Ahead of it's World Premiere on August 26th at this year's Pigeon Shrine FrightFest we spoke to Writer/Director Douglas Schulze about his 80s inspired gory horror film 'Thorns' starring Jon Bennett, Cassandra Schomer and the legendary Doug Bradley. He tells us where he find this inspiration, what other horror icons he wish he could've worked with and if there's going to be a sequel to 'Thorns'.
FC: If you had to describe 'Thorns' in one or two sentences, what would it be?
DS: 'Thorns' is a modern day monster movie with a distinctive retro vibe. It’s an homage to 80’s era creature features.
FC: Where did the idea for the film spawn from and how did you come up with the creature design?
DS: Years ago I read a book entitled “People of the Lie: the hope for healing human evil” by M. Scott Peck M.D. In the book he discusses the concept of a “collective or group evil”. The idea took shape after reading the book. At its core 'Thorns' is about awakening evil inside ourselves and how there is an ongoing war being waged between mankind’s collective voices of good and evil. I think we’re living in a time when more and more people are connecting with or listening to their darker inner signal.
Make-Up FX Artist Dan Phillips and I talked at length about what this monster needed to look like. Early on we believe this creature has traveled across space and time to unleash hell on earth. But there’s more to the story and we looked to humanity for inspiration. We were inspired by what many believe to be one of mankind’s darkest hours. This is where the religious symbolism stems from in the film.
FC: The film heavily draws upon the look and feel of Clive Barker’s work, particularly 'Hellraiser'. Was that something you wanted to pay homage to specifically and is there other Barker material you’d like to tribute in future projects?
DS: I’ve admired Clive Barker’s work for decades and not just as a writer and director. He’s a brilliant painter and illustrator. But, YES, the nod to 'Hellraiser' is intentional. I mean, I did cast Doug Bradley so it’s pretty obvious this is an homage. But when you see 'Thorns' I think you’ll see lots of easter eggs to 80’s horror; 'Prince of Darkness', 'The Thing', 'Event Horizon'. So yes. But speaking candidly aren’t all zombie filmmakers children of Romero?
As far as the second part of your question. 'The Damnation Game' was the first book of his I ever read and it blew my mind. Like Stephen King once said he (Barker) more or less evolved horror fiction. I always had a vision for 'Nightbreed' that was a bit more Geiger-esque and I’d love the opportunity to realize that. My bucket list for filmmaking includes directing one of his stories.
FC: Growing up what films and filmmakers other than Clive Barker were you consuming the most?
DS: Stanley Kubrick and the recently departed William Friedkin. My favorite film of all time is Kubrick’s '2001:A Space Odyssey' that my Dad took me to as a child. I didn’t understand it at the time and twenty plus viewing later I’m still fascinated by it. Friedkin was just a brilliant director. Ironically 'The Exorcist' isn’t one of my go to movies although it’s brilliant and one of cinemas most frightening films ever made. But his 'Sorcerer', 'To Live and Die in LA', 'The French Connection' are top shelf. And also Michael Mann who did the highly underrated 'The Keep'. Horror wise I was a big John Carpenter fan. Although not horror, 'Assault on Precinct 13' is in my top 10
FC: You have the legendary Doug Bradley in your film. What was Doug like to work with? And how did you persuade him to come onboard?
DS: I know Doug’s manager and have worked with him before on other projects. So an introduction was made and Doug and I hit it off creatively. Doug is everything you’d think and more. Very intelligent, well prepared and to the point. I hope to work with him again. As far as persuading him there are economic factors as Doug is a professional actor so there were those basic considerations. But for Doug I think his manager helped pave the way and then of course there is the script. Doug read it and really liked it.
FC: What other horror icons would you like to cast in the future if you get the chance?
DS: Well if I could go back in time I suppose Vincent Price and Christopher Lee. I have deep admiration for so many iconic genre actors. But it usually starts with the script and what’s best for it so I tend to turn to actors once there’s a script. Kurt Russell was in so many great John Carpenter films, I think he’s brilliant. But people don’t really see him as a “horror icon” per se.
FC: The film employs a lot of graphic gore and violence. Would you consider yourself a gore-hound and what advantages do you see in practical effects over CGI?
DS: Well as a child I made sure I stayed awake long enough to see the zombie’s feasting on flesh in George Romero’s 'Night of the Living Dead' then I’d fall asleep before the ending. But as I’ve matured I’ve become more of a psychological horror hound. I don’t seek out gory movies. But I also don’t shy away from them. In the end if it’s a killer story I’m all about it. If gore is essential, then bring it. I’m mainly motivated by character driven stories.
'Thorns' was made to celebrate an era in my life where monsters ruled supreme. I’ll never forget seeing Romero’s 'Dawn of the Dead' at an early matinee inside a shopping mall cineplex and when I came out after the movie the mall was ironically mostly empty (it was a rainy Sunday). Instead of going home I wandered around the empty mall imagining the zombie apocalypse in the moment and the experience became so much more than a simple matinee movie. I miss those days (sometimes) and 'Thorns' is my homage to that bygone era.
FC: Gonna put you on the spot and ask what your favourite practical special effect in horror cinema is?
DS: Well the chest burst in 'Alien' is up near the top. And the exploding head in 'Scanners' was rather brilliant too. Romero’s 'Dawn of the Dead' and Cronenberg’s 'The Fly' contain multiple amazing practical effects sequences
FC: The film has a rather bleak ending. Was that always your intention or did you have any alternate endings?
DS: No. We originally shot a more hopeful ending but it didn’t test well so we put it aside. In the original script there are three gifted children staying at the convent where the Nun is from and they come to represent a force of good. If we get to do the sequel we’d bring them back.
FC: Was there anything particularly challenging about the shoot or production in general?
DS: Bo Shumaker brilliantly portrays the monster in 'Thorns' and he had to endure hours of filming in heavy prosthetics. We’d start the day filming non-effects stuff but the minute Bo was ready to film we’d shift gears and focus on the monster sequences. It was important that the makeup effects be filmed while they were fresh to retain a look of realism.
FC: 'Thorns' deals with the idea of hell on Earth. What other topics in the horror genre or other genres would you like to explore in your next features?
DS: I’ve been working on something that’s a bit larger in scope and is best described as bio-horror. I’d also like to continue the 'Thorns' saga with Doug Bradley. We have a sequel in development. Fingers crossed we’ll get to pursue that. Right now it’s all about 'Thorns'.
FC: Douglas thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions and best of luck with the FrightFest screening and other festival runs.
'Thorns' receives it's World Premiere at FrightFest '23 on August 26th