John Carl Buechler is known to cult film aficionados as the man who directed House, Troll, a sequence in The Dungeonmaster and Friday The 13th Part VII: The New Blood. He is still actively working on new projects and runs his own special effects house called Magical Media Industries. As the recent Friday The 13th: The Complete Collection Blu-ray set was unleashed, A.D.D. chatted with him about making the seventh installment, working with Kane Hodder (the most famous Jason ever) and what is coming up on his creative horizon.
Your particular installment of Friday The 13th was unusual, different and, as you have pointed out before, the most heavily censored of the series because of all the cuts that the MPAA required. How do you feel about that latter point?
Horror is like humor, like a stand up telling a joke: If you build up to the punchline and then cut out the punchline, the joke doesn’t make any sense. Consequently they cut out all the best punchlines, and we had to go with something weaker in order to create those visceral moments that people desire and want in a horror movie. I kind of had an inkling that this was going to go on anyway, so I made an effort to make it on the physical effects and the look of Jason to help provide some of those moments where perhaps I wasn’t allowed to get that bloodletting on screen.
It’s interesting because the studios have been going the PG-13 horror route over the last 10 to 15 years.
Even the PG-13 movies now is a little bit more visceral and blood-oriented than the R-rated cut for my Friday The 13th movie. The PG-13 today is harder than any of the stuff we had.
Even then, they keep trying to do these non-bloody horror movies. A movie like Hatchet obviously has to have an R-rating because it goes over the top with the blood and gore.
I’ve seen people get their heads lopped off in PG-13 barbarian movies. The dichotomy that existed with my Friday The 13th movie was at the time Steven Spielberg had people’s hearts being ripped out of their chests in an Indiana Jones movie, and they created PG-13 because of that. I didn’t have anything that explicit in my movie.
I sometimes think that many of the slasher movies, including some of the Friday The 13ths after the first couple of entries, felt like Christian morality tales, whether that was intentional or not. The basic idea was if you do bad things, you’re going to hell. Do you think that was a conscious thought on the parts of the filmmakers?
I don’t know if that’s the case. I think I have a slightly different take. My conclusion is that all of the so-called horror/slasher films pretty much come from the Ten Little Indians style where there’s a group of people, each of them gets knocked off one at a time and in the end you find who the killer is. Then at the climax the bad guy dies or everybody dies. That concept has been around for a very, very, very long time. I guess the [slasher] movies started to evolve into a ride, you could call it a dark ride where each death has to become a little bit more interesting.
“I wanted to show Jason not just as this guy with a machete but show him full of emotion. I think I can say that I’m the first guy that ever showed Jason really ticked off. I don’t think you saw pissed off Jason in any of the previous movies.”
What’s interesting about your particular Jason entry is that it’s more of supernatural film, which is something that started with part six. There was a mixed fan reaction to the psychic girl Tina, who is a more worthy opponent because she has powers that challenge Jason’s own. It’s not so easy for him to just kill her.
There’s a certain satisfaction in having the bad guy come up against somebody formidable, otherwise the bad guy is a force of nature. From the beginning of the film, I wanted to establish that. Since the first Halloween movie, we’ve already seen that nothing is going to stop the killer. Jason is at the bottom of the lake. He’s dead already. What are you going to do? You can’t stop him, he’s a force of nature. But you have to come up with something to fight him with, and I think if you embody that in a person who has a back story that the audience can live vicariously through, you have some entertainment that allows you to go somewhere with it. When you get down to it, this is part seven. We’re not talking Sherlock Holmes, we’re not talking James Bond, or Tarzan — we’re talking part seven of a guy who chops people up with a machete. The last thing I wanted to do was another retread of everything that has come before. They had already done the final chapter three movies before. I had to come up with something that made it unique and interesting not only to keep the audiences happy but to keep me happy too. You have to have a component that makes it worthy of its own movie.
This film was the first of four films in which Kane Hodder played Jason. What was it about him that attracted you to casting him in the role?
I was fortunate enough to work with Kane Hodder on a couple of movies previously. One of them was called Prison, the other was called Ghost Town. He understood the mandate of having to do something efficiently for a price, which I knew we had to do with a Friday The 13th movie, which was made with a budget nowhere near what they have today. I also knew he was capable of being more than 200 pounds of hamburger in a mask. He actually could act and emote. There was a physicality to him that I hadn’t seen in the previous Jasons. C.J. Graham was very good, and I also liked Tom’s direction on part six. C.J, was a bodybuilder, a great-looking guy and very formidable, but at the beginning of my movie I had Jason chained to the bottom of the lake for almost a decade, and I wanted to show what was missing.
I wanted to show Jason not just as this guy with a machete but show him full of emotion. I think I can say that I’m the first guy that ever showed Jason really ticked off. I don’t think you saw pissed off Jason in any of the previous movies. He was just bewildered and startled in most of them, but in this one he’s upset and that’s because someone is defying him. I think my Jason, by virtue of Kane Hodder, could act not only through the hockey mask but all that prosthetic makeup. You saw the ferocity in him, you saw the anger, and he wasn’t afraid to go for it. I think Kane was an excellent choice for the role, and I think history has proven me correct because he did three more movies afterward.
One of the things I liked about Kane Hodder’s performances as Jason is that it looks like he’s working at killing people. He breathes heavy. He may be a supernatural entity by this point, but he still has to put in some effort, which makes him seem a bit more realistic.
When we were doing the ADR tracks and all the effects tracks, I did the respiration for Jason in the sound booth just to drive that home. Sometimes you have to shoot that all stuff MOS, without sound. Jason wasn’t just a silent thing, he was a very formidable presence.
“Horror is like humor, like a stand up telling a joke: If you build up to the punchline and then cut out the punchline, the joke doesn’t make any sense.”
Looking back at Friday The 13th Part VII, are there any lesser heard stories or perhaps a new perspective that you have on the production?
I was having some conflicts with my associate producer about when I was to unmask Jason. I wanted to do it far earlier than what he had wanted. I ultimately shot my way because I thought it was necessary to do it. He wanted to do it right at the dock, but for me, in order to create Jason as a very formidable guy, you had to see his face and his expression, and that made it more real for me. There was conflict there, and I think it affected the end of the movie. I’m still upset to this day about because I had devised a scene where Tina’s father came up to stop Jason, and I had created a very impressive, articulate entity of her father, who was not just a guy with some leaves on his face. He was this supernatural entity that came up and could actually pull Jason down. I think that was a direct reaction to my shooting it my way anyway. He did everything he could to block it, and I could just not shoot the ending that I wanted.
Your ending makes more sense actually.
Yeah, there were a lot of things in there that I wanted to do. For example, I didn’t want to hit the nail on the head so much with the clairvoyance. I didn’t necessarily want you to see exactly what was going to happen before it happened. I wanted some visual clues that were really disturbing, but when you think about what they meant, then you had an idea of what they were. I did some research on people who are clairvoyant, and they don’t all see the things, they see clues. For example, when Tina is driving down the dirt road and sees an image of her mother being killed by Jason, what ultimately ended up in the movie was Jason stabbing her mom. That certainly nails it on the head, but I wanted to do something really interesting. I wanted to have Jason standing in the middle of the road holding his own mother’s head, Mrs. Voorhees, and having her say, “Help me, mommy, help me, please mommy.” That would’ve been a moment where there is the son and the mother and the death. That would’ve been a surreal moment that [Tina’s psychiatrist] Dr. Crews could’ve explained later, you know what I mean?
There were a few minutes in there where I wanted to use a surrealistic vision that would get into the reservoir of the Friday The 13th mythos and use images that we’re used to seeing and enhancing them a little bit to move the story forward. Again, it’s one of those things that the ratings board couldn’t [have] cut out because there was a mechanical head talking and saying, “Help me, mommy.” That would’ve been cool, rather than just another flash of somebody being stabbed. My creative input was blocked a great deal on the show. I think it would’ve been a better film had I been allowed to put myself in there. I felt the impulse to shoot it my way anyway and suffered the wrath later.
You directed a segment in the movie The Dungeonmaster. What was W.A.S.P. like to work with back in the day?
They were professional, nice people. They had a vision and an image of who they were, and I think the approach we took with the “Scream Until You Like It” video [to promote their song and Ghoulies II] was fun. They got it. I mean, it wasn’t Black Sabbath, but they were little demons from hell, so it kind of worked. I understand that there’s going to be a remake of Troll, which you directed back in the mid-1980s.
I’ll be producing that. I’m not directing it. I’m directing another film and have two films both during the same time. I just got another film this summer called Wizardream starring Malcolm McDowell, which is a fantasy film that’s like A Nightmare On Elm Street and Lord of the Rings. I’m doing another film immediately which is called Hidden Valley the Awakening, which is about a young werewolf in high school. It’s gritty and hard-edged and kind of a Twilight audience but a lot more of a horror film. It’s not a romantic teen thing. It does have heart but it’s satisfying. Ring of the Fallen is my epic film, and it’s essentially James Bond of the supernatural. It’s a lot of fun and is a pretty big film. So that’s what is actually keeping me from directing Troll, but I am remaking the film.
Troll is a film that’s very much of its time. I love the look of a lot of low-budget ’80s indie films, so what’s the challenge for you to update it for a modern audience?
It was made with a budget of under $1 million, and the only reason to remake anything is if you can do it better. And I think I can do it better with all of the stuff that it is now possible to do. It can be a lot more magical, bigger and more wonderful. It’s absolutely the same story, with a little more back story.