Truth or Dare, the latest product from Blumhouse’s scare factory, hits theaters today. The movie’s premise takes the popular party game and raises it to gruesome new heights, as a group of friends head to Mexico for spring break, where they encounter a stranger who coaxes them into playing Truth or Dare—with deadly results. When they head back home, the game—or whatever is controlling it—follows them, and one by one, they’re forced to reveal their darkest secrets or commit horrific acts.
While the movie is rated PG-13, it’s nevertheless filled with deeply unsettling imagery, something its director Jeff Wadlow knows a thing or two about. He made his directorial debut in 2005 with another teen horror movie, Cry Wolf, and has spent the last several years as a writer and producer on two of television’s scarier shows, The Strain and Bates Motel. So we thought we’d ask Wadlow to tell us about the scariest thing he’s ever seen on screen, and how it influenced the way he directs horror.
JEFF WADLOW: The most terrifying thing I’ve seen in a movie was the scene in Poltergeist when the paranormal investigator peels his own face off. That wrecked me. I was a happy, well-rested seven year-old when I saw that film in theaters, and after that the nightmares set in and I was never the same. I saw it In ’82 or ’83, when the movie was in theaters, and I think I was way too young to see it, but because I loved all things Steven Spielberg (who produced the movie), my parents took me. I don’t think they fully comprehended how much it freaked me out. I imagine they told me over and over that it wasn’t real, but the images were so visceral, they were hard to shake. That scene made me scared of the movies for the first time in my life!
The scene was so effective because it was unexpected, realistic, and visceral, and because it played upon a recurring nightmare that a lot of people have of their faces falling apart or their teeth falling out. For me, that’s what the best horror does—it evokes some fear that we have all felt or experienced at some point in our lives.
I think on a subconscious level, that scene has really drawn me to scares based on body horror and self-disfigurement. It’s not a coincidence that the plot of my new movie hinges on the act of cutting out your own tongue out. As a director of horror movies, that scene taught me to keep it real, keep it personal. And don’t be afraid to play with subjectivity. I think in the end, the reveal that the sequence was all in the character’s mind made it even more unsettling. Horror doesn’t have to be literal to be terrifying.
TRUTH OR DARE IS OUT IN THEATERS NOW.