Happy Death Day is More Than Just “Groundhog Day in a Scary Skin”

The head honcho of Blumhouse talks Happy Death Day, The Purge, Glass, Halloween and more...

Producer Jason Blum is the man with the plan at Blumhouse Productions, the rapidly expanding movie and TV empire that is best known to Den of Geek readers as the home of some of the best horror output of the past few years. With successful franchises like Paranormal Activity, The Purge, Sinister and Insidious already established for the company, Blumhouse went through the roof earlier this year with two hugely popular standalone films: Jordan Peele’s Get Out and M. Night Shyamalan’s Split — the latter of which turned out not to be a standalone movie at all, but a twisted, secret sequel to his 2000 movie Unbreakable.

The latest Blumhouse horror ride is Happy Death Day, in which director Christopher Landon (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones) throws star Jessica Rothe (La La Land) into a time loop where she’s forced to wake up on her birthday and experience her death at the hands of a masked killer over and over again. We spoke with Blum via phone about putting this well-worn premise into a horror suit, and also asked him about The Purge TV series, the upcoming Purge prequel, the company’s Carpenter-approved reboot of Halloween, and of course Glass — Shyamalan’s next entry in the Unbreakable saga.

Den of Geek: Happy Death Day tells a story that has been told before in other genres. What attracted you to telling it this way?

Jason Blum: You know what I loved about it is, it never occurred to me to do a time loop movie or Groundhog Day in a scary skin, and anything that feels new and different, and if I like it, if it’s a good story and it’s different, those are things we tend to gravitate towards.

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Whether it’s done in a horrific way or in a comedic way, it seems that you could keep telling this story and it really grabs people.

Well I think it very directly ties into wish fulfillment. I think every day people do things they regret and wish they could do over, so to get to see someone who gets to live a day over and over and over, there’s a lot of wish fulfillment in that.

The other thing I liked about this was that it had a little bit of a nod towards a more old school type of slasher movie. Is that the feeling that you and the filmmakers wanted to get across?

Yeah. Chris was very kind of focused on what the killer would look like, and it’s been a while since there’s been kind of a fun slasher movie, so I think we were trying to kind of check that box also.

Anything that was different about the way this one was approached production-wise?

One of the things that I think was unique is that Chris, he didn’t block shoot, so he didn’t want to just stay in one room and shoot twelve days. He kind of wanted to shoot through each day in the different locations. We didn’t do that every time, but for a lot of the time he shot in real time through each day, which I think helped the actors, and I think made the movie a lot better.

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What is it about his sensibility that you like and that you felt would be right with this?

Well, I’ve made four movies with Chris. I think he’s an incredibly talented writer/director. I think he has a very specific voice, which I recognized. I can recognize his movies whether we produce them or not. I think Happy Death Day is really 95 percent Chris Landon. Sometimes it’s less than that, but he’s very kind of wickedly funny. He’s funny with kind of a sick side, and he’s a little perverse, and I think that comes out in his writing and his directing and it certainly comes out in Happy Death Day.

I seem to remember us talking a while back and you said you wanted to see Blumhouse explore more of the comedic side of the horror genre.

Oh yeah. We’re doing a horror comedy in television, which is where it’s an easier place to do it. I don’t want to do a full-on horror comedy, but I definitely like scary movies that have funny bits in them or funny parts of them. The Paranormal Activity series, especially as we went along, had a lot of jokes in it. There are a lot of jokes in Insidious. I think oftentimes movies are scarier if you let the audience off the edge of their seat for a while and make ’em laugh and you get ’em relaxed, and then you can scare them even more ’cause they’re not ready for it.

Read the full Den of Geek NYCC Special Edition Magazine right here!

Blumhouse has had one hell of a year with Get Out and Split coming one after the other. Have you had any chance to reflect on that and think about what that means in terms of the future of the company?

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Oh yeah, definitely. I think about it a lot. It’s certainly has opened up a lot of doors for us, and I want to take advantage of that and not just keep doing what we’re doing, but expanding and improving what we’re doing. Hopefully we’ll see the fruits of that next year. We’re certainly, in TV, we have Sharp Objects and the Roger Ailes series and the Purge TV series, and on the movie side we have Insidious in January. We have the next Purge movie in the summer, and then we have Halloween, and then we have Glass, and then we have Spawn and Five Nights of Freddy soon after that, so we have a lot of stuff in store and hopefully we’ll keep learning and keep growing.

With The Purge kind of splitting off into TV and also continuing with the movie series, how will they be different from each other?

Well, the series isn’t totally written, but we’re working on kind of exploring what it’s like to live the rest of the year in a world where you can kill someone on a certain day of the year. It definitely makes you think twice if you’re driving and you give someone the finger or something like that.  So we’re definitely thinking about different things that might happen in a society where killing was legal 12 hours a year. There are a lot of things that you don’t think about. You could commit a murder, and then somehow make it seem like it happened on Purge Night and get away with it. There are a lot of things that you can do with that idea, and we’re trying to think of all those different situations in that world.

With the next movie being a prequel, do you envision a fifth movie could go into the future and pick up where we left off with Part 3? We left off in a very relevant and spooky kind of place with that one.

It did, right. Hopefully we’ll be around to see it.  I don’t know if we’re gonna make Purge 5. I certainly hope we get to, and if Purge 4 comes out well and does well, I would think that we would. I don’t know what we’re gonna do with it, but that’s a good idea.

What can you tell us about Glass?

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I’ve read the script and the script is actually amazing, and he is very into it. I cannot wait to see the movie. I’ll leave it at that.

With Halloween, you’ve got Jamie Lee Curtis coming back and David Gordon Green directing and John Carpenter giving his blessing. How do you anticipate picking up the flavor and legacy of the original film?

Well, we’re still working on the script, although we start shooting the movie pretty soon, and we’re trying to thread a needle so that it connects to the Halloween franchise, but also that it feels fresh and different and new, and it’s always hard to find that balance, but hopefully David’ll find it, and I think we’re getting pretty close.

How exciting was it to have Jamie Lee Curtis agree to return to the series?

It was great. It was great, and we had a great meeting. We actually had a couple meetings and she’s a lot of fun. She’s super enthusiastic. She’s going to be an executive producer on the movie too, and she’s a terrific, creative partner to have on Halloween. So to have her and John Carpenter executive producing the movie, we feel very lucky.

What are some other projects that are maybe under the radar that you can’t wait for people to see or that might catch people by surprise?

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We have a couple of movies that we’re going to release next year that we haven’t announced yet, so I can’t tell you, but I can tell you that there will be a couple more movies out next year that I am really excited about, and we’re still tinkering with them and still figuring out when we’re going to release them, but you will hear soon enough and they’ll be sometime next year.

Happy Death Day is out in theaters today (Friday, October 13).