But now, writer/director Zach Cregger has given insight into just which classic films inspired him. And there are some big surprises. 

Spoiler warning! If you haven’t seen the film and want to go in with no knowledge, turn back now… before it’s too late. 

How a Barbarian is made

Now that we’re alone and safe, the film is split into two distinct portions and, in many ways, two distinct locations. The upstairs of the house and the basement catacombs. Before the Mother is discovered and after. On Letterboxd, Cregger details which films were most important to his creative process for each respective area. 

There are some initial obvious ones. In the second half of the film with its gonzo, wacky tone, roving camera, and wide-angle lenses, the influences of horror classics like Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2, Drag Me to Hell, and Peter Jackson’s Braindead (aka Dead Alive) are clear. Cregger also mentions Raising Arizona and its madcap pacing, an unusual reference for what begins as a contemplative slow-burn thriller. 

There are other deep cuts that are much more subtle as well. One is a micro-budget film called Bad Ben by filmmaker Nigel Bach, which taught Cregger the benefits of slowing everything down and merely crawling the camera through space as well as how much tension can be created via staying in a character’s POV. Same with the cult German horror film Angst, which the director says inspired his visual style for the unique and jarring flashback sequences. 

Another surprising influence is the early Mike Nichols film, Carnal Knowledge. It’s a psychological drama starring Jack Nicholson and Candice Bergen, where in one scene the camera lingers on Bergen’s face as others are talking around her, allowing the viewer to soak up her expressions and emotions while simultaneously building tension for what’s to come.

Perhaps the most dramatic homage is the utterly shocking moment that ends the first portion of the film where (one last spoiler warning) Bill Skarsgaard gets his face brutally bashed against the walls of the cavern, reducing his head to a pulpy mess. Cregger explains that this was his attempt to recreate the shock and horror of the head-bashing scene from the French film Irreversible. If you know, you know. 

If it wasn’t already clear, Cregger goes so far as to state outright that his “rule for Barbarian was Fincher upstairs, Raimi downstairs.” 

If you’re interested, it’s worth reading the entire list and Cregger’s commentary on each pick on Letterboxd. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.