It’s a premise resembling a hybrid of Battle Royale and Stephen King’s The Long Walk: a broad racial/cultural cross-section of an unnamed metropolitan populace are spontaneously abducted, reappearing in a bleak and barren landscape save for a sidewalk leading in, around and through a few deserted structures. Then the “rules” start echoing in their heads and it’s everyone for him-or-herself until a single survivor remains.
Paul Hough’s dark, bloody and daring debut literally hits the ground running and never lets up from start to jaw-dropping finish. A Hunger Games for the gorehound set, the young writer/director has fashioned an extremely effective high concept thriller that delivers geysers of blood and thoughtful meditations on the brutality of human nature in equal measure, one that belies its budgetary constraints with those all-too-rarely-used secret weapons: strong characters and fine acting.
Headlining this category are Altered’s Paul McCarthy-Boyington, Trista Robinson, T. Arthur Cottam, Fred Coury, and real-life amputee Eddie McGee, the latter a particularly charismatic breakout, the absence of his left leg only heightening the character’s heroic actions. (The story is clearly interested in examining perceived disabilities, as several of the strongest characters possess some physical hindrance yet easily overcome their able-bodied opponents.) In delivering an adrenaline-pumping 90-minute gauntlet that leaves its audience as breathless as the onscreen contestants, the son of legendary genre director John Hough announces himself as a welcome new voice in the horror ether.
Following an enthusiastic reception at Fantasia in 2012 (where it made its world premiere), I sat down with Hough to discuss the challenges of shooting an independent feature that really moves.
AC: What was the inspiration for The Human Race?
Paul Hough: One of my favorite movies is Battle Royale – I tend to think of Human Race as Battle Royale with a tinge of Run Lola Run. But my biggest inspiration was Eddie. He is absolutely amazing, one of the most charismatic actors I’ve ever met. I did a short film that played at Fantasia in 2007 called The Angel (available on YouTube) in which he does a lot of martial arts, double somersaults, etc. He’s a very unique actor because he has one leg; in Hollywood no one will cast him in any kind of movie except the stereotypical Movie of the Week “returning war veteran with the cheesy violin playing in the background” kind of stuff. With the success of The Angel, I came very close to getting a couple other scripts made and there were roles in there for Eddie. One of the big things that people would say was that, if Eddie was co-star, third lead, fourth lead, they would absolutely not go ahead with any of these scripts because “no one would accept a movie starring a guy with one leg.”
AC: Were you on sets your father’s sets a lot as a kid?
PH: My dad has been a tremendous influence; he’s an amazing filmmaker and has imparted so much advice my way. When I was younger, around 9, he gave me an 8mm camera because he would play football every weekend and I would have nothing to do for two hours. So, instead of watching him, I’d get some friends and we’d make a film. Every week it was always the same film: Four friends come to a park and get killed off by a monster one by one. I must have made that same film, with different variations on the deaths, maybe 24, 25 times. [laughs] At my primary school when I was 10, I had my first premiere and the headmistress there came up to me and said, “We can’t let the children under 8 into the movie because it’s too scary.” And I thought, “Oh, no, I’m being censored!”
AC: You attended NYU and shot the award-winning documentary The Backyard in 2002, but Human Race is your first narrative feature. How long was the shoot?
PH: It was probably a 3.5 year period from start to finish because we never actually had enough money to shoot the whole film in one go. There are a lot of people involved in the race, so logistically it was very difficult. We shot the first nine days, took a two-month break, shot two more days, tried to raise some more money, shot for a few more days then took maybe a five month break... All along I was editing the film and people’s hair would grow to different lengths, etc. It was tough.
AC: Where was it shot?
PH: The main location was in Whittier, CA, at an old abandoned government prison. We were able to shoot there for seven days, but once we moved out, the facility closed down. So half of the film takes place at my house! All the caves in Afghanistan are in a room in my house, the cemetery scene and all the scenes of people getting pushed off the path are in my backyard. That’s why the house became such a central focus because we couldn’t get back into the prison location; it had suddenly been bought out by some commercial real estate company. The script changed as we went but I always knew where it was going – I just wasn’t exactly sure how we were getting there. But that kind of enabled me to see where we were, to try to add things to make the film as unpredictable as possible.
Another difficult thing was that Paul McCarthy-Boyington, who plays Justin, is such a working actor that he’d get all these roles in these other amazing films – I think he was shooting a Western at one point where he had to grow a beard – so that would also push our schedule back. But the moment he could, he would shave it off and we’d shoot some more.
AC: Did you do any special prep work between Eddie and Paul to cement their onscreen relationship?
PH: I made sure they went to a bar, had several pitchers of beers, and just spent time together. It was very important that they became very close and had that chemistry. Even though at some points it worked against me, because they would start laughing and cracking each other up on set!
AC: Any of the characters – and I do mean anyone – can die at any time, which makes for a very exciting view. There’s a dangerous quality to it.
PH: At our first screening, the audience was in complete silence for the first 25 minutes – I think people were just a little shocked as to what was going on, which is great because I don’t want my films to be boring or predictable. There’s nothing worse than watching a story that you’ve seen before, that you know where it’s going to go. But I’m not just doing things frivolously to be unique either – hopefully it all tracks, it all makes sense.
AC: The movie ends on a “what comes next” note, but these days I think people immediately think, “Oh, sequel.” What are your thoughts about that?
PH: There is no sequel. This was the story I wanted to tell and I think the ending is cool, but it is in fact the ending. I’m a fan of cool endings, even if they are open-ended – I think I might even have written the ending for Human Race first, before anything else. That said, I’m actually quite pleased with the fact that people ask about a sequel; it means that they want to see more...as opposed to the alternative! But I still think this one is pretty much complete.
|Boyington-McCarthy, McGee, and Hough at the Fantasia 2012 Q&A|
AC: Your father had quite a diverse body of work. Do you have a specific genre you like to work in?
PH: I’m a huge fan of Hitchcock, huge fan of thrillers and action, and I’ll do anything I find compelling. The next project I want to do with Eddie is another sci-fi/thriller with elements of horror. I love horror, but I wouldn’t say I’m exclusively a horror director. I’d like to do a martial arts movie – I’d even do a musical if it was the right kind of musical for me! My dad did a whole spectrum of films, from the kids movies for Disney (Escape to Witch Mountain, The Watcher in the Woods) to the horror (Twins of Evil, Legend of Hell House) to action (Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry) – I guess I’m kind of the same way!
The Human Race is available now on VOD and iTunes (https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/the-human-race/id879730858), with a DVD release date of July 22 from Xlerator Media.
Additionally, tomorrow night, Wednesday, June 18, at the Cinema Village (22 East 12th Street, off University Place) in NYC, Fangoria will be hosting a FREE screening of the movie, with legendary editor emeritus Tony Timpone presenting the film. More details can be found at Fangoria.com. If you are in the NYC area, check it out! If you are not in the NYC area, but have friends who are, tell them to check it out!