With the recent American release of my film Claustrophobia (retitled Serial Slayer by distributor Lions Gate), and in anticipation of the growing number of site visits from horror fans as a result, I thought it would be fun to add a few fright-related Lists of 9 to the usual batch. So while I'm not comparing my modest thriller to George Romero's 1968 horror classic, and while they're clearly very different types of movies, I did find some unintended similarities between the two. (If you haven't seen my movie yet, then see it!)
- Both are extremely low-budget horror movies. This is a given, but I wanted to point it out since both films were self-financed without industry contacts, festival exposure, or pre-sales. Romero's budget was reportedly $114,000. Mine, thanks to the low cost of digital video, was even lower.
- Most of the action takes place in one house. In both cases, this was for budgetary purposes: it's pretty cheap to have everything happen in one location, so you don't spend time moving around, renting other locations, or dealing with permits. As a side note, both stories take extremely similar approaches to this one-location issue: characters debate whether to stay put or go out and get help, and there are numerous failed attempts to leave the house without getting attacked by the killer(s) outside.
- Opening credits over a car driving around. This came as a surprise to me, when I recently saw Night of the Living Dead again. I'd forgotten it. But in Claustrophobia, Mary Lynn Rajskub drives around for a few minutes while credits roll. Same thing happens in Romero's film. Okay, and maybe a hundred other movies too.
- Notable eyeglasses. Another oddity is that the thick-framed glasses Rajskub wears in my film – which are the actress' own – bear a striking resemblance to the glasses worn by Johnny (Russell Streiner, who utters the immortal line "They're coming to get you, Barbra!"), the guy driving the aforementioned car, in Romero's film.
- The use of TV and radio. Here I may have been semi-consciously influenced by Night of the Living Dead: I admired Romero's use of TV and radio news reports to provide story exposition while adding scope and realism. I utilized them to the same ends in Claustrophobia.
- No phones. Nearly every horror movie out there needs to dispense with the ability to use a telephone for help, or else you have no movie. Romero was in on the gimmick early on: while the house in Night of the Living Dead still has electricity, the phones are inexplicably out. Phone contact has become a harder thing to neutralize in recent times, thanks to the abundance of cell phones. For Claustrophobia, I have the traditional "The line's been cut!" moment for the land line, while giving one character's cell phone a dead battery and the other two characters no cell phones at all.
- Kitchen knives as weapons. When you're trapped in an ordinary house and there's a deadly threat outside, what tools do you have at your disposal? Right: sharp kitchen knives. Judy O'Dea grabs one almost immediately upon taking refuge from flesh-eating zombies in Night of the Living Dead; so too do Claustrophobia's plucky, if confused, heroines.
- Unwillingness to help strangers in need. This is the main thematic link between the two films: the debate over whether strangers deserve to be helped during times of crisis. It's more explicitly embodied by Night of the Living Dead's narrow-minded Mr. Cooper, but the question of helping others vs. self-preservation underscores nearly every scene of my film.
- Judy O'Dea, of course! I thought, either start the list with Judy, or end it with her, since obviously the actress, who starred as the demented Barbra in Night of the Living Dead and is featured in Claustrophobia's opening scene, is the one entity that inarguably connects the two films.