In case you missed “The Lazarus Effect” in theaters, the “Flatliners”-esque horror film is out on DVD and Blu-ray this week. With a budget of only $3.3 million and a worldwide gross of over $36 million, the film is another low-budget success for super-producer Jason Blum, whose wildly-profitable Blumhouse Productions kicked off a new wave of “microbudget” horror beginning with the blockbuster 2007 found footage film “Paranormal Activity.” Not only that, but he made impressive inroads beyond “genre” filmmaking with last year's Oscar-winning “Whiplash” (which netted Blum his first Academy Award nomination) and the HBO telefilm “The Normal Heart,” which won the Emmy for Outstanding Television Movie.
As “The Lazarus Effect” hits stores and VOD services, I hopped on the phone with Blum for a brief chat about his impressive filmography, horror's bad rap with the critical community, why M. Night Shyamalan's “The Visit” may restore your faith in the once-beloved director and which filmmakers he's dying to work with.
David Gelb is the director, and the only feature credit he had before this was the documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” I know that he came attached with the script when you bought it, but I'm wondering: were you skeptical in the beginning that he could pull it off considering what his background was?
Yes, I was very skeptical. And Matt Kaplan, who was another producer on the movie, really advocated for him. And we put him through the paces before, and he really was very patient with us, and held up, and…you know, you never know until you get on set, but it turns out he did a terrific job, and I really — we've offered him a couple other movies to direct — and I hopefully will get to work with him again. …But yes, the answer to your question, I was definitely very skeptical.
One thing that really surprised me about the movie is just how scary Olivia Wilde is, which you don't think of her as an actress who can kind of convey that, just because she has almost a wholesome image. …At what moment were you convinced that Olivia Wilde could be scary?
Well, we offered her the movie. We didn't have her audition or anything. And I really admire her work, and admire her as an actress. So we offered her the movie and crossed our fingers. But a lot of the actors we have worked with in our movies have spent a lot of time in other genres. Some of them have never even done scary movies at all. And I always feel like — I don't know, I kind of like doing that. It doesn't mean I won't do someone who's done a bunch of scary movies, but I like using actors who…that isn't necessarily the person that comes to mind.
Yeah there are a lot of people that you wouldn't expect to be in a horror movie. Mark Duplass and Donald Glover, especially. How did they get involved?
Well, Mark and I did actually a scary movie together called “Creep.” And we did another movie awhile ago together also. And I think he's a terrific actor in anything he does. I don't know if you seen “Creep,” but it's really good and really scary. It comes out…it's either just about to come out or it's coming out on Netflix and iTunes and a bunch of services like that. And so we offered him the movie too. We were excited to work with him again…we actually just offered him a movie a couple weeks ago which he turned down. But I love working with him and I think he's really effective in the genre.
Your films tend to be really commercially successful. But I think that horror films in general…critics go into them with a sort of preconceived bias against the horror genre. Do you read reviews?
Yes. I read not every one, but I certainly read…a ton of reviews, and I wish they could say they have no effect. But I'm definitely very affected by them, and everything that we do, I hope the audience likes and I hope critics like. Some critics do, and some critics don't. Some movies we do more critics do than don't, and some the other way around. But I'm very sensitive to them and read them, and, you know, they are meaningful to me.
Do you feel that horror films in general sometimes have the decked stacked against them going into it? Critically, I mean.
Yeah, I think people are very cynical. It's a part of the reason I love making horror films, because people are very cynical about them, and we're kind of the underdogs. The people who make them and like them are kind of outsiders and underdogs, and I think critics are…people who don't understand horror movies think they're easier to make than other movies, and I would argue they're definitely not easier and arguably harder. There are great ones and there are terrible ones, just like any other genre, but if you don't kind of appreciate it, you just think, “well, they're just making them because they're commercial,” and discount them, yeah, I deal with that all the time.
I was looking through your filmography, and obviously you have a ton of projects that you either have already — that have already come out or that are in development. And I noticed there aren't really any remakes on there, except for maybe “The Town That Dreaded Sundown,” even though that's not really a traditional remake. Has that been a conscious decision on your part to avoid remakes?
No. I don't…I don't know, I guess “Amityville[: The Reawakening]” is more of a reboot than a remake, so yeah, the only remake we've really done is “The Town That Dreaded Sundown.” But I have nothing — I have no like moral high ground against remakes. I think some remakes have been terrific and some have been terrible, like anything else. But I have no — you may see more. I'm not looking for them, but I'm not not looking for them either.
Another film that I sort of picked up on was “The Visit,” which is M. Night Shyamalan's new movie. And I think that a lot of people have sort of become a little disillusioned with him, from some of his previous — his more recent — films, and I'm just curious how you feel about the backlash that's been directed his way, and what made you want to get on board with “The Visit” despite that.
I think the backlash kinda made me more excited about it. I really kind of get a kick out of going down the road less traveled, I suppose. …I think he's an incredibly talented filmmaker. I think that every single amazing and talented filmmaker, some of their movies are better than others. I think that's he's slightly getting less in vogue now than he was, which to me is kind of more exciting. And I think when you see “The Visit,” and when people see “The Visit,” they'll see it's — you know, he's really back to — it feels like one of his earlier movies, and it really feels like one of the Night films that made him who he is. It's really scary, and really gets under your skin. It's more of a…thriller, but it's a terrific movie, I'm really proud of it. And I'm even prouder of it that…I think people will be very pleasantly surprised by it.
Yeah, I'm definitely intrigued by the premise for sure. I'm curious, you've produced so many horror films, and you're sort of seen as this sort of leading person in this new wave of horror. What's a horror movie that you've seen recently that you wish that you'd produced?
What's the film that you've produced that you're most personally proud of?
I don't…I'm personally proud of all them. I don't pick favorites, they're like my children. Are you crazy? [Laughs] No, it's very hard to produce a movie and not fall in love with it, so I really just…some of the love affairs [are] longer than others, but I really — you develop a special relationship to everything. …I do, anyway. Otherwise, it wouldn't be worth doing it…I don't think like that.
Do you think horror is going to continue to be your main focus? I know you produced “Whiplash,” and obviously that was a huge movie for you outside of the genre. But is horror gonna remain your main focus, you think?
Yeah, for sure. I want genre to remain the focus of what we're doing. “Whiplash” is the indie version of a scary movie, in a way. You know, in a funny way, as is “Normal Heart.” But there's certainly — there are dark themes in both of those movies — but you're right, they're not like popcorn scary movies. And that's gonna continue to be — something every now and then will slip in under wire — but the focus of the company is more cool original scary movies. And when they work, sequels.
Any filmmakers that you're interested in working with? Either established names or up-and-comers that you're really dying to collaborate with?
I'd love to find a movie with Mikael Hafstrom, really love to find a movie with him. …And I'd love to find a movie with [James] Wong. You know, he directed “Final Destination.”
You were also an executive-producer on “The Jinx,” which was obviously a huge success for HBO and was kind of a sensational, headline-grabbing documentary series. Obviously there's a lot of hullabaloo about the ethical implications of the film, and where does journalism end and where does entertainment begin, and that kind of thing. But as a producer, when that all kind of exploded, was that a dream come true for you?
It was really thrilling. It's really thrilling to see something that you believe in early on resonate with viewers, so yeah, it was definitely a huge thrill. I'm very proud to be associated with it for sure.
Is there gonna be any kind of a followup to that?
Uh…I have no idea — if I did know, I wouldn't tell you, but I don't know. I don't know, I have no idea about that.
“Jem and the Holograms” is coming up here. And a lot of the fans of the original series have been like, “Oh, it doesn't look like what I remember, and there are all these things that are missing.” What would you say to people who are skeptical about it?
Reserve judgment until you see the movie. And then bring it on.