V/H/S/94 is finally streaming on Shudder, and the new film is an excellent addition to the franchise. Not only does it revitalize the V/H/S series, but it might revitalize found-footage horror, too. And we were lucky enough to chat with director Chloe Okuno who wrote and directed the “Storm Drain” segment of the movie.
SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t watched V/H/S/94 yet, do that before you read any further.
Outside of V/H/S/94, Okuno has also directed several short films. She has multiple projects lined up like the thriller Watcher starring Maika Monroe, Burn Borman and Karl Glusman and the Anna Kendrick-led serial killer thriller Rodney & Sheryl.
Interview with V/H/S/94 director and writer Chloe Okuno
1428 ELM: Your segment reminded me so much of the urban legends I heard growing up. What was the inspiration behind it?
CHLOE OKUNO: There were a few, actually. Even before pitching this idea to VHS, I knew that I was interested in a story about people going into a storm drain and finding a creature. Part of it was this YouTube video that went around for a few years which was an actual news story about some people in an Alabama town who were all convinced they had seen a leprechaun in a storm drain. A local news station picked that story up, and it sort of lives on in internet infamy. It was a few different things.
There was an urban legend I heard, I think on a podcast, a guy called the Catman of Greenock who was a local figure. The rumor was that he was a Russian sailor who went insane and now wanders around on all fours at night, scaring children because he eats rats and he’s covered in black grime. So it was genuinely from a million different places, but it all coalesced together into the story of this creature.
1428 ELM: Since V/H/S/94 is found footage, had you ever done that before? What are the key differences between doing found footage and traditional filmmaking from a directing standpoint?
CHLOE: I had never done found footage. This was my first one. I’m a fan of the genre. Blair Witch was so frightening to me, and I think I had a hard time finishing it when it came out. Granted, I was young when it came out, but it just taps into this primal terror that I think all horror does, but it just does it in a very different, interesting way.
I think the difference is, especially if, like in my segment, you have a single camera, found-footage movie, you can make edits, but you have to be a lot more strategic in how you’re planning out your blocking. It’s essentially like doing a single take. It almost feels like choreographing. There is a lot more preparation involved.
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I think other people have a different approach like Blair Witch seemed to be more about letting the actors do it themselves, embrace improvisation, and we did a little bit of that as well. I always tend to be quite prepared as a director, but in this case, I insisted upon going to our set ahead of time and doing the blocking with the acting the DP and pre-shooting it essentially, to ensure we knew what the beats were and how to choreograph it and also strategic cut points that we could hide with a whip pan when we needed to do practical effects. I think all filming requires an intense level of prep, and found footage does as well. If anything, it requires more.
V/H/S/94: Filming in the storm drain
1428 ELM: Did you guys actually film in a storm drain?
CHLOE: If we had It money, it would have been a set, but no, that was a real storm drain, or it was for a large part of it. When they first enter the drain, it’s a real drain, and then when they start walking into it, it’s also a real storm drain. But our brilliant production designer Peter Mihaichuk designed a set that would match the actual drain.
There is a point at which we transition. It’s funny, I was really worried about it because obviously the real drain was filled with water and our set, we didn’t have the money to have water in our set, so it was completely dry. I was concerned it would be obvious, but Peter did such a good job that a lot of people can’t tell.
V/H/S/94: Creating Ratma
1428 ELM: I didn’t notice at all. Can we talk a little about the creature design? Was that what you had in mind from the beginning, or did you collaborate on the idea? It’s so creepy, and I love that it almost looks like a person has mutated because it has that skull at the end of its snout.
CHLOE: Thank you! That was genuinely the brief I talked about with concept artist Keith Thompson. He’s brilliant. He’s done work on Crimson Peak, and he’s working with [David] Bruckner on Hellraiser, and he worked on The Ritual, so collaborating with him, we had a lot of discussions of where the creature came from and how it moved.
My feeling was that it comes from another dimension and somehow found its way into our world and is reacting poorly. I think the only reference I shared was Brundle’s pod in The Fly, like a hybrid of the fly and the pod itself. When he’s pulling himself on the ground, there was something about that image I found so horrifying and tragic. I wanted to capture a little bit of that.
1428 ELM: It reminded me a little bit of Alien, too.
CHLOE: Totally. Very Alien when his mouth opens and even the dripping of liquid bile. Alien is certainly in there, Alien, a rat and Brundle’s pod.
1428 ELM: You’ve done a couple of horror/thriller projects. What attracts you to this genre, and what were the movies that really impacted you?
CHLOE: Part of it was, I think, the fact is that it was not something I was exposed to growing up. My parents don’t love horror movies. They still don’t love having to sit through horror film festivals in which my movies are playing. When I discovered it, it was genuinely mindblowing.
One of the first [horror] movies I watched was Evil Dead 2, and what a one to start with. I felt like it was a completely different way of approaching film, and of course, it being Evil Dead, I loved the fact that horror lends itself so well to fusing humor into something so scary and terrifying. I’ve always been attracted to filmmakers and movies with that sense of humor inside their work. Honestly, I think one of my favorites was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
1428 ELM: That’s one of my favorite horror movies of all time, the original, and it doesn’t even have a lot of blood, yet it’s terrifying.
CHLOE: It’s terrifying, and I think you can smell the dead bodies. I think they captured something so raw and magnetic and the stuff at the dinner table with the grandpa; it’s totally twisted and f**ked up, but it’s also really funny.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
V/H/S/94 is now streaming exclusively on Shudder.