Our month-long focus on horror-themed commentaries concludes with Ti West’s masterful and very funny haunted hotel film, The Innkeepers.
Most horror comedies land heavily on the latter while not quite delivering much in the way of the former, but West’s film mixes the two tones beautifully to give viewers an ever-shifting, always entertaining experience with big laughs and legitimate scares. He’s aided by a pair of terrific lead performances from Sara Paxton and Pat Healy, both of whom keep us smiling in between the creepy thrills. Healy’s a known comedic entity and delivers the goods, but Paxton is a goddamn revelatory delight as a wonderfully goofy, immensely likable character. We can’t help but care what happens to her, and that concern adds a rare emotional weight to the terror.
The film’s Blu-ray release features two commentary track ‐ one with West and members of the crew, and one with West and his two leads ‐ so obviously we gave a listen to the second one.
Keep reading to see what I heard on The Innkeepers commentary.
The Innkeepers (2011)
Commentators: Ti West (writer/director/editor), Sara Paxton & Pat Healy (actors)
1. This is Healy’s first ever commentary as a participant. “I’m excited, and I’ve been listening to these since I had laser discs in the ‘80s.” Paxton replies “Samesies” which prompts West to vocalize his doubt that she owned laser discs too, but she clarifies that she was referring to this being her first commentary too.
2. The old black & white photos are authentic period photos of the actual hotel.
3. Healy asks West why he chose to include the character names in the opening credits ‐ “Starring Sara Paxton As Claire, Starring Pat Healy As Luke” ‐ and the filmmaker replies that it’s because “there are so few characters in the movie, it just felt to me to be appropriate.” He adds that he likes the aesthetics but neglects to explain why he capitalized “as.”
4. Production Designer Jade Healy is not related to Pat.
5. West hadn’t settled on a title yet by the time he finished his rough draft, so he used The Long Weekend as a temp title. Everyone gave him grief about that title not being available at which point he had to explain to them that he’s not an idiot and it was just a placeholder.
6. “It’s the first scare of the movie,” jokes West when Luke (Healy) appears onscreen. For his part, Healy wants only to point out that he’s eating a Slim Jim-like product in this scene and not a Twizzler. “It’s disgusting, and I ate about thirteen of them.”
7. West had seen a Facebook picture showing Healy fresh out of bed, and that’s the hairstyle he wanted Luke to have in the film.
8. “This thing still scares me,” says Paxton in regard to the rocking chair video that Luke shows to Claire. “I’m getting sweaty just looking at it.” She had never seen this popular online gag before, and her reaction in the film is genuine as it was her first viewing of it. She jumps again while watching and recording the commentary. “I hate it, I hate it so much.”
9. West and Healy both love Claire’s flop and groan onto the bed as making something out of nothing ‐ basically finding character and entertainment in an otherwise lifeless scene. “It’s just what I do in my real life,” says Paxton.
10. When Claire turns on the television in the room it’s producer Larry Fessenden’s voice we hear. It’s actually a snippet from his annual “thirty minute marionette puppet show” he puts on every Christmas.
11. Paxton loves Sun Chips.
12. There was originally a peephole POV shot of Claire approaching a door and knocking, but Paxton was apparently unable to complete the scene without laughing so they had to cut it.
13. A fan shared an elaborate theory with Healy involving the idea that Leanne (Kelly McGillis) was actually Luke’s mother and that they had planned out this entire scheme.
14. Healy only had one fanboy question for McGillis. “Did that guy in Witness who is in the grain silo, that got covered in all the grain by Harrison Ford at the end, actually survive in real life? Because he looks like he’s dying.” He neglects to share her reply with the rest of us.
15. The coffee shop where Claire goes for a hot drink is a real location frequented by West and friends during the production of The House of the Devil, and it was the only place still in business when they returned for this film.
16. Paxton “accidentally” clicked on a real porn link during a scene where Claire is browsing on the laptop.
17. Healy points out that he wears his watch on the inside of his wrist and that a “famous actor” does the same in all of his movies. That’s right, Bruce Willis wears his watch that way too. “I accidentally bumped into Bruce Willis the other day,” says Paxton, “like literally. Wham. Walking forward, looking backward.” She makes no mention of his watch.
18. “Snail-buck” is a term no one has ever heard of that West used when he wanted Paxton to move slower. “When you walk slow in a movie it actually looks fast,” he says, “but when you snail-buck in a movie it looks really suspenseful.” Healy points out that great directors like Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia) and Werner Herzog (Rescue Dawn) never told him to snail-buck.
19. Paxton has a dog named Balls.
20. West says that the scene where Luke and Claire discuss the “insecure old actress” played by McGillis made it difficult to cast that role. “A lot of actresses wanted to take that stuff out. Their agents would call me and say they’re interested in meeting, but you have to take that stuff out and we don’t want her to be an actress.”
21. Healy wanted to actually drink the Schlitz beer their characters are imbibing, “but I was anti-that” says West. “Once it gets to the point of no return there’s no going back.”
22. Disappointingly, no one comments on the shot of Claire resting her beer on her forcibly distended belly. Regardless, I’m still immensely entertained by it. *Update!* I think they reference this scene later when they refer to her “bloat” on the drinking day. “I’ll never have Cup o’ Noodles again,” she says.
23. Healy admits (twice) to being a passive aggressive jerk in his real life at times. “If anyone ever called me on it I’m just a big pussy about it.”
24. Paxton actually drew the ghost sketch her character creates. “I am an artist. Look at my skills!”
25. The scene where Luke declares his drunken affection for Claire is among Healy’s favorites. “I played this as totally heartbroken, but it gets huge laughs, and I like that about it.” West also points out that it’s the pivotal scene in the film, saying “If [Paxton’s character] didn’t go in the basement it could have just gone on and become a quirky romantic comedy.”
26. The shot up the stairs from the basement “is the only bogus location in the movie.” The stairwell is a completely different building even though the basement itself is back at the actual hotel.
27. West and Sound Designer Graham Reznick nicknamed Paxton “Vagina-Eye” during the scene in the basement where her close-ups are lit from a flashlight below. I don’t see it personally, and they never explain exactly what they mean. It was one of many nicknames they gave her apparently as she also appears to have had some intestinal issues during production. *Update!* I googled “vagina eye” and don’t recommend you do the same.
28. Healy does a spectacular Al Pacino impression.
29. The screams that Leanne hears while divining in the basement are actually Claire’s from the film’s ending.
30. West had Claire’s inhaler painted “because I couldn’t find a goddamn inhaler that I liked the looks of.” Film directors, amirite?
31. Paxton looks away from the screen while watching the basement sequences where the ghostly old man (George Riddle) appears. “I hate this. It’s just too much.”
32. They point out a ghostly presence in the final shot that I had never noticed across my four previous viewings of the movie. If like me you’re unable to find it yourself it’s visible at the 1:35:53 mark. Or is it?! It is.
33. Paxton plays the flute and is furious that she wasn’t asked to compose the film. Okay, that second part may be an exaggeration, and they all agree Jeff Grace did a fantastic job with the score.
34. The Mike Nichols thanked in the end credits is not the Mike Nichols who directed The Graduate. No one seems to know who this Nichols actually is. Bo Derek and Cheryl Ladd, however, are who you think they are and are thanked because West spoke with them regarding the role that eventually went to McGillis.
Best in Context-Free Commentary
- “Sara, do you wanna talk about your Dutch look?”
- “I wasn’t like trying to imitate Bill Murray in Ghostbusters but I’d just all of sudden realize I was doing it.”
- “Had I let it go a little longer, there was a whole lot of crack in this shot.”
- “This is me pretending like there is not a dude with a bird in the thing.”
- “It’s my post-dump look.”
- “Two things that I discovered about Sara [Paxton] is that she doesn’t know how to run or scream. Two things that are kind of important in a horror movie.”
- “That guy farted in my face.”
The Innkeepers remains a fantastic watch, and this is a terrifically entertaining commentary. All three show an affection for the film and each other, and they’re just as funny unscripted as they are onscreen. If you haven’t seen it yet give the movie a watch and then give this track a listen. Bonus points if you do both in a basement.