With Horns, arriving in theaters October 31st, we get to see a softer side of Alexandre Aja. Horns stars Daniel Radcliffe as Ig Perrish, a grieving man widely believed to have raped and murdered his beloved girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple). When Ig wakes up with a set of horns and a newfound ability to make people do and say the most devious of their desires, he sees it as an opportunity to seek revenge on the real killer. As a director and producer known for intense horror films (The Hills Have Eyes, High Tension) it’s fun to watch Aja stretch his range and deliver some genuinely sweet romance and touching dramatic moments. However, fans don’t need to fear he’s lost his horror touch – Horns also delivers on genre elements, including some beautifully bloody practical effects.
Before his Comic-Con panel on Friday, I sat down for a one-on-one interview with Aja. He talked about navigating through so many genres in a single film, why he loves Joe Hill‘s novel, whether or not adapting a novel is different from remaking a film, casting Daniel Radcliffe, and More. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
ALEXANDRE AJA: I see it as a fable. A fable about first love, loss, and revenge. It’s something that uses the Christian kind of mythology to create an allegory of the fallen angel and through that the story of this character Ig Parish, who lost the woman he loved. She was murdered, and woke up one morning with horns growing on his head and made a deal with the devil to find out who killed her. But beyond the story, it is the adaptation of Joe Hill’s book, which is an absolutely amazing book. A lot of people read that book, it has been very successful, and I think has been a very important book for a lot of people. And for me first, because I read it and I couldn’t believe how many different genre and tones we were going through as I was reading the book, and I just wanted to bring that to the screen. Just wanted to be able to make a movie that would not be pigeonholed to a genre. I wanted to make a movie that will tell that story and respect that multi-toned aspect with a character leading everything together. That was my intention.
That’s something I wanted to talk to you about. You are generally known for more straight up horror. How was that for you navigating through all these tones?
AJA: It was amazing. It was like a pleasure cruise. Really it was not a given when we started making the movie. Of course the financiers and producers are always a little scared about making a drama and a love story, but it’s also dark and funny. It’s kind of weird.
It’s hard to market.
AJA: Yeah, it’s hard to market. And I’m happy, because it was not hard – it was a challenge in a way because we needed to be able to earn the comedic element and the drama, and the balance of those. The writing of the script was a big challenge to be sure that we were adding enough. Because if you start the movie as a pure comedy and you turn into a pure drama, something’s off, so you needed to go side by side all the way. That’s why we had to reorganize the book a little bit and change it in that vision. But we managed to get through that and hopefully we managed to do something that gives that same feeling they got when they read the book.
AJA: I appreciate what you’re saying, but I always felt that High Tension was a love story.
Oh wow, that’s very true. I hadn’t thought of that. I knew you would be comfortable with the drama element, because The Hills Have Eyes is very much a drama, but I forgot the romantic element of High Tension.
AJA: Yes, The Hills Have Eyes, I’m glad you say that because people kind of forget about that. For me it was really a survival drama about a young father who was going to give everything to get his baby back and I found there were very emotional scenes in The Hills Have Eyes, but it was a true horror movie. High Tension for me was always – I always describe it as a love story that ends very badly. This is the first time I’m going with a true love story.
AJA: It is sweeter, yes. Yes, and that’s what got me in the book as well. I love that. I have a sweet tooth for romantic comedy and drama in general. Even if I am doing horror movies, I love these other kinds of movie. That was important for me to go more in that direction.
How different is the process of adapting a book to doing a remake, or are they pretty similar?
AJA: They are pretty similar, in fact. Because I think any story that you bring to the screen is always coming from one thing. Sometimes you find a story in a previous movie that already exists, sometimes it’s a book, sometimes it’s an article from a newspaper, sometimes it’s something you just put together, but it’s always at the end, to build something going back to the first emotion you had thinking about it. When it’s a book or when it’s a remake you always know what you were feeling that first time. You have that luxury of having had in the past that viewer or reader experience, just like everyone experienced, and that’s really important. For me doing Horns was all about going back to my first feeling of reading the book and being sure that everything I was doing was respecting that feeling that I had and trying to reproduce it. So I could always go back. I couldn’t doubt about the fact that when people are telling me, “You can’t put everything in, it cant be a dark comedy and an emotional love story.” I said, “No. I read the book and that got me, that worked on me, and I don’t see why it won’t work on screen.”
So it was just to have that luxury of going back. That’s what I think an adaptation is. Then it’s your vision, so you have to be careful to respect your vision and your choices. Of course I couldn’t make a six hour adaptation of Horns so I had to make choices the same way I had to make choices on The Hills Have Eyes, and that’s the way you do. I follow my instincts and I always think about what movie I would like to see. If I want to see it then I’m guessing that some other people might want to see it as well. I never try to think about what people will love or will like, because when you start to think for other people that’s where you lose track of the real motivation.
So one of the big things about this film that a lot of people are talking about is how different this role is from Harry Potter for Daniel Radcliffe. Is that something you guys were aware of on set or working toward in any way?
AJA: I mean, yes [laughs]. We were talking about that this morning with Joe, how different it is, and how at the at the same time legit it is. To see Daniel Radcliffe with horns feels very natural. To see him interacting with snakes feels very natural, obviously because Harry Potter speaks the snake talk. Physically all those elements were definitely an obvious choice. He came to us. He loved the book, loved the script. He came to us, and I met him before The Woman in Black so to me he was just Harry Potter at the time. When I talked to him I realized that he was Ig Perrish. He was this character, this very romantic – not in a cheesy or naive way, but this very absolute character that leaves every emotion to the extreme version of it. To me it was obvious that he had to be Ig Perrish. I didn’t realize at the time that he was bringing this amazing thing of being so close to so many people. He’s part of the family almost. You grew up with him as a brother, a first love, whatever you want to take. I think he brought people inside the movie in a way that you can follow him in a better way, in the most easy way.
You have some beautiful practical effect sequences in this movie and you also use digital effects. Talk a little about your approach to the effects and how you decided what method to use where.
AJA: We have a little CG at the end, part of the wings are fake and then some of snakes, but most of it is the practical older way – including the demon look is practical, we just added some lava glowing.
Oh wow, that whole big thing was practical?
AJA: Yeah, I wanted to make it natural. Everything started with the horns. I wanted to have very organic horns that belong to the hair, that belong to the leather jacket, that don’t look like it’s stepping away. I wanted to make it just feel real.