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Interview: New Zealand Horror/Comedy HOUSEBOUND Director Gerard Johnstone

Despite being one of the most challenging sub-genres to sell, the “horror/comedy” appears to be having a moment. For those who have seen them, buzz for Tommy Wirkola’s Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead and Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s vampire mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows have been positive, and it was announced yesterday that American Horror Story darlings Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have sold a horror/comedy anthology series to FX called Scream Queens. There is little doubt that once the new show premieres, we will most likely be seeing an uptick in the genre-blending of the horror and comedy worlds.

Recently, I spoke with Gerard Johnstone, the writer/director of Housebound, via e-mail about his new film out of New Zealand that breaks a lot of rules in many a genre. Check out what the director had to say about his influences and what’s funny about regular people haunted by ghosts.

“In NZ, I think less than 1% of films have ever made a profit, so I wanted that to be my point of difference,” says Gerard Johnstone about how he decided on the story of his first feature film. “I thought this way, the NZ film commission would be more likely to return my calls. I learned that the only genre of film in NZ to make it’s money back, almost by default, was horror. So the genesis of the project was that, coupled with an episode I watched of Ghost Hunters on BBC, where a woman was talking very casually about a supernatural experience, and it was one of the funniest things I’d ever heard. I wondered what a movie might be like that was populated with characters like this.”

Housebound banner body

While Housebound definitely has its own style, it feels slightly reminiscent of old school Peter Jackson or Sam Raimi. Were either of these two filmmakers influences on Housebound? Said Johnstone, “There are so many influences.  In fact, when I read reviews (and I plan to stop doing that), a new film’s always cited as an ‘obvious nod’, but it’s never obvious at all to me at the time.  One review mentioned To Kill a Mockingbird – I hadn’t thought about that story in decades, but it was the first book I ever read, and the first film adaptation I ever watched, so it would have absolutely informed my whole approach to the business of storytelling. And there is an element of the film which is uncannily similar.” Johnstone lists Jackson’s The Frighteners as well as Clue, Scooby Doo and The People Under the Stairs as his own personal influences.

The director continues, saying, “In terms of blending dark comedy and slapstick, my background is in TV comedy, so that’s my personal taste. I made a TV series in NZ called The Jaquie Brown Diaries which I guess you could say is somewhere between Eastbound and Down and The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

On a similar topic, the plot of Housebound takes a lot of unexpected twists and turns. Was it a conscious decision to have the story shift as soon as the audience thinks they have it all figured out? Johnstone confirmed, saying, “Absolutely, I love movies which are stuffed full of multiple genres, plot-twists and big reveals, but it was paralyzingly difficult to write one of them. I guess because I knew it would all take place in a single location, I wanted the story to be anything but simple.”

Housebound, written and directed by Gerard Johnstone, and starring Morgana O’Reilly, is in select theaters and available on VOD now.

Images: Semi-Professional Pictures

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  1. psychonator says:

    Comedy horror as a genre has been around forever, and I love it! Some of my favorites are “John Dies in the End” and “This Book is Full of Spiders,” by David Wong, and “Trailer Park from Hell,” and “Life’s a Bitch, a Werebitch,” by Timothy J. Whitcher.