Matt Mercer’s short film FEEDING TIME is not simply a fun exercise in the gotcha creepy fun scare world of the “babysitter in peril” genre. In this case, the babysitter who gradually realizes that the home she is in and the baby she is sitting are more than just a little “off,” is also a literal love letter to the filmmaking style of Joe Dante, the esthetics of Larry Cohen and others. Filmmakers and films that hooked a good number of us genre and horror-loving geeks and fans, and ultimately – cinephiles – to hunger for some laughs and giggles with our jump scares and creepy frights.
- Working within a horror/comedy equation means that routinely, one side is going to be more weighted than the other. With that in mind, were you more concerned with the scares being scary or laughs being funny?
Wow. That’s a great question. Before I start, let me say there are big SPOILERS ahead in my answers and in the questions, so if you haven’t seen the short, beware!
But back to the question, haha. If I had to pick, I’d say my bigger concern was the laughs near the beginning, especially regarding the scene with the parents and then, even more so, the timing on the text messages from Sasha’s boyfriend. So far those bits seem to be working with audiences. Even if people aren’t chortling their heads off, I think the lightness and quirkiness plays. And the main reason I say my concern was mostly with the laughs is because I think first introducing some buoyancy into the proceedings opens the audience up for the scares later. I think it makes the scares more impactful as the film plays out. It’s a weird alchemy that I don’t fully understand, and I can only hope my instincts are okay in the blend of comedy and horror in FEEDING TIME.
- What genre/horror films served as inspiration for FEEDING TIME? And in what way?
Overall, I think FEEDING TIME was influenced by early films of Joe Dante, Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN and Larry Cohen’s IT’S ALIVE (the poster art Rachel Ferrell made was especially influenced by the Cohen film). I think the parents (played by Graham Skipper and Najarra Townsend) seem to come from a Terry Gilliam or Tim Burton kind of world, but I’m not sure what film influenced those characters. For the look of the film, I aimed for a blend of HALLOWEEN and Ti West’s HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (great babysitter-in-peril films).
The techniques that cinematographers Dean Cundey and Eliot Rocket used on those films respectively, create this great clashing of cozy warm suburban safety that slowly gives way to colder tones as the films play out. I love the hard moonlight through windows and gobos in those films, piercing the warm lamplight of the interiors. Patrick McGinley, my DP on FEEDING TIME, did an amazing job with these things. Production design, same idea, cozy but creepy… sort of like the off-putting house in THE BURBS, old Craftsman dark-wood doom-filled stuff. That’s really what FEEDING TIME is, an old dark house film that turns into a creature movie.
- The film’s credits hearken back to the late 80s/early 90s. Can you ever have too much neon in your credits design?
Not at all. The more neon the better, I say! I love the rapid-fire credits for Scorsese’s AFTER HOURS, super 80’s neon awesomeness. I think I was thinking of that when I added the glow to the FEEDING TIME credits. Couple that with the Ben Wise’s 80’s-esque title theme and Steve Moore’s synth score, and it’s a win-win all around. I also wanted the blue glow on the titles as a reference to the creatures’ weirdo electric eyes.
- I suspect I know the answer to this due to the creature design, but the question has to be asked: GREMLINS or GHOULIES?
HA! I know what you’re thinking. I like both for different reasons, but I’m gonna go with GREMLINS! There are so many things I love about Joe Dante. His tone, the blend of comedy and horror in his work is effortless and works so well. I love the films he did with Sayles in the late 70’s and early 80’s. PIRANHA, THE HOWLING… Dante’s work is such a perfect tonal intersection of scary, weird, funny, and social and cultural awareness. In regard to FEEDING TIME though, the biggest influence on the creatures in it were IT’S ALIVE and the monsters from C.H.U.D., a mid-80’s NYC eco-horror film about homeless in the sewers being transformed into glowy-eyed creatures by toxic waste. I remember describing what I wanted to our creature designer Cody as “C.H.U.D. babies”, haha. But with some of the menace and personality of a Krite, the little monsters from CRITTERS. God I love CRITTERS, too.
- As a director, what what the biggest pain-in-the-ass about pulling off the effects in the film?
Probably making the creatures look and move like real organic things. At the end of the day, the main, articulating creature is a puppet on someone’s arm, and as cool as it was, we were working with very limited time and money. So you have to use every trick in the book to make rubber look real. Everybody pulled together and made it happen though. It just takes time to get the right angle, the right amount of slime, the right light, the right editing, and the right movement.
- Be honest: The goggles that the Mom and Dad wear in the film. Did you get them specifically for this film or did you already have them and always wanted to use them in a film?
Although I have written things I already have into films plenty of times, because it’s economical, we did end up buying those goggles. My producers found a great deal on them that fit the budget.
- Popcorn or Candy?
Popcorn all the way. Smothered in butter please. I generally swing toward the savory over the sweet.
FEEDING TIME will screen at the Oxford Film festival on Friday, February 17 at 10:30PM.