Jason Blum is not afraid of much. That’s a good thing as he heads up one of the premiere primarily horror-driven production companies in Hollywood, Blumhouse. Yet, with his company’s latest effort, Happy Death Day… one may have forgiven him if he was a little uneasy about its prospects.
See, it’s a Groundhog Day type “time loop” story and with recent films utilizing that concept (from Tom Cruise’s Edge of Tomorrow to this year’s Before I Fall), there could be a tingle of concern that audiences may have had enough of the format. But, given the fact that Happy Death Day is wicked smart, self aware and comes to us in the commanding and capable hands of director Christopher Landon, Blum cannot wait for his latest effort to land on screens.
The Movie Mensch caught up with the legendary producer and incredible film forward thinker to get some insight into Happy Death Day, as well as giving us some priceless insight into what Blumhouse looks for in a project to go from script to full-blown production. We also ask the lifelong horror fan to give us a presidential-type State of the Horror Genre assessment as we come off a year where the milieu is slaying it both critically and commercially (Get Out, anyone?!).
The Movie Mensch: How did Happy Death Day become Blumhouse’s “next big thing?”
Jason Blum: It was 100-percent Chris (Landon). We did four movies together (Paranormal Activity 2, Paranormal Activity 3, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones and Paranormal Activity 4). I’d been bothering him to do a movie with us for a long time and I’ll tell you the truth, I really would have done anything he sent me. I was glad he had sent me a script that I liked but even if I hadn’t liked it, we would have made it because I really believe in him so much as a writer, director and filmmaker.
The Movie Mensch: The key to so much of your success is something that some other outlets perhaps forget a little bit in terms of making horror movies and that is that the story is everything.
Jason Blum: I think the most important thing about a horror movie is not the scares. I think that most of Hollywood thinks it’s the scares. They’re 20 things that scare you in a horror movie. They’re the same 20 things! I think the mistake Hollywood makes with horror movies is they always focus on what are the scares. We always focus on what’s the story? Who are the characters? That’s what I think makes a movie scary.
The Movie Mensch: When we’re emotionally invested.
Jason Blum: Right! I always say to our directors and writers, “If you take the scares out of the movie, does it work as a straight drama?” It has to because if it’s really relying on the scares for the engine of the movie, the movie just won’t work.
The Movie Mensch: Well, that’s the thing about Happy Death Day. If you’re tracking it, she gets killed, what, 11 minutes in?
Jason Blum: Ten minutes in.
The Movie Mensch: Right. You have to do a lot of writing, a lot of acting, a lot of directing in that 10 minutes to get me caring about this girl.
Jason Blum: Totally.
The Movie Mensch: That when she wakes up, we want to know where we go from here.
Jason Blum: Totally.
The Movie Mensch: Now, was that present immediately in the script — because, it sure comes across in the screen?
Jason Blum: No, actually! Chris worked on that in the script and then he found a great actress in Jessica (Rothe).
The Movie Mensch: There’s something about that, it just pulls you in right away, and Israel Broussard too.
Jason Blum: He’s great!
The Movie Mensch: That’s another thing Blumhouse is really good at is finding these people that soon the whole rest of the world is going to hear from.
Jason Blum: I know. Terri Taylor casts all our movies. She’s an executive at the company. We’ve worked together a long time, almost eight years now and she does a terrific job at finding new fun exciting people.
The Movie Mensch: Do you see a common thread in the films that you produce or is it kind of each film comes to you more organically and maybe in hindsight, you notice the thread?
Jason Blum: I think the thread that holds them together and what we look for is something that’s all the normal things. Is it scary, but then does it feel different? I think there’s so much repetition in Hollywood. Every movie reminds people of another movie and I always like to do movies when someone comes in and is like, “I read something and I can’t think of anything that it’s like it.” It happened with Get Out, but it happened with Happy Death Day too. It’s a scary version of Groundhog Day. We’re attracted to anything like that. Obviously, we have to think it’s good, and then, we have to think it’s weird.
The Movie Mensch: Was there any hesitation? Groundhog Day is like the grandfather of time loop movies, but this year already had Before I Fall and Edge of Tomorrow happened a couple of years ago. Were you concerned?
Jason Blum: I worried not so much because neither one of those movies were really genre movies so I didn’t worry about it so much. There’s obviously been time loop movies that aren’t just Groundhog Day but never a scary one.
The Movie Mensch: What I loved about this too is that in some ways it’s a murder mystery where the victim is the person who has to solve their own death.
Jason Blum: So cool! It’s also a coming of age story, kind of a drama. I liked it. It’s kind of a bunch of different genres wrapped up into a scary movie package.
The Movie Mensch: What do you think the state of the horror movie is in 2017?
Jason Blum: Well, I think the quality of horror movies has gone up a lot and I think that’s because they’re one of the few genres that are still working theatrically so I think people who wouldn’t have done a horror movie five or ten years ago are kind of dipping their toe into it and I think is a result that kind of raises everyone’s game. People realize you can do more than just scare people. You can put a drama into a horror movie and get it made, more people will see it and get the message out there that you want to get out there. I think people are more aware of that and as a result, like I said, I think horror movies, the quality of the movies is better.
The Movie Mensch: Why were you always so drawn to horror? Were there other genres that grabbed you growing up?
Jason Blum: I loved all kinds of movies. I love the people in horror. I love that it’s kind of we’re like underdogs a little bit. I love that people are a little prejudiced against it. I love that it’s kind of one foot in Hollywood, one foot out of Hollywood. I like the filmmakers. I really, really like the filmmakers in genre because they don’t take themselves so seriously — James DeMonaco, Scott Derrickson, James Wan, Chris Landon. It’s nice when the filmmakers have a sense a humor about what they’re doing and I really find that’s very true of people who make horror movies.
The Movie Mensch: You certainly are a launching pad for talent, it seems. They’re getting James Wan to direct Fast and Furious and Scott Derrickson did get Doctor Strange. You must feel proud?
Jason Blum: The James Wan thing, I felt very good about that. I was very psyched. I mean, he did Insidious and then he did Fast and Furious. I mean, that was pretty cool. I do love that. I love that Scott went into Doctor Strange. I got a lot of satisfaction out of that. But, I’m not focused on trying to legitimize the genre. You know what I mean? It’s people’s loss if they’re short sighted. I’m not interested in changing their minds about it but I’m interested in making great movies.
The Movie Mensch: Well, I also like that you guys do branch out. You had Whiplash, which was nominated for Best Picture and won Best Supporting Actor. Are there other kinds of stories like that that are on your radar currently?
Jason Blum: Yes. Stoner is the next kind of Whiplash for us. Is a much bigger movie, bigger the scope of the movie, is a much bigger. We could fit our last eight movies into the budget of Stoner. We spend money on art because Stoner is certainly much more of an art movie, but that’s the next Whiplash.