Part three of our Amazon Studios and Blumhouse Television Welcome to the Blumhouse directorial interview series interviews the director of The Manor, as she reveals the film’s horror roots and eerie happenings.
The Manor, directed by Axelle Carolyn, reveals the struggle that Judith (Barbara Hershey) has as she adjusts to the new life in a nursing home, while a supernatural force is terrorizing the elderly residents. Despite Judith’s pleas for help, it's up to her to find out what is attacking her fellow residents before it’s too late.
Carolyn has a diverse writing and directorial horror track record, including directing and writing for the anthology movie Tales of Halloween and writing for the Netflix series Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Recently, she has directed multiple television and streaming series, such as The Haunting of Bly Manor, Creepshow, and American Horror Story.
What is your favorite creepy house movie?
Oh, wow. There are so many. That's definitely one of my favorite subgenres. In my bedroom, I have a collection of pictures of creepy houses from horror movies. The Haunting is a combination of a great house and a great movie.
Which films and filmmakers influence you?
Growing up, I was a huge fan of Tim Burton and David Cronenberg. I think that those have always stayed. Ed Wood and Sleepy Hollow were really defining movies for me. The Fly for sure is amazing. West Craven and John Carpenter, the Greats of the genre. Then, looking back further, Terence Fisher.
I really love Hammer movies. I grew up watching a lot of Hammer movies because those were the ones that my parents thought were acceptable, which is funny because a lot of them have a lot of boobs and blood and stuff like that. They really shaped my view of horror, my aesthetic, and what I like about the genre.
I remember Tim Burton, in the interview once said that he loved horror movies. He always aims to make a horror movie, but it always kind of comes out as something else. He always ends up making a Tim Burton movie. I thought, “This is bullshit. If you love horror, you'll just think really scary stuff.” Now, I realize growing into filmmaking, you can only make the stuff that's inside of you. You can love horror as much as you like. But, if your taste is more towards something that's slightly different, that's what will come out when you make it.
How did you become a director for Welcome to the Blumhouse?
I wrote the script a little while ago. It was a bit of a journey to get this made. We shot this two years ago. And, before that, it went through a bunch of different iterations, because I was trying to figure out exactly what it was, then bringing it to people and companies.
It was very hard to get it set up, because of the fact that the protagonist is older than usual. Also, the fact that I'm presenting, a bunch of protagonists who are in their 70s. A lot of the feedback was, “We love the scripts, but could we make it about the grandson? Or can we change it and make it about the younger people?” No, that's not the subject matter of this. Eventually, my reps send it to Amazon Studios.
Aldo Chang at Amazon Studios saw that this was a unique opportunity to do something different. And, to tap into talent, who hadn't maybe been given the lead role in a while, or just really a chance to do something very different and very unique. He brought it to Blumhouse, because at the time, Amazon was just starting their deal on Welcome to the Blumhouse. This was actually the second movie to be shot in that series.
As the scriptwriter, what influenced the story?
I think it's partly from visiting loved ones in nursing homes, what it does to you, how it affects you, and how scary those environments are already. And then places you can't escape easily. It seemed ripe for that kind of movie. There's a lot thematically to explore as well about the way we treat the elderly and the way we build those nursing homes. There was a lot of stuff about the way that society deals with age. The way that I see myself aging. A lot of anxieties went into that. It’s a way of channeling all that into a supernatural movie.
How was your experience filming at the iconic Stimson house?
I love that house so much. The fact that it was the opening house in House II: The Second Story makes it even better. It's such a beautiful place. This is my dream home in so many ways. The interior is all this wood carving, all those stained-glass windows, everything feels like it has history, it has a smell, and everything feels rich and amazing.
We got to go in, remove all the furniture, add wallpaper in some places, and dress it the way we wanted. It really molded into what we wanted. It's one of the biggest elements of the story. Finding the right house sets the tone for everything else. We were very lucky to get that.
What was your favorite scene to film?
Probably all the scenes with the creature, because I love working with prosthetics and practical effects. The point of the movie is not to be absolutely terrifying. We're not making The Conjuring. But there was enough in the supernatural moments that I liked to put together. It was really fun seeing the monster come together, seeing that suit being put together. All those moments were really, really cool.
Also, directing Barbara with the monster. How great is that? Her reactions are so truthful and so perfectly calibrated.
Was there a scene that was the most challenging to film?
In some ways, everything is challenging. We don't have unlimited resources or time. So everything is finding that certain pacing. I know that the more emotional scenes of the movie were difficult to shoot, but they're also beautiful in their own way. There's a couple of big emotional scenes that we shot early on in the movie that I wish we could have shot later in the schedule because Barbara and I learn to trust each other a little bit more closely. It would have been easier to do later in the day because it does require a lot of trust in your director to be that vulnerable on camera. But it turned out great. She's fantastic.
Both leads, Barbara Hersey and Bruce Davison have been in memorable horror films. Do any of the other actors have a history with horror films?
Jill Larson was in The Taking of Deborah Logan. She's also the manacled woman in Shutter Island that goes, “Shhh”. And she's this gorgeous blonde in real life. Then, Fran Bennett was in West Craven’s New Nightmare. She'd really scared me back in the day. She was playing the part that would be the nurse in The Manor.
Overall, what was your experience working with this cast?
Sometimes things are really hard when you're trying to put a film together. Filmmaking is not easy. And sometimes, things come together so nicely that you can't even believe the luck you have. Assembling the cast for this, seeing how the cast got along, and they built relationships the way that you hoped they will. It was such a joy. It was such a blessing.
What has been the best advice that you received from another director?
Directors are not good at giving good advice. However, there's two that stick with me. One came from Tom Holland, of all people who said, “Don't”. When I told him I was making my first feature, he said, “Everyone and their mothers are directing these days.” At first, I was very taken aback by that. But I think what he meant was, if you can let anything convince you not to become a director, it's probably best to stop now. Because it's going to be so hard, that if anything can get in your way and make you reconsider, it's probably not for you. You get that door slammed in your face so much. I've been so lucky to work consistently in the past couple of years. Before that, it took 15 years of sometimes getting to make an indie movie, but not like not being able to get stuff, not being able to properly set up a career. Then, you have to deal with reviews.
The second one was John Carpenter, who I asked for advice before shooting. He told me, “Sit down. Sit a lot.” I do that a lot on set because my back does hurt. Those are long days.
Do you have any upcoming projects?
I'm hoping to get a couple of features made. I have a script I'm finishing. I have another script that I’m attached to that I’m hoping will get made. I just finished shooting the season finale for American Horror Story. I also have an episode of Creepshow coming out soon. There's a lot of cool stuff coming out right now. Also, I'll have episodes for another show that comes out next year.
[Photo Credit: Kevin Estrada / Amazon]