Jackson Stewart Interview: Director Jackson Stewart shares all on his fantastic movie Beyond the Gates.
We caught new home entertainment release Beyond the Gates back during last August at Frightfest. The film follows two brothers as they stumble across a horror VHS board game that seems to have a life of its own.
Directed by Jackson Stewart, the film spent last year touring the festival circuit and wowing crowds. It even won the Los Angeles Film Festival’s Nightfall Jury prize. Stewart is a former assistant of horror directing icon Stuart Gordon who has now struck out on his own. Beyond the Gates stars one of Gordon’s former scream Queens Barbara Crampton, and offers scares and laughs a plenty.
We caught up with Stewart, ahead of the UK DVD release, whom spoke of his desire to direct a Lovecraft story, having Barbara Crampton as a friend and whether we’ll ever get a Beyond the Gates board game.
For those not familiar with Beyond the Gates, describe what is the film all about?
It’s basically about these two estranged brothers who reunite to close down their missing father’s video store. While they’re there they stumble across a VCR board game that may or may not have something to do with his disappearance. It’s a little bit of Phantasm, The Gate and Poltergeist all rolled into a more modern narrative, but staying within some of the constraints of those movies from that period. I’ve had multiple people describe it to me as horror Jumanji, that’s a pretty easy way to sell it in an elevator.
In terms of visual styles, the film feels very much of the eighties / nineties era, was that an intentional choice?
Yeah, I mean all the compositions and colour and lighting and that type of thing, was based on the constraints that those movies had in the 1980’s. All that stuff is based around what those movies had in that era. My DP and I basically made that a conscious choice to do some of that back-lit blue lighting stuff that they have in Poltergeist and movies like Renny Harlin‘s Prison and The Keep [by Michael Mann], and a dozen other of these supernatural movies. It was quite deliberate.
In addition to the scares there is a lot of humour, how hard was it to strike that balance?
Most of that was just on the writing level and it was really up to Graham [Skipper], Chase [Williamson], Brea [Grant] and the other actors to deliver that. For me honestly, it was pretty easy because if they were a little off about something, I could just say, ‘no actually, it’s like this, or this is a joke / this isn’t a joke.’ They got the subtext of all the scenes and their dialogue. They really knew what to bring to it. Chase, I think, did a terrific job with his character and I think he has some of the funniest lines in the movie. I give him a lot of credit.
Barbara Crampton brings a lot of the comedy, how much fun did you guys have creating her part?
Well it’s a funny story, we actually… initially I was kind of worried that Barbara wouldn’t be able to be menacing and I was choosing between her and two other actresses. Ultimately I ended up using another and we actually shot with another actress. The footage didn’t really come out the way I wanted it to and she became unavailable. I started thinking it about it more and I’m like, ‘Barbara’s the perfect person to be the host of this eighties VCR board game because she’s this great conduit between that era and the more modern indie horror films that people have been making’. I feel like a bit of a fool not casting her in that role straight away. She was just a total delight to work with. She’s one of my closest friends so it was very easy.
It must be pretty cool having someone like Barbara in your friendship circle…
Yeah it’s killer. There’s still days where I can’t believe it. It’s so surreal to have her here. Growing up with Re-Animator, From Beyond and Castle Freak, it’s really strange to think that she’s in my movie now, (laughs) it’s pretty cool.
In addition to the film being all kinds of awesome, you also created an interesting ad for the home entertainment release, how did that idea come together?
We were trying to think of some outside-the-box ideas for promoting it. I didn’t want to just do the ‘here’s the trailer and here’s a bunch of stills’, because I think everyone gets pretty tired of that stuff. I thought it would be really cool if we could just double down on the eighties stuff which we weren’t really able to do with the movie. It would have just felt too tonally inappropriate. I thought that we should just go totally bananas on this and make a retro-eighties board game commercial.
We reached out to Alex Essoe from Starry Eyes, she agreed to do it; I really wanted Samantha Robinson from The Love Witch, she agreed to do it. Then the other actress, Alena Von Stroheim, who is in this movie, called Found Footage 3D – that should be coming out this year – it’s a tremendous film and I really wanted to work with her. I basically just gathered most of the crew that we had from the movie and got them back to do this one-day shoot for a board game commercial. I’m really happy with the response it’s gotten and how it turned out.
I love it – if you can ever put Alex Essoe in anything again, I’m there.
It’s funny you mention that, I’ve actually wrote the female lead for her in the sequel. Actually, she came close to being in the original. If Brea hadn’t done it I was going to get Alex to be in it. Rest assured I’ll be working with her again.
Will we ever get a Beyond the Gates board game?
We’re doing a VHS release of it, and based on how that sells dictates the actual board game. I’m planning on doing a sequel and I think what we might do is, in the interim for that maybe, film a real proper board game with Barbara and turn that into something. So yes, at some point, I just don’t know when.
You could always do something crowd funded like The Babadook did with the book…
Yeah, I was thinking about doing that because the price point isn’t too high in making board game. It’s just a matter of working out the game mechanics. It’ll get done eventually, it’s on my list.
You’ve spent the last few months touring the festival circuit with the film, what were your highlights?
You know the biggest ones were probably Frightfest and Sitges. I met amazing people at every festival I went to. The Bruce Campbell festival was a lot of fun in Chicago. I loved the Brooklyn horror festival, that’s a newer one, but I had a really great time there. Sitges is absolutely incredible. That place just feels like you’ve died and gone to heaven. Frightfest is equally amazing I would say, all the genre fans there are super cool. They ask really smart questions. Everyone’s just very relaxed there, and friendly. I had such a blast at Frightfest. Those are probably the highlights.
The LA Film Festival was a really cool place to premiere at. The programmers there are delightful. It was all such a blur, everything happened so quickly with it and I was just kind of bouncing around from country to country. You kind of lose your equilibrium after a bit.
You have several connections to The Re-animator within Beyond the Gates, could you ever be persuaded to create a new film for the franchise?
Oh God. I feel that Stuart Gordon would choke the life out of me if I did. It’s a tough one. I don’t think you can remake that movie because they just did it perfectly. I’ll tell you what I’d love to do. I’d like to do a movie with Jeffery Combs, Barbara Crampton and maybe Bruce Abbott, and do something from H.P. Lovecraft, like The Thing on the Doorstep, or The Outsider, which I guess Castle Freak is already sort of in line with that. Just one of his shorts would be really cool. At the Mountains of Madness is a little too long and very much like The Thing, so that wouldn’t really be of interest. But maybe something like The Colour Out of Space would be cool. Possibly, if someone wants to write me huge cheque and let me do whatever I want, I’d be happy to.
You used to work on Supernatural, the show’s just been commissioned for a thirteenth series…
Oh my God!
..would you ever consider going back and directing an episode?
You know, to be perfectly honest, probably not. To me, I know people still really like that show, and this is just my opinion, and I don’t want to upset the fan base in any way, but kinda at the point that I was on the show it felt that the end of season five was a very definitive end for the series. They’ve obviously gone on and had great success with it and people still seem to like it, but to me it just felt like the show was done at that point. I don’t really know what new thing I’d be able to bring to that.
Maybe Sam and Dean could investigate a haunted video board game?
(Laughs) Possibly. Maybe if I could put Jesse Merlin in it I would do an episode then. It would be fully contingent on Jesse’s character appearing. I’ll leave it open to that. If the showrunners are interested, those are my demands.
What’s next for you?
We’ve got a lot of movement on this other one called The Day After Halloween. It’s essentially what happens to the final girl after the end of a slasher movie, although it goes in kind of a weird cerebral direction that I don’t think people would expect. We’re planning on shooting that in the fall, and that’s with Zach Hagen who was the producer of He Never Died, and Mia Chang who was one of the producers of It Follows. That would be with Brea Grant, Chase Williamson, Jesse Merlin, and pretty much everyone else would be totally new after that. All three of them would be back, and then I’m writing the sequel and developing some stuff for TV. A few unaccredited rewrites here and there, so I’m staying busy right now.
Beyond the Gates is available to own digital download now. The DVD is released to buy from Monday 20th February 2017.