Interview: Jake West on DOGHOUSE

With its tongue firmly planted in its cheek and playful use of stereotypes, Jake West’s third feature, Doghouse, is a comic exploration of the battle of the sexes. In fact, the battle becomes literal. Packed full of gallows humour, witty dialogue and game performances from both male and female cast members, Doghouse is the best British horror-comedy flick since Shaun of the Dead. This interview originally appeared on a now defunct website, so I thought I'd re-publish it here at Horror Flickers

Where did the inspiration for Doghouse come from?

West: The script was written by a comic book artist named Dan Schaffer. I was a big fan of his work and he was a fan of my films and we met through a mutual friend. We got on really well with each other and over the years discussed putting a project together. The inspiration struck one day when his girlfriend had the flu. Unfortunately, she looked very much like a zombie, shuffling around, and we thought that was a funny idea: that this virus would only affect one gender. It was a fresh spin on the zombie genre, and as far as we know, nobody has ever done it.

Was it intended to be so satirical?

It was always our intention to make a horror comedy and use this idea that men don’t know anything about women - which was one of the fundamental ideas. You have a group of characters trying to convince their friend that not all women are out to get him. They turn up in a village where not only the women are out to get him; they’re out to eat him too. Men can’t seem to cope in their day-to-day relationships with women anyway, so we just heightened that thematic idea. It also shows guys away from their partners and how they behave. And we thought it was quite accurate: blokes quickly revert back to their boyhood types when they are in a group.

Where did the production take place: on location or studio-based?

It was all filmed on location. We shot the opening scenes in London. The rest of the film, set in Moodley, we couldn’t get permission to shoot in a real village so we built our own on the grounds of a disused hospital in West Sussex. We turned all of the existing buildings into shops, pubs and we built a row of terraced houses. It took the art department about 12 weeks to build it.

Have you had any feedback from female viewers of the film?

Generally, the female audiences I’ve seen the film with at festivals around the world get the idea it is ironic, satirical and you’re supposed to be laughing at the blokes - and not showing them as role models. To me, that seems quite obvious. If people think the film is sexist and misogynistic then I don’t think they understand the humour in it. A lot of people have certain pre-judgements about horror films and they don’t like them to start off with, and I think horror should always be on an edge. It is always amusing to me when people take it very seriously and I feel they have completely missed the intention of it. And that’s fair enough. I probably wouldn’t like the films they do.

How hard is it mixing comedy, suspense and the gore effects?

It is hard doing these kinds of films. You are trying to balance a lot of elements. I know whether I’ve got it right when I’ve seen it with an audience. Comedy and horror work well hand-in-hand together. You have to switch gear otherwise the film will have one tone.

The cast in Doghouse is quite strong: Danny Dyer, Noel Clarke and Stephen Graham all star. How did they get involved?

They liked the script. It had brilliant characters that came off the page when you read it and that’s really what attracted the actors. Also having enough money to pay them helped. In my previous films I’ve never had enough money; the entire budgets would have matched Danny Dyer’s fee and I would have had no film. But to get the talent they have to be attracted to the material. And they had never done anything like this before - particularly Stephen Graham. I think it appealed to him to try something like this. We had a great cast. They all really enjoyed working together. The camaraderie of the group certainly comes across.

Zombies are big box office draws at the moment. Did the resurgence in these types of film help in the financing of Doghouse?

Not really. The way Carnaby (production company) raised the budget was through private investment. It didn’t hinder the fact. When we were making Doghouse we didn’t know anything about Zombieland. When you’re making a film you’re not always aware of what’s going on in Hollywood. I hadn’t heard of that film until I saw the posters. There does seem to have been a resurgence in the interest of zombie films over the past five years. I suppose we were just part of that trend.

Were you ever aware of the similarities between Doghouse and Lesbian Vampire Killers?

Let me ask you a question. Do you think there are actual similarities between them? Tell me what the similarities are?

It’s the idea of a lads weekend, going to a village and being attacked by women.

It’s not a lads weekend for them (in Lesbian Vampire Killers), it’s just two mates. I don’t think there is any kind of subtext in Lesbian Vampire Killers. It’s just about two guys who end up in a village full of lesbian vampires. It was much more reminiscent of Hammer movies. It is the complete opposite of what we were doing with Doghouse, which was a modern take on sexual politics. I don’t think you had any of that in Lesbian Vampire Killers. Other than the superficial idea that these guys go off to a village and they encounter women…I think it is just very surface similarities. When I saw the film I was completely relieved. It was one of those ironic things, we didn’t know anything about it and I’m sure they knew nothing about Doghouse. It is a shame that film came out before us because it did impact on our box office because that film didn’t do very well. Our film was a little underappreciated on its cinematic run but the Blu-ray/DVD release of Doghouse is doing phenomenally well.

As a horror filmmaker, do you have any particular influences?

Yes, very much so. Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson were the directors who inspired me to make movies and horror movies in particular. I am also very influenced by Sergio Leone and Alfred Hitchcock.

Do you think you’ll work exclusively in the horror genre for the rest of your career or do you plan to diversify?

I think I would like to expand and work in other genres, but it is generally about having a story which interests you and which you can get off the ground and get made. I like the horror, sci-fi and fantasy genres - where you get the chance to recreate reality rather than reflect it.

Final question: could you name your five favourite horror films?

I get asked this question quite a lot! It’s tricky because every time you name one you’ll have forgotten to name something else. I will name some of my top horror films, how about that? Okay, I’m going to say the Evil Dead series - that means I get three in there. John Carpenter’s The Thing, The Exorcist, the Phantasm series. And let’s do a sci-fi horror one - Alien. There are many, many more I could mention.

Are you a fan of Dario Argento at all?

Of course! If we did a Euro horror list we could have another whole pick. I would have said some (Lucio) Fulci films like The Beyond…and Argento’s Suspiria and Inferno. I really like giallo stuff. There is so much choice in horror. I didn’t mention Braindead, which is one of my favourites.