Director Alexandre Aja on Conquering Fear Through Horror Movies

Alexandre Aja
Francois Berthier for Variety

After breaking out as a member of the Splat Pack of horror directors with “High Tension” and “The Hills Have Eyes” remake, French filmmaker Alexandre Aja is branching out with “Horns,” starring Daniel Radcliffe, the upcoming actioner “The Pyramid,” and a TV series based on “Scanners,” and an adaptation of Liz Jensen’s bestselling supernatural thriller “The 9th Life of Louis Drax,” starring Jamie Dornan, Aaron Paul, Oliver Platt and Molly Parker that Miramax will release in 2015.

You were part of a group of filmmakers (including Eli Roth, Rob Zombie, Greg McLean) that helped make the genre scary and edgy again.
Somehow we all had the same instinct to go back to the unforgiving American cinema of the 1970s — and the movies of John Boorman, Tobe Hooper and Wes Craven — when definitely no one was safe.

Why was that?
The ‘90s were pretty disappointing for the genre with all the high school slashers. They didn’t feel real.

After “Hills Have Eyes” you were offered remakes of “Jacob’s Ladder,” “Angel Heart,” even “Deliverance.”
Remakes are so trendy. There are so many. I could have done them back to back. But they’re hard. You have to think about what made them relevant at the time and how they could be relevant today.

Why did you choose “Horns?”
I had to make the movie. It had everything I love about filmmaking. It went from pure thriller to extreme dark comedy to being a satire of America. The emotional drama drives the supernatural element and love story. I couldn’t think of anything else I wanted to direct.

What was the challenge in adapting Joe Hill’s novel?
My job was to make sure that everything people love about the book stayed in the movie.

You’re shattering the image of Harry Potter with “Horns.”
He’s definitely not Harry Potter anymore. He was amazing and so committed.

Francois Berthier for Variety

What was it like to go to Comic-Con with Daniel Radcliffe?
It was his first time and it was his birthday, so it was surreal to have 6,000 people sing “Happy Birthday” to him and then talk about your movie.

Producers like Jason Blum have made micro-budget movies all the rage at studios. How has that impacted you?
Where people once talked about $5 million budgets, it’s gone to $1 million. It’s restrictive. It’s distracting. It becomes less about finding a good story and more about finding the right number to make the movie. But you can’t use the budget as an argument. The price of the ticket is the same.

So many established directors started out in horror.
I strongly feel the genre is the best school for filmmaking because you have to play with all the tools in the toolbox. It lets you transition to making huge movies. You’re doing everything. I’m not surprised “Guardians of the Galaxy” did well because Justin Gunn began his career in horror the way Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg, Sam Raimi and Guillermo del Toro did. It’s all about learning the language of cinema.

Your adaptation of Japanese manga “Space Adventure Cobra” would break you out of the lower budget range.
It’s my dream project, but very expensive. When I was a kid, I would run home from school so I wouldn’t miss a second of it on TV. It’s like “Pirates of the Caribbean” in space.

Given the movies you’ve made, are you surprised at what shows like “Game of Thrones” or “The Walking Dead” get away with on TV?
Absolutely. I’m known for blood and gore and what they do on “Game of Thrones” tops anything I’ve ever done.

What scares you?
Fear itself scares me. Fear inspires hatred, ignorance, and violence. It’s a mind killer that paralyses you and makes you act in an irrational and dangerous way. All my stories are about overcoming this fear, about placing the protagonist in a situation in which they have to face it. That’s where true courage lies.

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