I was raised on ghost stories. My dad would sit me on his knee and talk of phantom carriages and the spirit of a pig that visited my great-grandmother … don’t ask.
I saw my first benevolent spectre at 5 years old.
I held an interest in the supernatural for years.
Then, on the 31st of October, 1992, when I was 12 years old, my life changed.
That is not a hyperbole.
GHOSTWATCH appeared on the BBC that night and I have never, ever been so scared in my entire life.
I remember going into school, looking like death as I’d barely slept. My 13 year old BFF had slept with her 16 year old sister in the same bed, they were that scared.
My strange ‘I want to watch this but I know I’ll shit myself’ relationship with ghosts has remained in place my entire life. Still, to this day, I have been unable to watch THAT programme again.
Fast forward, ahem, rather a lot of years …
I just so happened to see people talking about something called HOST on Shudder. I love Shudder. As a horror writer myself, it is perfection in TV viewing. I adore found footage stuff, the original Blair Witch still being one of my favourite movies.
So, Husbter and I packed girl-child off to bed, closed the curtains and settled down to watch …
Holy mother of Fuck.
You did it, lads. If GHOSTWATCH was your inspiration and HOST is a 2020 homage, you nailed it.
Q1 You are both life-long horror fans. What is the background behind HOST?
JS -Rob pranked our friends on Zoom and recorded it. We uploaded it and it went viral! Rob asked if I had any ideas on making a longer version as we were getting some interest and I text him at 4.34am “two words. ZOOM SEANCE” and thats what he pitched! Our influences are easy to see as we have specifically referenced our favourite horror movies including GHOSTWATCH, Satan’s Slaves, Wait Until Dark and Lake Mungo.
RS – Host began as a prank that I played on my friends that went viral, wracking up millions of views online. From there, I called up Jed and we threw ideas around about doing a longer piece using the Zoom format. I had always wanted to make a terrifying haunted house movie, and when Jed proposed the idea of basing the film around a séance, it all clicked!
Q2 Did you ever in your wildest dreams expect the amazing response it has got so far?
JS – As Im writing this we are 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, the most popular movie on Letterboxd and every outlet has called us the horror movie of the year (some say the decade!). There is no way we could ever imagine this kind of response. It still doesn’t feel real. Big respect to Shudder for trusting us to make the movie we wanted because this is the result!
RS – Never. We made the film for horror fans, just like us, and expected they’d have fun with the film. What we never expected was for the film to enter the public discourse so quickly for the level of coverage in mainstream media. It’s incredible.
Q3 I have seen a tonne of horror writers, including the one and only Joe Hill, say it scared them. How does that make you feel?
JS – It really means a lot. We have had shout outs from alot of horror directors/writers and authors. One of my favourites was of course Mr. Volk saying that we are “the next Ghostwatch”. I can dine off that for the rest of the year!
RS – It’s the biggest thrill of all to receive positive responses from creators in the industry who you look up to. I’m always worried that fellow filmmakers will notice the imperfections that I see in the work, so it’s incredibly gratifying to hear that they enjoyed the film.
Q4 You have said it was inspired by GHOSTWATCH and now, Stephen has watched it and openly admitted it freaked him the fuck out. How does THAT feel?
JS – Stephen probably doesn’t remember this but about two years ago I was on a podcast with him and I asked him the question “do you think anyone could make a new Ghostwatch?” And we joked that it would have to be something that came out of left-field and we joked that maybe I would make it. Quite prescient! Ghostwatch is a massive influence, not just for us, but for the found footage genre in general. I think Paranormal Activity is basically a remake.
RS – Ghostwatch is a film that Jed and I are obsessed with, and was the first movie we referenced when we started work on HOST. We felt that while we might not be able to convince people that HOST was happening for real, the current global situation would mean that people would empathise deeply with the characters and the experience of watching them would be incredibly immersive. To hear that Stephen responded to the film honestly means the world.
Q5 Stephen, when you first heard about HOST, what were you expecting it to be like?
SV – I was expecting something like Unfriended, I suppose, though Jed gave me a heads-up on Twitter that Ghostwatch had been an inspiration, so I was extra-intrigued. I sat on a sunny Wednesday afternoon in my study and closed the blinds (so that my own reflection in an Hawaiian shirt didn’t mar the screen) and said to myself “I better watch this” – and as we all know, anything is better than facing a blank page! And, I must say, I thought this was real quality right off the bat.
Visually and performance wise. The writing, the construction of the piece, made me smile. I loved the nods to Ghostwatch which I knew were coming. The rubber mask moment (Craig Charles in the kitchen in GW). The general feeling this is a lark, but under the surface, oh no, don’t be flip about this because something EXTRA BAD is going to happen. Then the boldness – which we fought for so much in Ghostwatch – for nothing to happen for a LONG while. Then I loved the point almost exactly halfway through (as in GW) where they pull the rug and (SPOILER!) say there was no Jack, it was all made up. Fucking brilliant! But it was all about great casting and performances. Everybody seemed absolutely real to me. And the integrity of knowing how to work suspense – to hold on a shot and let the viewer’s eye roam into the dark corners. That was crucial. Like I say, I’ve been asked loads of times to “come up with the next Ghostwatch” and I’ve always said “No, fuck off, the next Ghostwatch will be done by someone smarter than me, in a way I don’t know yet. And that’s exactly what Jed and Rob have done, superbly.
Q6 Some horror writers have shied away from any pandemic/apocalypse type stories for now, citing it would be too close to home and that readers want to be taken away from plagues and quarantine now that we are in the midst of it for real. If that is the case, why do you think HOST is doing so well?
JS – I genuinely do not know why HOST is doing so well. If I was to hazard a guess I’d put it down to capturing the zeitgeist and the performances of the cast. Being a die-hard horror fan, as soon as I see “acting” in a found footage film, Im immediately put off. HOST feels very naturalistic.
RS – We wanted this movie to be a fun rollercoaster ride that distracted away from the grimness of the pandemic. We were very clear up front that this was a “lockdown” movie not a “pandemic” movie. A film about social isolation and how video conferencing gives the illusion of togetherness, but none of the security.
SV – Listen, I’m not speaking for the other guys, but if we all knew why something does well, we would all do it, all of the time! I think it boils down to Host being very well crafted and told, to be honest. The isolation aspect just gives it verisimilitude and an added reality of “now”.
Q7 The actors in The Blair Witch weren’t told of all the stuff the writers and crew were going to do on set, so that some of their reactions didn’t just look authentic, they were actually surprised. Did you do anything like that with HOST?
JS – Thats exactly what we did. We used their real names, we based the seance on the real seance we did just before filming (including something supernatural happening to Jemma). We used their real reactions to the deaths (which were all shot first) because they did not know how each of them would die – we redacted parts of the scriptment. Like Blair Witch we had a 17 page beat sheet which meant they could improv as much possible.
RS – Having developed this movie from a prank video, I was keen to keep a similar approach to filming the scares in HOST. We filmed all of the scares and set pieces early in the schedule, so that I was able to play them to the actors live, and record their genuine reactions. We also withheld crucial script details from the cast, so they had no idea what was in store.
Q8 Did you purposefully chose an almost all female cast? Would it have changed the dynamic if there were more males, or all male like THE RITUAL?
JS – If you see all of the films Rob and I have done, all but one are female led. I think for horror, thats the formula. Its what we are most comfortable with and you are likely to see us continue this in the future.
RS – All of the cast, bar Teddy, are close friends of ours who we were already hanging out with on Zoom during the early days of lockdown. They were the victims of the prank video and so it felt natural to include them in the feature, not least because of how insanely talented they all are. It also helped that they had a very natural, easy dynamic that I knew would translate well on screen. I was interested to play with a sense of mounting, unspoken tension between the girls, rather than an overt, argumentative approach – I think if the cast had been all male, the group tensions would have erupted in a more predictable and less satisfying way.
Q9 Have any of you had any supernatural experiences yourselves?
JS – No, I dont believe in Ghosts. I do believe that people think they see ghosts though. I think it allows me to be injective when writing about them. Im not led by past experiences.
RS – As preparation for the movie, we actually hosted a real séance via Zoom with the cast and crew. I was totally relaxed until one of my cupboards slammed shut by itself!
SV – I had a weird experience (don’t know if it counts): I was writing a part of my novella Netherwood about Aleister Crowley and it was about Crowley during the London Blitz when he lives just off Piccadilly. And the house started shaking. Literally. It turned out it was an earthquake. The epicentre was Bristol. But for a second I thought I was experiencing the Blitz. Experiencing what I was writing about.
And last of all, what is next for you all?
JS – Rob and I are doing a movie with Sam Raimi and maybe we just might revisit the found footage genre very soon!
RS – Jed and I are working on an original movie that Sam Raimi is producing, as well as a feature adaptation of our short film SALT. Plus hopefully more in the HOST universe!
SV – Inspired by Host, I’m planning to make the next Host! Oh, and someone said the demon was actually Pipes, so naturally, my people are going to sue you. But seriously, next for me is a story about Satanism or a necrophiliac. I’m undecided. Could be both.
And there we have it! Thank you so much to Jed, Rob and Stephen for taking time out to talk to me.
One of my favourite movie reviewers, Hunter Shea, has posted this on his Final Guys YouTube so go check that out too.
Have YOU seen HOST yet?
If you have, I can’t promise that you’ll ever sleep well again …