If you haven’t previously come across La casa del fin de los tiempos (The House at the End of Time), we can probably deduce that you haven’t been in Venezuela during the past year. Since its release in July 2013, director Alejandro Hidalgo’s spectral horror film has been a phenomenon in its home country, setting box office records and generally terrifying audiences. The film follows Dulce, played by Venezuelan actor Ruddy Rodríguez, who must return to the scene of a family tragedy thirty years earlier which had dreadful repercussions for her: the house of the title, and somewhere you’d be well advised to avoid.
To mark the film’s US release, we spoke to the director, Alejandro Hidalgo, about his inspiration for the film, his influences, and whether scary movies still scare him.
Hi Alejandro. Where are you at the moment?
Right now I’m in Bogota. I’m working as the curator of a funding project for Colombian film. Last week I was working on the Jury of the Consejo Nacional de las Artes y la Cultura en Cinematografía. My role was to select the best scripts to be subsidized.
How has the reaction been to The House of the End of Times?
Well, the film’s been very successful at the box office. 625,000 people have been to see it. It became the most successful Venezuelan film of 2013, and also the most successful Latin American film in general (in Venezuela). We’re now working on the international translation and marketing to release it in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, as well as the US and Germany.
“It became the most successful Venezuelan film of 2013.”
Were you surprised by how popular it was?
All the effort that we put into the film was so that it would be successful. I fought really hard to make it happen. I always had faith but of course I wasn’t certain. The public spread the word, and I think the film satisfied them as much emotionally as it did intellectually.
Tell us about the film.
The story is about a family that goes to stay in an old house which hides a dark tragedy and where a series of supernatural events and terrifying apparitions keep taking place. Thirty years later the story returns to the house and with the help of a priest the protagonist has to fight against the apparitions which exist there.
Is it a story based on anything or did you invent it?
It’s an original story although it’s influenced by certain genre films which I like a lot. Spanish films like The Orphanage, The Devil’s Backbone, Cronos…
So you’re a Guillermo del Toro fan.
Yeah, his style is cool, horror that’s more psychological than bloody. I like films that involve the audience in a psychological way and can provoke emotions everyone relates to and understands.
“I’ve liked horror since I watched The Exorcist when I was ten years old.”
Can you tell us about your lead, Ruddy Rodríguez?
She started out as a theater actress and was Miss Venezuela, before she moved into television and cinema. She’s very famous in Venezuela and Colombia, and well-known in Peru and Ecuador. It was great we could count on her participation and she was highly involved in the project.
What’s your relationship to the horror genre?
I’ve liked horror since I watched The Exorcist when I was ten years old. It left me traumatized but it was the start of a long-lasting relationship. I don’t think there are that many really good horror films but when something good does come out, I love it. Every once in a while you get an excellent film.
Are you going to work in other genres in future?
My next film is a science fiction/action thriller. I can’t say anything else about it for now. Having a successful film opens new doors and we’re speaking to some producers in Hollywood. Let’s see what happens. Perhaps now there’s a possibility to receive a higher budget and a better technical level. The first film is always the most difficult because you have to earn people’s trust.
What’s the best advice you could give to aspiring horror directors?
You have to watch a lot of these kinds of films to familiarize yourself and to recognize the structure of a script. Above all, you have to construct human characters that the public can relate to. For me, the biggest problem with contemporary horror films is that the filmmakers only focus on frightening the audience rather than developing the characters. And when you don’t care about the characters, you don’t care if they get killed or something happens to them. The story needs to go beyond simple horror so that it involves the public emotionally and genuinely frightens them.
“The biggest problem with contemporary horror films is the filmmakers focus on frightening the audience rather than developing the characters.”
I’ve always wanted to know if horror directors can still feel afraid when they watch horror films. Now you know the trade secrets, is it possible to be genuinely scared by something that isn’t real?
Honestly, you lose some of the fear. You can’t help looking beyond the actual story and so maybe you don’t have the same emotional reaction as the public. Although I saw The Conjuring recently and thought it was frightening. I enjoyed it.
What do you think about Latin American horror films in general?
I’ve only seen a few, Colombian films like El Páramo and Al Final del Espectro. I saw a Uruguayan film called La Casa Muda (The Silent House) which I thought had a very strong sense of horror. There are short films as well, but the truth is that there aren’t that many horror films from Latin America. When a genre director does make a horror film, it’s great because they focus rigorously on the language and the photography. But generally I think directors in Latin America are more likely to make intimate dramas or auteur films. Which is fine.
Wow. I don’t think anything would convince me to do that, to be honest, not even a million dollars.