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Q&A: Director Richard Gray Talks His Underground Horror “MINE GAMES”

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Out today on DVD from Phase 4 Films, MINE GAMES departs from the typical cabin-in-the-woods horror scenario—by departing from the cabin and going subterranean. Australian director/co-writer Richard Gray discussed his first venture into horrific territory with FANGORIA.

In MINE GAMES (previously known as THE EVIL WITHIN), a group of friends (played by a cast including Briana Evigan of MOTHER’S DAY, SORORITY ROW and THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL and Julianna Guill from the FRIDAY THE 13TH remake and the first two MY SUPER PSYCHO SWEET 16 movies) head up to a forest cabin and then detour to an abandoned mine that they decide to explore. What they discover is an evil presence that gets into their heads, leading them to experience horrific visions that cause their sanity to unravel. Gray will soon be exploring further nasty mental games with the remake of AUDITION; come back to this site tomorrow for more on that project!

FANGORIA: Can you talk a little about how MINE GAMES came to be?

MINEGAMESGRAY1RICHARD GRAY: I first read the screenplay, written by a guy named Ross McQueen, back in Australia a number of years ago. At the time, it was set in Australia and had quite a different setting, but I’ve always loved a twist, and I was intrigued by there not being a typical antagonist, and that that antagonist might come from within the group in a way we hadn’t seen many times before. I hadn’t tackled a thriller or horror film before, so I began work with the writer to adapt it for the U.S., and found some places in Washington State where we could shoot it.

FANG: How did you find those locations? It must have been difficult to find settings that had the right atmosphere but were also safe to film in.

GRAY: We used a combination of things. We were in a part of Washington where there were a lot of old, closed-down coal mines, so we used those for the mine exteriors. Then we filmed inside the lava tubes under Mt. Saint Helens, on the Oregon/Washington border, which were fantastic and spectacular. And then we built sets to connect the cells and bridges and the various other elements we needed.

FANG: Did you take any cues from past films of this type, like THE DESCENT?

GRAY: You know, not so much. What we concentrated on were things like LORD OF THE FLIES and other stories where friends turn on each other, rather than monster or slasher films. What we found interesting was the mental breakdown; since MINE GAMES is more of a psychological thriller with horrific elements than a straight horror movie, we were more interested in digging into the psychological side of things. We tried to offer something a little bit different.

FANG: You mentioned that you hadn’t done a horror film before this one; was the genre something you’d always wanted to try, or were you inspired by reading this particular screenplay?

GRAY: I had always wanted to try it. I started with a romantic drama [SUMMER CODA], but I had made much edgier stuff in film school, so when I read this, I thought it was something I could handle. We had very little money—this was as indie as you can get—and we wanted to push the limits of what we could create with a small budget, and it seemed to me, because of the limited locations, that this was something we could have a crack at. Also, since it wasn’t straight horror, I felt it would be a slightly easier transition for me to do something that concentrated on character and performance, and would be a good stepping stone into a different genre than I’d been doing.

FANG: Did you cast any Australians in the film, or are they all from America?

GRAY: It was all cast out of America. We wanted a group from different types of backgrounds. Joseph Cross has done films like MILK and LINCOLN, whereas Briana is known for the STEP UP franchise, Julianna was in FRIDAY THE 13TH and Alex Meraz is from the TWILIGHT franchise. So it was a variety of actors with a variety of training, and we met up and had a beer with each of them, and just wanted to make sure they converged together as a group, and would feel like proper friends. Not having much money, we all lived at this extended-stay motel during the shoot; we’d often wrap at 4 a.m. because we had to work a lot of nights, and we’d all come back and have barbecues and drink and talk and get ready for the next day. So it was important that the group was willing to bond, and we had an amazing time.

MINEGAMESGRAY2

FANG: How did they take to shooting down in the mines?

GRAY: It was hard; it was definitely claustrophobic and cold and dusty, but I guess that kind of helped. Once you were down there, after a few hours your eyes adjusted, but you could still scare yourself, so I think it fed the performances that the mines were real. It was kind of cool that we actually felt a bit lost down there. We were close to Seattle, so of course it rained every day, and that atmosphere kind of added to the feeling.

FANG: Were there any accidents or close calls while you were filming?

GRAY: No, we were pretty good. I mean, it was very hard to move the Condors around with the lights, so we had a few mishaps with those, and it was difficult being way out at this cabin that was really in the middle of nowhere—in this place called North Bend, where they shot TWIN PEAKS. It was a long way from anything, and we couldn’t even get the makeup truck up the driveway, it was so steep. We did feel like we were kind of out there by ourselves, which was a good thing in the end.

FANG: Where has the movie played prior to its American release?

GRAY: It played the Melbourne International Film Festival and quite a few other festivals around the world, including Aruba, which was a fantastic opportunity. The festival tour was probably my second favorite part of the MINE GAMES experience after the actual shooting, because it was just amazing to be connected to enthusiasts and other filmmakers who were all trying to do the same thing. You get kind of distanced from your movie once you go into release, but it’s in that little bit of time, that festival period, where I get the most enjoyment.

FANG: And I imagine Aruba was a nice change of pace from your shooting locations.

GRAY: Yes [laughs], no one was complaining when they were invited to Aruba, that’s for sure! It was a fun festival, and whenever you get an excuse like that to travel—basically, any festival that sends me an airplane ticket, I’m there, but Aruba in particular. I think I e-mailed them back before it even cleared my mailbox.

FANG: The movie was called THE EVIL WITHIN at a certain point; did the title have to be changed because of the upcoming video game with the same name?

GRAY: Yeah; I’m a bit out of the loop on that, but I never wanted the title to be changed. To me, the film was always called MINE GAMES, and I’m not sure what happened there, but I’m happy it’s back to that title. THE EVIL WITHIN did work well for the film, because it’s about mental illness and what happens when it’s not treated right, but I’m very happy it’s called MINE GAMES again.

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About the author
Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold has been a member of the FANGORIA team for the past three decades. After starting as a writer for the magazine in 1988, he came aboard as associate editor in 1990 and two years later moved up to managing editor. He now serves as editor-in-chief of the magazine while continuing to contribute numerous articles and reviews, as well as a contributing editor/writer for this website.
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