Premiering tonight at the 2016 Los Angeles Film Festival is Darren Lynn Bousman’s Abattoir, a neo-noir-infused horror film that follows a reporter (Jessica Lowndes) investigating a mysterious man by the name of Jebediah Crone (Dayton Callie), who collects the rooms of violent crime scenes as part of his plan to build a home based entirely upon murder. Abattoir also co-stars Lin Shaye, Joe Anderson, J. LaRose, and Michael Paré.
Daily Dead recently had the chance to speak with Bousman about his return to horror for his latest film, why he thrives on making “un-makeable” films, and the long journey of Abattoir from page to screen.
[Writer’s Note: Full disclosure, my significant other (and sometimes contributor to Daily Dead) edited Abattoir, so while we will not be reviewing it, we thought an interview with Bousman would be an appropriate way to give Daily Dead readers insights into the film.]
Let's start at the beginning and talk about the evolution of Abattoir from the graphic novel to the feature film version. This has been a long time coming.
Darren Lynn Bousman: Yeah, this is the longest I've ever been involved with a film to actually see it through. I don't remember the exact date, but I want to say it was either 2009 or maybe 2010 that I went to Comic-Con with it and debuted the comic books. The comic books were conceived by myself and, at the time, a guy by the name of Michael Peterson who was a writing partner of mine.
We went off and basically I had a big story that I wanted to tell. It was too big to tell as a movie at that point. I partnered with Radical, and this guy named Barry Levine, who I'm sure you've heard of, said to me, "Listen, why don't we start this as a comic book and then turn it into a movie?"
So we did a six-issue set and it was really popular at the time that it came out. But then there was a lag of about two years after we finished the comic books before anything ever happened with the movie. It was a really difficult process. It was originally written by Chris Monfette, who I'm a huge fan of.
Someone gave me a script of his called Down Satan, which was based on a Clive Barker short story. I read this script and I was like, "Holy shit, this is amazing." It really parallels Abattoir a little bit with this idea of a guy who is trying to build the most evil church in the world to try to get Satan to come and pay attention to him. It always stayed with me.
When I had the chance to finally get Abattoir made into a feature, I called Chris Monfette up to write it and I told Chris that I really wanted witty, snappy dialogue. I wanted it to be that 1940s, ’50s kind of dialogue. So he approached it very much in the way of Aaron Sorkin, where it sounded like something you would hear on The West Wing. I loved it and I think that when you read something that is so out there like that, it takes a minute to let that vernacular sink in.
Eventually, Chris was on another project and the producers brought in a couple other writers, David Schow and Teddy Tenenbaum, to punch the script up. I think that what happened was the script was partially 1940s and partially modern, which was partially a mess. I brought Chris back in to bridge it all together and make it all make sense. The writing process took a year and a half to get the script that we have and I had never been a part of a writing process that lasts that long.
Recently, when I was talking to Robert Kirkman, he mentioned the challenges of taking something that works visually on the page, especially in the world of comics, and making sure that it can actually work in a film or on TV. It's such a different medium because there’s such a difference in the way you communicate with your audience.
Darren Lynn Bousman: Yeah, there is. I made a career over the last ten years of making weird shit beyond my work on the Saw movies, shit that probably shouldn't get made that I somehow find a way to get made. I love that about me. If I could pat myself on the back about anything, it's the fact that I somehow get these un-makeable movies done.
And with Abattoir, when you read it for the first time, it's got that kind of thing—"How the hell are you going to make this?" You're literally dealing with a huge mythology, and so what I responded to when I read the script the first time was that Chris doesn't try to over-explain stuff.
A lot of problems with movies I have seen recently come from the fact that there is so much over-explanation. You treat the audience like they're not very smart. You're like, "No, let's hit that point home ten more times because I don't think the audience has it." With Chris and his writing style, he says it one time in a passing whisper and if you miss it, you miss it.
I love that about it. It forces you to pay attention. That was one of the biggest challenges while making this movie, the fact that the mythology is so dense. It really requires you to pay attention to what these characters are saying and what they're doing. Even the subtlest thing is a huge part of the storyline. When I see a movie, I want to be immersed in the world. I don't want to half pay attention—I want to go all-in.
You mentioned dealing with these projects that are nearly impossible to get made. What is it about challenging material that fuels your career? The easy thing for you would have been to stick around to make more Saw movies, but instead, you went off and made an unconventional movie musical [Repo! The Genetic Opera].
Darren Lynn Bousman: I've realized this about myself in the last year: in my personal life and in my career, I feed on chaos. It keeps me engaged and it keeps me interested and keeps me on my toes. I became lazy when I was making Saw. I know that I was successful and it was a successful franchise and I thank whoever's up in the clouds every single day that I was given that opportunity to direct several Saw movies. But, I was lazy.
By Saw IV, the crew was so good and the producers were so on point, that it required little of me as an artist. The crew knew what they were doing and the producers knew what they were doing. The writers knew what they were doing and I would just show up and point the camera. That was awesome and it was a great experience, but I needed to challenge myself. I needed to do something that I thought was cool and wasn't easy. I think that Repo! [The Genetic Opera] was the hardest project, at that point, that I had done.
It could have been a miserable failure, but it was something that required all of me. It required every bit of me to make that thing work. When it did work and it formed this cult community, it's like a drug. The only way I can describe it is a drug. I wanted to do it again. I had to do it again. I was able to take this weird thing and find a fanbase that was so passionate about it and basically prove others wrong. That proving others wrong was, "No one wants to see this movie. There's not an audience for this movie." I was like, "No, there is and I'm going to show you the audience for this movie."
I felt engaged and I felt alive because I was doing something that almost felt taboo. I felt energized. Ever since then, I've been seeking that same feeling that I had when I made Repo!, which was doing something that's a little taboo and doing something that's not for everybody and trying to beat the odds.
Going back to Abattoir, let’s talk about the cast, because you’ve reunited with a few folks from The Devil’s Carnival universe, but you are also working with a few new faces too, like Lin Shaye and Joe Anderson.
Darren Lynn Bousman: First off, I'm working with my favorite actor of all-time, Dayton Callie. I've been a fan of Dayton for years and years and years, starting way, way back with The Last Days of Frankie the Fly, to obviously Deadwood and Sons of Anarchy, and it's cool because I get to work with my heroes. I get to work with people that I look up to and admire and respect.
I also get to work with friends, too. That's the other great thing. I get to work with J. LaRose and Lin Shaye. Lin Shaye and I have become close over the last couple of years. She's just this amazingly sweet, kindhearted person. So, getting to surround myself with people that I feel comfortable with and I feel I can trust was important.
It's a very, I guess, selfish thing for me as a director. I want to walk into a set and feel safe. It's kind of a dichotomy when you look at what I just said before, that I want to challenge myself, but I know if I'm going to take a risk on an adventure that is out there and weird, I want to know I've surrounded myself with a team of like-minded weirdos who will do it with me.
In the case of Abattoir, when we were building the cast, it started with me asking myself, "Who can I trust that I can take with me to embark on this weird, noir, surreal journey?" Obviously, I knew Jessica Lowndes from the first Devil's Carnival and I had been a fan of hers for a while. Then, Joe was someone that I actually met years ago. He auditioned for Mother's Day for me. He didn't fit in with what I was looking for on Mother's Day, but I always liked him as an actor. He was great in The Crazies and he was awesome in Horns, too. The guy is a phenomenal actor and we just clicked. Hopefully, he's now part of the Darren Bousman repertoire of actors, so I can use him again and again and again in other movies.