In the new horror film “The Wretched,” troubled teen Ben, played by John-Paul Howard is sent to live with his father for the summer in a coastal town. Ben busies himself until he discovers that his neighbor Abbie (Zarah Mahler) is actually possessed by a thousand-year-old witch who preys on children and removes all traces of their existence.
Writing and directing partners Brett and Drew Pierce are no strangers to the genre — their father Bart Pierce was a visual effects artist on the cult classic “Evil Dead,” so they grew up in the horror world.
“Teen Wolf” and “American Horror Story” makeup artist Erik Porn was brought in to create magical practical effects for their creature.
Here the Pierces discuss growing up with a dad who worked in horror, the inspiration for “The Wretched” and Porn talks about the challenges of working during Michigan’s coldest months.
“The Wretched” is available on-demand and in selected drive-ins.
Bart, what do you remember about watching horror films?
Bart Pierce: I’d go to the local theater and they’d have horror films playing. I saw every single horror movie that went there. I went in when I was 8-years old.
I’d make little monster movies in my basement. Later, I wanted to try to get a movie made myself and I ran into Sam Rami who was trying to make a movie too. He got the money first and we got to do his movie. I’d seen all of the Hammer films and one of my dreams was to create the greatest meltdown sequences of all time. I told Sam that and he said, ‘Let’s do it.”
Of all the genres you could have chosen to go into, why horror, especially when you were scared of it?
Drew: My brother Brett made his way into the basement as our dad was screening test footage of “Evil Dead” and grew up terrified of horror films.
Brett: And I think because my dad terrified me, I was so fascinated and drawn to them. When we were 12-years old, we cracked that door open again. We started watching “Evil Dead 2” — it started from there.
Drew: We loved “The Thing,” “Halloween,” “Alien” and all the classics. We knew we wanted to make a scary creature feature because it’s more fun doing horror than comedy. There’s something so exciting about it. It’s so rare that I get scared watching horror films these days so I was thinking about to get scared again.
I read that the creature design was inspired by “The Witches?”
Brett: Drew and I were very much in love with that book as a kid and we loved that film. In the back of our minds, we wanted to make a scary witch movie for adults and grown-ups.
All the witches in horror films were pretty much ghosts or women trying to cast spells. We were interested in mythology and dug into that for her design.
Erik, what was the approach you took to designing the creature?
Working with a smaller budget we opted to achieve the look with head to toe paint and prosthetics. It kept costs down. They had also cast the actress locally so we couldn’t fly her to L.A. for full cast. The design of the Wretch was predetermined by the directors who had a strong vision of what they wanted so I was basically steering the sculpts in the direction of what they were telling me.
How has the craft of practical effects has changed since you first started?
Bart: Early on, people were using monster makeups with chemicals in them that were not good for you. The material got better. But then digital became a thing.
There is a magic to being on a set. If you’re shooting a horror film and there is a monster on the set and it screams in your face, when you’re an actor and you’re recording that, there is something special there. Some of the things that make movies special are those magic moments. Digital effects removes some of that magic.
Drew: I love bad effects, even when you can see the string hanging out in those old films. 3D can be amazing but there is this charm in practical effects and there will always be a place for practical effects.
Brett: And because we moved to CG, the practical effects people went out of business. I do think you’re seeing a resurgence because those people that grew up with these films in the ’70s and ’80s. Those houses are making a comeback because people love those effects.
What were the challenges of shooting in Michigan with practical effects?
Erik: The weather made it difficult because there was still heavy snow on the ground and it was hard to work in the bitter cold as some of our materials don’t set in freezing temperatures.
Brett: The actors are wearing latex and in those conditions, when you have someone who goes from hot to cold the latex started to crack. So, we’d have to reapply and do reshoots.