James Wan prefers Peter Jackson’s gory horror comedies
By Chris Kornelis
From “Saw” to “Insidious” and “The Conjuring,” James Wan has been a director, creator and producer on some of the biggest horror franchises of the past two decades. Even when he’s gearing up for films outside his genre (Wan’s “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” drops next year), he’s never far from the horror conversation. The trailer for the Wan-produced possessed doll film, “M3GAN,” lit up the internet when it was released this month. So, it’s not surprising that Wan takes the Halloween season seriously. To start, there’s the annual pilgrimage to Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood.
“I get to take a break from work and indulge my horror craving,” he said in a recent video interview. “But I’m not watching it, I’m walking through it and experiencing it in a more tactile way. I like to be scared. But, ultimately, it’s fun. You know the guy chasing you with an ax isn’t actually going to ax you.”
And then, of course, there are the films. Wan rotates through some of his favorite horror films in October, such as “Chopping Mall” and “Night of the Creeps” — or “The Frighteners,” which he says is full of director Peter Jackson’s unique sense of humor.
“Sadly, most people today know him from his ‘Lord of the Rings’ films, but for hardcore fans we all grew up with ‘Dead Alive,’ ‘Bad Taste’ and ‘Meet The Feebles,’” he says. “In his gory horror comedies, his horror set pieces are so over the top — blood spraying everywhere — it’s just hilarious. And that’s what I see in ‘The Frighteners,’ a little bit of that cheekiness peppered throughout.”
Here, Wan talks about the places, movies and food that he enjoys throughout the year. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
1. “The Last of Us Part II”: During the pandemic, I played “The Last of Us Part II,” like, five times. It feels like I’m actually playing a movie. These games are so in-depth, you spend hours and days and even weeks with the characters and the story, and you get caught up with them emotionally. And that’s what “The Last of Us Part II” did so well: It was exciting, it was scary, but it was ultimately driven by emotion.
2. “Mars Attacks” Trading Cards: I grew up collecting toys, comic books and trading cards. During the pandemic, I got back into collectibles. I went on eBay and tried to collect all of the “Mars Attacks” cards. Unfortunately, the originals are almost impossible to find, so I had to buy some reissues. I collected a lot of sports cards in my high school days, so now it’s kind of fun to collect nonsports ones, like “Mars Attacks.”
3. Home Theater: When I was renovating the home that I’m in now, one of the things I really wanted was a really good home theater. I’ve got nice recliners, a big screen, high-end projectors, a great sound system and the room is fully soundproofed. The first full movie I watched in there was “Tenant.” It’s my pride and joy of the house.
4. 1978 Rolex “Pepsi”: Another thing I like collecting are vintage watches. They don’t have to be big and fancy. I enjoy the idea of so much artistry and engineering going into something that’s so small. The older the watch is, the cooler it is to me. One of my favorites is my red and blue 1978 Rolex GMT-Master 1675 “Pepsi.” I thought it was fun to get a watch that was, basically, as old as me.
5. Netherworld Haunted House: One of my favorite haunted houses that I’ve been to is called Netherworld, near Atlanta. A group of us went when we were shooting “Furious 7” around Halloween. There are a lot of cinematic ideas that they put into it. It’s really cool to see them pull off a lot of the gags with cool animatronics, great lighting, fog and other old-school film tricks, which is the stuff I like about old-school horror films.
6. My Mother’s Laksa: I grew up on a spicy Malaysian noodle dish called Laksa. It’s not an easy dish to get in America and usually when they do make it, it’s not quite like the one I grew up with. Where I was born in East Malaysia, they make Laksa with spicy shrimp paste, while the rest of the world seems to make it with curry paste. And it just has a different flavor. It takes a lot of work and patience to make — which I don’t really have the time for — so, I just wait until my mother visits me from Australia. She brings all the ingredients and she cooks it for me.
7. My Courtyard Garden: When you see Rob Zombie and then you see his crib, you kind of go, oh yeah, that makes sense. When people come to my place, they notice that it’s very different from the kind of movies I make. I need a space that’s calm, light-filled and peaceful. I love my courtyard. It’s a peaceful place for me to go out in the middle of the night, pace back and forth and just think.
8. “The Cuphead Show!”: Late at night, just before bed, my wife and I have been watching “The Cuphead Show!” on Netflix. It’s a cartoon based on a video game, Cuphead. It’s about a pair of cups who are brothers. I love the old-timey cartoon aesthetic. It’s a nice palate cleanser.
9. Antique Music Boxes: I have a handful of antique music boxes. I love the way they cram such smart engineering into tiny little boxes. I have one on my coffee table that’s about the size of a child’s coffin. I also have an old gramophone that I like to play every now and then. It freaks my wife out because it sounds like something that’s straight out of one of my horror films — you know, that crackly record player that’s playing some old-timey music.
10. The Uffizi Gallery: I’m a big fan of Italian art and culture, from artists during the Renaissance to Italian horror directors like Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. When we went to Florence a few years ago, I said we had to visit Uffizi Gallery. The place is filled with the most incredible artwork from artists like Rembrandt and Caravaggio. It was amazing. To see the works of artists I grew up admiring was one of my favorite life experiences.