Josh Ruben on ‘A Wounded Fawn’ and Playing the Punching Bag
Josh Ruben is a bit of a man-about-town in the horror genre. He’s an actor, writer, director, and producer, known for his feature films (Scare Me and Werewolves Within) and – more recently – his role in Travis Stevens’ A Wounded Fawn, in which he plays an unstable killer with his eye on a new prize.
Before he found a home in horror, Ruben directed sketches for The Late Late Show with James Corden and episodes of Adam Ruins Everything, and was one of the founding members of CollegeHumor’s “Originals” department (where he’s directed and performed in thousands of comedic shorts). He’s been a pretty busy guy over the years.
I was able to speak with Ruben about A Wounded Fawn, the two-sided horror-comedy coin, and what’s coming up next.
Kelly McNeely: I’m grateful that you’re here to speak with me today, I used to watch the shit out of College Humor when I was in university. So again, thank you for joining me. On that note, horror and comedy are kind of two sides of the same coin, in a way. It’s that same idea of setup and punchline, right? And I know you’ve got quite the extensive background with comedy, could you speak a little bit about that transition, and how – essentially – that balance kind of works?
Josh Ruben: Yeah, I mean, there’s a few different pieces of this conversation, the first of which is, you know, there’s the unexpected punchline, such as the unexpected scare. So you’ve got that kind of congruence. I think the thing about it, comedy – or at least comedy filmmakers, like Jordan Peele and Zach Cregger, and dare I put myself anywhere near the likes of them – I think why we’re working is because we’re boundary pushers, because we poke and prod and perhaps have a slight advantage at observing culture, because we skewer it. Or certain personality types we want to skewer; my specialty seems to be toxic men.
My first film was about an emasculated man in the shadow of a woman’s greatness, and I wanted to really skewer that with humor and with horror. So I think there’s an advantage there, and certainly within the technical side of it all, you know, the endorphins I think fire the same way. Our heart rates go up the same way. The unexpected laugh gets an unexpected guffaw, where the scare gets the scream.
Kelly McNeely: I’m glad to hear you mentioned Zach Cregger, because Barbarian was incredible, and I used to love Whitest Kids U’ Know as well. I didn’t know that he directed that when I went into that movie, I learned after the fact, and it was like when I learned that The Sadness was directed by a guy from Canada. It blew my mind! But, I want to talk a little bit about Scare Me and the art of storytelling, because it’s very theatrical and inventive, and I really love that. How was the structure of that film conceived?
Josh Ruben: It was sort of cheating, and perhaps a bit meta, because every script that I had written up to that point without outlining just gave me writer’s block. Every time I just set out to write a script, like someone might write a novel, I hit page 33 and I was like, oh, shit, this should have just been a short story. Or I really just didn’t think the whole thing through. I filled Act Two with those scripts – with those failed scripts – they became, in essence, the short stories, the anthology tales. But the engine of it was this tête-à-tête between these two characters, all competition.
My first swing of the draft was a bit more – I guess – obvious that Fred was going to be a psycho killer, and that was what it was going to be. But, like, no, let’s gray this line a little bit, let’s make him just a fragile man who had too much alcohol and was the subject of a third wheel after a night where just nothing was hitting. So just to speak to the structure of it, I sort of packed the center of it and made my way to the climax with the stories, the way perhaps an anthology film would enact.
Kelly McNeely: You’ve done quite a bit both in front of and behind the camera, which brings you more joy or excitement?
Josh Ruben: They both excite me in so many ways. I think my experience as a filmmaker – which would typically be my first answer, at least in this era of my life – as a filmmaker I’m now in a way more jazzed to act and perform because I’m archiving how other directors and filmmakers are talking to their crew and their cast and communicating. So I’m learning. The tricky thing is when you want to dig your fingernails into your knees and like, not say something or not be helpful to come off as a mansplainer.
But I think for a minute I sort of put acting away, or at least became less excited about it, because I got excited by the horror filmmaking of it, all the control of it, the experience of it and commandeering and captaining the ship. But I think my love of acting didn’t go away, but it returned I think several fold with A Wounded Fawn. Just because it’s essentially a dream role to play terrorizer and terrorized, and just what the movie stands for, and how intelligent and artful it is.
Kelly McNeely: And without too much of a spoiler, your character in A Wounded Fawn is a bit of a challenging person, shall we say? How do you prepare for that? And how did he challenge you?
Josh Ruben: Preparing it for me was twofold, the first of which was being cognizant of his mask. He was a peacocking narcissist so he is indeed wearing a mask and creating that moment or that veneer, when Meredith (Sarah Lind) or any other character would turn their back to this man, and it would sort of melt away you’d and see just little hints of who and what he really was.
Playing with that, but also as someone who’s just inherently funny, and a goofball – probably – to the people in my personal life – to an annoying degree – like always has to say or do something funny, or poke and prod. I was talking about pushing boundaries to an obnoxious degree, I had to really ground myself to not get caught trying to be funny, and to try and get in touch with something of a seductive side, because that’s what this guy does. It’s how he feeds. It’s how he lures women in. So I had to play suave, which I really don’t ever don’t ever do; I’m far more comfortable playing the opposite.
Kelly McNeely: I really appreciate the – almost kind of sub genre – that I like to call Red Flag horror, like Fresh is another good example of that as well. You seem to tap into something primal with A Wounded Fawn; as an actor, is that more freeing? Or is that more difficult to rein in?
Josh Ruben: Oh, it’s so freeing. It’s so freeing, I think for whatever reason I have, or at least developed, somewhat of a control over my instrument. Maybe that was because when I was an actor and wasn’t getting an agent, I started getting into filmmaking, making sketches with my friends. Even before College Humor, we had a sketch group with some of the same crew. You learn how to kind of control your instrument.
So I kind of read the room, or act as my own kind of barometer for how far I’m taking something and how it might be perceived on film, I guess. I think that also is maybe a skill you get as a theater actor; at the time, I was into theater when I was younger. So yeah, it was wholly freeing. I mean, the whole movie was such a playground, I got to play every side of the spectrum I’ve ever wanted to explore.
Kelly McNeely: As a former theater kid myself, I appreciated the Greek chorus element of A Wounded Fawn. That was very unexpected. Can you talk a little bit about that element of the film and how it kind of shifts the horror a little bit?
Josh Ruben: Sure. I mean, you know, ostensibly, you look at this movie, and I mean, I signed on because it’s Patrick Bateman at The Evil Dead cabin and the Furies are Cenobites, you know? So, what starts is, it’s essentially feeling like a slasher that turns into a ghost story. And it’s ultimately kind of a Greek superhero, feminist phantasmagoric saga, tale, chapter, and one of those kinds of – I wouldn’t even call it a tragedy, just just a Greek story. So I just appreciate how it shifted.
I think the horror shifts from everything that might feel at first derivative and familiar, and then turn into, I think something of a roller coaster ride, because what’s more cathartic than exposing a shitty, narcissistic man? That’s what I love about playing the punching bag in these stories, who after four years of the last president, it’s like, isn’t that exactly the type of person you want to make feel vulnerable? But without spoiling anything, they’d rather do anything but admit their wrongdoing.
Kelly McNeely: And again, without spoiling anything, the end credits sequence reminds me a little bit of the ending of Pearl, just again holding that for however many minutes, how long did that take? Did it feel like an eternity? How long would it take before a cut happened?
Josh Ruben: Well, Travis (Stevens) was inspired to just shoot an entire film reel of that very sequence, and a film reel is 11 minutes. So there’s the end credits sequence – I think is five minutes and change – so there’s another five some odd minutes on the editing room floor of what you’re seeing. It was exciting, I mean, it was in the last two days of shooting. So by that point we were all, you know, several, several nights of shooting overnights. Two weeks of overnights will kind of make you ready for anything. So it was thrilling.
Everybody asked me, was it uncomfortable? How is your eye, how’s the fake blood, and wearing a toga, it must have been freezing and all this stuff. I just felt an electric focus and commitment. I think we all did, knowing that that was what we’re all going to do. And now, you know, I’m sure you know just as well as anybody, films have to kind of make a splash, it becomes the thing people talk about. So if you don’t appreciate the art or the giallo of it all, or the feminist kind of tale of it, hey, you’ve got to see this thing for this splashy reason.
It’s like why I’m excited to see Terrifier 2, I didn’t even see part one. But people say oh, you’ve got to see it for this reason. So, I’m happy that there’s an element to that film that gets people to go like, oh, I should check that out.
Kelly McNeely: I can tell you’re a horror fan, has horror always been a part of your foundation, or is it something you found a little bit later on? And do you want to keep working in the genre?
Josh Ruben: It’s always been a part of my foundation. I was a horror fan before I was a comedy fan. My sister Rachel, she was the one that introduced me to the likes of Freddy’s Nightmares and Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye. And as a kid of the 80s, your parents aren’t quite sure how to judge a film by the cover art, so they’re like oh, Monkey Shines, it’s about a toy, you can watch it.
And I do want to keep making horror films. I definitely for the next one or two – whatever I’m privileged enough to get the opportunity to make – I want to push the scares and see if I can dance that delicate line of keeping it humorous. So pushing the horror for sure, and eventually, I do want to explore the other genres for sure. I do enjoy a comedy film or comedy set, but also as a theater kid, I love a musical, I’m excited to incorporate maybe music or dancing into one of the films down the line, with maybe some genre as well. So we’ll see how that nets out.
Kelly McNeely: As a horror fan, I would love you to recommend a horror movie to like a hardcore horror fan. If there’s someone that has seen The Exorcist, they’ve seen The Thing, they’ve seen, you know, all the basics, what movie would you recommend?
Josh Ruben: Oh, wow! A hardcore horror fan? I’d recommend to a hardcore horror fan one I haven’t seen in a long long time, but I know it’s pretty hardcore, is – oh gosh, well now a second one just popped in my head… oh, now a third – I would recommend The First Power; it’s a possession film with Lou Diamond Phillips, and it’s a really – from what I can remember, I mean, it super scared me when I was a kid, maybe if you pop it on now it’d be super light, but from what I can remember it was pretty intense. Kind of a Fallen-esque plot is what I can remember, a possession, but it’s one of the early ones I can remember. There’s also just kind of like a gritty action to it as well.
That and one I do know for a fact that’s really hardcore is one called Body Parts. That is basically modern day Frankenstein. Really brutal, really gory, also a bit of action too. Probably a little smutty at this point, I can’t remember how, you know, gross it was, but I think when I was like 10 watching it, far too young. I appreciated it for reasons that we should.
Kelly McNeely: A lot of the films that you’ve been doing recently, Blood Relatives recently came out on Shudder, and Scare Me and A Wounded Fawn, all have got a home on Shudder, which is amazing because it’s such a wonderful platform… on that same note, is there a Shudder film that you would highly recommend?
Josh Ruben: Well you have to check out Brian Fuller’s Queer for Fear documentary. I think all their documentaries are amazing. There’s also Never Sleep Again, which I’m pretty sure is still on Shudder. It’s like an eight hour Nightmare on Elm Street documentary. It’s phenomenal, I could watch it all over again. I mean, it truly goes through every film and Robert Englund is there, and Heather Langenkamp, and Wes Craven, so much archive footage and the like. But film film? Oh gosh, I mean, I think everyone should check out Scare Me, Blood Relatives, A Wounded Fawn, and Who Invited Them, also edited by Patrick Lawrence who did Scare Me as well.
Kelly McNeely: So what’s next for you?
Josh Ruben: I’ve got a graphic novel coming out that is sort of an homage to my love of Tales From the Crypt, which feels like it might have been a tale in the TV show, hopefully, for some people. It could just ultimately end up being too twisted for people’s liking. So that’s called Darla, and that’ll come out next year. And it’s with Invader Comics, illustrated by Brianna Tippetts, who’s an artist I love working with.
And Michael Kennedy, the writer of Blumhouse’s Freaky, he and I are working on a horror comedy that I just love, I’m dying to make. And there’s other stuff that just floats around, you never know if it’ll happen, but I really just want to remake Darkman or at least a legacy sequel. I think Liam Neeson wants to kick some ass and maybe wear the bandages again.
Kelly McNeely: If he’s shown us anything with his recent acting choices, it’s that all he wants to do is kick ass, you know?
Josh Ruben: I think so! I think that’s why it’s like, okay, why don’t at least do one that’s a little more genre skewing, you know? You don’t have to be an ice road trucker or whatever.
Kelly McNeely: Or someone who’s just really just trying to get their kids back.
Josh Ruben: I get it, I mean, I get it.
Kelly McNeely: A weird question, is there anything that you ever wish someone would ask you in an interview? Do you have the unspoken interview question that you’re like, oh, I really want to talk about this one thing?
Josh Ruben: I mean, I love – you’ve already asked technical questions, like the stuff about process, I always nerd out about that. Anytime anybody asks – especially filmmakers – about their process, you know, how do you block it all, talk to actors, how do you communicate, or the chemistry of all that, all that sort of stuff. Those are the types of questions that I just love. But as far as I’m concerned, you hit all of those marks.
But it’s also why I devour Mick Garris’ Post Mortem, just because he really does get into it. So I don’t know, maybe someday when I retire or close to it, I’ll just do one that’s like, overtly technical, like I don’t even don’t even ask filmmakers what their background is, I just get right into like, how do you do it?
Kelly McNeely: How do you do it? What do you do? What do you use? Write down everything.
Josh Ruben: Yeah, very, very specific. Find the director of Body Parts and ask him why he did it.
Click Here to read Bri’s review of A Wounded Fawn, now streaming on Shudder.
‘Scream VII’ Greenlit, But Should the Franchise Take a Decade-Long Rest Instead?
Bam! Bam! Bam! No that’s not a shotgun inside the bodega in Scream VI, it’s the sound of producer’s fists rapidly hitting the green light button to further franchise favorites (i.e. Scream VII).
With Scream VI barely out of the gate, and a sequel reportedly filming this year, it seems horror fans are the ultimate target audience to get ticket sales back at the box office and away from “press play” streaming culture. But maybe it’s too much too soon.
If we haven’t learned our lesson already, banging out cheap horror movies in quick succession isn’t exactly a fool-proof strategy to get butts in theater seats. Let’s pause in a moment of silence to remember the recent Halloween reboot/retcon. Although the news of David Gordon Green blowing off the gossamer and resurrecting the franchise in three installments was great news in 2018, his final chapter did nothing but put the tarnish back on the horror classic.
Possibly drunk on the moderate success of his first two films, Green advanced to a third one very quickly but failed to provide fan service. Criticisms of Halloween Ends mainly hinged on the lack of screen time given to both Michael Myers and Laurie Strode and instead on a new character that didn’t have anything to do with the first two films.
“Honestly, we never once considered making a Laurie and Michael movie,” the director told Moviemaker. “The concept that it should be a final showdown-type brawl never even crossed our minds.”
How’s that again?
Although this critic enjoyed the last film, many found it off-course and perhaps a stand-alone that should have never been connected to the redeveloped canon. Remember Halloween came out in 2018 with Kills releasing in 2021 (thanks to COVID) and finally Ends in 2022. As we know, the Blumhouse engine is fueled by brevity from script to screen, and although it can’t be proven, hammering out the last two films so quickly might have been integral to its critical undoing.
Which brings us to the Scream franchise. Will Scream VII get underbaked purely because Paramount wants to reduce its cooking time? Also, too much of a good thing can make you sick. Remember, everything in moderation. The first movie was released in 1996 with the next almost exactly a year later, then the third three years after that. The latter is considered the weaker of the franchise, but still solid.
Then we enter the decade release timeline. Scream 4 released in 2011, Scream (2022) 10 years after that. Some may say, “well hey, the difference in release times between the first two Scream movies was exactly that of the reboot.” And that is correct, but consider that Scream (’96) was a film that changed horror movies forever. It was an original recipe and ripe for back-to-back chapters, but we are now five sequels deep. Thankfully Wes Craven kept things sharp and entertaining even through all the parodies.
Conversely, that same recipe also survived because it took a decade-long hiatus, giving new trends time to develop before Craven attacked the newer tropes in another installment. Remember in Scream 3, they still used fax machines and flip phones. Fan theory, social media and online celebrity were developing fetuses at that time. Those trends would be incorporated into Craven’s fourth movie.
Fast-forward another eleven years and we get Radio Silence’s reboot (?) which made fun of the new terms “requel” and “legacy characters.” Scream was back and fresher than ever. Which leads us to Scream VI and a change of venue. No spoilers here, but this episode seemed oddly reminiscent of re-hashed past storylines, which may have been a satire in and of itself.
Now, it’s been announced that Scream VII is a go, but it leaves us to wonder how such a short hiatus is going to fare with nothing in the horror zeitgeist to channel. In all of this race to get the big bucks, some are saying Scream VII could only top its predecessor by bringing back Stu? Really? That, in my opinion, would be a cheap effort. Some also say, that sequels often bring in a supernatural element, but that would be out of place for Scream.
Could this franchise do with a 5-7 year hiatus before it ruins itself on principle? That break would allow time and new tropes to develop — the franchise’s life’s blood — and mostly the power behind its success. Or is Scream heading into the “thriller” category, where the characters are just going to face another killer(s) in a mask without the irony?
Perhaps that is what the new generation of horror fans want. It could work of course, but the spirit of the canon would be lost. True fans of the series will spot a bad apple if Radio Silence does anything uninspired with Scream VII. That’s a lot of pressure. Green took a chance in Halloween Ends and that didn’t pay off.
All that being said, Scream, if anything, is a masterclass at building hype. But hopefully, these movies don’t turn into the campy iterations they make fun of in Stab. There is still some life left in these films even if Ghostface doesn’t have time to catnap. But as they say, New York never sleeps.
Horror Director Can’t Save ‘Shazam! 2,’ Latest Superhero to Tank at the Box Office
What used to be a sure-fire ticket grab is becoming just another unpopular station stop at the box office. We are talking of course about the MCU and DCEU. In particular, the latest perceived super-flop Shazam! Fury of the Gods.
Some of you may consider Shazam’s opening weekend of $30.5 million nothing to sneeze at, but consider Scream VI’s opening weekend totals of $44.5 million. A Scream movie out box-officing a comic book film? What world do we live in?! A horror one.
Given the dismal returns of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and its recent predecessors, the golden age of capes and superpowers seems to have died with Spiderman: No Way Home (no way home indeed).
There are many factors that could have contributed to its low ticket take. Critics weren’t really impressed with Shazam! and his friend’s latest adventure and its CinemaScore rests at a B+. Also, star Zachary Levi has been given some unpopular opinions on social media which may have led to him being soft-canceled.
Further, the whole DCEU is in the middle of a very public and tumultuous overhaul and a lot of these franchise characters are edging toward the chopping block. So viewers might be watching trailers, and muttering, “What’s the point?”
Still, Shazam’s weak opening may not be indicative of what it will do digitally. Home screens seem to be the catchall of failing franchises with subscribers squeezing out every penny of their hefty monthly membership prices instead of having to pay more for a “premium” theater seat.
But let’s talk about Shazam’s horror ties. Both the first movie and now its sequel was directed by someone who normally gets his money from jump scares. David F. Sandberg (Light’s Out, Annabell Creation). He gives the Shazam movies a slight horror feel with an emphasis on the supernatural, there is definitely some crossover.
But that doesn’t mean fans are likely to follow (remember The New Mutants?). In fact, legendary horror director Sam Raimi has some box office skin in the game this week with the diminishing sci-fi adventure 65, which he produced, starring Adam Driver. Not even an A-list star could pull this film out of the primordial muck as it sits sinking faster than a Tyrannosaurus in the La Brea tar pits. Raimi’s hand is also planted in the MCU with last year’s very successful Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness with a $185 million opening weekend.
Another horror director, James Wan, is hoping to raise the sinking DCEU ship with his sequel to Aquaman called Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom set to be released by this Christmas (we’ll see).
The bottom line is that Shazam! Fury of the Gods isn’t really a bad movie. In fact, it might outshine the original as far as VFX and story. But seats are sitting empty in the cineplex nowadays for men and women in super suits which may or may not be because of behind-the-scenes drama. It may also be because avid fans aren’t finding anything fresh to consume and pushing the product to the back of the fridge in lieu of something, like Scream, which respects its base and delivers on its promises while still being aware of its expiry date.
Shudder Gives Us Something to Scream about in April 2023
The first quarter of 2023 is over, but Shudder is just picking up steam with a brand new slate of films coming to their already impressive catalogue! From obscurities to fan favorites, there’s something here for everyone. Check out the full calendar of relase below, and let us know what you’ll be watching when April rolls around.
Shudder Calendar 2023
The Slumber Party Massacre: A female high school student’s slumber party turns into a bloodbath, as a newly escaped psychotic serial killer wielding a power drill prowls her neighborhood.
Magic: A ventriloquist is at the mercy of his vicious dummy while he tries to renew a romance with his high school sweetheart.
Don’t Panic: On his 17th birthday, a boy named Michael has a surprise party thrown by his friends, where a session with a Ouija board accidentally unleashes a demon named Virgil, who possesses one of them to go on a killing spree. Michael, now plagued by violent nightmares and premonitions, sets out to try and stop the killings.
Slasher: Ripper: The new series on Shudder takes the franchise back in time to the late 19th century and follows Basil Garvey (McCormack), a charismatic tycoon whose success is only rivaled by his ruthlessness, as he oversees a city on the cusp of a new century, and a social upheaval that will see its streets run red with blood. There’s a killer stalking the mean streets, but instead of targeting the poor and downtrodden like Jack the Ripper, The Widow is meting out justice against the rich and powerful. The only person standing in the way of this killer is the newly promoted detective, Kenneth Rijkers, whose ironclad belief in justice may wind up being yet another victim of The Widow.
Bog: Dynamite fishing in a rural swamp revives a prehistoric gill monster that must have the blood of human females in order to survive.
Kids vs. Aliens: All Gary wants is to make awesome home movies with his best buds. All his older sister Samantha wants is to hang with the cool kids. When their parents head out of town one Halloween weekend, an alltime rager of a teen house party turns to terror when aliens attack, forcing the siblings to band together to survive the night.
Final Exam: In a small college in North Carolina, only a select few students are left to take mid terms. But, when a killer strikes, it could be everyone’s final exam.
Primal Rage: A baboon escapes from a Florida campus lab and starts spreading something bad with a bite.
Darklands: A reporter investigates ritual profanations and finds himself involved with a Druidic cult.
From Black: A young mother, crushed by guilt after the disappearance of her young son 5 years previously, is presented with a bizarre offer to learn the truth and set things right. But how far is she willing to go, and is she willing to pay the terrifying price for a chance to hold her boy again?