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Director John Logan digs into queer horror, slasher tropes, and Pink sing-alongs in 'They/Them'
In Part II of SYFY WIRE's conversation with Logan, we get spoilery about They/Them.
For two decades, writer John Logan (Penny Dreadful) has amassed an enviable, multiple award-nominated career writing for stage, screen, and television. But it's only now, with the release of Peacock's They/Them, that Logan has ever directed a theatrical film. The slasher horror/thriller about gay conversion camps reflects the intersection of Logan's personal taste and his personal life, as a self-professed aficionado of the slasher genre and an openly gay man. Using the controversial camps as the backdrop to horror was a no-brainer, but it also gave Logan the opportunity to twist the genre norms and make the LGBTQ+ characters the heroes of the story.
In Part II of SYFY WIRE's conversation with Logan, we get spoilery about They/Them and dig into the importance of planning a standout slasher movie prologue, how to design an iconic killer's mask and what his favorite day directing was for his theatrical debut.
***Spoilers below for They/Them***
As a fan of the slasher genre, it's a known fact that a great opening can not only set the tone for what's to come, but also be the only buy-in you need to get the audience to go along for the ride. How did you approach yours?
The opening was important! Every opening is gonna be important, but this — to prove my horror movie cred — was significant. I purposely played into every trope you can imagine. And I think it says to the horror fans: this is a person who loves slasher movies, this is a person who honors this genre and now let's turn the genre on its head!
You also created a killer character who wears a signature mask which has the potential to become iconic if the movie is embraced by horror audiences. Talk about a slasher fan getting to design their own movie's slasher killer mask.
Oh, this is such an inside baseball question. I love it! Obviously, you're thinking about a masked slasher movie, so first I just did a comprehensive study of killer masks. What do I respond to and what don't I respond to? And then I worked with [Special Effects Artist] Tony Gardner, who's the best in the business. We talked about, interestingly, not what we wanted it to look like, but who was the character that was wearing it? How does this mask represent the character? The mask is made of wood, so it's appropriate to the setting of the woods. And it has two sides to it. One side is very calm and serene and the other side is horrific. They're joined together by wood staples. so it's very rustic. It's a very bespoke mask. It's not like a sleek mask like in Scream. It definitely has texture to it. We wanted the whole movie and the whole camp to have real texture to it.
They/Them also takes place at a sleep-away camp which is also another familiar trope in the genre. It's surprising how big the windows are in your cabins, which really moves away visually from the traditional claustrophobia usually seen in other slasher camp movies.
You always want a sense of building dread in a horror movie, or a thriller. A sense that there's always danger outside. We used a lot of windows, so you always were aware of nature outside. For example, for the boys and girls cabins, when we originally looked at them with the set designer, she was like, "We should fill those in." And I said, 'No, we need to leave those open, so you can see the forest beyond." And that created a nightmare for filming, mind you, because you then have to light the forest beyond. [Laughs.] But what you get is the sense that these seven kids are in a fishbowl and they're being watched all the time, which is exactly what's happening. Those evil counselors are watching them, judging them, trying to control them. So that's an example of how we tried to cinematically represent the sense of unease that the campers are feeling.
Let's talk about those evil Whistlers who run the camp. You have an incredible cast of veteran actors, and Carrie Preston especially does smiling malevolence so chillingly in this.
Kevin Bacon, Anna Chlumsky, and Carrie Preston are our three lead counselors who brought so much to it. They fill those characters. And Carrie was such a joy that every moment Carrie was filming that therapy scene, I kept thinking, "I need to write a spin-off movie for this character because she's so wickedly delightful." When you see an actor enjoying a role that much, it's a real, real pleasure to watch as an audience member and then to work with them. But she's the sweetest person in real life! [Laughs.]
As a horror fan, what was your "pinch-me" moment as the director of your own slasher movie?
There were a number of those but I think the most was the day we filmed [Pink's] "F***ing Perfect." It's the big song and dance routine where not only did I feel like Marty Scorsese, I also felt like Bob Fosse. It was a very special day.
Coming out of this experience, do you have the directing bug now?
I'm currently writing a movie about the BeeGees, so that's a day job that's very different than They/Them. But yeah, I loved the experience of directing. And if there was another story that had that much personal meaning to me that I thought I could bring something to, I'd love to do it again. It was such a pleasure. It's hard work, obviously, but a pleasure from first to last.
Are you hoping They/Them turns into your very own horror franchise?
You'll have to ask Jason Blum about that! [Laughs.]
They/Them is available now exclusively on Peacock Premium.