With his debut feature, sci-fi horror Almost Human, up-and-coming writer-director Joe Begos established himself as one of the coolest and most unique new voices in genre cinema. He returns with another hybrid, action-horror-thriller (with a healthy dollop of body horror shocks thrown in for good measure), The Mind’s Eye.
Pitching a young couple with telekinetic powers against a Big Bad in the form of Joe Speredakos’ dastardly Dr. Slovak, the flick is another ambitious offering from Begos, which showcases his incredible raw talent and ingenuity (particularly when it comes to the on-screen representation of practically-realised gore) as a blossoming filmmaker.
Wicked Horror sat down with Begos (metaphorically speaking, over the phone) to talk The Mind’s Eye, the struggles of low-budget, indie film-making and why practical is always the answer:
WH: You’re not really a straight horror guy, you kind of like to meld genres. The Mind’s Eye is action-horror, Almost Human was sci-fi horror…
JB: Yeah, that whole idea really appeals to me. My make-up guy calls this one ‘sci-fi splatter’.
WH: How did you come up with this idea in the first place? Where did the inspiration come from? Horror fans will have fun spotting references, but it still feels like a unique prospect at the same time.
JB: When I was doing the festival circuit with my last film [Almost Human], you know, everybody would keep asking ‘what movie are you doing next?’ So I just started blurting out that I wanted to do a telekinesis revenge movie because it sounded fucking awesome but I really didn’t have an idea or anything. And so, I just kept on saying that whenever anyone asked me. Then, when I finished the festival circuit, I had to actually decide what I was going to do next and I came up with this idea for a home invasion set-piece – the one in the movie where the guys sort of come barging in – and I wove that sequence in. I initially had that idea as the entire first act of the film. Then, through various drafts after that, I moved it around and that became kind of the anchor, the central piece of the movie, and then as I realised my budgetary constraints I sort of sculpted the rest from there.
WH: For me, the central conceit was a bit like if Professor Xavier’s School For Gifted Youngsters went very wrong. It had these weird, sort-of X-Men vibes, though obviously with more horror elements.
JB: Yeah, totally. The discount version. [laughs]
JB: For sure.
WH: The casting – particularly those three, central roles – is so important, because if we don’t believe inn that central relationship, and the struggle with Dr. Slovak, then the whole thing falls apart. How did you go about casting those characters?
JB: Well, Graham Skipper [who plays Zach], I wrote the script for from the beginning. He was in my last movie and I knew I wanted to work with him again, so I wrote the role with him in mind. But I also wanted to give him something completely different, something that was a complete 180 from what he’d done before. So he was always attached to the script, whichever draft it was. And then Lauren Ashley Carter [who plays Rachel], she’s based in New York, about two hours away from where we were shooting, and she’s been absolutely amazing in everything I’ve seen her in, from Jug Face to The Woman and then most recently Darling. I had some friends who had worked with her before, they put us in touch, and she was just so down for everything. You know, from doing all her own stunts, to the fact it was going to be fucking freezing and that it would be a long shoot, she was just down for everything. And then when we got on set she just 100% stuck to her word, which is great because you get so many people who say they’re up for all this shit and then when they actually get there, they’re not. John Speredakos was actually the villain in Larry Fessenden’s Habit, which is a fantastic movie, and he was also in House Of The Devil, too, and he was so great in that. I’d originally cast him as the sheriff and we were having trouble finding a doctor, you know, someone who would be willing to do all the wire work and the long make-up required for that role. So as we’re getting closer and closer [to shooting] I re-watched Habit and House Of The Devil and I realised that Speredakos played a bad guy in both movies and they were both completely different villains, too. I saw that he could do that range, so I called him up and he was actually very apprehensive about doing it, because of all the wire-work and the stunts involved but thankfully he agreed because I couldn’t anyone else playing that role.
WH: You mentioned Larry Fessenden before? How did he get involved? And Jeremy Gardner, he popped up too.
JB: Those two, I knew I wanted to work with them on a movie before I even started writing this. Right after I finished Almost Human, I watched The Battery for the first time and I just fucking fell in love with that movie, it’s just so well made and Jeremy is such a fantastic screen presence. I just knew we’d be able to do something with him. I actually wish that I’d given him a bigger role because he’s fucking awesome – I don’t know what he even would’ve played, I just wish I’d written something for him. So, anyway, I knew he was going to be great in the movie. And then Fessenden was, also, always going to be in it but again he was going to play to a much smaller role, like a four-page role. And then the actor who was going to play Zach’s dad fell out about a week before shooting and I sent it to Larry and was like ‘hey, if we can make this work, if you can do this amount of pages and this amount of days’ – it was like 22 pages in three days but of course Lauren and Graham are fucking pros so they knocked it out – and Fessenden was just so incredible. So now I just want to write a lead for Larry because he’s so fucking good.
WH: I kind of wish Jeremy had a bigger role, too. He kind of steals focus when he’s in the background, like he’s kind of hard to ignore!
JB: [laughs] Yeah I’m going to fix that problem very soon.
JB: We shot in Rhode Island. That’s where I grew up, and that’s where I shot Almost Human. It was just such a good experience to go back there and shoot a movie completely off the radar, so I wanted to do it again. I also love that vibe it gives, the cold, New England vibe – or even a Canadian vibe. So I really like that element, and we just scouted everywhere and found the mansion on this rich island, and then the rest we found sort of driving around, picking shit out and cold-calling people basically [laughs].
WH: Speaking of the weather, the snow allows for some really great, bloody shots. The gore is seriously out of this world. It just keeps getting wilder and wilder over the course of the movie, to the point where just when you think it can’t be pushed any further, it is.
JB: Yeah, I’m glad you said that because that was something I really wanted to incorporate, that idea of it starting and then just not stopping. So, I’m glad it panned out like that.
WH: I’m guessing it’s all practical, too? It certainly looks it. Or, as much as it could be.
JB: Oh yeah, the only non-practical thing is the wire removal. So everybody is really flying through the air, all the fire’s real, every drop of blood is real. I think we had about 19 wire removal shots overall but that was it, and everything was done in camera, too. We wrapped shooting March 31st or March 30th and then we were premiering four and a half months later. I think part of that is because we had no visual FX stuff to do, you know, besides the wire stuff. So once we cut the movie that was it. That’s also something that people just don’t think about, is how much quicker it makes your production process.
WH: Right, because there’s no real work to do in post.
JB: Exactly. I mean, I can’t really understand why anyone would choose digital over practical, but whatever.
WH: Is it a big deal to you to go practical? Looking at The Mind’s Eye and how old-school it is, with the allusions to Cronenberg, etc., it really seems to be.
JB: Yeah, it’s not even a question for me. When I’m writing it, I’m not even thinking about how I can augment it. If I’m writing something and I can’t figure out how to do it practically, then I’m probably not going to do it. So, it doesn’t even enter my mind-set, that option.
WH: What’s coming up next for you? More horror? More hybrids?
JB: I have a couple of scripts so, you know, whichever one somebody wants to finance first. I have a Satanic summer camp slasher kind of thing, a body horror time travel movie and then I’m kind of writing a couple of other things, too. So it’s really about whichever one someone wants to put up the money for first, really!
Catch The Mind’s Eye in theaters, VOD and on iTunes from August 5th, 2016