When director Stacy Title and her screenwriter husband Jonathan Penner came across an early draft of a script for The Bye Bye Man, the new horror flick that arrives in theaters areawide on Friday, they realized it just didn't work. So they retooled it.
"We saw a different way in and we went back to the source material and left out what wasn't realized and did our own version of it," she says in a recent phone interview. "I supervised him and he wrote it as a sole credit so we could split the credits. I'm the director, and he's the screenwriter."
Based on a chapter in Robert Damon Schneck's book The President's Vampire, the movie centers on the turmoil that takes place when a group of students move into a haunted off-campus house. Once the movie's antagonist, the Bye Bye Man, gets into the students' heads, he controls their minds and causes them to commit "unthinkable crimes."
Though the story is set in Wisconsin, Title shot the movie in Northeast Ohio.
"Ohio is not overshot yet," she says when asked about the decision to film here. "It's fresh. It's incredible. It's varied. It's reasonable. I got gorgeous, gorgeous stuff and because of the train accident in the movie — I don't want to spoil it, though the trailer did that already — we couldn't use an STX train [from the production company], and we had to do it carefully and the prep and planning for that was a year in the making. We had support from Cleveland and Independence, where we did it. There were police officers that helped us and we really, really had a production-friendly experience, which is really unusual."
Title thinks her movie, though it centers on a character who might be described as a boogie man, still offers a fresh take on the theme.
"Freddy, Jason and Mike Myers work very differently from the Bye Bye Man," she says, referring to other notable horror movie bad guys. "They are psychopathic machines with unusual nasty weapons, and that's not the Bye Bye Man. I was attracted to this because it's psychological and trippy and intense. When he gets in your head, you can't get him out. It's like a virus. He makes you see things that aren't there. He preys on your weaknesses. How are you made up? Are you a jealous or angry person or needy person? He plays on that stuff. You see things that aren't there and then you do terrible things. It's very intense in that way. I wanted to do these psychological set pieces that are very real. I didn't shoot them with special filters. I made sure they looked real."
And yet, the film follows a pattern familiar to many horror film enthusiasts. It presents a clear line between good and evil.
"We don't want to have too much complexity in our heroes," Title says. "We want them to be people we're rooting for because we want them to beat the Bye Bye Man. The world is a scary place, and you put your kids out there into it. What are they going to do? What's going to happen is that they'll find things that are really overwhelming, and that they're ill-equipped to deal with them. That's what The Bye Bye Man is about."
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