Mark Pavia emerged onto the horror scene with an extremely underrated, inventive, tongue-in-cheek Stephen King adaptation called The Night Flier. It was a low-budget but suspenseful take on the vampire myth that really emerged as a standout among the oversaturation of self-referential teen slashers of the late ‘90s.
Now Pavia is back, just as we’re rounding out an oversaturation of vampire movies, to give us his take on slashers—an interesting parallel of the time in which he made his first feature. Fender Bender is a movie that wears its love of horror on its sleeve. It’s an engaging callback to the horror flicks we used to watch as kids. Watching this movie, you can see specific moments influenced by everything from Carpenter’s Halloween to Lustig’s Maniac.
We caught up with the director to talk about the film, which premieres June 3rd at 9pm on Chiller.
Wicked Horror: Right off the bat, I just want to say that Fender Bender really impressed me. A lot of movies lately have marketed themselves as throwback slashers, but this one really, really went back to that tone. So the first thing I want to know is, what were your biggest influences for the film?
Mark Pavia: Well, you know, I’m a horror fanatic like you are. I’m the same way. And I approached this through the eyes of a fan first and foremost. Growing up, it was a really exciting time. Obviously you had the granddaddy of them all, John Carpenter’s Halloween. But, as you know, it’s not the first slasher because we had Hitchcock’s Psycho, we had Peeping Tom, we had Bob Clark’s Black Christmas, Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chain Saw Massacre touched on it… but John Carpenter’s Halloween just opened the floodgates. And then we had Friday the 13th a few years later in 1980 and that was it.
As a kid growing up at the time, I was waiting patiently for the next one. These movies scared the hell out of me. And my dad was awesome, I was underage and he would take me to see these movies. I was a filmmaker, a budding filmmaker, and he knew I could handle it. And the ones I couldn’t go to with my dad, I would sneak in. We’d pay money to go see whatever PG comedy at the time and then sneak across the hall and go into the slashers. Scream our heads off.
There’s not one handheld shot in Fender Bender. Not one. Everything’s either on dolly track or Steadicam, or sticks, I’m just trying to stick to that classic visual style. What’s kind of cool about it is that I think it comes across as fresh again. I’m more used to the style of the classic slashers, but a lot of the fans today are more used to the run-and-gun handheld look of modern movies.
Wicked Horror: It’s fresh because we haven’t seen it in so long.
Pavia: We haven’t seen it in so long. Yeah! And I think that kind of makes it cool and fresh again. So, I think to answer your question, I was heavily influenced by the great John Carpenter, and that kind of mixed with my own sensibility of what I loved about these movies. And then kind of just mixed up with the way I tell a story. Then I threw everything in a big old bowl and mixed it all up.
Wicked Horror: I noticed a lot of specific callbacks to Carpenter and just the way Dean Cundey shot Halloween in particular, so you really hit that visual aesthetic.
Pavia: Yeah, me and my DP, Tyler Cushing, we know these classics. Tyler, who’s amazing, knows Dean Cundey and loves his work. You honor it without copying it. That was my intention, to pay honor to these movies but with my own sense of story and style, which is probably things like a deeper sense of character. It takes its time with its characters. And also a slower burn. That’s how it’s different from today’s horror movies. I love slow burn movies.
It takes its risks. There’s a section in the middle a half hour long where the great Mackenzie Vega, who plays Hilary, is alone in her house. It’s almost a silent movie, except for the sounds. There’s no dialogue.
Wicked Horror: That was one of the things I wanted to ask you about. Mackenzie Vega is so good, Bill Sage, and this whole thing is really well cast. What was the casting process like?
Pavia: So, as you know, when casting something like this my producers, they suggest names. And when Mackenzie Vega’s name came up, I was like “Oh, shit! Yes! Awesome!” I loved her. I knew her recently from her work on The Good Wife, but you and I being horror fanatics, I remember her from Saw. And she was incredible and she was like, seven years old or something in Saw. And she was amazing. When we first saw Saw, we were all like “Who’s that little girl?” I always had my eye on Mackenzie because she’s always giving off these honest performances. So when her name came up, it was perfect. And she read the script and loved it. She understood what I was trying to do. When you think of how sweet Hilary is in the movie, that is Mackenzie Vega. She was amazing. She was just gung-ho for everything. I think she was excited because on The Good Wife, when people see her, she’s kind of a good girl and she’s kind of this God fearing character and this gave her an opportunity to not do that. To fight. And she really embraced it. She was amazing.
Bill Sage, we all know Bill Sage, one of the great character actors out there today. When his name came up, because it was suggested by one of my producers who had worked with him previously, I was like “Oh my God, would he do it?” Because he’s an incredible sort of actor to bring to this movie. And he dug it. I think it was fun because he had never gotten a role like this. It was really exciting to have that caliber of actor, and I think it shows. Everybody nails it. Bill was amazing.
I made a really interesting suggestion to him early on. The killer is very mysterious. But we talked about his outfit. When he gets into the fender bender with Mackenzie early on, he’s in his suburban clothes. White, like, Seinfeld tennis shoes and the glasses and I said, “Bill, that’s your costume. Your killing outfit later in the movie is what makes you comfortable. This is your costume.” And he took that and ran with it.
Wicked Horror: That’s a great note.
Pavia: And when he’s in his leather outfit, he was just creepy as hell. And that’s him in the outfit. You know, a lot of these movies we love from the past, it was a stuntman. All of those great slashers…
Wicked Horror: You can barely count the amount of people who reportedly doubled Michael Myers in the original Halloween.
Pavia: Right. Well, it was Nick Castle for most of it wasn’t it?
Wicked Horror: Nick Castle for most of it, of course, but also Tony Moran, Will Sandin, Debra Hill…
Pavia: And in the sequels it was all stuntmen. But we had an amazing stunt team on Fender Bender, of course. There’s a sequence, I don’t want to spoil it for anybody, but you know what I’m talking about. But it was hard, because you can’t put your actor in danger.
Wicked Horror: And that’s, again, even a kind of stunt I haven’t seen in a long time.
Pavia: Yeah, yeah! I love that. That was very exciting to shoot that sequence. It’s very precise. Everything has to be very safe, it’s very organized, I had six cameras set up. And then you go for it. It’s over very quickly. What you see in the movie, that’s the length of it. It’s crazy. We did one take on that, then additional pickups, so basically two takes. But the big stunt, that was a one take situation. Yeah, we had an amazing stunt team.
Wicked Horror: Another thing I was really curious about: it’s been a gap of time between Night Flier and Fender Bender. I’m wondering what your thoughts are on the changes between directing a film now vs. directing a film then?
Pavia: Well, obviously, film vs. digital is the obvious answer, because Night Flier was shot with Panavision cameras on 35mm. And I feel very blessed that I had the opportunity to do that. You can’t do it, I mean, you can do it but it’s a little more expensive today. For low budget movies it’s more expensive. The bigger budget films are still doing it. The biggest advantage was obviously shooting digital. But the cameras today are incredible. The image quality is amazing. It looks filmic. What’s nice about shooting with the RED camera, which we shot Fender Bender with, is that it’s very helpful in post-production.
The biggest difference between post on Night Flier and post on Fender Bender was in working with the image. It was incredibly, incredibly fast. It would have taken much longer back in the day. And besides that, not much. Because the way I work is not dependent on my equipment. The way I visualize the story, the way I work with characters, the way I work with scripts, it’s all exactly the same. I make these movies for me. And for you. They’re for the fans. So on Fender Bender, the joy you took from it is the joy I had making it. That’s the joy we had designing the film.
Wicked Horror: And that shows.
Pavia: Yeah, I’ve had people say that. That’s rewarding. It’s all because I love these movies and if you love these movies, I think you’ll dig Fender Bender.
Wicked Horror: You can always tell when something is directed by someone who maybe, not necessarily isn’t a fan of the genre, but just doesn’t understand or have that connection.
Pavia: Or aren’t into it, maybe. I’m glad that came across.
Wicked Horror: You spoke a couple of years ago about a Stephen King anthology project. I’m just wondering if there’s been any development on that since it was announced.
Pavia: Yeah, Stephen King’s Reaper’s Image, an anthology film which is sort of a modern take on Creepshow. There hasn’t been a Stephen King anthology movie in a long time. I guess Creepshow 2 would have been the last one. When it was sent out initially, it was conceived as a feature film, then it got bigger and morphed into a TV miniseries, then it went out as a potential series. We’re getting a lot of interest, we’re still getting a lot of interest. It’s still out there, so we’ll see what happens.
Wicked Horror: If that’s the case, I look forward to it. Again, I really enjoyed the film and it’s been great talking with you.
Fender Bender premieres June 3rd at 9pm on Chiller.