Ti West talks ‘The Innkeepers,’ the supernatural and leaving horror
Published: Monday, April 23, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 23, 2012 00:04
It’s not often that horror films are widely acclaimed by critics. They’re often dismissed as disposable works with characters produced solely for dying violently, but director Ti West has proven an exception to that rule.
In the vein of Roman Polanski’s psychological-based horror films “Rosemary’s Baby” or “Repulsion,” a cinematic lineage that West is often lumped into, his films “The House of the Devil” and “The Innkeepers” have been highly regarded in both critical circles and with audiences looking for more unnerving thrills than bloodshed.
West said he would call “The Innkeepers,” which will be released Tuesday on DVD and Blu-ray from Dark Sky Films, a continuation of his voice within the genre.
“I think all the movies I’ve made thus far have been personal movies to me, and ‘The Innkeepers’ was the more personal one,” he said. “If you randomly put up three of my movies, they’re very different from each other, but I feel like you might go, ‘Eh, they’re made by the same person.’”
The film follows the last weekend of business for the aging Yankee Pedlar Inn, a real-life Connecticut hotel where “The Innkeepers” was filmed. Supernatural hauntings are investigated by Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy), the Pedlar’s two minimum-wage employees who are working a dead-end job in more ways than one.
The film is part workplace comedy akin to “Clerks,” with the terrifying happenings of Polanksi’s “Repulsion.” West said he relates to the plight of his leads.
“I don’t really have any trades or particular talents — I can either work minimum-wage jobs or direct my own movies,” he said. “I’m really only cut out to be a busboy or a director, and for 10 years before I made a movie, I just worked every minimum-wage job known to man. So, really, this movie is about that, and about being stuck in those scenarios, which is not quite digging ditches, but there’s an apathy that comes with it, and I felt it was a good juxtaposition to the ghost story.”
West said he felt this personal touch was his “contribution to the ghost story genre,” and helped convince producer and director Larry Fessenden that this wasn’t a typical horror jaunt.
“I think even when I pitched Larry Fessenden the movie, one of the first things I pitched him was them in the break room eating sandwiches out of aluminum foil, and he was like, ‘I know (that) exactly. Done, greenlit,’” he said. “That stuff is as much a part of the movie as the ghost story to me.”
The supernatural side of “The Innkeepers” centers on the spirit of Madeline O’Malley, who is supposedly trapped in the basement of the Yankee Pedlar Inn. The hotel left West and his crew with vivid dreams and spooky experiences when they stayed there during the production of “The House of the Devil,” he said.
West, a supernatural skeptic, credits the hotel’s creepy nature as his inspiration for “The Innkeepers.” Yet he doesn’t seem convinced the hotel is haunted or that spirits are real, even after a room West selected for a key scene in “The Innkeepers” turned out to be the hotel’s most haunted.
“The room that’s the most haunted room in the movie, the only reason I picked it was for technical reasons — it was at the end of the hallway on the third floor and it was big enough to do a dolly shot, that’s it,” he said. “Then, it turns out that’s the most haunted room in real life at the hotel. Now that’s a coincidence, it’s a weird coincidence, and when you add it up to hearing doors opening and closing, it starts to feel less like a coincidence and more like something.”
For the purposes of “The Innkeepers,” the Yankee Pedlar serves as a place where both the ghosts and those living in the hotel are perpetually stuck. Yet West said he feels he doesn’t cast the actual hotel in a negative light.
“I feel like people now think that place is haunted and want to stay there,” he said. “And they thought it was haunted before, so I don’t think I am taking away any business — if anything, I am driving business up.”
West is currently prepping a sci-fi film with Liv Tyler that would be his largest-scale project yet, and has completed segments in the anthology horror films “V/H/S” and “The ABCs of Death.” While many herald West as a standout horror director, his time spent in the genre may be drawing to a close.
“I think, having made six horror movies, having a werewolf movie that might be made soon and a sci-fi movie that might get made soon, after that, how many times can you sit down and write a script that’s like, ‘She slowly walks down the hallway,’ before you’re like, ‘Oh my God,’” he said. “I’ve done so much of it in such a short period of time that I’m getting dangerously close to repeating myself, which is something I don’t want to do.”
Though West claims he has a few more horror films in him before he needs to take a break, he hasn’t turned away from directing a blockbuster horror film even after production difficulties on “Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever” and leaving “The Haunting in Georgia.”
“It’s been good,” he said. “If I didn’t want to do it anymore and kept doing it, then I might be bitter. I feel it coming on, when somebody offers me a movie and they’re like, ‘It’s about teenagers, and here’s where the horror stuff happens.’ I don’t have anything left to say about teenagers — the well has run dry on that. If you’re going to be doing these independent, small-budget movies, you have to do stuff you care about because you spend so much time with them.”