Saturday, October 31, 2009
Drop a quick email to email@example.com to claim your prize.
And to everyone else, have a safe and Happy Halloween!
Thursday, October 29, 2009
I’m delighted to have had the chance to briefly correspond with one of my favorite filmmakers Larry Fessenden. He's currently working on the Guillermo Del Toro produced remake of Juan Antonio Bayona’s Spanish ghost hit The Orphanage (El Orfanato). He also heads up Glass Eye Pix, a collaboratively run independent film production company that is churning out thoughtful horror and genre films. I’ve been a huge fan of Fessenden since I first saw Wendigo several years ago at a Pittsburgh film festival. His character-driven work is drenched in metaphor, but anchored by realistic situations, believable characters, and contemplative dialogue. Fessenden is not afraid to get his hands dirty, and is considered a true auteur in the realms of independent film. He not only wears many hats on his own productions, but can often be found producing and acting in the works of many other filmmakers.
Interview by Chris Hallock
Larry, thank you for taking time out of your hectic schedule to answer a few questions for the readers of All Things Horror. I believe you are currently working on a remake of the surprise Spanish hit The Orphanage while acting as the go-to utility man for nearly all the Glass Eye Pix productions. How do you stay sane in all that chaos?
That is what keeps me sane, being overworked. Long before it was fashionable I had some form of ADD, I always had to be many things at once to feel like I had any worth at all. When I was a kid I wrote books and acted and drew and tried to convince myself that I was good at playing soccer and every other damn thing you can think of.
I'm a big fan of allegory, and your films are a great example of every day human problems manifesting in the guise of frightening supernatural evil. What are your favorite ideas to explore thematically when you’re writing a screenplay?
I love allegory. I believe the human mind operates at the level of metaphor. In everything from our religions to our superstitions, but also science and mathematics, these are all symbols representing reality. Joseph Campbell observed that things can be both true and not true at the same time, meaning, the truth of an allegory can be illuminating without it needing to be literally true. This is why a literal interpretation of the Bible for example, is a waste of time, and alienates people who might otherwise learn from its teachings. To my mind vampires and werewolves are not much different from Greek Gods and Christian Saints: they all help us cope with an indifferent reality populated by stupefying cruelties and arbitrary terrors.
Anyway, what interests me is the intersection between our mythologies and realities; the power of our subjective perception, the tendency toward self delusion, both personally and on a societal scale. That is what always creeps into my screenplays.
In a lot of your work, there is way more to fear from the human characters than the supernatural elements. Do you have a healthy distrust of humans (wink)?
I deeply distrust humans. I am appalled at the avarice and greed, nastiness, deceitfulness, narcissism and violence in humans. It goes without saying that there are great feats of altruism and simple kindness all over the world but as a species I see little redeeming qualities.
Your films require patience and reflection, and you explore every day horrors such as addiction, environmental devastation, even childhood rites of passage. With socially conscious films like Habit and The Last Winter, do you get accused of being too liberal, having an agenda, or more rudely being called “preachy”?
I do get called preachy and liberal and all those nasty things, especially on the internet where everyone with a grudge has a say, but in truth horror has always had a cautionary element, from the story of Frankenstein to Jekyll and Hyde, there is a tradition of calling attention to human hubris, a warning to those who would play God or go against the laws of nature. How is it I woke up in a century where one political party has decided that destroying the earth and letting corporations destroy our society is the right and noble path and anything different is left wing propaganda?
Seems in most of your work, the characters themselves are the driving force, more so than the narrative. Meaning, their actions seem natural with the integrity of the character in mind. You don't ever portray people as stereotypes or mere fodder to move the plot along to a shocking or gory scene. Do you base your characters on people you’ve met, or are they usually inventions of your mind while you’re writing a story?
I appreciate this observation about my work. When an actor plays a role, he or she must identify with the character, and if you play a villain, you must see the role from the villain’s point of view. This is how I approach writing as well. Every character in a drama believes they are coming form a justifiable place. If you approach material this way, you will avoid clichés because you are not objectifying people or their actions. Of course things get fun when you approach “archetypes” this way because then they behave with more dimension. In my own work, I try to make villains sympathetic and protagonists flawed. Even in my so called “preachy” films (which ones aren’t?) the environmentalists are flawed people. I believe Otis, the “villain” in WENDIGO is given ample justification for the resentments that lead to his homicidal behavior. In a case like that, I am also issuing a warning: do not presume you are always on the “right” side, for your arch enemy feels the same.
As for plot, never could follow plots or mysteries or games with twists. Maybe it’s the ADD again, but I get lost in the details and textures in storytelling. I am never so bored and frustrated as when I am supposed to be tracking plot points in a film and am not being allowed to watch everything else. Hitchcock always said he didn’t care about “Content”, by which he meant the plot. He cared about the psychological effect of the filmmaking on the viewer. I am of that camp. Of course I care very deeply about themes, but those come out of the complete experience, the color, camera moves, acting and sound and music— not the plot!!
Clearly you’re an auteur, and your films look like you’re very much in control of a singular, untainted vision. What’s the most compromising thing you’ve had to do to get a particular film finished?
I have had very little interference in my films so far, and films that I am producing are auteur driven. I believe in the individual communicating to an audience through the medium of film. Most of the compromises I’ve dealt with have come about by the inevitable input one gets when making a movie, and my own inability to absolutely demand what I want. So it is perhaps my working style and sense of inclusiveness that has led me to end up with things that weren’t what I wanted, so that’s no one’s fault but mine. In writing The Orphanage I had to defer to Guillermo Del Toro as well as New Line and Warner Brothers, but honestly, I did not find it oppressive; they let me work things out and the script in the end grew out of a collaboration.
A lot of your work is described as a “slow burn” which allows for contemplation between the moments of action and horror. Do you ever feel pressure to add more action because of the waning attention spans of some audience members?
No. I believe if a film is crafted well it can be riveting even when very little is going on. Meanwhile I can see a blockbuster where there are cuts every single fucking second and be bored to screaming. WARNING TO READER: This does not make me a film snob. It has to do with what what is truly exciting: mystery, imagery, long takes, not knowing what predictably will happen next, being disarmed, being drawn into the little details that in life can have a deep effect. The transcendent moment. It is an insult to movies to imagine they can not captivate without being loud and brutishly stupid. Who doesn’t like Doritos Flavor Blast, but that’s not the only food we want, I hope— who doesn’t want a quick bang in the bar bathroom stall, but there’s romance and tenderness too.
One final question for you, Larry, and I thank you so much for donating your precious time. If you had all the time and money at your fingertips, what would be your dream project?
If I really did have all that money, I would make a lot of little movies, cool unexpected movies that would rattle people’s cages and inspire them and make them cry and make them want to change the world or kiss their loved ones or just stay inside on a rainy night and get spooked. I would pay my crew well and hone my craft and work efficiently and not waste a lot of shit. I would work with the best actors-- my favorite movie stars and people you’ve never heard of. We’d have the coolest collaborators in every department and everyone would have the time to live and breathe the projects and when it was over we’d know we had brought something good to people and not taken to much to do it. That would be my dream project. How’s that for some liberal shit?
Find out more about Larry Fessenden and Glass Eye Pix Productions here:
A month later, the wife finds herself hospitalized for her grief. Her therapist husband disapproves of her doctors prescribed plans and overestimates his own abilities while failing to consider his wife’s needs, decides to treat her himself. When treating her at home fails to produce results he decides immersive therapy is in order, and brings her to Eden, the wooded retreat she had spent the previous summer with their son. However, when they arrive in Eden, things unravel even further, as nature seems to taunt them. The woman’s condition unravels further, until she becomes a danger to them both.
The film is gorgeously shot; with the Eden scenes invoke an eerie, dream-like atmosphere. He also gets gangbuster performances out of his leads. As Dafoe and Gainesbourg are playing unnamed archetypes each prone to extreme stoicism and violence, their performances ran the risk of coming off campy. Dafoe gives an understated, clinical performance of a man in love with his own intellect. He fails to comprehend what his wife needed was a husband, not a doctor, and is ill equipped to understand her or provide for her most basic emotional needs. Gainesbourg delivers a powerful performance. Her grief washes over her in waves, leaving her alternately catatonic and hysterical.
While the story is straightforward, von Trier litters the work with disturbing imagery and violence. Nature itself seeks to drive the couple mad, and the biblical allusions (they are in Eden after all) are rampant. At night, acorns pound the roof of their cabin, like a hail storm out of the seven plagues. Dafoe encounters deformed woodland creatures at different points: a deer that’s carrying around her stillborn spawn from her backside and a mangy fox devouring its own afterbirth. Dafoe’s character seems to0 grounded in reason to make sense of all the occurrences. The animals make thier return at the climax, posing as "The Three Beggars", the deities that will choose death for one of the characters.
One of the major controversies surrounding the film is the graphic, violent sex between the two characters. Gainesbourg’s woman pushes herself onto Dafoe in her moments of most extreme grief and anger, and the sex act becomes primal and hateful. Von Trier depicts the act of sex as a near mutual rape between the two. Finally, in the third act, the sex turns sadistic. The film shows explicit acts of genital torture and mutilation in up close detail. While your typical slasher film contains more blood and core overall, the detailed mutilation combined with the deformation of genitals make for some of the most squeamish events I’ve seen in a film.
The second controversial aspect of Antichrist is the conclusion it draws about the nature of women. Some critics label von Trier’s earlier work misogynistic as terrible tragedies typically befall his female characters. Von Trier seems out to taunt his detractors here. We learn that Gainesbourg’s character originally went to Eden with her son to finish her thesis on the topic of Gynocide-the study of violent acts and abuses committed against women by men. She reaches the conclusion that women’s itself nature must be evil. As we see when Dafoe discovers her notes, her earlier meticulous research slowly devolves over time, finally ending in childlike scribbles and rambling. Her research has unhinged her, and further flashbacks force the audience to question Gainesbourg’s motives for drawing her husband to Eden, and even the legitimacy of her grief. Did she willingly inflict pain on her child by deliberately placing shoes on the wrong feet, or did her madness cause negligence. Did she seek to punish her child and husband for their maleness? Can we even trust her interpretation of these flashbacks, or is she so lost to grief and madness by the film’s conclusion; we can no longer trust her interpretation of events. In a moment of hysterics near the end of the film, the wife’s tears stop, and she whispers to her husband “The hysterical woman is the scheming woman”. The statement chilled me, as it made it seem she had orchestrated everything, the death of her child, the mutilation of her husband, simply to carry out the twisted interpretations of her research. Her calling to the Thee Beggars suggests she has given herself over to the witchcraft she had studied earlier for academic reasons.
I cannot say I enjoyed Antichrist like I would typical movie fare. I would no rush out to see the film again, however, days after seeing it, I still find myself mulling over the concepts and issues raised within. It’s a challenging movie, certainly worthy of debate. It is not a horror movie in the traditional sense. The graphic images and violence have led to its classification as horror, but it is a true arthouse psychological study.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Here are a few directors we’ve been keeping an eye on:
Larry Fessenden: He is a true renaissance man of independent film. He is the auteur behind thought-provoking, character-driven allegories like Wendigo, Habit, and The Last Winter. He also produces and acts in other filmmakers' projects while running the cooperative Glass Eye Pix, now one of the longest running film production companies.
Christopher Smith: His name is common, but this British director’s work is unique, darkly humorous, and best of all scary. His subterranean horror film Creep gave nightmares to subway commuters, and Severance captured the true cutthroat spirit of the corporate world. His new movie Triangle is getting rave reviews for interjecting a sense of mystery into the realms of horror.
Fabrice du Welz: Belgian director Fabrice du Welz gives life to his locations. Whether it’s the isolated woods in the unrelenting Calvaire (The Ordeal), or the dense, wet jungles of Vinyan, he puts the viewer right in the center of characters’ plights. He also gives them a lot to chew on with terrifying symbolism and dizzying camerwork.
J.T. Petty: Known primarily for directing the disappointing Mimic 2, Petty broke into horror with a thoughtful ghost story shot on 16mm called Soft for Digging. He recently bounced back with his western meets underground dwelling monster tale The Burrowers, a film deep in rich atmospheric creepiness.
Ti West: West took the horror world by surprise with his assured first feature film, the vampire/zombie ode The Roost. Shot on a shoestring budget, the film’s inventive camerawork, score, and effects won over many fans. His grueling slow burner Trigger Man explores real fears as a group of teens are stalked by a crazed gunman deep in the woods. Bringing Satanism prominently back into horror, his current film The House of the Devil is garnering positive praise from fans and critics alike.
Adam Green: Green found success with his slasher homage Hatchet, which featured Kane Hodder in his murderous glory. He also produced Paul Solet’s powerful feature debut Grace. Currently he’s working on Frozen, a movie about desperate terror on a ski chairlift.
One of the best bits about Halloween is getting the pants scared off you at a haunted house. As much as I love scary movies, its pretty easy to take yourself out of the moment by hitting the pause button or turning up the lights if things get a bit too tense. There’s something about walking down the cramped halls of a haunted attraction, where every turn means someone’s jumping out screaming at you to really get the adrenaline going.
I didn’t always feel this way. When I was a grade school kid, my cousin would take me to the Haunted House attraction in front of our town’s high school and about ten seconds after the door closed behind me, I’d start screaming and crying and begging to get out of it. All someone in a mad scientist outfit had to do was look at me funny and I went into hysterics.
Luckily, I got over my fright, and even better, one of the area’s best Haunted Houses is a five minute drive from my house-Barrett’s Haunted Mansion in Abington, Ma. It’s a permanent structure behind to the Ale House, but it’s only open from the end of September through Halloween. This is the third year we’ve lived nearby, and I’m ashamed to say this is the first time we’ve made our way in.
From the moment we entered the first room, I knew we’d be in for a treat. There’s a very cool video display that shows a lunatic making her way down the hall until she gets to the “door” aka the video screen. She starts banging on the door with an axe, and we see the glass crack and splinter. I was expecting the door to burst open, and felt pretty well prepared for a good jump scare. What I was not expecting was for a girl with an axe to come creeping from behind us, and I nearly soiled my pants when she “attacked” us. From there there’s a number of awesome displays-a child’s room with disturbing dolls nailed to it and a zombified Raggedy Ann character asking us if we could stay and play (I won’t lie, I thought she was cute); a big top circus maze with disturbed clowns, a “claustrophobic room” where the walls press in, making it hard to get through its hall and a bunch of other insane displays. Luckily, aside from one small tribute to Halloween, they stay away from the major franchise horror villains in their house-and I had my biggest scare when what I thought was a “dummy” of The Shape walked closed the three step gap from him to me and stared down at me. The actors do a tremendous job of hiding in the shadows, popping out when you least expect it and scaring the hell out of people. From what I could tell, it looked like they were having a blast scaring the bejesus out of people. Even though we were probably the thousandth person to go through the house that night, they weren’t phoning in the performances. The makeup jobs were top notch as were the lighting and sound effects. By the end of the tour I was both grinning from ear to ear becuas eit was so much fun to pass through, while secretly hoping it would end soon because I thought I was going to have a heart attack. The one attraction I avoided like the plague was their “buried alive” room, which is an extra three bucks. If you read the Horror Blips article, you know my most legitimate fear is that of being buried alive. Nothing short of a million bucks and a promise to get to second base with Kristen Bell would get me in that coffin.
I wish there was another week before Halloween because there’s a handful of other haunted houses in the area I’d love to hit, but time doesn’t permit me going to them. If you’re lucky enough to have a good one in your area, you owe it to yourself to hit one up before the season end. I’m hoping the tunnel tour and Ghost hunt we’re hitting up with friends in the fortresses in Newport RI live up to their reputation.
What say you, are there any great haunted happenings going on in your area this year?
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
As you must have already read here in our review "Trick 'R Treat" is a surefire classic and a beautifully filmed ode to our favorite holiday.
Along with the movie, a gorgeous graphic novel that collects the stories of the film has also been released. Writen by Marc Andreyko (Torso) with illustrations from Fiona Staples, Grant Bond, Christopher Gugliotti and Mike Huddleston, the book makes a fantastic companion piece to the film.
So how do you take home your copy?
Easy. all you need to do is let us know your all time favorite Halloween costume in the comments section below.
Get your answer in my midnight friday and on Halloween, we'll choose a winner using an elaborate system involving 20 sided die, an astronomical timeclock, eye of newt and whispered advice from Bob Barker.
Happy Halloween from all (well, both) of us here at All Things Horror and good luck!
Upon viewing Michael Dougherty’s Trick ‘r Treat two thoughts immediately sprung to mind. First, this film will be to the 31st of October what Bob Clark’s “A Christmas Story” is to December 25th. This movie will become a staple of Halloween parties and television movie marathons for years to come as it acts as an open love letter to all the trappings and traditions of Halloween. The second thought was how could Warner Brothers stupidly keep this movie on a shelf for two years, allowing it essentially collect dust, ignoring a theatrical release completely before dumping it straight to video. Even after its release, the movie has been scarce on retail shelves.
The cast is nothing short of inspired and each story focuses on a different aspect of the holiday. Dylan Baker plays a demented school principle bent on making his own sadistic fun on Halloween. In the film’s best visual gag, he offers the fat, semi-retarded kid from Bad Santa tainted candy, and fans of projectile vomiting get to witness the grossest scene since Lard Ass ate all those blueberry pies years ago. Bakers mumbled ranting and his annoying loud little turd of a son make up some of the funniest moments of the film. We’re introduced to Brian Cox’s crotchety Mr. Keegs in this story as he plays Bakers next door neighbor, but we leave him after a short cameo, only to return at the films end, where we see earlier events from a different perspective. A group of adolescent kids lure the local weird girl to the site of a horrific crime thirty years prior in order to pull a prank on her, but their plan backfires. Anna Paquin and friends provide striking eye candy as a group of ladies dressed like characters from Grimm’s Fairy Tales looking for dates for a secluded forest party. Dressed as Little Red Riding Hood, she finds herself stranded in the woods when she encounters her own big bad wolf. The thread that bounds the tales together is a creepy little trick or treater named Sam. For most of the movie, he seems content to simply stay in the background, popping up for a few moments during critical junctures of the film.
In Sam, Trick ‘r Treat has given the industry a new icon. Clad in a paupers costume consisting of a sackcloth mask and dirty pajamas, Sam is one of the coolest looking characters to hit the screen in a long while. While the film provides no back story for the character, his motivations are quite simple. Sam acts as the caretaker of the Halloween holiday. As such, his job is to punish those, either directly or indirectly, that disrespect the holiday. It’s not until the final story that the little guy takes center stage and this tale is the highlight of the bunch. It features Brian Cox as a wheezing, Scrooge-like curmudgeon with no time or patience for the foolishness of Halloween night. Sam decides to teach the old coot a lesson about the true meaning of Halloween in what is the most twisted and hilarious take of Dickens “A Christmas Carol” ever committed to film. When Sam’s with him, the old bastard Keegs will make sure to keep the spirit of the day close to his heart as long as he should live (no matter how short that time may be).
The interest in this film has been tremendous, and it has topped sales charts on Amazon and flown off brick and mortar store shelves since its release. Hopefully, this will allow Daugherty to continue his vision of making these anthologies every couple of years, with a focus on different eras of Halloween. If you’re any fan at all of the holiday (and really, if you’re reading this site, it’s pretty obvious you are) you simply must add this flick to your collection. If you don’t, you can’t say I didn’t warn you when the 31st comes around and you’re paid a visit from a creepy kid in a sackcloth mask and footsie pajamas.
Monday, October 26, 2009
In news that should leave anyone who wants more well made original horror in lieu an overabundance of sequels, Box Office Mojo reports Paranormal Activity outperformed Saw VI by a fairly wide margin (22 million versus 14.5 million). The film achieved this despite playing in about a third less screens and playing for its third weekend in many major markets.
It’s just that like any series that gets overexposed, Saw takes a good idea, and beats it to death. While the first film was a pretty taut thriller that squeezed a lot of great ideas onto the screen for short money, as the series progressed, suspense gave way to the gore hounds desire for more violent traps and grisly carnage. Also, while all movies require a bit of suspension of disbelief, I can’t swallow the idea that six movies in, the ever growing intricacy of events required to pull everything off never fail to happen without a hitch. In the end, my biggest problem with Saw is its target audience of nu metal fans.
With the emergence of Paranormal Activity producing a stark contrast to the diminishing returns of the Saw franchise, as well as the spiraling downward trend of remakes of both classic and overseas films, here’s hoping the studios take note. To date, 2009 has been a pretty damned good year for the genre, with not only PA’s stunning success, but also the release and positive buzz of films like Grace, The Hills Run Red, The House of the Devil and Trick ‘r Treat. Unfortunately, the latter three films had to be content with making the rounds on the festival circuit, or getting sent straight to video where they’ve caught on from there. Here’s hoping that instead of a new batch of sequels, studios will take the time to develop and properly promote the growing new pool of talented new directors they have to work with.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Pick of the week
Night of the Creeps "The good news is your dates are here. The bad news is... they're dead." A fantastic tribute to 50’s B Movie flicks where alien slugs zombify a town. Tom Atkins gets to play a bad ass (of course), there’s some great FX and everyone looks like they’re having a blast. Don't let the Twilight inspired blu ray cover scare you away.
Late Fees Perhaps the best endorsement for a Netflix account. A couple pester a video clerk into renting them horror flicks after hours when he’s attempting to close up shop on Halloween night. When they fail to return the movies on time, he decides to hunt them down and teach them a lesson in personal responsibility and courtesy by disemboweling them.
Tales From the Darkside Season 2 The scariest bit of this 80’s anthology series was always the opening sequence with its drippingly evil narration and foreboding synth soundtrack. The series itself was always a bit too low budget and campy to hold up for today’s audience, but some will look back fondly of this show from a bygone era.
Night of Death! There’s a number of foreign titles hitting the shelf this week, and this thirty year old French flick is among them. From the Netflix description: When she takes up her new post at an eerie convalescent home deep in the French countryside, nurse Martine soon discovers that several missing co-workers may have fallen prey to an unspeakable evil rumored to roam the hallways at night. But as Martine looks deeper into the mystery, she suspects the home's aged residents know more about the menace than they let on.
I Can See You Low budget horror from last year about a group of business associates that head to a woodsland retreat in order to come up for pitches for their product. When one of the members disappear, the others experience strange, psychedelic phenomenon suggesting something is amiss.
Friday, October 23, 2009
(photo taken from Cricket Films website uncredited)
Interview by: Chris Hallock 10/20/09
Jon, thanks for taking time to join me this evening for a few questions. We tried to coordinate just before you were whisked away to Switzerland for the Lausanne Underground Film Fest. Was The Hagstone Demon screened there, or one of your other short films?
I screened Hagstone at LUFF09. There were two screenings total. It was well received by the audience.
Excellent to hear and congratulations! I haven't seen the film yet but I'm pretty excited about it screening here in Boston at the Museum of Fine Arts this month (Oct 23 – Nov 1). Has the film been shown in many festivals or has it been tough getting it out to the public?
I premiered Hagstone at Tromadance in Park City last January. It just screened at the Atlanta Horror Festival October 2nd and won Best Feature there. It's always tough getting a feature screened, because there is so much volume right now. So yes, it's been extremely difficult. I think a feature slot in a good festival is quite a commodity as opposed to a short. The slot is just worth more, and the competition for that slot among the thousands of films that are submitted can be overwhelming.
With the digital revolution putting cameras in so many more filmmaker's hands, it must feel good to not only have a film accepted into a festival, but to also win awards. It must be satisfying knowing your hard work is appreciated.
Yes, of course. Everyone wants their work to be appreciated and get attention. But I was more concerned with the integrity of the film and the story. Another journalist in Boston told me that watching Hagstone was like entering into a dream state for 98 minutes. I told him that was the greatest compliment anyone could pay the film. The best films present you with an entirely alien and self-enclosed world where conscious, logical or reasonable references don't always apply.
Can you tell me a bit about the the inspiration behind the film's story?
The inspiration for Hagstone came from both myself and the screenwriter, Harrison Matthews. In Harrison's case, I think the inspiration was autobiographical. He is a caretaker and a writer like Mark's character. We actually used Harrison's apartment for the main set, and Mark even wore some of Harrison's clothes for wardrobe. For me, certain scenes were drawn from Joris-Karl Huysmans’ novel La Bas, which I had read a few years earlier. Huysman details his experience of attending a black mass ritual in Paris, and his account is very journalistic and ordinary. It is very disturbing in that way. So that’s what I set out to capture visually.
Though I haven't seen Hagstone yet, I was able to watch one of your recent shorts Dollface. I thought the themes of sexual repression and isolation were captured very well with the stark imagery. At times it reminded me of early Polanski. With films like The Hagstone Demon and Dollface, are you feeling that people are getting out of it what you're trying to convey?
I don't really know. I can only go by what people tell me after watching the film. Things like guilt and sexual obsession are universal to one degree or another in humanity. So when they are presented within a heightened narrative framework, such as psychological horror, they automatically become exaggerated and distorted. This is an opportunity to show something we all share in a more vivid and heightened way. This can be disturbing if it's done right. And being disturbed can lead to more self-awareness in some cases. The above relates to Dollface in the sense that the main character becomes so self-absorbed that she is literally absorbed by a biological manifestation of her ego.
Excellent respopnse, and I hope I didn't imply that you set out with an agenda. It's wonderful when an audience can go through a journey of self-discovery just by interpreting the images, and not having to be hit over the head with a message. Is it safe to assume you enjoy dealing with themes that take people out of their comfort zones?
Well, it depends on the genre. Horror is meant to disturb. I am really fond of the slow-burn technique to storytelling. It is a difficult and risky way to do it, but it is just what I'm interested in. I just makes the payoff that much more effective. The banality gets people off their guard, and then wham, hit them with both barrels.
In this age of waning attention-spans and the productions that cater to them, it's become refreshing when things are slowed down and more contemplative. Horror and science fiction are those genres that are often unfairly frowned upon by critics. But often horror filmmakers are taking the biggest risks in terms of material and pushing the envelope. Have you felt you were less-respected simply because you chose to tell your stories in the horror genre?
That is hard for me to judge. Obviously people are going to react in a stronger way when you push their buttons. But in a culture where every taboo has pretty much been explored and exploited, it seems that the most vehement criticisms are going to be over the form itself, and not the content.
Getting back to The Hagstone Demon, did you have any particularly troublesome obstacles to finishing the film?
The adversity in the making of this film was very intense, more intense than I had experienced with my other films. The obstacles were of every sort: technical, personal, physical, financial, spiritual.
Well, let me just congratulate you again on getting the film finished. That in itself is quite an accomplishment. Is this your first feature length film? Is there much support for filmmakers in St. Paul, MN (assuming this is where you shot Hagstone)?
Hagstone is my second feature. I've written and directed six short and two features. Hagstone was shot entirely in Minneapolis.
Your body of work is new to me, so forgive me. I'm eager to watch more, but I've been avoiding much because I want to be caught off guard for Hagstone. I did read that you made some interesting casting choices for the film. Audiences may recognize filmmaker Mark Borchardt from American Movie. More curiously, you were able to somehow track down the elusive Lung Leg. How did you make your casting decisions?
I cast Borchardt because he is really good at that deadpan delivery, which goes back to the banality I was discussing before. There is something about his personality that engages you but at the same time keeps you at a certain distance. You might say he has an eccentricity of the ordinary. So such a casting choice can create an unguarded disposition in an audience, which then avails the filmmaker of that golden opportunity to shock and disturb. Kubrick was really the master of that technique, and Cronenberg to an extent. Think about how over the top Jack Nicholson is in The Shining, yet that movie is still really disturbing. That’s not to say that Borchardt is over the top in Hagstone, he's not. But the point is that his seeming transparency is anything but transparency. That is true for Mark personally, as well.
It seems a great choice, as he has a vulnerability which makes his gruff exterior easier to digest. Good comparison to Kubrick and Cronenberg who had rough but endearing heroes in a lot of their films. How did you ever hook up with Mark?
I made a zombie short back in 2003 called Living Dead Girl that was co-produced by my friend Ted Dewberry. Ted had apparently hung out with Mark at Sundance and had his number. So I called Mark and we talked on the phone for about 45 minutes. We found out that we had a lot in common. We were both born in the same month of the same year. We both love Dawn of the Dead. We are both filmmakers. So he drove out to St. Paul for an afternoon and played Jesus in my zombie movie. He wrote a poem about the experience and gave it to me. It was called: "In God and Pabst We Trust."
Haha, that's great! I'm trying to refrain from asking too many questions about him because he's been an inspiration to me. How in the world did you find Lung Leg and what was it like working with her?
My production designer Mike Etoll went to art school with Lung here in Minneapolis back in the 80's. I think Lung moved to New York some time after that and got involved with Richard Kern. She is now living back here in Minnesota.
Very cool! I wasn't sure if maybe you were a fan of Sonic Youth or the video work she's done and you hired a private eye to track her down. Jon, I truly appreciate you taking the time for this interview. Let me just ask one final question: What's next for Jon Springer?
I really don't have any other immediate film plans. As I said, Hagstone really took a lot out of me and I have to just forget about producing any films for a while. Filmmaking isn't everything, after all.
Catch The Hagstone Demon during a brief run at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts
October 23 – November 1
For screening schedule, visit the MFA website
The Hagstone Demon official site
Cricket Films official site
Cricket Films on Myspace
The Hagstone Demon trailer:
John from Freddy in Space puts out what's probably my favorite horror related site on the web. His love and boundless enthusiasm for horror goes well above and beyond talking about his favorite movies as his site details how he decks out his house for Halloween like most folks do for Christmas and how he and his wife visit their favorite haunted sites.
John's promoting the "Trick 'r Treat for UNICEF" cause, which allows those of us that have gotten too old to go door to door for candy the opportunity to help out children in thirdworld countries that are less fortunate than us.
I've posted the link to John's site below. I'd ask anyone reading this click the link below for the full skinny and contribute anything you can spare. John's always giving away goodies on his site, and this cause is no diffeent. He has some fantastic goodie bags lined up for the top contributors.
The Trick 'r Treat for UNICEF Charitiable Cause Details
Mike's note: Another guest column from Chris Rochon, this one talking about his love for the short aussie zombie flick. I've written here and elsewhere that online content is the future for independent short films. There's an opportunity to view films that would never see the light of day otherwise, and hopefully this will lead to these new film makers grabbing bigger and better projects.
I was feeling a little bummed out earlier, I was trying to think of great new horror movies to recommend to some people and I honestly could only come up with a handful, if that. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some good horror movies to come out recently, but great, not so much. So anyway the reason I was bummed out is actually a two-parter, goes like this: part one is the reason I stated above about there only being a few great horror movies to come out in recent years, part two is that one of them isn’t even a movie at all, it’s a short film. It’s called “I Love Sarah Jane” and it’s about zombies.
I originally watched this film on the Netlflix “watch it now” thing when it first came out, but then they mysteriously removed the film not long after they put it up. So then I’d be all like “Hey you know what’s a good little film you should check out, ‘I Love Sarah Jane’” and people would get back to me and be like “Dude that movie does not even exist and now I hate you”. The good news, it’s up on YouTube now and I can tell the whole world to go and check it out and be amazed.
The thing for me that makes it a great film and not a good one is poor people. I am a poor person. Not like a 21 year old college kid that is slumming it for a while until he gets his degree and mom and dad buy him a congratulations present, like a real poor person. You ever notice how most zombie movies involve yuppies, or at least middle-class types that look all good from eating organic and never for a moment are like “This is rad! Let’s kill all these soccer moms and steal their purses!” Poor people would do stuff like that, they wouldn’t be all worried and not even have weapons in their house, they would be prepared and take advantage of the situation. It’s actually a bunch of kids here, but same difference really. They aren’t all crying and whining about their mom and dad getting eaten by zombies, they are partying and loving every minute of it. Think about it, now they can eat all the cereal they want without dad being like “Take it easy! That stuff’s like 4 dollars a box!”
I love “I Love Sarah Jane”.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
While it might seem that true horror fans are unscareable, they all have their soft spot. Even Superman has Kryptonite right? For me, movies that feature ventriloquist dummies are off my tolerable scale. Something about the eyes, and the fact that they seem like they’re alive, when they aren’t, and then they do come to life…it gives me the creeps.
We wanted to know what horror bloggers claimed as their own personal Achilles heel. What makes them squirm or scream every time? Check out their answers below, you might be surprised to find out what it takes to freaks out the un-freakable.
Mike Snoonian, All Things Horror: If there’s a sure-fire type of fright flick that keeps me up into the wee hours of the night, it’s anything dealing with tightly claustrophobic settings and premature burial. There’s something about viewing someone trapped in a confined space, barely able to move or breath that gets my heart racing and nerves twitchy. When watching a scene of this type, I put myself in the character’s place, pinned in a pine box or hole in the ground, the air growing staler and thinner until it finally runs out, leaving me gasping for my last breath alone in pitch blackness. That’s why “The Descent” remains one of the scariest theater experiences of my life. Even if the cave dwellers had never been introduced, the story of the women trapped and lost in pitch-blackness with the constant threat of the walls collapsing around them was more than enough to leave me sweating in my seat.
B-J C, Day of the Woman: For some reason, I’ve always been really uneasy with dead children. My mother has run a daycare out of our home for years, so whenever Michael Myers chased down Jamie Lloyd, or when little Gage dies in “Pet Sematary,” it always really really bothered me. As far as something that I see constantly, I’m really bad with eye injuries. Eye gouging, stabbing, bleeding, anything of the sort always makes me squirm. The scene in “Opera” is pure torture for me as well as the “Zombi 2” infamous wood to the eye scene.
Stacie Ponder, Final Girl:I’m a total sucker for possession movies. It doesn't matter if it’s a low-budget 10th generation Exorcist rip-off, I’m gonna be creeped out. It’s not the religious angle that gets to me—I’m not a particularly religious person— it’s more of an aesthetic thing. Weird eyes, crusty skin, oozing liquids, barfed-up pea soup, and a deep demonic voice are all it takes for me to freak. I guess it’s just a visceral reaction, because the people who get possessed in these movies don’t ever do much except lay around in bed all day, stinkin’ up the joint and cussin’ up a storm. No matter! Even the lowest movies on the possession totem pole work for me.
Johnny, Freddy In Space: My one Achilles heel when it comes to horror is without question Zelda from “Pet Sematary.” Movies don't scare me too often and it’s even rarer that characters themselves scare me, but Zelda always has and always will put the fear in me. Lock me in a room with Freddy Krueger, a zombie, a ghost, or the devil himself—I’ll calmly assess the situation and find a way out alive. Lock me in a room with Zelda and I will die of fright before she can ever even lay a finger on me!
BC, Horror Movie A Day: Fish and other, smaller water creatures. Sharks are OK, but you put a snapper turtle or a piranha in a movie, you can guarantee that I'm going to get unsettled. Even if they aren't the “villains” of the film, if they just show a fish doing that pucker thing with his mouth in someone’s fish tank or whatever, I feel uneasy.
I also used to be afraid of clowns, but so many terrible killer clown horror movies have actually vaporized my fear.
Monster Scholar, Monster Land: My horror Achilles heel would have to be disembowelment and/or vivisection. It’s been a hot button for me ever since I ate a bad yogurt parfait and had nightmares about someone cutting me open and removing my organs with toothpicks. This initial fear was only made worse by seeing “House of a Thousand Corpses” as a teenager and watching Dr. Satan perform gruesome surgery on his live victims. Yuck.
Becky Sayers, The Horror Effect: Home invasion films get under my skin. Sometimes it takes the hard-hitting intensity of a movie like “Inside” to terrify me, but other times the simplest slasher can make me uncomfortable. Perhaps it roots back to my indoctrination into the horror genre with “Halloween.” I remember trying to sleep after watching John Carpenter’s masterpiece for the first time. My bed was situated against a wall, which I faced, leaving my back exposed to the empty room. I kept imaging that Michael Myers was standing behind me, his pallid mask hovering like a ghost in the darkness. However, my fear of the home invasion might be based on something more elementary. I grew up on 10-forested acres in a rural area of Washington state. There was no next-door neighbor. There were no paved roads for a mile. If someone were to prey on my childhood home, it might resemble scenes found in “The Strangers” or “Them.” Whatever the circumstance, it is horrifying to imagine that you are not safe in your own residence. Absolutely no one wants to wake up to the sound of unknown footsteps downstairs or to the sight of a shadowy figure leaning over the bedside.
Jeff, The Jaded Viewer: That'’ a very interesting topic. I gotta admit, I get the uber shivers from creepy crawlies, swarms of bugs movies and killer parasites. You know the movies, like “Splinter,” “The Thaw,” “The Ruins,” “Slither” and don’t get me started about “Arachnophobia.” I love these movies but when I see a horde of bugs or parasites on the movie, it gives me chills. I start squirming and I get the feeling these creepy crawlies are attacking me.