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Openly gay screenwriter Christopher Landon was weaned on horror classics such as Rosemary's Baby and Stephen King novels, and at 32 years of age, he finds his taste for fear has only grown.
He penned the thriller Disturbia, in theaters now, which features a teenage boy, Kale (played by Shia LaBeouf), whose father's death leads him to act out in violence. He finds himself under house arrest, and in a fit of boredom, Kale begins to spy on his neighbors. Soon he begins to suspect that one of his neighbors is a serial killer, and the inevitable questions about whether Kale is disturbed or not begin to rise from his family and friends.
"The thing is that the people around him think it's a byproduct of his boredom and his cabin fever," Landon says.
While there's plenty of death, the goal of the movie, Landon says, is not to appeal to lovers of "gore porn," but to help viewers understand Kale, his family, and friends.
"What's typical of horror movies is that there's very little connection to the characters, so when they die, that's it," he says. "We really take the time to let people know Kale and the people around him and build up who they are, so when the thrilling part happens, they care about what happens to the characters."
Landon, the son of famed actor and director Michael Landon, who died in 1991 of pancreatic cancer, says he has been a fan of the macabre his whole life. He points to his father, who acted, wrote, and directed for several family-friendly dramas, including Little House on the Prairie and Highway to Heaven, as one source of that interest.
"My dad had a secret dark side that not a lot of people knew about, and part of our bonding experience is that on Saturday nights we would watch horror movies," he says. "Now I feel that what I'm doing, my dad would have liked to do if he hadn't put himself into a box with the work he did."
Landon finds comfort in the macabre movies of his youth, and even went through what he admits was a strange phase in his early 20s in which he couldn't sleep without the comforting sounds of horror in the background. "I would go to bed and fall asleep to the sound of Mia Farrow screaming," he says. "[Rosemary's Baby is] one of the most flawless horror movies ever."
Landon's creative work has included 1999's urban drama Another Day in Paradise, which scored well with reviewers. And while he's had professional successes, the last decade has also brought changes of its own, beginning with Landon's decision to come out of the closet. "That was a lot to deal with," he says. "It was almost too much to handle all at once, and I ended up going into a reclusive phase."
It didn't help that during this same period one of his best friends died, and Landon, who had also watched his father die, decided on a move to Austin after visiting the city.
"For me, I reached a point where I became disenchanted with everything," he says. "My participation with everything stopped, and I started to question what it was that I wanted to do. I did absolutely nothing, and it was the best thing I ever did."
During his year there Landon began to unwind, and found his love of writing undiminished. He slowly began writing again, and within a few weeks had sold a pilot to CBS; soon afterward, he wrote Disturbia.
Now back in Los Angeles, Landon feels recharged and productive. He's working on a horror movie project for DreamWorks, and is slated to work on an ABC television project.
"I'm comfortable with this place in my career right now," he says. "Of course I want to direct, but I haven't been running into that, because I want to make sure I get one side down before I jump to another."
As for Disturbia, Landon is excited about having worked with the hunky young LeBeouf.
"He's a great actor, and the perfect person I would have wanted for this role," he says. "Girls are totally digging him; now I'm waiting to see what gay men do."
He's happy about the support early audiences have given to the movie's approach, and happy that he's not the only fan of horror.
"The other thing I find interesting is how gay people and the community in general are drawn to the genre," he says. "Look at how many brilliantly talented [gay] people are in this genre, such as Clive Barker. There's some kind of link there; there's a real love of the suspense factor."
But don't expect any tantalizing treats for gay viewers in this movie, he says.
"There's nothing homoerotic going on in this movie," he says. "There is in my next one, but not this one."