THE DEVIL BELOW Interview: Director Bradley Parker Talks Making Horror On A Budget & Demonic Creature Designs

THE DEVIL BELOW Interview: Director Bradley Parker Talks Making Horror On A Budget & Demonic Creature Designs

We recently caught up with filmmaker Bradley Parker (Chernobyl Diaries) to discuss his new movie The Devil Below, and he talks about designing demonic creatures, making horror on a budget, and more...

Vertical Entertainment's The Devil Below is now playing in select theaters, VOD, and Digital platforms, and we recently caught up with director Bradley Parker (Chernobyl Diaries) to discuss his work on the nail-biting horror movie. Starring Alicia Sanz, Adan Canto, Zach Avery, Chinaza Uche, Jesse Latourette, with Jonathan Sadowski and Will Patton, it's well worth checking out. 

If you love a good creature feature, then you'll have a fun time, and we made sure to pick the director's brain on everything from designing the movie's terrifying monsters to the challenges of making horror on a budget. That's no easy feat, but The Devil Below still manages to pull it off. 

It helps that Parker is no stranger to blockbuster filmmaking, and he's been a VFX Supervisor on everything from Godzilla: King of the Monsters to the upcoming Bullet Train. He's also served as Second Unit Director on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and The Batman for Matt Reeves.

Needless to say, we want to extend a huge thank you to Brad for taking the time to talk to us, and you can find his comments on serving as Loki's VFX Supervisor by clicking here. Keep checking back here throughout the week, as we'll have a little more to share with you from the filmmaker.
 

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I don’t want to spoil anything, but the movie features some awesome creature designs; can you talk us through how you went about creating the monsters for The Devil Below?

First of all, it’s a lot of fun to design a creature. I used the environment, and the nature of the creatures in the story, to inform how they looked. You can tell they have this pale, white, outer surface, and a maw, as well as an exterior skull that’s a little like a snail’s shell. There’s teeth and limbs that harken back to some underground creatures. We pulled all that together, but added in some fantastical elements that really sell what they’re all about and what they do. I thought for quite a while about the different types of these creatures and how there are scouts, soldiers, and another creature...well, I don’t want to give away the gag, but it has its own role in the film. A lot of thought went into it, and it was really a lot of fun to do. 

What are some of the challenges that come with including monsters like these in a movie that doesn’t necessarily have the same budget as a big studio picture?

It’s extremely challenging. We did have a limited budget, and we didn’t have a lot of time. I was able to lean on my visual effects experience. I’ve been around a lot of films, big and small, and I see how to cut to the point a little bit faster and not necessarily go on creative fishing expeditions. I try to do my homework up front, so when the team is constructing the monsters, they’re not wasting time sculpting, and then resculpting, and later sculpting again! They’re doing something that’s been thought about, so sculpt one is really darn close to the final product. The other thing is I was well aware of the budget and knew I couldn’t lean too heavily on visual effects. There are places where visual effects can really enhance creatures, and we use that quite a bit in the film. These things couldn’t articulate perfectly on set; we didn’t have the kind of budget to do full animatronics, so anytime there was, say, a mouth that needed to move in a certain way, we’d augment that digitally and create what’s essentially a digital prosthetic. 

Were there any ideas or scenes here you were unable to include due to budgetary constraints?

Pretty much everything we wanted to do was in the film. We had to accentuate the vision to fit the budget, but I think the film is doing what it was initially intended to do. I don’t feel like anything was left on the table. There were little snippets, bits and pieces here and there, but nothing major. This was pretty lean and mean going in, so I’d say anything I’d want to explore would be in an additional project.

It must be great as a director to have included everything you wanted?

There was nothing to cut. Another little secret of making films on a limited budget is that you’re racing every single day to shoot everything that’s on your list. When you get into the edit, you’re often trying to make the material cut together, and you may wish you had another stab at that or another couple of hours to shoot a set-up, but that’s the case every single day on a lower budget film. So, there are challenges, and things that, of course, I would love to tweak or do again. That said, given the schedule, budget, and all the elements combined, I’m pleased with what we accomplished. It’s a good one. 

At one point in the movie, we get to see things from the perspective of a camera found footage style; what made you decide to approach the sequence in that specific way?

It was extremely difficult, but we were out in the middle of nowhere at night, and we’ve got this character, Arianne, who’s prepared for most things. It’s not implausible that she would be carrying a night vision lens with her to be able to get the team through the darkness. It seemed like a great way to show the forest, but also keep things obscured with a great deal of grain and contrast which I found exciting visually, but also as a great storytelling tool. The idea of being in a spooky place and only being able to see through a single night vision goggle is pretty incredible and pretty fun. 
 

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This is the first movie you’ve directed since making The Chernobyl Diaries, but what made The Devil Below a project you wanted to get involved with as a filmmaker?

The producers brought the script to me and I instantly loved it for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it’s a creature feature. I’ve always wanted to do one, I love watching them, and I’m so thankful I got the opportunity to do it. Secondly, I’m a big fan of adventure-horror and movies like The Descent which take us to an amazing place, and one that’s not what we see in our back gardens every day. That was exciting. Thirdly, I grew up on the East Coast, and there was this town in Pennsylvania called Centralia. People may not have heard of it, but there was an underground coal steam fire under the town that’s still burning today. The entire place had to be shut down; it’s a ghost town. When I was a kid, I used to explore places like this with my friends, and to play those memories is really important to me. Lastly, there was just an opportunity in this script to turn expectations on their head; to play with characters where you think, ‘Okay, these are the standard tropes; this person is gonna do that, and this person is gonna do this...I know how this is going to go.’ To defy those expectations and turn things around on the audience was a lot of fun. 

It feels like a lot of the greatest horror films, like Evil Dead, have been made on a budget. As a filmmaker, was it enjoyable for you to tackle this movie without an unlimited budget, and the freedom the lower budget gives you?

It is enormously challenging, but in some ways, it’s also a little bit liberating to have a box to work within. If you know you only have $3 to do this, or $2 to do that, then you’re going to make different decisions and think about them. Every last decision you make is a critical one. If you spent $20,000 one day on a certain lighting set up, that means you might not have any lights at all the next day. All of those things have to come into play, and it’s fun to move those pieces around the board and figure out what the best combination of elements could be in something that is so incredibly limited in that way. It’s a fun puzzle to solve.

I know it’s always hard to talk about sequels before a movie has even been released, but do you have any ideas for where you’d take this story next, and do you see The Devil Below as a series with franchise potential? 

I would actually. I think there’s so much we haven’t explored in the film. We touched on some themes like science versus or working with religion, the ideas of opening the gates to hell, and what it means to face your fears. There are so many interesting things and characters we could really explore more of. I’d love to explore Will Patton’s character a little deeper. 

We’re not getting a lot of movies right now, so what does it mean to you to have The Devil Below playing in some select theaters?

That’s really exciting. It was always intended to be a big screen movie. We shot this with theaters in mind. Of course, it works watching at home in your living room, but we shot this for the big screen and tried to make this as cinematic an experience as possible. That’s one thing we endeavoured to do in the locations, the way it’s lensed, the sound...this is a big film for such a little budget, and I’m excited for people to see it and experience it. I’ve gotta say, there’s nothing more exciting than an opening night for a horror movie in a crowded theater. Just the energy and excitement people bring to the jumps and scares, and the laughter afterwards; that energy is incredible, and I can’t wait for people to experience it. Experience it safely during the pandemic, but experience it with friends nevertheless if they can. 
 

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