Long before Natasha Lyonne wandered the East Village in a perpetual cycle of death and do-overs, director Christopher Landon cracked open his own Russian doll. Cracked her open, stabbed her, dropped her off a building, broiled her in a car explosion, etc., etc. Such were the many fates of Tree (Jessica Rothe), the college co-ed inexplicably doomed to relive her birthday, ending with her own death, over and over again in Landon’s 2017 slasher comedy Happy Death Day.
A whopping $125 million at the box office later, Tree and the gang are back in the inevitable sequel, Happy Death Day 2U. This time around, Landon both wrote and directed the film, which finds Tree trapped once again in the same time loop—but in a different dimension. (Just... don’t think about it too hard.)
Ahead of the sequel’s premiere, NewNowNext chatted with Landon about scares, laughs, Lizzo, and bringing his queer perspective to horror.
The most important thing we need to discuss is that Lizzo posted a video of her twerking in the Happy Death Day mask.
[Laughs] I know! I died laughing when I saw it. I spent a very long time trying to find the right song to end the movie. I just thought, It would be so cool to do a cover of “Stayin’ Alive”, for obvious reasons. And a friend of mine is Lizzo’s manager. I was like, “Do you think she would ever go for this?” And we just made it happen. She is the coolest person I’ve ever met. She’s exactly who you want her to be. So, I’m super excited that we pulled it off.
When did you first start thinking about where you could take these characters?
I was in post-production on the first movie. Up to that point, we’d never had a conversation about a sequel. I think everybody sort of universally felt like it was a closed-ended kind of thing. I was watching a scene with Ryan, the roommate character, barging into the room, and the thought popped in my head: What if he was the reason all this happened? How funny would that be? This douche bag with one dumb, sexist line. And it kind of snowballed from there.
How much of a challenge was it to keep the sequel feeling fresh but also stay true to the repetitive concept?
I made two very conscious decisions going into the sequel. One was that I wasn’t going to make the same movie twice. I had this template that everybody now recognized, so I was able to recreate the same day, but in this alternate dimension. So, I was able to constantly subvert expectations. The other thing I did was a pacing thing: I knew that I would never get away with the kind of repetition that existed in the first movie. So, my goal was to dispense with that very quickly. The only reoccurring things are really her dorm room wake-ups, and those are always quite brief and pretty funny.
What is it about the mix of comedy and horror that appeals to you?
I grew up watching a lot of horror-comedy. So, I grew up really appreciating scares and jokes, and I enjoyed them together. And I think that the DNA of a joke is very similar to that of a scare. It’s all about timing and pace and set-up and pay-off. So, for me they’re very similar.
As a gay director, do you think you bring a particular perspective or sensibility to horror?
I definitely bring a certain perspective and a point of view—and if people are paying attention, they’ll see it. I made a zombie movie (2015's Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse) with both a Dolly Parton attack sequence and a Britney Spears sing-along. [Laughs] But I also think a lot of gay men, because we grow up feeling like the odd man out, and because we have to be guarded and really wary of the world, we develop a thick skin and a gallows humor as a defense mechanism. I found that I applied a lot of that to my writing and to my movies. So, a lot of what I learned growing up I’ve put into my work.
Happy Death Day 2U hits theaters February 13.