It’s not every day that horror fans can truly say that they’ve seen something original. Most of the time, the latest genre flicks that come and go, whether they’re good, bad, or, worst of all, lukewarm, rehash a supernatural villain or homicidal maniac that’s cut from some much older, overdone cloth: vampires, zombies, masked slashers. Been there, dragged our girlfriends to see all of them countless times.

But a mute, socially handicapped rube who feasts on human flesh during his times of slumber? Now that’s original. With his hilarious, and often gruesome, horror-comedy Eddie – The Sleepwalking Cannibal (which is currently screening as part of NYC’s Tribeca Film Festival), first-time writer/director Boris Rodriguez has brought to life one hell of a fresh concept.

Plot wise, Eddie – The Sleepwalking Cannibal centers on a world renown painter from Denmark, named Lars (and played by Thure Lindhardt), who, stuck in a ten-year creative rut, takes a teaching gig at an art school in the small town of Koda Lake, Canada; he also just so happens to take over a classroom in which Eddie (Dylan Smith), the local weirdo, hangs out despite the fact that he’s not actually a student. After Eddie’s aunt passes away, Lars reluctantly invites the speechless, though kind-hearted, eccentric to move into his house, where Lars quickly discovers that whenever Eddie is unhappy, his sleeping habits include roaming around all zombie-like in his tighty-whiteys and tearing both human and animal exteriors apart with his teeth. And, fortunately for Lars, Eddie leaves behind vivid piles of carnage that provide just the right amount of artistic inspiration.

Rodriguez strikes a tone that’s drolly Fargo-esque while also satiating the viscera-desiring gorehound crowd; meaning, Eddie – The Sleepwalking Cannibal is a real crowd-pleaser, one that should, hopefully, find a home amidst folks who fully appreciate flicks like the ones on our recent list of the Best Horror-Comedies of All Time . Complex sat down with Rodriguez over the weekend, the morning after Eddie’s successful NYC premiere, to discuss the wild idea’s origins, his approach to making both the humor and horror work equally well, and why he’d rather you see it in a theater than in your crib.

Interview by Matt Barone (@MBarone)

Follow @ComplexPopCult

Eddie had its Tribeca premiere last night—how was that experience?
It was very intense for me. It was the first time I saw it with a large crowd of people who had waited in line and bought tickets, so, yeah, it was the first time that there was that sort of higher expectation. But I loved it. any time you screen it with a different crowd, it’s a completely different experience.

And this movie is one that will definitely play better when it’s seen amongst larger, energetic crowds.
I totally designed it for a crowd. When you make a small budget movie, of course people, especially distributors, know that the market is really about Video On-Demand these days, and then you’ve got DVD and television, eventually. So they’re concerned when you’re taking the deliberate approach of making it better for the theater.

There’s a lot of fear that if it’s really good for the theater, then that will sacrifice the quality once it gets to Video On-Demand and other home video markets afterwards, but they’ve been very supportive, now that the film has screened and generated such a positive reaction, and they understand what it is I was doing and how much better it is in a theater. And ultimately, it generates the right kind of reaction, and that enthusiasm should spill over into whatever happens afterwards, I think.

The first reaction I had after watching the film was, “Finally, someone has thought of a truly original idea for a horror movie.” Eddie - The Sleepwalking Cannibal touches on some familiar tropes, but the core idea is one that really hasn’t been seen or done before. Where’d the idea originate from?
The idea actually didn’t even hit me initially—it hit a collaborator/friend I was working with at the time, named John Reynolds. He pitched it to me, and when he pitched it to me it was originally about a mute werewolf and a novelist, and it was set in the outer banks of North Carolina, by the sand dunes. Not just the craziness, but there was something about the idea of the destructive creative process that really struck a chord with me. I told him, “I want to do this in an almost autobiographical way,” and he said, “What? Are you insane? I just pitched you a retarded werewolf story—how can you do that autobiographically?” [Laughs.]

Once I explained to him that I meant the idea of the creative process and how far you will go for your art, he started to understand what I was taking out of it. So his desire for a wacky story and my desire to infuse it with my dark sensibilities created this other story. He went to L.A. and I took the idea up to Canada with me, and eventually the sand dunes became snow and the werewolf became a sleepwalking cannibal and the novelist became an artist.

And how you’d settle upon a sleepwalking cannibal, of all things?
I don’t know where that came from. [Laughs.] I think, though, that when we were collaborating, every time we used an existing convention, like the werewolf, you then had to deal with allof the existing mythology that came with a werewolf, and that just seemed tenuous and stressful, and it would take the story somewhere else. Like, do we really want to see another vampire movie? And if we did it like a zombie, I love zombie movies, but I wanted to do it as a movie where we’re doing something that’s close to a zombie but we didn’t have the post-apocalyptic motley crew fighting off the hordes of the undead, because that’s what zombies movies are about—if you’re not killing at least 100 members of the undead, you don’t have a zombie movie.

So eventually we just decided that a sleepwalking cannibal was new, weird, and we could make up all of the rules as we went along.

You come from an art background, so how much of your own experiences and artistic motivations bled into the script and the character of Lars?
I think there’s both an inherent intensity and an uplifting quality to the art world, but there’s also an absurdity and a lot of highbrow B.S. in the art world. I wanted to see what happens if you really stretch both the ironies and the satire of the art world, but also celebrate the darker aspect of needing to be great and express yourself.

That is my background, and what makes the story so personal are the destructive aspects of my own creativity. Your career, your personal life, and everything else really seems to suffer when you really give yourself over to something.

Was this a difficult film to cast? With a title like Eddie - The Sleepwalking Cannibal, I’d imagine that many actors would see the script come across their desk and either laugh it off or scratch their heads.
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)

Follow @ComplexPopCult

To find out more: Eddie – The Sleepwalking Cannibal