Ever since filmmaker John Carpenter sat himself in front of a synthesizer and worked out the now-iconic soundtrack for his 1978 slasher classic Halloween, synthesizers and horror movies have been inextricably linked. Director-turned-musician Carpenter managed an accidental classic of the genre with his eerie electronic themes, and now the similarly synth-inclined duo Boy Harsher are turning Carpenter's paradigm on its head as musicians-turned-directors on their new horror short film, The Runner.
The last time Boy Harsher — the duo of Jae Matthews and Gus Muller — were in Orlando, they played to a sold-out and sweaty crowd at Stonewall. This week sees them airing new work in Orlando finally, but not in the way you might expect.
Boy Harsher's very newly released debut horror short, The Runner, will be screening in Orlando as a one-night only event, DIY drive-in style (though without the cars) at the patio behind Lil Indies.
Though Muller and Matthews themselves will not be present, there's plenty of Boy Harsher's music — and even a performance clip or two — to be found in this chilling, heavily atmospheric short film starring Kris Esfandiari (King Woman, Miserable).
Boy Harsher spoke to Orlando Weekly about favorite films and making pictures and a new album simultaneously.
What was the initial burst of inspiration for wanting to create this film?
JM: There were a couple things going on — a perfect storm, if you will. We always had an idea of this solemn, sorta desperate, fearful character in the back of our minds. But we never had a moment to compile her narrative pieces. However, during the pandemic and subsequent isolation, suddenly we had time. Everyone had these livestream plans, which we felt we could maybe trick a bit and present a film.
Simultaneously, Gus was working on a solo album, somewhat in response to live events being on hiatus. It was not likely that Boy Harsher would play any shows in 2020, maybe even 2021. Somewhere in there, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and needed time to rest. It was then we started talking about that desperate character, but she was more fully formed: covered in blood and running through the woods. We had such a sad time, we decided we should do what would bring us joy and that was making this film.
Is it as unfair to ask about the films that inspired you as it is to ask about musical inspirations?
JM: For this film in particular, we pulled from our classic Boy Harsher film faves such as Andrzej Zulawski's Possession, David Lynch's Lost Highway and the Coen brothers' Blood Simple. Blood Simple in particular was a heady influence, as we looked to its cinematic techniques to understand efficient filmmaking. Like The Runner, Blood Simple was a film made under monetary and time constraints — yet it so eloquently tells the story.
Horror films tend to rotate and I wouldn't say they were particular inspirations for The Runner. David Cronenberg's body horror films made a big impression on my young mind. I love Rabid and The Brood and, of course, Videodrome. Recently, I thoroughly enjoyed Ari Aster's Hereditary and Natalie Erika James' Relic. The Thing is classic. We just rewatched that the other night and you gotta love those practical special effects.
What's your favorite memory of making the film?
JM: It was a very stressful shoot — I think we were out of time and money even before we started! And it was during a strange weather pattern, bringing very cold temperatures and non-stop rain to Massachusetts in July. Despite the overwhelming conditions, it was unreal to be on set, watching the monitor and seeing this strange little thing come alive.
We rented out this really funny motel which sits directly on the peak of the Whitcomb Summit, and every morning we woke up in a cloud. Literally, the place was always enveloped by this stubborn fog. I have fond memories of drinking coffee and going over the day and looking into this white void. Everyone was putting in their all and so excited about The Runner. It was just incredible. And at night, we'd sit on the porch and sip whisky and catch our collective breath.
Your upcoming album serves as both your newest stand-alone record and the film's soundtrack. How did you approach composing this music?
GM: Well, the idea for the film came after five songs were recorded. The concept of the soundtrack was a way for us to tie all the songs together. We needed a way to incorporate the tracks with vocal features. It was a backwards filmmaking process. The final three songs were written specifically for the film, so this was definitely a different songwriting process. The track "The Ride Home" is the best example. We hadn't filmed yet, but we had a pretty clear vision of how the scene would play out. It needed to be smoky and intimate, but also a little scary. We also knew the beats it needed to hit and how the track should evolve. We've never written a song with such strict parameters.
Where did the idea to send the movie out on a little tour come from?
JM: When we made the film, we assumed the project was destined for streaming in some sense. Maybe packaged as a livestream, always a virtual experience. We announced the film when we announced the record without any plans otherwise. But when we booked a Boy Harsher show in Los Angeles, our booking agent mentioned that this particular venue had a theater, and would we want to screen the film as well? It felt like this fun way to celebrate the record and the show, so we said why not?
But then! Multiple promoters and theaters expressed interest. We were a little shocked. I mean, we love this movie and are proud, of course, but we did not realize there was that much interest in screenings. It's amazing to us. Sadly, our live events have been postponed, but in this funny way the film gets to live on with this little cinema tour.