I recently had the fortunate opportunity to sit down for a one on one interview with the head of Blumhouse Pictures, Jason Blum to talk about his upcoming thriller The Purge. For those of you who may not recognize his name or company, perhaps you’ve seen at least one of the “little” films he has been instrumental in getting up onto the big screen; Paranormal Activity, Insidious, and Sinister.
Much like amusement parks have had to build taller and scarier roller-coasters over the years, so has the horror industry had to continually morph at the whim of their fickle audiences and a tightening of the purse strings by studio heads. Many industry insiders believe the birth of the modern day found footage horror sub-genre happened back in 1999 when The Blair Witch Project scared the hell out of audiences from coast to coast.
What was really fascinating was that it was made on a shoestring budget. No wild special effects. No cast of Hollywood elite. A no name cast filming with the equivalent of a family camcorder. It was a huge sensation that faded away partly due to the lame attempt at a sequel. Not much happened until several years later when a senior executive at Miramax Films, by the name of Jason Blum, was sent a film (Paranormal Activity) and was so impressed by the simplistic and unique horror flick that he immediately contacted Oren Peli, the film’s writer and director, and the two of them went to work on some re-edits. The two of them had a few more obstacles to leap over before convincing first Dream Works, and then parent company Paramount, that the uniqueness of the film was in its “homemade” quality.
Jason eventually left Miramax to form his own production company. Blumhouse Pictures has been at the forefront of the micro-budget horror film craze ever since. He turned Paranormal Activity into the global franchise phenomenon it is today. He teamed with cutting edge directors (James Wan, Scott Derickson) to watch Insidious and Sinister churn out huge profits. While he stands out as the King Midas of horror, he has also journeyed off into other genres with mostly the same record of success. Some of his other notable projects include: Tooth Fairy with Dwayne Johnson; The Reader with an Oscar winning performance by Kate Winslet; and Hysterical Blindness in which Uma Thurman picked up a Golden Globe Award for her portrayal of a single New Jersey girl in search of Mr. Right.
The Purge will bow on June 7th and it speaks to Jason’s strength as a micro-budget horror film guru. Written and directed by James DeMonaco (Little New York aka Staten Island) it portrays a future world where crime has been reduced to near zero thanks to the “new founding fathers” and their anti-crime initiative known as The Purge. Once a year, for twelve hours all normal law-abiding citizens can commit any crime, no matter how heinous, without fear of arrest. (This apparently also helps with the worldwide population control)
After seeing The Purge I was very excited to speak to Jason about the film.
What attracted you to this particular story?
The Purge for us is in my mind, the perfect Blumhouse movie. When we say when we’re meeting with a writer [or] director and they ask; what are you looking for? I say I’m looking for; low budget, high concept movies and most of the time low budget, high concept is scary in some sort [of a way] or another. This [The Purge] was exactly that; relatively contained and not a gazillion speaking parts. It’s a very high concept idea. What if all crime was legal for twelve hours a year? I was immediately drawn to it [The Purge]. I knew James DeMonaco before; we had developed a movie together about ten years ago. He came to me and told me the idea and I thought it sounded perfect for us. I think it’s a fun entertaining movie with interesting politics as well.
We had a lot of auditions for all the kids until we settled on them. Our fearless daughter Adelaide was great, but he (Rhys) came in and was especially creepy and so scary. Even Ethan (Hawke) came to me and said how he (Rhys) was going to steal the movie. I think he was right. The first day Rhys worked, I called him at home. I had never met him before [but] I had seen his audition and I said; dude, you did an amazing job; you’re going to be really good in this. He didn’t believe me, but maybe he does now.
You have a lot of movies on the slate this year and next year. Is there one that stands out in your mind as being a dark horse candidate to become the next Paranormal Activity?
Anytime a movie is like what I started with, [that is] exactly what I want our company to be doing which is this low budget-high concept thing. It works as an entertaining movie; it works on a political level. I think there’s something special and weird and original about the movie.
What movie or movies made the biggest impression on you?
What got me into the genre was back in college. I had taken a Hitchcock class and we watched almost every (Hitchcock) movie. We really analyzed them and studied them. That is when I really appreciated genre movies more than I ever had and learned to love them from that class. That is when I really got into them and it was a while before I made one, but I always loved his movies. He is obviously the master.
What was the first horror movie that you ever remember seeing?