Talking Horror With the Writers of John Carpenter’s ‘The Ward’

I sat down with the Rasmussen brothers to discuss working with Carpenter, their favorite films — and the future of horror

The Rasmussen Brothers, Shawn and Michael, are quickly making a mark in the horror and thriller genres.

In 2005, their screenplay “Long Distance” was produced and starred Monica Keena. In 2010 horror icon John Carpenter directed their script “The Ward.” That film features Amber Heard, Danielle Panabaker and Lyndsy Fonseca and is scheduled for an August 16th DVD release.

The brothers’ latest project is “Dark Feed,” another trip into sinister territory that they are both writing and directing.

The Rasmussen Brothers talked with me about their work past, present and future, the state of the modern horror film, and why they write things so dark.

1. What was it like working with John Carpenter, the man who helped create the modern horror genre? What did you do when you heard he was going to direct “The Ward”?
SHAWN: As you can imagine, working with a legendary director like John Carpenter could be an overwhelming experience, but he’s such a nice guy that it wasn’t like that at all. It was just an amazing opportunity for us. He taught us a lot as writers and filmmakers. He was always asking us to think about scenes from the perspective of the director, instead of just as writers.

MICHAEL: We were ecstatic when we first learned about it. I mean we grew up watching this man’s films so having a chance to work with him was very exciting. We spent three days with him going through the script page by page answering his questions and getting his thoughts on each scene. It was certainly a surreal experience working with someone who you admire so much.

2. How long have you been horror fans and what are some of your favorite horror films and stories?
SHAWN: I’d say that we’re movie fans more than pure horror enthusiasts. It just so happens that a lot of the movies we love are dark or have horror elements. Films like “Seven”, “Silence of the Lambs”, and let’s not forget “John Carpenter’s The Thing”.

MICHAEL: Hitchcock was a big influence growing up. They re-released his films in theaters when we were kids, and I remember watching his classics like “Rear Window”, “Psycho”, and “The Birds”. These films certainly influenced us at a young age, along with films by Polanski and Kubrick like “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Shining”.

3. What was your inspiration for “The Ward”?
SHAWN: We originally wrote “The Ward” back in 2005 with the idea of making it ourselves. After our first film got made, we wrote a couple of larger spec scripts that ultimately didn’t get picked up by the studios. So the inspiration was to write something self-contained that could be shot with a limited budget. We thought the idea of five women trapped in a mental institution would make for an interesting and marketable story, and then we went from there.

MICHAEL: Mental hospitals are great because they’re already scary even without the horror or supernatural elements. This is a place where you can play with the ideas of one’s sanity, what’s real and what’s not. And I liked the idea that if something horrible was happening to one of the characters, no one would believe them. The staff would just chalk it up to them being crazy. So it gave us a lot to work with.

4. What was your favorite scene to write?
SHAWN: You go through so many versions of your screenplay. Writing is about re-writing, and for the life of me, I don’t remember liking any scene more than another. But we do write with set pieces in mind. For example, the final showdown between Kristen and the ghost was a fun one to work on because we knew how important it was to the film.

MICHAEL: I’d have to say the scene where the girls are dancing in the rec room is one of my favorites. It’s a moment of levity in this dark story, and it shows the girls letting go and just being themselves.

5. What can you tell us about your latest project “Dark Feed”?
SHAWN: “Dark Feed” is a film we shot last year that is now in post production. We’re working to get it finished so we can submit it to festivals in the fall. We shot it with a very small crew using DSLR cameras. The project was large in scope, so it was a bit insane but a lot of fun.

We shot for two months using some of the same locations as “Shutter Island”. These old buildings were amazing to shoot in and really helped give the film a great look. The Massachusetts film community was so supportive throughout the whole process.

MICHAEL: The film is about a film crew coming unglued while working in one of these old building so it was a little bit of life imitating art, for a few of us at least.

6. What’s on your wish list for the future?
SHAWN: Well, first of all we feel so extremely fortunate that an iconic director like John Carpenter made one of our screenplays into a movie. That is an accomplishment in and of itself and something that we never expected when we started writing together. Our goal was to do something creative and make movies, and we’ve had success doing that. I think the ultimate goal is to just continue making films.

MICHAEL: Yeah, I agree. We’d love to continue to collaborate with great directors, producers, and actors. Our first three films have been independent productions, so it would still be a dream of ours to get a chance to work on a big studio picture. In the meantime, we have a couple of projects that we’re thinking about doing on our own later this year.

7. What is your opinion the horror genre now and is there anything you’d like to see change?
SHAWN: The horror genre is always evolving and changing. It seems like we’re seeing a return to more suspense driven horror with films like “Paranormal Activity” and “Insidious” and a move away from torture films which is something I’m very happy about.

MICHAEL: We’re also huge fans of foreign horror. Some of the most interesting movies are coming from overseas. I guess if there was one change we’d like to see, it would be more original horror films made by the studio system and less of a reliance on remakes.