Horror anthologies have seen a remarkable comeback recently, and if you’ve seen any of them—the V/H/S series, Southbound—then you know the work of Roxanne Benjamin. As a producer, screenwriter, and director, Benjamin has been at the forefront of the modern horror movement, leading the charge of a new generation of filmmakers and storytellers to revitalize the genre.
Though most of her work is behind the scenes as producer, her work on Southbound gave audiences a small taste of what her sensibilities are as a filmmaker, an amuse bouche, if you will, for what we might expect from her in the future. Now, with her part in XX, she follows up with a delicious appetizer of horror that pushes her storytelling potential even farther.
XX brings together four female directors, each telling female centered stories guaranteed to send shivers of terror up the spines of even the most hardened horror fans. I recently had the chance to speak with Benjamin about her part in the comeback of the anthology format in addition to her role in bringing XX to life.
You’ve had your hands in just about every horror anthology over the last few years, and there’ve been a lot, especially in about the last five years or so. What do you think is driving this resurgence of interest in this form?
On the filmmaking side, you don’t, as a feature director, get to work with a lot of other directors on a project, so there’s something that’s interesting about that. It’s a fun, creative experiment. For the V/H/S films it was like a bunch of friends coming together to make something. That was kind of the genesis of it, for us. That was kind of the same thing that happened with the Southbound, too, actually.
It always invariably ends up being something where the movie that you’re supposed to be making ends up getting stalled, whether for casting issues or financing or what have you. As a creator, you want to be creating, so where you might not have the time to devote to a full feature, you can be part of an anthology where it’s less of a time commitment and you’re still getting to play in the sandbox.
Can you explain some of the issues in making a cohesive anthology film?
With this one, it’s hard to say. I don’t think they were trying to make something that had a through line, like a cohesive story throughout the whole thing. For Southbound, it’s very much like we all wrote that together in the writer’s room, with the idea of it being one story and you’re just passing the baton of the storyline from character to character. Southbound is much more of like a multi-directed feature, where even the first V/H/S or XX are very much anthologies.
With V/H/S, that was the first movie that Brad Miska and I produced and we learned a lot on that one that we applied to the second one, where we brought in the directors earlier into the overall creative process and had them sharing their stories and sharing cuts and weighing in on, llike, the order and different dynamics that we could do to make it feel more cohesive. That was definitely something we tried to do more on the second V/H/S. I guess you can see the progression there from V/H/S to V/H/S/2 to Southbound, which were the three I worked on before doing a piece of this one. We were trying to make them more and more connected.
[XX] was a different animal.
How close of a collaboration was XX? Was there a lot of communication? Did you even know what everyone else was doing?
I had met Karyn [Kusama] before, on stage at Fantastic Fest, during the fantastic debates. We were on the same team, but that was the only time I had met her. I saw her piece, but it was already done. They had been making this for a while. Jovanka [Vuckovic’s] and Karyn’s were both done and I had seen both of those. Then Annie [Clarke] and I made ours in a vacuum. We wrote her section together and I produced it, and then I jumped right into, from that, directing my section.
They’d been approved by the producers, but other than that they kind of just let us go off on our own. Which was great. We had a lot of creative freedom in the project once they greenlit the idea. There really wasn’t a lot of collaboration between the directors, outside of Annie and I, I don’t believe. I think you’d have to ask Jovanka, maybe, because she and Todd [Brown] are the ones who put the whole project together. This is actually the first anthology I’ve worked on that wasn’t one of mine.
So how did you come to be involved in the project?
It was through Todd Brown. Todd Brown is a producer I’ve known for a long time now, actually, from back when he was just doing Twitch films before he was with XYZ. I’ve known him for years and years just through the film festival circuit. He reached out to me about producing Annie’s section for this anthology that they were making and I was like “yeah that sounds great.” I had never worked with a first-time director before. That was really exciting for me. I was interested to see how, because I didn’t know her very well beforehand, I didn’t know her music or anything, so I looked her up and watched her music videos. She has a very interesting visual aesthetic so I really wanted to see how that would transfer to the film medium.
Your segment, “Don’t Fall,” taps into some real primal terror. Was that fun sandbox for you to play around in?
Most definitely. With my section of Southbound, I was very much trying to tell this sort of slow burn story that wasn’t a horror film until it was, if that makes sense. This one, the second it starts I tried to be as over the top as possible. Like the title sequence is like, “Oh, we’re in a horror movie!” You want to do different things as a director, and try out different things to kind of see what pieces of those…they’re all different pieces of what your style is. With this one, I wanted to make something that was more of a roller coaster right from the get go, and kind of harken back real pulpy, dime store horror.
What was the process of creating the monster in “Don’t Fall” like?
I worked with Russell FX, who are great. They worked with me on Southbound as well. They’re amazing. I gave them my idea of what I wanted it to feel like, like this creature was coming from the earth of this place and created out of it. So what does that mean? It should feel dry, and all its movements should feel disjointed, like a stick bug or a praying mantis, if you will. That’s why I have that shot beforehand of the praying mantis, because that’s very much like a part of the design idea. I feel like that really knocked it out of the park. It’s supposed to feel very skeletal and dry, almost like a mummy coming to life.
I know you’ve done some producing of feature length films, but do you have any plans to dive in and direct any features of your own?
Of course! That’s definitely been a big part of the plan for a while, it’s just like most indie filmmakers you’re just kind of slogging away, trying to roll the ball up the hill to find financing and make that happen. I’ve got a number of feature projects that I’ve both written and have been attached to direct that are kind of out there right now trying to get financed.
XX opens in theaters and is available on demand on February 17. Watch a clip from Roxanne Benjamin’s segment below.