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Writer/director Ti West is a wunderkind—at 28, he already an impressive IMDB resume. Set to premiere at Tribeca, The House of the Devil is West’s third feature. The film is a sincere homage to ’80s horror fare, with classic elements including mysterious Satanic rituals, a big empty house in the woods, and unanswered landlines whose analog rings chill audiences to the bone.
West used to live in New York, but he moved to LA a few years ago. When we connected on the phone, he was in town with his non-’80s cellphone, and he explained, “Wait just a minute. I am just crossing Delancey, and it will get quieter in a minute.”
What makes House of the Devil a Tribeca Must-See?
To the best of my knowledge, House of the Devil is the only real, serious, straight-up horror movie in the Festival, which makes this the most must-see element. Horror fans can’t go wrong there. Aside from that, I like it a lot. And I have really good taste, so I’m sure others will definitely feel the same.
What’s the craziest thing that happened while making the film?
Oddly enough, everything broke during the shoot—the camera broke four times, the generator broke four times. We were filming in a big house—isolated out in the woods of rural Connecticut—and one day, the camera broke, and then the generator broke, and then the tree that is directly next to the house got struck by lightning. It happened all at once, and it happened to be the day after we filmed the most Satanic scene, so it was a running joke that I was screwed making the movie.
What are your hopes/fears/wishes regarding Tribeca?
I know that the distributor hopes that it sells for a whole lot of money to someone else, so I hope that too. I also hope that the screenings sell out, the film gets some good reviews, and it helps everyone’s careers. Some of the people who worked on the film did me some pretty big favors, so I want to see them benefit too.
If you could have dinner with any filmmaker (alive or dead)—who would you want it to be?
Kubrick. Is that the stock answer?
It’s not stock. What’s your favorite film?
Back to the Future is probably one of the best movies of all time. Yeah, I feel comfortable saying that. But that just popped into my head—I have a lot of favorite movies.
Oh, I actually meant a Kubrick film, but…
Oh, The Shining. I guess I can relate to it because it was also filmed in a big, empty house.
What piece of art (film/book/music/what-have-you) do you recommend to your friends?
That R Kelly video for Same Girl with Usher. Have you seen it? It kind of blows your mind. The song is about the two of them dating the same girl, singing back and forth as if they are on the phone. They are singing in the classic R Kelly style. It’s amazing.
Let’s talk about your cast for a bit. Can you tell us about the star, Jocelin Donahue?
Jocelin was the only person who was actually cast in the movie. She came in to read on the first round, and I kept calling her back and back. I was pretty sure I was going to cast her, but I needed to make sure. She was really dedicated, and it just worked.
I had known Tom [Noonan] since my first film, The Roost. It was funny—when I was developing the film, he was always on my mind, but then he heard about it and called me, so it really was meant to be. Tom’s great, and I like working with people I like. Making a movie is traumatizing, so it’s good to have people you like around.
What about mumblecore darling Greta Gerwig? Were you friends with her already?
I had met Joe Swanberg when I did The Roost and he did Kissing on the Mouth, and we always kept in touch. When he was doing Hannah Takes the Stairs, I was pretty good friends with him, so I met Greta when she was becoming “Greta.” I just called her when I was casting this movie. I think I did make her come in and read, so no one could come after me. I am certain she is going to take off and leave us all in the dust. So, the answer is yes, we’ve been friends for a few years. It was just time for us to do “our” movie.
What about that wonderfully creepy actress who played Noonan’s wife?
Mary Woronov—she is one of my all-time favorite actresses. She was one of Warhol’s original Factory girls, and she was a big star in the Roger Corman era—she’s probably best known for playing the principal in Rock 'n' Roll High School—but she doesn’t really act anymore. She paints and writes books instead. I tried to get her to come in for Cabin [Cabin Fever 2, a project West left due to creative differences], but she turned me down. But when I was casting House of the Devil, I called her agent again, and I think he and I had exhausted our relationship so much the last time that he just wanted to get rid of me, so he said, “Ugh, just call her.” I did, and she invited me over, and we just hit it off. She said, “I’d love to do it.” For me, that’s really a life checklist thing—being able to pull that off was satisfying.
What’s next for you?
I am about to start another project in May—not a feature, something else, but I can’t talk about it now. After that, I’ll move on to another feature, as long as I can find the money, which is few and far between these days.