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Every day this week, The Hollywood Reporter has spoken with a notable horror director. Previously in this series: ‘Found Footage 3D’s Steven DeGennaro
There might not seem to be a lot of common ground between the realms of horror and documentary. But according to Rodney Ascher, the horror fan with a taste for real-life chills has plenty to choose from. He would know — his first directorial feature is the well-liked Room 237, an examination of the bizarre, complex deconstructions and conspiracy theories that surround Stanley Kubrick‘s horror masterpiece The Shining.
Ascher recently directed one of the segments in the horror anthology The ABCs of Death 2 (titled Q is for Questionnaire and inspired by a scene in Steven Soderbergh‘s Solaris). But his next feature returns him to documentary territory. It’s called The Nightmare, and it focuses on the strange visions witnessed by those who suffer from sleep paralysis, inspired by his own experiences with the condition. “What I found looking into it is that the majority of people I found believe that it’s more than just a weird dream or hallucination,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter.
He’s a fan of the found-footage subgenre of horror, which imitates documentary filmmaking with a fictional narrative. “I love the idea of a filmmaker as character, whether in The Blair Witch Projector Paranormal Activity,” he says.
He shared with THR his favorite horror documentaries, from Chernobyl chronicles to urban legends.
Demon Lover Diary
The 1980 feature from Joel DeMott chronicles the filming of a separate horror movie, 1977’s The Demon Lover, in Detroit. “It predates [Chris Smith‘s] American Movie and it’s a bit similar, except unlike with American Movie, the crew of the documentary and of the horror movie despise each other,” Ascher says.
In the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear accident, the Ukrainian city of Pripyat was largely abandoned. Some, however, have remained living and working in the city. Nikolaus Geyrhalter‘s feature follows several Pripyat dwellers’ lives. “What was frightening was the people who’d returned. As bad as life was in that radioactive nightmare, it was of one of the best options to them. It was beautifully shot, and the best horror movies, they are beautiful,” Ascher says.
In the vein of The Blair Witch Project, filmmakers Barbara Brancaccio and Joshua Zeman explore an urban legend of in Staten Island community in their 2009 feature. “The idea was their local boogeyman was more than just a legend. That was pretty frightening to watch alone,” says Ascher.
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