Well, I’m going to cop to something: I wasn’t a fan of the title Eddie - The Sleepwalking Cannibal. That was a Canadian distributor who labeled it as such, and I felt that the title was a bit misleading and made it seem like it’s a bit more campy than it actually is, and it’s a bit over-the-top. They said, “Listen, it’s a great title, and people will discover that it’s something else and it’s not going to be a disappointment—it’s going to be a fun discovery.” And I’m so happy that they convinced me to go with this title, because it ishaving that effect so far.
At the time, it was just called Eddie, so when Thure [Lindhart] read it, he had no idea what he was reading. When we first met, he said, “I couldn’t believe what the hell I was reading—it’s such an insane story.” But the character was such a challenge for him, especially because it’s in English, that he wanted to do it. And once I cast him, I built the rest of the cast around him.
My biggest fear, after casting Thure, was casting the character of Eddie. I needed a big, brawny, muscular guy to do physical performances, but I also needed a guy who could be tender and vulnerable, and convey emotions just with facial expressions. My casting directors in Toronto looked at me and said, “Can you make the character taller?” [Laughs.] Because they figured that we’d only be able to find tall guys who could really pull all of the physical stuff off. But the second person who walked into the audition room was Dylan Smith, and I didn’t tell him at the time but I knew it was him. I thought, If this guy can do half as what I want him to do, we’re in, and he just did an amazing performance.
One thing that Eddie - The Sleepwalking Cannibal does very well is balance the elements of comedy and horror, which isn’t always easy for filmmakers to pull off. When writing the script, what was your approach to juggling those two genres so delicately throughout the entire story?
I think dark comedy is what I gravitate towards the most, and I saw this as a dark comedy more than anything else, so that’s how I approached it. Thank God I did, too, because if I had approached this as a horror-comedy then I might have realized how daunting it was and I could’ve been intimidated by the process. It’s my first feature, though, so I had a certain amount of naiveté about difficult or easy it would be.
It wasn’t until we were in the thick of it that when I realized how hard of a challenge I had set for myself, and it was made evident to me by everybody I was working with, from the production designer to the costume people and the actors, that when you work in one genre, it’s easier to know what to do—it’s either serious or it’s comedic. I was trying to do both, and as we were riding that line, I kept saying to myself, “Jesus, what the hell? How will I be able to do both?”
We had to discover a way to do both all the time, and ultimately I did what I do with dark comedy: play everything so intensely straight and serious that the premise is outlandish enough for people to laugh. Or you’re just building the tension so nicely with the seriousness and the emotion that you can just drop a deadpan line and the laughter isn’t forced or telegraphed. I find that kind of laughter is more rewarding and more fun to experience than something that’s more “set-up, set-up, laugh.” Although there’s nothing wrong with that; I love an Austin Powersmovie as much as the next guy. But what I like to do is put a little more subtlety into the comedy.
And the film’s opening scene does a great job of establishing that quirky comedic sensibility, as well as the grisly nature of what’s to come. We see Lars driving into a new town, one that’s he’s totally foreign to, and he hits a deer, has a run-in with an unfriendly and deadpan-funny cop, and then drives into town with the deer’s carcass attached to the car. Was your approach to that first scene to use it as a way to set the film’s tone right away?
I think there was a lot of back-and-forth between me and John [Reynolds], and it was a lot of hit-and-miss, hit-and-miss, in terms of pitching ideas for how to open the film. It eventually came down to that one, after it just sort of happened in one of the earlier drafts, and we also had a lot of problems because it was getting complicated trying to set up all of these story elements at once. We had to set up a guy who paints when he sees carnage, we had to set up a guy who’s mute and sleepwalks, and set up this town, and that all felt like waytoo much set-up for what’s supposed to be this light, fun movie.
Things weren’t getting started until about page 35 in the initial script, so eventually we just took stuff out. By that time, I was writing alone all the time, so I kept taking stuff out and then taking more stuff out. In the end, that scene was the way to start it strongly, to let everybody know that this is a whole new set of rules, and anything is possible. Then, just get to what people want to see, which is Eddie sleepwalking and eating people and animals. [Laughs.]
You’ve talked about how the Lars character comes from a lot of your own personal background and experiences as an artist, but where does the Eddie character derive from?
I think that was, again, going back to what kind of monster we’d use. It was always about a monster/creature relationship—Eddie is the creature, but the monster is Lars. Lars is the one who knowingly does evil things, so it came down to, What kind of creature are we going to create? What kind of Jekyll & Hyde are we going to create? And again, other creatures that exist already have too much of their own mythology, so that’s how we came about the Eddie character. I realized that he was representing the childlike aspect of the artist, that desire to be loved and to be able to express yourself, whereas Lars was the darker side of the artist, the ego, the selfishness.
By the film’s third act, the gore and makeup effects really kick into overdrive, namely during the scene where Eddie decimates an entire household. Being that you’re a first-time feature director, and Eddie was made on a smaller budget, was it difficult to handle the over-the-top gore effects?
Really, we didn’t have the budget to go too crazy, so, yeah, it was tricky. I decided that the budget best belonged to bringing the best cast I could find to the middle of nowhere, which is a costly endeavor. I had to fight for that a little bit, and I’m glad I did, but the producers were also being more realistic. They said, “If we do that, you’re going to have cut from somewhere else. Where are you going to cut?” And I said, “I think I’m going to cut from the visual effects,” and they were like, “That’s crazy, this is a horror movie!”
To me, though, it is and it isn’t a horror movie. If this film doesn’t have the right performances, it’s just not going to be what it’s supposed to be, and they supported me, but there was a lot of hesitation. Since it was my first feature, I definitely made a lot of people nervous. [Laughs.] Still, I put more money into the cast and less into the effects, but because it’s a comedy, some of the effects are obviously not of the highest level, but I think the campy aspect of it works with the comedy. So I wasn’t too concerned.
And hopefully more people get the chance to see it for themselves. What’s the plan for the film after its Tribeca screenings?
Well, we’re right in the middle of it right now. There were buyers at the screening last night, and we’ve sold to a few markets already: a lot of countries in Europe, Scandinavia, Canada. We’re really hoping it gets picked up in the U.S., at which point the U.S. release will take the lead over all the other releases—everybody will wait to see what the U.S. does and then follow accordingly.
Earlier, you talked about how you made the film with the in-theater viewing experience in mind, yet these days movies like Eddie The Sleepwalking Cannibal tend to premiere on Video On-Demand more often than not. Is that something you’d be excited about?
It’s not optimum, but I think horror movie fans always realize that if you like something then you’re going to like it even more when you watch it with a bigger audience. There are very few films that play better on VOD, and certainly even fewer films that play better on your iPhone. [Laughs.] That’s the new world we’re in, though, and you have to let the consumer make their own decision as to which format they’re going to watch your movie on. I certainly always make that extra choice to say, “I’m going to see that in a theater.”
Usually, if a movie has bigger effects and bigger everything, you want to experience on a big screen in a big theater, but sometimes there are movies like this where you say, “No, with its wackiness and craziness, I want to see it with other people.” And they’re doing “event releasing” more and more these days, and apparently that’s going to eventually become the norm. So even if your movie only plays in theaters for two days, that can generate enough of a buzz and a level of attention that helps your movie grow and grow in visibility. That’s a smart way to deal with the new reality.
Interview by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
To find out more: Eddie – The Sleepwalking Cannibal