Some thoughts on
The Sacrifice

The Sacrifice is a post-modern horror film, meaning that the situation and plot are deliberately derived from other horror films. Some of the films that influenced The Sacrifice are The Blair Witch Project, The Ninth Gate, The Howling and Rosemary's Baby, along with a myriad of other horror films from the 70s and 80s.

These films were not in any way copied, but their influence can be seen in the familiar storyline of a person arriving in a small town, then discovering that the town is hiding a dark secret. Other common horror movie themes that can be found in the film are old New England ghost stories, apparently harmless and friendly neighbors being, in reality, members of a group of people threatening the hero/heroine, and secrets being uncovered in ancient tomes. The idea was to create a believable central character who would react plausibly, after being dropped into the middle of this typical horror movie scenario.

One of the chronic problems in horror films is that the hero or heroine doesn't respond as most people would, in the same circumstances. While The Sacrifice is not unique in attempting to avoid this problem, we put a lot of effort into making Jonathan both intelligent and suspicious. He knows the friendly old man is probably up to something; he knows David can't be fully trusted. Throughout the film, whenever a twist in the plot becomes too obvious, Jonathan does what most of us would do - he figures it out. He doesn't stumble around in the dark while the audience shouts warnings to him. Nevertheless, he still makes one critical mistake, when his emotions cloud his judgement, and this causes everything to spiral out of his control.*

Which brings up the subject of homosexuality, as it appears in the film. Firstly, yes, Jonathan is gay. He is shy and awkward about it, as many 16-year-olds are, but David's advances are not unwelcome. Yet, at the same time, his homosexuality is not an integral part of the film. Had either David or Jonathan been female, the story would still have played out the same, with very little alteration. I deliberately avoided having this film be about Jonathan's sexual orientation. He is not really "coming out" (although his mother does find his comment at the dinner table to be eye-opening), and he is not discovering his sexuality - he already knows he's gay. Without disparaging anyone else's work, in any way, I believe it's important for the gay community that we start presenting lead characters in films who just happen to be gay, without that being the focus of the story. This isn't to hide their orientation, but to treat it as if it's a perfectly ordinary part of their lives and thus make it seem perfectly ordinary to the audience.

At the same time, it was important to me that Jonathan be gay. When I first began writing stories, as a teenager, I wrote about heterosexual couples, because that was all I had ever seen in movies and stories. But it felt unnatural (to me). I couldn't identify with these couples, and subtle homoerotic overtones kept creeping into the stories, often between the hero and a close male friend, or even the villain! Eventually, I realized that it was pointless to try to force my stories into a mold that simply didn't work for me. Now, pretty much everything I write has a central gay character. If that limits my audience, then so be it.

Similarly, most stories and screenplays that I write have some eroticism and nudity in them - usually male nudity. I don't have any interest in making pornography. I can't say I have any particular objections to it, but I usually find it dull. In pornography, the story, if there is one, serves the eroticism. What I'm interested in is telling a good story. Inevitably, some eroticism creeps in, but it's there as a natural outgrowth of the story - not to titillate or draw in viewers. The nudity in The Sacrifice is there for two reasons: one, because the coven members are supposed to be naked under their robes (due to the fact that the scene ended up being filmed in an unheated garage, in December, I didn't actually require this of the actors, so you might see some clothing peeking through), and two, because it's symbolic of David's mindset. He has been reduced to a state of animalistic rage, naked and covered in blood.

Just how much nudity I show in my films is largely up to my actors. David preferred not to do full frontal nudity, so I respected that. Rob didn't want to do nudity at all, so we didn't, although I still think it would have made far more sense to have Jonathan strapped naked to the altar. (How many Hammer films had naked females laid out on Satanic altars? It's a long-standing tradition!) Given the choice, I would probably put full frontal nudity in my films, as long as there was a dramatic reason for it. I find our culture's skittishness about it to be pretty silly. But it's not worth making my actors uncomfortable over. I might want to work with them again someday. As it was, even with the limitations we'd placed on the nudity in The Sacrifice, David's first reaction to seeing the completed ritual scene was, "Wow...I am so naked..."

The amount of obscenity in the film has also been the subject of comment. I never deliberately choose to use obscenity. But the fact of the matter is, I happen to talk like that myself. When I write realistic dialog, it naturally tends to be laced with the same "colorful" language I use in everyday speech. In fact, when we made the decision to tone down the language in For A Small Fee, in order to reach a broader audience, I agonized over the changes for days!

And lastly, the violence. The end of the movie is, for some of our audience, a bit over the top. Although, frankly, it came out more humorous than horrifying, for those of us who are horror movie fans and used to considerably more blood and gore. This is really the only scene in the movie where I decided a campy approach might be effective. (Well, we push it a bit, in an earlier scene with Jonathan and David in the ritual room.) I don't think I originally intended the scene to be humorous - it was so long ago, I can scarcely remember - but when we finally filmed it, little bits of humor started creeping in around the edges: Prudence taking nips of bourbon, Jonathan's boxer shorts, Eli chuckling and rubbing his hands together like a classic serial villain, blood flying everywhere...

The blood was, in fact, reshot six months later, along with some other shots in the scene. Originally, we tried for a more realistic effect, with the person in question (I'll try not to spoil the ending, for those of you who haven't seen it) clutching his neck and squeezing a rag soaked in fake blood, so that it would pour out between his fingers. Unfortunately, it didn't work, at all. The blood was barely visible. So, when we reshot, I asked Ken, our make-up effects person, to set us up with an air-hose full of blood.

"Well," he replied, "I can do that, but it's not exactly going to be realistic. It might look pretty silly."

"I don't care!" was my response, "The old way sucked! I want blood everwhere!"

So that's what I got. And I love it! Yes, that shot, and a later shot with the same effect, often get big laughs at showings, but they also get applause! As odd as the ritual scene eventually came out, I have yet to hear anyone complain that it's boring!

So, do I think the violence in The Sacrifice is too much? No. The ending was supposed to be shocking. Looking at it from that angle, I would probably choose to make it more violent, if I had the chance to shoot it again.

We've shown the movie to diverse audiences - at a sci-fi convention, at a gay sci-fi convention, at a pagan gathering, at a horror convention - and each audience reacted differently. Some found the ending to be shocking, some found it to be campy, some were surprised by the twists, some were not. If you were to ask me what the "appropriate" reaction to the film should be, I would simply say, "To be entertained." And on that level, I think it succeeds admirably.