The Films That Influenced Blumhouse Television and EPIX's ‘UNHUMAN’ from Director Marcus Dunstan

“No one said high school was easy…”

I joined the High School swim team as a senior because the mom’s of senior athletes were given a flower. I had to quit basketball because I had scored my dream job… working concussions at the Cinema 1&2, and thank goodness the swim team held practice before the sun came up or right after school so I could make the 6:15pm shift at the movie theater. Mom gets a flower. I get to work in showbiz. Win-Win.

However, I had vicious acne. An engineer could not have found a time in my existence wherein (due to the swimsuit) I would be wearing the least in public while I certainly should have been concealing the most… thank you cystic boils.

To say High School can be the collision of hope and horror would be an understatement.

UNHUMAN represented a chance for every single soul involved with the creation of the movie to return to a point of combustible adolescence when the world was only as big as the walls of the High School… where a lifetime of pathos could occur between the hours of 9am and 3pm… inside a fluorescent arena wherein social-life or insta-death was constantly on the line as the terrors of popularity’s fickle fortune may anoint or destroy as it threatens to couple with the body-horrors of puberty… and then there are the ever looming tests, lording teachers, suspicious parents, all or nothing dances, reputation sealing trophies, gut dropping failings, precious victories, boundless hopes and the heart-ripping crushes…

What better soil to grow a frightful film?

With all of the third-rail inspired stakes at the story’s disposal… it still needed a universal grounding rod to bring the experience inward to a place that the prom royalty could relate to just as much as the wallflower; bullying.

Sometimes the bullies in our lives are mental hurdles, sometimes they are genetic obstacles, and sometimes they wear a varsity jacket and seem to have a doctorate in your every soft target, and… sometimes…we realize… we were the bully.

Far too often the characterization of the quintessential bully is a one-note shadow impersonating a three-dimensional life… only existing to be easily hated, brazenly ask for it… and wickedly get it. UNHUMAN presented a rare opportunity to not let a single character hide in clichés, but rather allow the otherworldly horrors of the narrative to reveal each character’s fears, hopes, and heartaches in an effort to understand that bullying comes in all shapes and sizes… it lingers… it festers… for unless we face the frights or perceived faults in ourselves… we risk becoming one.

Transformation is also a theme running throughout the story as each student evolves through a gauntlet of shocks that bring about a change within themselves to become more than they ever thought they could at the start of the journey. A character introduced as a victim may become a hero… and someone who is every bit the cold bully… may learn to become a protector. However; this is a horror movie so if these students aren’t willing to become the best of themselves to survive… they just might devolve into a flesh-craving monster, or get eaten outright.

And there was the key… don’t let anyone, or any grotesque thing, dare change what you love in yourself, your friends… your family… your hopes, your dreams.

High School is but a test, and should you survive its ghastlier components with a few life lessons tucked under your belt and a group of friends who know you, respect you and understand you… then maybe, just maybe the frightful moments of life will have a tough time holding you back…

Best of luck out there, dear reader… nobody said life was easy!

Gratefully,
-Marcus Dunstan

Here are some films that I kept close in my heart as we began our journey… (Special thanks to Eskil Vogt for I read his editorial and selections as an influence to get this contribution to Letterboxed right. Thank you!)

You can check out the full list of films on Horrorville here.

1. The Breakfast Club
John Hughes was a heavy inspiration for his undeniable ability to provide genuine counsel in the formative years from the most unlikely of places. Our wounds didn’t have to be covered… they could be acknowledged. The look, feel, and sound of these teens didn’t talk down to anyone but strove to identify with everyone. Yes, High School life can be just as absurd, harrowing, humorous, and caring as an afternoon spent in Hughes whimsical take on Evanston, Il. This version of detention became the place where the hopes, hurt, and heart of these characters would be set free.

2. Evil Dead 2
Sam Raimi’s classic sequel never stops teaching. It bursts with the voltage of creativity in every nook and cranny. If ever a film existed to prove there is no corner zestful art couldn’t bulldoze a way out of… it is this masterpiece. The tone of its horror is not designed to traumatize but thrill with unbridled adrenaline. No matter what you think is coming… that thought is long gone for the images marching to your eyes are from a mind not of this realm.

3. Raising Arizona
In any other realization… Raising Arizona might dare error too far into a definable genre… but thank goodness there is no other realization so we can experience a movie that gives us a whimsical take on a violent romantic odyssey in the middle of somewhere. Seeing Raising Arizona for the first time was an instant Master Class in forging your own way… no matter what.

4. Swamp Thing (Wes Craven)
Swamp Thing made this list for it has a moment that defines affection in the face of pain with quiet warmth. This moment is also singled out in the review of the film by Roger Ebert and due to that review…I watched this movie and that moment became tucked into my heart as a shield when need be. The moment: having been burned alive, mutated, hunted, beaten, shot, and now missing an arm… the former boyfriend of Adrienne Barbeau’s character rests against a tree, as she, tragically unable to recognize him quietly asks: “Does it hurt?” He softly replies: “Only when I laugh.”

5. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Cameron’s fateful visit to the museum inspired a sequence in UnHuman in which our characters have to face a part of themselves… and reveal more in silence than pages of dialogue ever could. The fact that I only had to mention the name of this movie and that scene to align every single cast member onto the same page as the goal is a testament to how profound a moment John Hughes created.

6. Suspiria (Argento) I watched this living painting through parted fingers when I was waaaaay too young and thank goodness! That movie changed the color of my nightmares. It inspires again and again… bold, savage, brilliant.

7. Planes Trains and Automobiles
Del Griffith walks away with the affection of the movie’s universe and once again John Hughes gives us a moment to hug us forever… and he does it in three words: “I like me.” It can far too many of us far too long to be able to say that about ourselves and mean it… Thank you for the example, Del.

8. Inferno (Argento)
I had a few challenges to make feel fresh with UnHuman in terms of zombies, teens, the woods… but Inferno and Evil Dead 2 are the reminders that nothing HAS to be familiar if the depiction is willing to challenge the norm.

9. Return of the Living Dead
This fun/frightful/punk infused night gone awry is a marvelous balance of horror and humor that doesn’t dare allow the threat to be silly and double-dares the characters to face the impossible with ever more desperate means to rationalize it. A lovely brew of shock and awesome.

10. Twilight Zone: The Movie
The Joe Dante and George Miller segments of this film are dazzling feats of color, menace, imagination and a go-for-broke passion that truly transports the viewer into the imagination of a world without rules… and a plane with diminishing engines… Both of these entries are constants to re-prime the inspiration pump and remind the spirit of how tremendous a rollercoaster for the eyes can be. Thank you for unlocking the door, Mr. Serling… 

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Marcus Dunstan’s screenwriting with his partner, Patrick Melton, include such horror films as FEAST 1, 2 & 3, SAW IV-V-VI & SAW 3D: THE FINAL CHAPTER, PIRANHA 3DD, GOD OF WAR, FINAL DESTINATION 6, and SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK.

Marcus Dunstan’s directing credits include THE COLLECTOR, THE COLLECTION, THE NEIGHBOUR, BLUMHOUSE’S PILGRIM and this summer’s BLUMHOUSE PRESENTS: UNHUMAN.

Dunstan is a producer of THE CANDIDATE, and executive producer of 2022’s horror-thriller TAKE BACK THE NIGHT. Currently, Dunstan and Melton are collaborating once again with Blumhouse and Disney + on a soon to be announced suspense thriller series, as well as the horror film ESCAPE: HALLOWEEN with Live Nation and Insomniac.

You can follow Marcus Dunstan on Instagram and Twitter.