What if you could relive the gory days of 1980s horror from inside the screen? First announced at OC4, Campfire Creepers from Future Lighthouse makes that nightmare a darkly comic (virtual) reality. The first two episodes of this live-action anthology—“Midnight March” and “The Skull of Sam”—make their debut at Tribeca this week, and we’re excited to announce that they’re now available via the Dark Corner app on Rift and Gear VR!
Inspired by Tales from the Crypt, Creepshow, and the Wes Craven canon, Campfire Creepers marries cutting-edge immersive tech and traditional oral storytelling for a retro thrillfest like no other. Add in the artistic talents of Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes, High Tension, Horns) and Robert Englund of Freddy Krueger fame, and you have a recipe that’s sure to keep horror fans coming back for more.
We sat down with critically-acclaimed director Alexandre Aja to discuss his love of 1980s horror, working with one of its most iconic figures, and translating the genre to VR.
What inspired you to bring Robert Englund onto the project?
Alexandre Aja: Nightmare on Elm Street scared me so much that I had to start sharing my fear with other kids—and that’s how I became attracted to these kinds of stories. Later on, I had a chance to work with Wes Craven for a number of years, and he’s such a master. One of the most recurrent topics we were talking about all of the time was Robert Englund and Freddy Krueger. When I finished my second-to-last feature film, I presented at a film festival in Madrid, and Robert was there. He came to see the movie, he loved it, and we met for the first time. After being a fanboy and asking him questions for hours, I kept thinking, “I have to find something to do with him—I have to do something with him.”
When we started developing Campfire Creepers, the idea to have him come and play the skull collector—this hermit figure living in the forest who attracts and poisons camp counselors and people who get lost and then buries them to collect their skulls and uses a very interesting way of cleaning the skulls—it was perfect. He also brought this kind of mentorship, where he kind of blessed us with his presence. He brought that flavor of classic horror that we like so much. Beyond the fact that he was perfect for the part, he really brought something else—like a post-modern feel to the piece that created that effect that I wanted that I loved so much growing up watching Creepshow and Tales from the Crypt. For my first VR piece, I couldn’t imagine someone better than Robert.
As a storyteller, what is it that attracts you to VR—and how might your experience working in the medium affect your creative process in the future?
AA: VR storytelling is very different—I understand that now. It’s something that I wasn’t measuring, even as everyone was telling me, “It’s so hard, it’s so difficult, it takes a lot of time, it’s not like a feature film.” And yes, I could imagine the obvious—you can’t be onset because the camera sees everything, you have to run back and forth between the actors and behind the booth where you’re hiding in a trench—but beyond that, I wasn’t expecting that there’s also an interactive part involved, even more than just traditional filmmaking.
The audience is locked in the position of the camera that you designed but still has the freedom to look around and do some other things, and you need to provide a full 360° stereo world around them to bring satisfaction, so no matter where they decide to look, there’s something happening that will attract them, that will lead their attention and create fear—because at the end of the day, the idea was to do something scary, to do something that was really haunting and would stay with you after and make you want to see more episodes of the show.
That was very challenging, and I’m very happy with everything I’ve learned. After that, I went to direct some other traditional things, and it felt so much easier. And I was lucky—I think I was one of the first VR filmmakers to learn by doing the edit in real-time while I was shooting. For me, it was so obvious that, yeah, of course, how can anyone direct VR without seeing live what it actually looks like? I don’t know of any earlier productions that had an actual server to create that rough live stitch of all the cameras, and that was spectacular. It was really amazing.
So what’s next for you? Do you plan to come back to VR?
AA: I’m about to start a feature film right now, but I really want to come back to VR. I really want to come back to VR because we can improve so much—because there is so much to be invented. We’re really in the beginning, and VR is already so cool and so fun and such a riot when you watch even unfinished products—it’s a great feeling. The future of VR is wide open, and there are so many aspects that we can push further. It’s so exciting to be part of the beginning of a new way of telling stories.
Thanks for taking the time to talk shop with us, Alex. We can’t wait to see what you come up with next.
— The Oculus Team