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‘The Invitation’ Director Jessica M. Thompson Talks Reinventing Dracula: ‘I Watched Every Single Vampire Film Ever Made’

Learn what underrated classic inspired her the most

“The Invitation,” in theaters later this week, is a retelling of the Dracula lore with a twist – instead of coming from the point-of-view of the count himself (played here by Thomas Doherty), it’s told through his brides. Specifically, Nathalie Emmanuel’s Evie, who is being courted to join his undead harem. Set in modern-day (Evie FaceTimes with her BFF, even as she’s being drawn into this supernatural web), it’s an exciting mixture of old and new, Gothic and modern.

TheWrap spoke to director Jessica M. Thompson, who told us about her journey with the film (which started out as a Sam Raimi production), what she watched for inspiration and combining styles and aesthetics for a new take on a classic story.

This movie was obviously a development for a long time, and it had different producers. What was your take on the material that finally got it into production?

When it came to me, when Blair Butler’s first script came to me, I was immediately drawn in because I hadn’t seen a Brides of Dracula origin story. And set in a modern setting. I was really intrigued by that. I’ve always wanted to make a horror film. I love vampire movies.

But then to me, what I really wanted to exemplify was the romance between them. And really make it a believable relationship. To me, I say, If you don’t care, they won’t scare. You’ve got to have the audience really believe in your characters. And my favorite horror film of all time is “The Shining.” And I think why it’s so horrific and so terrifying, is because you care about this family. When Jack turns on them, it absolutely gets your heart pumping. And that’s what I wanted to do with this film.

Can you talk about the mixture of Gothic style and more modern sensibilities?

To me, it’s like a film of contrast, like the genre-mashing of the romance and the horror, and the upstairs and the downstairs. Even in the rehearsal dinner scene, you see there’s all this decadent, beautiful food. And it looks from the surface really appealing and appetizing. Then when you get closer, it’s actually rotting and there’s flies and maggots. Those were real flies and maggots, I should point out.

So to me, it was like a blend of that. This is a man who’s been alive for hundreds and hundreds of years. He would’ve been collecting different artifacts, different architecture styles, different furniture throughout that time. But I didn’t want it to feel hammy or too constructed.

For instance, I worked really closely with Felicity Abbott, my production designer. And we decided all the light fixtures will be modern. We did something like that, where it was about all the furniture will be antique. And we blended it in that way.

Also having a palette that is tonally very of the era. But it was important for me to keep it contemporary while still feeling like we’re harkening back to an older world and an older time.

Did you look at other Dracula movies before making it? And do you have a favorite?

Yeah, so I actually watched in pre-production, every single vampire film ever made. But I did that to avoid copying them. I didn’t want to do anything that had been done. Mind you, of course, there’s always going to be some overlap. Like for instance, Tony Scott’s “The Hunger” uses a lot of that blue moon lighting. And we do that as well.

But really my favorite vampire film of all time is actually probably “Cronos” by Guillermo del Toro, his first film. I think it’s a classic that’s often overlooked. It has a lot of heart, which is what I love in a horror film.

“The Invitation” has some “Crimson Peak” vibes.

Yeah, absolutely. Guillermo del Toro is one of my favorite filmmakers of all time. I love that he gives humanity to all of his monsters. That’s something that I find really compelling. “Crimson Peak” is not probably my favorite of his, but yes, I was definitely inspired by some aspects.

“The Invitation” is in theaters Aug. 26.