Interview: 'The Wicked' Director Peter Winther On Being Scary While Jumping Genres
Horror films are a dime a dozen, but infuse some coming of age aspects, fable like story qualities and a pinch of well-timed comedic cop action and you’ve got something special. Encompassing all of the above the new to DVD thriller "The Wicked" is a rare gem that challenges the genre and lingers long. It tells the tale of an evil witch with a mysterious past that haunts an abandoned house in the woods. It’s a film that may sound familiar but under the inspired direction of Director Peter Winther, The Wicked is one to watch for sure. We got a chance to chat one-on-one with Winther all about The Wicked, the various genres within its very diverse walls and his cool casting that introduces some fantastic new actors. Don’t throw that rock – here’s...
So there’s a lot of genres lovingly represented in "The Wicked" – how would you describe the film?
Peter Winther: When I read the script I just thought it was like a modern day fable. We had ambitions of the suburbia world that’s creeping upon this more naturalistic pagan world. It keeps creeping in and in and the kids go into a magical enchanted forest. I saw that kind of vibe and there’s obviously some Hansel & Gretel overtures in there too. I was looking at it like that because to be honest I like scary movies, but I’m not a big horror guy. Like "Saw," that was obviously a great movie, but I don’t know if I could make a movie like that because it’s just too dark. But this one I liked because I felt the witch or the best bad guy is someone that you can understand why they’re feeling that way but they maybe took it a little too far. In this case she took it way too far. But I liked the fable quality and there’s almost a Goonies quality with the kids - I like all that stuff.
Let’s tackle the genres within one at a time...
First off there’s a sweet coming of age romance involving Diana Hopper and Devon Werkheiser. How did you cast them, did they have an instant chemistry and was it difficult to portray soft moments within a horror outing?
PW: That story line for me was the one that attracted me the most. That "Goonies" aspect, that young love I really like that you don’t see much in horror. We did some LA casting - we shot in Michigan and most of the casting was done in Michigan - and Devon came and he nailed it. Justin Deeley who plays his brother came in and those guys had played in an acting class as brothers in some scene and immediately had a connection – it was a no brainer. Diana Hopper is the one I think is the real discovery of the movie. We had to cast that character out of Michigan just for budget reasons so I couldn’t find her in all the auditions. So I told the casting director just give me every single tape of every single actress of that age that I haven’t seen. And there was one I saw at like two o’clock in the morning where she came in and read and had this great quality, a great deadpan delivery. I didn’t even audition her – we just Skyped and talked on the phone and I just knew she was the right girl. She came out and the first day she was amazing. She and Devon had instant chemistry – sometimes you have to just trust your instincts.
Next, there’s an almost "Super Troopers" funny angle involving the local police deputies and their inane antics – was there ever any resistance to the comedic aspects of their side story?
PW: No. For me, again, what I liked about the script was it hit a bunch of things. I loved the comedy. I'm a huge Sam Raimi fan, so a lot of his movies had all those elements all the way through. That’s what I liked about it so I wanted to embrace all of that. And Jamie Kaler who plays the main sheriff guy is a longtime friend of mine and we went to college together. So I convinced him to come out to Michigan to play that part – he’s a really talented guy. But you have to be careful because it can’t be too much. You have to find the right tone because you still have to keep this idea of a real danger and a real threat. So if it gets to Keystone cops it’s not going to work. It was a dangerous risk to take but I think it was worth it.
I also dug the teen romance stuff with the very saucy Jess Adams – what was in the script vs. what she brought to that bold and forward character?
PW: It’s funny because Jess has this great exotic look and she’s incredibly sexy and then you realize she’s the sweetest, nicest girl you could ever meet. We wanted to have a girl who felt totally out of place in suburbia compared to these other kids – a real powerful woman. She’s so sweet, but then as soon as the camera roles she turns on that other presence that she has and with both eyes she just kills you. In the original script she was more one-note like the bad ass girl who has a history and you find out the history is all a charade. Jess brought a real warmth to her as well that was apparent and a sweetness that’s underneath while still keeping that exotic sexy thing to her.
As far as horror goes I’m utterly fascinated by actress Cassie Keller. How did you cast her, did she do most of the role during the make-up stuff and was that final moment a homage and loving nod to "Trilogy of Terror?"
PW: (Laughs) You know it wasn’t. In the original script the witch doesn’t make it, but we felt that Cassie so nailed the character and also the producers were like we want to keep it going. So we had to come up with a scene and we felt it would be a cool way to do it. There happened to be a playground there, so it’s not a nod – maybe a subconscious nod. It wasn’t planned, but I love that moment. But Cassie was in that make-up all the time – she was a real trooper. It’s so funny because you’re covering up one of the most beautiful women in the world. I kept thinking to myself the irony of this is crazy! The auditions for the witch were bizarre because there was no dialogue and the local casting director had them doing whatever talents they had. So we had gymnasts prancing around and I was like what am I watching? But when Cassie came in I was like that’s not going to work because I’d always imagined the witch to be in her forties, someone who is desperately trying to hold onto her youth. So she came in and did a scene from "Girl, Interrupted" and there’s an anger there and I was like that’s the girl. So we changed so she was younger and beautiful and I actually kind of liked that idea more because it’s kind of a twist. My original take was kind of a common thing where she’s an older woman, but the fact that her eating children keeps her that young and it’s actually working it’s like the best Botox ever! (Laughs)
So what’s next for you?
PW: Well, the producers are talking about doing a sequel to "The Wicked"...
Please tell me you’re gonna stick with Cassie for that role?!
PW: Of course! Continue the story and lot of the same actors would come back and continue their roles. And then I have another project that’s a supernatural thriller called "Irrefutable" with Djimon Hounsou and Peter Facinelli and the producers are the guys who did "Mystery, Alaska." So we’ll see which one we do first and how well "The Wicked" does, but I love directing.
"THE WICKED" IS CURRENTLY AVAILABLE ON DVD FROM RLJ ENTERTAINMENT.