The words “slasher film” and “musical” are not often heard together in the same sentence. That may be about to change, thanks to Vincent D’Onofrio and his directorial debut Don’t Go in the Woods, which opens in New York today. This “slasher musical” tracks a rock band as they attempt to write songs in the wilds of upstate New York only to get picked off by a mallet-wielding psychopath. Below, the star of Full Metal Jacket and Law and Order: Criminal Intent talks about how he came up with the idea for his genre-fusing film, why he tried not to think about Stanley Kubrick while he was making it, and his country & western alter-ego George “Geronimo” Gerkie.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: No one likes to pigeonholed. However, it’s fair to say there’s little about your acting career that would suggest the possibility of you one day directing a slasher musical.
VINCENT D’ONOFRIO: That’s what everybody is saying to me, yeah. I was getting the rights to make another film and it was taking so long. I have a house in the woods upstate and I was driving with my wife back to the city and I said, “Well, what can I do now? I’m bored. I want to shoot something.”
We talked about what I had available to me. One of my good friends, Sam Bisbee, is a singer-songwriter and composer and Joe Vinciguerra, who wrote the script with us, is a friend, and he’s one of the screenwriting professors at NYU, and we have these beautiful woods. I swear to you, the next thing that came out of my mouth to her was, “Why don’t I make a slasher musical, in our woods, with non-actors?”
We shot it in 12 days and the production cost very little money. A hundred grand total was spent on the movie. We found some incredibly talented kids to be in it. Everybody’s really singing and everybody’s really playing their instruments. It was a project we just did for the hell of it. I really don’t know what people expect from me. I just know what I feel like doing. So I think I’ll just keep doing that.
I’m pretty sure this is the first movie in which someone is killed with a melodica, if that’s what the instrument is.
That’s exactly what it is. I’m surprised you know. You must be a musician.
Actually, I’m a big fan of the late reggae musician Augustus Pablo, who played the instrument.
It was going to be an accordion. We had to sit around figuring out all these different ways to kill off the cast and one of them was to have an accordion hooked to a tube, tape a tube to somebody’s mouth, and suffocate them while they’re breathing in and out playing some weird tune. But we couldn’t find an accordion player that was as good as Casey [Smith] as an actor, so we chose the melodica instead.
Save it for Don’t Go in the Woods 2!
Yeah, right. Exactly.
Did anyone ever get lost in the woods?
We didn’t lose anybody. I think a few people lost their minds. But we didn’t actually lose anybody physically.
As an actor, you’ve worked with some legendary directors. Was there ever a moment when you were standing out there in the forest and thought, I wonder what Stanley Kubrick would do here?
It’s funny you say that. Because it haunts you, is what it does. It makes you feel totally useless. From my point of view, when I think of the directors I’ve worked in my career, it doesn’t help to think about how great they were, and how great they are. I feel inadequate as a director compared to them. So you just have to keep in mind this is what you want to do and you’re going to do it your way and you have to fully commit to that rather than to think about these guys. If I had thought about Stanley during the shoot I would have left after the first day.
What kind of music do you listen to?
It’s everywhere. I was just listening to Coltrane today. Just everywhere. I’m 53 and I grew up with so many different kinds of music, especially being here in New York. There was so much rock & roll here and so much jazz and so much blues that it’s tough to just like one type of music.
You have a country & western alter-ego, George “Geronimo” Gerkie?
George is a character I invented so that I could sing country & western music. There’s a great bunch of studio musicians here in New York who call themselves the Loser’s Lounge. They perform at Joe’s Pub all the time. Sam and I approached them to help us out and create this kind of…. I think I called it Vincent D’Onofrio Presents a Country & Western Experience, something like that. So we’ve done a few shows to raise money for different things. It’s just a blast. George Gerkie is an intense character. I kind of talk about him as if he’s a real person. It’s not a clown show by any means. George is very complicated.
Finally, one of the characters in Don’t Go in the Woods has a t-shirt with the slogan “I Piss Excellence.” My question: Where can I get that?
[Laughs] You’d have to get them from our wardrobe girl. I don’t know where she got that.
D’Onofrio, Bisbee, Vinciguerra, and Don’t Go in The Woods cast members will be participating in a Q&A after tonight’s 9:30 p.m. screening at Cinema Village in New York. You can check out the film’s trailer below.