From its opening images of the Dakota territories in 1879, The Burrowers appears to be every inch a Western. But in the hands of writer/director J.T. Petty, The Burrowers probes horrors that no Western could ever fathom. What begins as a tale worthy of John Ford – a band of hardened ranchers set off into the wilderness to rescue a family kidnapped by a Native American tribe – turns into a terrifying encounter with a gruesome species that's hardly human.
The film makes its World Premiere at the Toronto Film Festival and then its US premiere at Fantastic Fest in Austin on Sept. 21st. It will play in L.A. at Screamfest in October before debuting on DVD in April 2009.
= = =
Staci Layne Wilson / Horror.com: Western/Horror movies are pretty rare... Ravenous is one that comes to mind. What are some of the others, and how does The Burrowers differ from them?
JT Petty: I love Ravenous, breaks my heart that it's such a commonly overlooked movie. The Western/Horror question I most often get about Burrowers is Is it gonna be like Tremors? It won't; the tone is much closer to something like Jaws or Carpenter's The Thing. There are any number of westerns like High Plains Drifter or Ulzana's Raid that swing into horror territory; the difference with Burrowers is that it's a horror movie first and a western second. I did enjoy Alex Turner's Dead Birds, though it's more to do with the Civil War than the West.
Staci: How did you go about assembling such a great cast of really interesting - and essentially character - actors, for your leads?
JT: These ensemble monster movies only work if you know and love the characters being tormented and murdered. Any self-respecting geek hears Hicks, Burke, Ripley, Bishop, and knows you're talking about ALIENS. (Whereas you'd be hard pressed to find anybody who could hear Robbie, Cecilia, Briony and guess ATONEMENT.) So it was always important to have actors who could both carry a lot of charisma and still disappear into their roles, who could fit into the period, could look like they've actually spent a few decades in dust and horses and whiskey.
Clancy Brown's a badass and everybody knows it. William Mapother's insanely talented and dedicated, I'm hoping his role in Burrowers will be like William Macy in Fargo, he did things with the character I love that I couldn't have anticipated. Doug Hutchison is somebody I've loved since Tooms and in everything since; I almost felt bad asking him to play one more bad guy, but am real glad I did. Doug's character is one that could so easily turn into a cartoon; I had to find somebody who could keep him human and frightening.
Staci: I'd love to hear a little bit about where you shot this movie, and some of the more difficult challenges involved in the production.
JT: Considering our budget, it was a little crazy to make a period outdoor nighttime creature feature. The shoot has definitely changed my opinion on horses, which I once thought were noble and beautiful creatures, now I'd peg them more as dangerous, retarded dinosaurs. Grass was definitely a challenge; we were trying to make the High Desert read as the Great Plains, (the monsters rely heavily on grass, kind of like Jaws relies on the ocean,) ended up (kind of) growing a few dozen acres of our own grass. And the creatures were definitely a challenge, I was determined to use as little CG as possible, and rubber monsters can be worse than horses.
Staci: What the most fun thing about doing The Burrowers?
JT: We had a great steadicam operator, a guy named Steve Fracol who I did my best to break. We also did a fair amount of burying people alive, which was pretty satisfying.
Staci: How much freedom did you have, working with Lionsgate, as both writer and director? Anything that they let stay in, that surprised you?
JT: The movie'll be R-rated. In terms of what gets taken out of the movie, we're still editing so that's a running question. By and large, though, the studio really hasn't hampered me too much; the biggest restrictions were money and time.
Staci: Judging from the title, the monsters are something that burrow -
without giving anything away, can you describe why you believe horror fans will find this concept scary?
JT: My favorite monster mythology is Ridley Scott's ALIEN, the way the creature's reproductive / growth / feeding cycle is slowly doled out to the characters, just slowly enough that they always stay a step behind survival. I want to do something similar with Burrowers. I think one advantage the movie has is that it's not a sequel or remake of some well-known license; there's still some mystery about what exactly a Burrower is.
Staci: How much of the movie is CGI, as opposed to practical effects and makeup?
JT: I'm using as little CGI as possible in the creatures themselves; shooting rubber monsters is a pain in the ass, but infinitely better than floaty, ethereal computer sprites. Computers will mostly be used for cleanup, getting rid of puppeteers, rods, etc.
Staci: I understand there's also a TV series in the works, through FEARnet.
Which actors from the movie are returning, and what will the content of the
7-part series be? How long is each episode?
JT: The project for FEARnet is called Blood Red Earth. Part of the creatures' mythology is that they come above ground every sixty years, cyclical like cicadas. So BRE takes place about sixty years before BURROWERS, and focuses almost entirely on the Lakota Tribe. It was originally conceived as seven two-minute movies, but I'm betting it's going to end up as one complete fifteen-minute piece.
Staci: Is the series going to be shown exclusively online, or will it air on
JT: BRE will be online and on demand, probably will run through a couple festivals. It was a lot more like making a short than being involved in television. I sold a TV show to HBO shortly before the writer's strike, so I'll be getting some experience in that end of things once I'm off the picket.
Staci: What is it about the horror genre that keeps you inspired?
JT: My mom's always asking the same thing, and I don't really know. I like monsters, I like violence. I think horror is especially fun as a filmmaker, you get to play around with subjective states you could otherwise only get to in a drug movie or a musical.
Staci: What's next up for you?
JT: Hard to say, I've got a lot of writing work waiting. The next directing project is probably the Faces of Death remake, or possibly an original horror/sci-fi thing I've got called The Mandrakes. But getting a movie made is hard, kind of impossible to predict what will actually come together.
Staci: What are some of the best horror / scary movies or DVDs you have seen in the past year?
JT: Mario Bava's Rabid Dogs was great and really unexpected. Zodiac was brilliant, (and a good reason to take another look at the Korean Memories of Murder.) Murder Party and The Last Winter were both great. Pan's Labyrinth was brilliant, but everybody says that.
= = =
by Staci Layne Wilson
Be sure and check out our exclusive interview with actor Doug Hutchison, too!