Boone County, Kentucky has a dark past. In 1856, a slave named Peggy Garner fled Boone with her family. She slit her daughter’s throat when a gang of evil men caught them at Joseph Kite’s house in Cincinnati. Peggy killed to save her daughter from a life of slavery. The Strangers have come to Boone County to kill for fun.
On March 9, The Strangers: Prey at Night hits theaters. In Prey at Night, a road trip to a mysterious abandoned trailer park leads to an intense game of cat and mouse with the masked thrill-killers from the 2008 nail-biter returning to the big screen.
I was invited to the set late one summer night in 2017. Far from screaming distance to the city, the location is eerie and remote. I drove to set alone and I was relieved when I finally spotted crew members and cast at the site. I parked off an unnamed gravel road and a shuttle carried me deeper into the set where the Production Designer took me on a tour.
“56 acres is what this particular piece of land is,” Production Designer Freddy Waff explains as he shows me around the set, a trailer park. “I know way more about mobile homes than I ever wanted to know. These are all 1970 up to 1986 because they have more character and we’re trying to create a timeless feel. New mobile homes almost look like houses, but these are mobile homes in the ‘best’ sense of mobile homes. They were trucked in over three weeks and we cut in driveways and built decks. It’s based on a few places I was taken as a kid on vacation.”
“Here’s one of our Strangers trucks.” Freddy smacks the hood of two tone pickup truck parked in the driveway of one of the mobile homes. It’s the reddish brown and cream, splotched with Bondo putty and rust. It’s every pickup you remember from 80s cinema. A redneck patina. “We have six of these things and they all have their own job to do in the Strangers movie.”
“So this is ‘pink’ trailer. It’s dressed and ready to be shot next week. We were trying to keep it timeless. When we went to real trailer parks, they seemed underdressed. For the story we didn’t want it to look dated and the real parks seemed too much like a time capsule.” There are the progressing heights of the occupants’ children marked along the end of a dividing wall. A nice touch.
“I’m a big fan of crazy wallpaper if you use it in the right way.” Freddy shows a florid print on the wall. It’s romper room chic. “There’s a weird and cool sense of style to these things. You wouldn’t think to put those two words together ‘style’ and ‘mobile home’ but mobile homes weren’t always associated with crazy meth heads. They started building them in the 50s as getaways for people with money. There were a couple of trailer parks in Palm Springs that were pushed as vacation destinations.”
There are foxes, raccoons and deer about. Freddy closes the door to keep the wildlife out and we head on to another trailer. This set goes on and on. It’s big and judging from the van wrecked into the front of one of the mobile homes, Strangers promises to be an action packed movie. “This is where all of the trouble begins.” Freddy directs us to one of the ‘hero trailers.’ Inside a large Magnavox Astro Sonic console hi-fi home stereo sits by the door. The Astro Sonic is from an era when home entertainment components doubled as furniture. A Simon & Garfunkel LP is on the turntable. “Yeah, this is a nod to the first movie.” A vinyl recording of Gillian Welch’s “My First Lover” was used to great effect in The Strangers. “We wanted this to be a place that you could go or would go…it’s very comforting.” The room is furnished in exposed wood framed furniture with plaid cushions. Classic 70s printed retro gauche.
We’re now in a large picnic area. A police car is on a small paved drive, lights flashing blue and red. I’m observing from the producer’s chair seated directly behind director Johannes Roberts. He’s fresh off the surprise success of his latest film 47 Meters Down. In that film, two young women are trapped in a shark observation cage on the ocean floor. It’s incredibly intense. So is Johannes. He runs back and forth from the action to his director’s chair. He watches the monitors with extreme focus. He knows exactly what he wants from the night’s work and the entire crew is frantically working to make it all happen.
During a brief break, I got to sit down with star Bailee Madison. “Kinsey is someone who I was so drawn to immediately from reading her on the page. I have to play her and bring her to life. She’s a fierce-minded, original and follows her own ideas about what needs to be done. She’s very misunderstood. She’s dealing with this terrible situation with her family. She’s so disconnected but she so desperately wants to be connected. Through this journey she’s thrown into a place where she has to understand what really is important. It’s a very fun and totally different thing than I’ve ever played before.”
On The Strangers, “I think what was so great about the original is that from the moment that you pick up there’s a sense of dread and sorrow. You feel as if you’re watching the lives of two people that you shouldn’t be. It’s almost as if “the strangers” are the audience and ‘I shouldn’t be watching this.’ And this film picks up on the same dread and the same sorrow but in a new invented situation.”
On road tripping with her real-life family, “I road tripped once. I drove with my mom and my sister and my dog from L.A. to Florida. My sister was pregnant. I was fifteen and my mom was probably going through menopause. So, there were like so many hormones in the car and my dog was throwing up but it was a really beautiful and fun trip. We stayed in this beautiful log cabin. As we were driving up there we realized that it was very secluded and it was all glass. So, we all slept in the same bedroom downstairs. If you’re out in the middle of nowhere, it’s scary no matter what’s going on.”
On horror movies, “I went to see Get Out with a friend of mine, and the one gory scene with Bradley Whitford, and Bradley’s a friend of mine, and I was like ‘Bradley!’ and I kept turning away. The Shining was the first movie that I saw and I remember loving it. I used to watch Hide and Seek with Dakota Fanning. I still cry and scream and my knees are up on my theater seat. I still get scared here of the masks.”
On her co-stars, “Lewis Pullman and I get along really well. He and I had a really great connection from the moment we started. Obviously, Christina Hendricks…we love her so much.”
Bailee's next shot was set up, so I was guided to the makeup effect trailer. I was introduced to an FX artist named House. He's got an actor in the chair and he's about to apply a gore effect. “Sometimes with FX its more about the magic look of it versus what may be ‘real.’ If it rings true to the audience, then you’ve done your job.” He schools me on how to create a very convincing throat cutting effect on one of the cast (who I won’t name here in the interest of not spoiling the film). Watching House work is fascinating. He does in minutes what I’ve seen makeup FX enthusiasts struggle to pull off over the course of days. He shares some other secrets to the gags used in the film, but I don't want to spoil any of the splatter here.
The trio of masked psychos from The Strangers has become iconic to horror fans. Dollface, Pin-Up Girl and the Man in the Mask all return. There is more action in Prey at Night than in it's predecessor and Damian Maffei is menacing as the Man in the Mask. Prey at Night promises to turn the dial that The Strangers set at 10 up to 11.
THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT
Release: March 9, 2018
Director: Johannes Roberts
Writers: Bryan Bertino and Ben Ketai
Cast: Christina Hendricks, Martin Henderson, Bailee Madison, Lewis Pullman
Producers: Wayne Marc Godfrey, James Harris, Robert Jones, Mark Lane
A family’s road trip takes a dangerous turn when they arrive at a secluded mobile home park to stay with some relatives and find it mysteriously deserted. Under the cover of darkness, three masked psychopaths pay them a visit to test the family’s every limit as they struggle to survive. Johannes Roberts directs this horror film inspired by the 2008 smash hit THE STRANGERS.