Christopher Landon’s career in Hollywood begin in 1998 when he co-wrote Another Day in Paradise. He directed his first film in 2010. Landon has had quite a career as a writer and has worked alongside producer Jason Blum on almost every project he has been involved in since 2010. Landon is probably best known for the Happy Death Day films which he not only wrote but directed. His latest feature film Freaky is out in theaters now and a delightfully fun and gory take on a body swap comedy. I recently spoke with Landon about the film and how he breaks down the traditional horror tropes in his films.
Christopher Landon: Hi, Scott How are you?
Scott Menzel: Not too bad. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this with me today.
Christopher Landon: Oh, it’s my pleasure. Shit, you do have a lot going on behind you. Oh my God. Yeah. My son would fucking die if he saw your room. It’s amazing. Just like everything. That’s so cool. Sorry. I’m transfixed.
Scott Menzel: No, no, no, no worries. It’s nice to meet you. I’ve been a big fan of yours going all the way back to Disturbia.
Christopher Landon: Thank you.
Scott Menzel: So, Freaky is a fun movie and a lot to process with it, in terms of being a horror-comedy. But I want to start with where I saw the movie, which was at Beyond Fest. What has it been like to release a film during a pandemic but still getting to play it at a festival even though it wasn’t a normal festival?
Christopher Landon: It’s really fucking weird. That’s the unvarnished truth. The Beyond Fest premiere was my first time at a drive-in. So it was really cool. There’s certainly a novelty factor to it. And there really is no better audience than Beyond Fest. They’re just such movie lovers. And so it’s really cool to see it with like-minded people. But it’s bittersweet because I really do make movies to see them in movie theaters and there’s just no way to replace that or replicate it. It’s such a specific experience. And so that part’s been a bit of an adjustment, but I also feel like we need a movie like this right now. I think that people need this kind of escapism and a reason to scream and to laugh and just sort of forget about how fucked up everything is for at least an hour and 45 minutes. So, it is what it is and I think that’s kind of what’s happened. And I think we’re all rolling with the punches and we have been for some time now.
Scott Menzel: Thanks so much, Chris. I couldn’t agree with you more, by the way, with experiencing this movie in a theater versus at a drive-in vs on a tv screen. I’ve been watching a lot of movies on my tv and there’s been a ton of horror movies in that mix. And out of the horror movies that I’ve watched this year, only three really impressed me and this is one of them.
Christopher Landon: Oh, thank you. I really appreciate that. That means a lot to me.
Scott Menzel: Yeah, no problem. It’s funny because just like with Happy Death Day, there are so many things you balance in Freaky like you touch upon toxic masculinity and sexual orientation. I think you really encompass a lot of themes within your films. What is the importance of you doing that and finding the right actors to play those roles?
Christopher Landon: I think historically… I don’t want to say horror because I think people have always used horror as a sort of a vessel to comment on different sorts of social conditions. But I think slasher films, in particular, have always historically been very disposable and dumb. I think that’s how people have treated them. And so for me, I have found that these movies have been like little Trojan horses where I can sneak a lot of subversive stuff in, and also a lot of social commentary without beating you over the head with it. It’s been a fun exercise in delivering messages and commenting on things like that.
But I also really enjoyed playing with this notion of the final girl and that trope, and evolving the idea of the final girl and giving these characters agency and not relying on other people to necessarily rescue them. And also giving them proper character arcs, and watching a character really evolve over the course of a movie, because that’s not something that you ever see in slasher movies. It’s usually just the really sweet, chaste girl who runs for 30 minutes at the end of the movie. And then finally the bad guy dies.
So there’s just so much to unpack. And especially in a movie like this, where I’m taking a very worn, cute, soft concept like a body swap, and then just throwing a gallon of blood on it and giving it bite and some sarcasm. And then also modernizing it by filling it with different kinds of characters, like having an openly gay lead who is confident and it’s not some coming out story. Having a character like Nyla, who is her own sort of character, and is not what people would expect out of, I guess, an African-American character in a movie. Where I just think all that stuff starts to feel really tired and it doesn’t reflect the people that I see and that I know in the world.
And I think that’s a big part of it for Michael and I was that we wanted to include characters that felt a little bit authentic and real. And even in a trophy world, where we are poking fun and stuff like that, we wanted to have characters that felt more relatable and identifiable.
Scott Menzel: Yeah. I think you nailed that. I mean, again that even goes back to Happy Death Day, like when you see Jessica Rothe’s character in that movie, the first thought is “Oh, she’s gorgeous” but you give her brains and she’s so much smarter than most of the people around her. And that’s something that you don’t expect when you watch a movie like that. And the same thing can be said with this. Kathryn Newton is also so gorgeous, but she has that very innocent girl-next-door quality, where you don’t see them in the leading role of a horror film. And I love that you break down stereotypes and you can tell that the gay character has a little bit of flamboyance, but it’s not over the top, which so many movies just ride so hard.
Christopher Landon: They go crazy with it. And I mean, look, I think that Michael and I were able to bring insider experience to that particular character, both of us being gay. But what’s great about it too, which is something that I don’t think other filmmakers who… I have to say, I don’t think straight filmmakers could do it, which is like, we also poke fun at gay culture through Joshua as well, which is something that is a lot of fun to do. Because Michael and I both have a very similar sense of humor. So I think that part of it was a lot of fun.
But yeah, I think giving these characters, especially the leads, not only strength and brains but also flaws. Real people are not perfect and they are a little bit broken and they do have to figure shit out. And that’s what both Tree and Millie have to do in these movies, is overcome their fears or their flaws to evolve. And I think giving these characters an arc is what sets them apart from a lot of other horror films, especially slasher films.
Scott Menzel: Absolutely. You worked a lot with Jason Blum over the years. I’ve met him on numerous occasions. He’s a brilliant man. I want to know, what’s something that you learned from working with him so much?
Christopher Landon: I think what’s great about Jason, I mean, look on a personal side of things, I love working with Jason because he’s such a trusting producer and he really fights for the things that you believe in. And I think that’s what I’ve really learned from him is to fight for what you really believe in. And he empowers that and he really helps you navigate, especially the studio system, where a lot of voices and a lot of people might try to… I don’t want to necessarily say interfere, but they might try and sort of shape things differently because they’re afraid of the way that certain things might be perceived. And Jason runs great defense. And so I think that I really admire and respect that about him. And he’s also a risk-taker, and I think every filmmaker should do that. He’s built a company on taking certain kinds of risks. He’s made movies that nobody else which is something that I try to do in my movies to some degree.
Scott Menzel: Well, thank you very much, Chris. It was lovely to talk to you and thank you so much for everything. You are really great filmmaker and I look forward to what you do next.
Christopher Landon: I appreciate that. I’m so glad my son was not in the room with me, by the way, because if you saw all of your Nightmare Before Christmas stuff, he would fucking lose his mind. It’s his favorite movie.
Scott Menzel: Oh, is it?.
Christopher Landon: His favorite movie.
Scott Menzel: I’ve been collecting that stuff since like ’93. Some of that stuff is the originally released merchandise.
Christopher Landon: Yeah. It’s the best. I love watching that movie with him.
Scott Menzel: Aww, that’s so great. Well, thank you so very much. I’ll talk to you hopefully again for your next one.
Christopher Landon: I would love that. Thank you so much.