I’m no stranger to late-night parties at a packed Brooklyn dive bar. But I have to admit, the afterparty on the third day of the Brooklyn Horror Film Fest was…new. First, I walked through the door and came face to face with two Coney Island performers. One was juggling, one swallowing swords. Then there was the bar, with walls covered in life-sized Halloween maquettes. Finally, I found the freaks I came for: the filmmakers behind this year’s amazing line-up of new horror films. A man in glasses and an oversized jacket beckoned me to the back of the bar. It was Luke Jaden, creator of the festival’s Detroit-based horror film BOO!. Pushing past one guy tying impossible knots and another on stilts, I went to talk to Luke. Here’s what I learned.
Like a lot of us, Luke’s gateway into horror meant rule-breaking. “Horror books were forbidden in my house,” he told me. “They were a taboo. But I read my first Stephen King and, I couldn’t help it, I fell in love.” Luke continued to work his way into the world of horror prose, citing Shirley Jackson and Ray Bradbury as important, if proscribed, influences on his youth. If there’s such a thing as being “classically trained” in horror, I’d say Luke would fit into that category. Still, a TV is harder to hide than a book. Barring some unpleasant viewings of The Wizard of Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West, Luke had almost no experience with horror on the screen.
“Horror has this negative connotation, but it’s really a space to play and explore ideas”
That changed one night as his parents, not paying very close attention to what was on, started flipping through channels on his TV. Luke caught a glimpse of Freddy Krueger and, well, made a career choice. Luke devoured his way through the best horror movies he could sneak in after that. Films like Don’t Look Now, The Wicker Man, and the 1977 Japanese film House carried him deeper into horror movies and the community surrounding them. But Luke didn’t just find fear in these films. He found beauty, truth, and most of all, possibility.
“It’s an endless space to have fun,” he said. “Horror has this negative connotation, but it’s really a space to play and explore ideas. You can paint these big messages and meanings and mysteries. You can inject a person’s real feelings. That’s what attracted me to it.”
The film Luke brought to BFHH is BOO!, an eerie family drama centered around an inescapable curse. BOO! is Luke’s feature directorial debut, highly anticipated after his shorts King Ripple and My Pretty Pony astounded critics across the country. BOO! tells the story of an extremely religious but broken family who receive a seemingly harmless package at their door. It’s a Boo, a short poem written on the figure of a ghost. They must pass the Boo along, says the poem, or terrible things will happen to the household where it stops. When the family’s especially devout father refuses to participate in this “pagan ritual,” bad things do start happening. I got to catch a screening of BOO!, and I highly recommend that you watch it. And if you’re not convinced by my plot summary, then you might be by what Luke told me next.
“The Boo is real,” Luke laughed. “It’s a picture of a ghost you had to put on your door. Kind of like a chain letter, kind of like a mystic ritual.” Luke went on to explain that both he and his wife had experienced the Boo phenomena in the past, and that it continues as a Halloween tradition around Detroit, where Luke grew up. Even now, kids from the Detroit still continue this spooky tradition.
Though I was delighted to hear that BOO! is based on a real Detroit urban legend, I wasn’t surprised. Luke Jaden’s hometown is so deep in the heart of his film, it only makes sense that this truth find its way into his fiction. Luke and I talked a lot about his love for Detroit. And that was a pleasure. Even though I’ve never been there, I felt like I got a real sense of the city.
“Everyone knows each other,” said Luke. “It feels like a big family. Not only is [Detroit] a visual place, but it’s a place that’s seen a lot. I made the family of this film interracial because of the real diversity there.” After a while on this subject, I realized we weren’t just talking about how much Detroit was in the movie. We were talking about how much Luke was. From hometown pride (“Sam Raimi grew up in Michigan!”) to an urban vibe, BOO! shares a great deal of its DNA with its creator. When I brought this up, Luke agreed. “Oh totally,” he said. “It’s a glimpse into my heart.”
The terror in this movie comes not just from a curse. It comes from these characters’ pasts. Like Luke himself, their challenge is to face that horror. Their only hope of survival is moving on.
That was my joy about interviewing Luke Jaden. I got to see just how much the filmmaker put his soul into a project. And that includes the messier parts. Before making BOO!, Luke lost his mother to cancer. That experience deeply changed him, and I think it’s something you see in his art. For example, in BOO!, each family member is dealing with a specific trauma, something that’s holding them apart from each other and from the future. The terror in this movie comes not just from a curse. It comes from these characters’ pasts. Like Luke himself, their challenge is to face that horror. Their only hope of survival is moving on.
When I asked Luke why he made BOO!, his response was characteristically simple. “It’s for people who are stuck,” he told me. “These people [the movie’s characters] are stuck in the past. The past can be beautiful, it can be terrifying. But we need to learn to live in the now, together.” Part of what makes any good director is seeing the truth in the fiction, telling a story that’s more real than reality. Luke Jaden has the ability to spot real horror in BOO!, and if my opinion’s worth anything, it means he’s got a lot of great films ahead of him. BOO! is about the past. But after talking to its creator, I walked out of a weird little party in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, absolutely thrilled for the future.
There were a ton of great things to come out of the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, so make sure to check out all of our reviews, HERE. After that, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and let us know if you’re excited to see BOO! For all your horror movie news, review, and interviews, keep lurking at Nightmare on Film Street.