The Inhabitants' Shawn and Michael Rasmussen | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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The Inhabitants’ Shawn and Michael Rasmussen

Old School Chills

Oct 30, 2015 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Most of today’s so-called horror films can be described as nothing more than gore porn. These overly violent, mega-budgeted, sensationalistic flicks may dominate today’s box-office, but they lack the nuance and suspense-ridden scares that Michael and Shawn Rasmussen aspire to make on the cheap. The filmmaking siblings, who first broke through in 2011 after penning the screenplay for John Carpenter’s The Ward, eschew the studio system and its formulas in favor of more low-key, intimately unnerving fare like their new haunted-witch flick, The Inhabitants (released earlier this month by Gravitas Ventures).

“I’m not saying there isn’t a place for the gory stuff, but we really prefer the 1970’s style of psychological terror,” Michael Rasmussen says, during a recent phone that he and his brother conducted with Under the Radar. “When it came down to this film, the house that it was set in had a creepy vibe to it, so wanted to focus on that and not the gore. Also, from a practical standpoint, dread is a lot cheaper to accomplish on film than a head exploding.”

Shawn Rasmussen agrees, adding: “That’s our aesthetic anyway. In the genre world people are increasingly looking for more than gore. Most of our stuff has been from that subtle point of view. Not that we don’t love chopping off of heads.”

Below, Michael and Shawn Rasmussen tell us more about that resurgence in sophisticated horror and the challenges that lie in mustering up DIY scares.

Kyle Mullin [Under the Radar]: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when trying to shoot this film?

Michael Rasmussen: The crew really just consisted of Shawn and myself and a few other assistants. But it was mostly me shooting and Shawn taking care of sound and pretty much everything else. But it was also advantageous to have that small of a crew, because the house itself is so cramped and small, it wouldve been impossible to have a whole crew in there while we were shooting.

Shawn Rasmussen: Our last film, (2013’s) Dark Feed, was much bigger in scope. We had a cast of 20 actors, a bigger crew. For this movie we thought it’d be fun to have it DIY and make it intimate, me and my brother shooting the film with a few actors.

MR: Yeah, it helps having grown up together. We know each others’ strengths and weaknesses, we can predict what the other ones thinking. We plot the stories out together, and we have the same tastes and interests, which makes it a lot easier.

So you both had a deep interest in not only making an old school horror flick, but also researching it carefully? There seems to be a lot of detail paid to the movie’s Salem setting, the trial’s, even the witch museum that your characters visit. 

MR: Yes! That’s a real museum, a famous one in Salem called The Witch House Museum [], though we had to change the name for the film.

SR: One thing that’s funny about that museum is Rob Zombie wanted to shoot The Lords of Salem there, and they wouldn't let him because they didn’t think his story was historically accurate. We had, like, five dollars to make our movie, but they allowed us to shoot there, just because we met that standard of historical accuracy.

How does it feel to get the best of Rob Zombie?

MR: I’m sitting here, cringing as Shawn says that, because I don’t want to get on Rob Zombie’s bad side. [Laughs] If you’re going to use that in your article, please just bury it in there somewhere.

What did you learn while researching the story, and shooting at that museum?

MR: Our producer owns the house that we shot The Inhabitants in, and it was once owned by Samuel Parris, who was the father of one of the girls who made one of the famous early accusations of witchcraft. That gave us the jumping off point. Then we read up on the history of the witchcraft in the area, went up to Salem on some scouting trips, visited the museum, and learned quite a bit about the history. That research lead to the basis for our film’s witch, who isn’t inspired by a Salem witch, but by the first woman in New England who was executed as a witch, Margaret Jones. She was a midwife, and we based our backstory on her, and found out all this information about the “witches teat” or devil’s mark, which her accusers said they witnessed. We thought it was all very disturbing.

SR: We drew a lot on the history of the midwifes then, how they do everything that mothers do now. They breastfed the children and took care of them, and when anything went wrong they were the first to be blamed. We thought that was fascinating.

MR: Salem’s just an interesting town in general. It really embraces its history. There’s just so much souvenir shops for witches, it’s like Disneyland for witchcraft. It’s kind of weird.

SR: They embraced the witch trials in a way we thought they never would. There’s all kinds of people who practice witchcraft that go to check it out.

It’s not clear that a witch is the source of the terror until very late in the film. You use homages to The Ring, The Amityville Horror, and all kinds of other classics, to keep the audience guessing. What inspired that choice?

SR: We wanted to keep what was happening ambiguous. We thought a witch ghost would be a unique angle, and there were these kind of children that she had collected, these child ghosts because she couldn't have children herself, we had all these elements that we wanted to incorporate. The midwife aspect was fascinating, making her like a pied piper witch to lure children into the woods. But most our homages were more from the 70’s, like The Changeling. The birthing chair in our movie has a lot of similarities to the horrible wheelchair in that movie. The classics of that period have a really weird vibe, we were hoping to capture that with the sound design and the look. Even in the color correction process, we wanted it to have the old grainy film look, and a 70’s melodrama, ghost story vibe.

Did working with John Carpenter on The Ward teach you the value of that old school aesthetic?

MR: Working with John was like a dream come true. His films were the ones we watched growing up, he’s why our style is what it is. But then when we were actually working with him, we realized pretty quickly that he’s a great collaborator. He gave us subtle notes and was always challenging us from a director’s standpoint, like: “Yeah, you can write this really elaborate chase sequence, but think about how I’m going to shoot it. How will it be accomplished?” Everything we’ve done since then, we’ve really focused on looking at it not only from a writing standpoint but also how it will be shot. That really comes in handy when you’re making the kinds of films we make now, because the budgets are so low, you need to have that all plotted out before writing it.

SR: One thing I remember, sitting down and talking about The Ward with John, was how he said that the “Casper ghost” in movies, the ghost that isn’t a physical threat, is not scary to him. That resonated with me. As it should, I mean, if you’re going to have a ghost story, you need to have a ghost that can do something physically to people, and I love that fact that the ghost in The Ward is something I’ve never seen before.

MR: Working with him was a master class in the genre. He passed on so much to us. And through osmosis we gained quite a bit too.

Last question: what’s next for you guys?

MR: We have a new project called Subculture that we’re trying to get it going. It’s very different form our last several projects, more of an underground subterranean creature feature with a siege element to it. It takes place in the tunnels under New York.

SR: We’re also working with some Spanish writers to possibly make an American version of a Spanish film that we really really like.

MR: Again, in a different genre. More of a road thriller. So we’re keeping busy.


For more information on how and where you can view The Inhabitants, check out the movies website.


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