The writer-director gives us the scoop on the After Dark HorrorFest selection

The After Dark HorrorFest 2007 hits theaters this Friday, November 9, and our very own Mushy got a chance to talk to Zev Berman, the writer-director of one of the 8 films from that series, Borderland

How did you come up with the idea for Borderland?

Zev Berman:The film is based on true events that took place on the US/Mexican border in 1989. I was down there with some buddies. We'd been traveling around the country for several months in a VW bus. We decided to drive across the border into Mexico, and as we crossed the border we ran into a manhunt for a missing Texas college student. The Mexican Army was down there looking for him. A short while later, a drug cartel was discovered; a cartel that had gotten involved with the occult. It became evident that these people had abducted and ritually sacrificed this boy to 'protect' their drug operation. The horrific experience stuck with me. Years later, I approached my friend Eric Poppen to co-write the script, and we developed the idea together.

Since it seems that audiences have gotten a bit comfortable with certain forms of violence and on screen scares, in what ways did you try and subvert their expectations with Borderland?

Zev Berman: I'm a big fan of unconventional violence. I think if you're going to take on violent material, you have to subvert audience expectations, otherwise you run the risk of playing into their comfort level. Who wants that, right? Thriller and Horror fans thrive on being kept off balance. I do. Strings of violent gags don't scare people. If anything, they reduce the movie experience to watching an autopsy. To me, violence, when done right, is shocking and unpredictable. What ever happened to suspense? When the filmmaker decides to focus on the onscreen violence, it takes you out of the story. That's when an image can become somewhat pornographic, when the filmmaker focuses on a violent image to the exclusion of the story. It looses its power. It plays up the titillation of watching something extreme. That's superficial, and it's not my bag. I want to get under your skin! Inside your head! Look, we've seen it all before. We as storytellers have to create the right context for the story so it can take on significance.

When you think the story's moving in one direction, I'll send it in another. When you think someone's in danger, something else happens. A character is menaced, but then survives, only to get caught twenty minutes later. Thrillers and Horror allow you to break all the rules, and you should, otherwise what's the point? What wonderful genres.

Audiences want a natural catharsis. They want to leave the theater feeling spent. That's pleasurable, but I also appreciate stories that don't have easy resolutions. In this way, you can offer a catharsis, but also subvert it. At the end of Borderland a character's humanity hangs in the balance. It's fun to set up the perfect revenge fantasy moment, and then take it somewhere deeper. Someone in the audience might be saying 'Yeah! Kill him!' and then say 'Eeeh, wait a minute. That's not what it's supposed to feel like.' Hopefully they walk away having gone through a gut wrenching experience and they've also got something to chew on.

What was the most difficult part of making Borderland?

Zev Berman: Pre-production. Our financing was hanging in the balance as the cast and crew were assembling to shoot the movie in Mexico. To look out in the parking lot, and see row upon row of honey wagons, and know that we might have to tell everyone the next day to go home gave me constant stomach cramps. My lawyer called to advise me at one point that I should abandon the project. My producer and I decided to tough it out, stay the course, and things fell into place at the last possible second. Here we are, with a movie we are very proud of.

Is there something you learned while making Borderland that you didn't know before? Something that hit you after the production was over?

Zev Berman: There are events in this life that we might have some effect over, but mostly there are circumstances completely beyond our control. You have a responsibility to do your best nonetheless, watch out for other people, and enjoy the ride.

Why do you think horror films are so popular now? They seem bigger than they've ever been?

Zev Berman:People often talk about horror films emerging in cycles, but it's generally considered to be a genre that never goes out of style. When we shot Borderland in 2005, we noticed a number of films coming out after us that were reflecting similar themes. I chalk up part of that to a post 9/11 world. Clearly Americans are feeling vulnerable and we should be. We've made a mess of things globally. These are dark times.

Maybe we're all scared shitless by what Bush is doing. Maybe we go see scary flicks so we can feel comforted when the lights come up and it's all over. Maybe that helps us settle into the fantasy that things are really all right with the world. Walking out of the theater able to wiggle your fingers and toes is comforting. Well, things aren't all right. I want that sense of unease to linger! I want people to wake up at night, pooled in their own sweat!

At the end of the day, I'm not out to be an expert on horror. I want to craft visceral experiences. I never set out to make a traditional horror film. I love deep scares. I want to rattle some cages, not work within tired formulas that we've all seen before.

What's it like being involved with the AFTER DARK HORROR FEST? Do you feel that maybe it's like Sundance for Horror Films?

Zev Berman: After Dark has been doing a great job. We recently saw the trailer and poster and were blown away by the imagination and creativity they are showing. I love the sense of an event they create, and fans seem to be getting really excited. We're happy to be a part of it!

What are you working on next?

Zev Berman: Top secret!

You can catch Borderland and the other films of the After Dark HorrorFest 2007 in theaters from November 9-18.