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Exclusive Interview: Director Douglas Schulze and Doug Bradley on Their New Horror Movie ‘Thorns’

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It’s never the wrong time to watch a horror film, right? While so many I know wait until October and stockpile their scary movies to marathon for Halloween (peak spooky season vibes), I’m in the wheelhouse that horror is perfect for any reason and any season. While the snow piles up outside my window and the wind roars throughout the sky, it smells like the perfect time for a new horror film. So if you’re like me, there’s a new horror film that’s just having its premiere! Thorns begins its limited release in theaters on February 23 and opens with a wider release on March 13. I was able to sit down with director/writer Douglas Schulze and one of the stars, Doug Bradley (who you may know as Pinhead from Hellraiser) about the experience with this film!

In our conversation, Schulze discusses how he developed the story of Thorns, how the monster came to be, how the practical effects and 80s vibes came to be, and the positives of filming in Michigan. Bradley speaks on what drew him to the film and role, and why it’s important to support indie films in an industry of superhero blockbusters!

The interview with Doug Schulze and Doug Bradley on Thorns

 

[Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity. Warning for mild spoilers from Thorns. You can watch/listen to the full interview here, find it most places podcasts are available , or read on. Lastly, please consider showing your support for this podcast and website at buymeacoffee.com/cosmiccircus.]

Brian Kitson: Thank you so much, you two, for being here today and letting me interview you. I was able to watch the film the other night. I was really excited to watch it. I actually watched it twice now.

Douglas Schulze: Wow.

Brian Kitson: Yeah, I enjoyed it a lot, and I’m excited for seeing it tomorrow as well. But to begin, I was wondering if you both could tell me, non-spoiler, obviously, but tell me what the film’s about and what it means to us for this movie.

Douglas Schulze: Okay.

Doug Bradley: The author speaks.

Douglas Schulze: Sure. The story’s about a former priest now working for, we’ll just say NASA for the interview, who’s sent to investigate a remote space observatory that’s gone offline after receiving a mysterious signal from deep space, and along the way it becomes a horror film very quickly.

Brian Kitson: Absolutely. It started off with the sci-fi feel, and it switched very quickly to horror, and that was a cool genre-melding that I enjoyed quite a bit.

Douglas Schulze: Cool. Well, thank you.

Brian Kitson: You both wrote this and directed this film. How did the concept come to be for you?

Douglas Schulze: The concept could be traced back to just a love and affinity for a specific area of cinema, where I guess I found myself going to the cinema lot. I was in high school, and it was in the ’80s, and I saw a lot of great physical effects, makeup effects-driven movies that weren’t computer-generated images. And when I was trying to plot out what I wanted to do next, I thought, “Why not revisit that era and try and create a bit of an homage, a bit of a retro feel, but still tell a modern story?” So I think the modern elements come when we’re trying to meld science and religion. Not that those are modern topics, but you know what I mean.

Brian Kitson: Absolutely. That was one of the things I noticed is that we always have this war between religion and science, and this film explored that quite a bit. And where I liked that you don’t quite see that intersection quite so much in this way. It was like a new take on that sub-genre.

Douglas Schulze: Sure.

Hellraiser‘s Doug Bradley on what drew him to Thorns

Brian Kitson: So for you, Mr. Bradley, you’re a horror legend. Hellraiser is something that’s… Well, I didn’t grow up on it. My mom wouldn’t let me watch horror films growing up, but as a teenager and adult, you were someone that was on my screen. What drew you to this film?

Doug Bradley: The script, which is always the starting point. My agent contacted me, “Here’s an offer. Here’s a script. Take a look. Let me know.” That’s where we always start from. He had had a client work for Doug previously, so he was vouching for him because it’s a slightly different setup because Doug… Well, he’ll be able to explain it better than I because he has this home base here, which is an educational institution. Would that be a word?

I was going to say it sounds a bit grim. I’m sure it isn’t. And Doug himself says that’s his day job and at the weekend he’s an independent filmmaker. So it’s an unusual kind of setup but, as I say, my agent was vouching for his bonafides. So that was all cool. So then it is the script. A, it’s a well-written script. They aren’t all. An intelligently written script. And everything that’s already been talked about, the interface between science and religion and exploration of outer space and exploration of inner space.

And then the levels of… It’s interesting. You hear quite often these days people criticizing for science for having become in some ways a religion, and you hear people talking about the scientific consensus. We heard a lot through the pandemic and the lockdown about scientific consensus.

Doug Bradley in Thorns
Doug Bradley as Archbishop Jenkins in Thorns. (Dark Planet Productions)

Now, to me, consensus doesn’t exist in science because science is not about belief. Science is about observation and experiment, and if science establishes that something appears to fit the experimental picture and then somebody comes along with some new evidence that seems to suggest a different picture, science embraces the difference and moves on. Whereas religion remains entrenched in its fundamentalism. There is a truth, which was a truth, and is a truth, and will always be a truth, and you can’t challenge it, and you can’t break it. So all of that was intriguing me. Plus, it’s an apocalypse movie.

That can only be a good thing… And I was also being intrigued by my own character, Archbishop. We established now that he is Archbishop Jenkins who, as Doug said, has been attached to the space agency as a theological/spiritual advisor, which seems slightly strange, but he says, “Well, who better than a man of the cloth who was in touch with the bigger issues to deal with a subject like that?” It may sound a bit questionable and there may be reasons for having your doubts about Archbishop Jenkins, but I couldn’t comment on that, really.

So it’s all of that, and then even beyond that, and again, I don’t want to go into spoilers, but with stuff that my own character has to say later, there’s also that element which is actually present in Hellraiser of is there a hell, and if there is a hell, where is hell? And is there a place, is there a physical place, or is it a place that we create for ourselves? I mean, it’s John Milton’s lines always sum it up best. I’ll paraphrase horribly, I have no doubt, so apologies to Mr. Milton if he’s listening. But I think it’s actually the introductory quote to Paradise Lost, to the effect that the mind is a place entire unto itself and can make a heaven of hell or a hell of heaven. And I think we get some of that interplay in the movie.

So there’s a lot going on. Plus, there’s a monster.

We all love nuns, so…

Brian Kitson: Absolutely. Something you said there, though, is that this movie does really make you think at the end of this. You’re constantly thinking about the concept of hell, and hell… Don’t want to say too much because people need to go see this movie. But I did. I was thinking about it. Even this morning, as I was preparing, I was like, “Man, this just can’t get out of my head.” So it’s cool to see that play out.

Throughout the film, Archbishop Jenkins shows up like a connective tissue throughout the film, but it’s a lot of on-screens and interactions through that. Was there any challenges? Because it seems like maybe we are not physically in these scenes with these people, but you’re also interacting, and you’re giving the emotional connection with these individuals. Was there any challenges to filming it that way?

Doug Bradley: For me, honestly, yes. I much prefer interacting. Acting is interaction. Acting is reaction. But I was playing most of… There’s a lengthy piece in a confessional which is slightly different, but otherwise I’m playing most of my stuff straight to camera, and it’s a different kind of discipline. It’s not easy. And I much prefer being around other actors, which I never was.

Douglas Schulze on the unique design of the monster and filming Thorns in Michigan

Brian Kitson: So Mr. Schulze, you have this ’80s style for the film, a lot of practicals. How was it creating the design for this monster? Because it’s very unique. It has religious-based appearances. It also reminded me… I don’t know if you’re a Dr. Who fan… but it reminded me a little bit of “The Silence”, which I really appreciated, but how did that come to be, the use of practical effects in the monster?

Douglas Schulze: Yeah. Well, we’d have to credit Dan Phillips, who’s a local Michigan makeup artist. And so Dan got the script early on, and we met, and he began to… And we brought in an illustrator to do concept sketches. And we began to move a bit away from how the creature was written on paper, and the themes of the film began to take on a life of their own.

So we went, at one point, we said to the illustrator, “Well, let’s just go to this far and what would we come up with, with almost a literal type of translation?” And so, hence, we began playing around with images of thorns that pertained to the story in the film. And it just grew from there, quite honestly. It became very natural. But Dan had a big hand in helping that vision come to be. And all great films, I think, share the same philosophy, and that is, the technicians and as well as the cast all need to be brilliant. So you surround yourself with very good people, and you’ve got a better shot at seeing your vision come to fruition in the way you might like. So great kudos to Dan and his team for that monster, yeah.

The monster in Thorns
Image of the monster in Thorns. (Dark Planet Productions)

Brian Kitson: Yeah, it looks absolutely brilliant on screen, so that’s fantastic. And again, being a local guy here in Michigan, getting to have the people that are more local work on that as well is fantastic. What was it like shooting in Michigan for you? I think that we used to have a bigger film industry, and then it died down when the tax incentives disappeared. So, I guess, what is it about Michigan that you feel other people maybe should start looking towards our state again?

Douglas Schulze: Well, before the incentives, Michigan was still, and still kind of is, a thriving spot for industrial and different types of film. And then, of course, we’ve got the automotive giants here and all that commercial work that even though a lot of the running footage is shot in middle America, the producers are still here in Detroit and the ad agencies. And so all that’s conceptualized here in our state. The incentives sure brought some big Hollywood films here that never would have. But either way, we were just talking between interviews, if you travel up to the Tahquamenon Falls where the rivers run copper-colored, or if you head down to the salt mines in Detroit City, and-

Doug Bradley: Wait, what? There are salt mines?

Douglas Schulze: Yeah, there are salt mines below the city.

Doug Bradley: In the city?

Douglas Schulze: Yes. Yeah, below the city streets.

Doug Bradley: Really?

Douglas Schulze: And you Google and see a lot of pictures. But Michigan has a vast resource for art, production design, and location abilities. And so, Michigan’s a great place to make movies, and I’ve wanted to make films since seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey as a kid, but I never wanted to relocate to LA. I like it here in Michigan.

Doug Bradley: You just love the cold weather, huh?

Douglas Schulze: Yeah. And I complain daily about the weather. So, there you go.

Brian Kitson: That’s part of being, living in here. We don’t like the weather, but we love the seasons.

Douglas Schulze: Yeah, yeah, exactly.

Doug Bradley: Well, I live just outside Pittsburgh now, so I’m on the same… I’m a fellow-

Douglas Schulze: So you understand.

Doug Bradley: I do. Yes.

Douglas Schulze: Or we’ll be set in the Caribbean.

On the red carpet premiere of Thorns in Michigan and why people should watch the movie

Brian Kitson: So, I guess final question for both of you is what is… We want people to come and see this, obviously, and it’s a great film. And how would you sell it to someone who’s maybe not into or just getting into horror? What would you want them to know about the film?

Douglas Schulze: Well, what I’m going to focus on real quickly, and I think Doug will answer the question better than I would, but I do want to be clear about tomorrow is the premiere [2/17/2024], but the film releases nationally starting on the 23rd, which is the Friday from now. So February 23rd you’ll be able to find it in Emagine Theaters around Michigan, out in Kansas City, and in San Diego as well. But then, March 13th, the film’s going to expand to more cities. So it’s not just about our, obviously, our big red carpet.

Brian Kitson: Sure.

Douglas Schulze: It’s the 23rd and so forth. But why go see this film? Did you come up with a response for it?

Doug Bradley: Well, all the elements that we talked about already really, that come together in this film; you’re going to see an intelligently written plot, very well-directed and well-performed movie with some-

Douglas Schulze: Absolutely.

Doug Bradley: … cool special effects, and a strong story, which, as you have said, is going to stay with you and may be a little bit of a brain worm.

The other thing I would say is Doug’s talking about the movie expanding and getting a wider release. The more people turn out to see this film locally on its initial release, the more and the wider that is going to happen. And that gives more power, down the line. And that’s going to help more independent filmmaking in Michigan.

And also, as I’ve said, I think what Doug has achieved here on limited resources is remarkable. And at a time when movie-making is being dominated by the eye-popping budgets that the big studios are spending on movies, and when they also largely control the distribution. For Doug to get this movie into theaters at all, I think, is a remarkable achievement and credit to Emagine for getting behind that and helping to push that.

So if you turn out to see this film in the theaters, you’re striking a blow for the little guy. And I think that’s important too.

Brian Kitson: That was said beautifully, and I can’t think of anything better to end the time. Thank you two so much for spending the time with me, and I look forward to seeing it again tomorrow. And absolutely everybody should go see this film when it’s in theaters because it deserves all the recognition that it’s going to hopefully get. So, thank you so much. Cheers.

Doug Bradley: Cool. You’re welcome. Thank you.

Douglas Schulze: Thank you.

Where you can see Thorns

Thorns arrives in theaters for a limited release at Emagine theaters on February 23 and opens with a wider release on March 13. Are you planning on checking out this film? Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or on The Cosmic Circus Discord!

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Brian Kitson

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