Perhaps nothing plays on an audience’s own phobias better than making them feel trapped in the kind of place they might frequent every day, all the while hunted by some unknown, unseen force. “It could happen to you, too,” or so the filmmakers seem to be saying while, one by one, the characters on screen face an untimely demise in a variety of horrific manners.
In New Line Cinema’s horror thriller “The Gallows,” that everyday locale is a high school auditorium. Moviegoers have all been there, no matter their hometown, and therefore can all put themselves in the characters’ place.
“Even the most familiar place is different at night,” director Chris Lofing says. “Few of us would choose to experience an empty school in the middle of the night. Empty hallways, all the doors closed. Right away, most of us would be a little freaked out.”
Adding to that, Lofing continues, “Supernatural things start happening, and then become more and more intense. But no one knows these guys are there, no help is coming for them. It becomes a very desperate situation.”
Certain exteriors were accomplished in Lofing’s hometown of Beatrice, Nebraska, the setting for the film. However, “The Gallows” was shot primarily in and around Fresno, California. Utilizing Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium as the main setting for the story, the filmmakers shot night-for-night, adding to the realism for both the cast and, ultimately, moviegoers.
“Night-for-night interiors are rare,” Blum observes, “but it was done to give the actors the true feeling of, well, being out in the middle of the night, just like their characters.”
One of director Travis Cluff’s favorite scenes—coincidentally shot on a Friday the 13th, on the thirteenth day of principal photography—also maintained an air of realism for most of those involved. “No kidding, it was the thirteenth day, on a Friday the 13th, and we were hanging someone.”
Cluff and Lofing had discussed at length how to make the sequence as legitimate as possible in order to get the best “audience” reaction. “We brought in a bunch of extras to be our theater audience, watching the original version of the play in 1993, and we rehearsed it earlier that day,” Cluff goes on to say. “We explained to our main actors, who knew the story, what we were doing, but we never told our audience that Charlie was going to hang. Instead, we practiced it in a fake way, with him taking off the noose and getting away. Now they think that’s how it’s supposed to go. And the actors on the stage are supposed to react like it wasn’t supposed to happen.
“However, when we shot the scene, Chris and I wanted to make sure the actors who were in on it would also be surprised, including the kid playing Charlie. So we did it sooner in the dialogue than he, or they, expected it.”
Naturally, the on-set prank was accomplished with complete safety, thanks to the presence of a stuntman/safety coordinator dressed as though he were part of the cast. “He came running out—looking like he’s the drama teacher of the time—screaming, ‘Charlie! Charlie! Somebody call a doctor!’ Our actors were stunned, but our audience was totally shocked—the look on some of their faces was priceless.”
That scene, which actually opens the film, has the look of having been shot on a home video camera. The bulk of the movie, however, takes place 20 years later and is meant to be seen mainly through the lens of today’s ever-present video camera: the cell phone.
The filmmakers employed a variety of cameras at various grades, including a Canon C300, the Panasonic Lumix GH2, RED and Sony. “I think we used just about every camera in the book,” Cluff jokes.
Blum admires their resourcefulness. “What makes a scary movie scary is when the characters’ lives are threatened. But when your life is threatened, the last thing you do is hold onto a camera. Chris and Travis were able to make it feel organic. The camera is justified all the way through the movie, which makes it resonate in a cool way.”
“Together, Chris and Travis have created an authentic scary movie experience that audiences will love,” Blum states. “I know from experience that people love being scared, in all different ways—riding a rollercoaster, sitting in a dark movie theater—whatever gets your adrenalin going and makes you feel alive. I think that ‘The Gallows’ is that exceptional movie that doesn’t feel like anything else…and is really terrifying.”
Opening across the Philippines on July 22, “The Gallows” is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.