Ever since he was a horror movie-obsessed kid growing up in Tulsa, Okla., Todd Lincoln has dreamed about unleashing hell onto the big screen. But the writer-director has spent much of the past decade discovering the real-life horrors of development hell as a succession of projects — including a reboot of The Fly and an adaptation of the comic book series Hack/Slash — came to naught. “You’d have the friends and the family and everybody come up and say, ‘Hey, maybe you should think about something else,'” Lincoln admits.
Thursday, the filmmaker’s dreams finally will come true when his supernaturally-inclined directorial debut, The Apparition, is screened at midnight at select cinemas prior to a wide release Friday. The movie details a ghost-creating experiment by university parapsychology students which goes horribly awry. It stars Tom Felton from the Harry Potter series, Twilight franchise star Ashley Greene, and Captain America actor Sebastian Stan.
Lincoln admits he will be more than happy if his film freaks out young fans of his cast’s respective blockbuster franchises. “To me, it’s like this ultimate trick,” says the director. “There’s no getting around it, with that kind of cast, their fans are going to come out. So I decided to make things even more terrifying. There’s something exciting about that idea of getting them in there, and they think they’re going to be safe because they know the actors, and then they find out very quickly that they are not safe. That they are in trouble. It’ll be interesting to terrorize the kids and make them have to sleep with the lights on.”
Below, Lincoln talks more about The Apparition, his future horror movie plans, and why his first Hollywood job involved hanging out with vampire strippers.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was the inspiration for The Apparition?
TODD LINCOLN: A few years back I had been digging on these websites late at night. Just for fun I’d go to these paranormal, supernatural, conspiracy-type websites and came across the true story of this thing called the Philip Experiment. Back in the 1970s, a group of paranormal researchers had this theory that paranormal events only happen because people believe they’re going to happen. So to test this, they came up this fictional person and with this story of how he lived and loved and died. They’d meet once a week around this table and focused on him and finally one day there was some knock at the table and then some thump from the corner of the room. Then more weeks went by and the table would start to move aggressively across the room or tip over on its side or they’d feel that something was moving past them. I thought, “Wow, this is such a fascinating, terrifying, fresh way into a horror film.”
The Apparition is sort of Poltergeist thirty years on mixed with Flatliners and John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness and a little bit of the Strangers. We’re not messing around. I know it seems like there’s this sort of surreal, fan fiction, fever dream of a cast. But they all won their parts fair and square in the room, and they were very serious about doing something elevated and surprising people.
What kind of research did you do?
I brought on an expert paranormal researcher and investigator as a technical consultant on the film, Joshua P. Warren, and found out that he’s actually doing one of these types of experiments. He let us borrow a bunch of his gear and we set it up the correct way. These EEG headsets that the actors wore hooked up to these military-grade amplifiers. The idea is that you can actually boost brain activity so that now 6 people sitting at a table can seem like 600 or 6,000 or 600,000 people. And when you get to that level, interesting and terrifying things begin to happen and you begin to open up some doors.
Your cinematographer on The Apparition was Daniel Pearl, who is famous for working on both the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and its 2003 remake. What was he like?
He’s like the Indiana Jones of cinematographers. He has been in the s—. He has been in the trenches. Texas Chainsaw, when I first saw that—and I was way too young to see it—I did not think it was a film, I thought it was real. I thought it was a documentary. I thought somehow I was seeing a window to this actual event. It was the kind of thing that changed your brain chemistry. It felt like a secret. It felt like this, you know, dirty secret, this dark secret, this snuff film that was passed around the country, or something. I thought it was real and I did not want to go to Texas. [Laughs] Tulsa is only four hours away from Dallas and my Dad [would ask] ‘Wanna go down?’ to some sporting event. ‘Absolutely not.’
Daniel felt for me because I was trying to bring the art to so many things. I grew up being a film fan and loving all this ‘70s cinema. He was like, “Man, Todd, if only you had been back in the ‘70s and the ‘80s.” He was like, “Things didn’t used to be so strict and micromanaged. When we went out there on Texas Chainsaw, we used a real f—king chainsaw!” It was just awesome.
I understand your first job in the business was working as a production assistant on the Quentin Tarantino-penned, Robert Rodriguez-directed vampire movie From Dusk Till Dawn.
Yeah. I was always into the macabre. My mom worked in the art department for some made-for-video horror movies: Blood Cult and the Ripper. She would pick me up after school and then speed to the butcher’s shop and get all this blood and guts and intestines in this plastic bag and set in on my lap in the passenger seat. She’d roll down the window and we’d be speeding back to set and this bag of blood and guts and animal intestines would be sloshing around in my lap. I’d go to set with her and I’d see some woman take her clothes off in some kind of sex scene and be brutally killed and hacked up and all this fake blood going around. So I was immediately hooked. I thought, “This is for me!”
The day after high school graduation I drove straight to L.A. and I talked my way into working on From Dusk Till Dawn with Tarantino [and] Rodriguez. That was a great and valuable experience because I worked in every single department: Art department, creature effects, makeup effects, costumes, on and on. It was almost like going off to join the circus. So you learn a little bit of something from the strong man, a little bit from the lion tamer, and the bearded woman. It had that kind of feel. And then I was surrounded by these nude vampire strippers in the T—y Twister. I was like 17 or 18 years old and Salma Hayek with the snake around her. It was mind blowing. Again I was like, “Wow, this is for me!”
What are you planning to do next?
The project that’s most likely to be next up on deck is called The Nye Incidents. This is based on a graphic novel by Whitley Strieber (author of Communion). That’s like a new, grounded, terrifying take on alien abductions. It’s as if every other TV show or movie or anything about aliens got it wrong. We’re doing something completely outside the box and it’s getting away from the pop culture idea of aliens that’s sort of ruined everything — the greys with the big eyes that are on every skateboard deck and sticker and t-shirt now. I just felt that nobody has really knocked it out of the park in the alien [abduction] sub-genre. We’ve had Fire in the Sky and Communion but nobody’s really made it feel possible that there’s something watching you from your backyard or taking you out of your bedroom. There’s no mother ships, there’s not even any UFOs, there’s no shiny metallic instruments or any sci fi stuff.
Is there anal probing?
[Laughs] No, no. No, uh, no. No anal probing. Maybe in the sequel!
You can check out the trailer for The Apparition below.