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Exclusive Interview: The terrifying team behind “V/H/S/85,” Part Two

Tuesday, October 10, 2023 | Interviews


V/H/S/85, now streaming on Shudder, brought together a varied group of filmmakers to create one of the best entries in the ongoing horror anthology franchise. Here, we continue our talk (see Part One here) with David Bruckner (framing story “Total Copy,” and also one of the producers), Mike P. Nelson (the two-part “No Wake/Ambrosia”), Natasha Kermani (“TKNOGD”) and Scott Derrickson (“Dreamkill”). Don’t worry, we’ve got a chat with “God of Death” director Gigi Saul Guerrero on tap in the coming days!

Mike, “No Wake/Ambrosia” has a lot of great surprises that I didn’t see coming. Was this a concept you’d had before, or did you come up with it after you got this assignment?

MIKE P. NELSON: This is a story that I’ve told before, but I’d had that idea on my computer for about three years. It just sat there, and I was told by a few people that I would never be able to make it just because it’s a little weird. It wasn’t fully fleshed out, so I kind of understood that sentiment. But I was like, “Oh man, this is so cool, though!” I loved the idea of being trapped in the middle of a lake and there’s nothing you can do, and then, what ends up happening afterward? You’re just like, “Oh my God,” and it’s a very unexpected thing. It’s a story about, instead of letting bodies be bodies, what does it feel like to be a victim in a situation like that? That was something I really wanted to explore, and then to tackle a slightly different point of view that becomes its own thing later on.

That was going to be a part of the story before V/H/S/85, and then when I got into V/H/S/85, it actually made the whole thing better. It made it more succinct, it made it tighter. So it went from something that maybe could have been a bit of a bloated feature to a really tight half hour. Really, all you need to know is what you see in those 30 minutes, and you get it. It was a cool challenge, and it also showed me what you can do with so little.

And yet it feels like you could expand a great feature out of it. Have you thought at all about doing that?

NELSON: There’s always that thought, like, where could I take it? I don’t necessarily know where I would go with it at this point. I mean, it really does hit the nail on the head pretty hard, and I’d really have to find, let’s call it the extra spark to keep it going for 90 minutes as opposed to 30, to keep it nice and tight again, because I feel like that’s what makes this short really special–that it is so succinct, so tight. It tells the story, you get out of it, and you do have that, ohhhhhh, you know what I mean? And then that’s it. I love that; I love the payoff.

Natasha, “TKNOGD” is a very different approach to found footage than we’ve seen in many of these kinds of anthologies. Where did that concept come from?

NATASHA KERMANI: I grew up in an artistic family, so I was around performance art quite a bit growing up. A lot of these very creepy archival videos have just been in the ether of my life for a long time, and I felt it would be fun and cool to see something that starts as an archival record of a performance that of course goes wrong.

In terms of the story, it was sort of a similar journey that Mike had. The writer, Zoe Cooper, and I had been tossing around a concept and not really landing it; it just wasn’t quite clicking. Then, once we put it into the context of 1985, a lot of exciting parallels and dialogues with today, in a sense, started emerging. Initially, we were tossing around this concept of somebody who is consumed by this wearable tech. It was set in the future, and there wasn’t really a lot of meat on its bones. And then putting it in 1985 suddenly started unearthing all of these real moments that are in direct dialogue with 2023. Arguably, there were very pertinent conversations people were having in 1985 that feel really fun to have today in 2023 as well. Once we put constraints on this thing, once we put in the bumpers, the one-two punch of it started to feel more poignant and relevant. There was a reason to do it once we put it back in time.

Out of all the V/H/S films, this is one where everything feels a little more intertwined, and it’s more deliberate in the ordering of the stories. Can you talk about that?

SCOTT DERRICKSON: Only Bruckner can address that. He’s the only one who saw the other shorts before doing his. I didn’t see anybody else’s material.

DAVID BRUCKNER: Yeah, we didn’t get together and talk theme, we didn’t sort of brainstorm where this was all going to go. Each of the filmmakers ran in their respective directions; these were the stories they got excited about and that they brought to the V/H/S producing team. Then they went off and made them, so it was kind of my job in the end to try to crack an order and figure out how these things might fit together. And of course, we had this whole new element that we’d never had before, where Mike had split up his short, so we experimented with that in a few ways. I even tried to separate Mike’s short into three sections at one point, and Mike was like, “No, this is a terrible idea.” [Laughs] And he was totally right, so we ended up stitching that back together.

So we found a rhythm, and then we tried to at least kind of give the directors a longer view of where their shorts were going to play in the overall film. Because they each had to think of theirs as an independent short, and when they were creating them, they were very much in the worlds of their shorts, but they would function differently when you see them in context. So it was about understanding, in Mike’s case, since his was the first to go, he was going to have the audience in one state of mind, and then for those in the middle or at the end of the movie, the expectations would be different. And sometimes, knowing what you were coming out of and what you were going into really mattered.

And naturally, all of that went into planning for the wraparound, figuring out how exactly it would play between the other segments. So yeah, we took a little bit more time with this one, because we started shooting last year, and it was a privilege to do so. I hope that it is a cohesive ride, and we’re excited to see the feedback.

Are there plans for another V/H/S, and have any of you talked to the producers about doing another one?

BRUCKNER: I certainly hope so. They’re too much fun to make. It doesn’t feel like this thing’s running out of steam, so fingers crossed.

NELSON: It’s not dead, man. If anything, V/H/S is coming back strong as ever!

KERMANI: I agree. I believe it was a very liberating process for a lot of the filmmakers. Ironically, taking away our toolkits sort of allowed us to free ourselves from a lot of the constraints of how to make a movie. I can’t speak for everyone, but personally, I really enjoyed the process and I would love to embrace future V/H/S movies. I’d also love to bring that energy and attitude into whatever I’m doing next, because it was an exciting process.

NELSON: Natasha made a good point: We were each left with a smaller toolbox, but in a way that taught us something we weren’t used to, or where you thought, “Oh my God, this is going to be a restriction.” And it ended up opening a whole new world of what you can do with so little. It opened my eyes to what you absolutely have to show to get a visceral response, especially in horror. That was such an exciting thing to explore.


Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold (RUE MORGUE's Head Writer) has been covering the world of horror cinema for over three decades, and in addition to his work for RUE MORGUE, he has been a longtime writer and editor for FANGORIA magazine and its website. He has also written for BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH, SCREAM,, TIME OUT, DELIRIUM, MOVIEMAKER and others. He is the author of the AD NAUSEAM books (1984 Publishing) and THE FRIGHTFEST GUIDE TO MONSTER MOVIES (FAB Press), and he has contributed documentaries, featurettes and liner notes to numerous Blu-rays, including the award-winning feature-length doc TWISTED TALE: THE UNMAKING OF "SPOOKIES" (Vinegar Syndrome).