The feature-length directorial debut of writer/director Jack McHenry, Here Comes Hell premiered earlier this year at FrightFest Glasgow to unanimous praise from film critics and horror audiences alike. A lovingly crafted period piece with a Raimi-esque twist, McHenry’s first feature is a rare occurrence in contemporary horror cinema: filmed on a tight budget by a crew of enthusiastic friends, Here Comes Hell emanates exuberant energy that could only come from a place of reverence for classic genre cinema.
Mere hours before the film’s FrightFest London premiere, I sat down with director Jack McHenry and producer Olivia Loveridge to talk about their experience on set and discuss the intricacies of shooting a black-and-white feature for the modern audience.
Congratulations on the success of your film! Jack, this is your first foray into feature film directing. Did it go exactly as you planned?
Jack McHenry: I don’t know if it ever does! (laughs) Yes, it’s our first feature film. We wrote the script and I think we were always willing for things to change. As with any low-budget film, locations change, then you don’t have enough money for a certain set piece and have to rethink some stuff. Overall though, I think the actual project as a whole went pretty damn close to how we originally set out to do.
Olivia, what was it like working with a budget of ₤22.000?
Olivia Loveridge: It’s the first feature I’ve ever done and I think we approached it quite unconventionally. I don’t think we originally knew what to expect other than we had Jack, who had a very clear picture of what he wanted to achieve style-wise. The challenge of the budget certainly was the biggest one but because everyone was really talented and fully on-board, it wasn’t such an issue. In a way, the logistical challenges are ok, I think it’s much harder when you have challenges with people you’re working with. It was tricky budget-wise and I feel like we can never ask anyone for a favour again because we pulled every favour in the book and beyond (laughs). But, no, it was also really great fun because we were independent, totally free to do what we wanted and it was a good learning curve.
It’s such a unique idea for a film as well! Roughly a half of the budget was funded by your Kickstarter backers. Do you think a tribute to 1930s horror cinema is a difficult thing to sell to the audience?
Jack: Yeah, we did a promo video to let people know what the film might look like and it was actually useful for us as well, we used it as a little experiment for how we might light certain things. This project was something me and my girlfriend wrote and when we finished it, we thought “This is totally the film we’d like to see” and I don’t think we really thought much more beyond that. The idea behind it was “if anyone sees it, that’d be great”. We didn’t really worry too much. You’ll never make a film if you worry too much.
Olivia: I think that’s a good point. There were definitely times when we thought “Will people get this?” Because when you say “horror comedy”, people go “Oh, I know what you mean” but it’s actually quite a broad term. Comedy can come from certain film influences, genre clashing, etc. So yeah, I think if you’d worried all the time about whether it was a commercial project, it wouldn’t have been the same.
Jack: The tone with it was such a balance. Even when writing it, we wanted the film to be a comedy-horror but didn’t want to make a spoof, that was always the idea. We’ve always intended to craft a love letter to classic films, because I genuinely love them so much. I just wanted to actually make a film like that.
Here Comes Hell is mostly set it in a large, deteriorating manor. How did you manage to secure that location for your production?
Olivia: That was a real lucky find. In the script, even from a pretty early draft, the location was really important. It needed to have the grandeur of that period but, most of the time, these beautiful, big houses get done up and modernized. So we did just find this one-in-a- million place that was really run down and still standing!
Jack: If we didn’t get that location, we’d never been able to make the film the way we envisioned it. To build a set like that would’ve been so expensive and it’s such an integral part of the story, so it would’ve been impossible to put it to film in a different scenario. As soon as we found that location, it was such a relief and we thought “We’re actually making this now!”
The characters in your film almost feel like a deconstruction of established character types from the era of film noir and, especially, early horror. Would you agree with that?
Jack: Definitely. Me and Alice [Alice Sidgwick, the co-writer of the film] really love Agatha Christie and our intention was to think of every Christie-esque type of character. I wanted it to be that when you look at their appearance, you’d recognize each character straight away. We didn’t need to have a lot of backstory, it all came naturally.
In the best Raimi-esque fashion, towards the end, Here Comes Hell turns into an absolute bloodbath. Were the cast members immediately up for extreme amounts of practical effects being splattered on them?
Jack: Yes, everyone was up for it! Not sure if they knew exactly what they were signing up for but in the end, the cast loved it. They couldn’t wait for blood to start flowing!
This is the first feature film that you made under the banner of your company, Trashouse Films. What was the most challenging aspect of this production?
Jack: Obviously, money, time and weather conditions were our obstacles on the way. But there was one problem near the end of the shoot, when we lost the location, so we had to slightly rewrite the ending. Originally, there were going to be tunnels…
Olivia: Turns out tunnels are very expensive! (laughs)
Jack: And hard to get a hold of! So, instead we did a similar sequence with people hiding and getting lost, using a fog machine that our friend kindly lent us. That was one of those unforeseeable situations.
Was there anything in the script that you just couldn’t film due to monetary constraints?
Olivia: We started shooting in January and from the very beginning, there was always that ongoing conversation “Are we definitely sticking to the script in the ending sequence with a gateway to hell?” It was always flexible, we just wanted to start and figure out the rest as we went along.
Jack: Most of the things stayed exactly the same, there were just a couple of sequences that we couldn’t film due to the lack of CGI. Frankly, I think it was more effective that way, as we manage to pull the rug out from under the audience in some scenes. It gives it a slightly surreal feel.
The aesthetic of Here Comes Hell is very moody: shot in black and white and utilizing the academy ratio, it immediately brings back memories of Hammer horror films. Was it difficult to achieve that look and how much of it was done in post?
Jack: There was just a couple of scenes (like the ending) when we had to use CGI, and that’s the only time the camera got switched to color. Shooting in black and white was a saving grace for the budget as well, because we didn’t need to worry about post- production as much. Plus, it gives the film that atmospheric look and feel straight away. From the start, our intention was to make it as authentic as possible, that’s why all of the blood and gore effects are practical.
Olivia: Really, I think one of the reasons why horror fans really like the stylistic choices in our film is because we stuck to classic rules of the genre and utilized old-fashioned effects. We never tried to modernize anything, so it’s all practical and, as a result, feels more authentic and effective.
Jack: As a fan, I love practical effects, especially when it comes to gore. Sometimes, we see CGI blood and it slightly ruins the fun. I like the actual spraying on set, because it’s messy when fake blood gets on costumes, instead of having someone design everything beforehand.