Interview – Johannes Roberts

What makes something terrifying on screen? That is objective to who you ask, but nearly everyone could agree the true terror in Horror lies in the passion put into the direction of a film. Giving each and every piece of work he partakes in all of himself, British Film Director and Writer Johannes Roberts merely does not go through the motions to earn a paycheck. Coming from an independent filmmaking background, Roberts has been fortunate enough to see his projects grow in size and reach through the years from 2016’s The Other Side of the Door to 2017’s 47 Meters Down, leading to his most ambitious work to date, 2018’s The Strangers: Prey at Night. A follow-up to the 2008 hit Horror flick The Strangers, Roberts took on the task of directing the new film, devoting all of his passion and creativity in the process. Now set for release in theaters nationwide on Friday, March 9th, The Strangers: Prey at Night gears toward terrify audiences in more ways than one. Recently we caught up with the enthusiastic Roberts to talk the work behind The Strangers: Prey at Night, his inspiration, his love for Horror cinema, plus more. – You first directed your first full-length feature film back in 2001 and, since then, have written and directed a list of films. First tell us, what inspired you to pursue a career as a director?

Johannes Roberts – As a kid, at the age of 13, I discover’s Stephen King’s Cujo (1983) in an airport. Then, through King, I discovered John Carpenter. I watched Christine (1983) and then the other work. I wanted to be those two guys. That pretty much stayed the same. That’s the thing that keeps me going through the lows and makes me enjoy the highs, it is sort of pretending to be those guys. I just love scary movies, I love the sort of fantastical element of Horror, the sort of “what-if” scenarios. That is kind of how I got into it all. – Very interesting. So, clearly, working in the Horror genre is a dream come true for you since you have such a passion for it.

Johannes Roberts – Oh yea! I am 100% making the movies I always wanted to watch. It’s great. In the case I get to add in a shark or a clown, it’s great. It’s like a kid playing in a sandpit.  

20th Century Fox
Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures – That is really great to hear! Your most recent film, The Strangers: Prey at Night, is set for release in theaters March 9th. Judging by the final product, it seems you had a great deal of passion for the source material. What drew you to this project?     

Johannes Roberts – Oddly, I didn’t write it, but yet it is probably my most personal movie. It is definitely the most me on-screen movie I have ever done. I love the original movie and I was very nervous when this came across my desk a year ago. The producer of 47 Meters Down (2017) got the scripit and said, “Are you interested?” I read it and I really responded. I really saw the potential as well to have fun with a film I really wanted to make in a real ’80s kind of Slasher/Horror movie style. That was great to really bring that side of things in and use some really old, dated techniques in a new way – all the zoom lens and stuff like that. It was so much fun, and then to bring in all the John Carpenter references such as Christine and The Fog (1980).

Then, to sort of put it in the world of the first movie, which was such a successful movie – not just commercially, but artistically, it was just great. I just loved the tone of the original film, I thought it was fantastic. With Horror, I never really understood the Scream movies and things like that. I found Horror had just become a bit not scary, self-referential, people just weren’t serious about Horror. Then The Strangers came along and it was terrifying. It had a real heartbeat, you really believed those characters. To mix and put that in, along with my love of the genre, was a really great experience. 

The Strangers: Prey at Night still. – It sounds like you put a lot of heart into it. Back in 2008, The Strangers really had Horror fans talking. That in mind, many are eager to see this second film. For those skeptical about this new film because of their bias, what would you tell them to persuade them otherwise? 

Johannes Roberts – It’s an interesting one because I think this movie is very much into the world of the first movie. I think, when you watch it, you will see it has a lot of love for the first movie, but it really goes it’s own way. I think it brings a very fresh take on the first one and really take things in a different way. The use of music and the whole style of Horror was really fun for me to play around with and very different. 

The great thing about The Strangers: Prey at Night is there is nothing cynical about it. It is not like, “Let’s make some money off the first one.” It’s a Horror movie made by someone who absolutely loves Horror movies, and I think that comes across through it. I think if you are in the mood for a scary movie, with a heartbeat, with some real love, and characters that are very grounded, then this is a great movie. – Agreed. It will be exciting to see people’s reactions. You spoke about your influences. That in mind, tension is an extremely difficult challenge when it comes to Horror. You need to know exactly what and what not to show. Do you have any rules of thumb you like to follow to create the right feeling on screen?

Johannes Roberts – No, it changes from movie to movie. I just came off two different movies, The Other Side of the Door and 47 Meters Down, which there were quite a lot of jumps in them. I really felt this movie wanted to be different. I really tried to create the scares in a different way. There are jump scares in it, people leap out of the dark, but I tried to make the horror a very different style of Horror, where you would see the horror before the character does. It’s not a jump scary, it is like a dread, and it builds from there. You can’t reason with it, you can’t get away from it. It’s a very different style and it’s really unsettling, I think. That is how I tried to construct this movie.

Everytime we were go toward a lazy style of Horror, such as, let’s make this big loud noise on it and make something jump out of the dark, we really looked back at it again. We thought no, let’s try and see what’s the opposite of that? It was a fascinating thing to do, to be brave enough to not feel like you had to jolt the audience in their seats all the time. I think there aren’t any rules of thumb, it really depends from movie to movie. This movie, it really worked for me to do them. 

Aviron Pictures – Understood. The movies you mentioned are different types of Horror films, so it makes sense. You have worked on bigger and smaller budget films. What are the pros and cons of each?

Johannes Roberts – I’ve always been very lucky in keeping the people I work with around me. Each movie, by in large, has gone up in budget. There really hasn’t been a con in the getting more money scenario – it has only ever brought good things, I find. Obviously, the more money, the more you are answering to people. I think The Strangers: Prey at Night was something like 8 million dollars, you are answerable to these people. My first movie was made on 5,000 lbs, you are not answering there.

It’s funny, when you use tiny sums of money, like when I started off, actually, it is equally as hard, because that money is someone’s money. It’s not a corporation, not a company, you have taken that money from friends or family, however you have raised it. It’s a funny thing coming up through filmmaking that way, it really makes you be responsible and to really appreciate the money that people are putting it. With The Strangers: Prey at Night, there was a really good team around me, even with 47 Meters Down. With The Other Side of the Door, it was a studio movie, so there was interference. If you really believe in what you are doing, and you can show you are not an idiot, to be honest, people will just let you do your thing, I find. 

The Strangers: Prey at Night still. – It is good you came from an independent background because it gives you a greater appreciation and, hence, more than likely make the most of your resources. You do not take things for granted.

Johannes Roberts – No, not at all, never have. You learn a lot from making a movie on pennies. – Absolutely. Last question. What are some of your personal favorite Horror films? 

Johannes Roberts – Currently, my favorite is Christine. I really had fun in The Strangers: Prey at Night in remaking that. Everytime I went to Sony and asked them to let me remake it, they told me no. I just went ahead and did it anyhow in a different movie. I love all Carpenter’s stuff, I can sit and watch it until the cows come home. I also love all Stephen King’s stuff. After shooting The Strangers: Prey at Night, me and my partner drove down to the house where they shot Pet Sematary (1989). That was my equivalent of a Star Wars fan sitting in a millenium falcon. I was awe-inspired to be at that house. It’s a movie I have grown up with and loved since a kid. I love the ’80s King movies, I am a huge fan of Pet Sematary in particular, Cujo as well. 

Another movie that played into The Strangers: Prey at Night, which is possibly one of my favorites of all time, is The Exorcist III (1990). I think it is hugely underrated and just really fascinatingly shot. I watched that a lot before shooting The Strangers: Prey at Night. I think the way he shoots that movie is really interesting. Possibly because William Peter Blatty was not a director, he was really a writer. It made for a very interesting style. Those are some of my favorite films. 

Columbia Pictures
Paramount Pictures

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