Q&A with Matthew A. Brown, writer/director of Albanian Gangster

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Cult Projections: Was there a single movie or director that inspired you to become a filmmaker?

Matthew A. Brown: John Cassavetes. His life and work, and especially the book Cassavetes on Cassavetes by John Carney. But I’d say this was the tipping point. At the time I was still acting, and had just played leads in two indie features, was living in Hollywood, auditioning a lot, and all of the “sides” I’d get would literally make me feel ill, and I’d already stopped even prepping for the auditions, instead turning to coffee and writing. I was working on a script, very personal, something that really fed me. it’s all easy to talk about in retrospect, but at the time is was a burning. It wasn’t an option. I started to put the film together, I think I was 21 at the time, and I met with this actor who I wanted for one of the roles. In a way this moment was really the point of no turning back. I was telling him the story, and he stopped me, put a hand on my forearm and said Matthew you should forget about acting in this, you need to direct. Start watching two films per day. I think this was before I read the Cassevetes book. But while reading that book, it was already happening. I’d had money saved from my acting and I financed my first short and the moment I said action on the first take, I knew I’d never act again. Krzysztof Kieslowski was another major influence. In both cases directors who were after the truth. Articulated so differently through their own points of view, but uncompromising pursuits of that indefinable thing, that essence … of life.

CP: Your early short films seemingly reflect an international pedigree - South Africa, Italy, America, France, Germany, Canada. How did you come to make the four shorts across such a wide playing field?

MB: Well I was born in Cape Town and my family immigrated to the US, to New York, when I was 16. And to this day that was the most difficult thing I’ve lived. Then I left home at 18, went to drama school in London (Guildhall) with this dream of being on the stage. But already then the funny thing is I started skipping school to go and write in coffeeshops all day, and after 6 months was ‘invited’ to leave if I didn’t start conforming to their ways … another story for another time. I left school and moved to LA, and very soon after got the lead in this film God’s Army. Before drama school I also did six months of Eurail and bounced around Europe with a backpack. So my entire life experience before I was even 20 had involved moving, experiencing different countries/cultures/continents. As an actor I was also drawn more to European cinema. So it wasn’t a thing of making any intellectual decision about making films in these different places, for example, with my first short which we shot in Sarlat, France and did post in Rome, Italy. One of my best friends, Maya Sansa, the Italian actress, who I met at Guildhall, I knew I wanted her for the lead. i called her from LA and told her about what I wanted to do and she was into it. So I created the whole story around her and the locations I just had a desire to be in and shoot in, and that film was selected for Venice, which in turn opened doors to other international opportunities, saw me going back to South Africa to develop my first feature, and while there I made my next short.. then while at the Berlin film festival I met a girl (as things go) and that eventually led to my making two shorts in Berlin.

CP: Did you study film in university, attend a film school, or are you self-taught? What do you think is the best course of action for someone who wishes to become a filmmaker? 

MB: No, as I said, I was in acting school for a brief period. After that, attended classes at Lee Strasberg in NY, and started working as an actor at the same time. So most of my learning came from life experience and being on set as an actor where I was always more interested in the whole story and the whole mechanism than my small piece in it. After my first short, I did attend the Binger Filmlab in Amsterdam, but that was very much a working lab, in which the writer/directors were selected based on a feature project they were developing that already had producers attached and some funding in place. That was in Amsterdam so I ended up living there for a year going from the screenwriters lab directly into the directing lab. The most fundamental thing I learned there was how to craft a screenplay. Best course of action for someone who wishes to become a filmmaker?  It depends on the person, but ultimately whether or not you go to film school, if you’re a filmmaker you’re going to make films. I personally don’t believe in school, I think it’s a false safety net and I know too many filmmakers who went to top film schools and still haven’t made a feature in 20+ years since leaving school.. but then there’s the Darren Aronofsky’s who also went to film school and he’s probably the only filmmaker working today making truly personal films on a large studio canvas.  I think you need real life experience for one thing, and passion so strong that it burns down anything and everything in its path that could be considered a hindrance. Whether that’s self-doubt/the nay-sayers/so-called gatekeepers/middlemen. Any number of things you will have to deal with, you have to have courage, and really you learn by doing — the amount you learn from every film you make, whether short or feature, is so astronomical, you can’t actually explain that to anyone who hasn’t been through it.


CP: Are there any directors whose work you feel directly influenced by? 

MB: Initially, Cassavetes, but that keeps changing. Like before Julia I was watching a lot of Hong Kong crime cinema, Japanese and Korean horror, and came into contact with Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samourai, but underneath it all my real influences have always been writers/poets, like Rimbaud, Henry Miller, Kerouac, and the lives of radical or revolutionary individuals, people willing to put everything on the line for something they believe in. That’s where Cassevetes resonated so much with me. I’ve pretty much lost interest in film for film-sake.. and there aren’t any directors now that I look to, maybe that’s in part as a result of the seismic shifts in the industry, but it’s also my own life experience and perspective. Was interesting when prepping Julia, my DP and I watched a lot of films as we discussed the vision etc., but with Albanian Gangster, while my DP and I did watch a few films, we kept getting turned off, and abandoned that process. instead it was all about this particular film, and what the characters and the story world and the nature of the real elements demanded.

CP: Your first feature, Julia, is, ostensibly, a rape-revenge movie, but an ambitious, artful hybrid of character study and drama. A sub-genre of horror that is often vilified, but it can also be a hugely powerful, even transgressive, form of nightmare cinema. What drew you to making such a movie, and was it difficult to make?

MB: I never perceived Julia as a rape-revenge movie. I had never watched or even heard of this sub-genre of rape-revenge films and if I knew beforehand that Julia would be perceived through that lens, I might have re-thought the script, not really, but I’m glad I didn’t know about it til after. At the time I was actually a month away from going to South Africa to make my first feature, called Strong Bones, which ironically would’ve been very much more in the vein of Albanian Gangster; it was a crime film set in Cape Town’s notorious (for being the murder capital of the world) Cape Flats. What happened is an EP saw my short film Victim and asked me how I’d feel about adapting that into a feature, coz he felt he could get it financed. Strong Bones was something I was gonna do mainly on credit cards ‘cos I was at a point where I just had to make my first feature, and so in a way Julia fell into my lap.  I said earlier I’d been watching a lot of Hong Kong crime cinema, Japanese and Korean horror, etc, so when this opportunity for Julia came, I saw the potential to infuse all my then-passions  into it. but what most excited me was — and this is where my real inspiration from writers (like Genet) and life experience came in — was the real story, the story beneath the text, of someone whose soul is essentially ripped out from them — and this is where rape came into it, because I couldn’t imagine anything worse happening to anyone.. and which is also why I don’t dwell on the rape aspect in a gratuitous way like other films you know about. For me it was about this girl, this woman, this creature living in the darkest fear, and awakening to her own full and ecstatic potential. I’d had my own crises and awakening, and I channeled everything I’d lived and consumed film-wise and etc into the film. It was grueling, but not “difficult”, grueling more because of the physical conditions, shooting dead of night in the dead of one of NYC’s harshest winters. Starting days at midnight shooting til 2pm. I got sick during the shoot too.. but no matter how harsh, sick, cold. it was an ecstatic experience .

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CP: Did you always intend on making something quite different for your second feature? How did the idea for Albanian Gangster come about? 

MB: I knew during post on Julia I wanted to make a gangster film for my next film. And yes I wanted to steer clear of horror and particularly “rape-revenge”. I started researching and looking deep into all manner of crime worlds, but everything felt so played ou; italians, irish, yakuza, triads, etc, and I landed on this series of articles about an FBI sting where 80+ Albanians were taken down in the mid-2000s, and everything I read just made my blood boil.. not only the fact that I’d never seen a US-based Albanian gangster pic — or anything Albanian in the US, but more so the cultural aspect.. that these guys were to this day living by these ancient honour codes, which is why they were so difficult to penetrate.. why they’d never rat, in Albanian culture honor and respect trump all else, a man would sooner die or spend the rest of his life behind bars than be labeled a rat. Further, the gangsters to a T had come over to the US fresh from conflict and persecution going back centuries but still to the present day. So this war-torn psyche fused with this entrenched honour code, it all just sent shivers through me. I also really felt the culture ‘cos I grew up in a culture in South Africa where a man was only as good as his word, and his willingness to stand on his own two feet. Maybe that’s even more to do with my own father, who grew up in a small rural Afrikaans community in Worcester, blood, honour, loyalty, and brotherhood. It all spoke to me.  

CP: The movie feels very authentic, almost like a docu-drama. Tell me about the screenplay, how did you write it? Did it adapt much over time? 

MB: I spent about two years researching on my own, reading books, searching online, taking solo trips to the Bronx, the biggest hotbed of Albanians in the US, and wrote a first draft, but as I was working on it this feeling kept nagging at me like I just didn’t have the sound of these guys in my bones, that to do what I really wanted, something authentic and real and raw I had to know the actual guys, the way they live, breathe move. So I started to talk to anyone I knew to see if they had any Albanian friends. One thing led to another and I gained the trust of a particular guy who told me there’s a guy I can introduce you to, but then it’s all on you.. it was that guy who introduced me to John Rezaj. And once I met John the floodgates opened. I spent the next year and a half on the ground with him going into places you wouldn’t know exist in America.. and when you’re there you wouldn’t know you’re even in America in the first place!  So by now I had this “traditional” 120-page script and this feeling that I was missing something just became overwhelming , ‘cos everything I was witnessing and experiencing through John and the people, faces, places I  was coming in contact with were just so unique and captivating and not something that I could’ve just written from books or whatever. So a month before preproduction I completely abandoned the script, wrote a 12-page outline based on things I was hearing and learning, with all dialogue to improvised and I cast John himself as the lead. The entire film evolved out of this organic process.


CP: You’re able to elicit powerful, naturalistic performances in both your features, with your wife, Ashley C. Williams starring and co-starring in both. Do you have any particular method to directing actors? What was it like directing your lead actor John Rezaj, whois essentially playing a fictionalised version of his real self? Did you use much improvisation? 

MB: Thank you. Every actor is different and so you use different tools. I personally spend a lot of time just talking and hanging out with all my leads, just getting to know them, what speaks to them, their triggers..  and then you adapt on the set as you learn what’s actually working for each individual. I’ve worked with actors who are very by-the-book and only really respond to actions or objectives and so on, but I really just go for actors who operate from another place, like with Ashley I’d never give her an action-verb type direction, it was always deeply personal where I’d be whispering things into her ear before takes and talking to her during takes, things I knew she’d respond to but not risking sharing her personal stuff with anyone else because I knew she’d know what I’m referring to, and also a lot of metaphorical stuff, “as i” type stuff. Bottom line though, you really just have to pay attention to the human beings in front of you. So re: Albanian Gangster and John. as I said all dialogue was improvised. I knew what I needed to tell the story, so I made sure we got the necessary beats, but again no way I could’ve written the words that flow out of John, or any of the guys. And directing John, thing is by the time we shot I’d spent so much time with him. I was with him like 3-4 nights/week for a year or so, so we’d developed an extraordinary amount of trust and a bond, and I knew his triggers, things I was consciously storing for when I needed certain things out of him emotionally on set. I already knew John was captivating on camera because when were out I’d often break out my iPhone and grab stuff.. and he just has that ‘thing’ — he’s naturally magnetic on screen, and at same time just forgets—or doesn’t give a fuck—or both—there’s a camera waving in his face. So it was incredible, but also grueling coz I not only had to focus on the directing but also the constantly evolving story that was unfolding, there were some major changes even to the outline during the shoot because I gained deeper understanding of the culture and the guys in particular to the point I’d realize there’s no way given who this guy or that guy is that he’d do what I’d written in a certain situation..

CP: You’re currently in post-production on the sequel to Albanian Gangster. Tell me about why you split the story in half? Did you contemplate a much longer single movie? Will the sequel be any different in style or technique, or simply more of the same? 

MB: It’s actually not a sequel, it’s a completely different movie.  And yes it is different stylistically, a bit more conventional—only a bit !  We still need to do some additional shooting and meanwhile I’ve been approached to develop an Albanian gangster series, which is in active development, not based on Albanian Gangster, rather inspired by it.

CP: What are some of the gangster movies you hold in high esteem? 

MB: Of course The Godfather and Goodfellas. Also Gomorrah and City of God (though not really a gangster film). More recently it’s been tv shows like Narcos. Can’t recall when I last saw a quality gangster film though, but again things have just changed so much in the industry and the world really, we have so much more access than ever before ‘cos of social media and iPhones and so on, and then my close proximity to certain real elements, most gangster stuff just seems so superficial to me. But Narcos for example did it for me, likely largely due to Brazilian creator/director Jose Padilha who made the Elite Squad films, a guy who seems obsessed with authenticity and knows how to capture it.


CP: What’s your opinion on screen violence, do you find it exhilarating? How do you approach it as a director?

MB: Definitely do not find it exhilarating. It has to be born of character and situation.. and for me it has to be realistic. I have zero interest in ‘movie fights’, where a fight will go on for like a minute, and people just get up and keep going. Real violence happens fast and people get hurt. If John hits you, it’s unlikely you’re getting up.  In Albanian Gangster, we looked at what would actually happen in a situation. What would John/Leon do in a particular situation?, etc. That’s not to say I don’t think movie / fantasy fights don’t have their place.. but I personally switch off.  A filmmaker I really respect is Fatih Akin. When I saw Gegen die Wand (Head On) I was pretty blown away, and there’s a scene in there where the main character snaps and cracks a bottle across another character’s head. One shot, and the guy’s dead. You take a crack like that to the head that’s a very realistic result!—And every aspect of the whole scene and set-up are wholly authentic. But violence for violence-sake just bores me.

CP: Are there any taboos left in cinema? Should there be?

MB: I don’t know.  I don’t think about this.  One thing I’ll say tho, I don’t really see the point for example in doing things for shock value, but you know, to each their own.

CP: A recent movie, The Hunt, has had its release postponed, because of recent gun violence in the US. Do you consider yourself a political filmmaker? Do you think art should be exempt from political correctness? Why?

MB: I don’t consider myself a political filmmaker. I’m interested in human beings and story worlds that fascinate me, and I’m interested in telling those stories in an authentic and exciting manner that lights fire in the blood of the audience. I’m not interested in “message” movies. The closest I’d come to that is if I were making a movie about a character with a strong agenda, but I’d still tell the story in an honest light and of course there’s inherently gonna be a point of view ‘cos that organically bleeds into the frame based on all the choices you make as a filmmaker, but I’d let the character and the story speak for itself. Re: political correctness. I loathe it with a vengeance in life and art and I think it necessarily destroys any hope of authenticity. Imagine for example if I censored how John/Leon speaks in Albanian Gangster. Sickens me to even think of it.  


CP: What have you got planned for the next ten years? What boundaries are you prepared to push? 

MB: The next ten years hehe. I mentioned the TV series above, and I have other stuff, another two TV series in mind. For myself, I’m interested in cinema/tv that involves high degrees of risk or danger. The boundaries I’m prepared to push? That’s more about the situations I’m willing to put myself in to get at riveting and authentic stories.. and then I listen to the needs of the particular story and all it encompasses. I don’t approach it with an agenda.

CP: Would you be happier working with smaller budgets and final cut, or bigger budgets, but less editorial control? What compromises would you be prepared to make? 

MB: Both. I’m a filmmaker. I love being on set. I’d love to make something on a massive scale where I just jump in to direct, and get to play. Truth is though with tv / SVOD now, I think you can achieve the best of both worlds — big budgets and more risky character-driven and thrilling storytelling. That’s what I’m working on.  I like to surround myself with creatives - and business folk - who raise my game. For example, my editor Josh Melrod on AG, I left him alone much of the time. Most important was the decision to hire him specifically in the first place. I don’t know how many editors I met with, but I knew on first meeting Josh he was my guy.  So he’d work alone, then we’d sit together for say three days, and he’d go away and keep working. Of course when we neared picture lock, we spent more time in the same room. If it’s a smaller personal film, something the studios wouldn’t back anyway, something I have to be a producer on to get made, ie. raise the finance myself, I’m naturally going to have that control, but if it’s a big budget studio pic and the soul purpose is a wild entertaining ride or whatever, I’m not sure I’d be all that concerned with editorial control.

CP: Any actors or creatives you’d especially like to work with?

MB: Michael Fassbender. Aksel Hennie (the lead in the Norwegian tv show Nobel). 

CP: Finally, what three movies from the new millennium - the last twenty years - have really impressed you? Why? 

MB: Oslo, 31 August (2011, dir. Joachim Trier), The Hunt (2012, dir. Thomas Vinterberg), Nobel (2016, Norwegian TV series). In each case we’re dealing with truly authentic and for me riveting storytelling from top to bottom. In the case of Oslo, 31 August and The Hunt, truly uncompromising authentic storytelling with extraordinary directorial visions, filmmakers operating from the most real and raw place, void of any convention or trope, wherein every frame pulses with that intangible essence which is life and cannot be anything other than what it is. Nobel is just straight up masterful TV.


CP: Good luck with Albanian Gangster and Albanian Gangster II: Illyrian Blood. Thank you Matthew!

MB: Thank you!

Albanian Gangster screens as part of the Sydney Underground Film Festival, Saturday, September 14th, 6pm, at The Factory, Marrickville, with an introduction from yours truly. For tickets click here.

Interview with Russell Mulcahy


Cult Projections: When you started out directing music videos you were in your mid-20s, did you have any kind of formal training before that?

Russell: Not really. I was a film editor for Channel Seven. It was before the high security or whatever, and I used to creep in there at 3am and make my own movies. And one of them won the best short film at Sydney Film Festival, so then I started making videos for bands like Hush and ACDC, and then I carried on. 

CP: You landed international gigs very early on, The Stranglers and The Buggles.

R: Tony Hogarth from Woods Records sent me to England to do a video for some punk band up in Birmingham. I’d never left Australia. So there I was on a flight to England. I stayed in a B&B and did the video. So, people saw it, and said “You can stay” and so I did some more videos, “Video Killed the Radio Star” and “Bette Davis Eyes” and Duran Duran and Elton John. 

CP: So was that around the same time you did the movie for Dudley Moore and Peter Cook?

R: I did that too. That was quite an experience. 

CP: Haha. 


R: But the first thing that really happened was I’d done the video for “Hungry Like the Wolf” and producer Hal McElroy asked me if I wanted to come back to Australia to do a movie. And I went, “Yes! Absolutely!” And then the next question I asked was what was it about. And he said, “Well, it’s about a giant killer pig.”

CP: Haha.

R: It turned out to be Razorback

CP: You did Razorback, and two years later you did Highlander. Those two films have gone on to garner cult followings. Did you feel at the time you were making those two features that you were creating films that would get such a response in the future?

R: No. I never have. I never do that. I just try to make the best film I can. There’s no real ambition, so to speak. I love movies. 

CP: When you came to do those two features, did the experience of all the music videos help you with directing the features, or did you find new challenges?

R: Well doing the music videos was my training ground in a way. I never went to film school. I read a few books on Russian filmmakers, and was a big fan of European cinema. I just wanted to go into movies. Which is why I used to crop and use black and white. And MTV called me up and said “You’ve got black at the top and bottom, so we’ve blown it up and scanned it” and I said “No, no, no, that’s the way it’s meant to look!”

CP: Philistines!

R: So, eventually they agreed to it. 

CP: Would you say your approach to directing has changed much since those early features? 

R: Umm … I don’t think so. I’m very used to shooting fast, and I just come up with images of how I want it to look. 


CP: So it’s been ten years since your last theatrical feature. What brought you to In Like Flynn?

R: There was this six year period where I was co-executive producer and director of a show called Teen Wolf. But the script to In Like Flynn was so good, and I’d seen [Flynn’s] films and he’s an Australian icon, and the treat of coming back to Australia to do a movie, of such a wonderful story. 

CP: Were you familiar at all with the book Beam Ends?

R: I read it after I saw the script. Luckily Luke Flynn [Errol Flynn’s grandson] was involved in it. It was very authentic, adventurous. It’s basically an action-adventure-romantic story of a man who lived life to the fullest. 


CP: Indeed. Were you involved with much of the casting of the movie?

R: Yes. We got a wonderful cast. 

CP: How tied to the script were you? Did you have much freedom as a director? 

R: They left me alone. There were no arguments. 

CP: So do you think you’ll direct an adaptation of My Wicked, Wicked Ways

R: Probably. Some people have said that it should have a sequel. There needs to be a sequel about the rest of his life. Which is intriguing. 


CP: So you’re leaving the door open for that one?

R: Oh yeah. I think it’d be intriguing, and as an adventurer I’ve got to see what happened with his life in Hollywood. There should be a double feature. 

CP: Part one and part two.

R: Exactly.

CP: So, you’ve spent a number of years directing television; Teen Wolf, also Queer as Folk, Skin ---

R: Queer as Folk, that was an absolute joy to film.

CP: Also episodes of The Hunger for Tony Scott. 

R: The Hunger with Tony. A sad loss. 

CP: Yes, very much, very much. What’s been the best experience working within the confines of a tv series when you compare it with the limitations and freedom of shooting a feature?

R: There used to be a negative feeling within the industry about directing, or making tv films, or shows, or whatever. The quality of tv now is so good, it’s actually sometimes surpasses feature films. There’s none of that negative feeling anymore. 

CP: It’s been described as the golden age of television. 

R: That’s a great expression, yes. There used to be the golden age of cinema, now there is the golden age of television. 


CP: How have you found the progression from analogue to digital? I presume you shot In Like Flynn on digital. 

R: Yes. going back to Razorback and Highlander they were shot on 35mm film. One anamorphic, Highlander was 1:1.85. Everyone seems to be shooting digital now. It has its pluses and minuses. When you are shooting film, you are very cautious of how many takes you do, because the film is rolling through the camera. With digital you can be a little less cautious. You know what I mean?

CP: Indeed. No doubt you have a few favourite toys? Technology is advancing so quickly, as a director you’d have a wide range of tools at your disposal, both in production and in post-production. Any favourites? 

R: Well, When I’m shooting, I’m cutting the film in my head, so I don’t really over-shoot. There’s an expression I use, that there’s essentially three takes; one - for the actor, two - for the director, and three - for the camera. Because the camera says, “That was out of focus”, the actor says “Can I do one more?”, and I’ll say, “Can you change that bit.” Normally I do three takes. Because in the past, when I was doing, say, Razorback, or whatever, I would do, say five takes, six takes, and either one or four was the best. You can overdo it. 


CP: True. With In Like Flynn, it’s quite concise, roughly a 90-odd-minute film, and now we’re in this golden age of television, and with Netflix producing a lot of original content —-

R: There is a longer cut. 

CP: Oh, okay. Will that be lined up for the Blu-ray & DVD release? 

R: Yes, I’m sure the DVD will have the longer cut, which is probably ten minutes longer. 

CP: With Netflix a lot of film directors are expressing how much joy they have in being able to take the time to tell a story over ten or thirteen episodes, does television still appeal to you because of that kind of freedom, or did you enjoy once again working within the narrative confines of In Like Flynn

R: I love both. It’s great to be able to tell a story in about an-hour-and-half or two hours. But what’s really good with a tv series is where you can develop characters and storylines, and interweave, and all that.

CP: You have an action thriller in pre-production, do you have anything lined up or in development? 

R: Yeah, we're developing a couple of projects, actually, and they’re more in the thriller genre. Which I love. But, I mean, I just love good scripts. From Highlander to Swimming Upstream, with Geoffrey Rush, to Queer As Folk. I just like good concepts. I always said to myself, reading the script, would I go see this movie? And when I’ve read it, yes I would love to see this movie, then that’s the answer. 

CP: Thanks Russell! 

Q&A with Simon Foster, Program Director of Sydney SciFi Film Festival


Cult Projections: Tell me a little of the career trajectory that has brought you to Program Director for the Sci Fi Film Festival? Is this a dream role? Has it been challenging?

Simon: The career trajectory has been erratic, to put it succinctly, but I've always managed to spend most of my working years in the company of creative and/or dedicated industry types that inspire me. The latest has been SciFi Film Festival founder and director Tom Papas, who saw a determined, some might say desperate, need in me to apply in practical terms what I had learned after years profiling and attending festivals as a journalist or reviewer. It is a dream role, so the challenges were just part of that dream coming true.

CP: How far back does science fiction feature in your life? What were some of the early TV shows and/or movies that made an impact on you as a youth? 


S: I was a pre-teen in the 1970s, one of the great periods of TV sci-fi. Earliest memories include Thunderbirds, U.F.O., Land of The Giants, Land of the Lost, Space: 1999; I'd watch them before anyone else in my home was awake and as soon as I got home from school. Then the impact of Star Wars, Close Encounters of The Third Kind and Battlestar Galactica dictated the course of my life, without me even realising it at the time. The influence of Star Wars on my life is undoubtedly why I reacted so powerfully to Adam Harris' beautiful documentary My Saga. And that sense of discovery that came with each new copy of magazines like Starlog or Starburst or Cinefex, with every page filled with incredible images and the artists that conjured them, was profound.

CP: What is it about science fiction movies that make them so broadly appealing, and yet so niche? 

S: At their most broadly appealing, they are grand visions of imagined worlds; it is the very same sense of longing and adventure that has driven mankind to set sail for unknown destinations. That said, any artform that reflects a singular vision of an imagined reality will not always be to everyone's taste. Your question is addressed in cinematic terms with our Opening Night film, Johann Lurf's , which compiles starscapes from 550 films into a breathtaking montage work unlike anything I'd seen before; I watched the film transfixed and transported, of course, but also deeply moved. I found myself reacting emotionally to the images, despite there being no narrative. It is pure science-fiction.


CP: Science fiction movies run the gamut from spectacular action blockbusters to micro-budget mind-fuck pieces. Can you give me a couple of titles that you think are great examples of each?

S: James Cameron's Aliens is a masterpiece of commercial sci-fi/action cinema; so too, Tobe Hooper's Lifeforce. I steered away from Armageddon-type sci-fi blockbusters in my first program; they get plenty of play with massive marketing budgets and wide release patterns. Even my most "mainstream" film, Ryan Esling's UFO, starring Gillian Anderson and David Straithairn, is a smaller-scale, more intimate conspiracy-theory thriller. In terms of micro-budget mindfucks, we have arguably the best of the year in Luke Sullivan's shattering two-hander Reflections in the Dust. It's an emotionally brutal, nerve-shredding drama, largely shot in monochrome and starring the vision-impaired actress Sarah Houbolt. It will divide audiences, but festival films should challenge what is easy and acceptable in film terms.   

CP: What are some of the popular themes this year?


S: A.I. and the imminent restructuring of our way of life via sentient robotics was central to so many of the submissions I watched this year. I sense that the science-fiction filmmakers feel real change in how we share the world with our own increasingly self-aware creations is about to impact us all. The documentary More Human Than Human is a startling examination of that near-future; in fictional terms, so are the shorts Stine and the utterly breathtaking Lebanese work Manivelle: The Last Days of the Man of Tomorrow. There is also a sense of the changing nature of the ruling patriarchy in several of this years' films. The SXSW award winner Prospect examines how a stranded girl, the brilliant Sophie Thatcher, must defy then reconstruct her faith in a father figure; Bobby Bala's short The Shipment is a deep-space father-daughter drama. And the previously mentioned Reflections in the Dust examines toxic masculinity in the most graphic of terms.  


CP: As a program director what defines a great program? 

S: Not just as a program director, but as a film watcher in general, I respond to originality. I can appreciate a re-used narrative told in an exciting new way, such as Peter Stray's Welsh-set New Year's Eve alien invasion horror-comedy Canaries or Hector Valdez's Peaches, which is a remake of the Australian time-travel rom-com The Infinite Man. And I will always respond to bold and challenging new works, such as ★. 

CP: What are the three most important elements of ANY science fiction film - for the budding filmmakers out there!

S: Commitment to your vision; a fearlessness that allows you to take risks; a strong, well-crafted technique in service of your creative choices.

CP: Any surprises lined up for this year's fest? Any treats festival goers should pay attention to? 


S: Well they won't be surprises if I tell Cult Projections now, duh! The Closing Night film is something I'm very proud - the first screening of Steve De Jarnatt's 1989 cult classic Miracle Mile in nearly 30 years. And even if Q&As aren't normally your thing, hang around for ours. Marc Fennell is interviewing Adam Harris, the survivor of a brain tumour dealt with his struggle by making the Star Wars-themed doco My Saga. Marc interviewed Adam on the SBS show The Feed a few years back, when Adam was just beginning his amazing journey, so this ought to be a very emotional reunion.  

CP: Finally, it has to be asked, what are your all-time top five fave sf movies? 

S: Well, right now I'm obsessed with our opener, ★.  But, bearing in mind this five can change at any time, I'll say my faves are Close Encounters of The Third Kind, Alphaville, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across The Eighth Dimension, Sleeper, and Starship Troopers.

CP: Thank you Simon!

The SciFi Film Festival screens at Event Cinemas, George Street, Sydney, from 18th to 21st October, 2018. For full program and ticketing visit: scififilmfestival.com

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Q&A with Steven Kastrissios, writer/director of Bloodlands


Cult Projections: You’ve made two distinct genre movies: an ultraviolent revenge flick, The Horseman (2008), and now a deeply atmospheric supernatural horror, Bloodlands. How deep is your love of horror movies? What are the movies from your youth that have had a lasting impression on you?

Steven: An American Werewolf in London shook me to my core as a child. I was watching it at a family friend’s place, they lived in the bush, it was night and the whole family had to try and calm me down during the werewolf transformation sequence. I’m still too scared to camp out alone just from the opening scene. But I grew up with more action/adventure stuff of the 80s. I do like the way you can affect an audience in horror. That’s what pulls me towards it and the craft around horror works well for my gloomy style too.


CP: The Horseman was made on your home turf in Queensland and is very much an Ozploitation kind of movie, but you shot Bloodlands in Albania in the native tongue and dealt with local folklore. Did you originally intend to set the movie in Europe? What were the factors that decided on the story’s setting? Why did it take so long between features?

S: I took my time writing many spec scripts for various projects, but I didn’t chase any of them particularly hard and then I got really itchy to shoot something so when I heard about the blood feuds and Albania as a country I pulled the trigger. I’d had lots of ideas over the years of how to approach another micro-budget production, with an even smaller production than The Horseman. And on my next attempt at low budget filmmaking, I want to go even leaner again. I think keeping an ultra-light footprint as a film crew allows much more freedom and with all the great tools we have now in both practical camera, lighting and grip gear and digital post tools that are affordable and easy to use, we have no excuses left if we really want to make something.

CP: On The Horseman you wrote, produced, and directed, but also edited, and was the digital colorist. Bloodlands has a very distinct look and feel. Who was the cinematographer? What was the movie shot on? 

S: Leandër Ljarja was the DOP. He was a great collaborator with helping me approach a low budget horror film with a broad filmmaking arsenal of tricks needed to get what the script asked, with extremely limited resources. He had shot no drama or short films at all, just some music videos. But he talked me through his process and he knew his shit so I hired him. Aldi Karaj was our second camera/lighting/grip guy and I operated a lot too. It was shot on the tiny Blackmagic Pocket cameras. They’re the only camera that size that shoots RAW video internally. I bought three of them with a bunch of lenses and took it all to Albania with a sound kit.


CP: Did you edit and color Bloodlands yourself, like on The Horseman? How important is the role of colorist, especially in the digital age? Would you ever let someone else edit?

S: I would love someone else to edit, but both my features weren’t fully funded until the editing was complete and Screen Australia or a sales company stepped in and handed us a chunk of money. But those funds mostly go to the people in the final stages of post-production, so I can’t afford an assistant editor at the start, but I can later afford a musical score producer and visual effects. And editing is too big of a job to get someone to do it unpaid or deferred as it’s six months of work at least. Colour grading can be outrageously expensive so if I do it, it keeps the post budget way down whilst allowing me to put a lot more time into it than we could ever afford.  

CP: You’re credited as the composer on Bloodlands. Tell me a little about that process. What did you use? Did you have any influences or take much inspiration?

S: I’ve always been a big soundtrack geek but never seriously played any instruments. I stumbled into music with a room-mate who had some electronic music gear and he showed me how to use it one night and the next day I went out and bought a midi-keyboard and downloaded Logic Pro. I remembered how to use the software from working closely with the composer on The Horseman who ran Logic Pro. Within a short time of playing around I was confident enough that I could produce a score if it was a little project that I could afford to take the creative risk and Bloodlands came along shortly after. And I felt comfortable tackling it because in all honesty, you don’t need much to create an effective score for a horror film. There’s a lot of easy cheats you could fall back on if needed, but fortunately it didn’t come to that.


CP: How difficult was it shooting in Albania in a foreign language? How long was the shoot? What were the hardest and easiest parts of principal photography?

S: Albania in 2014 didn’t have specialized crew who could do stunts, special effects, creature make-up, etc, so I knew I had to work around that whilst still delivering a horror film, but on the plus side they had a strong acting community that embraced the project, being the first horror film made there. There’s less red-tape to deal with too, which helps a low-budget production. People were in general enthusiastic to help us out, whether it was film industry people or butchers and bakers or the local council.

CP: You’re an Australian having written and directed a movie in Albania, in Albanian, with a mostly Albanian crew. The movie is credited as a co-production, yet it exudes your intent on channeling Albanian folklore and freeing yourself of any Antipodean influences. How international does the movie feel to you?

S: It is a co-production, especially in the last few months where we’ve had to release it in cinemas ourselves as they don’t have distributors there. It’s hard for me to judge how international the film feels, it totally depends on the viewer’s own bias. The Albanians certainly liked the film, so that was a big relief. But the goal wasn’t to make the most authentic social drama that we typically see from Europe. We’re making a horror film with a witch, so we’re not always going for stark realism.

CP: In the realm of horror have witches and witchcraft always held a fascination for you? What are some of your favourite movies involving witches?

S: The Blair Witch Project is the only witch I can think of that really scared me. But you never see her, so it’s probably not a big influence. We shot Bloodlands before the recent film The Witch premiered at Sundance. The main influence is from my childhood, where I’d see creepy old Greek widows dressed in black. They’d often be left alone in dimly lit parts of the room where they sit and watch you, grinning. Then they call you over, smiling with teeth missing, hairy chins, holding a fifty-cent piece. That always spooked me out as a kid and I’m freaked out now just thinking about it!


CP: In low-budget filmmaking, especially horror, what advice, if any, do you have for filmmakers embarking on their first feature? What elements should they take the most care with? What areas are best to enter into collaboration with?

S: Write a good script and find a good cast and everything else will take care of itself if you’re the right filmmaker for the project.

CP: If you were given the chance to adapt something for a Netflix original series, what would you choose?

 S: I don’t have any books in mind as I rarely read fiction, but I have a creature-feature I developed with a friend that would be perfect as a limited series on streaming.

 C: If you had the opportunity to make a big-budget movie, which you could write and direct, but would not be editor or have final cut, or make another low-budget movie and retain creative control, which would you choose and why?

S: Since doing Bloodlands and witnessing the speed of which it came together, inspires me to keep doing similar projects while trying to get the bigger ones up and not just waiting around. So I’ll be doing both.

CP: Thanks Steven!

Bloodlands screens on Opening Night of A Night Of Horror International Film Festival, Wednesday, November 29th, 7pm, at Dendy Cinemas Newtown. Tickets available here



Q&A with Melinda McDowell

Cult Projections: You were twenty-two when you acted in your first film, Naughty Words (1974), directed by your brother Curt McDowell, although technically it was just voiceover. You then acted in another couple of shorts directed by your brother, a feature directed by George Kuchar, and two of Curt’s features, Thundercrack! (1975), and Sparkles Tavern (1985). Then that was it, no more performing in front of the camera (well, that’s listed on IMDb, that is). 

Melinda: Naughty Words was not my first film, nor did I act in it, those voices were not Curt and me. My actual first film was Beaver Fever (directed by Curt) in which George Kuchar and I play boyfriend and girlfriend. My appearance in The Devil's Cleavage was next, but hardly worth a mention (although it's my favourite of George's films). After that I was plunged right into Thundercrack! During this time others were created, such as Naughty Words, Nudes: A Sketchbook,  and Taboo: the Single and the L.P., but the release dates don't necessarily reflect when they were filmed. Sparkle's Tavern was filmed in 1976, but Curt didn't have the funds to finish it up until 1984! I'm pretty sure the only time I appeared in a film after that one was Jennifer Kroot's It Came from Kuchar in 2009. 

CP: Had you intended to be an actor from any specific age? 

M: I never had any intention of becoming an actress. I didn't ask to be in any films, but I did have fun participating in the films of Curt and his friends. 

CP: Curt was seven years older, what kind of relationship did you have? 

M: Curt and I were always close. He was responsible for enticing me to leave Indiana and join him in San Francisco. I'm still grateful for that!

CP: What was completed first, George Kuchar’s Devil’s Cleavage, or your brother’s Thundercrack!?

M: The Devil's Cleavage was first, if I recall.

CP: Was Thundercrack! the first hardcore film you’d made? What about the other shorts your brother directed? Did you had aspirations to be an adult performer before? 

M: Even though Thundercrack! is definitely explicit, I don't consider it to be grouped with hardcore adult films. Curt did have several short films that included explicit scenes, but the only film he made that I would consider an adult, or pornographic film is Lunch. I do believe Thundercrack! stands alone, for many reasons, including being the only one of that nature that I was in! 

CP: Tell me a little about the Thundercrack! production. Did it take long to film? What about post-production? 

M: The original filming took us ten days, and Curt spent eight months on editing, finishing just in time for the December 1975 premiere in New York.

CP: Was George Kuchar very tight about following the script, or was there a lot of improvisation? 

M: George had written the script for Thundercrack! and claimed he had trouble memorising hislines when we were filming. Actually, the script was followed closely by everyone.

CP: What was the initial response from audiences? 

M: Well! The New York audience loved it. The first screening was sold out, so it was shown again one week later, and sold out again!  The Los Angeles audience was quite a different story, plenty of walkouts. In time, word of mouth helped it to find its audience.

CP: Did you feel at all, at the time, that you were making something that would become something of a cult favourite among underground adult aficionados? Have you always felt the same way about it? 

M: I don't think any one of us had an idea of what that film would become, not even an inkling.  When I was seeing it at first, I had a hard time getting past my own performance (my non-actress performance!), but years later when I watched it again I set that aside and saw it as others do.  I am thoroughly entertained by it each time I see it.

CP: What was your impression and opinion of the more commercial adult movies of the time? Did you watch many of them in cinemas? Did Curt? 

M: I never was much of a fan of adult movies in general, but Curt loved them, for sure. He had his own collection of hardcore films, which I inherited.

CP: So no favourite adult movie of the 70s then?

M: I'm sure I couldn't come up with a favourite adult movie from the 70s! I do recall going with a friend to a drive-in theatre to see Curt's Lunch while I was still in Indiana. I believe I'll cast my vote for Lunch

CP: The black comedy streak that runs through Thundercrack!, the absurdity and perverse elements, are certainly what gives the movie its edge, and perhaps also its cult appeal, its longevity. Did you share your brother’s, and George’s, sense of humour? I’m sure there was much mischief and shenanigans behind the scenes while you made Thundercrack!, tell me about some of it. 

M: We definitely shared the sense of humour, and yes, plenty of mischief and shenanigans! We really did have a great time filming Thundercrack!, it was a fun cast and crew. I've told the story before, but the cucumber that was offered to Willene (and partially consumed and discarded) was the actual cucumber that had been utilised by Mrs. Gert Hammond. Willene's expressive reaction at that moment was quite genuine.  

CP: Ha ha! Sparkles Tavern was your last film. What made you stop performing?

M: There were others after Sparkle's Tavern, but it was the last of Curt's to be released, unless we count, The Mean Brothers Get Stood Up, which premiered in 2016 at the Ann Arbor Film Festival!  Soon after filming Taboo: the Single and the L.P. I entered my “domestic” phase of life, not much time for film-related fun!

CP: Are you aware of any filmmakers in the contemporary scene that remind you of the passion, creative originality of your brother? 

M: The first one who comes to mind is Guy Madden, I enjoy his style! I'm guessing Curt would've loved My Winnipeg as much as I do.

CP: What is your opinion on taboos within cinema? Should there be any? What about censorship? 

M: Apparently I'm not one for censorship or taboos, still trying to think on that one! 

CP: We live in an age of much neo-conservatism, a glut of re-boots, and for the most part the adventurousness, the boldness of the 1970s feels a very long time ago. Is there anything you’d like to see in films that you feel has been left behind?

M: I'd like to see more people making films for the joy of making them, rather than for the sake of being a money-making, commercial endeavour. Concern about the monetary value seems to take away the spontaneity and fun of it all!

CP: It’s a double-edged sword indeed! Thank you Melinda! 


Revelation - Perth International Film Festival has put together a selection of Curt McDowell’s 16mm shorts in the retrospective mini-program Stinky Wieners and Dreamy Beavers, including Ainslie Trailer (1972), Confessions (1971), Wieners and Buns Musical (1972), True Blue and Dreamy (1973), Dora Myrtle (1973), The Mean Brothers "Get Stood Up" (1973), Stinky-Butt (1974), and Beaver Fever (1974). The mini-program screens Monday 10th July, 7:30pm. 

For more information on the program please visit here.

Q&A with Tom Savini

Cult Projections: Apart from Lon Chaney, who else inspired your move into the art of illusion? 

Tom: Houdini, Jack Pierce, Dick Smith, Rick Baker, Rob Bottin.

CP: Looking back on your extraordinary career is there a particular period or collaboration that you’re especially fond of?

T: Yes, my collaboration with George Romero.

CP: Do you have a personal favourite of the movies you’ve worked on?

T: Creepshow, Day Of The Dead, and From Dusk Till Dawn.

CP: What has been the most grueling movie to work on? Why?

T: Creepshow. It was five little movies, and it was just me and my 17-year-old assistant Daryl. 

CP: What were your first thoughts when you started to see special effects makeup being replaced by CGI in horror movies? How did you bridge this dramatic shift in the industry?

T: I love CGI when it is done well...it became a very useful tool. The best effects are a combination of CGI and practical.

CP: The horror movies of the mid-70s to the mid-80s are considered the golden age of the modern horror movie. And now many of those cult/classic films are being remade. You remade Night of the Living Dead back in 1990, and you have a remake of Nightmare City in the works, if you were given the opportunity to direct another remake of your choice, what would it be?

T: It would be what I intended to do with Night of the Living Dead.

CP: Zombies, werewolves, vampires, demons, beasts, mutilated bodies … Do you have a favourite creation?

T: No … they are all my children.

CP: Outside of your own work, name three special makeup effects sequences or creations that you consider benchmarks of the art.

T: Rob Bottin’s work in The Thing, Rick Baker’s on An American Werewolf in London, Dick Smith’s on The Exorcist.

CP: Any young, up-and-coming practitioners in the art of special effects makeup you would single out for their talent? 

T: There are way too many.

CP: What is the most important element in a horror movie that a budding director should adhere to?

T: That the best scares come from suspense. Any idiot can jump up and yell “Boo!” 

CP: If you had to pick three horror movies of the past fifty years to be put into a time capsule as representative of the cinematic genre, what would they be?

T: Frankenstein, The Exorcist, and Alien.

CP: How’s the Nightmare City remake coming along? Any other projects you're working on? 

T: They are rewriting Nightmare City, and I just did six episodes of From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series.

CP: Thanks Tom!

Smoke and Mirrors: The Tom Savini Story screens as part of Sydney's A Night Of Horror International Film Festival, Friday, November 25th, 9pm, Dendy Cinemas Newtown. 

Q&A with Sevé Schelenz, director of PEELERS

Cult Projections: You’ve worked as an editor for twenty odd years, how did your first feature, Skew, come about? Was it difficult to make?

Sevé: The idea for Skew came to me the day before a planned road trip with two other friends.  I always loved to just grab my video camera and shoot anything I could and have fun with the footage. All of a sudden this crazy horrific scenario hit me, “What if I brought my camera along for this trip and I started seeing some weird things through its viewfinder?” - I took this idea and actually constructed a very rough first draft of the script during the four days of our road trip.  It took another six months to finish the final draft.  -Making Skew (as with any film) was an enormous process.  Long pre-production, long production, long post-production.  -You just can’t avoid it on a true indie feature film. That’s not to say I didn’t have fun! Working with a small cast and crew was a real treat and kept the creative juices flowing for everyone. Being my first feature as a Producer/Director/Writer, Skew was an amazing experience. As a matter of fact, my history in post production was a huge asset to making the film. As an editor I was able to take the knowledge of what footage needed to actually be filmed in order to construct a story in post. So, it was an advantage for me to be on set as the director of my own projects because I knew what had to be put in the can before the editing began.

CP: Had you seen many found footage movies when you made Skew? Which movies of this horror sub-genre have impressed you the most?

S: I personally had not seen many found footage films before I made Skew.  Actually, The Blair Witch Project was the only one I can think of at the time and it definitely was an inspiration to me.  I remember going to the theatre and saying to myself, “Yes, I know this is fake but let’s pretend it’s real and go along for the ride.” It turned out to be one of the best experiences for me at the theatre.  I had never seen a film like this and the realism of it was the most shocking and scary aspect. I realised then that I could get away with making an indie film and not worry about it looking like so low-budget. That was the real crux for me from the get-go when I wanted to make my first feature.  I felt the technology wasn’t quite there yet and most indie films with small budgets tried to look bigger and failed. I just didn’t want to be another traditionally-shot, throw-away indie film that looks cheap. Found footage essentially saved the day for me. Now, having said that, there has been a large debate about whether Skew is a found footage film or not. If you’re interested in that debate, there’s enough literature about it online. At this point, I’ll let the fans make up their own minds.

CP: What compels you as a filmmaker about the horror genre? What kind of horror movies tickle your fancy the most? What kind of horror movies disinterest you? 

S: What compels me about the horror genre is trying to really scare the crap out of people. It’s such a hard feat these days, but if you can do something that the audience is not expecting, it can be very rewarding. Although Peelers is more of an action-horror film and definitely has a number of its own unique scares, I do love horror movies that mess with your mind and also love the traditional slow-burn types that build the tension and sense of dread like Halloween or Rosemary’s Baby. I’m not really into the torture porn horror flicks. I have no interest in films like Hostel or The Human Centipede. That type of horror just doesn’t do it for me. I find it over-the-top gratuitous and not that enjoyable to watch.

CP: Tell me about the origin of Peelers? How did you team up and collaborate with Lisa DeVita?

S: I actually met Lisa at a post facility where I was working as a colourist and she was a post production coordinator. I originally recruited her for my baseball team when I learned she played and we were in need of a girl. I only found out later that she was an aspiring screenwriter. I heard she lived in Las Vegas for a while and so when I approached her about writing a stripper horror flick, she was giddy with excitement and came onboard immediately. We hit it off and worked together really well. We both have thick skin and neither one of us gets offended by anything so none of that political correctness bullshit ever comes into play. It’s very liberating. As for the origin of Peelers, you’ll have to ask Lisa the story behind the inspiration for the script as she tells it the best (hint: it involves a strip club she visited while in Vegas). 

CP: You and Lisa have small roles in the movie, had you always planned to play the cops? 

S: Hello?? Spoiler! Kidding. I definitely had the idea of giving us a cameo but I didn’t share this with Lisa until she was finished with the script. I knew she would try to get out of it and it took a bit of convincing to get her on board. As a matter of fact, the other two producers of Peelers appear in the same scene and they were reluctant to do it as well. But I knew I would be able to change their minds and have them in the scene. Once they saw my acting they probably realsed it was going to be a cakewalk.

CP: Actually, you and Lisa had a hand in many of the movie’s key departments. Tell me about the pros and cons of being so involved. What was the hardest part? What was the most enjoyable?

S: You quickly learn in indie filmmaking that if you want something done, you have to do it yourself.  So, for this reason as well as for budget, Lisa and I had our hands in every single department. I’d say the cons of being so involved in the whole production process is that there is so much to do that you really spread yourself thin and you don’t eat or sleep much. It’s very stressful and just when one thing goes right, ten others go wrong. And if you’re not familiar with a department or a procedure, you have to learn it on the fly because no one is there to help you. The good thing about wearing twenty hats at once is that you get final say on everything and you call all the shots.  You don’t worry about getting burned by someone whom you thought you could trust, it’s all on you. The hardest part was trying to play director and producer at the same time once production was under way. It just doesn’t work. You have to be totally focused on your role as a director; you don’t have time to be putting out fires as a producer when you’re working with the actors and the crew. Thankfully, that’s where Lisa came in. I deferred the producer problems to her and our second producer when they popped up during production and enjoyed watching her try and deal with those fires … She hates conflict and tries to avoid it at all costs. But as a producer, it’s part of the job. The most enjoyable department for me was editing. I love being in a room finally all alone with all the footage and putting it all together to create a story.  

CP: The movie has been doing very well on the international film festival circuit, is there a particular audience that Peelers appeals to? Did you expect this kind of response? What festivals have you enjoyed attending?

S: Peelers definitely appeals to the rowdy, fun, sneak-beer-into-the-theatre-type crowd. We’ve been to festivals where the audience seems civil enough and then once the film gets going, the crowd just goes nuts. It’s like a light goes on and they say, “Oh, it’s this kind of film! Wahooo! I can finally have some fun!” And they do. They’re laughing out loud and whooping and cheering. They get into it. It’s been a blast to experience. We honestly didn’t know what to expect. We just hoped that people would enjoy the story. And so far, it’s really been that way. It’s weird to say this, but it’s like a “feel good” stripper movie. And not because it’s got a happy ending and everything works out (trust me, that’s far from the case), but because it’s just a fun ride with a story and a bunch of characters that everyone seems to genuinely like. As far as festivals, we absolutely loved attending Sitges, Leeds and Razor Reel (in Bruges). All three festivals had great turnouts and the audiences were enthusiastic and buzzing afterward. Shriekfest in L.A. was good too. The crowd left shaking their heads in disbelief and laughing the whole time. 

CP: How important is humour and exploitation in a horror movie? How does it work best? 

S: While I don’t think either humour or exploitation are absolutely important or mandatory for a horror movie, both work well in Peelers. With our film I wanted to give the audience a break from the gore and violence by injecting some humour into the mix. I find it allows the audience to empathise much more with the characters. As for the exploitation, I think that term is used far too often to generalise a horror film. Exploitation has been used to describe so many low budget non-Hollywood horror flicks because of the raw and roughness of an indie film. I think it fully depends on what type of sub-genre of horror you’re creating that exploitation comes into view. Funny enough, story and characters are my number one concern when making a film, even horror, and the rest becomes complementary to this.

CP: What’s your opinion on the use of practical effects vs. CGI? What are some of your favourite examples of both?

S: I’m an old-fashioned filmmaker so I’m all for practical effects if possible. That being said, having worked on CGI firsthand with Peelers, I have a deep appreciation for the work that goes into visual effects. Both have their place in film. Some of my favourite practical effects are in Jurassic Park (I know, not a horror, but it’s a favourite) and The Exorcist. As for VFX, the American version of The Ring comes to mind. Overall, as a filmmaker I always think of doing an effect practically first. Yet, in the end, it comes down to what it will take to realistically make the effect happen. Budget and time ultimately decide the route to follow on creating an effect.

CP: How tailored was Peelers in terms of classification? Considering it’s set in a sleazy strip club, it’s remarkably tasteful, all things considered. Even the gore factor is kept under reigns, relatively. Were you and Lisa tempted to make a more extreme movie? 

S: With Peelers, we wanted to do something different. There have been a few stripper horror films already made and I feel that many or them don’t really work. Probably one of the best stripper horror films would have to be From Dusk Till Dawn. Seeing as that was the pinnacle of this sub-genre and there weren’t many others to follow, we felt we could bring a breath of fresh air into it.  Enter Peelers. We wanted to give the strip club a slightly cleaner look. Having the colours pop and giving a stylised look to the club. Even our opening title sequence has a “James Bond” feel to it.  Breaking the rules and giving something different to the audience, that’s what our plan was. Oh, and of course we really bent the rules with our leading lady being so strong and kicking ass in a strip club rather than being a victim as most stripper horror flicks have done.

CP: What would be your horror movie desert island flicks? (just five movies)

S: Desert Island… Ha!  Can I put Jaws at the top of the list? In addition to that I’d pick Alien, The Ring, Evil Dead 2 and The Thing. Is there a Blockbuster on the island so I can rent more? Wow, Blockbuster…wonder if your younger readers even know what that is?

CP: So, what do you have planned next? 

S: Well, we have a bucket-load of films we’re working on right now. They’re all in different stages of development AND all different genres. You may be surprised to know the project most advanced at this stage is actually a family film. Wait for it … it’s a talking dog flick. Our projects are very much like us: original, creative and possibly pushing the envelope. One way or another, you’ll always have fun with what we have in store for you. Oh, did I mention we’re also working on a comedy, a sci-fi, a thriller and a trilogy that begun as a novel that Lisa is working on right now?  And we may have another horror up our sleeve as well.

CP: Thanks Sevé!

S: Thanks Bryn!  Was fun to get a chance to answer all your great questions.  I hope your readers get the opportunity to catch Peelers at A Night of Horror Film Fest this year. If they do, I’ll be there in person to screen the film and I hope they get a chance to say hello.

Q&A with Kier-La Janisse, Festival Director of Monster Fest

Cult Projections: You’re a force to be reckoned with, a legend in your own time. You’ve been published, and been involved with genre film festivals for nearly twenty years, and no doubt a fan of horror and exploitation, in all its permutations, for a lot longer. You’ve been instrumental in various endeavours, launches, exhibitions, pet projects, programmes, productions, and publications, etc … You must have so many stories to tell. So, let me keep it simple, I’ll just grill you on a whole bunch of favourites or notables, so your answers can be short and sweet. So, to kick off, what publication, book or magazine, made you want to become a writer?

Kier-La: The Outsiders. As a kid when I read that she was only sixteen when she wrote it, I wanted to publish a novel by the time I was 16 too. Of course I ended up in reform school at sixteen so it took a little longer! 

CP: What film festival event has been the most memorable?

K: I really loved Flatpack in Birmingham, UK because every screening had something unusual about it, it was the most creatively-curated festival I’d ever been to.

CP: What director would you love to program a retrospective of?

K: Robert Downey Sr. Probably not at Monster Fest though!

CP: What’s your favourite vampire movie?

K: The Hunger. Or maybe Vampire’s Kiss with Nicholas Cage. Haha. 

CP: What’s your favourite zombie movie?

K: Messiah of Evil. Which is also just one of my favourite American films, period. [Ed: I love that movie too]

CP: What’s your favourite werewolf movie? 

K: The Company of Wolves.

CP: What’s your favourite stalk’n’slash movie?

K: Of that classic 80s era? April Fool’s Day, even though it pretty much fails as a slasher movie. But I just think it has such a believable, likeable ensemble cast, and I think Fred Walton is a really underrated director. I think his made-for-TV sequel to When a Stranger Calls is also amazing, but it’s more ‘stalk’ than ‘slash’.

CP: What’s your favourite giallo?

K: Probably Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion but hard to ignore the impact of the first ones I saw like Deep Red and Lizard in a Woman’s Skin.

CP: What’s your favourite ghost or supernatural movie?

K: Supernatural would be Carrie, but if we’re talking ghosts, then it would be Jack Clayton’s The Innocents.

CP: What’s your favourite Lovecraftian movie?

K: The Real Ghostbusters episode “The Collect Call of Cathulu”

CP: What’s your favourite score?

K: The Haunting of Julia composed by Colin Towns.

CP: What’s your favourite use of sourced music in a movie?

K: Radio On directed by Chris Petit.

CP: What’s your favourite gore gag or special effects sequence?

K: Girl vomiting up her intestinal tract in Gates of Hell will always be a fave.

CP: Who is your favourite psychotic woman?

K: The obvious one – Isabelle Adjani in Possession!

CP: Who is your favourite psycho/boogeyman?

K: The hearse driver in Burnt Offerings.

CP: What’s your favourite movie involving witchcraft?

K: I love all witches, so hard to pick. I love “The Dust Witch” in Something Wicked This Way Comes. But overall Witch movie? Suspiria is going to be hard to beat. Although a less obvious second choice would be Casting the Runes, the Lawrence Gordon Clark TV movie.

CP: What is your earliest memory of being frightened by a movie or television show?

K: Horror Express – I was three, saw it on a Saturday afternoon at my grandmother’s house and had nightmares about it for almost a decade.

CP: What was your first “adult” experience (sneaking into an R, X, or NC-17-rated movie, or renting an R-rated VHS when you were underage, etc)?

K: I saw restricted movies all the time as a kid. I went to see Valley Girl with my dad and it was really embarrassing because when EG Daily’s top came off he went “Ooooh!!” really loudly. But I remember my mom really didn’t want me to see Porky’s – but when she warned me about it, I had already seen it! 

CP: What’s your favourite sleazy, dodgy, grindhouse-style movie?

K: Poor Pretty Eddie. I absolutely love this film.

CP: What is your favourite found footage or mockumentary movie?

K: Punishment Park.

CP: What is your favourite movie based on a true story, or events, or real person?

K: I think one I just saw for the first time – The Boys

CP: What is your favourite Asian movie?

K: Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41.

CP: What is your favourite European movie?

K: The Night Porter.

CP: What is your favourite Australian movie?

K: Wake in Fright. [Ed: Yes, it’s my fave Oz movie too]

CP: What is your favourite rape-revenge movie?

K: Ms. 45.

CP: What movie have you watched the most times? How many times?

K: I had a bet with a girl in Grade 9 that I could watch The Breakfast Club more times than she could. I watched it fifty-six times. I do not think I have watched any film more times than that ever since.

CP: What five movies would be your “desert island flicks”?

K: Cockfighter, Vice Squad, Jaws, Over the Edge, and the last would be a tossup between Carrie and Streets of Fire.

CP: What five movies from the past ten years have impressed you the most?

K: Let the Right One In, The Babadook, February, Evolution, See You Next Tuesday.

CP: What three things shouldn’t people miss at Monster Fest!

K: I think my personal picks might be the new restoration of On the Silver Globe, the rare screening and presentation on the “Witch Hunt” episode of Homicide (an absolutely amazing episode set partially in Hawthorne where Monster Fest takes place) and The Cult of Monster All-Night Marathon!

CP: Thank you Kier-La!!

Monster Fest runs Thursday, November 24th - Sunday, November 27th at Lido Cinemas, Melbourne. 

For complete program, info, and screening times visit monsterfest.com.au

Q&A with Richard Wolstencroft, director of Melbourne Underground Film Festival

Cult Projections: Now in its 17th year has the Melbourne Underground Film Festival found its sweet spot? Is running the festival a passion, a labour of love, a kind of alternative obligation to the Australian film industry, or something else? 

Richard: All of the above - a divine madness. I just thought something should be done in the industry, new noices were NOT being heard and I wanted to help get them heard, so I did. And I keep doing it EVERY year, out of passion and spite. MUFF has inspired the likes of other indie fests like SUFF, A Night Of Horror & Fantastic Planet, and Monsterfest to do their own thing, and along with Revelation Film Festival under Jack Sargeant and Richard Sowada, well, we are The Four Horseman of Cinema Apocalypse and Innovation in this country. I do sometimes get conflicted when working on my own films and MUFF intrudes, as it is this year as I am in pre-production on my new feature for mid-October. But I always love doing it, I love the filmmakers and discovering new talent. It has been around long enough now to even earn the respect of some of my enemies.

CP: Has MUFF evolved much since its inception? Do you stand by any kind of Festival Director’s motto or manifesto?

R: “Make The Australian Film Industry Great Again”. Riffing on Trump … But thinking about it, that has always been the theme and goal. A festival as incubator, provocateur and cinema movement itself. MUFF is a vital incubator these last seventeen years for a new type of DIY and micro-budget attitude and spirit, and the first film fest in the world to play the likes of James Wan, who is now surpassing even Wes Craven’s achievements in international horror cinema, Greg Mclean of Wolf Creek, Patrick Hughes of Expendables 3 fame and Abe Forsythe who has the new film Down Under coming out about the Cronulla race riots, which is an excellent new Australian film, to name just a few.

CP: How easy or difficult is the selection process? Do you rely mostly on cold submissions? How often have you tried hard to source a particular film?

R: We use Withoutabox and Film Freeway and few other platforms, and the entry form online. We don’t look for production value, glitz and polish, we look for ideas, spirit and an aggressive attitude. We look for something out of the ordinary, talent really. But I’m NOT pedantic. In fact I have EVEN selected films for MUFF based on the personality and drive of the filmmaker alone, without seeing the film. I don’t even NEED to see the work until we play it sometimes, if the filmmaker has a GET UP and GO attitude, which I look for. A “never say die” spirit.

CP: As you mentioned, this year the MUFF tagline is “Make the Australian Film Industry Great Again”. What do you perceive is so wrong with the local industry? Can you give me any specific examples of “bad” movies? What Aussie films have you seen - outside of MUFF - in the last ten years that really impressed you?

R: Let’s be honest, The Dressmaker sucked dick. It was a sort-of-hit with some, but I hated it. Un-Australian feminist garbage. Of which they have decided to make a lot more I hear. A Month of Sundays, it felt like that watching it. Geez. Tediously dull film, un-engaging. Two recent pet peeves. I’ve got a list of film of Government-funded critical and commercial failures, it’s a long list since 2000, over one hundred films - from Danny Deckchair to Book of Revelation to My Year without Sex - how dull does that sound? How about My Year of Unending Sex. Australia has it all ass up. Who wants to see a film called My Year Without Sex? No one, and no one did. 

CP: Do you have any standout favourite features and/or short films that have screened over the years?

R: Tin Can Man by Ivan Kavanagh and starring Michael Parle is my fav MUFF film. I am working with Parle in October, he’s flying out to be in my new film. Then The Magician by Scott Ryan is another highlight, which Nash Egerton got involved in later down the line. But The Perfect Nonsense on Opening Night this year at MUFF is another recent fave.

CP: How abreast do you keep with other “underground” genre-based film festivals within Australia? Do you see MUFF as being an exception, or ahead of the field? How relevant is the “underground” scene in Australia?

R: I like breasts - boom tish! But I think as I said that MUFF, SUFF, A Night Of Horror, Revelation, and Monsterfest are the happening indie fests down under now. MIFF and SIFF continue to do what they do with a large budget, play a section of decent overseas art house films, but their Australian sections are rather weak and woeful some years. MUFF is a proud Nationalist Film Festival, as in we are an openly supporting Aussie cinema festival. 

CP: What elements should an “underground” film festival strive to highlight and champion? 

R: I don’t really give a shit about definitions. To me “underground” is the NEW word for “indie”, whereas Sundance films all star George Clooney and Brad Pitt and are not real “indie” anymore. Underground film festivals these days play the REAL indie films, that’s even changing as SUFF mainly play commercial genre cinema, for example. It’s NOT what it used to mean, i.e the films of Jonas Mekas and Kenneth Anger say, though they are still a part of it. At MUFF it is low budget to micro budget genre cinema mostly. That’s what we foster, like and promote mostly and many of these filmmaker go on to ACTUAL careers - I know unheard of I know - unlike filmmakers MIFF and SIFF promote, who are mostly all PC wankers, funding leeches, pals of funding people and gender ring ins with no actual talent, or even calling for cinema or deep knowledge of it. etc. 

CP: As an independent filmmaker yourself what key elements are most important when making your own short or feature? What mistakes do you see being made by other filmmakers?

R: The cast is all on a low budget film and just being prepared, you don’t need big crews or fancy cameras or sound mixes. Just get out there and do it, and have something to say and express. THINK! And be AGGRESSIVE.

CP: You have a very strong and opinionated view of politics, and frequently stir the pot on social media for reaction, do you think it’s important for politics to influence a film festival? What about politics within the arts culture, should the two be kept separate, or do you see them as inherent bedfellows? 

R: Yes, I’m the Facebook troublemaker from Hell and even troll at times to stir the pot. My politics are acquired taste, and are a mix of Left and Right ideas. The new movement - The Alt Right - a Western Society advocating movement connected to Trump I have written a few articles and film reviews for. But all this only marginally effect the actual programming of MUFF, which is just a bit punk, DIY, genre, cheeky non-PC, and just get to it. I don’t think my own personal politics is that relevant to the actual content of the festival. People who try and link the two as inherently connected are misguided. 

CP: Where do you see MUFF in the next five years? What personal film projects do you have on the boil? 

R: I plan to make three genre features in two years. The first is The Debt Collector. it shoots from mid October. Then two after that, one is a REAL hot tomato. Hoping after these slate of indie movies I’m making, that someone might realise I am the genius I am; Von Trier, Tarantino, Malick and Ken Russell blended in a Cronenberg fly pod, and give me some proper budgets we can really begin to cook. "Nothing stops this train," as Walter White said. I also wish to enable a slate of one hundred grand features from the best MUFF, Rev, Monsterfest and SUFF filmmakers to get a whole New Vanguard in Australian Cinema movement going. We juts need about $100 to 200k per film from the funding bodies or private sources, to totally transform this industry in two or three years. 

CP: What are some of your favourite movies? Has your taste in film changed much over the past twenty years?

R: My favourite film is Barry Lyndon by Kubrick, but I have a vast film taste and knowledge of it. If… by Lindsay Anderson is a big influence and the films of Ken Russell. Maidstone by Norman Mailer I saw recently that impressed the hell out of me. 

CP: What filmmakers and actors do you admire? Why?

R: Terrence Malick, David Lynch, Herzog, Cronenberg, Von Trier, Winding Refn, Michael Mann, Scorsese, De Palma, Kubrick, Bunuel, Hitchcock, Pasolini, John Ford, Peckinpah, Tarantino. Ken Russell, they’re all geniuses. 

CP: Thanks Richard!

Melbourne Underground Film Festival opens tonight and runs until September 17th. Fore complete program and venue details check www.muff.com.au

Q&A with Briony Kidd, director and programmer of Stranger With My Face International Film Festival

Cult Projections: At what age were you drawn to horror as a cinema genre? What were some of the movies that first really impressed you? Do you still hold them in high regard?

Briony: I wasn't exposed to horror much as a kid. But I enjoyed anything weird and a bit otherworldly—time travel stories, ghost stories, body swapping. Three films that were really influential for me were The Innocents (Jack Clayton), The Piano (Jane Campion) and Picnic at Hanging Rock (Peter Weir). I respect those films as much now as I did when I first saw them, if anything they only get better with time. Seeing the George Romero zombie films when I was a teenager had a huge impact too, in terms of my understanding of what horror can achieve.

CP: You founded Stranger With My Face with Rebecca Thomson. Who took the inspiration from the Lois Duncan novel, and tell me a little about “the horror within” and its influence on the festival’s manifesto.

B: Rebecca and I started the festival because we're both filmmakers who had been supported by the "women in horror" movement and we felt inspired by the power of that. We were initially just going to screen some of the films from the Viscera Film Festival's archive of short films (Viscera was women's horror festival in Los Angeles that also toured its films to other events). But then I found other things I wanted to add to the line-up and it grew from there. 

The idea of the 'horror within' is really just a way of explaining what interests me as a programmer. It's always been me programming the festival, so it's fairly idiosyncratic in that sense. I personally am not as excited about straight 'monster' stories where's there's a bad guy and he's just trying to kill you and you have to fight. Of course I love Halloween, so it can work brilliantly - but even in that film it's the weird connection between Laurie and Michael Myers that's intriguing. It's the sense that there may be some link between the hero and the villain that I find interesting….or even that they may be the same person (metaphorically), because it feels very true to life. So maybe it's just a taste for horror that goes deeper into the psyche. The name of the festival came about because I was thinking through all these ideas and trying to work out how to sum them up and that's the phrase that popped into my head. Lois Duncan had explained it perfectly with that title. And luckily she was happy for us to use the name.

CP: What was the first year of the festival and what was it like? The festival had a year off, has the festival returned in any dramatically different way? Where do you see the festival in five years? 

B: The first year of the festival in 2012 was low key but it took off straight away, in terms of filmmakers and guests attending from interstate and support from the local film community. So it really seemed like there was a need for it and we should keep going. The first three years were about growing a little bit each time, learning from mistakes, refining things. Last year I took a year off, because I'm the only one working permanently on the event and I needed to have a break and think about how it could move forward and grow. What I decided, with advice, is that the festival needed to get slightly bigger and become more of an international event, hence the name change. There are two elements to that - and one is that we can better highlight and support the lesser known and emerging filmmakers in the festival if we ourselves have a higher profile, and two is that we can also attract bigger films and premieres. It's striking the right balance between the two that is the trick. In five years I hope we'll have a sustainable model based on various funding sources and a loyal, committed audience. I guess that's what every festival would like to have!

CP: As the festival programmer, do you have any strict criteria you look for? What about the Bechtel test, do you employ that when selecting movies?

B: Apart from demonstrating skill in craft and writing, the key criteria is that films should have a point of view, some kind of “voice” or perspective. If it's just a mood piece or a scary story that goes nowhere, it's not worth the slot it's going to take in the program. I don't care so much about the Bechdel Test, my thinking being that I'm mainly selecting films by women and that, in itself, is a sort of “test” that's already been passed. If I'm looking at a film by a male director I might consider that a bit more.

CP: With advanced technology so readily available now, there are more filmmakers submitting short films to festivals than ever before. What key elements in a short are you looking for? What problematic issues (that will cause you to reject the short) do you see filmmakers making most frequently?

B: The main problem with most short films I see is that the filmmaker has no idea what they want to say. They haven't put anything of their personality or morality into it and so they're not risking anything, in that sense. Sure, it's valid to make something to test out a visual style or an aesthetic, but it's unlikely to resonate with an audience. Conversely, another big problem is the lack of any kind of specific visual style. So you'll see boring lighting, banal production design, terrible music that's like wallpaper. If you're not interested in that stuff fine, but then maybe you should find a different medium to work in. The other big one is length. Don't make your short film more than 6 or 7 minutes unless you have a highly original concept and story that has legs, that goes beyond a set-up and a payoff. And don't wait for a couple of minutes to have anything happen! We're bored already.

CP: There’s been a trend of horror movies of late harnessing a retro atmosphere/tone/mood, especially the late 70s and early 80s. Why do you think filmmakers are being influenced and inspired by this era? 

B: I would speculate that filmmakers are inspired by more design-driven cinema at the moment because they're depressed at how low budgets have dropped and at being encouraged to do less and less with style (in terms of lighting something elaborately or using a lot of formal filmmaking techniques). I mean, sure, the found-footage thing was fun for a while, but as soon as it became this idea of “Oh, you don't really need much money to make a horror film, do it with handheld cameras” it became a problem. Perhaps the resurgence of certain retro styles is in direct response to that. It's about saying, “No, we actually do need time and money to make films.” 

CP: What’s your opinion on remakes? Have you seen any you rate highly? If a movie is remade, what should the criteria be for remaking it? 

B: Remakes are great if there's a reason for the film being made - such as if the director has a new take on the material, or loves it the original and wants to honour it while moving the conversation forward somehow (such as with Stoker and its links to Shadow of a Doubt). If it's just a “Oh we own this property so we might as well” sort of remake, I'd rather not see it. 

CP: If you could feature a retrospective of any director, alive or dead, whose work would you programme? Name five movies you would definitely screen.

B: A lot of the filmmakers I'd like to screen the work of may not actually have five solid films to include in a list—or may not have even made five films full stop. I feel like there are only such a limited number of filmmakers in the world who've had that privilege, of building a large body of work over time (and it's no accident that there are not many women in that category). Off the top of my head, a filmmaker I can think of is Donald Cammel. He only made four features. So those four! [Ed: Great answer]

CP: Outside of the festival, are you working on anything as a filmmaker? 

B: I have several feature film projects in development, including one through Screen Tasmania's Pitch Plot and Produce low budget feature initiative this year that's loosely a horror melodrama. I'm also working in theatre, such as a collective I'm part of called Radio Gothic. We create experimental radio plays to be performed in front of an audience, but we'll hopefully also podcast them at some stage.

CP: Thanks Briony!

Stranger With My Face International Film Festival screens in Tasmania, April 14th - 17th. Visit the site for full details, venues, and programme. 

Interview with Lucky McKee, writer/director of May, The Woods, and The Woman

This interview was originally published online in August 2011. 

Cult Projections: I presume you started off watching movies on VHS, like I did, at a young age, but then snuck into R-rated films –

Lucky: I didn’t get to sneak into R-rated films ‘cos I lived in the country, you know, so up until the age of about eleven or twelve my family would go to the movies maybe once a year, if we were lucky, so movies were a really, really special thing. We were the last family on the block to have a VCR, so we would rent VCRs for our birthdays, when I was very young, and eventually when I started watching the few movies I could get my hands on, over and over again, I’d say around the time I was twelve I finally had the access I needed, and I started just devouring. I didn’t get to grow up with a lot of that stuff, like a lot of kids do, which is kinda cool ‘cos I saw the films with different eyes. 

CP: Yeah, yeah.

L: There are still a lot of films that everyone grew up on I still haven’t seen. I’m always trying to play catch up, but you’ll never be able to see everything. 

CP: No. So what were some of the horror movies that had first a real impression on you, and inspired you to become a filmmaker?

L: The first was one of the times we rented a VCR for my sister’s birthday, and me and her, and my cousins – all girls – just decided to rent a bunch of horror movies. One of our cousins from the city was gonna scare us by showing us stuff that we’d never seen before, so we watched Psycho II, Carrie, and The Hitcher, which is a pretty damn good triple feature. Psycho II is actually pretty cool. We stayed up late at night, and we were scared to walk down the hallway to go to the bathroom, all that kind of stuff … 

CP: [laughs]

L: … because we lived in a big old house in the country when I was a kid, which made it extra spooky. We just had a blast, and I loved that feeling, that fascination just kinda stuck with me. My dad’s boss, he had a VCR and a massive movie collection, so we got to watch stuff like American Werewolf in London, and Faces of Death, and all this crazy stuff, and I was really young, and it all made such an impression. Like fairy tales make an impression on a child, you know? So it kinda grew from there.

CP: Horror films just are like dark fairy tales.

L: Absolutely. It all comes from the same place. 

CP: So what was it about A Nightmare on Elm Street that impressed you so much that you decided to make your own version?

L: I think it’s just the fact that it deals with the subconscious, which is really exciting. In The Woman I have a dream that opens the film, and the whole movie of The Woods is dreams and nightmares and all that kind of stuff. I love getting inside the subconscious. There’s something really freeing about that. I think David Lynch is probably the best person at creating the subconscious on film without being pretentious. So that’s what I really connected to. The early Nightmare on Elm Street films are so damn creative. 

CP: Certainly the first one. 

L: And the third one has got a lot of amazing stuff in there. I just hooked into it, you know? It’s like fairy tales. That stuff makes such a stark impression on you. 

CP: Following the screening of May at the Sundance Film Festival, how did the movie get picked up by Lion’s Gate?

L: I think Lion’s Gate knew about the film going in, they were really interested in it before we even showed it. My producers had a pretty good relationship with them at that point. It was amazing to show it for the first time, because we’d been working on it for so long that I was nervous that people wouldn’t understand the strange sense of humour that it has. It was a fantastic midnight screening, everyone was just laughing, uncomfortable, emotional, just feeling a whole bunch of different emotions, and Lion’s Gate just jumped right in there and snatched it up. It was a different time ten years ago, and showing The Woman at Sundance in the same category, years later, now it seems companies are more afraid of this kind of stuff. It’s like we’re getting more and more conservative! 

CP: There’s a neo-conservatism happening. 

L: Yeah. 

CP: We could talk for days about that. That’s the beef I have. So would you have predicted the cult following that May was going to create for you from those early screenings? 

L: I don’t think you can predict that sort of thing, I’m just surprised people still talk about it, and it means a lot when people come up to me and tell me how much the movie means to them, emotionally. People tell me the movie has helped them get through hard times. 

CP: It hasn’t dated in a weird kind of way.

L: It’s the same reason I can watch Taxi Driver over and over again; loneliness is something everyone can relate to. I got a lot of my own personal problems out on film, just making it. 

CP: How did you meet Angela Bettis, and did you cast her straight away, or did you audition a lot of women for that role? 

L: I auditioned a hundred girls. We auditioned probably every young twenty-something actress in Hollywood, and Angela walked in one day, and it was hers. She wanted it. She understood it on such a deeper level than any of the others. We saw a lot of very cool people though, like Emily De Ravin, and Elisha Cuthbert who had just come into Hollywood. I was like, wow, this girl’s amazing. 

CP: They’re both amazing. 

L: Yeah, like we had our pick of some really amazing people, but Angela just had the quirk. She’s designed to be on camera, she’s got a gift. 

CP: But the support cast is great also. Jeremy Sisto and Anna Faris give great performances in it.

L: Oh yeah, yeah. 

CP: They bring an eccentric flavour to it as well, in their own way. 

L: Yeah, absolutely. 

CP: Obviously Dario Argento is an inspiration to you, and there are some references in May. But I was curious that the film Adam [Jeremy Sisto] wants to go see is Trauma, which I think is one of his lesser films. 

L: A lot of people say that, but the reason I have a love for Trauma is because I had made a short film in college, and a very important visual element was the Ophelia painting by Millais, and I had this fascination with taking fine classic art and transposing it to film, and a lot of that came from Scorsese, who takes a lot of influence from great painters. I had just used that painting and I saw Trauma and they use that painting in a similar way. I felt a connection to Argento and they way his films are like watching moving paintings, you know, like Suspiria

CP: Yeah, very expressionistic. 

L: Yeah, I just had a connection with that. But I do it in my own way. And also the Adam character in the film is based on me and a couple of my film buddies, so that’s what I was into at the time and that’s what came out. I wasn’t trying to be an Argentophile and make that statement, because I steal from Hitchcock more than I steal from Argento … because Argento steals from Hitchcock. 

CP: Well, exactly. 

L: But I adore Argento. I always learn something from his films. 

CP: Again, I could talk for days about Argento. Even his failures, there are enough elements within -

L: There’s a lot more going on in those films than people give credit to. 

CP: But he’s an acquired taste as well. 

L: Absolutely, absolutely. 

CP: Nearly all your movies have female protagonists, and I’m curious about this. What is it about women or girls in the central role that appeals to you? 

L: Well, #1: I’m a great admire of women. I was talking to Polly [Pollyanna McIntosh] about this; when I started, when I first wrote May, it was a deeply personal story, and I think I was kinda hiding behind it, being a woman, in a way because women are viewed by a lot of people as being ruled by emotion and ruled by passion and all those things, but I have those same qualities, so I think I was kind of hiding it at first and then I realised that by making May and making my early short films that I worked really well with actresses. For some reason I worked better with them than I did with men, and I was more interested to photograph women, not in a sleazy way, but to show women as the whole beings that they are, not just a surface for the male gaze, but from within!

CP: You employ a magic realism, or there’s surrealism, or there’s a blackly comic tone to your narratives, rather than being very realistic – 

L: And that goes back to the fairy tale thing. I like the fantastic element. Movies are supposed to be magic. It’s like the ending of May when the monster comes to life; that’s impossible, that’s something that would happen in a fairytale. I love that character so much I wanted her to get what she wanted. She’d earned it by that point. 

CP: So you came onboard the Masters of Horror series with really only one horror movie to your name that was May – 

L: And I was finishing The Woods

CP: So was that Mick Garris who approached you on the basis of those two? 

L: Yeah, I’m really good friends with Tobe Hooper, and we’d met at a party shortly after I’d finished May, and he watched May and fell in love with it and I’m obviously a great admirer of him, I’ve studied all his films for a long time, and we became friends, and then they started inviting me to these Master of Horror dinners where all these old-timers would get together and bring some of us young guys in and we’d just talk shop and a lot of those guys recommended me, and there was an open slot, and it was a real honour, ‘cos I grew up on all of their films, and to be a part of that group was amazing. I would never consider myself a master of horror or any of that, I mean, that’s a sales tool, those guys are masters, and to be welcomed into that group and make an original film was really cool. I was the youngest kid working on the show, but I made the most old-fashioned film stylistically, because I was pulling from 30s films and 40s films, and Angela’s performance was more like a stylised performance from that era, so that was kind a funny. And then you get Tobe’s film that looks like it was made a kid from the future! But it was a great honour and a wonderful experience. 

CP: Do you have a favourite from the series? Have you watched them all?

L: I watched most of them from the first season, I didn’t watch any of the second season. 

CP: I love Dario’s Jenifer

L: Yeah, I LOVE Jenifer, I love Tobe’s. 

CP: I liked Cigarette Burns, John Carpenter’s one.

L: Yeah, a lot of people are fond of that one, but that one didn’t strike me too much, a little too much talking. 

CP: I’ve read Off Season, which is one of my favourite horror novels.

L: It’s intense. 

CP: I haven’t seen Offspring, but I’m curious is the role of The Woman in Off Season, or does she first appear in OffSpring? 

L: I think she is in Off Season. I think she might be one of the younger members of the tribes and by the time we get to Offspring she’s running the show, by the end of Offspring she loses her whole family and she’s on her own again. That’s where I picked it up. 

CP: So did you see Offspring and loved that character [The Woman] and thought I want to make a movie with her in the lead? 

L: I was invited by Andrew van den Houten and Jack Ketchum to see the film in New York once it was completed. They wanted to know if I had any ideas of a way to continue it, and I did, because I was familiar with the novel, but I said you gotta let me make my kind of movie, you gotta let me go in a completely different way, this isn’t just gonna be rinse and repeat, which is what horror sequels usually are. And so they let me do my own thing, final cut, let me use all the artists I wanted to use. 

CP: Would you have persevered if Pollyanna hadn’t come onboard?

L: I don’t think so; because she was the reason I wanted it. 

CP: I’m fascinated as to why The Woman is causing controversy. 

L: [laughs] So am I. 

CP: Having read some of the hype and all these overseas critics’ quotes I came into the screening expecting something a lot more shocking and disturbing. And in the Q&A following the screening you mentioned that you’ve been disappointed with the current state of the American horror scene and you wanted to inject some subversive vitality into the American horror movie. There was mention of the European horror movies, and I thought of the French films such as Martyrs, Frontiers, Inside – 

L: Yeah. 

CP: - the Spanish Kidnapped, the South Korean I Saw the Devil

L: I haven’t seen that yet, I want to see that. 

CP: - A Serbian Film, so I was anticipating that we were building up and we were going to see something quite hardcore, and then I found that your direction was, considering the amount of bloodletting and gore, quite restrained. Even the rape was more suggestive than I was expecting. 

L: Yeah. 

CP: So I was wondering was this level of restraint partly you decision to appease the MPAA so you wouldn’t get into trouble with censorship? 

L: It’s personal taste really. I think if you bludgeon somebody with sex and violence so much that loses its effect. Some people do it brilliantly, like Martyrs is a good example, I mean that movie just goes so graphic and brutal, in a visceral sort of a way. I think it all came down to personal taste. I got children in some pretty rough sort of situations, so I was shooting that stuff in such a way that I could still look at myself in the mirror in the morning; it was all just personal taste. I do think about the ratings. I didn’t think we were going to get an R-rating, just because of the subject matter, and I always get a hard time in the censor’s area because of the psychological impact of the film. I didn’t expect to get an R-rating, but we got one, and the guy at the ratings board loved the movie, he was “Oh, you’re gonna do great with this! This is awesome!” 

CP: The MPAA’s criteria still baffles me. 

L: They gave me an R-rating for The Woods and there’s nothing in The Woods. There’s much worse stuff on television every night that’s disgusting you know. 

CP: I hate this new term “elevated horror”, I don’t think horror should be debased in this way. 

L: Horror has been the moneymaking stepchild for a long, long time. Horror always does well, but it’s not given the artistic respect. The same thing happened to Hitchcock when he was making films, he wasn’t given artistic respect, he was just looked at as a showman, as an entertainer. It took the French to show people that no, there’s a fucking artist here. But at the same time I think there’s just as many romantic comedies made with a lack of care, as there are horror films. I think the romantic comedy is a more piss-poor genre than the horror genre. That’s part of the reason I wanna make a romantic comedy some day, you know. 

CP: And do the Lucky twist. 

L: Yeah, exactly. I’m not trying to talk down on anybody’s horror film and I’m not trying to say that my shit doesn’t stink and that my horror films are more important than other person’s horror films, ‘cos fuck I grew up on horror films. I like a good, silly, straightforward … you know? I like stuff that’s not full of shit. I like the lack of pretension in horror. 

CP: I was reading one critic’s response to The Woman, asking “Has horror gone too far?” and I was thinking, well that’s a load of bollocks. 

L: That’s horror’s job. 

CP: Outside of making a real snuff movie … 

L: … that’s a load of shit. Yeah. Go back and watch Straw Dogs, that’s a fuckin’ horror movie. 

CP: Do you think there are taboos in horror and also what are the elements a great horror movie should possess? 

L: Gosh, I dunno, I can’t really call that. I’m just trying to make stuff that has horror elements that’s interesting to me. That’s kind of a tough one to answer. I don’t have the answers. I’m just trying to make my films and I respect anybody who can make a film, as long as they’re doing it with seriousness and care. 

CP: Now the role of the husband and father in The Woman, his psychopathic behaviour, and the dark comic tone that started to emerge as the movie went along reminded me of a movie called The Stepfather that I’m a big fan of. I was curious if there was any inspiration from that?

L: Nah, I haven’t seen it. 

CP: You haven’t seen it? Interesting. 

L: But that part probably comes from Hitchcock. My villain in this film is very much in the Hitchcock tradition, like Shadow of a Doubt, the Joseph Cotton very clean-cut, very well-spoken, but there’s just rot underneath that surface. I’ve always liked that kind of a villain, he’s not twirling his mustache, he looks like you and me. 

CP: How important is humour in a horror movie? Can a horror movie work with little or no humour?

L: I’m sure it can work for somebody else, but for my personal tastes, I need levity in there, because I have to live with this thing every day working on it, and if it’s all just a grind and it’s just awful, and it’s all just one note then … That’s why The Road didn’t work for me, it’s all just doom and gloom, there’s no hope in it, there’s no chance for hope, there’s no sense of humour. It’s just not something I’m interested in making. I think life is ups and downs; it’s not all just one thing. I love humour, and I have a really dark sense of humour with my friends. 

CP: That’s the best kind, not just slap-in-the-face-here’s-the-joke, but character based, cumulative. 

L: It’s humour out of discomfort or absurdity. 

CP: Exactly. Coming back to sequels, obviously The Woman is different than your average sequel, it’s quite self-contained, what’s your opinion on remakes and Hollywood’s increasingly lazy attitude with remakes and sequels? 

L: It’s gotten really bad, like it’s overtaken everything, brand names is all there is, like “I don’t wanna try this new soda, I wanna try the one that says Coke on it,” you know? But look at how many great remakes there’ve been. Look at The Thing, look at Cape Fear, there’s countless good ones. But it’s not something that I’m particularly interested in pursuing. It would have to be something I feel I could take to another place in my own way. Everything’s all about branding right now. I don’t know how we’re gonna get out form under that. There’s a bigger and bigger divide between independent film and studio film, and hopefully people will start getting tired of having the same crap shoved down their throat over and over again and they will start going back and seeking out these films. It always happens in cycles, it happened in the 70s, it happened in the early 90s, and it’s about to happen again. I would like to be part of a new wave as opposed to just tugging the line for the big money guys. 

CP: If you were offered a remake would there be anything that would be a deciding factor in whether you’d accept the job?

L: The political structure, especially if it was for a studio. I would have to have a lot of protection around me because I don’t make my movies by committee; I make my movies with my team, with a group of artists, not with a group of suits. There’s a lot of guys who’ll be watching your film and playing around on their Blackberrys and iPhones the entire time, not even watching the film, and then turn around and give you notes on your film, I can’t deal with people like that. So I need a layer of protection between me and that if I’m ever gonna go into that world again. 

CP: Yeah. So, how likely is a sequel to The Woman? The Family, maybe? 

L: The only thing that will dictate that is how well it does. And it has to be the right idea for me to want to be involved. I’m going to do a noir film next. 

CP: Will that be an original screenplay?

L: It’s based on a Ketchum novella that I’ve been optioning for about ten years called The Passenger. So I’m really excited about that, but it will be a real change of pace for me, a much more fast-paced film. All my films so far are kind of slow burns that build to this crazy crescendo. This one’s gonna be hard to keep up with. I’m gonna use a lot of the same people, the same team. I’ve got the script on the operating table right now, kinda Lucky-izing it. 

CP: I love noir.

L: Yeah, me too. I like Ida Lupino’s The Hitch-Hiker; I’m looking at a lot of that early stuff. At that time those movies had real bite, and were gritty, so I wanna do something in a modern context, that’s from that same tradition. 

CP: Nice. Well, that’s about it. 

L: Okay, well, was good talking with you, it went by quick. 

CP: It did, it did. I mean with beer in hand … 

L: Yeah, we could talk all day … 

Lucky McKee went on to direct a second version of All Cheerleaders Die (2013), which he originally co-directed on video in 2001, and one of the ten segments in Tales of Halloween (2015). 

Interview with Gareth Edwards, writer/director of Monsters

This interview was originally published online in November 2010.

Cult Projections: Firstly, fantastic film, one of my films of the year actually.

Gareth: Oh wow, thank you.

CP: Yeah. I’ve seen it twice and I’ll probably go back a third time.

G: Oh, wow! So did you make connections and all that with the end …?

CP: I was gonna come to that! But I went in on my first screening not knowing anything, apart from the fact that this was your first feature and you had a background in special effects. I was really, really impressed. 

G: Thank you. 

CP: How old are you and what age did you become involved in the movie industry?

G: I’m actually immortal; I’ve been living on earth since the Roman times.

CP: [chuckling]

G: I’d love that to be true. No, actually it would be a curse. 

CP: [laughing]

G: Thirty-five. What was the second part, sorry?

CP: What age did you become involved in the movie industry?

G: I think when I was two and I saw Star Wars. I was involved from that point on. 

CP: So was I. I was nine. When did you first start working with digital visual effects? Did you ever work with traditional optical effects, or did you by-pass that altogether? 

G: I was always interested in effects. Like anyone who likes the kinds of films that I like and you buy all those magazines like Starlog. There was very few growing up. There was Starlog, and there was Fangoria. There was very, very few behind the scenes stuff. Cinefx. And ‘cos of the love of film, you just learn about effects, but it was never something I wanted to do for a living, but I was really fascinated by them, and it was more going to film school and living with my flatmate who was doing computer animation and just seeing how powerful … just quizzing him so much, getting my head around; what is computer animation? What is the difference between 3D and 2D? And by the end I felt like I had a quite a good handle on it. And I couldn’t get a job after graduation, just so I just learned computers as a Plan B, so if no one came along and gave me the money to go make a movie I could, if I learned this stuff, then possibly I could go and make one myself, and it just took a lot longer than I wanted it to, and I ended up getting side-tracked doing computer graphics. I was never ever into computer graphics for the sake of it. I always just wanted to make films, and it was just a tool, and so I felt like I was completely going off course. Like I did one of those things where, you know when you’re in traffic and you think, “Oh my God, this is not moving at all, I’ll take a short cut, I know, maybe this road connects to the other one, and you start going, and it’s a one-way system and suddenly you’re like, oh my God, I’ve made a really bad decision, it’s going to take me longer than if I just stayed in the traffic,” and then suddenly, luckily I ended up on this slip road that went straight into the exact path I wanted. It all worked out really well by the end. But for awhile I was thinking I’d wasted, like, a decade. 

CP: I know you’re a fan of Spielberg’s films, what other science fiction films have inspired you?

G: Loads … Obviously Star Wars. All the usual suspects, like James Cameron, John Carpenter, Joe Dante, Robert Zemeckis, all those sort of people, but I’m really into B-movies - 

CP: Yep.

G: - and 1950s, and 60s. I call them B-movies, they’re really A-movies. Forbidden Planet’s not a B-movie, it’s an A-movie, but if I showed it someone who didn’t know anything, they’d go, “Oh that’s just some silly B-movie.”

CP: So would The Id be one of your favourite cinema monsters then?

G: I guess … I guess so. It’s a great example of not showing anything. The best monster movies tend to try and hide everything. I love that movie. I love the cosiness of it. I quite like Star Trek, the original series. I’m not a big fan of all the new stuff, but I like the original series, ‘cos it makes me feel cosy, and it makes me feel like a kid. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I like Lost in Space, the original. I just have this fantasy about being marooned on a planet. I just can’t think of anything better. It would be the ultimate way to live your life, to crash land on the planet and have to survive. I don’t know what it is about that? [pause] Is it a weird thing?

CP: No, no, no. [pause] You’ve probably heard this a lot; comparisons to District 9, but I find it curious in District 9 the aliens are called “prawns” and you’ve got a monster I’m calling an octo-crab. What brought you to that kind of look for the monster?

G: It was all based on the science behind that there could be aliens on Europa, which is Jupiter’s moon. And they’d be at the bottom of the ocean there and there’d be a sample taken. So for me they were from Europa, at the bottom of the ocean. So I looked at loads and loads of stuff. This is a cop-out thing to say, but I wasn’t trying to re-invent the wheel when it came to the creature design. Like Giger. H.R. Giger did Alien. It’s just phenomenal, that design. But it’s still a human in a suit. And it’s based on nature, it’s based on a penis, it’s based on teeth, and it’s based on insects. They reason it freaks you out is because it’s tapping into things in nature that freak you out; mixing things that warp your head a bit. Everything’s based on nature. For me the creature I wanted to be quite “classic”, to use a cop-out phrase. If you look at an episode of The Simpsons, if a giant monster turns up from space it’ll look like a tentacled thing, ‘cos that’s what everyone expects to see. Like a modern version of that. And also in my film they have to reach around inside closed spaces so it kinda felt like the way to go, that they’re from deep sea. [pause] The creatures in District 9 remind me more of insects. 

CP: Yeah … I certainly agree that the deep sea thing taps into a primal “what’s in the abyss coming up.”

G: The Abyss was a bit of an influence, actually. The bio-luminescence. How to make something slightly scary, but also slightly beautiful, which is a contradiction really. 

CP: But a nice one. 

G: Yeah. The more contradictions there are, the more interesting things are. Everything’s about contrast, the greater the contrast, the more attracted you are to look. 

CP: Primarily your film is a relationship film. Dare I ask it, but have there been any romance films that you’ve liked?

G: Sure. Lost in Translation is one that definitely influenced this film. Brief Encounter, which is David Lean, a British Film, is very much like Lost in Translation, but back in the past. My editor and I were trying to find what’s the best way to describe this film and with Brief Encounter being such an influence in a way, he said - and I agreed - if you weren’t gonna call it Monsters you should call it Brief Encounter of the Third Kind

CP: [chuckles] Nice. 

G: And he was like, “Damn it, that’s what it is, isn’t it?”

CP: Great acting aside, which your film has, on-screen chemistry is really important, and the one between Whitney and Scoot is very convincing and I believe they were a real-life couple during the shoot. Was that one of the reasons why you cast them?

G: Yeah, initially it was the only reason in terms of that being part of the deal. I wanted a real couple, first and foremost, and in retrospect, to give them credit, I think I was wrong, and I think they would’ve done a brilliant job if they were a couple or not. I get worried, ‘cos they are a real couple and they’re married now, people feel like what they’re witnessing is real chemistry, and it’s kinda not ‘cos all those little moments were happening in such strange situations, like the little looks were happening, like when he’s got the boxer shorts on in the middle of a crowded harbour or around a camp fire with a load of strangers with guns; all that was acting, all the poignant bits were acting. So they would’ve pulled it off a treat. But at the time, I was too nervous about leaving it to chance, I wanted some genuine chemistry. The way we shot it was a bit like a documentary, we shot the hell out of it and really went on that journey, and I didn’t want people to have to be switching it on and off, I wanted it to be always on, so we could shoot all the time, so if there was some random moment I could just capture it. That’s why I wanted a real couple. And they had a little pact that if they made it through the film without falling out, then they’d get married, so … 

CP: How much of the dialogue was improvised? 

G: A hell of a lot. We had all the points of each scene that they had to hit, and to just say it how you want, except for the scenes where they chat, and so the chats were very free. And in terms of those there would be pointers; talk about your friends back home, talk about what you’re gonna do tomorrow, and there would be these little hints, but they weren’t rigid guide lines and the actors could do what they wanted, and they’d just come up with stuff. They’d pull anecdotes from real life and we’d just shoot an hour and then we’d condense that in the edit, and cherry pick our favourite moments, and get it down to like a minute. 

CP: You got wonderful performances from all the featured extras, especially the ferry ticket seller. How difficult was it working with the locals in regards to performance? Did any of them have any film experience prior to that?

G: Most of them didn’t. He didn’t. He hadn’t acted in his life, as far as I know. We met him just before filming. I found it really easy. The trick is, you’ve got to let go, and not tell them what to do. All you want is something that feels really real, it’s not that I want specifically this. Put it this way; if I said “Can you put your piece of paper down on the table, get angry with me and tell me you need more time for the interview.” If I got you to do that it would look really fake. That’s not you. It would look false. So instead I just gotta make sure that the publicist comes over and says “Two more minutes.” And what you did was, which I would have never though of was, “Did she say ‘Two’ or ‘Ten’” - 

CP: [chuckles]

G: How you specifically arrive at telling the audience that, about how you feel, I don’t care, I just need you to tell the audience in a way that feels real. And so it was a case of going, “Look, this is what you need to do, I don’t care how you do it, so don’t sell that ticket for less than five grand, that’s five grand that will feed your family, and if he doesn’t pay for it, that guy there will, so screw him, and that’s all he needed to know,” and Scoot played with him and got some great stuff. 

CP: What was the camera you used, the make and model?

G: Sony EX3 with a Letus Ultimate Adapter on the front and a Nikon SLR 50mm lens. 

CP: How many crew were involved in the principal shoot? 

G: For the main core part of the shoot there was four people in the van; that’s me on camera, sound man, line producer, and Spanish-speaking equivalent. Obviously we had a driver, Scoot and Whitney, the actors. Back at the motel there was Colin, the editor, Justin, his assistant. And that’s how we did most of it. And on a few days we would increase the numbers, if we needed help, like around the camp fire, we had to build a camp fire, and things like that. 

CP: What was the real cost at the end?

G: I honestly don’t know, you’d have to speak to the producers, but it was more than $US15, 000 which was put on the internet. But it was micro-budget. I think if there was a pie-chart, the biggest chunk by a long way would be wages because I got paid a wage, the editor got paid a wage, Scoot and Whitney got paid a wage, but I don’t know what their wages were. But they cost way more than a camera, especially when you’re working on something for a good year or more, that’s gonna add up more than a flight and a motel. I mean, that was small fry to just staying alive for however long it took to finish the film. We weren’t on crazy money. 


CP: So …. Is Sam dead? Or is she just unconscious? 

G: [smirks]

CP: It gives the title a tragic irony. It brings a resonance. 

G: I like that when people come the first time they’ve come for a monster movie, so they’re just looking at the creature, because, oh my God, they’re gonna show it, oh my God, we’re gonna see it, they’re kinda looking at that, and they’re not looking at the people, like they’ve sacrificed the people for the monster, which is funny ‘cos it’s kinda what happens in the film and I like the fact that we managed to play that trick and it’s good that the title has that meaning to you ‘cos it’s what we wanted and that’s why we kept the word “monsters” but if it gets marketed simplistically and everyone just sees the action scenes, they expect District 9 and Cloverfield, instead they get this strange hybrid of love story meets road movie meets alien invasion thing.

CP: Which I love, it’s great. [pause] It’s polarising audiences which is a shame ‘cos the younger generation are not getting it.

G: They just need to get laid – 

CP: [chuckles]

G: - and then it’ll make sense. 

CP: Yeah. [pause] I really look forward to what you do next. 

G: Yeah, cheers, thank you. 


NB: Gareth went on to direct Godzilla, and will be directing the sequel, as well as helming the Star Wars spin-off rebel movie Rogue One

Q&A with Stephen Thrower

NB: This interview was originally published online in November 2010. 

CULT PROJECTIONS: You state on your blog, Seven Doors Hotel [ED: Now defunct] that you’ve been a dedicated fan of horror since the age of 6. What movie(s) transformed you into a horrorphile? 

STEPHEN: It was a TV show, actually, Doctor Who. When I was a kid it was going through a particularly scary patch. I jumped in when Jon Pertwee started playing the Doctor and on into the early Tom Baker years, when the stories could be quite terrifying for a ’family show’. At 6 or 7 or 8 years old, you don't notice things like wobbly sets and the seams up the monsters' backs, you just buy into what you see, and invest your imagination. I've always loved that show, and I'm very glad that it's been successfully revived recently. Next, I started looking for books that would give me the same buzz, and as luck would have it I discovered the stories of H.P. Lovecraft in the local library when I was about twelve years old, in the old yellow-cover Gollancz editions.  I was a fairly precocious reader and I immersed myself in M.R. James, Algernon Blackwood, Bram Stoker, Clark Ashton Smith. I found the Gollancz edition of Robert Aickman's short story collection Cold Hand in Mine when I was about thirteen and that really haunted me. Around the same time I came across a series of paperbacks called “The Pan Books of Horror Stories”. The early editions included classic horror stories like The Monkey's Paw and such, but around Volume 6 or 7 they started to zoom in on extreme violence, grisly stories designed to provoke disgust and repulsion as much as terror. I have to say I lapped these up too. As a consequence, I've never taken seriously the idea of a divide between suggestive horror and explicit horror, because I was steeped in both from an early age and always appreciated the pleasures of both. 

CP: Can you remember your first horror on VHS (or Betamax even?) Did you sneak into movies that were age restricted by lying about your age? If so what was the first “adult” horror movie you saw, on VHS and at the cinema?

S: As a kid I was never allowed to see late night horror movies on TV. I only started seeing them when I was in my mid-teens, when I had some money in my pocket. The first real horror movie I went to see was David Cronenberg's The Brood, which came to the UK in 1980 when I was sixteen. That blew me away. In fact, I left the cinema with the most appalling stomach-ache because of the tension - I was knotted with anxiety watching it! But that day opened the floodgates. Basically, as soon as I had money of my own, I went to see everything! I don't think there's a single horror movie released in the UK between 1980 and 1984 that I didn't see: good, bad or wretchedly boring! When video came along, I'd just left school and got a job, so I had the money and the freedom to really immerse myself. I think the first two videos I rented were I Spit on Your Grave and Tobe Hooper's Death Trap (aka Eaten Alive). Loved them both.

CP: At what age did you first become entranced by Euro horror and exploitation? Can you name any specific movies that facilitated this obsession? 

S: The first European horror film I saw was Lucio Fulci's Zombie Flesh-Eaters some time in 1980, quickly followed by Mario Bava's Shock on a double bill with The Beyond. I fell in love with all three. In that year alone I must have seen a well over a hundred other films, but the European ones really reached out and grabbed me. Of course I've written about Fulci in my book Beyond Terror, but I should stress that Mario Bava's Shock was a massive influence on my ideas about horror cinema. It starts out within a psychological framework - paranoia, psychosis, murder, repression, etc. - then tips into the supernatural. Or does it? Perhaps we're simply seeing a visual representation of the way madness is passed from parents to children. Add to this all the thrills of a progressive-rock-meets-avant-garde soundtrack, and I was hooked.

CP: In one or two words describe what it is that attracts you to each of these directors’ movies: Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, Jess Franco, Andrzej Zulawski, Alejandro Jodorowsky.

S: Argento: cruelty, style. Fulci: rage, melancholy. Franco: freedom, delirium. Zulawski: passion, madness. Jororowsky: spectacle, comedy.  

CP: What compelled you to write a book on the movies of Lucio Fulci?

S: Mainly it was because no one had given the best of his films the respect I thought they deserved. They had some enthusiastic supporters in the fanzines, myself included, but I thought there was room for closer scrutiny, and since I loved the films so much I took a stab at it. It's hard, because when I wrote the book it burned a hole where the films used to be, and now I look back at them like someone who's discovered a house they used to live in has been bulldozed. It's strange. I used to watch them all the time but I find it very hard to re-watch Fulci now. It's one of the downsides of writing a book on someone; it can leave you with a bit of a scorched hole where the pleasure used to be. Hopefully it'll scar over and I'll get back into them some day!

CP: What is it about sex and death that brings the sexual elements within exploitation and the viscera and violence in horror movies so close together? Are there any taboos left within cinema? Are there any movies you’ve seen that push the boundaries too far? 

S: Sex and death are like beans on toast, bacon and eggs - inseparable! The French have been saying it for centuries, so who are we to argue? Taboos are always shifting. I don't have 'taboos' as such when it comes to cinema - just things I don't like, or things I don't agree with. I have my own notion of good and bad taste, and I can be disgusted by something that I consider to be stupid or fascistic or mean-spirited. But as for 'going too far', the only way someone can go too far, for me, is if they kill for real.

I saw A Serbian Film recently, and apparently it's upset a lot of people, but to be honest I was unmoved and didn't feel shocked or disturbed at all. I'm not trying to be a tough guy! I want to be moved, I want to be left quaking. I don't get a macho kick out of sitting there being ostentatiously unfazed by extreme horror. But the whole thing was too stylized and melodramatic. I was expecting something really grim, but after watching it late at night a few weeks ago I went to bed and slept without a single backward glance, much less a sleepless night. Besides, the 'taboo' elements (which I won't go into as I might spoil the film for someone) are not as new and edgy as some critics have made out. There's a scene, for instance, which essentially Chris Morris did ten years ago, in a black comedy context, on British TV! More than any of this though, the chief failing of the film for me was the sound design, which was so overdone and exaggerated it became a bore. I hate it when movies have every sudden movement accompanied by some corny Dolby-stereo 'swoosh'! And I'm sorry, but banging techno in horror films just sounds dated to me. It comes from this alt-cultural place where 'transgressive' music taste and film taste have fused into a sort of orthodoxy; I don't have 'out-there' associations with that sort of muscular, pulverising techno beat. It just reminds me of trying to have conversations in deafening 1990s gay clubs!

CP:  Since the publication of Eyeball Compendium in 2003 (which featured the best work from the five issues of Eyeball magazine spanning 1989-1998) the European horror scene has exploded; a new wave of filmmakers have emerged, especially from France and Spain, who are providing modern horror with a visceral and emotional intensity not seen since, what I affectionately term, the Scarlet Age of Modern Horror (the mid-70s to the mid-80s). What are your thoughts on this new wave of brutalism?

S: I'm not sure how much of a wave there is, but I have seen a few impressive European horror films in recent years. I thought Martyrs was outstanding. Calvaire was beautiful and funny and so black. Some of the others have felt less fulfilling. The best has to be Irreversible. Gaspar Noe is a law unto himself, and Irreversible was a beautiful and terrifying masterpiece. I still haven't seen Enter the Void, which I'm really looking forward to. 

CP:  Contrary to the European new wave Hollywood has, over recent years, been sanitizing horror movies more and more, forcing directors to deliver PG-13 versions, and remaking cult classics that have virtually none of the shock power of the originals (with very few exceptions). What are your thoughts on this?

S: No, I don't agree that Hollywood has been doing what you say. Saw and Hostel are as grisly as any 1970s horror flick, and 'soft' horror has been with us since forever. What's different is the vibe. The newer American gore films have a mainstream vibe, because the mainstream has caught up with what used to be the fringe pleasures like gore and sadism. What they can't process, though, is the randomness, the odd construction of plots written by amateur writers, the illogic, the lack of stable third acts and character arcs and all that crap. The skills involved in making horror have been quantised, standardised. I miss that accidental magic you'd find when you had untrained actors blundering through bizarre scenes that had shock value because they felt like a new form of reality. Who cares if they saw someone's face off? Content is not the frontier any more, form is the frontier. It's not a genuine shock to see someone's eye poked out in a film any more. I remember seeing Buñuel's Un Chien Andalou for the first time, projected before a Cabaret Voltaire gig back in 1980 I think, and when that razor-blade cut through the eyeball you felt as if your world was changing. Nowadays, kids are just as likely to see that horrendous Russian snuff thing on the internet. As for Hollywood, I think the Hollywood machine is reaching a position, with films like Avatar, where pure size, massiveness, the biggest screen, the most expensive illusion, is all they can offer that people can't get elsewhere. The filmmakers who peddle this stuff buy off their liberal guilt at spending the national debt of the Third World on SPFX by parading 'socially responsible' themes, but the content is old hat. It's all about form now: video gaming, Youtube clips; fragmentary excitements.

CP: You were a full-time member of seminal electronic industrial outfit Coil, a band synonymous with producing nightmarish soundscapes and dark music. What releases did you specifically work on? Those first few years of editing Eyeball magazine and composing with Coil must have been an intense period, any notable anecdotes you care to share? 

S: I was in Coil from Scatology in 1984 to Stolen and Contaminated Songs in 1992, so I did five albums and various odds and ends. Were we nightmarish? I thought we beautiful! We did an album in 1987 called Horse Rotorvator, which was heavily influenced by the encroaching AIDS situation, but even then... I mean, covering Tainted Love at the height of AIDS panic, Daily Mail anti-gay headlines and such, I think we were taking a stand against something really evil. And knowing that we were speaking not just to the mainstream but to the fringes of the gay community... you tailor your remarks to your likely audience, and we were sure we were not addressing the moral majority - they would never come within a mile of us! The people we were reaching out to were those already at the front line, already developing their private coping strategies in this blizzard of hate from the mainstream media. Tainted Love was a sort of beacon to the awkward squad in gay culture. They understood that we were playing ironically with the ideas and the words and the format. We received some hate mail from gay individuals who felt, wrongly, that the song attacked gay people, and yet a lot of those letters came from gay men safely ensconced within the status quo. Whereas gay outsiders understood what was going on, and they got the sense of humour even in such dark times.   

CP: I presume you worked on the unofficial Hellraiser soundtrack. Tell me briefly, what exactly happened, from its inception to its rejection?

S: I met Clive at the old Forbidden Planet bookshop in London just after The Books of Blood came out. We ended up going for a drink and a chat. I played Clive the first Coil LP, Scatology, and it clicked with him straight away, so I arranged for him to visit Jhon and Sleazy, and they all got along well. Sleazy showed Clive his collection of hardcore S&M mags from the USA, 'Piercing Quarterly' for instance, which featured extreme genital piercings, penile bifurcation and the like. Clive was mesmerised! It came out in the imagery of Hellraiser (or 'Sado-Masochists from Beyond the Grave' as he liked to call it!) There was no brief from the film studio when we first became involved, just Clive, who was excited by the avant-garde aspect of what we did, plus he was looking for something lush and romantic too. In Coil we often worked with string quartets and careful harmonic arrangements hand-in-hand with weird atonality, so it fell well within our capabilities. We went into the studio and did much of what eventually emerged on disc in about three or four days. These recordings were approved by Clive and we were about to add orchestral instruments, when the news came that New Line had persuaded Clive to drop us from the project.

I think the rift had its roots in the budgetary issues. When the early rushes came back, the special effects (the resurrected Frank, for instance) were not up to scratch. New Line were unhappy with the effects but after they saw a rough cut of half the film, they realised that Clive was making something with a lot of commercial potential. Unfortunately for us, they persuaded Clive to sacrifice his attachment to Coil in favour of a more conventional Hollywood-symphonic score, and in return pumped in more money for reshoots. It was frustrating because the recordings we released as The Unreleased Themes For Hellraiser were only half-way to where they were meant to go. Our way of working at the time was to do 'first passes' electronically, and then bring in other musicians to re-record some parts and overdub others. Sadly, we never got that far, although I believe many Coil fans like the recordings anyway.

CP: What do you think of the cinema work of prog-rock band Goblin?

S: Glorious! Hugely influential. Their themes for Deep Red and Suspiria are touched by genius, in my opinion. So is the score for Bava's Shock, by Goblin offshoot I Libra. That's possibly my favourite of them all. Oh, and the main theme to Contamination is so exciting and blissful, like musical Ecstasy! I'm very much in favour of progressive rock in a horror context, I think it has complexity which helps to keep the mind alert. I'm not a big fan of ELP, but Keith Emerson's score for Inferno is fantastic. It really reaches into the corners and enhances all the emotional subtleties of the imagery.

CP: Apart from the music scored for the surreal horror Death Bed: The Bed That Eats, are there any further plans to compose for movies? Or collaborations with directors, like Chris Cunningham for example. 

S: We're always open to suggestions in this field. I'm sure something will come about. 

CP: What are your thoughts on the use of sound and music in the movies of David Lynch? Are their any other directors whose use of sound and/or music particularly impresses you? 

S: Lynch creates total sound environments more than soundtracks. His influence on film and music has been enormous. I remember when the soundtrack to Eraserhead came out on an LP back in 1981 or 1982, I used to lie on the floor in my first flat, in the dark, with the stereo speakers positioned next to my ears like huge headphones, and just live in that recording for forty five minutes. Beautiful. He has an incredible talent for sound design, and for the way context plays strange games with content. I have complete respect for him as an artist, there are very few people working in cinema today who have this man's talent for making new worlds on film. 

CP: Have you done any screenwriting and/or filmmaking outside of your work as a film critic?

S: Ask me that in a year's time, and hopefully the answer will be yes! It's too early to say, but I'm hoping this will happen in the next twelve months … Best not to jinx it by talking about it too much yet though.

CP: How did the publication Nightmare USA come about? Have you always shared the same love of American horror and exploitation as you have for European? What are some of the more important American horror movies in the history of the modern horror movie? What distinction can you make between American horror and Euro horror that excites you about each?

S: I always liked certain kinds of American horror films, but for quite a while I was very intensely obsessed with European horror. I always remained keen on the low budget stuff such as The Driller KillerTexas Chain Saw MassacreDeath TrapI Spit on Your Grave. I always really loved the slasher movies too, despite the fact that they were often poo-pooed by more quality-fixated film journalists! I just love the format, regardless of whether or not the films are 'great art'. I find the post-Halloween slasher cycle of movies irresistible. As I said in Nightmare USA, if anyone ever made a 24 hour slasher film, I'd be first in line to see it! When I started my magazine Eyeball, I wrote only about European movies, but it wasn't because hated all American horror films, it was really just a way of carving a distinctive niche for myself, at a time when the horror fanzine market was very busy and crowded with titles. I suppose the big difference between the sorts of European horror films I like and the American ones is that the Europeans were nearly always art designed, quite lavishly, even the sleazy ones! Something like Fulci's The Beyond is basically an arty exploitation movie, but it was shot on soundstages at De Paolis studios in Rome, with great technicians, a studio's worth of skill and artistry behind the scenes. Many of its American counterparts are shot almost entirely on location, with no money for expensive set dressing, and therefore only a rudimentary attention to art design. So the American films have greater verisimilitude, while the European ones have greater artifice. That's a generalisation, of course! 

CP: As a hard-copy collector I read a disheartening article in Rue Morgue magazine recently on the future of DVDs (in particular special editions, and rare movies). The writer stated that at best the future is uncertain, as companies move toward releasing movies as compressed digital files, and at worst, the future is grim, as it will only take one or two major companies to cease releasing movies on DVD and a domino effect will occur. Surely there’s no longevity in Blu-ray either. I’m assuming you’re a collector, what are your thoughts on this? 

S: Well, the real reason for this is illegal filesharing and downloading. It's so prevalent now that it's only a matter of time before the smaller DVD companies go belly up. It's a shame, but since it's now so cheap and easy for everyone to basically upload their DVD collection onto their own blogs, it's not even something that can be dealt with by prosecuting the larger pirate sites. I don't see how the drift towards everyone wanting everything for free can be reversed, short of incredibly draconian legislation.

CP:  Worse still is the steady disappearance of cinemas playing cult classics and grindhouse flicks (simply because the prints are becoming too damaged to play). Can you lament any further on this?

S: Not really, not without being a hypocrite! I hardly ever go to the cinema any more. I live outside London, in a small coastal town, and the only films I can see here are mainstream blockbusters. I've adjusted to a DVD-only lifestyle. I do miss the thrill of seeing sleazy or horrific films in the cinema, but my life has changed a lot in the past ten years and I'm no longer as hooked on the big screen experience as I once was.  

CP: Have you visited any of the big horror conventions or festivals (FanTasia, Festival of Fear, Sitges, World Horror Con, etc), and if so which ones and what are the best? 

S: No, haven't been to any.

CP: Do you have favourite sub-genre of modern horror and if so what and why? Zombies, vampires, werewolves, ghosts, aliens, monsters, giallo, slashers …? Do you place more importance on horror as opposed to terror, or vice versa?

S: I'm usually more interested in 'the evil that men do' than the evil that ghosts and ghoulies do, although I enjoy supernatural subject-matter if it's well written. Zombies used to be a special case, because they straddled both worlds somehow. But they've been run into the ground through overuse in the past ten years. I wish Romero would drop it with the zombie schtick, frankly. I thought his last three were pretty dreadful. I expect they're the only films anyone will give him money to make, but still...

CP: What recent horror/nightmare movies have tickled your fancy? 

S: The best new horror film I've seen in years is a Hungarian movie called The Seventh Circle, by Árpád Sopsits, about a suicidal cult among teenagers. Apart from that there's nothing much new or recent that's appealed to me, except for the films I mentioned earlier. The best things I've watched again recently were Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville, Jess Franco's Dracula Prisoner of Frankenstein, Jess Franco's Lorna the Exorcist, and Erle C. Kenton's House of Frankenstein.

CP: I’m playing Devil’s advocate here, but if you could pick two or three movies you’d like to see remade, what would they be and who would direct?

S: I'd like to see The Bell of Hell remade by Todd Haynes. Maybe like Claudio Guerin-Hill he'd fall off the fucking clock tower and then we'd be rid of him. With the Catholic Church having been caught red-handed these past few years covering up child abuse, perhaps a remake of Lucio Fulci's Don't Torture a Duckling, directed by Martin Scorsese? 

CP: And finally, are you able to list (not necessarily in any order) your all-time top ten favourite nightmare movies?


1. Possession (Andrzej Zulawski)

2. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre  (Tobe Hooper)

3. A Virgin Among the Living Dead (Jess Franco)

4. Martin (George Romero)

5. Irreversible (Gaspar Noe)

6. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick)

7. Inland Empire (David Lynch)

8. Breaking the Waves (Lars Von Trier)

9. The Brood (David Cronenberg)

10. Funny Games (Michael Haneke)

CP: Thank you, Stephen! 

Since participating in this interview Stephen has co-written a comprehensive book on on another of his cinematic heroes, the late Jess Franco. 

Q&A with Tristan Risk

Cult Projections: What’s your earliest horror movie experience? Was it something on late night TV? Something on VHS?

Tristan: Actually, my horror roots come from, like so many other things, an unintentional beginning. When I was a child MTV was just starting to dip a curious toe in our pop culture tides. Music videos were beginning to become more incorporated with musical artists, and it was Michael Jackson’s Thriller directed by John Landis (with Rick Baker on the SFX, thank you very much) that was my “ah-ha!” moment. I didn’t really know zombies (until Hulk Hogan’s Rock and Wrestling, where there was that one episode where they built the theme park on the graveyard and zombies showed up) before that. But I was in the video’s thrall. I’d hide round the corner of the living room, peering in at the television, unable to look away. It wasn’t until I was trying to “transform” as MJ did in the beginning sequences that my poor mother thought I must have been having some kind of seizure. Convinced that I had shapeshifted into a cat creature, I did what any small child worth their salt in my situation would do: I bit my mom on the ankle. After that, I was hooked. I loved scaring other kids from that moment on, and what would lead me to a childhood of getting teased for my interests as a result of it, but as an adult, I can say my affection for the macabre ran DEEP and still does. I have since stopped biting people’s ankles and blaming Michael Jackson, though.

CP: When did you first get the acting bug? Did you do any formal training? Theatre?

Tristan: My first taste of the stage came when I was seven. I was hosting my grandfather’s church show and the folks thought it’d be cute if my seven year old self emceed. I’ll be honest, it was really hard giving up the mic after the show, and I was, let’s just say, a theatrical child. If my parents had a dinner party, my bestie and I would reenact scenes from Monty Python’s Flying Circus or Are You Being Served?, whether they wanted an impromptu performance or not. Beyond a few kid’s theatre workshops, that was the extent of any formal acting training I’d had. I would just watch movies I liked and learn to imitate what I saw and then apply to different situations. I’m not really much of an actress, but I’m an excellent mimic.

CP: Name just one horror movie from each of the following decades - 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and the 00s – that you hold in very high esteem.

Tristan: 60s – The Curse Of The Mummy’s Tomb (Hammer), 70s – The Exorcist, 80s – The Hunger, 90s – Nightbreed, 00s – American Psycho.

 CP: What was the experience like working under such elaborate prosthetic makeup for your extraordinary performance in American Mary? Would you do something like that again?

Tristan: Without hesitation. I love wearing prosthetics and I must say, given the short end of the stick that actresses tend to get as the age in the film industry, I like the idea that behind the make up and FX I am ageless. That I can tell stories and people will focus on that rather than any crow’s feet or cellulite that comes with the wisdom of years.  When people see a performer in a suit or the heavy FX they’re audience doesn’t get distracted by factors as age, race, sexuality and the like, which allows them to fully immerse themselves in the character they are watching. It’s very freeing.

CP: What’s your take on the close association of sex and death that makes the horror and exploitation genres so fascinating and alluring?

Tristan: I think sex and death have been linked to us since we started walking upright. Given the nature of horror and the physical effects it can have on us – quickened heartbeat, shortness of breath, anticipation… These are all effects we feel when aroused as well. It’s a very wonderful and primal thing to explore, and with genre exploitation films, it is also a way to thumb one’s nose at social restraints and norms.  People who gravitate towards exploitation films are more likely to be of the camp on the fringes, and enjoy the low brow. By “low brow” I mean that it’s fun, cartoonish over-the-top fun of escapism rather than something that’s aiming to be more conceptualist in execution. It allows to explore concepts that might be otherwise politically incorrect or to make fun of society’s ideas of normality and moral attitudes. It’s much the same reason I love burlesque – it gives that freedom of voice as well as just being plain old entertaining.

CP: As an actor what kind of direction do you prefer? Those that are very hands-on, demand lengthy rehearsals, and numerous takes, or perhaps those that cast quickly, are impulsive, and let you improvise whenever possible?

Tristan: I think it depends on the project. There are some scripts and I hear a really strong character voice. Other characters, the director has a really clear image in their minds, and it’s my job to become that vessel for their character. I like a collaborative effort, and those performances have always been very satisfying for me, but I’m happy to breathe life into a character I’ve been given carte blanche to do so with.  It comes down to communication with my directors, but when I love feedback. I find there tends to be nothing more that feeds the insecurity of my ilk than when we don’t know whether or not to keep doing what we are doing, so again, communication is reassuring to us to at least be aware that I’m not, you know, fucking up the film.

CP: What kind of preparation do you do for a role? Do you scrutinise other actors’ performances for inspiration, if so, what actors (male and female) do you admire?  

Tristan: If I get homework from the director, I’ll be a good student and study what they ask from me. If they give me a few inspiration points, I’ll go off and research a character on my own. If nothing else, it’s usually a good as an excuse as any to sit and marathon someone’s work and learn from more established people than me. Besides, it’s cheaper than acting classes at a film school.

CP: You’ve worked with numerous rising filmmakers (Soskia twins, Astron 6 crew, Jill Sixx, to name a few), what is it about these folk that you enjoy? Why do you think they choose you? 

Tristan: In a lot of cases, I was a fan before I was in their films. I first found out about the Soskas because I happened to see their screening at the Rio Theatre in East Vancouver and lost my heart to them. I was a HUGE Manborg fan, as it was all things of my VHS childhood dreams. So I went online and found more of their work (their shorts are on their website, I encourage you to check it out) and not only loved their work, but had the utmost respect for their DIY attitudes. With Jill, I read the script she had and it was short, sweet, and brutal, which I enjoyed.  For a first time director, she had drive and I liked that a lot. I chalk all of our moments where we’ve worked together under one common force: drive. I get a lot of people asking me how they become a director/actress/burlesque dancer etc. I never asked permission, and I never went to school or took classes for it. I just did it. I sought other people who were just doing it, and it went from there. Waiting for someone to cast you or drop a script in your lap is like waiting for the right mate/job/house to come along, and people risk setting themselves up for disappointment. Will everyone who has a go at it achieve a level of celebrity or cult status? Maybe. Maybe not, but then that’s not the point if you are an artist and you have something you want to say. But I have a lot of respect for people who go out and do their own thing instead of tugging their forelocks waiting to be discovered. 

CP: Your upcoming resume is looking very busy! What do you look for in a screenplay and character in order to agree to do the project? Does a director’s inexperience bother you? Are there scripts you’ve turned down because of content you objected to?

Tristan: I like interesting concepts, fresh ideas, good writing. Sometimes just reading that from a script, it can be tricky to visualise without being familiar with the director’s previous work. If they have no previous work to draw from, sometimes you just have to take a chance. I will shy away from films if I feel a character is too similar to an established character I’ve already played, but I’ll usually talk to a director and see about working to make it it’s own entity, and if they are willing to have a dialogue, then it’s game on.  I don’t shy away from first time directors, ever. Everyone starts somewhere. Someone (well TWO someones) took a chance on me once, and I’ve never forgotten it. I at least like to give people a chance to fuck up first before I will just write them off.

CP: Name five favourite Canadian horror movies.

Tristan: American Mary doesn’t count, right? Probably not, but I usually am pretty biased when it comes to all things Soska, let’s just say… but I’ll do my best to keep at least somewhat balanced … Dead Hooker In A Trunk (okay, I totally lied), Scanners, Ginger Snaps, Father’s Day, My Bloody Valentine [Ed: Man, I love Ginger Snaps and My Bloody Valentine].

CP: If there were one character from any source material that you’d love to play in a movie adaptation, who would it be? Who would be your dream director?

Tristan: Geez, how much time do you have? I’d love to play Lessa of Anne McCaffery’s Dragonriders, if it ever got turned into a film directed by Peter Jackson. I’d love to play Excalibur’s Rachel Summers or Kitty Pryde in a Marvel film adaptation with James Gunn at the helm. ANYTHING by Clive Barker with Jovanka Vuckovic behind the camera. And while I’m dreaming here, I’d like a pony, too.

CP: What upcoming project are you particularly excited about?

Tristan: Absolutely! I am extremely pleased, heading into 2016 to be working on Elias Ganster’s Alya which I’ve been excited about since the script came into my paws, the release of James Bickert’s Frankenstein Created Bikers, Luchagore’s Madre Di Dios, Izzy Lee’s Innsmouth and Scott Schirmer’s Harvest Lake.  From a live performance place, I’m excited about upcoming shows and tours with my circus performance group, The Caravan Of Creeps, as well! Featuring performers from Cirque Du Soleil, two world record holders, and things to induce shock and awe, I’m very excited for all our upcoming adventures together in 2016.

CP: Thank you Tristan!

Q&A with Jessica Cameron, director of Mania

Cult Projections: You’ve acted in over seventy productions, what made you decide to want to direct? Where there any specific movies that inspired you? What is it about horror that appeals to you as a director? 

Jessica: Honestly I never initially wanted to direct, at all. I had co-written Truth or Dare and my team and I had made a short list of directors who we felt would do a great job. Alas half of those directors wanted to tone down the script, which was something I refused to do. The second half needed to push the shooting dates due to schedule conflicts which meant we would have to recast, and since we had written the script for most of the actors I didn’t want to do it without them. My team suggested that I go behind the camera to direct since I knew and loved the material so very much. I did and have no regrets. I learned a lot, had a great time and now try to direct at least one film a year, it helps me to make sure that I am involved with content that I love.

CP: How easy or difficult was it to get Truth or Dare financed and made?

Jessica: Financing was not as hard as I thought. I raised some with private investors then additional funds via crowd funding. Crowd funding was harder then I thought, though I loved the ability to connect with the fans all around the world. The ability to have them come along for the ride was powerful and they were, and are, a constant source of support.

CP: As a director making a horror movie, what part of pre-production, what part of principal photography, and what part of post-production do you find easiest and hardest?

Jessica: Truthfully, each aspect is hard in its own way. For me pre-production has the benefit that its overall calmer, as the team is smaller and you have greater control of everything, and not so much can not go wrong ‘till filming. Principal photographer is harder then pre-pro as anything and everything that can go wrong on a film set usually does. You have to really think on your feet and move fast, you need a clear vision, and have to fight to make that vision a reality. The hardest for me is post-production; as I could tinker with a film in post for years, which, obviously, would be counter-productive, especially at the independent level, as there is just an endless amount of things that you could do. That being said, any day working on movies is a great day.

CP: The depiction of delusion and madness is often portrayed in horror movies, what are some of the ones that you love. Were there any that directly influenced or inspired Mania?

Jessica: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer was a huge inspiration, I have been a fan of Michael Rooker ever since. I was blessed to speak extensively with director John McNaughton at FrightFest last year about this film and his career, that man is such an inspiration. Natural born Killers was an inspiration – more with regards to the dream sequences, which show glimpses of alternate personas. Thelma and Louise was also an inspiration, and though it’s not a horror film it does show regular women pushed over the edge of normal behaviour in a hard situation.

CP: How important is atmosphere, tone, and mood in a horror movie? How do you, as director, help to create these elements?

Jessica: It’s crucial for me in all genres of films, though in horror films it’s mandatory. A horror film is an experience; it’s a ride, a journey, a roller coaster of emotions. As a director I try to make sure that my vision is translated to film in every single aspect and to do that I have to hire the right people who are the best fit (at a price I can afford) for the film I am creating.  The DP must love the vision I want to create, as much as I do. The set decorator needs to understand my intentions and atmosphere. The FX, grips, gaffers, sound, and everyone else involved needs to be on the same page. For me filmmaking is a team effort, and it takes the right team to really sell atmosphere, tone and mood.

CP: What are your thoughts on the role of the horror filmmaker, in terms of providing fans the necessary goods, but also appealing to as broad a demographic as possible so the movie hopefully makes a profit?

Jessica: I think that marketing and branding is crucial to everyone working in the film world today. That said I don’t believe in trying to appeal to a large market if that is not “your thing”. For me I love the films that no one else is making, the films that I, as a horror fan, want to see and shake my head and wonder why it hasn’t already been created. Now the benefit is that no one else is making them, but the downside is no one else is making them. However, I am a big believer in truth and that is mandatory in everything I do, so I can only brand myself as myself. Which means I will not, nor will my films, appeal to everyone. That is ok. I actually don’t think horror films should mass appeal to everyone. Horror will, by its definition, not appeal to everyone. I think by trying to mass appeal you can far too easily turn off the horror crowd who are surrounded by a bunch of people doing the same films that are trying to mass appeal to the world. I think knowing what type of filmmaker you are and making art that reflects that, is the key to longevity in the horror genre.

CP: Are there still taboos left in the horror genre, and if so, what? What movies have you enjoyed that pushed the boundaries?

Jessica: According to the mainstream public much of the horror genre is taboo. However, I think within the genre the only thing that’s really off limits are snuff films, or the actual filming of a real human/animal getting hurt or killed on screen. I love Martyrs, which to many people pushes multiple boundaries, but I think it is a spectacular film. Yes, it is a hard watch, but the torture depicted is the whole point of the film itself, and I do not find it excessive for that reason. Oldboy is another favorite of mine (the original, obviously).

CP: What’s your take on performance within the horror movie genre; do you like to give actors (including yourself) the room for improvisation? Do you rehearse much, or at all?

Jessica: Allowing good actors room to really own their characters and improvise helps a project tremendously, I encourage it on my sets. As an actor I know how much work goes into crafting a character and when the actor has done that work and is in that headspace they should have room to play around. I rehearse as much as scheduling allows. For Truth or Dare we rehearsed every night before the shoot the next day. For Mania there was little time for rehearsing, so much of it was done while camera and lights were getting set up, as we blocked the scenes. That being said, I think the more rehearsing the better.

 CP: If you could have remake any movie and have your dream cast, what would it be and whom would it include?

Jessica: I would love to remake Salo, or 120 Days of Sodom. Although I love this film, and appreciate the fact that it is very 70s in its style, I would love to remake it in a more vicious tone, and show it from the POV of the captors. I really wanted to know more about them and the first film is quite vague with who they are and their motives. In a perfect world my captors cast would be led by Jamie Lee Curtis, Vera Farmiga, Sheri Moon Zombie, Michael Rooker, Doug Bradley, and Jeffrey Combs. I would love to see Kiernan Shipka, Evan Bird, Ty Simpkins as victims. For a wild card I would like to throw in Miley Cyrus too, if for no other reason than I suspect horror fans would like to see her fighting to survive. Obviously that is a dream cast, but dreams happen in Hollywood ... Right?

CP: Thanks Jessica, good luck!

Mania is screening as part of Sydney’s A Night Of Horror International Film Festival, Saturday, December 5th, 11pm, Dendy Newtown. 



Q&A with Enzo Tedeschi, writer/producer/director/editor, and founder of Deadhouse Films

Cult Projections: What two movies from your youth can you single out that represent that moment for the science fiction and for the horror genre? Where did you see these movies? What was it about each that impressed you so much?

Enzo: The first would have to be Alien. My father was a projectionist that used to travel around to social clubs screening 16mm prints of films for them. I remember the time he had Alien – I must have been eight or something – and I was desperate to see it. He put it on in his little theatrette at home, with all the lights off and then left me on my own to watch. I didn’t make it through the opening scene on the ship. Petrified out of my wits by the music and the mood created. Since then, that film has had a particular thing for me, let alone after I managed to watch it through for the first time.

Choosing two is hard!

The other would probably have to be either The Shining or The Exorcist. Both of those films I remember distinctly from when I was young really affecting me in no small way. Both of them have the kind of deep character development that is absent from many films today, as well as taking their time with things. Both of those elements add so much weight to proceedings that they become really unsettling experiences, particularly when you’re confronted with the hardcore stuff.

CP: You’re primarily a producer and editor, but you’ve also got numerous screenwriting credits, and you’ve directed two shorts. In what order do you prefer all those roles, and why?

Enzo: I find editing a tough one to top, as I’ve been doing it for so long it is ingrained in me now. But if there was one thing that maybe tops that for me at the moment it is directing. It feels like home. And it’s a place where I feel like everything I have ever learned in all of those roles (and more) comes together in a way that is feeling right. I’m still producing because I can (and need to!), but I’m beginning to lean away from writing, especially if I’m directing, simply because I find riffing off of someone else’s pages a lot more satisfying, but also as a writer I need time in the kinds of huge swathes I don’t have right now.

CP: Considering we are currently enjoying what has been called the Golden Age of Television, what are the elements that are most important in a science fiction movie or series and what elements in a horror movie or series? What are your favourite current series (or mini-series)?

Enzo: So many shows I’ve yet to catch up on! I’m currently partway through House Of Cards and Orphan Black, they’re both great. I loved the first season of American Horror Story – I though that was some of the greatest TV I’d seen in a long while.

I don’t know that what’s necessary for good TV is all that different to what makes good film – an interesting story told through well thought-out and developed three-dimensional characters. If anything, the added challenge is that the episodic format, simply due to the number of hours of storytelling, demands more and more questions to be answered. It’s hard to leave things in any way open-ended after a couple of seasons. Often for me, the question is more interesting than the answer. I always find horror films (for example) to be far less affecting once the ‘monster’ is revealed. It’s a tough balance to strike.

CP: Many successful movies and television series have achieved great critical and audience reception even though the production values have been low. Can you always rely just on ideas, concepts, and storylines? Just how important are production values in genre filmmaking?

Enzo: I think production values are very important. However, that doesn’t mean that they can’t be low, particularly if they work together with the film. It’s why found footage still works for me. In the hands of filmmakers that understand how to use that particular medium or whatever you want to call it, it’s super effective. I find the super-slick and expensive looking found footage way less effective, because the production value becomes a distraction.

But all of that is secondary to a good idea, well executed. I think you can rely on that for a good film. But I’m not sure that you can rely on that for success. I guess it depends on your definition of ‘success’!

CP: Along with your colleague, Julian Harvey, you are co-credited with creating the sf web series Airlock. Tell me how the series came about? How easy or how difficult was it making the web series Airlock compared to your Found Footage horror movie The Tunnel?

Enzo: Airlock was born out of Jules and I looking for our next feature. It started as more of a procedural. A scenario where one guy was stuck hostage on a ship, watching havoc unfold on the station from a distance, helpless to do anything or warn those he knew and loved. We wanted something we could create on a modest budget yet still make interesting. It evolved considerably from there, particularly once Marc and Shiyan took over the writing.

Airlock was the most difficult experience of my career thus far. The scale of it, sets, CGI, a tiny shooting schedule… yeah it was tough. The Tunnel was shot on a similar schedule, but the aesthetic allowed us to move quickly, and we had a far smaller cast, too.

CP: What was your experience at Supanova like?

Enzo: Supanova was fantastic. Pop-culture nerds are the best (I’m one of them!!) It was a blast to see the reaction to the screening, and to arrive back to our booth to find a queue of fans already waiting for everyone’s autographs. It was also a special moment for me to sit next to my son who plays one of the aliens and watch him sign posters for the fans. These are the kinds of memories I feel fortunate to be able to create for my kids due to what I do. I’m a regular attendee at Supanova Sydney, but this year was super-special.

CP: Do you believe in homage, or do filmmakers just “borrow” and “steal”?

Enzo: I totally believe in homage – I do it all the time!! However, there is a big difference between homage and theft. One works and one doesn’t. There is a lot of homage to films like Alien and The Descent in The Tunnel, but some of it is very subtle. As filmmakers we’re always very influenced by those that have come before us, but we take those ideas and make them our own. Riffing off someone is good and can be interesting. Ripping off someone is just dull and unimaginative.

CP: Tell me a little about Deadhouse Films. What was the main reason you formed the company?

Enzo: The main reason was that once Distracted Media ended, I needed something to keep pushing my endeavours through. I wanted something with a name that said genre, and that let me play in spaces and in ways we couldn’t really justify at Distracted. So far that seems to be a step that looks to be paying off.

CP: Do you plan on distributing as much as producing? Can you imagine making a horror online series, just as you’ve made an online sf series?

Enzo: I’d love to make a horror series, but it feels like a tough sell at the moment. The distribution space is a challenging one, and time will tell if that side of the business is set to grow or be shut down.

CP: What drew you to Ursula Dabrowsky’s Inner Demon to be distributed by Deadhouse Films?

Enzo: I saw Inner Demon at A Night Of Horror in 2014 and was blown away by the slick production value, but more importantly, the level of unpredicatability. It’s a film that every time I thought I had it pegged, it took a 90-degree turn. That was fun for me, and rare for a horror film. I wanted to do what I could to get that out to the world.

CP: You’ve just completed a horror anthology in association with A Night Of Horror International Film Festival, how did that come about?

Enzo: I pitched the idea to Dean Bertram that we should use the fest to curate and invite some films into an anthology feature to screen at the fest, and that it was something we could repeat each year. He agreed that it was a good idea and the rest, as they say, is history. It is so difficult to get noticed as a filmmaker, and shorts are usually the way you start. However I figured that if we could combine some really great shorts into a feature that we could create something that had a value greater than the sum of its parts, and that this would be a beneficial for everyone. It’s difficult to sell a feature, but it’s pretty much impossible to sell a short.

 CP: What’s next on the Deadhouse agenda?

Enzo: A stack of projects in development, so it will really be about which one of them gains the most momentum first. We might be making a couple of new web series next year, but there is also a feature or two that look like they might come off. We also have a VR project in the works! Exciting times!

CP: Finally, what are your top five favourite “Found Footage” flicks (other than The Tunnel)?

Enzo: Ha ha! I would never list The Tunnel as one of my favourite films!! Do you think I just sit around all day and watch my own work?? Ha ha ha! So top five FF movies …

The Blair Witch Project. Still the granddaddy of the modern FF horror as far as I’m concerned, and the subtlety with which it was tackled still gets me today on every re-watch. I know it wasn’t the first, but I feel a bigger milestone than Cannibal Holocaust in many ways.

Chronicle. An exception to the rule of “big budget and slick” found footage being less effective. Josh Trank managed to not forget that these films still need to be character-driven, and established a very clever way to break the camera free of having to be hand-held so that it didn’t break us out of the moment and allowed so many liberties with style that it made for a very refreshing FF flick.

Exhibit A directed by Dom Rotheroe is another fine example of the FF device in the hands of someone that gets it. This is a lesser-known film, but it’s a strong entry into the genre. Performances are strong, and the whole affair is quite unsettling. And not your usual splatter or monster horror fare, either. Definitely recommend for anyone looking for a hidden gem

The Taking Of Deborah Logan. Holy moly. One of my favourite films of 2014. Breathtakingly creepy performace from Jill Larson, and a straight up scary movie. Loved it! Keen to see what Adam Robitel does next!

Creep. Creepy psycho Duplass. ‘Nuff Said. So much tension created by two people on their own. So great!

Whoa, I’ve run out already? The original [REC] has to be a parting shot – huge influence on The Tunnel, and super effective spin on a well-tread genre.

 CP: Thanks Enzo!

Check out Deadhouse Films here


Cult Projections: It's the 9th year of A Night of Horror and the 6th year of Fantastic Planet. What is it about horror and science fiction/fantasy that appeals so passionately to genre fans?

Dean: The films in these genres take us on trips to imagined landscapes that are closer to our dreams, our nightmares, and the dimly lit corners of our subconscious, than those more mundane journeys offered by other types of cinematic fare. At their best, they allow us to view the dramas of the real world through a wonderful, and sometimes terrifying, allegorical lens. Plus, lets face it; they tend to be more fun.

CP: It all started as a single night of Australian made horror shorts. Next year A Night of Horror will celebrate its tenth birthday. Did you ever think or hope it would be where it is today? Where do you hope it will be, and in what form, in another ten years?

Dean: When we started the festival almost a decade ago, I'm not even sure that we meant to do it more than once. We were filmmakers who had just made a horror short film ourselves and, after screening at some horror fests overseas, realised that there was no horror friendly fest in Sydney. We figured that there had to be a few dozen local filmmakers like ourselves, hungry for somewhere to showcase their horror short. Then we only ever imagined a one night, one session event, featuring maybe a dozen locally made short films (hence the fest’s name “A Night of Horror”). We soon discovered there were hundreds of horror filmmakers, all around the world, looking for a Sydney home to screen their films, and we were kind of swept away with the wave from there. So I'm reluctant to even imagine where we'll be in ten years, given how un-tuned my radar seems to have been in seeing into the future, now our present, ten years ago.

CP: The two festivals champion the independent scene; what are some of the difficulties in finding the balance of arty content with a real edge vs. commercial content that will guarantee bums on seats?

Dean: As a programmer it interests me far more in discovering films and/or filmmakers than screening films that already have distribution deals in place and will be at a megaplex or out on Blu-ray or VOD within a month. Even setting aside my programmer hat for a moment, seeing original cutting edge content interests me far more as an audience member as well. One of the reasons the festival introduced the “Launch Pad” component three years back, was to make sure that we were focusing even more on world premiere films. It's wonderful to see the trajectory of films that launch, or play very early in their run, at the festival, go on to play even bigger festivals after A Night of Horror, and achieve distribution.

I think far too few festivals today play anywhere near enough films that were entered through their open submission process. That's disingenuous: taking money from hundreds (perhaps thousands) of independent filmmakers, and then sourcing almost your entire program from what already has major buzz, i.e. films that already have sales representation/distribution in place, or that have already played several major festivals. I would like to think that part of our mission as a film festival is to help create, rather than cash in on buzz. Many fantastic films over the history of the festival have started long and successful festival runs with us. And several films have been sold at, or as a result of screening at, the fest: including Family Demons, Found, All Superheroes Must Die, Father’s Day, Fury: The Tales of Ronan Pearce and Inner Demon to name a handful. It's a tradition I'm very proud of and one I intend to maintain for as long as I continue helming the fest. Hopefully the festival's audience knows the high calibre of films we program, and are prepared to continue taking chances with us on independent genre films.

CP: What specific elements do you look for in the horror genre and in the science fiction/fantasy genre?

Dean: I like to see traditional genre tropes spun in directions that I wouldn't have expected. I love a wonderful story, skilful execution of the script, strong performances, etc. But most of all I love to be surprised.

CP: How has the scene - both the industry and the movies themselves - changed over the past decade?

Dean: I think it keeps ascending. Ever since the digital revolution and the accompanying democratisation of filmmaking, more and more independent filmmakers seem to be working in the genre. The percentage of films that are great might not be any higher, but because there are so many more films being made, as a result there are more great films being made. The calibre of submissions in the last couple of years has reached the stage where I wish I had three times as many slots to fill in the festival program, as I could do it easily. 

CP: What three horror movies have had a lasting impact on you as a cinephile?

Dean: There are plenty, but just three: Halloween, Dawn of the Dead, and Rosemary’s Baby.

CP: What three science fiction/fantasy movies?

Dean: Again, plenty, but three: Mad Max 2 (The Road Warrior), Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope), and They Live.

CP: The Australian short film showcase, the international short film showcase, and the Lovecraftian-themed shorts are the festivals longest running mini-programmes. Do you have a favourite short, off the top of your head? What is it about HP Lovecraft?

Dean: Yes, the Lovecraft program – always as a Sunday matinee - is the longest running program at the festival (we actually didn't use to separate the Australian and international shorts into different programs). It's funny to recall that in year one we held the Lovecraft matinee screening in an RSL club!

Off the top of my head ... a short I still probably think about more than any other is AM 1200, which played in the Lovecraft section several years back. Terrifying, fantastic production values, and perfectly executed. And an exception to the rule, that a short film should be short (it's running time is 39 mins!)

Lovecraft could spin a horror yarn like no other writer before or since: an artful construction of that building sense of dread, an evocation of pervasive cosmic malice, a new mythology that feels like it should be real even though it isn't (at a level that only Tolkien and few other writers have ever been able to construct), all conveyed in that cultured and unmistakable New England voice, itself harkening to a time that now seems so distant that the prose alone evokes a sense of mystery and wonder.

CP: Ok, this will be a hard (and potentially time-consuming) one: Pick a favourite feature from each year of the festival?

Dean: Damn, that's tough. I really shouldn't have favourites; so instead, I'll list the one that first comes to mind from each year's fest. (That's got to mean something right?) Year 1: The Ancient Rite of Corey McGillis, Year 2: Doctor Inferno, Year 3: Finale, Year 4: The Revenant, Year 5: Skew, Year 6: Love, Year 7: All Superheroes Must Die, and Year 8: Fury: The Tales of Ronan Pierce.

CP: What three movies from this year's festival have particularly tickled your fancy and you’re more than a little excited about screening?

Dean: I'm excited about the entire program this year (yes, I know that's my job as a programmer to say, but I wouldn't have programmed anything that I wasn't really excited about). But since you asked for three, here’s a few that spring to mind: Landmine Goes Click Just blew me away (pun intended). I had no idea what was coming in the third act, and man, what a brutal and twisting surprise ... in a film already filled with brutal and twisting surprises. Normal is nothing else I've ever seen. A dark Eros building to End of Days apocalypticism. Director Michael Turney is definitely someone to watch. I'm delighted that we're world premiering his feature debut at the fest. And third, Be My Cat: A Film For Anne.

At a time when filmmakers have to really impress if they're working in the “found footage” medium this entry delivers like no other. The film follows a mentally unwell filmmaker (a mesmerising performance from Adrian Tofei, the film's director) who is obsessed with making a film starring Anne Hathaway. The film is presented as a macabre love letter to Hathaway, as the delusional lead does horrific things to other actresses in a twisted attempt to impress his Hollywood heart-throb into starring in his next film. Dread Central calls it “potentially revolutionary and potentially dangerous”. They are right on both counts.

 CP: Thank you Dean!

A Night Of Horror International Film Festival & Fantastic Planet Film Festival plays Thursday, November 26th – Sunday December 6th, Dendy Newtown Cinemas, Sydney.