‘Death House’ Q&A Recap: New Footage Premieres; Made “For Gunnar”

The highly anticipated all-star horror film Death House is finally arriving in theaters this week, and to celebrate we were treated to some brand new uncensored footage during a Q&A panel at the Mad Monster Party 2018 horror convention on Feb. 16 in Charlotte, NC, where director Harrison Smith made it clear that this was a passion project for the late Gunnar Hansen (Leatherface in the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre) and it is now a love letter to Hansen from the entire horror community.

Smith, who also co-wrote the film with Hansen, was joined at the Q&A panel by producer/actress Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp, Victor Crowley, Tales of Halloween) and actor R.A. Mihailoff (Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, Hatchet II, Smothered), both of which are among the epic ensemble of horror icons that appear in Death House.

Read on for highlights from the event, including John Carpenter’s inspiration on the film, and a description of each of the clips that were shown.

On what audiences can expect from Death House:

SMITH – It’s a rollercoaster ride through the funhouse. When I was offered this, the number one thing – I hear a lot of people around the con talking about back in the ‘80s when horror was better – so when they offered this to me, I sat with Gunnar and I said, ‘This should have an ‘80s kind of feel.’ I wanted this to be the kind of movie that when you’re sitting at home back in the ‘80s watching HBO at 2 o’clock in the morning, and you see this on, and you go, ‘Shit, I’ve got to finish this.’ That’s what we wanted. 

And this owes a lot to John Carpenter and that type of filmmaking, and especially it owes a lot to Escape from New York.

We have a lot of horror in it, and I’m very proud, and I think a lot of horror fans are going to be happy to hear, we have all practical makeup effects. There’s no digital blood, none of that. And we have an effect that you’re going to see here tonight that I think rivals the chest-buster scene in Alien. I’m very proud of it.

ROSE – Death House has from the very beginning had a life of its own. It was kind of like social media just grasped on and embraced this film like no other, because of the cast, R.A., Kane (Hodder), Sid (Haig), Bill (Moseley; read our interview) – they’re like Madonna, Cher, you just have to say their first name – Dee (Wallace; read our interview), Barbara (Crampton). It was an incredible experience, a wonderful film. I can’t wait for the entire world to see this movie.

On their favorite part of making Death House:

ROSE – When we walked through the studio doors, the name of the film wasn’t Death House, we paid tribute to Gunnar and all of the signs around said ‘Gunnar’. So no matter where you went, you would just see Gunnar there. And the movie is really for him.

SMITH – My favorite experience out of all of this was actually being offered this. As a boy, I saw all these icons in the movies. Little did I know that one day I’d be working with them, and I think that’s the real honor.

So for those of you that are out there that want to make movies, it took me a long time to get here where I’m at, and a lot of sacrifice. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a horror movie or whatever. You’ve got to work your ass off to get what you want. I don’t think we teach that enough these days. It doesn’t just come to you. It’s not American Idol where it’s a gigantic karaoke contest. You have to work. And you get to work with people who have also paid their dues.

On completing the film in honor of Gunnar Hansen:

SMITH – The movie is for all of you, and this was Gunnar’s wish. Gunnar wanted this movie to be made for his fans. So when you pay to see this movie and you buy it on Blu-ray, it’s for Gunnar.

 And we’re very proud to say that we have Gunnar in the movie. It’s his last motion picture. So thanks to the magic of digital technology, we do have Gunnar in it, and that’s where we did use it. With the visual effects, obviously we have some digital, but all the violent blood and gore scenes are all practical.

Gunnar tried for five years to get this movie made.  …This is Gunnar’s movie. Gunnar wrote the original script and it was titled Death House. The original plot was a group of filmmakers go into an abandoned asylum and hilarity ensues. Why the project was brought to me is Gunnar knew that his script lacked proper dialogue. So I met with Gunnar and went over the concept, and he just asked that I keep the concept of good’s dependency upon evil and that I keep the Four Horsemen. I kept them, (but) I added a woman and changed their name to the Five Evils.

The whole time I met with Gunnar, he was dying (from pancreatic cancer), and he knew it, and he never said a word. But now I know why he was so insistent on the urgency to get this movie made. It’s because he wasn’t going to live long enough to see it. That’s why it’s so important for the fans to get out there.

Fans bitch all the time, ‘Why aren’t they making something good or different, or trying to do something like we used to grow up with?’ You got it (with Death House).

We worked diligently and hard, and all these people came in to work on this, and they all said the same thing, ‘This is for you, Gunnar.’ They did it without always looking for the bigger paycheck or the top billing. Nobody fought over that. I can say this completely: There were no divas on this set. These people all came together to work for one cause, to make this movie.

'Death House' features all practical makeup effects.
‘Death House’ features all practical makeup effects.

R.A. Mihailoff on his character:

MIHAILOFF – I came up with my personal catch phrase for this movie – This is my house. That’s the essence of the whole damn scene. My character’s called the Prison Leader, so of course it’s my house. And you’ll see what happens when I come out of my cell to take care of business.

I’ve made half a career out of getting killed by Kane Hodder. Just once, one time, I would like to win. No, it was great, we had a blast. I had never met Harrison before and now I consider him a friend.

On the influence of ‘80s horror and John Carpenter:

SMITH – We didn’t break any new ground, but what we did is kind of go back and we made something for the fans, because that’s what Gunnar wanted. So we didn’t go and take these people and change them up and try to make it Get Out or Lights Out or Don’t Breathe, that’s not what we tried to do.

What we did was give a tip of the hat to the ‘80s, and, most of all, the horror master himself, John Carpenter.

The score is very Carpenter-esque. And Carpenter’s ex-wife, Adrienne Barbeau , is the voice of the Death House computer.

A number of never-before-seen clips from Death House were then screened, as Smith provided commentary before, during, and after each. In all, those in attendance were treated to almost 30 minutes of footage, about a third of the total film. The clips were explicit, both in nudity and in an abundance of gore.

The first scene we were shown takes place about 18 minutes into the film, and it gave us our first look at one of the virtual reality (VR) cells the prisoners of Death House are kept in. The prisoner in this scene is played by Sid Haig, who serves up his own kind of interrogation to a young investigator. Haig has a great time delivering the monologue, which promises worse horrors to come.

The score definitely has the Carpenter vibe. And Smith’s description calling the film a funhouse seems right on, as viewers will apparently get to experience a unique new horror in each cell visited throughout the prison facility that is the titular Death House

Smith also said that there are a ton of Easter eggs throughout the film for horror fans, including a mid-credits scene, of which he mysteriously teased, “All I will tell you is, what you see is the real one and the original.”

The next clip featured Barbara Crampton inside the prison’s VR program, talking about how the prisoners are “reformatted” and become “trans-human, better than human.”

“What’s the difference between trans-humanism and brainwashing?” asks one of our heroes, to which Crampton coldly responds, “It’s a different process entirely. And we don’t have an agenda. We instill morality.”

The third clip featured Rose and introduced the film’s heroes, special agents Boon (Cortney Palm) and Novak (Cody Longo), though which viewers are given a behind-the-scenes tour of the Death House, where the inmates are studied using homeless people that are essentially “processed” into victims, tailor-made for the prisoners, who are under the belief that they have never been captured.

The fourth clip showed off a healthy dose of stunningly disturbing practical makeup effects with some of the processed victims.

The fifth and final clip shown was Mihailoff’s scene as the Prison Leader facing off against Hodder’s character Sieg, a true clash of genre titans (and a rematch from Hatchet II), which takes place after the prisoners have escaped.

“We all know what lies at the bottom of this place,” Hodder’s Sieg says after making a particularly brutal physical statement. “We all know they are down there. The way out is not that way; it’s down to them with me.” Hodder then gives his signature “Jason look,” which Smith says he specifically asked for.

For more on Death House, be sure to also check out our interview with Dee Wallace here and our interview with Bill Moseley here.

Death House opens in theaters this Friday, March 16.

[See all of our Mad Monster Party coverage here.]

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‘Death House’ Q&A Recap: New Footage Premieres; Made “For Gunnar”