One thing we don’t get enough of these days are real monster movies, director John Woodruff is looking to change that with Animal Among Us. He aims to deliver a real horror film by a horror fan, for horror fans. John sat down with me for an interview and to explain why Animal Among Us is a film people don’t want to miss.
Animal Among Us is a story about a monster… Fifteen years ago, two teenage girls were murdered at Merrymaker Campgrounds. The case was filed an animal attack, the camp was condemned and the killer never found – but something horrific still waits in those woods.
Horror Fuel: “When did you know that you wanted to be a filmmaker?”
JW: “Good question. It was kind of an evolution. The first time I can remember a film really appealing to me was in a theater when my parents took me to see Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I was pretty little so it was pretty horrifying, but it really made a huge impression on me. I loved movies, but I didn’t know I wanted to make movies because I didn’t know it was possible. Around that age, on Friday nights my mom would get me out of bed and there would be a scary movie on late and she bring me down and we would watch it together. It was movies like The Birds, or Psycho, or something like that. It started my love affair with films, particularly scare films. In forth grade I saw Nightmare On Elm Street. I thought Freddy Krueger was the most fascinating thing I had ever seen. I thought that it would be super fun to be an actor and to play Freddy. That’s the earliest memory I can think of me wanting to be involved in the process of filmmaking.
As I got older, I was really into illustration and drawing and different things like that. I was into comic books so I though I wanted to do that. I went to college part time at an art school. Then I got into theater and was pretty sure I wanted to go into acting. I then majored in theater. I got into modeling and into improve. I tried to get film roles and television roles in-between modeling gigs. I was getting frustrated with that. I was traveling internationally to model and while I was overseas I could only pursue that. So, I began to create my own content. Around that time too, a lot of the jobs I would get as an actor would end up disappointing. They wouldn’t get finished or they wouldn’t be to the quality I hoped the were. So I would write my own material while I was over seas and when I came home I would shoot them. I did a couple of short films. Eventually, some of the short films caught the eye of a studio in Los Angeles and he (Thom Mount) invited me to come out for a job. That’s when I really got serious about it. I worked with him for a few months and then started developing my own project with a bit of his guidance, that was Animal Among Us. I guess it was an evolution over the course of a lifetime.”
Horror Fuel: “It is awesome that you shared those late night movies with your mom and that you have those memories. My mom is the complete opposite. She can’t handle horror movies and never wanted me to watch them.”
JW: “Isn’t it funny how that works out. I look back now and that was such a huge influence in my life. When I was about eight, my mom was huge into reading Stephen King and Dean Koontz. To keep me invested she would read ahead and mark the chapters I allowed to read. She would mark all the chapters with the adventure aspect or the monster aspect and anything she didn’t mark she would say “Don’t read it, it’s boring adult stuff.” As a kid I never questioned her. As an adult I see what she was blocking out. It was pretty clever on her part. It was a huge influence. Now, I’ve made a legitimate horror movie with real actors that have real credit and that people in the industry are buzzing about. It’s funny how life can work like that sometimes.
In regards to the horror genre, there is a lot of disdain. There are a lot of people who don’t like it. Ironically, horror is one the genres where you learn the most about humanity. It’s really just an inversion of romanticism in its examination of the human condition. When you think back to the old movies, The Invisible Man, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, the original Dracula, in those films the monster was more of an outcast. He was more sympathetic. But a lot of those films were told from the monsters perspective. In a way the monster was the victim. Through the evolution of the genre, you see the diminishment of the romantic elements of the human element in the genre due to the need to heighten the story, the genre. To make it more gory, more radical, it almost kills the heart and soul of the genre. Lately, there have been more movies with social commentary like It Follows, and Get Out, that look more into the human condition. That’s what I tried to do with Animal Among Us, recreate what people like you and I experienced as a kid growing up. I didn’t want to rely on senseless gore and exploitation. Those things can be great when they are used effectively, but when there is more to it than relying on the gore factor, it can really heighten the story and add to to the experience. How can we reintroduce the horror icon and make it relevant? I hope that we did that with Animals Among Us.”
Horror Fuel: “How does it feel for your feature film to be approaching release?”
JW: “I have mixed feelings. It’s an insane process. It’s the hardest, most stressful thing you can do. It’s questionable to how much fun you’re actually having. You’re exhausted, sleep deprived, you’re not able to step back and enjoy the moment. It’s like being in a cage fight with a tiger. Initially we shot for fifteen days. We did six days on, one day off. And you didn’t get an off day because you were out getting B-roll or you were re-shooting the scene that doesn’t match because it got dark too early or it rained. You don’t get any down time. We were sleeping two and three hours a night. I tried to keep it to twelve hour days for the cast and crew, but for me as a director, and for the DP, it was more like a twenty hour day. When you’re trying to sleep you’ve got two hours to nap and you close your eyes and your mind won’t stop or you dream about what you need to do. It’s bizarre. Honestly, for me, just in the past few weeks since we locked picture, it’s the first time I have started feeling really good about it. We have the trailer and I looked at it and was like ‘Wow, we did it. This is amazing.’ It was a very cool redeeming moment to get to see the completed trailer, the completed poster. I’m getting excited about it again. Almost remembering it through rose colored glasses. My brain was like, ‘This wasn’t fun. Don’t you remember, your beard turned grey and you developed a twitch under your left eye?’ [laughter]. It’s a crazy, weird experience. Over all that’s how I feel about it.”
Horror Fuel: “Tell us about Animal Among Us.”
JW: “It’s a bit of a red hearing. It’s what you would define as a staple of the genre. It’s a camp ground movie. People going out camping and experiencing an obstacle. It’s horrifying, and terrifying. Every time it leads you to one of those beats that you think you’ve seen in a horror movie before, it takes a sharp left turn. It goes in a direction that I hope people won’t be able to predict. It puts a spin on something that is almost over done. It’s full of laughs, full of suspense, it’s full of surprises, and twists. I referenced Scream a bit in the film. Honestly, I’m really just trying to entertain people in a time when horror films take themselves too seriously or the exact opposite. I hope that I made something honest and true and fun, something full of twists and turns but that is still quantifiable.”
Horror Fuel: “What can the audience expect?”
JW: “They will expect a monster movie. It is designed to lead the audience down that path. I was determined to give the audience something that when they sit down, within the the first couple of minutes they are like, ‘Oh, yeah, this is a monster movie and I’m digging it.’ I feel like it’s something lacking in the genre right now. I very much wanted to make a monster movie, and there is a monster.”
Horror Fuel: “Is there a DVD release date set yet?”
JW: “Not yet. We are working on that now and looking at all our options. The film was mainly shot in Ohio and I was able to connect with the guys from Horror Hound. We will be doing a sneak peek at Horror Hound Weekend. It’s a one time showing at one of the biggest horror conventions in the world right there in the backyard of where I shot it. This is an opportunity to share it with the people we made it for. It was made for middle America and hopefully it will be one they remember and love. We have the 8:00 pm Friday showing. We are in good company. They are also going to show Devil’s Candy. There have a really nice program put together. We are super honored and super excited.”
Horror Fuel: “Are you working on anything else now?”
JW: “I definitely think my next film will be horror. I’m bouncing back and forth between a couple of ideas. It depends what opportunities I get. Ideally, I would like to get this one out first. I don’t want to throw something out there and go half-cocked. Animal Among Us took a tremendous amount of planning. At this point, it’s been four and a half years in the making. There are a lot of details, like the artwork as far as trying to emulate old John Carpenter stuff, Spielberg stuff, Stephen King Stuff, giving fans something familiar but new at the same time as far a texture. And we are even trying to tap into the Stranger Things audience. I think Stranger Things is a good indication of what is missing in the genre and I think Animal comes around at just the right time.
I like to be very calculated so that I can execute a high degree of quality, both from the story perspective and the filmmaking perspective. For my next one I would ideally not take four and half years, but I will take the time to do it right.”
Horror Fuel: “I respect that. A lot of filmmakers put out films as fast as they can. Someone who puts quality over quantity has my utmost respect.”
JW: “It’s about sitting there with the DVD in your hand and you know you did your best to make it a great film. We had a lot of really great people involved and we have a lot of pretty big people in the film. We have Heather Tom in it, she has 5 Daytime Emmys for her work on soap operas. We have Don Frye who is in the UFC Hall of Fame. There’s Erin Daniels who was in House of 1000 Corpses. Some really impressive talent. There’s also Larisa Oleynik. People who have had careers for years. When you ask them if it gets any easier and they say ‘No, it only gets harder.’ And you’re like ‘Oh, my god!’.”
With John’s dedication and the dedication of the writer, Johnathan Murphy, I expect we will see a great film when ‘Animal Among Us’ is released. His commitment to quality is refreshing and is something we need more of. I was impressed not only by his knowledge of horror films, but his love for them as well. I enjoyed hearing the excitement in his voice any time a classic was brought up, especially ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’. His life long love affair with horror will surely translate into a well directed and entertaining film.
Be sure to follow Animal Among Us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates, behind the scenes photos and more. Don’t forget to follow director John Woodruff on Facebook. You are going to want to stay up to date on his projects, I have a feeling we will see a lot of great films from John Woodruff in the future.