My Bloody Valentine 3D: Interview with Director Patrick Lussier

In 1981, the slasher film craze was at its peak, driven by the box office success of films such as Halloween and The Last House on the Left. Then, out of Canada came the controversial low-budget sleeper My Bloody Valentine, whose enormous cult following shocked even its creators. Now, My Bloody Valentine 3D brings the fear factor to a new level with an immersive and utterly terrifying remake of the ultimate campfire story.  


“This is the marriage of old school horror mixed with a great story and unbelievable new technology,” says director Patrick Lussier. “There’s also some good old-fashioned gore. It’s the intersection of so many different things. We’re doing a 3-D movie; we’re doing a slasher film, but it’s much more than that. It requires a new way of looking at storytelling, and it’s a very exciting opportunity.” 


“When I first experienced 3-D, it was a gimmick,” producer Jack Murray adds. “It got people in the seats because they’d never seen it before. But it wasn’t about storytelling. It was a carnival trick, just a series of opportunities to set up the next moment where something would come out into the audience. That’s not what we’re doing in this film. We’re letting the 3-D fill out the environment we’re working in, and, at the same time, finding those moments where that third dimension makes it even scarier.”


Michael Paseornek, president of Lionsgate and executive producer of My Bloody Valentine 3D, elaborates: “Our film uses traditional techniques with very few special effects, plus dimensional space to place viewers’ attention where the director wants it. It immerses the audience in the environment, as opposed to just throwing effects at them. When you’re thinking about creating an environment of tension, if you’re in it—as opposed to watching it—it’s much scarier. Even down to the fact that when someone shines a flashlight around, it blinds you. And when the Miner swings his pickaxe at you, it swipes across you.”


When it came time to select a director for a state-of-the-art update of this blood-soaked classic, the producers found a filmmaker with just the pedigree they were looking for. Lussier, the editor of films including Scream, Dracula 2000 and New Nightmare, is a long time collaborator with legendary horror auteur Wes Craven.

“Patrick’s vision was very much tied to using 3-D to do what it does really well,” says Murray. “There are times where 3-D needs to be right out there grabbing you, but there also need to be moments when the audience gets to relax and just enjoy the story. Along with other techniques and devices like prosthetics, stunts and visual effects, it lets the audience viscerally feel and experience the terror.”


“I can’t imagine working with anyone other than Patrick on this picture,” the producer continues. “He was always on the move, with more ideas than anyone I know. If we had production challenges, Patrick could turn on a dime. And his editing experience allowed him to see what the film was going to look like and know just what he needed from each scene.”


“Plus, he’s got a great sense of humor,” adds Paseornek. “There was a vibe on the set like we were at the right place at the right time with the right people. You can’t buy that kind of synergy. You can’t hire it. It just happens. To sit back and be awash in it is the best.”


Lussier found the prospect of revamping such a beloved film both daunting and rewarding. “The film is a Canadian icon,” says the director, who himself hails from north of the 49th parallel. “The offer to be involved in the project took me by surprise. I really wasn’t sure I wanted to tackle it, but as I read the script and started working with it, I saw the opportunity to bring something new to the story.


“The film is about this great love triangle,” he continues. “What else would you expect from a movie that has ‘Valentine’ in the title But the love triangle has gone slightly awry—and as a result has gotten bloody.”


For Lussier, the use of 3-D photography was an intrinsic part of the storytelling. “The feeling of claustrophobia, the feeling of being trapped and the feeling of the horror are all heightened to a point that will take audiences beyond what they have seen before,” he says.


Years of working with horror master Craven taught Lussier that, in order to create a compelling horror movie, character has to come first. “All of Wes’ movies are character-based,” says the director. “If you let the characters and story come first, then the horror comes out of the events, as opposed to concentrating on how much blood you can splash on the screen.”


Actor Kerr Smith, who plays Axel, the sheriff of Harmony, appreciated the director’s commitment to surpassing the usual limitations of the horror genre. “We go to movies to feel things that we may not normally experience. People don’t get that scared that often, but it can be fun. To have that added element of really caring about the people makes it a much better film.”


“There’s nothing more tragic than losing somebody who’s close to you,” Lussier observes. “If I can get the audience as close to the characters as possible, then when absolutely unspeakable events happen, they are on the edge of their seats. And the 3-D makes them feel even more like they’re part of the story. It envelops them, so they’re not just watching it as a spectator sitting in the front row, they are participating in the horror.”


None of this would have been possible without the groundbreaking technology and techniques created by Paradise FX, some of which were developed especially for My Bloody Valentine 3D.


“Once we knew we wanted to make the movie 3-D, we were fortunate enough to find Paradise,” says Lussier. “Our stereographer Max Penner allowed us to do things that many 3-D filmmakers said couldn’t be done. We were constantly able to push the envelope because we had real pioneers in the realm of 3-D on our side.”


“Our cameras were being finished the day before we started photography,” he recalls. “Everything was manufactured specifically for My Bloody Valentine 3D and our camera operator, Howard Smith, invented much of the equipment.” 


The commitment and creativity of the team made it possible for the filmmakers to exceed expectations of what 3-D can do, according to Lussier. “We were incredibly lucky to have a group of people dedicated to making it the best film possible. They were dedicated to making the best 3-D film ever, something so powerful and unique the audience will be screaming through every curve in the ride.”


Jensen Ackles, who plays Tom, says there’s one moment he is looking forward to seeing in the theater. “The moment the Miner’s pickaxe first comes right out of the screen is going to be awesome,” says the actor. “I’m going to be just as much of an audience member as everybody else, and I’ll be thrilled to see it.”


Kerr Smith adds: “I love scary. And Harry Warden is one of the most frightening film villains of all time. Let’s just say you better love to be scared.”


My Bloody Valentine 3D takes filmmaking into a new realm, according to Lussier. “We have gone beyond what audiences have seen before, even in CG films. This is totally different because there’s always an artificial quality to that, and this is the actual real events. You are there and part of the story. It has an interactive quality unlike anything you’ve ever seen.”


At the center of the movie is the story are three high school classmates caught in a decade-old love triangle: Tom, Axel and Sarah—Axel’s wife and Tom’s former high school sweetheart. Jensen Ackles, Kerr Smith and Jaime King, who portray the three primary characters, lead an impressive ensemble cast that combines some of the hottest young Hollywood up-and-comers with acclaimed veteran actors.


“Jensen and Jaime and Kerr bring so much depth to the characters,” says Lussier. “And then we have a great supporting cast with people like Kevin Tighe, Tom Atkins and Edi Gathegi. Every one of them has brought so much more than what was on the page.”


Jensen Ackles plays Tom Hanniger, the catalyst for the story. “Tom is returning to this small town to face some unfinished business,” says Lussier. “Jensen has such a natural charm. He has real cinematic grace and weight to him, which makes Tom incredibly likable and endearing in the face of adversity.”

The unique technical aspects of the film appealed to Ackles’ curiosity. “I think everything’s so much cooler in 3-D,” says the actor, who has seen his share of horror on the long-running television series “Supernatural.” “I’m very interested to see how this story unfolds in that kind of a format. I think it’s really going to increase the scare factor.”


“Patrick was fantastic,” Ackles says of his director. “I believe that editors make very good directors, because they can envision exactly what they want and they know how to get it. Patrick also knows how to work with actors. With that combination, it’s just so easy to work with him.”


Jaime King plays Sarah, the woman at the heart of the film’s romantic triangle. “Jaime is not your typical slasher film chick,” says Lussier. “She brings such depth to the character of Sarah. She plays the conflict of the unrequited love she has for Tom, and balances it with her love for her husband in every moment of her performance.”


King loved Lussier’s character-oriented approach. “All the choices in the script were very thoughtful and extremely layered. Jensen and Kerr and I were able to take the time to sit together and talk about how we could make our story as complex and intricate as possible. It’s really easy to do something that’s very cookie cutter, but I’m not interested in doing that and the people making this movie weren’t either.”


The actress also drew energy and inspiration from her costars, Ackles and Smith. “It’s a great benefit to be on the set with such talented actors,” she says. “Working with Kerr and Jensen gave me a look at their process as actors. Each actor has his own way of bringing something to life and making it real and true for them, and I just really enjoy the experience of collaborating and seeing how we as artists can make the best story possible.”


Kerr Smith, who played most of his scenes with King, is equally effusive about the film’s leading lady. “Jaime’s fantastic,” he says. “It’s always great when you work with somebody who just gets it, and she does. She just understands what each scene is about, so we can explore the most interesting directions to go while we’re doing it.”


The director found the character of Axel the most difficult to cast. “Axel is a very conflicted man with dark tendencies,” he says. “He knows that he was Sarah’s second choice. Kerr’s choices in playing the character are so unique and so deep, and the moments that he draws on and the surprises that he brings to his performance are fascinating.”


“I’m the kind of guy that likes to get in there with no ideas set in stone,” says Kerr. “I have maybe a couple points I want to hit, but essentially what this is all about for me is exploring it while you’re doing it, and finding the truth in the situation. Patrick allowed me a lot of freedom, which was great.”


The ensemble exceeded all the director’s expectations. “They delivered such strong, powerful performances,” says Lussier. “It was extraordinary to have an amazing crew and an incredible cast that continued to surprise each other as part of a massive and wonderful conspiracy to make this incredibly horrific event. Their collaboration has added tenfold to the story because they have truly made these characters as three-dimensional as the film itself.”