In “The Strangers: Prey at Night,” actor Martin Henderson (TV’s Grey’s Anatomy) stars as Mike, the father of a family who is stalked by three masked killers while staying inside a trailer park. “Prey at Night” is a follow-up to the 2008 original film starring Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman as a young couple being terrified by the same trio of killers as they attempt to infiltrate their vacation home.
During an interview with Henderson last week, we talked about returning to the horror genre after 15 years, why the killers in the film are scarier than most and what scares him in everyday life.
You’re fairly new to the horror genre. You did star in “The Ring” 15 years ago. What was it about this project that resonated with you?
Part of it was timing. Like you said, it’s been 15 years since I had done anything in this genre. There wasn’t really a conscious design around that. Nothing really came to me over the years in that genre that I liked. Then, this came across and I read it and I thought it was scary. I hadn’t seen the original though. When I read it, my girlfriend was lying next to me and I mentioned a couple of elements of the story to her and she was like, “Oh, my God! I think I saw the original. It was the scariest film I have ever seen!” It had stuck with her for so long. I think that got me excited.
So, did you go back and revisit the original?
Yeah, I went back and saw the original. Then I had a Skype call with [director] Johannes [Roberts]. He explained to me his vision for the film and how he wanted to make it different from the original. The idea of these three masked killers killing so indiscriminately clearly had an effect on the audience. I thought it could actually be a really fresh, entertaining version. So, I just rolled the dice.
Do you think Johannes was able to do that?
Yeah, I think something I really like about the movie is that as horrifying and dark as it is, there’s a lightness and fun, poppy element to it that makes it a little more palatable.
Do you find it scarier because viewers don’t know what is really motivating these killers to kill?
When you go and see a movie, you’re hopefully identifying with the protagonists and trying to root for them or hope they win the race or get the prize. In this case, it’s about survival and outwitting your opponent. If there was rhyme or reason, then you could reason with those antagonists. But since they’re killing indiscriminately, there is nothing you can say or do to convince them to leave you alone. There’s something purely impersonal and scary about that. It shows us that we can all be victims of some random act. Unfortunately, in this day and age with everything that is going on with violence and terrorism, I think there is that thought in our psyche that, “Oh, my gosh. If I’m in the wrong place at the wrong time, I could get hurt.” I think this movie plays into that notion.
Put yourself in the same scenario your character is in. Would you survive the night? Are you walking away with a few scratches? Or do you get chopped to pieces?
Well, I wouldn’t go down without a fight! (Laughs) I would have to believe I could survive because I would do everything in my power to survive.
You’re co-stars Bailee Madison and Lewis Pullman, who play your kids, do a lot of running and fighting in this film. Did you have to put some physicality in yourself?
There was a bit. I feel like my contribution is a lot less than Bailee and Lewis. I certainly don’t feel like I did that much. But I did a bit of running around. There was also a lot of emotional stuff. I didn’t do any stunts in the movie, so I didn’t put myself at risk or anything.
So, what scares you in general?
I’m scared of snakes, man. I grew up in New Zealand, so we don’t have anything poisonous. There’s nothing that can kill you, but I’ve always had an aversion to snakes. Living in California, I’ve seen a few rattlesnakes over the years when I go hiking. Every time I see a snake, they just freak me out. I freeze when I see a snake. That’s definitely something I don’t have much time for.
Do you think “The Strangers” franchise can continue for years to come and be something like the “Saw” series?
This is Hollywood, man, so if it makes money they’ll try to keep making anything for as long as they can. I think that we made this movie because the first one was so successful. If this one performs well, you can guarantee someone will try to make money out of another one.