This week’s superb chiller “It Follows” (read our review) has been frequently described as a “throwback.” This probably has to do with the film, which concerns a teenage girl (Maika Monroe from the similarly wonderful “The Guest“) who is stalked by a ghoul following an untoward sexual encounter, feeling like it’s from another era. The synth-heavy electronic score (check out a few cuts here) is straight out of the ’80s, while other aspects feel eerie and timeless in a way that few modern day horror films do. We sat down with director David Robert Mitchell and talked about the five biggest influences on “It Follows,” and some are as surprising as the movie itself.
Throughout the course of our conversation, we talked about a number of influences that come to bear on the film — from the French New Wave to the stylized camera trickery of Brian De Palma (Mitchell says he didn’t tell his financiers about his intention to shoot so many extremely long takes), from the hollowed-out city of Detroit to the suburban horror of “Poltergeist.” But the following five influences are the most significant to Mitchell —these were the films that he first referenced and had no problem elaborating on. Some of the films’ DNA is easy to spot in “It Follows,” while others function more as spiritual successors. But all of it enhances Mitchell’s work, and it’s easy to think that in a few years some young director of the next horror sensation will cite “It Follows” as a reference.
1. “Creature from the Black Lagoon”
This Universal horror classic, about an aquatic monster that emerges from the depths to terrorize some explorers, doesn’t immediately spring to mind while watching “It Follows,” but Mitchell insists that its influence is present. “My favorite horror movie of all time is ‘Creature from the Black Lagoon,'” Mitchell explained. “There are definitely some similarities in terms of a slow moving, very persistent monster.”
One of the defining characteristics of “Creature from the Black Lagoon” and its follow up “Revenge of the Creature” is director Jack Arnold‘s use of eye-popping 3D (a third film, “The Creature Walks Among Us,” was not directed by Arnold and is much flatter in every sense of the word). Mitchell says that he was intrigued by the technology, and while it probably would have made a good fit for “It Follows,” 3D wasn’t possible economically.
“I love the idea of 3D. If I thought I had the money for it, I probably would have tried to shoot it in 3D,” Mitchell said. “It’s a very experiential film, putting the audience within the space to look around and observe the environment and look for things. But it wasn’t possible for this film.” Mitchell then cited his love for the “amazing” dual print 3D presentations for both of the ‘Creature’ films.
2. “Night of the Living Dead”
Another black-and-white masterpiece that Mitchell cited was George A. Romero‘s immortal “Night of the Living Dead,” the film that effectively ushered in the modern age of the zombie film (and something that has been ripped off endlessly to varying degrees of success ever since). This influence is easier to grasp, since both Romero and Mitchell’s films have a palpable feeling of overwhelming, claustrophobic dread, which was Mitchell’s intention. “It’s a similar thing in the sense of being trapped, knowing that something is out there coming for you. You can try to run away, but at some point it will overwhelm you,” Mitchell said. “You have to sleep, you have to rest; these things are always there. And that’s terrible.”
It should also be noted that both films feature only a cursory explanation of what makes the monsters tick; with “Night of the Living Dead,” one day dead people rise from their graves, and in “It Follows,” a demon possesses its victims, traveling from body to body through sexual contact. And that’s all you get. The lack of overt explanation is a virtue in the case of both films.
3. John Carpenter (and “The Thing from Another World”)
This might be the most obvious reference, from kids being stalked by a nearly still, otherworldly presence (as in “Halloween“) to the feeling that your friends could be replaced by something entirely demonic (“The Thing“) to the synthesizer-heavy score (maybe bearing the closest resemblance to Carpenter’s score for “Halloween III: Season of the Witch,” a film he didn’t direct). “A lot of people reference ‘Halloween,’ which I also love, but ‘The Thing’ is probably my favorite,” Mitchell said.
Carpenter’s use of the 2.35:1 aspect ratio was also influential. “But he shot using true anamorphic lenses,” Mitchell explained. “I was not able to. We shot with spherical lenses and were cropped. To be really blunt, I was working with very little.”
And while Mitchell is quite fond of the Carpenter remake, he also loves the original version of “The Thing,” Howard Hawks‘ chilly “The Thing from Another World.” “I love both, and the original I watch just as much if not more,” Mitchell said. He noted that there’s a direct reference to the Hawks original in “It Follows”: “the giant that comes through the door frame. In the original ‘Thing,’ he comes through the door and they smash his hand. I was thinking about that.”
4. “Nightmare on Elm Street”
Another easier to spot reference point is Wes Craven‘s “Nightmare on Elm Street.” The two movies share the scenario of a group of kids against an unstoppable evil, in light of very little adult supervision, intervention or indeed interest. “It Follows” lacks the “sins of our fathers” aspect that was so important to “Nightmare on Elm Street,” but the same feeling of unsupervised children forced to battle an immortal terror is still there, big time. When we brought up similarities to “Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors,” Mitchell agreed that it was an influence. “Oh for sure,” Mitchell said. “But the first ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ is still my favorite.”
5. “Paris, Texas”
After Mitchell said that “The Shining” and David Cronenberg had an impact (he quite rightly believes those films have an impact on anyone making a horror movie these days), we asked Mitchell if there were any non-horror films that had a direct influence on “It Follows.” The filmmaker pulled out an interesting callback: Wim Wenders‘ 1984 hangdog drama “Paris, Texas.” “I was obsessively watching ‘Paris, Texas’ before making this,” Mitchell said. “It’s shot with a fairly wide lens and there’s a certain kind of beauty to the framing and blocking and compositions of that film. Not just the desert stuff but of people, in the suburban home and everything else about that film is amazing.”
“It Follows” opens on Friday. Take someone who you want to scare half to death. And below, check out David Robert Mitchell in an “Anatomy Of A Scene” featurette for The New York Times.