While Jeffrey Reddick is keen to point out that his directorial debut, Don’t Look Back (out Oct. 16), shouldn’t really be filed under “horror,” the writer-turned-filmmaker is also anxious to assure readers that he is more than happy to be associated with scary movies.
“I’m a genre fan, but this is definitely more of a mystery-thriller,” Reddick tells EW. “It’s about a group of people who witness somebody being assaulted in a park and don’t help, and the victim dies. Somebody videotapes it, and the people are outed, and someone or something starts coming after them. It’s got scary moments in it, for sure. But because of the nature of the story I had to keep what was behind the deaths a mystery, so we don’t have the set pieces you would expect in a horror film.”
Regardless, Reddick has certainly spent much of his career in the terror zone, whether it’s coming up with the idea for the Final Destination franchise or writing the 2008 Day of the Dead remake and the 2016 sleep paralysis movie Dead Awake.
To help us celebrate the Halloween season, Reddick agreed to talk about his life in horror.
Final Destination (2000)
JEFFREY REDDICK: The original idea came from an article I read about a woman who was on vacation and her mother told her to switch flights because she had a bad feeling. The woman switched planes, and the plane she was scheduled to be on crashed. So that idea stuck with me, I just didn’t know the story for it yet. And then when I was trying to get a literary agent in New York, I needed to write a spec script. I loved The X-Files, so I thought, “Oh, this would be a cool set-up for an X-Files.” I had one of Scully’s brothers have the premonition, and it went from there. My friends at New Line read the script and they were like, “Dude, you should develop this as a feature.” So I wrote a feature treatment and connected with [Final Destination producers] Warren Zide and Craig Perry, and we developed it for probably six months before New Line said yes.
New Line couldn’t get their head around not having a physical antagonist. They’re like. “We just don’t get it. ‘Death,’ you can’t see it, you can’t fight it.” We’re like, “That’s the point!” Finally, I remember Warren Zide saying, “If you guys pass again, we’re taking this to Miramax, and New Line were like, “We’ll buy it!” And the rest is history.
Final Destination 2 (2003)
JR: I got to write the story and executive-produce the second one and expand the mythology. Almost every week, somebody sends me a photo of them behind a log truck, which is kind of fun. As a horror fan, I’m really grateful and humbled by the fact that something I started has had the life and the legs that it has. This is what you dream about when you’re a child. I could die happy tomorrow. I don’t want to! I have a lot of other stores to tell, but I feel like that movie definitely made its mark in a way that I am extremely grateful for.
I definitely stay in the loop with what is going on with [the franchise]. They were moving forward with plans [for a sequel] before COVID hit. I think they were still settling on the script that they wanted to greenlight. But COVID’s put a pin in everything. Those movies, especially if they’re in 3D, they’re expensive, plus they have the set pieces that usually have a lot of crowds. So they’ve just put a pin in plans until we figure out how the business is going to get back up and running with COVID protocols. But there will be more.
JR: That’s one of my faves, I have to say. It was kind of my riff on Carrie, school bullying. I love Carrie, but I always hate that you have to wait until the last 15 minutes for her to get everybody. So in this film, our tragedy happens much earlier, and the bullied girl happens to be into witchcraft, and the kids kill her and bury her in the woods. She comes back to school this really sexy, empowered woman who knows all of their secrets and starts exploiting them. I love that movie.
Day of the Dead (2008)
JR: The Day of the Dead movie, if they hadn’t called it Day of the Dead, would have been fine. When I got hired to write the movie, I wrote a very faithful adaptation of the original film, but modernized it and put some twists on it. That’s what they hired me to write. But through the development process, they kept stripping away everything that was related to Day of the Dead. It ended up being something so different — that’s what my frustration is with that movie. If you’re going to remake Day of the Dead, then remake Day of the Dead.
If you look at me talking about it early on in the process, it’s like, “I think fans are going to be happy!” And then later on I was like, “It’s a movie!” [Laughs] Because I knew, I absolutely knew what was going to happen when it came out. But again, if you want to watch a fun movie with some really talented people and some good zombie effects, it’s really fun.
Dead Awake (2016)
JR: [Director] Phillip Guzman really kept all the emotional stuff and the dramatic stuff in there, so we got to explore characters a lot more than you do in genre films. Jocelin Donahue is wonderful. Jesse Bradford, I adore him too. Brea Grant. That was one of the warmest sets I’ve been on. My sister got to play a cameo in it, so that was fun. Lori Petty was in it. She’s just like you would expect her to be. She’s really fun and quirky. Some of the medical jargon, she was like, “Give me a minute on this.” [Laughs] Medical jargon is hard. I had a cameo as a doctor in Day of the Dead and I was like, “Ugh this medical is stuff is just tongue-tying.”
The Final Wish (2019)
JR: I co-wrote that with two screenwriting buddies of mine, Bill Halfon and John Doyle. The director, Timothy Woodward Jr., he’d been hitting me up for a while on social media. He was like, “Hey, do you have any projects?” I was like, “No,” because I didn’t know who he was. [Laughs] He finally sent me a couple of trailers for a couple of movies that he did, and I was like, “Holy s—, these movies look great, maybe I do have something!” So we met for lunch.
He knew exactly who he wanted for all the parts. Right off the bat, when we met, he said he wanted Lin Shaye. I was like, “Well, good luck with that, because she’s very very busy and she’s really picky.” He calls me up like two weeks later and he got Lin. Lin had passed on it, but in responding to her manager had accidentally copied Tim. So she was like, “Well, I feel like I should at least meet this guy for lunch.” He took her out to dinner, and they talked, and by the end of dinner she was like, “Oh, I’m going to do this!” [Laughs] I produced the new movie that Tim directed, which is called The Call, and Lin is in that with Tobin Bell.
Don’t Look Back (2020)
JR: It’s a “What’s doing it?” mystery as opposed to “Who did it?” Our lead character, Caitlin, is a woman of faith who is going through a personal tragedy, and she starts seeing signs that lead her to believe that this is something supernatural, while everybody else thinks it’s a killer. Kourtney Bell is a great actress. I saw her website, where she had a lot of shorts, and in every short she was completely different. I was like, “She’s Caitlin!”
It was important to me to cast a woman of color as the lead, because I’ve seen so many talented Black actresses and actors over my decades in the business who get passed over for roles, even roles that are written for people of color. The producers always are like, “Well, we just went with the best talent.” I assume that that’s not the case. It’s just that white has always been the default color for every character that they cast. I said, “I’m going to find the best actress for this role, but I’ve seen a lot of wonderful Black actresses, and I’m going to find one of them for this role.” As I was doing it with [producer] Andrew van den Houten and we were doing it as an independent film, I had the chance to cast who I wanted. And she’s wonderful.
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