Interview with 4/20 MASSACRE Filmmaker DYLAN REYNOLDS!
New slasher movie 4/20 MASSACRE is building up a lot of puff (wink) for combining two beloved film genres: the visceral slasher film and the chilled-out stoner flick. We chatted to director DYLAN REYNOLDS about what brought on this flash of genius, how he went about combining such different genres – and how important it was to take the slasher film seriously (yes, that means gory kills and an eye-catching murderous psychopath).
I’ll start with the obvious: this film is billed as the first ‘stoner slasher’ film. Most people think of these as very different film genres – what made you want to combine them? And what were the greatest challenges?
Well… first came the title, 4/20 MASSACRE, which I thought of when I was brainstorming movie ideas and after doing some research a couple real world inspirations further shaped the concept. One is the issue of “guerrilla growers” in national parks who cultivate illegal marijuana fields – these “farmers” have occasionally used violence against unwitting hikers that have stumbled onto their turf. The second came with the date of April 20th itself – which is the official “stoner holiday” of course – but the day has also been host to some tragedies ranging from the birth of Hitler to the Columbine mass shooting.
Therefore I felt like there was a lot of potential with a marijuana-themed backwoods slasher flick- or “FRIDAY THE 13TH . . .with weed”. Granted – there have been horror films with marijuana themes/ overtones before like POT ZOMBIES or EVIL BONG – but these movies are mostly played for laughs and fall more in line with what we typically think of as a stoner film, i.e. dumb/ broad comedies. Don’t get me wrong – stuff liked HALF BAKED has its place and can be very entertaining – but you could also say that something like DAZED AND CONFUSED is a stoner film, and though that has comedic elements it is actually a slice of life/ coming of age drama.
My goal with 4/20 MASSACRE was to create a more serious take on a marijuana-themed horror film, and it seemed especially appropriate to do so with the slasher sub-genre because stoners and slasher flicks have always gone together like peanut butter and jelly (seemingly every slasher movie has a resident pot head). 4/20 MASSACRE is still a “campy throwback slasher flick”– but we tried to approach the material earnestly, rather than poking fun at either slasher movies or stoners.
I wouldn’t say there were challenges of combining the genres when making the film, but the movie has proven to be a little difficult to promote. For one, I think there are pre-conceived notions that when you say “stoner- slasher” or “stoner- anything” it is going to be a farcical comedy. Also, being that it’s campy (but not self-referential or “meta”) when you cut out-of-context moments into a minute and a half trailer it plays more like a comedy rather than the straight horror film that it ultimately is.
What films – both stoner and slasher – served as your inspirations for the movie?
I mostly drew inspiration from slasher films. I consider 4/20 MASSACRE to be a “throwback slasher flick” that takes some chances with the typical formula. More often than not the slasher sub-genre is treated like the red-headed step child of horror, even among folks who profess to be horror fans. But when watching some of the earlier slasher films (pre ’84 or “first wave” slashers) I found them to actually be comprised of some interesting storylines and characters.
So when picking certain films that influenced 4/20 MASSACRE I would have to start with the “Holy Trinity” of the 70s that laid the “slasher film” groundwork: BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974), TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974), and HALLOWEEN (1978). Then of course there is the movie that perfected the “slasher formula”, FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980), and I would actually throw in the first five Paramount-produced films of that series as being influential. There is also the sub/sub-genre of slashers that are “backwoods/camping” in nature, namely THE BURNING (1981), JUST BEFORE DAWN (1981), FINAL TERROR (1983), THE PREY (1984), THE FOREST (1982), MADMAN (1982), DON’T GO IN THE WOODS (1982) and MEMORIAL VALLEY MASSACRE (1989).
We all know about the tradition of the ‘final girl’ – here you have five central female characters, any one of whom could have filled the role. Why did you make this choice?
My initial script/ breakdown for the film had a more traditional set up of male and female characters- but it was actually with the “stoner” Donna that I did the first gender swap. I figured we had seen the stoner guy cliché a billion times over, but I have personally known some “stoner chicks” in my day so I thought that would be an interesting twist. And then at some point I got the idea of turning all the five central characters into women while still placing them within those traditional slasher movie archetypes – and by making these traditionally male characters female I think we found some new layers to the material.
There’s also a strong focus on establishing character/building relationships before you get to the killings. Were these two elements equally important to you?
I went into making 4/20 MASSACRE with the goal of telling a good all-around story that is “an indie drama… but then a killer shows up” – or in other words, I tried creating characters that you would actually care about when they die. This is because I tried to approach my slasher film with the seriousness and respect I feel the sub-genre deserves (or at least should be given more of) by spending some time writing likable characters that viewers (hopefully) won’t be counting down the minutes until they die. But yeah, being a slasher film we also had to try and nail the death sequences just as much as the drama and character development.
Speaking of: you don’t mess around when you get to the violence, and there’s some very gory and creative kills here. How do you come up with them, and what are your secrets for a good kill scene?
In general I tried to think about the type of injuries/ deaths that would make my skin crawl, i.e. getting your eye pupils melted out of your sockets or having your entrails fall out of your stomach while you’re alive long enough to try and stick them back in. I tried to swing for the fences and give the audience some cool “oh shit” moments.
I think you can apply the “rules of three” from comedy in creating suspense and memorable kill sequences, which is basically you have a setup/ payoff- and a final third “surprise”. If you just go straight to the gore I don’t think it would work as well, no matter how outlandish the effects might be. And also the aforementioned “creating characters you actually care about” helps make the kill sequences more impactful I think.
Can you talk about how you visualised your archetypal masked killer?
The costume for what we called ‘The Shape’ was created/ designed by the film’s stunt coordinator and the actual actor who played the killer: James Gregory. During pre-production we discussed and went back and forth with ideas – we were going for a military sniper/ mercenary type of Ghillie suit that could be mistaken for an animal/ creature. Overall we were trying to come up with something a little different rather than a ‘guy in overalls with a mask’’ which is often the dress code of a backwoods maniac.
Your wife Vanessa Rose Parker stars in the film, and I think I can say without spoiling much that terrible things happen to her (it is a slasher after all!). How was it to work with your spouse on the film, particularly in the more confronting scenes?
Vanessa also produced the film and she is a great all-around collaborator and really added a lot to conception, casting, and execution of the final film. She’s a very dedicated actor and gave her all to sell the drama of the scenes. Directing her for the more intense stuff wasn’t really difficult other than the usual drawbacks of low budget filmmaking related to time, money, and scheduling.
Music played a big role in the film, particularly in the earlier portion before the ‘slasher’ part of the equation kicked in. What were you looking for when assembling the soundtrack?
I’m really proud of the soundtrack that came together for the film, and like with other aspects of 4/20 MASSACRE, we tried to “do something a little different” while still adhering to the traditions of 70s/80s exploitation cinema. The score is by Angela Winter Defoe and she was actually my old neighbour at this apartment building in Hollywood: we were both “night owls” and I would be either writing or editing and at the same time she would be upstairs working on her music, which was this melodically beautiful yet “unsettling” experimental stuff. It reminded me a lot of old Italian Giallo scores from the likes of Goblin and Ennio Morricone, so I was real excited about one day using her stuff in a horror film. And luckily it all came together for this project, and I think what she came up with was brilliant and unique – but you could also see it being used in a Grindhouse flick from the 70s.
We also have songs from the indie rock band Sleeping Wolf that plays at the campsite. I really liked their stuff and thought it projected a “feel good” vibe to accompany the ladies partying and having fun. But their music also has this melancholy element which gives it a foreboding presence, especially when you know the danger that is slowly encroaching on them.
The song during the end credits is by an underground Brooklyn rapper named Jaye Archer who I found on Craigslist when I was putting together a 4/20 MASSACRE mix-tape to help promote the film. He did a couple original songs for the mix tape, one of which was “D.A.R.E.”, which I thought fit perfectly for the end credits. I also liked the idea of using a hip-hop theme song for the end credits like you would in an 80s/90s flick.
Ultimately, what do you hope someone gets out of watching your film?
Hopefully 4/20 MASSACRE will be a fun “roller coaster ride of emotions” for audiences: you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll jump with fright, get a couple surprises along the way – and maybe even glean a little insight into humanity.
And finally – do you recommend watching 4/20 MASSACRE while ‘blazed up’?
Um yeah…. Of course! Blaze up and enjoy!