FrightFest 2023 - Interview with Douglas Schulze director of Thorns

A quick chat with the director of a cool retro feeling horror

James Whittington
August 28, 2023

If you want cool, retro horror with a nice contemporary edge then Thorns from Douglas Schukze is for you. We chatted to him before its premiere at FrightFest.

NYX: Where did the idea for Thorns come from?

DS: The idea for Thorns evolved over time.  I have wanted to make a straight up monster movie for years as a kind of homage to the great horror films I grew up with.  It was important that the monster be completely done with practical makeup effects NOT CGI.  So, Thorns began as a genre type (practical effect monster movie) without a plot or story.  

Decades ago, I read a book entitled People of the Lie, the Hope for Healing Evil. Part of the book deals with the notion of “group evil” and this is where the idea of the collective voices of evil (aka the signal) in the movie originated from. I sort of built the story around the idea of “the signal”.

NYX: Did it take long to write?

DS: The first draft came easy but the real work came with months of revisions. I think we went through close to twenty drafts before locking the script.  The original vision was meant for a much larger budget, and, over time, we wrote to scale things.  It was important to design a story with the resources available to the production.  I think it was a 12-month process once we started working in Final Draft.

NYX: The movie has a retro vibe, riffing on Hellraiser, The Thing and Event Horizon, was this always your vision?  

DS: Yes. But I also wanted the film to play as a contemporary tale with modern themes. I also think it’s important to mention just how inspirational the soundtracks to those films you mentioned were and are to me and the fans of those great movies.  From Goblin to Carpenter the music scores to all these great films proved to be as great an impetus as the visuals for Thorns.

NYX: Jon Bennett and Cassandra Schomer who play Gabe and Sister Agnes have a nice natural chemistry; did they have much time to rehearse?

DS: Not as much as we would have liked.  We began rehearsals with another actress but less than a month before production we lost her to covid.  It took a while to find Cassandra, but we feel blessed to have her in the film.  I agree that they have a natural chemistry.

NYX: How long did it take to get the design of the creature right?  

DS: I worked with a talented local Detroit, Michigan Makeup FX Artist Dan Phillips.  We had several conversations about the monster’s look. Because the story is about human evil we looked to history and what is arguably one of mankind’s darkest hours as inspiration for the look.  We had sketches and renderings done and then we did a few prototypes with clay. After a few weeks of revisions, we had our monster.

NYX: Talking of effects there’s some amazing and very graphic set-pieces, were they all done on set?  

DS: Absolutely.  When we were planning the shoot, I specifically set blocks of time aside to do ALL of the special effects on set.  Almost everything was achieved during principal photography. We’d knock out most of a scene then focus the remainder of a filming day on special effects.  There was an intricate makeup effect to execute every day of the shoot.

NYX: Was it a difficult shoot?  

DS: All films are challenging in some way.  But this one was quite enjoyable, and it was the first time I was sad to see the filming phase end.  We’d film in eight-day blocks, so we’d have a few days off between breaks.

NYX: Thorns blends together several genres, how would you categorise it?  

DS: I call it a modern day monster movie with a retro vibe.  At its core Thorns is a sci-fi horror film that wrestles with religious themes.

NYX: The score is prime 80s with a Carpenter edge, who composed it?    

DS: Thank you. I did the music.  It’s my first time scoring a film.  I have a minor background in music but have learned so much from the many composers I’ve been fortunate to work with over the years including Chuck Cirino, Diego Navarro, David Bateman and Erik Bobo from Cypress Hill.  I’ve often presented my composers with very lose ideas to inspire them and had originally only intended to do a temp score to provide as a kind of roadmap for the composer. But Thorns main theme (Gabe’s theme) came to me back when I began writing the script so I recorded something and kept it locked away.  And then as the film was being edited by my wife (who is also a producer) I began playing these pieces of music I’d credited for her and several others. They all strongly encouraged me to score the film.  It makes good sense when you consider this is sort of my homage to retro horror and the music scores for those films played such an important role.

NYX: What’s it like directing a legend such as Doug Bradley and would you be up for directing a Hellraiser movie?  

DS: I’ve had the good fortune of directing some truly talented actors over the years (John Saxon, David Carradine, Lance Henriksen etc). Doug Bradley does his homework, and he comes to set prepared. THAT makes all the difference when it comes to directing an actor.  He had these rather lengthy monologues, and I was preparing to do them in segments but when it came time to call action Doug would nail the entire bit often on the first take.   He’s absolutely brilliant in Thorns.

And it’s always been a dream of mine to helm a Hellraiser project. Clive Barker is amazing. That would be amazing.

NYX: How hard is it to fund and make independent movies?  

DS: I’ve been making independent films for 25 years and every movie has been privately funded.  For every minute spent on set there are hours upon hours spent pitching and selling private investors on your vision.  But the landscape for film distribution continues to evolve and it’s not getting any easier for us independents.  This is why journalists like yourself and festivals like Frightfest are SO important.

NYX: Do you believe in anything paranormal or that there’s life outside of our galaxy?  

DS: I don’t believe in ghosts or haunted houses but I do believe in extraterrestrial life. I think Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End isn’t necessarily science-fiction.  I also think that one day mankind will fuse with the artificial intelligence we are developing.  

NYX: Will you be nervous when the movie has its UK premiere at FrightFest 2023?

DS: Of course. I’m proud of what we were able to achieve with the modest budget we had but you’re always saying a quiet prayer that your audience finds it enjoyable.  

NYX: So, what are you working on at the moment?  

DS: It’s a kind of earthen science fiction story with horror elements that speaks to the direction I think mankind is heading.  I have big hopes for it.  

NYX: Douglas Schulze, thank you very much.