John Gulager wants to gross you out with Piranha 3DD. Or maybe not gross you out but at least shock you--my impression during my brief conversation with the Feast director is that he'd be happy just to get a reaction beyond the same old same old out of viewers with his film. His latest is the sequel to Alexandre Aja's 2010 Piranha 3D, which resurrected the campy killer fish series with the addition of some actors willing to poke fun at their own image while swimming in a lake of fake blood.
This time around, the action has moved from the now abandoned Lake Victoria to an adult-oriented water park run by sleazy businessman Chet (David Koechner), whose shady practices led to yet another gory outbreak of carnivorous fish-on-nubile swimmer violence. Whereas Aja's film played up the action with tongue in cheek, Gulager has decided to just go all the way spoof with his film, playing in that tricky to manage horror-comedy zone.
Interesting fact: the impetus for Piranha 3DD was something like Metaballs with piranhas added, according to the film's director. While that's not quite what we get in the final film, it does have that same mix of cheesy 80's summer comedy combined with an endless stream of gory horror.
For the record, I'd pay to see Meatballs with piranhas.
"Not everybody likes that sort of thing, but I like it where you have these almost kind of semi-serious moments with just total goofball logic." And that's evident throughout 3DD, otherwise how do you interpret the slo-mo carnage in the finale which involves, among other things, topless park goers, an imperiled child, and a too-old-for-this-stuff David Hasselhoff? For Gulager, his film is a chance to take beloved horror tropes (and in this case, disaster movie tropes and the recent low-budget resurgence of killer animal movies) and show them some love while getting the chance, in his words to "f*** with them a little bit."
Gulager agrees that the comedy-horror divide is sometimes hard to walk, particularly with reviewers who lobby the frequent complaint "it doesn't know what it wants to be" (I'm sure I've said this in the past myself). "For one thing, it is what it is," Gulager tells me, describing his own movie as a "tweener," that's neither a comedy or horror movie strictly speaking. It's a little of both. For Gulager, it's a challenge in his own work since his instinct is to go zany while also peppering in serious moments.
"There's no fun in remaking Friday the 13th per se," he tells me, explaining that instead he'd prefer to mess with the existing formula. That's what he and Feast co-writers Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan did with that series of giant monster movies, which saw a group of ravenous desert creatures lay siege to a bar filled with a comic cross-section of America in the first installment. That movie gave us Henry Rollins as a yuppie jerk and Jason Mewes as... Jason Mewes, and it wasn't afraid to kill off principal members of the cast in brutal, unexpected ways.
When I suggested that what the best comedy and horror movies share in common is the element of carefully-deployed surprise, Gulager agreed: "I mentioned Alien a moment ago. [A previous interviewer] was talking about the piranha-vagina scene [you'll just have to see it for yourself], and they mentioned Alien, and I remember going back to Alien and thinking 'Gosh, that's pretty awesome.'" That scene in Ridley Scott's film inspires one of the key gags in Piranha 3DD, rivaling the loss of star Jerry O'Connell's member in the 2010 film. Both the scene in Scott's film and Gulager's film involve an unexpected, violent eruption, although Gulager traded the twisted birth imagery from Alien with an equally unsettling vagina dentata motif.
Explaining his own preferences for horror films, Gulager tells me he enjoys what he describes as horror movies that go out on a limb a little bit, citing his experiences of seeing Avatar one night and then watching Lars Von Trier's Antichrist the following night. He loved seeing actual arguments taking place in front of the theater, seeing the audience exhilarated and frustrated in equal measure after the film. While he says some critics may complain that he's simply attempting to shock people, he says that getting a reaction from the audience is part of entertainment to his mind.
Even with the revival of giant animal pictures in some quarters, zombies, vampires, and CG spirits are the reigning box office champs of the horror scene. I asked Gulager if he had any trepidation at all with playing around in the rubber monster genre given that so many horror filmmakers have all but abandoned it--without hesitation he says that he enjoys the retro feel of the creature feature, using the man-in-a-suit monsters for Feast and a handful of silicon fish for Piranha 3DD.
As excited as Gulager sounds about his work on Piranha 3DD, he has a little bit of ambivalence about his current status as a creature feature guy with three Feast movies under his belt and his latest film. He fears that he doesn't know how to raise money for the other types of films he'd like to work on, projects with a more dramatic bent that might not involve half-eaten bodies in a swimming pool. He worries that it's a talent that he might not ever acquire, but at the same time, he doesn't seem to be complaining given how happy he is to be making films in any way, shape, or form.
Piranha 3DD is available on DVD, 3D Blu-ray, and VOD now.