I’ve long been a fan of the Final Destination franchise, so when I heard that writer/director Eric Bress (Final Destination 2, The Final Destination) had a new movie coming out I was curious, then I saw the trailer for Ghosts of War and I was completely obsessed with getting a copy to review. You’ll be able to read my review now, but let’s just say I loved it! So when I got the chance to interview Bress I was beyond excited, I mean the man helped create one of the best horror franchises ever.
Ghosts of War centers on five American soldiers assigned to hold a French mansion serving as an outpost near the end of World War II. Formerly occupied by the Nazi high command, the lives of the soldiers quickly descends into madness when they encounter a supernatural enemy far more terrifying than anything seen on the battlefield.
Horror Fuel: “I love your movie. In fact, I’ve already watched it five and a half times.”
Eric Bress: “No? You are my new favorite person [laughter].”
Horror Fuel: “I’m serious. I love it.”
Eric Bress: “That’s so good! You always worry when you do something a little different, that some people just aren’t going to get it. I and the producer knew from the onset that we were definitely going to break a few rules. It was definitely a roll of the dice. We knew we might take a little heat for it. But it was the story we wanted to tell and we told it. I’m really thrilled to hear that you would watch it five and a half times! That’s music to my ears.”
Horror Fuel: “It may have been a risk, but it was well worth it. It’s such a great film. I love the combination of all the genres, horror, history, sci-fi. It blends together so well. Not to mention, horror and period pieces are two of my favorite genres.”
Eric Bress: “Half the challenge was how to put different genres into a film but blend them together in a way that’s least jarring as possible and that there’s some curtain that ties the film together. That had a lot to do with the cast, the score, sound design, so that even though we were smashing through walls that it all felt like one cohesive story.”
Horror Fuel: “It does. I’ve got my fingers crossed that there’s a sequel, hint, hint. Because that twist and that ending, wow!”
Eric Bress: “I came up with some ideas right after we wrapped productions for the second one which I think would be so cool, leaning more into the sci-fi of it all. I’m like, ‘Oh my god, please let me make this one.’ Having seen the first one, would not ruin it, only enhance the second one.”
Horror Fuel: “Well, you already know I’m all for it! I need to know what happens next.”
Eric Bress: “I think it would pick up, in my mind, right where it leaves off and just go much further into [chuckles] the alternate dimension of it all.”
Horror Fuel: “I’m in!
By the way, the casting was top notch. What were you looking for during the casting process?”
Eric Bress: “You know what, it’s funny because when I wrote it I knew that in order to tell this story, with the twist and genre mashups, I didn’t have a full half-hour to slowly introduce you to certain characters, so I had to be subtle as a sledgehammer. And literally, the characters needed to be a little stereotypical, tropish.
So when I met Skylar Astin for Eugene, I had seen him in Pitch Perfect, but meeting him assured me that, no, he’s not just a pretty boy with a great voice, he’s rugged too. He has a dark side to him too that we needed for the role.
Meeting with Theo Rossi was incredible because here was an actor that I watched on Sons of Anarchy for years and I was so intimidated to even talk to him on the phone. What I didn’t know is that he does tons of outreach for veterans and even came up with his own foundation that assists parents with PTSD and he could not have been more excited about taking a film like this into the world.
With Brenton [Thwaites], that was a really hard one, we needed someone with star power in the movie. For me artistically and importantly, someone who could have that Steve McQueen, that silent nobility that he carries through the film. You can get into him without even talking just by looking at his eyes. He was so good at that. I thought he was fantastic. I had seen him in other things and knew he was great in them. I thought I was winning the lottery by getting him to play the lead, so much rests on that. In the role, he’s incredibly likable while doing wartime things that could be a bit dastardly. The affable and funny and born leader but is some with the passion to deal with supernatural forces in a haunted house with empathy rather than just anger and wartime rage. He brought it.
With the Tappert character played by Kyle Gallner, that was the biggest score. I was talking with so many amazing actors that were known for their intense performance, but Kyle just knocked it out of the park. At first, I almost couldn’t hire him because he had shoulder-length hair and was contractually obligated not to cut it for a TV show that he was working on. I didn’t care. We’d figure it out, he’s the guy. I did some research and so Kyle and we started trading information on the phone showing that snipers in World War II were allowed to wear knit caps because they would be stuffed in snipers’ nests for days and it would be freezing cold, so their dress code was a little more lenient. I was like, ‘A knit cap? That could hide all of his hair, perfect.’
Horror Fuel: “They were all fantastic and I’m a Sons of Anarchy fan myself. I have to say, they are all fantastic. Kyle really impressed the hell out of me. He really sold it. He was so believable.”
Eric Bress: “Yeah. All of these actors were. You never know when it comes to actors on set and what egos they are going to bring, these guys, I don’t know if it was because of the ice while shooting in ……..Bulgaria but they all bonded in their spare time. They all became the band of brothers you would want them to be. Even on set, a director’s worst nightmare is for the actors going off and reading a book or getting involved in a text conversation, or Twitter, these guys were all able to just hang out, just stay close to the camera so that when it was time to go up, they’d get into position, get into to the headspace, and the right mindset, and they were ready to shoot. That was a gift.”
Horror Fuel: “Speaking of body doubles, did Allen use one? The dude is so big and athletic.”
Eric Bress: “Allen was so great. Allen was one of the last people, not the last, but one of, to be cast. I need an actor who was a bit butchy, one that was muscular, but funny. He’s not just your stereotypical meathead, chiseled faced, jock, but was funny. People were throwing a lot of muscular actors at me and it was when I saw a reel of his from a comedy series. He was so frigging funny. It was so hilarious. He played a character with a micropenis and just dryly handled this first date situation. It was fall out of your chair funny. And I’m thinking, Oh my god! This guy is funny. He’s perfect.’ To answer your question, no. He is a big guy and I kept going by the workout room to see how does he do it and he would just jog. He’d jog around the streets of Sofia, that’s not fair. He’s genetically superior and I hate him for it [laughter]. In one scene, there is the use of prosthetic arms. The special effects team had tons of arms in their storeroom, but it would take a lot of time to actually cast his arms and get them back and we did not have that time. When they brought out the arms they had [laughter] that were supposed to be Allens we both just broke out laughing because they were toothpicks compared to his [laughter]. We were like, ‘Nope. Nope. We’re not shooting the scene that way. This just turned into CG.’ [laughter].
Horror Fuel: “That’s funny [laughter]. Allen is a great guy. I interviewed him a while back for a tv show he did.”
Eric Bress: “He is. And I would look at the books that he had, like if he knew he wasn’t going to be shooting for a while, but came early. My mind would start to hurt reading the titles of what he was reading. He’s so smart and heady and articulate. You never see that, somebody so physically fit and a genius underneath. It’s crazy! And he’s the nicest guy in the world you’d ever want to meet.”
Horror Fuel: “He is the best.
I have to ask you, how did Ghosts of War come to be? How was it born?
Eric Bress: “You know the end of The Sopranos? That season finale where the screen goes black – and people loved it or hated it – I didn’t know what to think, but the next day, it occurred to me, I know exactly how Tony Soprano feels just picking up his newspaper at the bottom of the driveway. I was so paranoid in the last fifteen minutes of the finale because you knew somebody had to die and time is running out and there’s a lot to wrap up. You’re watching Tony’s daughter parallel park a car and you’re thinking she’s going to die and nothing really happens. I get it now. I get the paranoia and I get the dread, I get that fear that had me sweating those last fifteen minutes. At the same time, this was like in 2016, what was all over the news was the massively high suicide rate of veterans in the United States and how they weren’t getting the proper help and treatment. I thought, ‘Man, while I don’t want to make the film that gets on a soapbox and says the obvious, what if you could make people feel that same dread as I felt watching The Sopranos? What if you could make the audience experience the fear and horror on a minute to minute basis of just a soldier walking through the house so that they’re not just watching someone with PTSD as you might see brilliantly done in The Hurt Locker, but they’re feeling the fear?’ So those were the two nuggets that came together where I thought, ‘Let’s make a horror movie and pull back the curtain a little bit to reveal something else and then you might see ah, this is how it feels when you’re hippocampus shrinks from the prolonged stress of a battle situation and your brain will no longer separate daydreams from reality and you physiologically live in this heightened state of fear.’ That’s what kind of really made me really interested in moving forward on this project.”
Horror Fuel: “We definitely need more attention drawn to the plight of veterans. You delivered well with your desire to bring people into the world of these struggling soldiers and to get a glimpse of the world through the eyes of those with PTSD. I cand definitely see where you are coming from. As for The Sopranos, I remember hearing everyone express their happiness or hate with the finale.
The film looks so good, the cinematography is incredible, even though we are in this haunted house in WWII and the palette is muted, it looks so fantastic.”
Eric Bress: “I have to give credit to Lorenzo Senatore the cinematographer. He’s this incredible DP that’s worked on a ton of major films like Beauty and the Beast the real-life version, and a ton of other major movies. He’s done much bigger films and he knows cameras like nobody else. We had long discussions and he gave me a more beautiful looking film than I could have ever have hoped for.”
Horror Fuel: “He’s fantastic. The movie is so fantastic. There are so many layers to it and jumps between genres. It does it all so smoothly.
Eric Bress: “Thank you. That’s so cool that you’ve seen it more than once so you get not only that first unique viewing experience, but the second time you got to see all the little pieces that are set there to be made sense of later.”
Horror Fuel: “I did notice a few, like the feet. I caught them and had to go back and watch it again. I think people are going to love Ghosts of War and I think it will speak to soldiers and veterans. I’m impressed. We really don’t get enough unique films that actually have a message. That’s not the same old thing we’ve seen a hundred times. When I see a movie that’s really good, and unique I get really excited about it, so thank you.”
Eric Bress: “I wish we had another hour to talk.”
Horror Fuel: “Me too! I’m going to have to have to go get Ghosts of War when it comes out on Blu-ray. I’ll watch it again.”
Eric Bress: “There’s going to be supplementary stuff on there! Hopefully, we’ll take you behind-the-scenes and you’ll be able to see the sets and everything. I hope you’ll see the great work of the production designer. I highly recommend Sofia, Bulgaria to any filmmaker who wants craftsmanship front and center in their film.”
Horror Fuel: “The mansion was real right?”
Eric Bress: “The house was real. We added a fake roofline to make it look more French. I should say, the exterior of the house was real, the interior was completely built on a set.”
Horror Fuel: “I would have never have guessed that.”
Eric Bress: “I can’t wait for people to see it.”
Horror Fuel: “I can’t wait for them to see it so I can talk about it.
Before you go, one more quick question, what’s your favorite kill from your Final Destination movies?”
Eric Bress: “Oh, god. You know, I think I like when the boy is hit by a pane of glass after going to the dentist.”
Horror Fuel: “I love that one! You think he’s going to die from the fish hanging above the dentist chair then nope, smushed by glass in front of his mom!
Eric Bress: ” That entire sequence, I love. It wasn’t one of the most expensive but it works. I love it and some of the crash stuff. But I do love that one, it’s so horrible.”
Horror Fuel: “Love it!”
Eric Bress, while he has created some of the most iconic films in the genre, he’s just the nicest guy. I so enjoyed our conversation and the laughter it triggered. You can clearly tell that he loves his job and his fans. I can’t wait to be able to talk about his new film Ghosts of War with all of you. Luckily, we won’t have to wait long, it arrives on July 17, 2020, in virtual cinemas, On Demand, and Digital.
Be sure to follow Bress on Facebook to get updates on his latest projects and more.