INTERVIEW: Director Stewart Sparke on House Party Horror ‘Book of Monsters’

Book Of Monsters will be playing at Frightfest London 2018.

The screening will take place on Saturday 25th August at 11:00am at the The Prince Charles Cinema.

Tickets are available here!

Book of Monsters brings old-school practical effects and a dark comedic edge to this year’s Frightfest. Sophie’s 18th birthday party becomes a bloodbath when six terrifying monsters descend upon her house, intent on devouring the party guests and killing anyone who tries to leave. As her school friends are torn apart and eaten, Sophie must rally a band of misfits and take up arms to send their party-crashers back to hell. To survive the night, Sophie will face her destiny; monsters are real – and she’s the only one who can stop them.

Book of Monsters is directed by Stewart Sparke, whose first feature film, The Creature Below, also premiered at Frightfest back in 2016. Self-financed by Stewart and frequent collaborator Paul Butler with a budget of only £12,000, The Creature Below proved critically and commercially successful.

Aside from its nostalgic practical effects, what makes Book of Monsters particularly unique is that it was written with direct input from its Kickstarter backers. We recently caught up with Stewart to find out how the whole project came about.

 Hi Stewart. Congratulations on getting Book of Monsters this far! How does it feel to be so close to its world premiere at Frightfrest?

Stewart: Thank you, I absolutely can’t wait for the Frightfest audience to see Book of Monsters. It’s a huge honour to have the film included at the festival which hosted the world premiere of our very first feature film The Creature Below back in 2016. To be invited back again means a great deal to us.

Frightfest is such a welcoming festival where everyone is part of one big family so this feels like we’re coming back home. We couldn’t make last year’s festival as we were actually on set shooting the film, but I said to the cast and crew at the time that our goal was to get back to Frightfest, so it’s great to say that dream has come true!

Can you give us a bit of background as to where the idea of Monsters came from?

Stewart: When we set out to make our very first feature film back in 2015, my collaborator Paul Butler (writer/producer) and I had a bunch of other ideas that we really wanted to make but at the time were a bit too ambitious for first time filmmakers. Book of Monsters was one of those ideas and at the time all we had was the basic idea of a group of teenagers fighting off an invasion of monsters at a birthday party, which we thought would be fun to see.

The original idea was very ‘Monster Squad’ and had famous monsters like The Mummy, Dracula and the Wolfman all making an appearance – but obviously that would be out of the question what with Universal owning all the rights!

After we finished The Creature Below in 2016 we both wanted to make something really fun and entertaining, a far cry from the serious and Lovecraftian themes of our first film. Paul and I have always been big fans of 80s creature features – anything from The Thing to Gremlins and Critters. Book of Monsters seemed like the perfect idea to bring our own 80s rubber monsters to the screen and so we started pre-production in early 2017. I haven’t looked back since!

The earliest monsters I remember from cinema were created using practical effects such as prosthetics and animatronics. I got some major nostalgic vibes after watching the trailer for Monsters; how important was it for you that you used such techniques to bring your monsters to life?

Stewart: It was our intention from the very start to fill Book of Monsters with practical creature effects, particularly since the film is very much a homage to the 80s creature features we love! CGI certainly has its place in the industry, but we knew that if we were going to make our own authentic 80s monsters then they should be entirely practical. I’m very pleased to say that we kept that promise and we used every trick in the book (no pun intended) in bringing the monsters to life. We’ve got performers in slimy costumes, rod puppets, and some amazing special effects make-up created by DDFX Studio. None of this would have been possible without the superb concept artwork created by the incredibly talented Abigail J. Harding, many of which you will see on the pages of the Book of Monsters in the film.

Not only did you use Kickstarter to partially fund the movie but you also let your backers dictate how certain parts of the plot were to play out. How did you control this offer in a way that didn’t compromise the integrity of the story?

Stewart: When we were developing the Kickstarter campaign (which I must say was probably as much work as planning the film itself!), we were very keen to engage backers in a way which we had not seen before. I’d always talked to Paul about my love for ‘choose your own adventure stories’ that I had read as a kid; we found a great way to incorporate that into the campaign by letting people choose six main elements of the film, including the monsters themselves. Of course, the script had to be very carefully crafted with this in mind so that the choices could essentially ‘slot’ into the existing story.

So with the Monsters for example, we asked backers to choose the appearance of six monsters, each from a classic 80s horror archetype. The Slasher is as the name suggests, your classic slasher with a signature weapon and mask that hunts down the teens whilst the Critters are your pint-sized creatures akin to Gremlins which will gnaw off your leg and cause all kinds of chaos. Each of these archetypes was already in the script and had clearly defined roles but backers could determine what form they would take. For the Slasher (who you can glimpse in the trailer and on the poster) the winning choice was a creepy plague doctor/bird hybrid armed with sickles. This design choice informed how that monster walks, vocalises and attacks his victims in the film and I think backers are going to be delighted to see how big an effect their choice had on that monster.

Other choices were much harder to plan for, however! For ‘the horror trope that must die’ we offered many classic horror movie clichés for which we would put a unique spin on if voted for. From tropes like ‘the car won’t start’ to ‘lets split up’, we had some really fun ideas for how to twist these on their head but ultimately, they couldn’t be worked into the script until the winning choice was made. Ultimately the winner was the ‘sexy shower scene’ and let’s just say that with this one, David Cronenberg would be proud…

My favourite of all the choices was ‘the weapon of last resort’ that a character would use to fight off one of the monsters. This had backers choose from cheese graters to garden shears but in the end the winning choice was a vibrator! Let’s just say we put it to very good use in one particular scene to very comical effect!

Horrors with comedic edges are notoriously tricky to get right. What steps did you take during Monsters to get the best of both worlds?

Stewart: Finding that comedy/horror balance is a challenge we were very aware of going into the movie. Looking back at our Kickstarter concept trailer, we outlined the style and tone of the eventual film and it’s stuck pretty close to that. It’s a self-aware film that embraces its 80s influence both in story and the way we approached the humour.

With 80s horror, when you look at something like Peter Jackson’s Braindead/DeadAlive or Sam Rami’s Evil Dead films, a great deal of humour comes from the absurdity of the gore and the physicality between the characters and the monsters they are fighting. We always looked at those films as guiding lights for the tone we wanted to set with Book of Monsters, and we’re very careful to ensure that this film still had a heart to it at the same time.

You’ve gone with a strong female lead in this movie and you mentioned in your Kickstarter pitch that you wanted to draw inspiration from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Do you think horror, in general, needs a new Buffy-type heroine for the 21st century?

Stewart: I think that the horror genre right now is in an amazing place for strong female roles in horror movies and I have no doubt that Buffy was a key part of making that happen along with other 90s genre classics like Scream and The Craft. Whilst I don’t think we need another Buffy-type heroine specifically, I think it’s very important that the current trend of well written female characters in horror continues. To name just a few examples from recent years we’ve had The Babadook, American Mary, It Follows etc. Strong women in horror films shouldn’t always be about picking up a weapon and kicking ass but rather having a well fleshed out character that doesn’t rely on worn out tropes in a genre that has long since moved on.

 I remember an old Kevin Bridges stand-up routine where he laughs at how fake American house parties look in cinema, as they are always in huge, expensive houses with bands playing to hundreds of people. In Britain, of course, you’re more likely to get a dozen people in a 3-bed semi-crowded around one speaker! Did you find it challenging to translate this plot device into a British setting?

Stewart: I’m glad you mentioned this because it is something Paul and I discussed while developing the film. We don’t have big outdoor pools and most of the house parties I’ve been to took place in a student flat or a small three bedroom house where you pretty much knew everyone there! We play this as somewhat of a joke in the movie and have aimed for a very realistic British house party which is a fun way to challenge audience expectations. Of course, this house party does involve a demonic book which can summon monsters so it is certainly much bloodier than your average party (at least the ones I’ve been to).

We’d like to say a big thank you to Stewart for taking the time to talk to us! We’d also like to congratulate him on the success of Book of Monsters and wish him all the best with his future projects. You can keep up with Stewart and his work on Twitter.

Check out the trailer for Book of Monsters below:


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