My friend called from inside the theater. He whispered into the phone: “I’m so scared.”
I could barely hear him.
He said, “It’s not fair. They’re breaking the rules. They’re breaking the rules. You’re supposed to give the audience a break.”
He believed in the rules of cinema. He believed there was an honor code amongst good directors. You relent.
We all buy the ticket to the horror movie, the house of terror, the haunted hayride fully invested in being scared. But we also expect the creator of the scares to follow an unwritten rule that you give the audience a break. You terrorize them for a period of time, and then you chill out, you give the audience a chance to breathe. Then you frighten them again. It’s a give and take. A good horror movie is like a good symphony. You don’t go to listen to an orchestra only to hear the crescendo.
That’s why my friend called me from inside the theater. He couldn’t take it any more. The movie refused to let him off the hook.
There was more. We had both begun to work on Sacrifice together by this point. We took the two-page treatment and we were trying to create a screenplay. I had just returned from Los Angeles after securing representation. I pitched the treatment to a company called Bohemian, and they jumped all over it. The problem was now the two of us had to figure out how to write a screenplay. And we had to learn fast. We didn’t want the company to forget about us. They were excited, and we wanted to strike while the iron was hot.
So the first thing we did was watch every horror movie we could get our hands on.
At the time, the two of us were bartending at a nice inn on the corner of the Santa Fe Plaza. (We were desperate to quit our job. So we didn’t want to waste any time.) We also had a plethora of time during the days before we had to show up for work. So we would get together at my apartment and crank though one or two movies a day. I can’t remember why I didn’t go to the movies with him the night he called from inside the theater. Hearing his voice over the phone, I was glad I didn’t go. I still haven’t seen that movie.
But we decided something that night after he left the theater. We decided that was the kind of movie we needed to make. We needed to make a movie that broke the rules. We wanted to make a horror movie that changed the way people thought about horror movies. Coming out of the gate we had an advantage. We had an idea nobody was doing. The story of the Los Hermanos de Penitente was untapped. A western, horror, neo-noir was a newish category.
What we didn’t anticipate: A new kind of horror movie was about to explode into theaters. The entire landscape of horror was about to be upended in 2005. And we didn’t even know it.