Produced by Watching Eye Productions and distributed by Terror Films, “House of Purgatory” is set for its debut today. The film revolves around four mid-western who search for a fabled haunted house, on Halloween night. It’s the first film from writer and director Tyler Christensen, who based the film on on an urban legend he relentlessly heard at sleepovers growing up in Green Bay, Wisconsin. We got an opportunity to ask him a few questions about the film…
-PH: You’ve produced many great shows like “Billy the Exterminator,” “Wild West Alaska,” “Killer Karaoke,” but they are very different from something like a horror movie. Why did you decide jump into horror as your first movie as writer and director?
-Tyler: Horror has always been my number one interest. Unfortunately, for most of us, it just doesn’t pay our ridiculously high LA rent. When I moved out to LA ten years ago, head in the sky and clueless, I thought I’d be making horror films and rubbing shoulders with the masters in no time. Quickly realizing that’s not how this town works. I started working in TV and kept up the writing on the side.
-PH: What was it like being both writer and director of this movie? Was it more or less challenging than you thought?
-Tyler: It has both its advantages and disadvantages. I certainly had a solid vision for the film that I had been building from the day I started writing. So once it came time to actually roll cameras, I knew the world I had created inside and out. What can happen, however, is that the way you envision something while writing sometimes does not translate on set – whether that be due to the crazy schedule, lack of money, manpower, anything. It can be frustrating showing a scene that may look great to an outsider, but knowing the version of it I had imagined was better. You have to be able to be realistic with your expectations, and know to never get too attached to any particular scene or line of dialogue, because if it can’t happen for whatever reason, you can’t let it affect the other 30 scenes you need to get through.
-PH: The idea behind “House of Purgatory” comes from an urban legend. What stuck out to you about this legend that made you decide to use it for the movie?
-Tyler: You hear the legend, that there’s this haunted attraction so scary nobody has ever made it all the way through, and the first thing that comes to mind is, “what the hell could be THAT scary to such a wide array of people?” Everyone fears different things based on their own tastes and life experiences, so the only way a place like this could actually exist is if it was tailor-made for each individual who went through it. It’s your fears, your secrets, your own skeletons you need to face. That’s something I found really interesting, and a great way to dive into each character’s backstory.
-PH: Besides basing it on an urban legend, was there a horror movie(s) that you referenced while writing this movie?
-Tyler: I knew I wanted the opening shot to be a steadicam, just as my way to acknowledge how great the opening shot/scene from Halloween is. The only other strong reference is not necessarily a horror movie, per se, but to the 1949 Disney cartoon Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I have always had such an affection for that movie – and not only because the perfect Bing Crosby narration and music. I love the scene at van Tassel’s Halloween party where Brom Bones tells the story of the Headless Horseman. Shortly thereafter, Ichabod leaves the party and has his fateful encounter. House of Purgatory is set up very similarly: a group gathers for a Halloween party, a legend is told around a fire, and our characters leave the party to have their encounter with this legend. I fought the urge to make House of Purgatory a musical…
-PH: Each of the characters has a secret from their past that comes to haunt them. Some of the secrets are pretty serious issues that a lot of teens face. Why did you choose these kind of secrets? Was it uncomfortable to use any of these issues, or did you think it was important to hit on them regardless?
-Tyler: I went back and forth countless times on what the specific secrets each of the teens would have. It was important to me that the issues that they face are not only realistic, and issues that, like you said, many teens today deal with, but also issues that can be uncomfortable to talk about. The fact that the issues make us uncomfortable, to me means it was important to use them. They’re real life fears and secrets for some. And that “real” element made a couple scenes pretty rough to shoot. Of course I wanted it to be a little upsetting, and people with certain life experiences will react to some of these secrets more strongly than others. I kept going back to the thought – what would be the absolute, 100% most disturbing thing that could happen to a person who has “blank” as a secret? The stuff you wouldn’t wish upon anyone, the house imparts on everyone.
-PH: The haunted house is run by one individual with a painted face. The audience can take him as a demon, or maybe even the devil. How did you come up with his look, and why is he the only one running the show?
-Tyler: In the script, he’s known only as The Skeleton. The primary interpretation being that he is, quite literally, the skeleton in your closet. He is a collector, and once he has you in his rat maze, he emotionally tears you apart. His look needed to be ageless. Like this haunted attraction could spring up in 1885 in Tombstone, Arizona or 2016 in upstate New York. You get a little sense of all the places it has been during the opening credits, if you’re paying attention. He needed to look like he had worn the makeup so long that it was now part of him. Our makeup designer, Katherine Clark, and I went back and forth multiple times to get it just right. She did an awesome job making it feel lived in, then Brian Krause did an incredible job bringing it to life.
-PH: You have a pretty good group of experienced actors like Anne Leighton, who did a great job in NBC’s “Grimm,” and of course “House of Purgatory.” How did this cast come together, and did working with experienced actors like Anne make your first time directing easier?
-Tyler: When you’re shooting a feature film in twelve (yes, twelve!) days, it truly takes a special kind of cast and crew. All the actors were so prepared and eager to have conversations about their characters beforehand, that by the time the cameras rolled, it just flowed. Anne brought such depth to her role, and really jumped at the chance to dig into the relationship she has with her mom and other family members. When we started casting, we knew we were going to need people who would play ball. They were going to be long, intense, cold shoots, all at night, with some uncomfortable subject matter. My producer Travis Moody really did a great job helping get talented, young, hungry actors who were up for being tortured for a couple weeks. Because they were all so cool and chill, they all got along like friends right away on the first night. Having a good cast makes directing easy.
-PH: While “House of Purgatory” isn’t for children, you have written the children’s book, ‘Bryan the Scarecrow Who’s Scared of Everything.’ Can you tell people what it’s about?
-Tyler: Bryan the Scarecrow is a little passion project of mine that I spent the last year writing and illustrating. It’s a fun little story about a scarecrow who is ashamed that every night, when he is standing out in the field, everything scares him. He feels like a failure because how can a scarecrow do his job when he has no courage? He meets a mouse friend who teaches him a valuable lesson; bravery cannot exist without fear. He is afraid every night, yet he stands out there doing his job. That is the definition of bravery.
I think kids sometimes feel ashamed for feeling fear, but that is so silly. It is in that fear that they become brave. It’s a lesson, in this day and age more than ever, that needs to be learned by our kids. That, and don’t go looking for urban legends on Halloween night.
-PH: Is this just the beginning of your work in horror? Are there any more horror movies in your future, or any other projects coming up that you would like to mention?
-Tyler: I’ve got two more horror-genre screenplays I am trying to put the pieces together to produce, as well as a television pilot that is gaining some traction. It’s been fun to balance the scary with the kid-friendly, so another Bryan the Scarecrow book is also in the works. Short term I’d love to get my next feature produced, though. Even with House of Purgatory’s success, it’s quite the process to get an independent film off the ground!
We would like to thank Tyler for taking the time to answer our questions, and giving us some terrific background on the film. “House of Purgatory” just debuted, so we hope you add it to your watch list. More information about the film, where you can find it, trailers, and more about Tyler can be found below.
About House of Purgatory:
HOUSE OF PURGATORY is from first time writer/director Tyler Christensen, a film based on an urban legend he relentlessly heard at sleepovers growing up in Green Bay, Wisconsin. HOUSE OF PURGATORY stars Anne Leighton (NBC’s Grimm), Laura Coover (ABC’s How To Get Away With Murder), and Brian Krause (“Leo Wyatt” on cult hit series Charmed). The film revolves around four mid-western who search for a fabled haunted house, on Halloween night. Once finding it, they slowly realize that the house is much more than a run-of-the-mill Halloween attraction – somehow the house knows each of their deepest secrets. Soon they find themselves in a battle to save their lives… and their souls.
HOUSE OF PURGATORY will debut in the U.S. on October 21st, 2016 on iTunes, Xbox, Amazon Instant, Google Play, Vudu, PlayStation, YouTube, and Vimeo On Demand. The film is also set to be released on Amazon Prime, 24-Hour Movie Channel on Roku, DVD and Cable VOD at a later date. HOUSE OF PURGATORY is produced by Watching Eye Productions and is distributed by genre distributor, Terror Films.
About Tyler Christensen:
Tyler Christensen is no stranger to all things spooky as he recently published his first children’s book, Bryan the Scarecrow Who’s Scared of Everything, where he wrote and illustrates a colorful 32-page tale of courage and overcoming fears. Christensen is a veteran in television production having produced such hits as “Billy the Exterminator,” “Wild West Alaska,” “Killer Karaoke,” and “Lone Star Lady.” After graduating from University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh with a degree in Film, Christensen began his career working on several successful television series including “Deal or No Deal,” “America’s Got Talent,” and “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”
HOUSE OF PURGATORY iTunes: https://t.co/5uf9RvBCR6
Clip 1: https://youtu.be/mmE52HAergE?list=PLLX0N4Z_r4vLi72lrXwPAhe9j23qiOglH
Clip 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qtw9r1XbP2c