Blood Hunters was one of my favorite films at this years FrightFest and ended up being one of Love Horror’s Top 10 Horror Films of 2016. All that time ago in 2016 when I was at FrightFest I grabbed a coffee between screenings with the films extremely talented director Tricia Lee and we chatted about making monsters, avoiding literal titles and the problem with female characters in horror movies.
Beware contains some spoilers!
Love Horror: I have to say I loved your film and having seen so many here at FrightFest I really appreciated that it jumped straight in. The beginning sort of reminded me of the first episode of The Walking Dead where Rick wakes up in the hospital with all the chaos around him except your character is pregnant of course. How did the story come about?
Tricia Lee: Oh cool thank you. Well I have to give that credit to my writer Corey Brown. He came up with that premise “what if you woke up in some underground medical facility and everyone was dead and you were pregnant and you don’t know how you got there.” That has always been the center of the idea.
It’s funny that you talk about jumping straight into the story because originally when the script was written there is a bit of an opening scene with her son which we ended up putting in later on. Originally we get to know a bit about the character before we throw her in. We just felt that it was just taking too long to get going so luckily we were able to find a place to put that character moment and like you said get straight into it.
Love Horror: Another thing Blood Hunters did was give us some really flawed characters as the leads. That flashback you mention rather than being some idyllic life she has to fight to get back to is a horrible glimpse of what a bad relationship she has with her son making her regret the past deeply.
Tricia Lee: Right, right. Originally this film was called One Drop part of the reason why we changed the name is because the scene that described the theme of what that meant we had to cut it out but the idea was that there are these characters all of them are very flawed, all of them have made mistakes and have regrets in their lives and these are the characters that come together.
The idea was about one drop and the ripple effect that it can have in a pond or one choice and the ripple effect that that can have. Even if you have made bad choices in your past if you can do something good now you could effectively save the world. She has her chance to be a good mother which she hasn’t been because of the bad choices she made before and you find out that the people who end up in the facility are people who have died and no one has claimed their bodies.
Love Horror: You keep the origins of the monsters in the movie open to a few interpretations including a deeply religious one which is introduced by the priest character. Was it important to you to never really answer what the Blood Hunters are?
Tricia Lee: It’s a lot of science versus religion. They are in a medical facility which is all science and you have a priest who is extremely religious. Because neither side has the absolute answer and nothing that’s proven; it is all theory. Science has their theory but can’t explain it and religion can’t explain it so it’s a mash of both worlds.
Love Horror: Did you yourself feel that one answer wins over the other?
Tricia Lee: For me they are hitchhikers from the afterlife. So they were doing scientific experiments on people trying to bring them back from the dead which was a fully science thing but when the women came back they were pregnant and that’s unexplainable. We had thought about calling the movie Hitchhikers from the Afterlife but we decided it gave too much away.
Love Horror: How did you come up with the design of the monsters in the movie?
Tricia Lee: So they are afraid of light, they are hurt by light so we really wanted the albino in the darkness element played up. These creatures are from the afterlife i.e. hell if you will, and they have never seen light before. Their skin can’t handle it, their eyes can’t handle it they have these big black holes that just let light in. It’s like a big pupil so their weakness informed what they looked like.
I am a big proponent for doing practical effects rather than visual effects. To have something for the actors to react against and to have that feel of them on the ground so that made them have to be sort of humanoid so we could put a person in the costume and so that’s how they turned out.
Love Horror: The effects were great and you didn’t show too much too early although I know the poster has the full monster on it.
Tricia Lee: It’s funny because my last film was also a creature feature and I was absolutely adamant about not showing the creature telling the crew “Don’t post any pictures from set!” I guess this time around I took the opposite stance and I was like “Look this isn’t Star Wars it’s not like people are trying to leak what the creature looks like” to me if the creature is what will sell it then that’s fine.
Love Horror: I think its fine to play that marketing card especially if it gets an audience in because the film is far more intelligent and interesting than many other bigger budget monster horrors.
Tricia Lee: Yeah I hope so too.
Love Horror: It was very interesting to me how some of the traditional roles were reversed in Blood Hunters with Henry (Benjamin Arthur) as the love interest cheerleader to Ellie (Lara Gilchrist) who is a strong female lead. Even the lab tech Marion (Torri Higginson) inhabits the scientist expert role which is usually reserved for men only. I really felt that there was some great insights into gender politics in play but all very clearly done.
Tricia Lee: I love that you read so much into it. That’s so great! I always get asked “What is it like being a female director”…
Love Horror: I had that question but tried to rewrite it in fact because I didn’t want to ask it because it must be so annoying hearing it all the time!
Tricia Lee: (Laughs) Okay so my last film had a very overt feminist theme whereas with this one I was not trying to be political at all. I just wanted to make a movie about characters that I cared about who had a strong arc. But I am drawn to female characters that react the way I would. So when watching some film,s which will remain nameless, you get them running around, scared, screaming, crying and getting your hair pulled and then screaming and crying some more…
Love Horror: Ending up in a very small tight top somehow for no reason…
Tricia Lee: Yes. And I just feel, yeah I would be scared in that situation, I’m not saying I am that brave, but I just feel I would do more than scream and cry. I would try and help people I don’t know. I like to portray female characters the way I would react. So it wasn’t that I sat down and said “Let’s reverse these characters for the sake of it” it was obvious the main character had to be a woman because she is pregnant and then the tech person was always female the only thing that actually change from its original inception was the she used to be a 20-something punk tech type but we made her older.
What we really wanted to explore with her, again more as a character motivation than a political point was what would it have been like to be the only female tech? She is older so she would have been getting into the industry in the 80’s and 90’s when it wasn’t as open as it is now. Even now it’s hard but what must that have been like as a character. She always had to try and be one of the guys but she wanted to be more and she wanted more with her life but she ended up as a sort of cat lady if you will. (Laughs) You look back and you think “What more could I have done?”
Everything is always grounded in character.
Love Horror: I think that’s one of the great things about horror that you can either see a film like yours as a straight creature feature or read a whole other load of political and sociological elements in it and both are entirely valid. Horror allows you to explore a whole lot more than people think.
Tricia Lee: That’s one of the things I like about the horror genre and even Sci-Fi is that you get to look at human nature, you get to look at humanity from the outside a little bit and you get to say something about it metaphorically. Whereas if it was a straight drama, whatever you are trying to say can be a bit heavy handed because it’s reality.
Love Horror: Is that what drew you to horror films and making movies in general?
Tricia Lee: My first feature was more of a thriller with a little bit of horror. So Corey, my writer, he has written all the features I have done. If you made us into one person, we would be a writer/director. He is definitely more educated in the horror genre, he grew up with it. I have to admit I researched my way into the genre. I’m terrified of horror movies, I’m getting better now, but there are still some things I just cannot handle.
Part of it was that the genre has such a great audience. For our first feature we wanted to work in a genre where we could find an audience. I mean we had zero budget and no name actors. It was just a few actors at my parents’ house, but we really wanted to make something people would actually see because that’s why I make movies. So that was sort of the first step into it, but then once I got into it, I just kept making them! The genre has been so good to me, the festivals , the press, it’s been great.
Love Horror: The screening at FrightFest is the World Premiere isn’t it. I can pretty much guarantee you that the bit that will get the audience laughing and cheering is the bit with the spatula!
Tricia Lee: (Laughs) Yes this is the first time I will be seeing it with an audience so. It’s exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time.
Love Horror: What’s next for you?
Tricia Lee: We have another horror script that we are developing called Clean Up in Aisle 666. It’s a satirical horror, I don’t want to say too much more than that but it’s a very fun movie which is a bit of a step away from the more serious stuff I have been doing.
I just want to make movies for the audience. My philosophy is that I have an intention but if it doesn’t land with the audience it doesn’t matter what I wanted or what I thought because it only matters how it landed.
Love Horror: Well Blood Hunters landed perfectly for me.
Tricia Lee: Thank you so much.