Speaking as the oldest of four siblings, it’s hard enough for us to agree on a place to go out to eat, let alone collaborate on an entire movie together. However, that isn’t a problem for Rich and Kevin Ragsdale, respectively the director and producer of the new horror film GHOST HOUSE. Rich is both a composer and director who has worked on music videos for artists like Sean Lennon, Avicii, and Lenny Kravitz. His brother Kevin has produced films for scores of directors from Stuart Gordon to Amy Heckerling. Together they’ve crafted GHOST HOUSE, a horror film surrounding a pair of tourists under the curse of a Thai ghost. The Ragsdale brothers spoke to us via email about their inspirations, early influences, and how to make a perfectly spooky sequence.

ComicsVerse: After a long period of torture films dominating Hollywood horror, it feels like ghost and possession horror films are making a comeback. Why do you think this trend has returned?

Rich Ragsdale: It’s hard to pinpoint the specific reasons audience’s tastes shift. But I do think there are diminishing returns with the torture stuff — after a while I think people get inured to it. Of course there are probably larger things at work in the culture that would account for the shift as well, but it’s hard to know what it is. Maybe there is enough terrible shit going down in the world as it is, and we don’t need it in our escapist entertainment. But these things are cyclical, it’ll shift away from the supernatural stuff after audiences get tired of that, too.

Director Rich Ragsdale and actor Mark Boone Junior prepare for a scene

CV: How would you describe your creative partnership as filmmakers? As brothers, did you guys grow up watching horror movies and how did you make the jump from fans to creative partners?

Kevin Ragsdale: Things can get contentious at times, but ultimately I think the way we work together is very complimentary. I think the advantage that many siblings have in working together is that one knows or can anticipate what the other’s thoughts and wants are. There is a creative shorthand. We’ve always been creative partners whether it has been making horror shorts with the family camcorder or playing in rock and roll bands.

As far as movies go… Rich and I lived through the whole cycle of the creation, rise, and fall of the video rental store. What a great time to be alive! The first R-rated movie we saw in the theater was ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. Discovering films like STAR WARS, JAWS, ALIEN, HALLOWEEN, SCANNERS, [and] THE WARRIORS was magical for us. So was sneaking out to see midnight movies like RE-ANIMATOR. There really was nothing like perusing the aisle of the video store when you’re young and picking up films like BASKET CASE and FASTER PUSSYCAT KILL! KILL! Later we segued into the foreign films and then even later in our drug experimentation phase it was Anger and Lynch films. Rich worked at a store in Nashville called Groovy Movies, so we had access to just about anything out there from experimental and horror films to Norwegian midget porn. Looking back, it seems like a pretty natural progression to me, I think.

CLICK: Want more insights into the filmmaking process? Check out our interviews from the New York Asian Film Festival!

CV: What drew you as filmmakers to Thailand as the location of the film?

Rich: Kev’s wife is Thai, so we have spent a good deal of time in Thailand. We love it there. The landscape is incredibly cinematic and the cities are very textured. Also there is a deep well of superstition and folklore to draw from that hasn’t really been explored in American films.

Kevin: After visiting my family in Thailand for an extended period of time, Rich and I knew we just had to make a movie there. It really is a gorgeous backdrop for a movie. We had some pretty good ideas for a ghost story and from a producing standpoint I was like, “Hey, we’ve got a free place to stay.” That was enough to get the ball rolling.

Director Rich Ragsdale preps the shot

CV: What kind of research did you do on Thai folklore for the movie?

Rich: Kev has a huge extended family who are Thai that we got a lot of information from. We also read up on Thai ghosts and also watched quite a few Thai horror films. As mentioned earlier, we have spent a good deal of time there too. Many things in the film are based on experiences over there.

CV: The central antagonist of the movie is a great blend of make-up and performance creating a haunting (no pun intended) character. What were your inspirations for the make-up design and the physicality of the ghost?

Rich: We liked the idea of an angry, vengeful ghost who had died horribly. Her backstory was really Kevin’s brain child. I did some initial drawings early on but the lion share of the design credit goes to Vincent Van Dyke. He killed it. We had a really tight pre-production schedule and Vincent did an incredible job. We even had Vincent build a life sized “puppet-head” of our ghost so in a few shots she could open her mouth really wide and contort in ways not possible with a standard prosthetic make up. And when we finished shooting the puppet, we set it on fire.

The physicality all comes from Wenchu Yang. She is an amazingly talented dancer based in LA. We had done an experimental film together years ago that was built around her ability to create otherworldly movements. So when it came time to cast our ghost, she was our first and only choice. She and I worked out a series of ghost movements that she learned forwards and backwards. We shot it both ways then would reverse the backwards takes in post and mix the two together so it wasn’t a single gimmick but a way to add a little extra weirdness to her gait.

CLICK: For all things scary, check out our Halloween horror series!

CV: Throughout the movie Julie is haunted by these terrifying hallucinations. What goes into the craft of these sequences? How do you decide how long to hold a shot to create tension or what imagery will be the most unsettling for the audience?

Rich: So much goes into crafting the scary stuff — from the performances and the lighting and camera work to the practical effects, it’s all essential. All of the haunting sequences were thoroughly storyboarded as we had a very tight shooting schedule and a limited budget. We executed these as best we could then my editor, Jay Gartland and I played with the footage until we got it to where it is now. Once you are in the edit room you tweak until you feel you have it right. Of course, then you compose the score and use sound design to heighten the tension.

Kevin: Rich is getting to be a master at this stuff. I’m continually in awe of some of the crazy shit he comes up with. I feel that it’s my job to just try to keep pushing his boundaries (he can get lazy at times).

CV: I always feel the best ghost stories comment on a deeper fear beyond the supernatural. GHOST HOUSE has commentary on tourists disrespecting the culture of the countries they travel to, but also the anxieties that come with marriage. What were the fears that influenced you as you crafted the film?

Rich: Having traveled to Thailand several times and having a close relationship with the people there, you begin to develop a sensitivity to how badly many tourist[s] act over there. So it is a bit of a cautionary tale in that respect.

Also for me, the idea of being trapped, helpless and in trouble in a distant land where you don’t speak the language and the customs are completely foreign is very unnerving.

Kevin: I’m fully in tune with the anxiety that comes with marriage so, yeah, I’m glad that came through. I’ve also lived in a few different countries and traveled extensively, so I’ve seen and endured the obnoxious behavior of American tourists. That played an even bigger part of the early versions of the script. We dialed it back because it made the characters a bit too unlikable. The fear of being completely lost in a strange and dangerous place and feeling helpless in the face of an ailing loved one really influenced some of my input to the script.

GHOST HOUSE will open in limited release and on VOD on August 25th

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