival, and stuff that you're making on a much more low budget, DIY level. And then you just did Spiral, so do you have a preference, or are there particular challenges or rewarding things about each side?
Darren Lynn Bousman: They're each completely different. Every one is different and they each have different highs and lows and pros and cons. When you're doing something like The Devil's Carnival, it's cool because it's freedom. The success and failure of that movie rests solely on you as the artist.
When you're doing something like Spiral, it's not as creatively free because you're dealing with a massive franchise. As I can see behind you [gestures to Samuel L. Jackson painting], you're dealing with Sam Jackson, you're dealing with Chris Rock, and you can't take the risks you can when you're making a wacky rock opera. You've got to color more within the lines because you know you're dealing with something that is gargantuan, and also, there's pressure.
I made a movie three years ago called Death Of Me. That was such a great experience because it was the best of both worlds. It was a very small indie film. We shot it in Thailand and it had great producers on it. But there was, again, it's one of those movies you don't feel a pressure like you do when you're making something like the Saw movies or Mother's Day.
Now that we're in COVID era, and I know you're also involved with immersive experiences as well, do you think that can go back to normal at some point? Is there a way forward in that avenue?
Darren Lynn Bousman: Immersive theater's become my driving passion the last four years. In fact, I was done with filmmaking for a bit prior to Spiral. I was doing immersive full time. And to me, if you've ever seen the David Fincher movie The Game, that's what we do. We basically create these elaborate, insanely complex narratives to take place in the real world with real actors, and we blur the lines of fantasy and reality, so you never know what's real and what's not.
In the case of the last one and the one I did call The Tension Experience, we had hundreds of actors, hundreds. The script was over 700 pages and it all took place in the real world, from ritualistic killings to sex magic to things being set on fire, and it's all happening around you. There's a sense of realism and suspension of disbelief because you're not staring at a screen. It's happening next to you and you're involved in the narrative, so there was something so personal about those type of narratives.
What sucks about COVID is COVID comes in and it basically says, "Fuck getting close to people, fuck being intimate. You've got to be six feet away." So I think it's going to be a while before those types of immersives come back, but I do believe when they come back, they'll come out bigger and stronger because I think people crave connection, they crave interaction, they crave activities. If I have one downside on moviemaking, is it's a passive art form: watching something on screen that's flickering at you and showing you images, but you can't interact with it, you can't change it.
My thing with immersive and why I love immersive so much is you as an audience are in the middle of the storyline and you are helping shape and shift and change it by your interactions with it. To me, that is really cool and I think that that is, I hope, where the future of narrative work will be, which is the audience has a more intense relationship with the narrative.
Before I let you go, Spiral now has a new 2021 release date. Is there anything else you can say about that film or any other projects you have coming up?
Darren Lynn Bousman: Yeah. The only one I can say about Spiral, I'll tell you that it was a heartbreaking experience to be as far along—Spiral was coming out two months after we finished it and it was a juggernaut of a movie. We were all excited and we thought this is going to be huge and then COVID hits and now we have to wait a year plus for it to come out. That's hard because, me, I want to talk about it. I want to talk about the kills, and the blood, and the traps, and the twists and turns, but you can't.
I'm doing a lot more immersive stuff online now. I just did an experience called iConfidant, which again, talking about just narratives, I love scary things and I love narratives that involve me, whether that be a movie or immersive theater or a book. We watched something in the beginning of the pandemic called iConfidant, which was a big pen pal site. You basically wrote in, you answered some questions, and they matched you with what they said to be your ultimate pen pal.
The narrative unfolded over the course of emails, text messages, phone calls, and FaceTime calls. It got crazy and it got dark and it got fucked up, and it was great because we were manipulating all of these storylines with all of these people from all over the world all from the comfort of their own home, so we had a great experience doing that. And now I'm doing another one of those right now that is launching this October, which I'm really excited about with some really exciting people. I can't say who, but some really exciting people: a new, spooky online immersive thing that you can do from the comfort of your home.
So you're keeping that immersive spirit alive in the era of social distancing.
Darren Lynn Bousman: Yeah, and then I've got a movie coming out October 2nd. Death of Me comes out and that's the movie I talked about earlier that I shot in Thailand, which is a very small, cool movie about Maggie Q and her husband, played by Luke Hemsworth, who go to Thailand. It's basically a horror version of The Hangover. They black out, they have no recollection of the night before, and they look at their camera and try to re-piece this story of what happened to them. The first image they find is a video of the husband, Luke Hemsworth, killing Maggie Q, burying her alive, but they're now both alive, and the rest of the movie is them trying to figure out what that video is.
To learn more about The Horror Crowd and to purchase digital screening tickets for the documentary, visit: