Along with frequent collaborator Josh Stolberg, Pete Goldfinger is rapidly becoming one of the most sought after writers in the horror genre, with not only Piranha 3D building anticipation but also the latest slasher redux, Sorority Row.
Retro Slashers caught up with Pete to learn more…
How did your writing partnership with Josh Stolberg come about and did you both immediately have a similar take on what you felt a horror film should consist of?
“Josh and I attended the University of Vermont together exactly one million years ago. We’ve both had other writing partners and for me, it had never been a perfect fit. Astoundingly, Josh and I have never had a single argument or disagreement, though he does irritate me greatly – like when we were at a meeting last week and while looking for a pen in his bag, he found an envelope with $3,000 worth of traveler’s checks that he’d brought to Pittsburgh eight months ago for Sorority Row and not used. I’m not sure what’s more disturbing, the fact that he’d forgotten about the $3,000, or the fact that he thinks there’s some need for traveler’s checks when you’re travelling in the continental United States. As for horror films, we’ve always been drawn to the ones with more humor. If you can go to a horror movie, laugh; and be scared: that’s a complete evening.”
Prior to your involvement with Sorority Row, did you feel that the original film had become dated and was in need of being re-vamped for modern audiences?
“The first one is a classic. The fact that it is dated makes it even more attractive to me. Think of all the movies today that are trying to capture that 70s feel. Every horror remake must be re-vamped for today’s audiences. When Josh and I were kids, we were drawn to movies that were scary, funny, and had hot girls finding themselves in situations where getting naked was the only thing that could save their lives. That’s what we set out to do and Stewart Hendler and Summit Entertainment delivered.”
With your script being inspired by Mark Rosman’s The House on Sorority Row, how did you set about adapting an already familiar concept into something which felt fresh and new?
“That was the 80s. This is a whole new millennium. And things move much faster today with the internet, cellphones and iPods. These things really change the way we look at the world. The advent of the cellphone has reeked havoc on the horror genre because you have to always come up with creative ways for characters to lose them. Gone are the days of, “Somebody cut the phone line…” Now you have five sorority sisters, all of whom are carrying phones.”
Are any of the characters, particularly the young girls, based on anyone you know personally and were they all written to be as attractive as the actresses that were cast?
“There’s a line in the movie Sixteen Candles where Anthony Michael Hall says, “I’m kinda like the king of the dipshits.” Well, that was (and is) me. There was this one girl who was really nasty to me in high school and nicknamed me “Skinny Head.” This was slightly unfair because in truth, my head was not skinny, but rather, my nose was just so big it made my head look skinny. Anyway, Jessica is based on that girl. Never had a nice word for anybody. As far as the cast, Chugs was always written as a more round-shaped girl, but Margo Harshman came into the audition and just creamed it. Ironically, that girl is a rail, but man can she act.”
One common factor of the slasher film, and often horror in general, is that the ‘final girl’ or heroine is usually established clearly from the beginning. Is this an aspect that you employed with your screenplay and do you feel this can lend a certain predictability to this type of film?
“Part of a horror movie, for me, is that you want to kind of hate all the characters you are going to see get killed. Since that pretty much adds up the entire cast, the “final girl” does reveal herself rather quickly.”
As you were writing the script, did you describe each death in great detail or were you more suggestive in your approach? How do you feel they translated to the screen?
““Kills” as they are called, are taken very seriously. It’s not uncommon to get a call from the studio saying, “We’re not crazy about the ‘Sarah’ kill, please change it.[note: there is no ‘Sarah’ in our script, but I doubt that will stop 400 posts on the internet that ‘Sarah’ does not survive].” Fun kills are everything to a horror movie and there are two in particular that Josh thought up that are absolutely brand new and are brilliantly executed by Stewart.”
What do you think it is that slasher films constantly keep making a comeback? What is it about this type of entertainment that seems to have a consistent appeal, particularly with the teenage market?
“It’s a simple recipe. As long as guys lack requisite game to get a girl to cozy up to them in a movie theater, the horror movie will always be there to help out.”
Did you have any specific actresses in mind as you were writing the script and were you allowed to suggest possibilities to the director or producers?
“One thing I can’t stress enough is how great Stewart and Summit were in allowing us to participate in every aspect of this movie. We were thrilled with every actor we got, although I could not get my nephew Tyler Neale a part despite the amazing audition tape he submitted.”
Whilst familiarity can help market a film, it can also make it tired and repetitive. How did you approach creating the look of your killer and designing each set piece without it resembling too much something that fans have seen before?
“My brother Ed Goldfinger, who is an accountant, actually came up with the idea of a graduation gown. That’s pretty humiliating to call your bean-counter brother and have him come up with a solution in about thirty seconds. It was brilliant. I hate him.”
Did you find that as you were developing the story and the script the revelation of who the killer would be was constantly changed or did you both have a clear idea who would be responsible from the very beginning?
“No, we knew it was going to be Sarah right from the beginning.”
How would you describe the look and nature of the killer and how would you compare him/her to others in the genre?
“The thing about a slasher movie is that you have two choices: either you hide the killer the whole movie, or you give them a costume. What I like about a gown is that it means the killer could have anything under there.”
What kind of atmosphere was there on set and would you say that this was a very collaborative effort between all involved?
“Unbelievably collaborative. If I make ten more movies in Hollywood, it is unlikely that I will ever see the kind of collaboration I saw here.”
How do you personally feel about the horror genre at this time? Are there any specific filmmakers or franchises that you are particularly interested in and how would you compare this environment to the one when The House on Sorority Row was first released?
“It’s a very similar time in that a lot of horror movies are being made right now and they are all doing very well at the box office. As stated before, Josh and I are big fans of movies like Scream and Nightmare on Elm Street. We’d like to open up those types of movies again. There are some movies today that are just too dark and gruesome for my taste. I work hard all week, I just don’t find myself saying, “Ah, Friday at last. I think I’m going to go sit in a dark theater for two hours watching people tortured until I puke my popcorn back into the bucket.” But, to each his own.”
What were the main differences between making a film such as Sorority Row and Piranha 3D? Aside from the obvious effects, how did the two experiences differ for you and are they both something which you would wish to take part in again?
“I would do either of them again in a second. Here are my streamline thoughts on both movies:
Piranha…noon…Lake Havasu… summertime…sun… six hundred spring break extras…”