Deck the halls with… I don’t know, blood and duct tape. We’re a day away from Thanksgiving, which means Saturday is going to send us screaming into the Christmas season. And that means it’s time for Christmas horror movies both past and present. One such movie, Safe Neighborhood, is prepping for a huge screening at Monster Fest in Australia on Sunday, November 27th. Having formerly screened at Sitges and Fantastic Fest, Safe Neighborhood is about to deliver an extra special present to audiences and I thought that now would be a great time to talk to its creator – Chris Peckover. Safe Neighborhood has a bunch of international screenings planned before its official home media release in 2017, so read my interview with Mr. Peckover to see why you should check out this flick during the coming months.
H: Safe Neighborhood is your second horror feature following 2010’s Undocumented. Is this the niche you’re going to stick with or are you open to exploring different genres?
C: Horror’s at such a great nexus right now. Audiences are hungry for originality beyond the vampire/zombie/alien surge of the past decade, and the industry seems to be picking up on that. Of course I’m open to different genres, but in the meantime there are so many strange, original horrors lurking in my brain, I’d be crazy not to put them to screen right now before the pendulum swings back again.
H: What made you decide that Safe Neighborhood was the next script you wanted to tackle and how do you think it will stack up against other Christmas horror films?
C: The truth is it wasn’t the next script, at first. After Undocumented, I was developing a project at Gore Verbinski’s Blind Wink, but when they lost their deal with Universal it fell apart. Then I started developing another project at the Dino de Laurentiis company with their executive Lorenzo de Maio, who turned out to be a really wonderful mentor to me. When I showed him a draft of Safe Neighborhood, he flipped out and helped us find a home for it with Storm Vision in Australia. We ended up shooting it in the dead of summer in Sydney, so — considering how suffocatingly hot it was — if we stack up against ANY Christmas horror films then I’m quite happy, thank you very much.
Monster Fest describes the plot as: “Deandra (Virginia Madsen) and Robert (Patrick Warburton) think nothing of leaving their 12-year-old son Luke (Levi Miller) with their regular babysitter Ashley (Olivia DeJonge of SCARE CAMPAIGN and THE VISIT) when they go out one snowy evening before Christmas. After all, their neighborhood is a safe one and after they leave, the greatest threat in their home appears to be to Luke’s dignity as he attempts to win over Ashley’s love. Ashley is every bit as sharp and quick-witted as she is beautiful and expertly avoids making a potentially embarrassing situation worse – but she’s finally put to the test when she and Luke find themselves in the middle of an unusual home invasion.”
H: Two of your leads, Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould, starred in 2015’s breakout hit, The Visit. Is it a coincidence that they appear along each other in your movie or is that just how the casting process went down?
C: To me, the bigger coincidence is that M. Night cast two Australians as two American siblings in The Visit. From where I’m standing, between Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould and Levi Miller, I cast the three best teen actors in Australia right now. I feel lucky. Without their phenomenal experience at such young ages, I don’t know if Safe Neighborhood would’ve been able to hold up as well as it does.
H: Can you describe Safe Neighborhood in three words? And why do you choose those three words?
C: I have a hard time describing it in a hundred words. Let’s see… Twisted, and I feels like I’m cheating with that one because it covers two qualities, that it’s horrific and that it has a twist. Delightful, because even I had no idea how much audiences would respond to the dark comedy. And… Satisfying. And this is the most important one, because most movies that are fun all the way through don’t stick the landing, and that’s our best part.
H: Were there any experiences on the set of this movie that challenged you as writer, producer and director?
C: The biggest challenge was time. We had 30 days to shoot, which sounds like a lot, but we weren’t allowed to go over 10 hours a day because of a combination of child labor laws and union rules in Australia. On top of that, most of my DP’s experience was in commercials, where you don’t have to pull off that many shots per day. He has quite an eye, and Safe Neighborhood’s lighting is gorgeous, but shooting that slowly on a low budget feature was killer. By Week 2 my editor and I had to stop watching dailies together and instead spent hours every night creating a new shot list from scratch. And even then we had to bring on a second DP. The actors were running back and forth between the two units, changing makeup and costumes to juggle two scenes shooting at the same time. It was hilarious and impressive and genuinely turned my beard grey. But hey, time is a challenge on every movie.
H: Safe Neighborhood is screening at Monster Fest on November 27. How excited are you to see it screen overseas and where can fans look for it next?
C: Like — level 10 fireball jealous I can’t be there. Not just because we were an Australian production and this is our big Aussie premiere, but also because Melbourne crowds are the best and I know it’ll be a hell of a screening. That, and I hear Julia Ducournau will be there, and I have a filmmaker’s crush on her like you wouldn’t believe. Don’t miss Raw it’s really something special. Please say hi to her for me. Like — seriously. Say it. If you’re in Paris or Canada you can expect to see a couple more screenings pop up in December. But otherwise you might have to play the patient game with me because this puppy doesn’t come out until Xmas 2017. But I promise it’ll be a fun roll out. The genius gentleman behind the trailers for Don’t Breathe is devising the twisted holiday marketing for our movie.
Tickets to Monster Fest are still available here: http://monsterfest.com.au/2016/tickets/. It was recently announced that Safe Neighborhood will screen as part of Rue Morgue’s CineMacabre Movie Nights on December 1st. Make sure you check it out there, too. Don’t forget to follow Chris Peckover on Twitter and his film on Facebook for all future updates. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me, Chris, and I can’t wait to add your movie to my collection in 2017!