Interview: ‘The Final Girls’ Director Todd Strauss-Schulson


One of our favorite films from the SXSW Film Festival was The Final Girls, director Todd Strauss-Schulson’s horror comedy about a teenage girl and her friends who get pulled into a cult classic horror film that her late mother starred in. It’s a fun little movie, walking a fine line between spoof and tribute, and the SXSW crowd absolutely loved it.

Today, The Final Girls is hitting select theaters and VOD, offering viewers who weren’t fortunate enough to be in the audience for the world premiere a chance to see what all the fuss is about. We caught up with Todd earlier this week via telephone to discuss the film’s much-anticipated release.

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The Final Girls had its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival, and the response was hugely positive. How did you feel when the lights came up right after that screening?

Todd Strauss-Schulson: It was the most gratifying experience ever. The movie really comes alive when you put it in front of a crowd of people. There were applause breaks, and right in the middle someone in the crowd yelled out “This movie is fucking awesome!”

I remember that!

Todd Strauss-Schulson: You know, I like crowd-pleasers. I like when movies kind of run the full range of human emotion, and I like when movies feel like a rollercoaster ride. You get to laugh and cry ad be scared – I like when people are really loud when watching a movie. Those are the most fun experiences, and that’s what I was really hoping this movie could do for a crowd. So to sit there in a room like that, and to have literally a verbal and physical reaction to the film – there’s nothing more gratifying than that.

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One thing that The Final Girls seems to have in common with your previous film, A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas, is that both films take these genre tropes that we all know and poke fun at them, but they do it in a way that still shows respect for the source material. That seems like a really delicate balance to keep.

Todd Strauss-Schulson: You know, I don’t know if I’m so intellectual about it. But I definitely think, by virtue of who I am, I’m just sort of a warm-hearted person. I don’t love mercenary jokes that are just making fun of people – they’re a little too aggressive for me. I grew up loving movies, and I know movies pretty well, so I love taking those archetypes and tropes and images, and it just becomes very exciting to use them as a jumping-off point.

To the writers and I, The Final Girls was a movie about death – it was very personal. Josh and I, our fathers had both passed away, and this was a story about death and grief and letting go. But the idea of doing it in the middle of a genre that doesn’t take death very seriously was a very interesting idea. And that was one of the things that really intrigued me.

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One of the biggest hallmarks of the classic slasher films is the amount of blood and gore – but this film doesn’t really have any of that. Why did you choose to overlook that particular trope?

Todd Strauss-Schulson: Well, the movie wasn’t always conceived that way. In its inception it was very violent and really gross, and we wanted to come up with really fun, zany kills and all that stuff. But the studio didn’t want it to be R-rated, they wanted it to be PG-13, and I got really pissed off and started a fight with everyone [laughs].

But the truth is, I realized that it’s just not that kind of movie – this is really more like Back to the Future or Pleasantville, and I just feel like the tone is kind of delicate. If you’re trying to tell a really human story about a girl and how significant a loss like that is, and the movie is murdering people left and right – ripping off their arms and gouging out their eyes and pulling out their intestines – I don’t think you would have been able to be charmed by the movie and feel something at the end of the movie if the movie is relishing the murder.

So even if we had shot the R-rated version, I probably would’ve cut that stuff out, because I think it really would have ruined what’s so special about the movie.

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When we talked after SXSW, you mentioned that you would be open to the idea of a sequel. Have you started thinking about ideas for what that might look like?

Todd Strauss-Schulson: I think we all have ideas for what the sequel could be – I think Josh and Mark have ideas and I have my own ideas, and I think that we all really want to do it. Certainly, the cast and crew and I would love to do it again – we had a really, genuinely good time. It was like we were at camp and I was the head counselor, and we were all kind of getting away with something.

We would love to it, but it really isn’t up to us – it’s up to you guys out there, the people that are gonna see it and talk about it. You guys have got to convince a bunch of accountants in Culver City to spend money on another one.

I’ll do my best.

Todd Strauss-Schulson: Awesome, man. Thanks for everything.

The Final Girls releases today in select theaters and on VOD.

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