I’m just going to let you know now that Richard Bates, Jr. is my favorite indie horror film director. I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to talk with him about his work recently. Before I get to our Q&A, allow me to give the uninitiated a brief overview of Richard Bates, Jr. and his incredible work. He is a writer and director known for Excision (2012), Suburban Gothic (2014) and Trash Fire (2016). He is an expert at presenting horrific subject matter skillfully laced with an incredibly dark sense of humor. If you haven’t seen any of his movies, I highly recommend that you correct that immediately. He has a unique style that brings something fresh and original to the genre. Maybe I’m just weird, but stay with me and perhaps you’ll understand why I adore his films so much.
Bates is known for enlisting some stellar actors to work with him. Bates’s first film, Excision, stars AnnaLynne McCord (68 Kill) as Pauline, a disturbed teenager who lives in a fantasy world and who ultimately commits an extremely bloody act with questionable, but good, intentions. The film is based on a short film of the same name that he made in 2008. Both the short and the feature film have won several awards and both versions of the film are solid and terrifying. I am absolutely in awe of Bates’ ability to scare me one minute and make me laugh the next, while sometimes questioning my own sanity.
Suburban Gothic stars Matthew Gray Gubler (Criminal Minds) as Raymond and Kat Dennings (Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist) as Becca. Raymond returns home to find that a ghost is terrorizing his hometown and recruits smartass bartender Becca to help him rid the town of the entity. Hilariousness ensues. Horror favorite Ray Wise plays Raymond’s father and even John Waters has a role in this film.
In Bates’ most recent film Trash Fire, Adrian Grenier (Entourage) and Angela Trimbur (The Final Girls) star as Owen and Isabel, a couple in a failing relationship who endure psychological abuse from Owen’s sadistic grandmother Violet, who is played wonderfully by Fionnula Flanagan (The Others). AnnaLynne McCord stars as Owen’s sister Pearl, who was disfigured in a fire and lives a life of isolation. The film’s shocking finale actually left me feeling traumatized – and I loved it.
For me, Excision and Trash Fire best demonstrate the beauty of Bates’ work; the ability to create an insane rollercoaster of emotions that haunt the viewer long after seeing the film. I look forward to more films from Richard Bates, Jr. I will see every single film that he makes and I encourage you to do the same. It would be absolutely criminal if you didn’t.
Naturally, I jumped at the chance to ask him 13 questions about his work – read on to see what he had to say!
Michelle: How did you become a filmmaker and how old were you when you started?
Richard Bates, Jr.: I grew up in Virginia and started making movies in elementary school with my friends. One summer, I went to film camp in North Carolina. After that, I went home and made a WWI movie starring children, called “THE IRON STORM.” We exploded things in the woods and someone called the police. After that, I made a movie based on my favorite book, “The Story of a Bad Boy.” That movie allowed me to go to a college for making movies in New York City. Now, I live in a place called California and make movies here.
MS: Are there any writers or filmmakers who have inspired you and your work? And what made you decide to make horror movies?
RBJ: I like lots of filmmakers. Most, really. I know a few who are not nice but most are really nice and try very hard. I like to make horror movies because I liked watching them with my dad. When I was a young weirdo he would take me to them and they would make me happy. Now I am an old weirdo and they still make me happy. These days, I watch them with a woman named Noelle who I asked to marry me.
MS: AnnaLynne McCord stars in two of your films, Excision and Trash Fire. I’ve found her roles to be fascinating and wondered if it’s a coincidence that her characters are both disfigured and unattractive? She’s actually gorgeous and I’ve always wanted to know if you enjoy making her “ugly” for your movies and, if so, why?
RBJ: I did not want her to be in Excision at first because I thought she was too pretty. Then I got to know her and realized she was crazy. I liked that about her. I still like that about her. We’re friends now. I cast her as Pearl in Trash Fire because I enjoy watching her act. She’s really good at it.
MS: I read that you are from McLean, VA, and that you shot some of Excision (2008), the short film, in your parent’s garage in Virginia. How did they feel about you shooting a horror film in their garage with lots of fake blood?
RBJ: I drove a bunch of my classmates from New York City to my parent’s house in Virginia to shoot Excision. I liked shooting there because I like my parents. One time, my Mom got mad at the producer, so he bought her flowers. I forget what the fight was about. My parent’s garage is still stained with fake blood. One day, if I ever have money, I will get them a new garage.
MS: Matthew Gray Gubler stars in all three of your films. What made you decide to cast him and what is your favorite thing about him as an actor?
RBJ: Matthew is the best, most loyal guy on the planet. He’s like an older brother to me … a very weird older brother. I cast him because he is very talented. If you are lucky enough to know someone who is nice and talented that’s the way to go … It makes things fun. I will never make a movie without Gubes.
MS: Excision and Trash Fire both deal with extremely uncomfortable subject matter, but also have a twisted sense of humor. How do you come up with such unsettling ideas and how do you balance the combination of horror and comedy?
RBJ: I usually just sit down and write without thinking so that it’s from the heart. Then, I beg people for money so that I can make it. Most of the time I’m begging people for money. I get unhappy sometimes and making movies is very therapeutic. It calms my nerves and gives me a sense of purpose. I like making movies for people who don’t get a lot of movies made for them. That makes me happy.
MS: I think your films are amazing at exposing the unpleasant side of humanity. Is that your goal and do you think that humans can be scarier than monsters?
RBJ: Where I grew up everyone only talks about nice things. There are lots of secrets. I never liked that. I also don’t like wearing a tie. I write from the perspective of someone who doesn’t like wearing a tie. And yeah, humans are the scariest.
MS: Your films tend to cross into the macabre. What is the atmosphere like on set when you’re filming?
RBJ: I usually just tell everyone every bad thing about me so that they’re all free to be themselves without feeling like the creep in the room. Then, we all have fun. One big therapy session with lots of laughs and a few good arguments.
MS: Trash Fire is at the top of my list for best indie horror films of 2016. I was blown away by the ending (pun intended). How did you come up with that final scene in the kitchen?
RBJ: I wanted to make a comedy for depressed people, like me. The entire point of the ending is that it can be too late to change. Dr. Phil is wrong. I read a book of his and I did not like it.
MS: The thing I love about your films is that they have a very unique style that combines really dark shit with brilliant humor. What is your creative process?
RBJ: A sense of humor can be a wonderful coping mechanism. We should all laugh at ourselves more. For me, it beats crying. But crying is okay too. I don’t think much about my process. I just write until I’m tired. Then I go to sleep.
MS: What is your favorite place to write?
RBJ: Noelle put a little desk in the corner of the living room for me to write at. I like writing there. Sometimes our dog, Houdini, comes over and jumps in my lap.
MS: What is your favorite horror movie and why?
RBJ: My favorite horror movie is Freaks because I like when the mean people die.
MS: I really look forward to you making more films. Are you working on anything you can tell us about?
RBJ: I wrote a horror movie and a romantic comedy. Right now, I’m begging people for money so that I can make them. I’m also gonna make a short because no one can stop me.