Guilty Pleasures: James Wan and Leigh Whannell (director and writer of Insidious)
Leigh Whannell and James Wan photographed by Godlis on March 3.
On the occasion of the opening of Insidious on Friday, April 1, Film Comment is pleased to bring you the film’s director and writer’s Guilty Pleasures.
SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS (1937) & POLTERGEIST (1982)
James Wan: When I was a kid, there were two movies that had a huge impact on me. The first was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I remember how much it made me love film, but at the same time how completely frightened I was of the creepy witch. Then there was Poltergeist. That film has scarred me for life. It made me terrified of anything that’s clown- or doll-related. Hence, Saw has a creepy ventriloquist doll.
Leigh Whannell: It’s affected James so much that he recently passed out at a Cirque du Soleil production. All those French-Canadian clowns running around terrified him too much.
LOST HIGHWAY (1997)
LW: You might say that Lost Highway gets plenty of critical love, but I don’t think so. James and I believe it’s when Lynch really hit his stride.
JW: It’s his best film.
LW: We bring this one up a lot as an example of a super-scary film, and we always get funny looks. We see it as one of the scariest horror films ever.
JW: The public seemed to like Mulholland Drive more, but Lost Highway hits all the notes we love. It has one of the creepiest scenes, when Bill Pullman is at the party and is approached by Robert Blake, who tells him: “I’m at your house right now.”
JW & LW (in unison): “Call me.”
LW: The slow-building dread, those strange videotapes arriving on the doorstep… No one can create dread like Lynch can. It’s Lynch’s version of a film about schizophrenia.
BMX BANDITS (1983) & THE MAN FROM HONG KONG (1975)
JW: If you want to talk about guilty pleasures, there’s BMX Bandits and The Man from Hong Kong, both directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith. They’re great films. They’re written off as exploitation, but they’re very well made.
LW: I remember being at the video store and becoming obsessed with Jaws just based on the cover art. We had a Betamax, which was just a big refrigerator with dials.
JW: You were the only family in your neighborhood who had one.
LW: Everyone else had VHS. So we went to the video store and there in the back is the Beta section with all the worst movies in the world, and sitting there is Jaws. As soon as I saw the cover with the shark I became obsessed. To this day it’s still my favorite film.
MAJOR LEAGUE (1989)
LW: A lot of the movies I loved as a teenager still hold up today—Predator, Conan the Barbarian, Mad Max—but there’s one movie I look back on and just think, “Why?” My brother and I went through a really, really big Major League phase.
JW: That’s because you’re a huge Charlie Sheen fan.
LW: Exactly. But now I’m wondering, “Why was I so into Major League?” I don’t know.
JW: I love Razorback. I’m a big Russell Mulcahy fan and I think he’s one of the most talented visual directors out there. This was the first movie he made that showed he had such a great style. The Eighties music video and commercial scene would not be remembered for what it was today if it weren’t for Russell Mulcahy and Ridley Scott.
THE PLUMBER (1979)
LW: This is a made-for-TV movie Peter Weir did in Australia in the late Seventies. It’s about a plumber who’s working on a woman’s apartment and even though he doesn’t really do anything, he’s somehow perceived by the woman to be a threat. A slow sense of dread starts to build and it’s all very Polanski-esque. It’s amazing that Peter Weir was able to make such an effective made-for-TV movie. Everyone’s got to start somewhere.
THE CROW (1994)
JW: This film really symbolizes the period we grew up in—the Nineties—with all the teen angst music. And on top of that, it’s directed by Alex Proyas, another great Australian director I really look up to. And on top of that, I’m a huge Brandon Lee fan and this was his last movie. It has cool shoot-outs, cool music, cool visuals, and I love the fact that Proyas used miniatures to represent the city. I’m a big fan of miniatures and models.
LW: There’s an Australian film I love that seems to be criminally underrated outside Australia. Malcolm is a great caper comedy about a loner who’s good at gadgets. And that’s what he does: he builds gadgets. And if I’m remembering the plot correctly, he takes on a tenant who just happens to be a bank robber, and as soon as he sees what Malcolm can do he decides to use his talents to pull off a bank robbery with what are basically toys, including a Volkswagen Beetle that splits in half. Also from Australia there’s Howling III: The Marsupials. That’s a classic.
THE HAUNTED (1991)
LW: There is a made-for-TV movie called The Haunted that is very scary.
JW: It stars Sally Kirkland.
LW: It’s based on a true story. It’s not perfect, but it’s really effective and creepy.
JW: It’s very dated now. It has a very Eighties feel to it.
LW: But it was available on videotape in Australia. That’s how we found it. Some of the sequences get under your skin.
JW: It’s creepy because it’s supposedly based on a true story—one of the other famous cases involving the Warrens, who also investigated Amityville. Not many people know about it, but it was probably their second-biggest case.
JW: My favorite movie of 2010—it made me cry. I think it’s a masterpiece. For me, it’s the one movie that has allowed Disney to reclaim the top spot in animation. With it, I reckon Disney blew Pixar out of the water. Tangled really captured something that I haven’t seen in a Disney movie in a long time, something I used to love when I was younger, in movies like The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast. The whole movie builds up to the moment when lanterns are released on Rapunzel’s birthday, and when it arrives . . . oh, my god. I went to see the movie with a girl and I was trying so hard not to cry right then.