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"Insidious" Director James Wan: Tired of torture porn, "I want to make my romantic comedy"

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire March 31, 2011 at 12:52PM

Seven years after launching the horror franchise "Saw," director James Wan wants to revitalize the genre once more with his haunted house thriller, "Insidious." Like "Saw," it was an independent production and written by his long-time collaborator Leigh Whanell. However, "Insidious" boasts none of the gore that defines their biggest hit and comes with a PG-13 rating.
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Seven years after launching the horror franchise "Saw," director James Wan wants to revitalize the genre once more with his haunted house thriller, "Insidious." Like "Saw," it was an independent production and written by his long-time collaborator Leigh Whanell. However, "Insidious" boasts none of the gore that defines their biggest hit and comes with a PG-13 rating.

The Malaysian-born, Australia-raised director sat down with indieWIRE to discuss his change of pace and why he loves to scare the bejesus out of audiences.

"Insidious" in many ways seems like a return to old-school horror and miles away from the torture-porn genre you spearheaded with "Saw." Was this a deliberate step on your part to revitalize the horror genre and bring it back to its roots?

I think that's one of two reasons, yes. I definitely feel like in a lot of ways "Saw" did so many great things for me, but it put me into this category that I don't really see myself in. I don't want to be known as the king of gore. And here's the irony, the first one isn't that gory, it's more psychological. People forget that. People have retroactively given me this reputation based on the whole franchise.

I want to prove to people that it is more than possible to make a scary movie that isn't a hardcore rated film, that doesn't need blood or guts. There's not a single drop of blood in "Insidious." I believe you can craft a really creepy, suspenseful movie without any of that. I mean, look at "The Others" and "The Sixth Sense."

Which leads me to my next reason. I am a big fan of classic, old-fashioned horror films like "The Haunting" and "The Innocents." I really wanted to make a movie that felt like an old-fashioned throwback that yet has a contemporary spin to it.

Are you yourself tired of the torture porn genre?

Well, let me ask you this… have I made another film like "Saw"?

Not really, no.

I think that pretty much answers your question (laughs).

With the "Scream" franchise coming back, are you excited that things seem to be going back in a way?

I find that movies, like anything, are like fashion. It's a cycle. Something may be really hot for a while, eventually pitter out then come back again.

Where does this passion for telling such macabre stories come from? I mean, you don't have any romantic comedies on your resume.

Not yet! Who's going to give the "Saw" guy a romantic comedy? (laughs)

I love scary movies, bottom line. I've always loved the genre since I was a kid. Why do people like comedy? People like to laugh. Why do people love scary movies? People like to scream. I always find that the horror filmmakers I've met turn out to be the nicest people. You put the things that scare you up on the screen so it's not in your real life.

James Wan's "Insidious." FilmDistrict.

You made this film independently, going back to how you made "Saw." Why the return to that way of filmmaking following your studio fare like "Dead Silence" and "Death Sentence," especially now that you're a known name?

I knew that when Leigh and I were cooking up the concept for this, we didn't want to work it through the studio system. Not that there's anything wrong with how studios make those type of genre films, but I don't want to do it that way. I actually want to make a film that's scary. Their idea of scary doesn't mesh with mine.

In this film, there are a lot of scare moments that kind of contradict what one would expect to see or hear. Without giving too much away, there'll be a moment where a character will be walking down a hallway and there's something creepy in the frame, but the music doesn't acknowledge it, the filmmaking doesn't acknowledge it and the character doesn't acknowledge it. You can never get away with that in a studio-style horror film.

Was it a challenge to fund the film?

No, we made this film for such a low budget, lower than the one we worked on with for "Saw." Part of the reason why we wanted to make it so small was so we could have complete creative control. I even edited the film myself.

Were you surprised at how quickly it was bought by FilmDistrict at the Toronto International Film Festival last September?

I was actually more relieved that the film was really well received. Leading up to Toronto, I was still finishing up the movie. I was so nervous and anxious because I hadn't really shown it to anyone. Genre fans love seeing these kind of films, but they're also so jaded because they've seen every horror film under the sun. To try and create something new for this demographic is extremely hard.

As for what's next, what other genres do you see yourself tackling in the near future?

Well, Leigh and I have always said we're not just horror fans, we're film fans. It's no joke when I say I want to make my romantic comedy. People come to me with these horror films because they've seen I can do it. If this does well, I can see everyone coming to me with haunted house movies. Hollywood isn't very original. They don't really look outside the box.

I always say, bottom line, the most important thing for me is the script. If it's a good script, it doesn't matter what genre it is.

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