Sunday, 21 September 2014

interview: Pat Higgins (2014 - fake interview)

When I interviewed Pat in 2014 about the director's cut of his notorious rock documentary The Devil's Music, we thought it might also be fun to do a 'fake' interview as if the film was just one of his low-budget horror movies. The questions and answers below should be read in that light.

The Devil’s Music was a terrific film to start with. Why did you feel the need to tinker with it (you George Lucas, you!)?
"First of all, thanks very much! It’s great that the movie found a small but extremely enthusiastic audience. Cine du Monde were eager to put something really special for the release and out-do the incredibly cool (but long deleted) US release from 2009. There were a couple of great bits that we'd lost for running time reasons, and I wanted to bring them back. The re-release was a great opportunity to scratch the itch!"

Why did you decide to record an ‘in character’ director’s commentary and is/will there be a real one?
"The US release back in 2009 also had an 'in character' commentary, but it was poorly recorded and didn't synch up the way we’d wanted. It did, however, seem that the idea itself worked just fine, so we had another crack at it and I think it works pretty well. I loved the idea of just carrying on the idea that the whole thing was 'real' for longer than we needed to. Almost like the way Stewart Lee uses repetition in comedy , where something goes from really funny to less funny to tedious to really funny again. I guess we wondered if the same principal could be applied to 'creepy' if we just held the pretence long enough. As for a 'real' one, we just ran out of time. Maybe we'll do one as a download or something."

What sort of balance is there inside you between the frustrated actor and the frustrated rock star?
"In the early '90s, I made countless music videos and four-track demos with a bunch of mates. My frustrated rock star was in full effect during that period, but hasn’t often reared its ugly head since then. I've never been hugely interested in acting since discovering at age four that you didn't get to do it in real time. Before that, I thought Sam J Jones would turn up on set and just be Flash Gordon for 100 minutes. Snog Melody Anderson, blow some shit up, fly a rocket cycle and go home with the job done. At that point, acting sounded amazing. Once I learned the truth - not so much."

Why did you make a one-day, half-hour remake of TrashHouse?
"Why not? It was a bunch of really creative people doing something crazy just for fun. TrashHouse took 18 months and thousands of pounds back in 2003/2004 so I was fascinated with what we could do nowadays with a single day and no money whatsoever. Technology has changed, I've changed. Felt like a cool thing to do, and to approach it entirely as a democracy (no one person 'directed') and just put it online for fun was extremely liberating. We screwed up the sound a bit, but otherwise I think it was a hell of an achievement for a day’s work. I got to work with a bunch of old friends, alongside incredibly talented people like MJ Dixon who I’d never had the opportunity to work with before."

In the past year you’ve produced a Special Edition of KillerKiller, a Director’s Cut of The Devil’s Music, a remake of TrashHouse and an audio sequel to HellBride. But you haven’t made an actual new feature in seven years. What’s going on?
"Don’t forget the live masterclass things! We’ve been doing them too; ‘Werewolves, Cheerleaders & Chainsaws’ is still online as a freebie. I’m doing the last date of ‘Fake Blood, Real Guts’ at Horror-on-Sea East in November and then we start the new show ‘How Not to Make a Horror Movie’ in January. So, God, we’ve been busy.

"As you mention, though, we haven’t shot an entire feature ourselves for seven years, and my completed scripts that we have in-house are looking more likely to get made on bigger budgets elsewhere. I’d love to shoot another micro-budget feature at some point, but it ends up dominating an entire year of your life in a way that smaller or shorter projects don’t."

Whatever happened to Evil Apps?
"It’s still very much on the front burner (I was only tweaking the script yesterday, as it happens) but once again it’s likely to end up being sold elsewhere rather than filmed by Jinx. It’s a really interesting, edgy script – it feels a bit like a high-tech, blood splattered cousin of Mean Girls and Heathers – and we’re determined to find a terrific home for it."

Do you, Jim Eaves and Al Ronald have any plans to complete the Death Tales trilogy?
"I couldn’t possible comment. But I’m sure I will soon."


interview: Pat Higgins (2014 - real interview)

It's ironic that, although he is best known for low-budget horror movies, Pat Higgins' most terrifying feature is actually a documentary about notorious shock-rock singer Erika Spawn. In September 2014, to tie in with the new Director's Cut of The Devil's Music, Pat kindly answered a few questions about this powerful and disturbing film (For fun, we also did a 'fake interview' in which Pat pretended that The Devil's Music was fiction, just one of his low-budget horror movies.)

How has your view of Erika Spawn and the events chronicled in your film changed between 2007 and now?
"I went into the project believing that Erika was either massively deluded or the perpetrator of one of the greatest hoaxes in popular culture. I was wrong. It occurs to me now, looking back at the footage, what an incredibly brave and perceptive woman she was."

What did the film’s participants think of The Devil’s Music, and are you still in contact with any of them?
"Eddie Meachum, Erika's manager, was very happy with the original cut. I heard he turned up to one of the festival showings and just sat in the back row, watching the audience react. I always liked Eddie and we kept in touch for quite a while. Around 2012, he deleted all social media and all his phone numbers stopped working. I heard he'd applied to that Google 'right to be forgotten' thing. I think it all just got too much for him yet again; he’s probably gone off to live in the desert somewhere. ZC, the drummer, apparently thought the movie was ‘okay’. I couldn't give a shit what Adele Black made of it."

I understand that since recording the commentary for the Director’s Cut you’ve been convalescing. Was your health affected by the stress of having to revisit this intense subject matter that you thought you had finished with?
"They've labeled that commentary 'director's breakdown' or something on the DVD, which I think is a bit of a low blow. I always knew that revisiting the material was likely to provoke an intense reaction but I took the risk anyway. But, yes, it's been stressful. I can't imagine I'll be doing a tenth anniversary special edition in a couple of years. I’m now officially done with it."

What did you think of David Suddenham’s 2010 biography of Erika Spawn, which covered some of the same ground as your film but came to different conclusions?
"Suddenham is, I'm sure, sincere about the conclusions that he's come to given the limited research materials available to him. I'm sure he considers it a competently researched and adequately written biography, and I wish him well."

Two years ago an extraordinary (but somewhat blurry) photo surfaced allegedly showing Robin Harris, Stef Regan and Adele Black together at a party. Erika Spawn fans are massively divided over whether it’s genuine and what it might mean. What do you think: another level of mystery, mistaken identity or a troll with good Photoshop skills?
"I think it's genuine, sadly enough, and I think that the only real thing left open to discussion about the photograph is the date. Some argue that it was taken in 2005, but I've heard others argue for 2009 which, given the timelines we're dealing with here, would throw the veracity of everything we think we know into doubt."

Do you have any regrets at ever taking on this project?
"If I could have my time over again, I never would have gotten involved. I still hear voices in the night. Whispers in the shadows. He had teeth in his throat back then, and he still does."


Saturday, 20 September 2014

interview: Steve Balderson

I first encountered Steve Balderson's work (and indeed, Steve Balderson's father Clark, who produced some of his films) when I saw Pep Squad at Fantasporto in 2000. Since then, Steve has created a body of work which marks him out as one of the most important and fascinating independent film-makers in the United States today. A big career interview with Steve was something I had been promising to do for ages. Eventually in September 2014, prompted by the release online of Steve's brilliant documentary Wamego: Making Movies Anywhere, I sent a bunch of questions over to Kansas and these great answers were returned a few days later.

When you directed your first feature, Pep Squad, what were your hopes and ambitions with regards to film-making?
"Well, I had no idea what the reality of that world was, is. I was barely an adult, and so totally naïve. I thought we'd make the movie, it would get picked up by a major distributor (which it nearly did several times), and we’d have instant fame and fortune. And, indeed, we received a lot of notoriety globally – but no fortune. Lloyd Kaufman arranged for the film to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in France, and Harvey Weinstein called us personally to see the film, as did other mini-majors at the time. Then Columbine happened and none of them would touch it.

"Soon after many of the people who wanted our movie ended up stealing our ideas to make nearly identical movies, such as Jawbreaker. A friend of mine who was a Senior VP of one of the majors told me everyone knew what happened with Pep Squad, so my advice was to just keep making movies, that none of them would expect me to. Funny, many moons later I met Darren Stein and told him what had happened, and he felt really badly. He confessed to getting notes from Jodie Scalla and Clint Culpepper (the people he answered to with Jawbreaker, who were the ones who previously wanted Pep Squad), but pleaded with me to believe him that he didn't outright copy my film on purpose and wouldn't have had he known.  He claimed to never have seen Pep Squad, so I sent him a DVD and he hasn't called me since. I can’t imagine his embarrassment. Anyway, to make a long story less long, hahaha, I had absolutely no idea about the real world of filmmaking at the time. Even though I was very confident in my abilities as a filmmaker."

I believe you made a bunch of low-budget films prior to Pep Squad, including an unofficial Anne Rice adaptation. What can you tell me about those?
"Oh, they were horrible. Just terrible. (Laughs out loud). Many of them were made when I attended CalArts film school, and some even when I was even younger. The adaptation of The Vampire Lestat was awkward, but a blast even if totally amateurish. The assignment at CalArts was to make a short film with 'texture' or some kind of weird aesthetic bent. I never made a short film in my life at that point, and only thought of things in long-format storytelling. And I'd just finished reading The Vampire Lestat and thought it would make a marvelous movie. I still do, and think I ought to be the one to make it professionally.

"So I made the thing on VHS or some similarly archaic kind of tape recording device, and sent it to Anne Rice for Valentine’s Day. I don’t remember what she said about it other than 'Thank you,' I'm sure she couldn't bear to watch it. No one could. (Laughs again). I'd filmed the movie in Kansas during a winter break, but stayed gone long enough to finish editing it. When I returned to CalArts ;my teachers asked sternly WHERE HAD I BEEN. I told them I was busy doing “the assignment' and handed them a double-tape VHS box set (the movie was over two hours in length, and at that time a single VHS tape held only two hours of running time). My teachers looked puzzled, and a bit overwhelmed, not sure what to do with me."

There was a big gap between Pep Squad and Firecracker. What changed for you in that time, and what drove those changes?
"Yes, it took many years to find the funding needed to make Firecracker. Most of this process is documented in Wamego Part 1 (Making Movies Anywhere). I think the largest growth during that period was in myself personally. As anyone knows who has experienced it – a person 'grows up' considerably between the ages of 21 and 26. And then again, from 27 to 32. So much so that while I think my core values and beliefs have remained the same most of all my adult life, there are aspects of that person all those years ago I don’t recognise.

"Such as the terrible need I once had to fit in, be accepted and loved. When I was 18 and while making Pep Squad it occurred to me (wrongly) that if I were famous and rich, that people would love me and that would make me happy. Truthfully, all I needed to do was figure out how to love myself and build my inner self. Which is something I began to do during the process of trying to get Firecracker off the ground. I'm not sure I'd have been able to create Firecracker had I not been in that exact moment in life. Adolescence was dead, I was an adult, but not really (I don't think anyone should really be mentally and emotionally considered an adult until one turns at least 40). I'd also just met the person I was prepared to spend the rest of my life with. More on that in a minute. (Laughs again)."

How do you feel when you look back at the massive complexity and ambition of Firecracker, given how contained your later films tend to be?
"While the scope of Firecracker was massive on a crew-to-cast ratio, I haven’t felt any of my movies being simpler to make. And in the case with Casserole Club, I’d say it was more challenging thanFirecracker in a lot of ways. I think that what I learned most while making Firecracker was that one didn't need a separate person to do a single job, but that it was more efficient to have one person handle several jobs – thus cutting down on the size of the crew and keeping costs lower."

Your self-distribution of Firecracker (as documented in Wamego Part II) was innovative and radical - maybe even a bit maverick - nine years ago but in today’s world of multiple distribution channels, any film-maker can be their own independent distributor. Rather than you adapting or compromising, it’s like the industry has actually come to you. How do you feel about that?
"I love it. I don’t know how many people out there are aware of what we did back then. I mean, it was before Facebook. Before social media of any sort. We still had to fax press releases. I often wonder how it would be if that time were today. Would it have been wildly successful, or would we have been lost in the dust? Back then nobody was doing something like that, so we stood out and got a lot of attention because it was unique."

To what extent were the Wamego trilogy intended to document and/or inform, and to what extent were they your own catharsis in response to the shit you went through around Firecracker?
"My objective all along was to help document our journey – struggles and all. When I started out there wasn't a map to follow, or hidden secrets shared by other filmmakers. It was rare to find any real information, so I decided to share it with the world, no holds barred. Even when there are moments of failure, or success, it was important for me emotionally to never shy away from them. I'm so very thankful I did that. I've actually heard from quite a few filmmakers throughout the years since how much they appreciated learning about my journey and how it helped shape theirs."

Watch Out is probably your most extreme film: how much leeway or restraint did you exercise in terms of potential (or actual) ‘shock value’?
"Well, I’m not one to normally like shock value for the sake of shock value. While I love John Waters’ movies, my studies came from learning Hitchcock – a master of showing as little as possible to gain the maximum impact. In the book Watch Out, the descriptions were so vividly described, it was nearly vomit inducing in some parts. I also learned a lot about sound while making Watch Out. Paul Ottosson, who won the Sound Design Oscar for Hurt Locker and nominated for numerous other movies, did the sound with me. In the scene where he's cutting off the pop star's toes, it's the sound that makes it extreme. You really only see a bloody toe and foot in two shots that each last for less than 24 frames. And, of course there's the masturbation scene. The moment of ejaculation needed to pass by so quickly the viewer could miss it if they blinked, and then wonder: 'Did I just see what I thought I saw?' I think showing that kind of subtle restraint when working in extreme matters is more effective than simply being gratuitous."

Your films often have distinctive colour palettes, so why did you choose to shoot Stuck! in black and white?
"I really wanted to give it that film noir feel of the women in prison films from the 1950s. Caged and I Want to Live were my inspirations. I wasn't all that interested or inspired by the exploitation women in prison films of the '70s."

By the time you made The Casserole Club you had developed an incredibly efficient and simple filming strategy. How did the way you and your cast and crew worked on set affect what audiences saw on screen?
"By creating an environment that is fun and enjoyable, the chemistry that actually exists in real life is easily passed through the characters on screen. Casting that film was tricky, in that it was important not only that the person be right for the part, but also that they had the right personality to balance the overall group when the cameras weren't rolling. We lived together in two vacation rentals in the same neighbourhood, really making the environment like summer camp. I developed a manifesto for the process and made everyone read it. By getting everyone on the same page from the get-go there were no surprises. People knew what was in store for them. And the people who couldn't handle the manifesto weren't considered to be on the cast or crew. One person lied on the manifesto (my assistant) and was fired on the third or fourth day. From that moment on, I've always respected the purpose of the manifesto and use it still."

Your next two features – Culture Shock and The Far Flung Star – were lightweight, ‘fun’ movies which seemed like a reaction against (and release from) the intensity of your previous films. Is that a fair judgement?
"Absolutely. Casserole Club took a lot out of me emotionally. In hind-sight, I was probably picking up psychically on my ex’s betrayal (which at that point was in full effect unbeknownst to me); so the messages I had about relationships and marriage were really deep and sometimes very painful and personal. I deliberately wanted to do something light, and without meaning. You know, several people mentioned that Culture Shock and Far Flung Star weren't real Balderson films, because when the audiences finished watching there was nothing to talk about. Sure they were fun, and entertaining, but most people missed the inevitable conversations that come from my movies. They wanted to dissect the characters and really analyse the story—but there was nothing to discuss. Which is, at the time, what I needed emotionally and creatively. I wanted to make something frivolous and just, well, entertaining. Eye candy for the sake of nothing more than eye candy."

It’s 15 months now since you sent me the screener of Occupying Ed. Why has it taken so long for this wonderful film to be seen by other people?
"Well, to pick up from my early story… Just weeks before I was to direct Occupying Ed, I discovered my partner (of 13 years) had hidden his tax returns for the previous 10 years or so, and for whatever stupid reason, had forgotten to take them with him when he abandoned me a couple weeks prior. So I Xeroxed all the records and bank statements, and in doing so, I discovered he betrayed me, having conned me out of about $250,000. It was devastating. My friends and family now refer to him lovingly as 'Bernie Madoff.' (Laughing).

"I’ll tell you, one of the hardest things in the world to do is produce and direct a romantic comedy-drama after being blind-sided by your husband who turns out to be a sociopath. My job was to direct a film about love in the middle of feeling total despair. I’ll also tell you – the film might have just saved my life. With friends and a good solid support group around me, I was able to make it through Occupying Ed without too many breakdowns. There are some amazingly tender scenes in that movie, which I poured a lot of my soul into. And the two songs by Samuel Robertson, 'Continents Were Made to Sink' and 'I am Your Planet' were songs I'd listened to repeatedly with Bernie back when I believed his affection was real. I'm so thankful for Samuel allowing me the rights to license those songs for the film. Even though I didn't write Occupying Ed (Jim Lair Beard wrote the screenplay), it became so personal to me that I felt every word, and saw every frame of film, in the roots of my soul. It was incredibly healing to actually make the film.

"But, it took a long time to finish. And in the months since I sent it to you for review, we've been trying to get it screened publicly. Yet, very few film festivals have had the courage to program it. Not because it’s too unusual, but my hunch is that it’s because romantic comedies are so cliché that many people avoid them, or somehow can’t take them seriously. Which makes some sense to me. It's rare that any film festival or high-art establishment screens romantic comedies. But, with the support of many festivals in Europe, we finally begin our festival run with the premiere at Raindance in London on 29 September."

Do your belly-dance documentary Underbelly and your avant-garde feature Phone Sex fit neatly into your cinematic career or should they be seen as experimental anomalies?
"Oh, I think they’re a different thing altogether. Phone Sex for one was originally conceived as a video installation for an art gallery. The 'premiere' was actually had at a gallery, where it became interactive with the people who came to the opening. I treated it as an art opening, rather than premiere. Underbelly was a great exercise in being a journalist. I felt that perhaps I was a secret television station out to do an expose on this amazing world of burlesque, comedians, belly dance and the amazing women and men who inhabit that world. I’d definitely do another documentary in the future, but it's a lot to invest in two years of your life…  So it would have to mean a great deal to me."

Several of your films have premiered in London. Why do you think your small-town-in-Kansas approach to films chimes with British audiences?
"I have no idea, but I love it. I think it’s also hysterical that if I have a screening in London it sells out, the entire room is packed with fans and interested moviegoers. Whereas, if I hold a screening in Kansas City, hardly anyone comes. (Laughing again). Seriously. When I screened Casserole Club in Kansas City there were about 12 people there. Yet, when we screened it in LA we packed the 1,000-seat Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. And in London it was sold out as well. I don't know why but maybe my sense of humour is inherently British? My ancestors are from northern England after all. Or, perhaps it's the exoticness of the worlds I've shown on camera. The Kansas prairie, the Palm Springs desert mad-men style era, or the carnivals and old-timey Americana. Who knows. But I love it."

The Big Question: looking back at your own filmography, what do you think defines a Steve Balderson film?
"Well, like I mentioned earlier, I think one ingredient is definitely that after viewing the film can be debated with, discussed and examined more closely. For hidden meanings, metaphors, and that sort. But, I'd also say that my films are a bit autobiography. In the sense that they are about the very thing that is most interesting to me at the time. Usually when I decide to make a movie, it is the subject that I want to learn more about. I love learning about new things. Like, most recently, melodrama and killing people."

Finally, what’s the latest news on Hell Town and what else have you got cooking?
"Hell Town is one of my greatest. Of course, I share the writing and directing credit with filmmaker Elizabeth Spear. But, she and I have such a similar since of sick and dark humour that you won’t be able to tell what came from me and what came from her.  Imagine Pep Squad on steroids. That’s Hell Town. I’m so in love with it. We've currently locked the picture edit. So now that the edit is done, we can begin sound design and music. I've worked with Mark Booker as an actor several times, but he's also an amazing musician and sound editor. He's currently working on Hell Town. I hope to have the color timing complete end of November, and then it's off to film festivals and midnight screenings. I'm so excited for everyone to become a hellion.

"Recently, I went to Los Cabos, Mexico, to direct another feature with Susan Traylor. That one, called El Ganzo, is still in the editing stage. It’s a mysterious memory remembered like a dream. It feels like my finest film. It co-stars Anslem Richardson and is set entirely in the Los Cabos region of Mexico – which was recently decimated by hurricane Odile. Please share this for support:


Thursday, 11 September 2014

interview: Dáire McNab

After I reviewed his excellent Dublin-shot giallo thriller The Three Sisters, Dáire McNab kindly answered a few questions for me in September 2014.

How would you define a giallo, and what are the best examples of the genre?
“The word 'giallo' means yellow in Italian, and was originally used to describe Italian editions of crime novels by people like Agatha Christie and Dashiell Hammett, which were printed with yellow book-jackets. They were so popular that Italian authors started writing their own crime stories, and these became widely known as gialli (plural for 'giallo'). I'll hand myself over to myself at this point, with an extract from my work-in-progress book on the genre:

“[A]t some point people outside Italy started using the term to describe a specific type of crime film, created by Mario Bava, then refined and popularised by Dario Argento several years later. Confusingly, Italians tend to refer to these films as ‘Thrilling all’Italiana’, although I will not be doing so, unless my word count comes up drastically short. These films do constitute a recognisable and definable genre, although, as with anything in this world, there are several exceptions which both prove and disprove the rule. Generally speaking, a giallo film will contain an unfolding mystery which is resolved in the closing moments, as well as several scenes of brutal murders, often committed by a masked killer, whose identity is often the mystery at the centre of the film. There are many, many films which I would, and will, classify as gialli which do not adhere to one or other of these above guidelines (and one, Hatchet for the Honeymoon, which barely adheres to either). Gialli are also noted for their soundtracks, visual inventiveness, sexualised violence, illogical plotting and outlandish titles, though none of these are requisites."

“Some people will refuse to classify any non-Italian film as a giallo, but some people are idiots. In my case, I've tried to compromise by bringing aboard Giovanni Lombardi Radice, who is an iconic figure in the world of Italian genre cinema.

“In terms of good examples, Bava's early trailblazers, The Girl Who Knew Too Much and Blood and Black Lace, are great entry-points. Anything by Argento (pre-1990s anyway) is also a good bet. There's also a fairly strong case for Don't Look Now to be considered a giallo. I could list a load of obscure films here, but won't, but I will mention one of my favourite gialli, Tinto Brass's Deadly Sweet, which is a fairly bonkers film made slap bang in the middle of the Swinging London era. It wouldn't be to everyone's tastes, and gets a bit boring in the middle, but it's well worth a watch. Oh, and anything by Sergio Martino pre-1980 is well worth a look.”

How difficult was it to make something that was recognisably a giallo without becoming a pastiche of the genre?
“It actually wasn't too difficult, but at the same time was definitely uppermost in my thoughts when making the film. The whole 'pastiche' fad is not something that's ever really interested me as a viewer, unless the filmmaker in question is someone with a serious talent for reappropriating generic conventions (eg. Tarantino [sorry for going for the obvious example]) in an interesting way. As far as I'm concerned, there are way too many grindhouse/exploitation-inspired films these days which cross the line from pastiche into lazy parody, with cheap jokes which often outright mock the original films/concepts. There's clearly an audience for this, so fair enough, but it's not a road I'd want to take.

“With this film I didn't want to make either a pastiche of gialli, or a neo-giallo (a sub-genre which has gained some traction over the past few years, and which generally dispenses with any mystery element in favour of following the killer for most of the film). I just wanted to make a film which fits snugly into the genre, and which, hopefully, will one day be listed among its cannon. It also works as a straightforward thriller film (hopefully anyway), and a lot of the time when I describe it to people I omit the word 'giallo', as I don't want to frighten people off by using foreign words.

“I think, to finally actually answer the question, that is wasn't too difficult to avoid pastiche because I put all of my focus on coming up with a decent plot, and then putting this plot on screen in as interesting a way as I could. I don't have a compulsion to let everyone know about the obscure films I've seen by including references to them, I only have a compulsion to make films. Having said that, I did put in a couple of credits which are a bit nerdy and referential; this was mostly to pad out the credits list a bit, as it's mostly just my name repeated over and over.”

What did you learn from your earlier films that you were able to bring to the making of The Three Sisters?
“It's difficult to put my finger on specific things, but, particularly at this (hopefully) early stage of my career, with every film I make I learn a huge amount (usually by making mistakes, and vowing never to repeat them). One thing I definitely learned is that if I'm going to self-finance a film which loses money, it's best to keep the budget as low as possible. I did this on The Three Sisters by keeping the number of characters low, and mostly casting people who were related to me, or friends. Both the previous films were shot in the traditional 'big block of shooting followed by several months of post-production' manner, but I thought that, given that I had no deadlines or anything, the ability to edit as I went along might be beneficial. This definitely proved to be the case, as I was able to incorporate several plot tweaks into the film as I went along. Previously I've had to try and patch things up in editing, this time I could patch them up as I went, to better effect. The editing-as-you-go approach is definitely one that suits filmmakers (but not actors or producers), although I did find that I'd happily go for months without shooting anything, and get a bit caught up in the editing.

“I think the biggest things I've learned have been related to the marketing and sale of the finished product. This film was the first time I've really thought ahead to what would happen after I finished editing. In fact, even the idea to make a giallo came about because I wanted to make something that I could market, but would also enjoy making.”

Beyond the obvious family connections, how did you find your cast?
“Yeah, most of the cast are family or friends. Everyone on screen, apart from three actors (and the unwitting extras in the background of some scenes) have been in one or both of my previous films. Of the three that weren't, one is the sister of the lead actress, and another is a friend of the lead actor. The third is Giovanni Lombardo Radice, who I got on board through email and charm, and a bit of money. He was great though, he didn't seem fazed by the minuscule size of the production, nor the fact that I hadn't really sorted out any costume for him. That's actually my biggest flaw as a filmmaker; I never think about costuming, beyond a continuity-specific capacity. Once I get good at costuming I'll be unstoppable (probably).

“I found using actors (and 'actors') with whom I've previously worked really beneficial in many ways. It allowed me to tailor their characters specifically to their talents and limitations, and I could even tailor the filmmaking process as well. For example, I shot all the dialogue scenes involving my mother in single takes, essentially to minimize her time on set (/discomfort on set), and I thought that my friend Rob wouldn't enjoy doing ADR, so I shot all of his scenes with live sound (all of other scenes were post-dubbed, apart from Giovanni's scene). It also helped in planning out the scenes with the main actors. Every actor is different, and, for example, some can process three or four notes given to them between takes, others can only make one adjustment at a time. Also, some actors can take five or six takes to warm up, whereas others can hit their stride straight away. Because I'd worked with everyone before, I didn't have to spend time rehearsing to suss out their own idiosyncrasies, and I was able to give them some leeway in terms of improvising dialogue. Actually, that's a far better answer to your previous question than the one I gave.”

What are your intentions for festivals/distribution of the film?
“I only finished the film a month ago (and am still regrading a few shots and polishing bits of the audio, and I haven't done the end credits yet), so there are as of yet no festival screenings confirmed, nor any distribution plans. I've entered it in several festivals, so hopefully one or two will respond positively to it. As for disseminating it to a wider audience further down the line, that kind of depends on what, if any, interest it engenders at festivals. I'd like to get a decent DVD deal at the very least, but we'll see.”

What is the horror film-making scene like in Ireland at the moment?
“It seems to be booming at the moment. When I made my first film, The Farm, in 2008, it was probably among the first ten or fifteen Irish horror films ever; there are about as many as that in post-production right now. A lot of them seem to be of the 'people-get-lost-in-the-woods' variety, which I suppose makes sense, as we have a fair amount of countryside about the place. It doesn't really feel like a 'scene' though, in the sense that I only know about these films from seeing brief items about them on various websites. There isn't a Horror Directors' Club or anything, or if there is they forgot to invite me. It's probably as much as anything a consequence of the democratisation of filmmaking which has been brought about by the rise of digital cameras; horror is a fairly established 'first film' genre. I suppose it's good in a way to see a lot of other films being made here, but in a much bigger way it's bad, as it increases the chances of mine falling by the wayside.”

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

interview: Jorg Buttgereit

Back in March 1998 I interviewed legendary underground German film-maker Jorg Buttgereit by phone for SFX. His movie Der Todesking was out on VHS - and he had also recently published a German book about his great love, Godzilla movies. I was only able to use part of the interview. This full version has never been seen before.

I enjoyed Der Todesking but I didn't understand it. What was the idea behind it?
"The reason why you didn't understand it maybe is that it's a combination of a lot of ideas, not just a basic idea. For us, it was very important to set ourselves free of Nekromantik. The so-called horror audience was very pushy, and to top something like Nekromantik is very hard, as you can imagine. So we wanted to do some different things and we tried to put them all into one movie. We didn't care a lot about convention. So we did a movie with all these suicidal people and with no main actor at all, which is a terrible thing normally. The main actor was kind of the rotting corpse that is seen between episodes.

"It's a more kind of arty approach. It had nothing to do with mainstream cinema and we didn't care about the commercial success or anything like that. We just set ourselves free after Nekromantik because we were afraid of being a slave to our limited success. For this kind of movie, Nekromantik was a big success. Of course, we didn't make a lot of money with it but it had so much coverage from everywhere. Everybody was keen to see what's coming next, and that's a terrible thing to be. It's like Tarantino after Pulp Fiction: what is he doing? He's doing a very slo-o-ow movie. have you seen Jackie Brown?"

Not yet.
"Nothing is happening in this movie! You can watch very boring things a few times, but if it were not for all the good actors, this movie would have been terrible. But he's stuffed it with great actors, so it's great. But it's also a very arty approach."

Did you have any control over the English subtitling of Der Todesking?
"It's hard to remember. I think someone did it for us, but we produced the subtitled version in the end."

It's very funny when a five-minute phone conversation is subtitled 'I quit'.
"That was my idea. I felt so stupid trying to translate all the stuff he was saying, and in the end the only fact was that he quit. We had this finished movie and we had the need to do subtitles, and it gives you even more ideas. So that was something strange! It was funny too. This guy is talking to his job and telling them that he quits and he will get his things later and he will get his tax stuff and everything. All this normal stuff, and I didn't find it very worthwhile to translate it. And it's a good twist. Just: 'I quit'. I've never seen these things before."

If you were trying to get away from Nekromantik, why did you then do Nekromantik 2?
"It was not that we were actually going away from it. It was still about death and about corpses - though not corpse fucking. About the process of decaying. Our problem was that a mainly horror audience, who are always open-minded, which is good; they also just take you and tell you, 'You are now our horror hero.' And I thought that it could be dangerous. But if you have a look at Nekromantik 2, it's a totally different movie than Nekromantik. I found out later that - which is kind of a concept and seems to work - that this is a horror movie for women, maybe. Because it was shown at a women's film festival in Austria once. I think this was in '93. Even I wasn't allowed to go there just because I was a man; it was a strictly women only place. And it went down pretty well. Because out of context, it showed the whole movie from the point of view of a woman.

"Normally in those so-called general horror movies, you have women only in the movie to be victims. You need someone for the main guy to have sex with, or you can kill her or you can rape her. Normally, you only do bad things to women. We tried to do it the opposite way, to give a new impulse to the very sick horror genre. That was our intention. So I think Nekromantik 2 is in a way the same as Der Todesking in trying to get away from the bad things in horror movies. I'm not trying to say that horror movies are bad, I'm only trying to say that some horror movies are too stiff. For me, the meaning of a good horror movie is to broaden the horror. When you have science fiction stuff or horror stuff, you are able to do so many things. But normally, what the producers do is follow a certain concept that was successful one time, and that's starting to get boring."

Clearly Nekromantik 2 had a lot of problems.
"It was a problem, but now it's free again."

When you were making the film, did you expect that much response?
"Of course not. One of the drives behind the first Nekromantik was to see how far you could go before something happens like this - and nothing happened. With Der Todesking nothing happened also. So during Nekromantik 2 I felt pretty safe. But it seems that by the time Nekromantik 2 was released - it was at the end of the screening of Nekromantik 2, half a year after it was released - that this thing happened in Munich. Munich is a special difficult town for films like that - or it has been, it's not any more. So this happened and nobody was really prepared for it."

Over here we have very strict censorship.
"Yes, that's the reason why only Der Todesking is out. Der Todesking is also in a slightly edited version."

What is censorship like in Germany?
"For me, it's very hard to say because I would describe Germany as being as problematic as Great Britain because I had these bad experiences. But I had the same experiences in Great Britain too when I tried to screen Nekromantik at a film festival in Manchester. In Glasgow they didn't allow me to get into the cinema, which was strange too. But that is okay by me, because the main problem with Nekromantik 2 was that they really tried to destroy the negatives. And they tried to do this before there was a court decision. I had to prove that this film was art, which we successfully did in the end, but it took us two years. If we hadn't had any success, it would have cost us a lot of money too. In this case, the government had to pay for it because they made the mistake.

"That's also one of the strange things. Over here, normally there is no censorship; there is no censorship law. It's mainly the FSK, which is like the BBFC, and you have to get your film to them if you want to have certification under 18. But over here it's kind of free. On paper, it says 'Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle der Filmwirtschaft' - free self-control for film business. So I said, 'If it's free, I won't take it'. Then they had to think of something to put me away. So what they did is, they just said that I am doing something against the law because I am glorifying violence, which is a criminal act. So they made me a criminal man. I did something criminal, and if I'm doing a criminal act, then it is no art at all. If they make you a criminal, then they can do what they want, and that is what they were trying to do."

When a film is banned, does it become more popular among horror fans because they can't see it?
"Yes, of course. The whole concept of censorship, the whole concept of freeing people from bad movies could be a whole commercial thing. I remember when I was young, films that had the '18' sign had more of a reputation. Like: this film is only a '12' rating, so don't bother going to see it. It was more attractive to young people, and censors should know this. That they are doing the best they can to promote the film, which is not their job, I think. On the other hand, it's kind of bad because it gives you a reputation for a certain theme, but you can't cash in on it because the film is not available to view. So it's really not getting you anywhere! It's a lot of hype, but no use. It's really depressing: sitting in your room, knowing that everybody wants to see your film but you're not allowed to give it to them. And that's one of the main reasons you are making films - to let them be screened in cinemas. But video gave a lot of freedom to some people. I think bootleggers were busy during that time."

Tell me about your early super-8 films like Interview with Frankenstein.
"That was kind of strange. I bought this camera, and on the same day I had this super-8 film which lasts 2.5 minutes. I just had this great Boris Karloff mask, I put it on my friend and we did this interview. I was interviewing him, and after 2.5 minutes it was over because Frankenstein is killing the interviewer! Normally I don't put these things into my filmography because it was just a film I showed sometimes to friends. There is not even a print, only the original is available. it was super-8, just the first 15 metres of film I ever exposed. That was going on for a while. I was shooting movies, showing them to friends, and then they showed them to other people. We built a super-8 cinema here in Berlin. When I was doing a new film, there was always a bigger bunch next time who wanted to see them. So it was always a very natural thing to just go on and on and on."

Did you learn things on the super-8 films that you could bring to the features?
"Sure, of course. That's the education I got, because I was turned down from a Berlin film school in '87. And when they told me that they wouldn't take me, I made Nekromantik as revenge. The funny thing is that the film school invited me, about eight years later, to do a lecture there. So I had the feeling that I did something wrong in the end. Because I didn't have any official education, but I just made movies and I just watched movies. While doing movies, you do all these mistakes and you learn a lot. It costs you some money, but it's okay. And my mistakes were funny enough for people to watch, so it was really no loss in the end. But my earlier films are much more funny, they are nothing compared to Nekromantik."

Why have you moved away from funny, fantastical films?
"That just happened. It's very strange. When I decided to do the first feature film on my own, it was just getting more serious. I don't exactly know why. Even today, I'm amazed how seriously people are taking Nekromantik, because for me it doesn't work the same way, as you can imagine. I always see the things that are wrong in that movie, and there's a lot of wrong things going on. There was no script, and stuff like that. The plus point on the movie is that you can see that the guys that did the movie are very into it. That's something bigger budget movies don't have: this kind of insanity that they just go for the sake of it. It's a very rare thing, and it's even more rare today, I think, to have these things.

"I did this four times. I did four feature films with no money, and after a while you're just reaching your limit of what you can do with this kind of money, and what you can do artwise. My approach always was, and I hope this can be seen in the films, that I don't want to do straight-faced horror movies. It was more like letting people start to think, giving them a few stitches, so they feel the need to think about what they see. I know that a lot of hardcore horror fans that are very much into Braindead and things like that get very bored by my horror films, because it takes a while before the things happen. It also takes a while before someone gets killed. After a while, it's not funny any more. I think it's mainly a natural approach I'm trying to get here, a fake documentary style to grab the people even more.

"And I never deal with any supernatural stuff, Like Romero for example. He did very great films but I think he was always best when he was doing realistic things. I very much prefer Day of the Dead to Dawn of the Dead because I think it's far more powerful. It's really not very fun after a while, and it should be like this. This gets me to the point where I always used to say that I don't think that I'm doing violent movies, because I don't think the violence is shown in a glorifying way or in a way that is letting you think that violence could be a solution or could be something harmless. I'm always trying to go for the real thing which is painful and very messy. That's why I'm always very pissed off when somebody, like in Germany, says that I'm glorifying violence and should be banned. If he wants to ban me, he needs another excuse! That's the problem."

There seems to be a recurring theme in your films of dicks being cut off.
"That's one of the easy taboos you can break - showing a dick. In Nekromantik it's very obvious that there's a connection between life and death, or sex and death. The main character gets his last kicks out of his own death. The idea came from a book I read where someone who was an executioner was writing his diary. He wrote that when he hanged someone, during the moment of death those people get a last hard-on, and they even get a last climax. I don't know why. But here you have the same connection, and I thought, 'Well, I've never seen this in a movie.' It was a very naive approach I had, but I also had the feeling that it was something that should be on the screen because it has something in it.

"Later on, in the other movies, it was mainly the same: just dig deeper into the subject. What is sex all about? What is life and death all about? The funny thing after all this, is that this is the problem. My films are not very harmful to people in terms of glorifying violence or something like that; they are just dealing with things that normally people are trying to hide. They just don't want to think about those things, not in that straight way. Surprisingly enough, my main enemies who are fighting against me, these lawyers and people like that, they have never seen my films. That concept is part of the whole censorship thing over here: that people who are against it never care to watch the films."

Have you made a film since Schramm?
"Not a feature film of my own, no. I wasn't really satisfied with the low budgets. It wasn't even low budget, it was really no-budget. And nobody got paid. I started to sit back and wait because what happens is that so many people like my movies, but there's nobody who wants to give money for them."

If somebody did come up with the money, do you have something you want to make?
"I have three scripts lying around. Once in a while, I approach a possible producer. They mainly like it, but it's not mainstream enough for them. So the things I did after Schramm were mainly music videos and I did special effects supervision on The Killer Condom. Then I did, although it has not been finished, another special effects job on a movie that will be done later this year for a guy who is one of the last independent film-makers over here. Right now, I'm starting to produce one episode of Lexx, which is starting to get busy."

Are these people who know your work?
"Yes, even the producer of Lexx, the guy who gave life to the whole Lexx project, Paul Donovan from Canada. I met him in Spain at a film festival and he saw my movies and he was totally amazed. But it was very hard for him to convince German producers who put money into the whole Lexx thing to get me for the job. Everybody in Germany is afraid of me because they don't want to be banned. So during the first season, they really pushed me away. Paul Donovan the producer was totally pissed off by that. So now that it's more successful, he wasn't very satisfied with everything, so he can now order me into the series. He's having more freedom now, because last time the Germans decided, this time the Canadians decide.

"But it's hard to say how much input I really can have into the thing because it's a limited thing. I think they are making 20 more episodes, and I am the creative producer on one episode, and I have the option of doing one or two as a director later on in Canada. But I don't know if I'm happy with it because it's a mainstream thing and I don't know how far I can go on TV. The things I did for TV in Germany until now are mainly documentaries. Documentaries about pathologists and stuff that is interesting me anyway. That's something which you can do in Germany on the documentary side. I did two or three TV documentaries, short ones, but only one has been screened by now. Also some video clips, and last year I wrote a book about Godzilla movies, which hasn't got much to do with my own movies. I think that's also one of the chances of the Lexx thing, to put my early '60s Godzilla fashion onto the screen too. Having something to do with science fiction, it's just an easy field where I find myself very comfortable. I don't have to push myself to go to work, when working on Lexx. Even if I don't think I can turn the whole series upside-down."

What do you do as creative producer?
"It's not quite sure at the moment because I'm just starting next week. What I'm doing now is just picking actors together with the producers. It's a German-Canadian co-production. I tell them which actors are cool and which actors are not cool! These type of things. It's hard to say how it will develop because I just started."

What do you know about Xenia Seeberg?
"I told the producer about her. She's kind of famous from a very cheesy nursing soap opera, called Geliebte Schwestern - 'lovely nurses'! I tried to watch it once, but it was terrible! But the producer asked me to name a babe and I guess that's what she is. She will be starting in episode three. I'm producing episode five, so I have to work with her. But I won't meet her until next month. But I guess shes quite good for the role."

Tell me about working on Killer Condom. Was it a big film in Germany?
"By German standards, it's quite big. The money came from Switzerland, because it's a done by a guy called Irwin C Dietrich, who's the main force, the main money man in the background. He used to do films with Jess Franco and all these sleazy exploitation things, '70s horror movies."

What was HR Giger's involvement with the film? 
"The problem with Giger was that he just came too late to the whole project. So we were trying to push him over to the art department, but it was too late also. He did something here and there but his involvement was not a lot."

Was he happy with his credit staying on Killer Condom.
"If I were him, I wouldn't have been happy. But the director Martin Walz told me that after the premiere, he told him that he very much liked the film, even if there was nothing of his in the movie, and that's a good sign, I guess. During the production he was kind of angry and I had the feeling that he was right. Because they mainly did try to cash in on his name, which isn't fair because he's doing great things. For me, it was okay. I met him and I gave him some of my films and he liked them very much. At the end, he also offered me a project, and we were trying to get money for a project for the both of us. It's a concept based on a castration machine that he designed. We built a story around that and we tried to get money for it which didn't work out yet. When I talked to one of the producers from Lexx, there was talk of maybe including this concept in one of the Lexx episodes but I don't want to spoil my own movie."

Is Giger working on Lexx?
"I don't think so. Giger was planned. The plan was that, because I worked with him - he really is an artist, and as an artist he really is not very easy to work with. So the idea was that if Giger is involved I should do one of these episodes. But I think they decided not to use him because they move so fast now that they simply can't put everything in place with him. It would be like in Condom, it wouldn't be the real thing in the end."

He's very annoyed about Species 2 using his name and only using his designs for about eight seconds.
"He should get used to this by now! I think in generally he's just pissed off - and he's right - at how the film industry is dealing with him. But what can you do? He needs to have more impact, more power on a movie.  But to have more power on a movie you have to be more bankable, but now he's treated as someone who's not very easy to work with. It's a shame. But all the concepts he's doing, he's not thinking in a money way. He's having some ideas, but most of the time the line producers get heart attacks because its just too expensive. That's also one of the problems with the project we had written. On the one hand it was too extreme, and on the other hand it was too expensive. I haven't spoken to him in quite a while because it's just not happening and I'm always busy with video clips or whatever. And there are these two other projects I would like to do too. I can't even get money for those - and they are cheap! It's just very, very complicated to get money for unusual films."

Would you be better moving to America?
"It's hard to say. I met Quentin Tarantino once at a film festival at Sitges and I gave him the story outline of that Giger project. He seemed to be interested, but I've never heard from him again. But he's busy enough with his own movies. My experience was that in America it's even more difficult to get unusual stuff done because they only care about the profits. I don't care about profits that much. I care about it in a way, because otherwise you can't do it. Doing films is so expensive, it has to be commercial - but people don't treat me like I'm doing commercial movies. If you compare my movies to bigger ones, then a film like Nekromantik is commercially very successful because it made its money back very fast. Not because it was such a big seller, but because it was so cheap!

"So in a certain scene I'm very commercial, but people can't put that into a bigger context, that's the problem. The German producers are not used to trying to get their money back from the rest of the world. They always try to get their money back inside Germany, which is pointless. I didn't make the money for my films in Germany. It all came from the sales to Japan or to Spain or to France. If I had kept on selling my films only in Germany, then I would be dead by now, I think!"

Finally, tell me about your interest in Godzilla.
"The Godzilla movies were the first movies I saw, and it always sticks to you. For as long as I can remember, I'm going to cinemas to watch Godzilla movies. In the late '60s I started when I was four or five years old - and it just never stopped. So when I heard that Roland Emmerich - our German Roland Emmerich - is doing a Godzilla movie now, I felt that it was time at least to do a book about those films over here in Germany. Because in Germany there's no literature about science fiction films, there's no literature about Japanese monster movies. The book I've written is mostly about Japanese monster movies, not only Godzilla but also the Gamera movies and so on. It's stuffed with 50 movies and it went down really well. It just came out three weeks ago and I did some promotional screenings with old Godzilla movies in Munich and Berlin and Hamburg. It went pretty well, so I hope at least the old Godzilla fans will grab the book. Maybe we might even get it to other countries."

Are the Godzilla films very popular in Germany?
"It's hard to say. People know who Godzilla is, but they laugh about it. Even the so-called serious film critics don't even bother watching them carefully. So my approach was getting the reputation of Godzilla in a better way out to the people. Because as film history they have so many things to offer that American monster movies don't have. This naive way of approaching the whole thing. They don't pretend to be realistic; they don't care about it. They just care about looking great! That whole concept. As a child of course, you are very attracted to large things that do what they want, because as a kid you are not allowed to do what you want. And that's what you want to do: you want to run around and smash everything. That's, I think, part of the concept why everybody is happy with Godzilla movies. All the metaphorical meaning in Japan is totally different; you really have to keep that in mind if you watch those movies to understand them."

In Germany, the Godzilla films all had strange title, mostly refering to Frankenstein.
"I think one of the reasons is that the Japanese did a film, which the American title was Frankenstein Conquers the World. That's where they really took the Frankenstein monster and put it into a Japanese context. That movie is the only one where Hiroshima actually happens on screen. That film came out quite early in Germany. Afterwards, they just tried to cash in on that Frankenstein name because Godzilla wasn't such a name in the late '60s and early '70s. So they just put 'Frankenstein' on everything - which is embarrassing! So if you have a movie like Godzilla Vs the Smog Monster, which is one of my favourites, in Germany the title translates as 'Frankenstein Vs the Devil-Monsters'. Which is even more strange than the film! That's very bad, but there is lots of good posters and artwork over here, and the book is stuffed with this kind of thing."

Did the 1990s Godzilla films come out in Germany?
"One small distributor was trying to get Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah out in the cinemas, but after two months the distributor went bankrupt. I don't know if that was a good or bad thing! So it was mainly straight to video, far more than you have in Britain. The thing is that after 1993 Toho didn't sell the world rights of the later movies because they were waiting for the American movie to be released, then they can make even more money. That's the idea; they don't want to spoil the market for the American production. Older films like Godzilla Vs the Smog Monster have also disappeared over here. I can still get hold of one 35mm print, and I screened it two weeks ago in East Berlin at the book presentation, but officially it's not available any more. I just got a list of DVDs from the US that are coming out. King Kong Vs Godzilla is announced for May. It's mainly the same thing that they put out in America all the time: Godzilla, King of the Monsters, the Raymond Burr version; Godzilla Vs Mothra, the '64 version; Godzilla's Revenge, Terror of Mechagodzilla and Monster Zero. Which is great, but you have Monster Zero also."

These films have far too many titles.
"That's also one part of the book: a whole film index. The German, British, American and Japanese titles are all in there."

Have the recent Gamera films come out in Germany?
"Only the first one, Guardian of the Universe. But after a while, I just started getting the laserdiscs from Japan. Far more satisfying. And now that DVD is getting further, it will be a new challenge to get those films in better versions. You have standard and widescreen versions, you have production notes, you have remastered sound and picture quality: all those things that are necessary! Warners are doing a great job. If you watch Mars Attacks!, it's really mind-blowing. You have freeze-frames as clear as photos."


Monday, 8 September 2014

The Three Sisters

Director: Dáire McNab
Writer: Dáire McNab
Producer: Dáire McNab
Cast: Elliott Moriarty, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Neill Fleming
Country: Ireland
Year of release: 2014
Reviewed from: Online screener

An Irish giallo? Sure, why not?

While I’ve been banging on here about the British Horror Revival, I’ve largely ignored the similar boom in horror movie production across the Irish Sea (except in the cases of UK/Ireland co-productions and noting Irish films which lazy journos assume to be British).

Anyway here is The Three Sisters, And it is, frankly, brilliant.

Now, I’m no giallo expert and my knowledge of the genre doesn’t extend much beyond the early works of Dario Argento to be honest. But Dáire McNab (whose name has one of those weird Irish accents so is probably pronounced ‘Norman’) knows his stuff and has crafted an absolutely belting horror-thriller with an obvious but far from overpowering Italian influence. His aim is clear: “The Three Sisters is not an homage, it is not a pastiche. It is a straight-up giallo film, made with honesty and earnestness.”

Elliott Moriarty (who was in a stage production based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe) stars as Dylan who finds himself taking into his flat, and subsequently his bed, his ex-girlfriend Sarah (Gillian Walsh – not the Westlife wife). She is understandably shaken by the brutal and unexplained murder of her sister Emma (Selena Walsh), especially coming so close on the rather bloody suicide of her uncle (Henry McNab). It doesn’t help that her father (your man Giovanni Lombardo Radice: A Day of Violence, The Reverend) is bed-ridden, wasting away from cancer. Also into Dylan’s life comes a drily cynical, never-named Detective (an absolutely cracking performance from Neill Fleming, also in Bing Bailey’s comedy-horror Portrait of a Zombie and Jason Figgis’ vampire feature The Ecstacy of Isabell Mann) who is investigating the murder and its possible link to the suicide. And in the grand tradition of giallo detectives, he’s sure that something’s not right somewhere but he’ll take most of the film to eventually put his finger on it…

The Three Sisters is completely gripping: a horror-thriller that knows precisely what it’s doing and where it’s leading us at any given time. Dylan thinks that he can solve the mystery; Sarah thinks that he should be careful; the Detective thinks Dylan should leave it to the professionals; the viewer thinks that there’s more to all this than meets the eye. There’s a will-reading and a scrap of paper with mysterious hand-writing and family secrets. It’s pretty much everything you want in a movie like this. And yes, there’s a pair of black leather gloves. You can’t have a giallo without a pair of black leather gloves.

The acting is uniformly excellent, and McNab’s direction, photography and editing are all spot-on. The initial murder of Emma in particular is a beautifully constructed piece of horror-cinema. Most importantly, the script has been honed to perfection. Everything fits together completely logically and makes sense right at the end. That’s the hardest part in a thriller like this – making it make sense. There’s not a wasted word of dialogue, nor a scene that’s too long, too short or in the wrong place. Care has been taken and attention has been paid. This is film-making as a craft, and it has produced something thoroughly satisfying for the audience.

The title notwithstanding, it’s not Chekov. Sarah does have a third sister, Sinéad (Sinéad Moloney), who is menaced by a hooded figure in an underground car park, and also an unseen brother said to be in Switzerland. Jacinta McNab plays the siblings’ mother and Robert D Donohoe is Dylan’s mate Rob who takes over the running of the late uncle’s business. All the characters are believable, as are the relationships between them. The cast also includes Ciara Barrett, Emma Keaveney, Jack Nolan and Hugh Sullivan. Several of the actors were in Dáire McNab’s previous features The Farm and The Gingerbread Men.

McNab shot this for about four grand, operating as pretty much a one-man band, the only other credits being additional camera by Tom Rowley and additional sound by Andy Flaherty. The McNab boys – Dáire, Henry and Rory - collaborated on the special effects of the murders and suicide (or was it?). A hugely atmospheric soundtrack by Repeat Viewing also includes songs by Roison O and Tandem Felix.

The Three Sisters is one of those completely random films that just pops up in my inbox occasionally about which I know nothing in advance - which made it all the more pleasurable to watch. A gem of a film.

MJS rating: A