Be it through producing, acquisition or marketing, John
Hegeman has had a hand in such genre-defining horror films as “The Blair
Witch Project,” “Saw,” and “Silence of the Lambs.”
After decades in the bizarre business of scary cinema, he’s finally brought
forth his personal passion project, the anthology horror offering “Holidays.”
Making its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival as
part of the Midnight slate, “Holidays” serves up eight disturbing
vignettes, each celebrating a different holiday with a unique tale of terror.
It’s an idea Hegeman has been pursuing for a decade, and has made real with the
contributions of up-and-coming directors like Sarah Adina Smith (“The Midnight Swim”), Adam Egypt Mortimer
(“Some Kind Of Hate”) and Nicholas McCarthy (“The Pact”) as
well as more storied helmers like Scott Stewart (“Legion,”
“Priest”) and Kevin Smith (“Red State,” “Tusk”).
Indiewire sat down with Hegeman to discuss his career, his
attraction to horror, and all the things that makes “Holidays” so
You’ve worked in
aspects of marketing and producing and acquisition–
Yup, marketing, producing, acquisitions. They’re all the
How are they all the
It’s all sort of on this level of connecting to the material,
whether you’re producing something, acquiring something that’s already
finished, or whether you’re marketing. The key is trying on the most visceral
level to a core and understand what that movie’s trying to be, and then
understand the audience for it. So whether you’re the producer making the
movie, you’re acquiring a movie that’s already made or you’re marketing the
movie that’s been made, really it’s all still the same.
Like if someone asked me
to produce a romantic comedy, it would probably be the worst thing in the world
because from the start point I would never connect to the material. I think
that’s the key. For me, I connect to something on a visceral level, and after
that it’s just like, “What step are you trying to do? Are you trying to make
it? Are you trying find it? Are you trying to share it with an audience that
will engage with it?”
“Holidays” come together?
I’ve been trying to do it for about ten years. I made a movie
about fifteen years ago called “Darkness Falls” about the tooth
fairy. And the thought there was, “Let’s put a dark turn on one of the
most benevolent characters that exists.” I always wanted to do short form,
but back then it was more (considered) a development tool. With the digital
world that we live in and people consuming short film entertainment as much as
they do, it’s just so much more acceptable now. A movie doesn’t have to be 90
minutes. It can be five minutes. It can be ten minutes. And that’s this huge opportunity for filmmakers in
So, I think what happened was when the first “V/H/S”
came out a couple of years ago, and then the second (“V/H/S/2”), and
then “ABCs of Death,” I think it created an acceptability of the
anthology subgenre of horror. It took that long to get talent excited about it
and then get financiers excited about it.
I couldn’t do this five years ago,
two years ago. It was actually still hard as it is. You still had to talk
people into it a little bit, not the filmmakers, more the distributors or the
people had to put up money. Whenever you’re doing something different than the
norm, there’s a level of trepidation with anyone that wants to support that
because of the fear of failure.
Did you approach the
writers and directors with the holiday you wanted them to tackle or did they
get to pick?
I identified 32 holidays that I think are ripe for a dark
spin version. I took that list and culled it down to 12. And then, you let the
filmmakers choose which ones they wanted. We only wanted to make 8. We were
hoping there wouldn’t be too much overlap of the directors wanting to do the
same holidays. We wanted to make sure whatever we got felt pretty spread out in
the calendar year, so it wasn’t all compressed in one quarter. So it would
allow the audience to take this crazy journey throughout the year and makes
little stops in each holiday.
How did you decide
which directors to bring in on “Holidays”?
About two years ago when were serious about “Okay,
we’re going to make this,” there were just a bunch of films I was watching
from young filmmakers that I was blown away with. Sarah Adina Smith make
“Midnight Swim,” and (Dennis) Widmyer and (Kevin) Kolsch who did
“Starry Eyes.” There were others too, who I just watched their movies
and thought, “Man, these are unique
voices. I got to work with these guys.”
Some of the directors I already knew. Others we approached
because I thought their work was just fantastic. And then others came from our
relationship with XYZ Films, who is our foreign sales agent as well as producer
on the movie.
We do have Kevin Smith on the one hand, who is very established.
And then you have someone like Sarah, whose made one movie is on her way to her
second. So, it’s a nice mixture of voices, both in what they’ve done in the
past and what they’re about. We wanted to have a nice eclectic feel to it. And
also we looked for directors who are – I don’t want to say “cerebral”
because that’s not the right word – but we didn’t just go for shock and
exploitation. There’s some clever, sharp filmmakers out there and we were able
to get a few of them to work with us.
folds in allusions to iconic horror movies like “Carrie” and
“Rosemary’s Baby.” Were these kind of creepy Easter Eggs something
No. Honestly, these people has just a love affair with the
genre in general. All of them paid homage to different movies in their
favorites, but we didn’t encourage anything at all except for them to be as
creative as they wanted to be.
With the critical
acclaim for movies like “The Babadook,” “A Girl Walks Home Alone
at Night” and “The Witch,” there’s been a backlash from some
horror fans claiming these aren’t horror movies. First of all, I’m curious if
you consider art house horror a viable form of horror, and why do you think the
genre is questioned on this level?
Jealousy. It is! It’s ridiculous.
“Babadook” is one of the best movies in the last decade. “The
Witch” that just came out is an awesome movie. A long time ago I released
a little movie that we picked out of Sundance called “The Blair Witch
Project.” That was an art movie. It opened up at the Angelika, downtown
There’s all different types of horror. I think that for one group to
sort of be divisive on horror…I don’t think anyone should be looking down or
saying “That’s not horror.”
If you get a visceral reaction that upsets you and scares you, where does it matter what you’re seeing it in? Or how
slow or how fast or how gory or how cerebral it is? If it’s connecting with you
in that way, it’s horror.
The flipside to that
something I’ve seen a lot as a horror fan, where people who don’t like horror
movies will try to claim that critically heralded horror movies are not really horror.
That’s because they don’t want to say that they actually
likes the movie if it’s horror. There’s people that are like, “I hate horror.” And then they get
turned around and they see something that’s unbelievable and they’re like,
“That’s great.” I think
that’s why they came up with the term “psychological thriller,”
right? They didn’t want to say it’s horror. I think if you enjoy something because
it gets you that unsettled feeling, it’s horror. No one owns the definition of
horror. So if they’re out there saying, “That’s not horror because it’s good,” I don’t know. I think they
should go watch comedies.
taps into a common horror theme of people – most often women – being punished for
sex or sexual desire. Why do you feel that is such a popular trope within the
(Long pause.) In a way, I think it’s not just in horror. I
think it’s at different levels presented in a way in every single form of entertainment, and almost life. It’s just the
way society is. I think it’s going to become less and less believable as a
trope as we continue to evolve as a society…I don’t know why, but scared dumb
girls looking distressed on posters and trailers have sold horror for the last
forty years. I think the world’s a lot different now. I think even in our
movies there’s the scope of how characters are portrayed. I hope we didn’t fall
into that very old-fashioned traditional horror trope in any way.
As you pointed out,
it’s often a female protagonist being tormented. But horror is a genre – like
most of film frankly – dominated by male directors. As someone who is worked in
horror for years, are you seeing a shift in that at all?
Yes, I do. I think Sarah Adina Smith (who directs
“Holidays” Mother’s Day segment) is a perfect example of an
unbelievably strong director who happens to be female. When we did it, it’s not
like we thought, “Let’s watch a movie that a female horror director
directed.” It was more about this movie that I had seen, and it was
amazing. The same thing with “The Babadook.”
I just think in general
the movie business follows a lot of other parts of society. It probably trails
them a lot. I think women are much more accepted CEOs and everything else, and
finally in horror women are getting chance to present themselves as strong
individuals voices. I personally don’t think anyone in the horror world right
now would say, “Oh they’re a good director, but they’re a guy or girl or whatever.”
I do think it’s
changing. I think it’s changing rapidly. And it started I think about two years
ago or three years ago. But right now, there’s no, “Oh, you’re a girl and
you direct horror?”
“Holidays” premiered at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.