Filmmaker Mike Flanagan has an all-too-appropriate hometown. The horror director, whose previous film Absentia, about a missing husband and an eerie tunnel, earned numerous awards on the festival circuit, spent a good deal of his seminal years in Salem, Mass., home of the infamous witch trials. His new film, Oculus, concerns an evil antique mirror and a pair of terrified siblings who have sworn to destroy it after it laid waste to their family. He recently met with Ticket, along with co-producers Trevor Macy and Jason Blum, to discuss the film, and the nature of things that go bump into the night.
What’s the first thing you can remember being afraid of?
Fraggle Rock. The episode about the terrible tunnel, where all the souls of the little fraggles who got lost are trapped forever. Scared the shit out of me. It took years after Absentia was finished for me to connect the dots there. It’s like my Fraggle Rock riff.
What is your definition of a monster?
Any kind of physical expression of a really dark trait within human nature that’s been given a human façade. A monster is taking a piece of ourselves, pulling it out, and giving it some sort of alien expression so that we can look at it in a safe way and not feel like it’s us: A monster is us in the mask.
Fave sub-genre: Blood and gore or twisty psychological terror?
Psychological, for me. Big time. But I love blood and gore, too. It depends on the night. But for staying power, psychological, for sure.
Describe a time you were scared as an adult.
The most intense fear was very early after my son was born, and looking at this little person I was responsible for and thinking, “Oh, God, what if I break it?” That was the most long-reaching fear, messing him up or not being the parent I think he deserves.
Has that abated over time?
No, and from what I’m told it never does.
What’s the best horror film ever made?
The impossible question! I know what I can’t say. How about Murnau’s Nosferatu, just in terms of the amount of reach. That thing’s got its hands on so many movies. For influence, especially with the tools they had at the time , good God, that’s an incredible movie.
What’s a horror film that everyone found scary but you?
Oh, boy. You know, you always feel bad trash-talking other movies; it’s so hard to get them made. I wasn’t knocked over by Mama, and was told I was going to be. The CG killed it. That was my big beef when they came at The Thing again: Why did you take one of the most incredible examples of practical effects and run it through this CG deal?
What makes the best fake blood?
Real blood, and you lie about it. But you probably can’t get away with that.