Horror film-maker faces up to his fears

Film-maker Jason Blum (above, outside the White House) says Halloween was the biggest holiday when he was a child.
Film-maker Jason Blum (above, outside the White House) says Halloween was the biggest holiday when he was a child.PHOTO: NYTIMES

Jason Blum, who produced hits such as Get Out, was scared of his former boss Harvey Weinstein and is terrified of meeting actresses alone

WASHINGTON • I wanted to meet Jason Blum, the king of low-budget horror movies, at the scariest place on earth so that we could talk about Halloween, our favourite holiday, and what frightens us.

We thought about going to the Hitchcock grave in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery until we discovered it was the wrong Hitchcock.

We mulled, sitting on the front porch of the Doyle House in Hollywood, where Jamie Lee Curtis had the worst baby-sitting gig in history in the original Halloween (1978).

But in the end, Blum decided that the most chilling place on the planet was a home right down the block from my office that many see as haunted by a bloated, wailing orange apparition.

"I think the biggest threats to humanity come from this house right here and the people inside," he says, as we stand outside the White House on a balmy October night that fortuitously happened to be Friday the 13th.

Blum, a Hollywood producer, takes this stand even though he thinks goose bumps about United States President Donald Trump have buoyed Blumhouse, his hit factory that has made Get Out (2017), Sinister (2012), Insidious (2010) and Paranormal Activity (2007).

Blumhouse also produced the Oscar-winning Whiplash (2014) and won Emmys for The Normal Heart (2014) and The Jinx (2015), the eerie six-part documentary that ended with real estate scion Robert Durst caught on a hot microphone whispering to himself in a bathroom about his dead wife and dead best friend: "What the hell did I do? Killed them all of course."

Blum, 48, is now teaming up with director John Carpenter for the final Halloween, with Curtis returning as Laurie Strode.

In the time Blum and I were having dinner, his latest, Happy Death Day, a ghoulish twist on Groundhog Day (1993), leapt to No. 1 at the weekend box office.

"I think when people are scared, they like to see movies where the scares are not real," he says. "The current administration's been terrific for the scary-movie business. It's been our best year ever. I think Get Out did four times the business it would have done if Hillary had been president."

Blum frets about the White House swallowing his former communications chief, Josh Raffel, who left him to become Mr Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner's lieutenant, much like the hero of Get Out is swallowed by "the sunken place".

He jokes that he wants to rescue Raffel from the "cult" because "I'm scared Jared is drinking his blood".

Over a mango lassi at the Bombay Club, Blum explains how he inherited the mantle of film-makers Val Lewton and Roger Corman as a master of shadows.

"My favourite thing about horror is that it attracts this great group of nuts, in which I include myself," Blum says. "I was always kind of an oddball. I collected my fingernails, for instance.

"Halloween was definitely the biggest holiday when I was a kid. We started making our Halloween costumes in August. Me and my mum. My mum was a single mum."

He grew up in New York. He was four when his parents got divorced. His mother, Shirley, was an art history professor at State University of New York at Purchase and his father was Irving Blum, an art dealer in Los Angeles, who was the first to show Warhol's soup cans.

At Vassar College, Blum took a course on Hitchcock, which got him hooked. His roommate was future director Noah Baumbach.

Asked about his five-year stint from 1995 to 2000 working for producer Harvey Weinstein in Weinstein's film acquisition unit, Blum looks pained.

He says that he is "reprogramming" Weinstein to a different place in his brain and that he knew his boss was dark, just not that dark.

"That's what we all thought, like, 'Yeah, he's gross, Harvey's being a scumbag again' - not 'He was a rapist.' "I was in his hotel room when he was in his robe. He was in his robe all the time when we were travelling at film festivals. He worked 24 hours a day and he was always in his robe."

When Blum lost the distribution rights to Run Lola Run (1998) in a Toronto negotiation, after Weinstein changed the terms at the last minute, Weinstein ordered Blum to run over to the hotel of the rights holders and stay there until they changed their minds.

Weinstein rushed up to Toronto, went into a hotel suite he always kept and threw his lit cigarette.

"And the lit cigarette hit me," Blum says. "Harvey knew he shouldn't have done it and he said, 'I was going for the garbage can.' And I was so upset at the other side, and attracted to being abused, that I was fully on Harvey's side. I was like, 'Harvey, don't worry about it. I'm so mad too. I can't believe what they did to us.'

"It was total Stockholm syndrome. He bullied me, he threw a lit cigarette at me. And I tried to hide that it happened, trying to protect him. I mean, it was very abusive.

"When he called, you would go into a sweat. Every time he called, I was terrified. And wherever I was, from the time I was under that contract, I was never free.

"I went into cognitive therapy after I was there 12 months because I had depression."

He said he is struggling "to figure out why I chose to stay in a place for years where I was abused. He didn't force me to stay there. I could have quit at any time. Why didn't I quit?"

He did learn a lot from Weinstein, he says, including the frenetic pace and the never-give-up attitude.

But in other ways, he has modelled his company to be the opposite of that one. He never micromanages.

He has always made it a practice not to meet actresses alone.

"It might be because of Harvey because I'm terrified the actress will walk out of the door and say I did something wrong. So there's no way they can do that if there's someone else in the room.

"It's the power dynamic," says Blum, who has a two-year-old daughter with Lauren Schuker, who is in her early 30s and a former Wall Street Journal reporter.

"You get a 23-year-old actress sitting in your office, I think they feel like, do they flirt, do they not flirt? It's just uncomfortable. It just lingers in the air. And I don't want it lingering in the air."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 06, 2017, with the headline 'Horror film-maker faces up to his fears'. Print Edition | Subscribe