Director Nelson McCormickís eclectic career began as a cameraman, documenting breaking stories from air-to-air combat to humanitarian relief, for which he was decorated twice with Air Force commendations. He went on to direct episodes for some of TVís most prestigious shows, including The West Wing, ER, House and Alias.
Hollywood Hotline spoke with him in 2007 on the set of the thriller Prom Night, which opens on April 11th, marking his feature film directorial dťbut.
A reworking of the 1980 horror flick, Prom Night stars Brittany Snow as Donna Keppel, whose high school prom turns into a nightmare when an obsessed psychopath, who murdered her entire family, escapes from prison to come and claim her.
Q: Was it challenging to do this movie as a PG-13?:
A: I was actually glad that this was going to be a PG-13, because it forced me to think of designing the scares and the kills in a way that you had to imagine with us. We were thinking about how to tell this story visually, and what came to mind were films like Psycho, Deliverance and Dead Calm, where the violence was real but where you felt it more internally, and it wasnít visually in your face. This film rides the rails of a teen horror film, however it also is a cross-genre film with a cop film, thereís the killer on the loose and the manhunt for him trying to stop him before he kills again. So youíve got elements of films like Seven and Silence of the Lambs mixed with more traditional teens-in-distress movies. There were times where we shot scenes where we said, ĎThis is probably more R than PG-13,í so we pulled back on the blood and were a little less gory.
Q: How are you handling the killings?
A: Some of the kills we have victims looking straight into the lens as they are getting stabbed to death, as if they are looking into [the stalkerís] eyes. Iíve got to tell you; thatís much more horrific because youíre imagining it on a deeper level.
Q: Do we get to know the killer?
A: Yeah, you do. I think the more human he becomes the more scary heíll be. Iíve always felt that in Se7en they made Kevin Spacey so scary, he only had one scene in that film if you think about it, and in that scene he gives you his full mental download on why heís doing all this, and there are moments where you go, ĎItís a little twisted but I get why heís doing that, and Iíve had that thought.í So when you see something in yourself in the villain it makes him more relatable in a strange way. The interesting thing about this film is [our villain] is not my shark in Jaws, heís not my creature in Alien, heís driven by obsession, he doesnít have a blood lust, he just wants her and it has driven him to rage. The killerís goal is not to come to the prom to rack up a body count, his goal is that it is a perfect opportunity to see Donna and take her with him, and her friends are in the wrong place at the wrong time, and he feels he has no choice.
Q: There arenít any big stars in this, was that intentional?:
A: These films have to appeal to an actor, we canít just go after somebody for a payday and have them walk through it. We wanted people to come to it with the idea that his could really be cool and a lot of fun; we wanted them to be as passionate about it as we were. With the role of Donna, we always felt that she was all the things that are good about being young, she has suffered through this tragedy of losing her family so thereís a lot of invested sympathy we have for her, so it had to be a person like Brittany Snow, whoís a really good person that possess a lot the elements of this character.
Q: In the mid-80s the audiences for slasher movies died and the movies died with them. Why do you think there is a resurgence of them now?
A: I think it has a lot to do with whatís going on in the world. I think if you look at the cycles of horror it parallels the violence and the extremism of hate and blood that you see every day. After Vietnam there was a huge wave of [slasher films] Friday the 13th, the original Halloween, the original Nightmare on Elm Street, but it was an aftermath of having experienced [the war.]. [Now] you canít escape a day without seeing 14 dead in a car bomb, and in some of the newscasts you see the blood and guts everywhere. We need to compartmentalize it and process it, and I think these films allow that, they give us a place to see terrible things happen.