Interview: Destroy All Neighbors director Josh Forbes & star Jonah Ray

Destroy All Neighbors - Courtesy Shudder
Destroy All Neighbors - Courtesy Shudder /

Destroy All Neighbors, a Shudder original, is a prog rock blast. Yes, you heard that correctly. It’s the first prog-rock horror movie I’ve seen and also a gory, goopy good time. Directed by Josh Forbes, the film stars Jonah Ray as William, a prog-rock musician who just can’t get anyone to understand his love for the genre. William accidently kills one neighbor after the other, starting with Vlad, played by Alex Winter (The Lost Boys, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure). Yet, in their reanimated states, the neighbors form a band with William.

The feature includes some impressive practical effects, a lot of heart, and plenty of humor. In an interview, Forbes and Ray dished on the film, including their favorite scenes, working with Winter, and the practical effects. The interview was edited slightly for clarity.

1428 Elm: What drew each of you to this project?

Josh Forbes: It initially started as a conversation between me and the first writer, Charlie Pieper. We both had really crazy neighbors, and we’re both very conflict averse. We wondered, what if you had a Barton Fink type of character in an apartment complex and he accidently kills his neighbor? What if he tried to dispose of the body and it comes back to life? A lot of the initial thought process was born out of anxiety and nervousness. [Laughs].

Jonah Ray: When Josh approached me about it, he said it was a little Barton Fink, a little Inside Llewyn Davis, a little Evil Dead 2. I love all of those movies and thought that playing with that stuff would be fun. I’m a big, lanky guy. I can do physical comedy, and it looks more exaggerated than your average- sized person. That’s the thing about this movie that I love. I love when I can do different types of stuff within one project. I like that there’s music in it. I didn’t make any music for it, but I had some say in the music and helped out with the songs. I also like physical comedy, and subtle comedy, as well as little dramatic moments here and there. I had the chance to do all of this stuff. That was the fun thing about acting in this.

1428 Elm: Do either of you listen to prog rock, or did you while filming this? Jonah, can you also touch upon your musical background more?

Jonah Ray: My first concert was Metallica. I love Metallica, Megadeath, and Sepultura. I quickly then got into punk rock and hardcore. I also worked in record stores.  I love music of all kinds and playing music. I’m a drummer. That’s my main instrument. With prog, as a punk kid, I thought it was too long and complicated, but there’s so much to appreciate about it, for sure. I’m not good at math and time signatures, though.  [Laughs]. I think the closest I get to listening to stuff with a lot of time signatures is probably March of the Pigs by Nine Inch Nails and a couple of Soundgarden songs. That’s it. [Laughs].

Josh and I had a collaborative playlist that we just started dumping songs into. I was trying to find newer people doing prog, and Josh had a great wealth of knowledge about older prog. Prog is such an innocuous term. It doesn’t really dictate the type of music. It's more like jazz. It also has classic rock and metal. It has a lot to it stylistically. My friend’s mom was at the premiere. She’s like 82. She laughed a lot, and on the drive home, my friend said, she asked him, so, what’s a prog? [Laughs]. But Josh showed me a couple of great bands. What was that one band? Strawberry?

Josh Forbes: Strobes

Jonah Ray: Yeah, they’re great.

Josh Forbes: I was the weird kid. Everyone else was listening to Vanilla Ice, or whatever the cool people music was. I was stuck with weird, creative, old records. I don’t know if it’s officially prog, but The Who’s Tommy was a huge influence on me. I just love these songs that go up, down, and all over the place. It’s also such a dorky genre that it’s such a rich area to mine, but I’ve never seen it in anything. It was also the prefect music for this sort of character. He can’t cut it off. He just keeps adding. Sometimes, with a creative project, you just have to cut it, send it out, and do a new thing.

Destroy All Neighbors 2
Destroy All Neighbors - Courtesy Shudder /

1428 Elm: Can you talk about shooting the decapitation scene with Alex Winter's character Vlad?

Josh Forbes: On my end, I’m just a huge fan of like kinetic energy, this happens, and then this happens, and then this happens. That’s always been a thing that I love. That was kind of the starting point. There was an early version where he just trips and hits his head on the coffee table.

Jonah Ray: I forgot about that. How uneventful! [Laughs].

Josh Forbes: I don’t know where it came from, but it was definitely a collaboration between the two of us. We just kept pushing each other.

Jonah Ray: There were moments like that when it was like a real comedy writers' room. We stacked ideas on top of each other. Leading up to that was super fun. Josh and I talked about, leading up to the decapitation, what if a guy doesn’t want to fight, but the other guy makes him? It becomes like a dance routine. It’s like a bigger version of stop hitting yourself. That room was a practical little set. There wasn’t a lot of room and time, but so many things needed to happen in that scene.

Josh Forbes: What I’m really proud of, the more I think about it, is how character-based all that stuff was. Even though we had these ridiculous gags, it was all based on the characters and the relationships. Not only is it funny to have another guy say, slam me against the wall, but it’s because William is just a wimp.

Jonah Ray: He refuses to engage in the way Vlad wants. Vlad wants to connect with William so badly, but there’s cultural differences and different ideas about what it takes to be a man. I grew up a lot with that. I was a big guy, and guys told me to fight them. They just wanted me to engage them in that way because I was the biggest one. I said, what if we just joke around? [Laughs].

Destroy All Neighbors 2
Destroy All Neighbors - Courtesy Shudder /

1428 Elm: What was it like working with some of the practical effects? They reminded me of films like Basket Case and the Evil Dead franchise.

Jonah Ray: You mentioned Basket Case. That’s Gabe Bartalos, who’s our guy, too. It was incredible to have that stuff, but it’s tricky. It could go right, and you move along as planned. You never know with that stuff. Sometimes, it gets too hot, and the blood gets too runny. I’ve been in things where blood splatters don’t work because it’s too cold. There’s always a level of stress. When I got all that puke on me, in bed, it was a simple shot, but the rigging of it was intense and irritating. It was really messy. I had to clean up, and we had to swap out the sheets. As fun and as neat as it was, having that moment, it adds a layer of stress.

Josh Forbes: For me, the big finale, without giving too much away, was exciting because we had prepared a lot. We knew a lot of how it would work, but there was still that chaotic element. For me, the movies I love the most are the ones where the director’s vision exceeded their grasp. I like that idea of going to the very limit, spending every penny, and doing everything we can to entertain you, even if it’s crazy. This is one of those movies where you’re either on board or not.

Jonah Ray: That’s always the thing, you hope it’s funny. When you shoot that stuff, you take up so much time and money. Horror movies and comedies live and die by those moments. It’s not to say we didn’t focus on character and story, but fans of horror and comedies look for these moments, these little set pieces, these little gags, that you have to deliver.

Josh Forbes: That was a big thing Jonah brought up a lot. With a lot of these movies, you remember certain moments. We wanted to deliver on certain set pieces and little moments, things that make us die laughing.

Jonah Ray: It’s something Quentin Tarantino said in an interview once. Horror fans will let a lot of stuff go if you just give them what they’re there for every once in a while. Here you go, here’s your little gore piece. Here’s a zombie tearing into a neck. Now let’s talk about capitalism in a mall for a while. [Laughs].

1428 Elm: Josh and Jonah, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us!

Destroy All Neighbors is currently streaming on Shudder.

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