'Contracted: Phase II' director talks about his horror sequel -- and 'surreal' VMAs experience
Which pop star did he compare to a 'sad birthday clown'?
This is a big week for filmmaker Josh Forbes. On Sunday, he attended the VMAs — at which he was nominated for directing Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance” clip — and his debut movie, Contracted: Phase II, opens in theaters, on VOD, and digitally, Sept. 4. Forbes also shot second unit on filmmaker Adam Egypt Mortimer‘s upcoming slasher tale Some Kind of Hate (out Sept. 18), which stars A.N.T. Farm actress Sierra McCormick as a vengeance-seeking ghoul.
But lest you mistake Forbes for some cigar-chomping Tinseltown titan we should probably point out that he had to pay for his own VMAs ticket (and held a crowdsourcing campaign to help him do so) while the production of his horror sequel involved no small amount of maggots — and not your handled-by-a-professional-wrangler Hollywood maggots either.
“I think we just went to a pet store, which had three buckets of maggots,” says the filmmaker. “They’re actually mealworms — but that’s an industry secret!”
Contracted II stars Matt Mercer as Riley, a survivor of 2013’s Contracted, who discovers he has caught a fatal, necrotizing disease and attempts to track down the Big Bad responsible for this rapidly-spreading plague, which ultimately turns its victims into zombies. In director Eric England’s original film, that (deliberately) out-of-focus villain was played by Simon Barrett, the real-life writer of the horror films You’re Next and The Guest. This time around, however, the franchise’s villain is both un-blurred and portrayed by a new actor, Morgan Peter Brown.
“We talked to [Simon Barrett], but he really just wanted to show his penis and we didn’t want to do that,” laughs Forbes. More seriously? “I think he’s just busy making movies.”
Below, Forbes talks more about Contracted II, his VMA experience, and why your writer’s pitch for Contracted III is basically the best thing he’s ever heard.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Contracted II felt more like another chapter in the story than a sequel. There were enough intriguing loose ends to make me want to see a third film immediately.
Josh Forbes: Yeah, absolutely. [The producers] are definitely planning on doing a third one. I think the first one has a very strong arc as its own isolated movie and then our movie is almost like the pilot of a TV show. [For me, it was] like coming into a TV situation, where there’s a cast of characters, and a crew that already has a rhythm to it, and producers that obviously have been onboard since the beginning, and being like, “Alright, how can I add my spin to this while holding true to what they’re trying to get across?”
How did you get the gig?
I’m not really sure. There is an actor I work with a lot and he and I had done a comedy video about hipsters making artisanal meth. It was really funny and kind of violent. I think that that was the first thing [the Contracted producers] saw of mine. Which is ironic, because that video we made for, like, ten bucks whereas I’ve spent millions of dollars of record labels’ money. So, I think it was from that. I got a call from my friend, he was like, “Hey, do you want to do a low-budget horror sequel and my answer was immediately, “Of course I do!”
The maggot stuff in the movie really is disgusting.
I guess in my mind, they’re not even just maggots, I feel like they’re some other sort of creepy-disease things. It’s funny, at the Bruce Campbell Film Festival (where Contracted II played last month), we really got grilled at the Q&A. It was like, “Well, where did these maggots come from?” I was like, “The movie’s not real, guys.” [Laughs]
There must have been times when Matt Mercer was wandering around in semi-public with all sorts of horrible makeup on his face. Were people alarmed? Did any members of the public ever offer him help?
[Laughs] That’s a good question. I think, living in L.A., that’s just par for the course, having half the people be exceedingly gorgeous and then half the people looking like broken trolls. There wasn’t any reaction.
There was a fun reaction on Some Kind of Hate. After we wrapped Sierra, she was covered in blood, and she was very sad, she was like, “Oh no, I’m done, I don’t have any more to shoot!” I was like, “You get in my car, we’re going to get a camera, and let’s just take you places, and I’ll film you.” So, we went into restaurants, and I set up a camera, and then she came in covered in blood, with just her screaming. [Laughing] It was so much fun.
She’s quite a big Disney Channel star, right?
Right, right, exactly! So, it would have been doubly weird. It’s like, “Hey, there’s that girl from that show I know — and she’s covered in blood!!!” [Laughs]
Is that going to be on the Blu-ray?
I have that footage. I hope so.
When I saw the first Contracted, I assumed this plague was accidental in origin. But in Contracted II, we discover there is an evil masterplan. How much mythology have you or the producers mapped out?
I think we all have our idea of what the iceberg looks like under the water. It’s kind of fun to hint at different things. Normally, I love to spill all the beans but I feel like I have to hold these cards closer to my chest. [But] there is a mythology behind it, and there is a reason behind the disease, and how it all works. I guess they’re hoping to roll this out in the third one.
You have the great Richard Riehle (Office Space) in one scene. What was it like working with him?
He was a delight. He’s just a doll. He’s so sweet. We actually shot that scene in one gas station where we had approval from the manager to shoot there. But as we were shooting, I guess the owner of the gas station showed up — and he didn’t know we were going to be there. So, that guy shut us down. And Richard came back a week later and we shot it in a different place. [Laughs] But Richard is so sweet and super funny.
I may be wrong about this, as he’s not in the credits on imdb.com, but does John Ennis from Mr. Show play the head cop in the film?
Yeah. John and I are good friends. We worked together on a bunch of stuff. We did a music video together for the band Alkaline Trio and we’ve done a handful of sketches together. We did one where he and this guy Josh Fadem are both cops at a crime scene and Josh has to test the cocaine, like in an ’80s movie. But Josh just keeps testing it, and testing it, and by the end he’s just going crazy. And we did a kind-of infomercial music video for the band Big Data, where it was John and Fred Willard and they were shilling a bunch of crazy products.
Recently, he’s been running a theater and I got my 3-year-old kid in a play that he was putting on. I think he’s generally the best. He and I have a relationship where we both know, if either of us needs anything, the answer is automatically, “Yes.” It was just really sweet for him to come out and do that.
So, how was your VMAs experience? Have you recovered yet?
Um, yeah, I think the hangover has worn off. It was a surreal experience. I feel like I’m kind of straddling these two worlds. I think I’m an outsider in both worlds. It’s like, I’m kind of in the horror world, and I’m kind of in the music-video world, and I feel like nobody knows what to do with me. [Laughs] Yeah, that was definitely a surreal experience.
I understand you bumped into Justin Bieber at what sounded like the after-after-after-after party.
It was a typical music video-version of a club. Out of nowhere, the music slightly changed, I looked back, and he was standing up on a table or a stage and singing one his songs. I guess they just had it set up for that: he had a microphone and a light on him. He was just singing to a backup track. It was really sad, because he’s not a great singer and he’s not dancing. It’s not like he was doing anything other than just being famous. You just know that he came in for that moment, to do the song, and then he was going to leave, and he probably had, like, 10 other engagements that night. It was like a sad birthday clown, or something. I used to make balloon animals in restaurants and it reminded me of that: I’m going to show up, do my thing, people are going to tip me, and then I’m going to leave. It was very very weird.
I don’t think either of us have the time to get into it, but I want to you to know that I have about 127 questions to do with you making balloon animals in restaurants.
[Laughs] Yeah, I could write a script about that.
Speaking of which, I have a pitch for you about Contracted: Phase III. It takes place at the VMA Awards and we discover that Miley Cyrus’s tongue is the main carrier of the disease. Boom!
Yeah, yeah! [Laughs] We open it up following this giant maggot, like the world’s biggest maggot. It’s crawling down the floor, and then it crawls up into her mouth, and you realize that it was her tongue the whole time.
So, aside from fleshing that out, do you know what you’re doing next?
I don’t know. [Laughs] I’m looking for an agent.
Maybe I could be your agent. I’ve already set up this whole Contracted III pitch for you.
Yeah, I love it.
Given the amount of creative input I’m bringing to the party, I’m going to have to charge you 25 percent of your earnings.
That’s fine. 25 percent of nothing is still nothing.
You can see the trailers for both Contracted: Phase II and Some Kind of Hate, below.
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