Shadow Writer-Director Federico Zampaglione – Interview

Federico Zampaglione at Fright FestFederico Zampaglione’s stunning genre debut SHADOW was well received at Frightfest in August, before moving on to the Sitges festival in October. He’s now being heralded as Italy’s next master of horror, following in the footsteps of genre greats such as Dario Argento and Lamberto Bava. I was lucky enough to catch up with him for a quick interview:
CINEFANTASTIQUE ONLINE: Federico, you are best known for playing with your band TIROMANCINO, can you tell me what your fans think of your decision to make SHADOW?
FEDERICO ZAMPAGLIONE: I haven’t talked to them about my decision. I’m trying to keep my music career separate from directing horror flicks. However I’m quite sure they won’t easily understand this move. Indeed, my music style is far removed from a film like SHADOW. Sometimes, to be truly creative you mustn’t think too much about your fans reactions.
CINEFANTASTIQUE ONLINE: What about the rest of the band, are they suitably impressed?
FEDERICO ZAMPAGLIONE: My brother Francesco Zampaglione and Andrea Moscianese (both members of Tiromancino) composed the score for SHADOW, so they’re happy and motivated about this new adventure in the horror field. We have created a brand new musical project named “The Alvarius” in order to compose and arrange Horror films scores.
CINEFANTASTIQUE ONLINE: How long did it take for you to write SHADOW – was it a quick process?
FEDERICO ZAMPAGLIONE: It took one year of writing. A good screenplay always takes time to be really efficient and ready to be shot.
CINEFANTASTIQUE ONLINE: Can you tell me who you are most inspired by in the genre?
FEDERICO ZAMPAGLIONE: First of all by my maestros as Dario Argento, Lamberto Bava, Ruggero Deodato and Lucio Fulci. Then I love Carpenter, Cronenberg and Lynch too. More recent influences include Pascal Laugier (Martyrs), Balaguero and Plaza’s REC and that great film “Let The Right One In”
CINEFANTASTIQUE ONLINE: An impossible question maybe, but can you tell me your top five horror films?
FEDERICO ZAMPAGLIONE: 1) Suspiria 2) Deep Red 3) Halloween (the original) 4) Hellraiser 5) The Sixth Sense. In a way you’re right – your question is an impossible one.
CINEFANTASTIQUE ONLINE: In spite the great genre talents to come out of Italy, horror films are not as popular in Italy as they are elsewhere, why do you think that is?
FEDERICO ZAMPAGLIONE: Because of the Industry. They don’t want to invest money in something they can’t easily sell to TV. That’s why they’d rather buy horror films from other countries, just to distribute them. Such a bad mentality. They are putting our genre tradition down. Anyway, I trust things are about to finally change.
CINEFANTASTIQUE ONLINE: I understand Dario Argento read your screenplay before you started making the film, can you tell me what advice he gave you, and did you follow it?
FEDERICO ZAMPAGLIONE: Originally the main character was an Italian soldier, and then Dario, after reading the script, did suggest I make him American. He also advised me to shoot the film in English to have a real international chance. He was right. God bless him!
CINEFANTASTIQUE ONLINE: I know he’s seen the end product, what did he think?
FEDERICO ZAMPAGLIONE: He told me he was really proud and excited I will never forget that moment, a real treat.
CINEFANTASTIQUE ONLINE: Your father helped you write the screenplay, and I know there’s some pretty disturbing stuff in there – what does your mother think of it?
FEDERICO ZAMPAGLIONE: My father is an uncommon and crazy dad and a great genre fan. He has also helped me compose many songs for Tiromancino. Actually he’s the real rock star in my family! When we were writing the nastiest moments of SHADOW, my mum was really disturbed and pretty disappointed. She used to complain a lot about the sense of all that evil.
CINEFANTASTIQUE ONLINE: I know you specifically wanted Nuot Arquint to play Shadow, why was that? What was it about him that appealed to you?
FEDERICO ZAMPAGLIONE: I found him surfing on the internet and I was immediately captivated and scared by his figure. I think he has the potential to become one of the more scary and creepy actor-monsters. The incredible thing is he doesn’t need any make up to be that sinister.
CINEFANTASTIQUE ONLINE: Did the remote location pose any problems for you – and what about that weather?
FEDERICO ZAMPAGLIONE: Tarvisio is a desolate, wild, and cold mountain place up in the Alps. It is a border zone between Italy, Austria and Slovenia. I can tell you it was crazy dealing with both the weather and the natural habitat, especially because we were shooting the film in winter. Making Shadow was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, physically and mentally.
CINEFANTASTIQUE ONLINE: Can we expect to see the film on DVD any time soon? Are you close to getting a distribution deal?
FEDERICO ZAMPAGLIONE: Yes, I’m dealing with a really good company, but I can’t say who yet.
CINEFANTASTIQUE ONLINE: I know you have wanted to make a horror film for a long time; it must be great to know that you finally did it – SHADOW has been very well received so far, and you are now being compared to the likes of Argento, how does that feel?
FedericoZampaglioneonthesetofSHADOW1-300x200FEDERICO ZAMPAGLIONE: I’m honoured and flattered and I’ll try to do my very best to keep my contribution going.
CINEFANTASTIQUE ONLINE: What can we expect next? More horror? Tell us a little about what you’re on with.
FEDERICO ZAMPAGLIONE: My future is absolutely in the horror genre. I’m considering a couple of interesting projects, both really bloody and scary. One is placed in the dark and cruel medieval times, the other is a brutal and gritty psycho thriller…we’ll see
CINEFANTASTIQUE ONLINE: Many thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, and I wish you the best of luck getting that distribution deal, my DVD collection will not seem complete without SHADOW!
FEDERICO ZAMPAGLIONE: You’re welcome and let the terror play on!

Kirksdale (2007) – Horror Film Review

KirksdaleOn my recent visit to The Bram Stoker International Film Festival in Whitby, England, I was lucky enough to catch the American short subject KIRKSDALE. With classy direction, an interesting story, and a few real cringe-inducing moments, it’s a safe bet that the movie’s writer-director Ryan Spindell is going places.
Based in 1960’s rural Florida, Kirksdale centres on a troubled teenage girl who is picked up by a corrupt policeman and driven to back the local lunatic asylum she escaped from – and what else would you expect to find there but a lunatic, this one’s running loose, which does not say much for the security of the facility! It isn’t long before the poor girl finds herself in one hell of a predicament, and if I told you anything about it, I would spoil a truly brilliant and excruciatingly horrifying scene. There’s some sadistic, jaw-dropping wrongness going on here, and it is all done with great style. Kirksdale is no ordinary horror film, and certainly packs a harder punch than some full length features.
Stylish and wonderfully atmospheric, Kirksdale surprised me, and left me wondering what Spindell could do with a full-length feature.
KIRKSDALE (2007): Director: Ryan Spindell, Writer: Ryan Spindell & Bradford Hodgson. Cast: Joshua Mikel, Greg Thompson, Jessica Mansfield, Wayne DeBary

London After Midnight: The Bram Stoker International Film Festival Review

bram-stoker-posterI have just returned from THE BRAM STOKER INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL, which took place in Whitby, England from 16th to 19th October. This was the first year for the festival and I was pleasantly surprised at how well organised and professional it was. I had an amazing time and met some great people.
Let’s start with my first impressions. I was warmly welcomed by festival director Mike McCarthy who showed me round the venue (The Whitby Pavilion), and I was instantly impressed by how they’d transformed this quaint, old-fashioned theatre into a cinema: installing a good sized screen and excellent surround sound, not to mention fantastic green and red lighting effects to create the perfect ambiance between the films. It was clear that a lot of effort and attention to detail had gone into the planning. There was a constant countdown to the next film displaying on the screen which was brilliant when we wanted to know if we had time to eat, or powder our noses before the next thrilling instalment. It’s obvious that sitting for over 12 hours in any theatre seat is going to have some negative impact on the old derrière, but the seats were remarkably comfortable for the first few hours. The best thing about the venue for me was how dark it was; darkness is a prerequisite for horror films and this theatre was pitch black.
Just before the launch party my son Steve and I had the pleasure of meeting Biff, the singer from Saxon. I love the band and was delighted to meet Biff and his wife!
I won’t dwell on the launch party for too long, but I’d be remiss in my duties if I didn’t mention it. The evening included burlesque dancers, a geisha girl, break-dancers, belly dancers, a contortionist and The Mocky Horror Show. Most of these performances were appropriately themed for a horror event. The Mocky Horror Show, whilst not being as good as I’d expected, did manage to get everyone on their feet for “The Time Warp,” including me, which is no easy task! The highlight of the night was Chris Cross the contortionist: not only is he an absolute freak when it comes to body bending [and I know this wouldn’t offend him, he knows he’s a freak – and he’s cool with it!] but he is also an excellent comedian; he managed to lift the audience where the host ‘Marcus the undie-taker’ had failed. In fact this guy would have been perfect to keep the crowd entertained and bring some levity between performances: he has a real charm about him; he’s a great entertainer – and man, those funky shoulder blades made me cringe! The only real problem with this launch party was Marcus, his between-act links had the crowd groaning: he was the most unfunny, uninteresting, pitiful performer I’ve ever seen, and I know he won’t be invited back next year! All things considered, however, it was a good, entertaining opening night.

Filmmakers' Workshop at the Bram Stoker Film Festival
L to R: Rachel Waters, Caroline Haines, Catherine Taylor, Steve Jaggi, producer-director Darren, Nina Romian, Devi Snively, Augustine Fuentes, Rod Morris, Gavin Baddely

As a screenwriter, I found it most interesting to talk to the directors, producers and actors who attended the festival, and they all gave up their time for a special film-makers’ workshop with some local students. I was delighted to attend and found it a very informative and useful session. I’m sure the students enjoyed it as much as I did, and it was great that the opportunity was there for them. Participating were: actress Rachel Waters (Temptation), actress Caroline Haines (Temptation), director Catherine Taylor ( Temptation), producer Steve Jaggi (Temptation), producer-director Darren (Nightlife), journalist Nina Romian, director-writer Devi Snively (Death in Charge), producer Augustine Fuentes (Death in Charge), writer-producer Rod Morris (Dying Breed), and journalist Gavin Baddely.
The films were a great mix to suit all tastes, nobody is ever going to enjoy all the films at a festival, but with such a variety, there was something for everyone. I’ll review the films separately, but my favourites, which really deserve a mention, are as follows:

  • KIRKSDALE (a macabre and perfectly produced short directed by Ryan Spindell)
  • INSIDE (a brutal story filled with tension directed by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury
  • DYING BREED (a quintessential Aussie horror directed by Jody Dwyer)
  • WASTING AWAY (a Zombie film from the perspective of the zombies, directed by Michael Kohnen)
  • THE FOX FAMILY (a Korean film directed by Hyung-gon Lee, which was as strange as any film I’ve ever seen!)

There were so many other great films which I’ll try to cover on the site in the coming weeks.

(Death in Charge)
Augustine Fuentes, Deborah Louise Robinson, Devi Snively

I have to give special mention to Devi Snively (writer-director of Death in Charge) and Augustine Fuentes (Producer of Death in Charge). My son and I met them on the first night, and over the course of the next few days we shared many a frivolous conversation, talking about film making, the films we’d watched, how tired we were, and of course there were plenty of conversations about nothing in particular, and these are always the most fun!
My gut feeling tells me that next year you’ll need to secure tickets early! The Bram Stoker International Film Festival is here to stay, and it’ll be even bigger and better next year. My heartfelt thanks to Mike McCarthy for making us feel so welcome and for putting on a damn good show. I’ve had the time of my life, and I’m already looking forward to next year!

Outpost (2008) – Horror Film Review

Outpost (2008)

It’s not often that I see a film, particularly a horror film, which is lit so well as Steve Barker’s OUTPOST. Stunning greys and shadows are used to great effect, bleaching out the brighter colours and leaving behind a bleak and atmospheric work of art. This stylish cinematography isn’t wasted on a bad film, either, and I’m already looking forward to the sequel.

Somewhere in war torn Eastern Europe, a group of hardened mercenaries, led by DC (Ray Stevenson) agree to do a job for an engineer named Hunt (Julian Wadham). The job description is sketchy, to say the least, but it involves facilitating the safe inspection of a ‘property’. The ‘property’ in this case is an old Nazi Bunker. Which we later learn was used for all manner of macabre experiments. As the macho group of soldiers explore the bunker, not yet knowing what they’re looking for, they discover a pile of fresh bodies, one of them is still alive, though in a catatonic state.
Later, gunshots erupt from the woodland surrounding the bunker; they return the fire, and feeling certain they must have done some damage, go to investigate; however, their recon mission reveals not one wounded man. It is now apparent that this is no ordinary enemy. In fact they are under attack from Nazis; I’ve heard these Nazis described as ‘zombies’, but they are not Zombies. Whatever they are, they can shift through space and time, and these ominous looking men with their grey faces and sinister uniforms, springing up when they least expect them are enough to scare the bejesus out of DC’s men.
I won’t give away the plot, but suffice it to say that most of the scares in Outpost come from the lighting and shadow effects: there’s nothing there; then suddenly – he’s behind you! It’s a shame that later in the film the shifting through space and time is abandoned in exchange for plain old walking, because it is the speed at which the Nazis come and go that makes them frightening. Gore fans will probably find this film a bit tame, though there are a few cringe worthy moments. There’s some shoot ‘em up action and the claustrophobic setting of the old bunker coupled with the bleak, eerie lighting sets us up perfectly for some good jump-scares.
DC and his sidekick, redneck buddy Prior (Richard Brake) have the most character; the rest of the men are more easily distinguishable by their array of strong accents than their diverse characters.
The Nazis look really threatening with their dull gray faces, and of course, that Nazi uniform doesn’t hurt! Shame about the lead Nazi, who for some reason looks like he’s scribbled on his face with a biro – well, this isn’t a high budget film, and as the rest of it is a visual delight, I’m prepared to overlook it.
Outpost 2 is currently in production.
OUTPOST (2009). Director: Steve Barker. Writer: Kieran Parker, Steve Barker, Rae Brunton. Cast: Ray Stephenson, Julian Wadham, Richard Brake, Paul Blair, Brett Fancy, Enoch Frost.

Trailer Park of Terror (2008) – Horror Film Review

With a name like TRAILER PARK OF TERROR, I was certain Steven Goldmann’s 2008 horror was going to be a diabolical shambles. I figured I’d sit through it anyway, so I could warn you good people to use your precious time on other things, because, well, that’s the kind of selfless gal I am! The thing is, though, this isn’t the stinker I thought it’d be. It isn’t brilliant by any stretch of the imagination, but this over-the-top outlandish horror is surprisingly entertaining.
Based on the Imperium comic series [of which I have no knowledge], Trailer Park of Terror takes us to 1981 and introduces us to pretty girl Norma [Nichole Hiltz] who lives in a dirty, trashy, and downright disgusting trailer park. The inhabitants of the trailers are every repulsive stereotype you can possibly imagine: Thuggish Marv, who fancies his chances with Norma; Miss China Girl, the ‘masseuse’; Stank, a road-kill jerky maker; Roach, a drug addict and rockabilly guitarist; and Larlene, a morbidly obese woman with a passion for Stank’s meat. Desperate to get away from this hell-hole with its scumbag inhabitants and pink flamingo gardens, Norma sets off to leave with her new fella who she believes can give her a better life. Unfortunately Marv and his redneck buddies don’t take too kindly to him, and when their bullying gets out of control, Norma’s clean-cut boyfriend is accidently killed.
A distraught Norma storms down the road full of rage, where she encounters a mysterious stranger [country singer Trace Adkins]. Little does she know she’s striking a deal with the devil when she takes his gun and returns to the trailer park to have her revenge. She kills everyone, and then burns the park to the ground; she too perishes in the fire.
Jump forward to present day, and many people have gone missing in the area. A pastor and his bus full of wayward teenagers arrive during a terrible storm; the teenagers include the usual caricatures that we see so often in horror films: an addict, a slut, a gay guy, a goth, a klepto – all deeply troubled kids, but the pastor believes he can bring out the good in them. When their bus crashes, they are forced to seek refuge in the nearby trailer park, which is run by a very young and alive Norma. At night her old neighbours, now zombies, haunt their neighbourhood offing any visitors they find in strange an imaginative ways [ever fancied being skinned and then deep fried!?]. They’re still up to their old tricks, making jerky, making love, making music, and it is all done in an amusing and off-the-wall way.
Trailer Park of Terror didn’t make me laugh, but it did bring a smile to my face. Roach, the rockabilly guitarist, will either irritate you or delight you; I hope it’s the latter, because he’s given a big chunk of screen time and even his own full length song.
The acting of the teenagers is pretty one dimensional, but the screenplay doesn’t require fantastic performances from them, so it doesn’t matter too much. If you’re looking for a serious, stylish and classy horror, then avoid this film like the Black Death! Everything about Trailer Park of Terror should be taken with a pinch of salt. It doesn’t take itself seriously at all, and neither should we.
TRAILER PARK OF TERROR  (2008). Directed by Steve Goldmann. Screenplay by Timothy Dolan. Cast: Nichole Hiltz, Trace Adkins, Matthew Del Negro, Ed Corbin

Dorian Gray (2009) – Horror Film Review

Dorian Gray (2009)Oliver Parker’s 2009 film DORIAN GRAY, adapted from Oscar Wilde’s classic 1890 novel  The Picture of Dorian Gray, has no scheduled U.S. release date, so are film fans in the U.S. missing a treat, or is this a blessing in disguise? Starring Ben Barnes as Dorian and Colin Firth as his friend and cohort Henry Wotton, the film tells the story of a young man, who inadvertently makes a pact with the devil. No matter what the devilishly handsome Dorian does, or what kind of life he leads, he will never age. Instead his portrait [which he hides in the attic] will show the true state of Dorian’s soul. I was not expecting much from this film, but curiosity got me to the cinema, and actually I’m glad it did.
The story starts with Dorian Gray inheriting the family mansion and being thrust into high society life. His friend Henry fancies himself as a real rebel, someone who drinks heavily from the cup of life without any regard for the consequences. Henry encourages Dorian to flout the rules and do as he pleases. Dorian is already balancing on the edge of temptation, when the pact is made. Realising that nothing can age him, Dorian plummets into the moral abyss, his behaviour completely out of control. He lets himself be swept into a life of debauchery, and while his outward appearance shows no sign of his secret, disgraceful life, the painting in the attic begins to decay…..
Dorian Gray is well directed, reminding me a little of the old Hammer Horror films [I should not have to tell you that this is a good thing]. The old sets and streets look really good, even though in places you can see the use of trompe l’oeil, I actually found this rather charming. The orchestral score is excellent, adding that high gloss, quality feel.
The acting is impressive. Barnes is excellent as Dorian, but the star of this film for me is Firth, who plays his character with such gusto and humour that I found him riveting.
However, Dorian Gray is not without its flaws. The main problem is that it fails to show the contrast between the good, kind man Dorian was and the selfish, arrogant, and violent man he becomes. Showing us a charity piano recital at the beginning is not really enough! Because of this lack of contrast, it makes Dorian’s mental anguish at losing himself less meaningful and made me care much less about the loss.
The scenes wherein he is spiralling into his demise, sleeping with countless women and taking an overabundance of drugs are well shot, but too plentiful. Whilst some of the audience no doubt enjoyed seeing bare breasts every two minutes, it was unnecessary, and it did come across as a little gratuitous after a while.
If you are expecting a pure horror film, Dorian Gray is not for you. It’s dark yes, but never scary. Though I did appreciate the fact that in the most violent scene there is no sound at all, not even music, reminding me of The Shining.
I’ve never read the book and this probably helped, because almost always films cannot live up to their literay sources. To summarise: glossy, entertaining, and well acted, worth a watch, but certainly not perfect.

Dorian Gray (Ben Barnes) and his portrait, which ages instead of him
Dorian Gray (Ben Barnes) and his portrait, which ages instead of him

DORIAN GRAY (2009) Director: Oliver Parker. Writer: Toby Finlay (Screenplay), Oscar Wilde (Novel). Cast: Ben Barnes, Colin Firth, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Rebecca Hall, Emelia Fox, Caroline Goodall.

Fire & Ice: The Dragon Chronicles (2008) – Fantasy Film Review

Fire & Ice - The Dragon Chronicles (2008)Released on Monday 7th September on DVD in the U.K., FIRE & ICE: THE DRAGON CHRONICLES was made by MediaPro Pictures and The Sci-fi Channel, and directed by CATWOMAN director Pitof. Anyone expecting a fantastical spectacle of fantasy and adventure, with amazing mythical dragons and state of the art special effects is going to be sorely disappointed.
I don’t know what they were thinking when they created the dragons, but I can guess: the clue is in the title The Dragon Chronicles – someone, somewhere must have misunderstood, because what we’re presented with is ‘chronic dragons’, and I mean diabolical. They look more like stingrays than mythical monsters! The first dragon appeared within a few minutes of the opening, and at that point I was tempted to switch off. How I wish I’d gone with my gut and flicked that switch.
Fire & Ice: The Dragon Chronicles is not bad enough to be declared rubbish, but it could have been so much better. It has all the ingredients for a good, if unoriginal, action adventure: a good King, a bad King, a corrupt advisor, a wilful princess, and a brave knight, not to mention two battling dragons – not a bad concoction at all. Unfortunately added to this mix are bad acting, average CGI, and those god damned flying stingrays! That’s not to mention the missing ingredients of a handsome and believable hero, good, gritty action sequences, and an exciting final showdown with the dragon.
When their kingdom falls under attack from a Fire Dragon, they have two choices, surrender to the evil King, who has the means to protect them, or look for the valiant knight who saved them during their last dragon attack. The good king is reticent to ask for help, and would rather bury his head in the sand than actually make a decision! Fortunately, after eavesdropping, his wilful, tomboy of a daughter, Princess Luisa (Amy Acker) sets off in search of their saviour. Sadly, he’s no longer with us, so his son, Gabriel (Tom Wisdom) reluctantly takes his place. His father taught him everything he knew, so the kingdom should be in safe hands. The first thing Gabriel does is summon the Ice Dragon; known to be more powerful than the Fire Dragon, it should rid the kingdom of their fiery enemy. Great plan, except for now they’re stuck with the wrath of the mighty Ice Dragon! Duh!
I could talk for England about all the problems with Fire & Ice: The Dragon Chronicles, but suffice it say that it could have been brilliant, but instead is flat, bland and boring. I don’t know how a knight fighting a dragon can be boring, but they managed to pull it off somehow! The action scenes are a total let-down. Everything looks way too glossy and clean. Yes, this is a family film, but even children know that if you stab someone you get blood on your sword! Where’s the grit?
Their press release compares The Dragon Chronicles to The Lord of the Rings and Stardust. I’d compare it to a cheesy made for T.V. fantasy film which only eight year old children will love – because that’s what it is!

Fire & Ice: The Dragon Chronicles (2008)

THE DRAGON CHRONICLES: FIRE & ICE (2008). Directed by Pitof. Screenplay by  Michael Konyves and Angela Mancuso. Cast: Amy Acker, Tom Wisdom, John Rhys-Davies, Arnold Vosloo and Rasvan Vasilescu.

London After Midnight: It's Grimm Up North

I Sell the Dead (2009)
Zombie action in I SELL THE DEAD, screening at the first ever Grimm Up North Festival

Declaring that “nothing before has been as big, as bold and as bloody” GRIMM UP NORTH is a brand new horror festival that takes place at The Odeon Printworks in Manchester, England from 30th October to 1st of November. This festival has me wishing more than ever that I could be two, three or even four places at once! Halloween weekend is a nightmare this year!
This festival will screen over 30 films and is advertising red carpet premieres with special guest appearances, and previews of the gaming industry’s hottest unreleased titles. There’ll also be a Zombie Ball where you can kill some time with the Halloween Horror Hunt and other bloodcurdling entertainment.
Films include The Descent 2; Mike Price’s micro budget shocker, Colin; the Australian stalk and slash, The Ferryman; and the U.K. premiere of Autumn. There are also U.S. premieres such as The Graves, and I Sell the Dead. Films are being added all the time, so keep checking their website.
On Sunday 1st November Zombie Aid 2 kicks off with what they expect to be a record breaking ‘walk of the dead’ through the streets of Manchester. I hope they’ve warned the residents, or they’ll be ripping up their floorboards and nailing them across the doors!
There’ll be a horror fair with plenty of unique merchandise, and also an exhibition of cool props and prosthetics from the movies.
The festival is new this year and the first of its kind in the area; I hope it’s here to stay! More information can be found at

Hush (2009) – Horror Film Review

Hush (2009)Recently released on Region 2 DVD, with no sign of a region 1 release, HUSH is a nerve-shredding journey of kidnapping and horror. In spite of the fact that the lead character makes some strange choices that will have you yelling at the screen in frustration, HUSH is a good, entertaining, and brutal journey.
Filmed in my home county of Yorkshire, England, Hush follows a young couple, Beth (Christine Bottomley) and Zakes (William Ash) on a motorway trip. Zakes has the job of changing the posters in the service stations, but more challenging than his boring job is his relationship with Beth, which appears to be hanging by a thread. They start bickering almost immediately and the argument gets more heated when Zakes sees a naked girl screaming in the back of a white van. Zakes calls the police, but then, declaring that there’s nothing more he can do, carries on with his work. Beth is angry that he doesn’t do more to help. Whe she asks,  ‘What if it was me in there?’ –  we know it’s only a matter of time! When Zake realises Beth is missing, he fears the worst and it is now we realise how much he really loves her as he sets off on a daring cat-and-mouse chase after the white van.
This all makes for some extreme excitement.The acting of the two lead characters starts off shaky, but either I got used to them, or they improved, but it bothered me less and less as the film went on. The direction isn’t bad for a first attempt by Mark Tonderai and he does manage to build suspense. So too do the scenes shot in a thunderstorm and driving rain – the last thing you want in a situation like this is obscured vision and treacherous roads.
There are some nice little surpriseplot  twists, and when we throw in some very British football hooligans, and the fact Zakes ends up wanted by the police himself, I was left wondering how the hell he was going to get out of this, if indeed he was. Whilst it isn’t the best horror film to come out of Britain in recent years, Hush certainly isn’t boring and in parts it is very, very exciting.
HUSH (2009) Directed by Mark Tonderai. Screenplay by Mark Tonderai, Cast: William Ash, Christine Bottomley, Andreas Wisniewski.

Steven Sheil on "Mum & Dad" – A CFQ Interview

Mum & Dad (2008)

Steven Sheil’s MUM & DAD was shot in seventeen days, on a micro-budget of only £100,000, yet the 2008 release manages to stands up as one of the best British horrors in recent years. How did Sheil pull off this amazing feat? Cinefantastique Online’s British correspondend Deborah Louse Robinson was lucky enough to collar the writer and director and ask him all about the movie-making experience…
CINEFANTASTIQUE ONLINE: You made this film on a low budget under huge time constraints. Did this make for a stressful shoot, or was it still an enjoyable experience?
STEVEN SHEIL: The shoot was really good fun. We decided early on that the only way to deal with all the constraints was to try and work with them rather than against them – we didn’t want to be moaning all the time about not having enough money, because we knew the budget going in, so by the time we got onto set we were just determined to get a film made – whichever way we could. Also, because people were working for low wages, we wanted to try and make the experience more of an adventure than a chore, so that people wouldn’t end up resenting what they were doing. Another thing, at least as far as the cast were concerned, was that the subject matter of the film is pretty grim, so we wanted to try and make sure that there was some relief from all the killing, maiming and wrongness.
CFQ: How long did it take you to write?
STEVEN SHEIL: I wrote the initial 20 page outline in about 3 weeks, because it had to be submitted for a deadline. Then I had about a month to turn that into a script. We ended up with something about 70 pages long, which is how it stood at the time we got told we’d get the money. Then I did another couple of drafts – maybe a week each – to extend the film to full feature length. All in all, it was really quick, with minimal changes from the initial outline.
CFQ: When you’re writing a film do you generally know how it’s going to end before you start writing, or do you just start writing and see where it takes you?
STEVEN SHEIL: I outline everything first, and test that out on a few people before I take it to script. I like writing fast because it means that it’s easier to keep the core ideas of the film in your head. Some other scripts that I’ve written have taken a long time to develop and it’s really hard to keep them going once they’ve been in your head for a couple of years. In a way, I think it would be good to be less precious about scripts as such, and to concentrate more on the central ideas of a film – really boil it down to the essence and work off that. I think that the script development process is a relatively recent addition to the whole idea of filmmaking, and I’m a quite ambivalent about how it works.
CFQ: MUM & DAD is pretty shocking in places; did you have any problems getting it past the BBFC?
STEVEN SHEIL: From what I’ve heard the BBFC watched the film three times before deciding to pass it uncut. I didn’t think that we’d have any problems – there was one shot that we changed in the edit at the last minute because I thought it might cause problems (it featured a hardcore pornographic image), but that was more to do with the fact that we’d run out of money and wouldn’t have had the funds to recut and resubmit the film if it hadn’t been passed…
CFQ: MUM & DAD is perfectly cast: Did you have the actors in mind when you wrote it or did chance bring you together?
STEVEN SHEIL: No, I don’t ever write with actors in mind; I like to keep my options open. We used a casting director for the film, Anna Kennedy, who brought a lot of people to us, and we found all of them through that process. Perry had already been recommended to me by a couple of friends who are directors (including Chris Cooke, co-director of the ‘Mayhem’ festival), so I knew I wanted to have a look at him. We were just looking for people who wouldn’t be scared off by the script (we had a lot of actors who refused to turn up for auditions because of the nature of the roles) and who would play it straight – that is, they wouldn’t do too much of a ‘horror film’ performance.
CFQ: The lack of any real musical score only serves to heighten the tension in the film. Was this a conscious decision or was it down to budget?
STEVEN SHEIL: It was a conscious decision that grew out of both an awareness of the limitations of the budget, but also out of a desire not to make the film too much of a straight horror. I didn’t want to have to rely on stabs of music to make the audience jump; I wanted the film to have more of a creeping, insidious effect. The idea of using the planes came from the setting at Heathrow airport, obviously, but it’s also the sound of my childhood – I grew up next to the airport so that noise is really evocative for me. That said, I initially promised my producer, Lisa Trnovski, that I wouldn’t have any music apart from the song over the closing titles (‘900 miles’, an old American folk song, which I knew we wouldn’t have to pay publishing rights for, recorded by the brilliant Gemma Ray), then threw loads of music into the Christmas scene, which we then had to scrabble about to try and afford. I don’t think she’s forgiven me yet.
CFQ: Although we’ve seen sick families in films before, MUM & DAD comes across as a very original film, and I think a lot of that is down to the direction. You directed it as if this was a normal, real-life family, in an ordinary British soap opera, and this makes it even more shocking. How surreal was it to be shooting such extraordinary scenes in such an ordinary way?
STEVEN SHEIL: It did feel quite odd sometimes – I had a couple of moments where I kind of stepped out of myself and saw what was happening from outside – Perry Benson wearing a dress and covered in blood, staggering between the washing lines of a suburban garden, for example – and it just made me laugh. It felt weird that we’d somehow managed to convince so many people to be a part of it all. I guess one of the things I wanted to do with Mum & Dad was to play up the normality and not be afraid to make the film feel a bit sit-commy, a bit soapy. Those are the places where you’re most likely to see realistic portrayals of British families – it doesn’t happen so much in British film – it’s either super-grimy kitchen sink council estate realism, or tourist board rom-com London. Mum & Dad has got its share of grimy realism, but it’s more inspired by EastEnders than Ken Loach.
CFQ: Is there anything you would change about the film now it’s all done and dusted, or are you 100% happy with the finished product?
STEVEN SHEIL: If I had the chance I’d go back and make sure that we got an extreme close-up of the toe-kissing. We couldn’t do it at the time because we didn’t have the right lens, and it’s always bugged me. Apart from that, obviously there are things I think I could have done better, but I don’t really dwell on them. I think given the time and the budget and all the constraints we did a great job.
CFQ: How did you feel the first time you watched the end product? It must have been a strange and exciting experience finally seeing how it had all come together.
STEVEN SHEIL: We cut the film on an edit suite where all the footage had been digitised at really low-resolution, so I got really used to seeing it as flat, ugly and video-y, so when we actually got close to finishing the film – conforming it and grading it – it was like a revelation – it just got better and better looking. The first screening we had was a cast and crew which went really well, but I find it hard to watch anything I’ve made – I feel really self-conscious about it.
CFQ: We all know that getting your first film made can be very difficult. Tell us how it happened?
STEVEN SHEIL: Sol Gatti-Pascual, who was running a scheme called Microwave for Film London, had seen a horror short that I made a few years ago called ‘Cry’ and she invited me to come and meet her so that she could tell me about Microwave and see if I was interested in applying. The scheme is designed to make 10 microbudget features, each costing £100,000, with half of that coming from Film London. On the way to the meeting, I was toying with ideas to pitch and what would become Mum & Dad wormed its way to the front of my brain. I pitched Sol the idea of making ‘The Heathrow Airport Chain Saw Massacre’ and she told me to go away and write it. I applied, found a producer and then just kept going. We were selected from among 70 or so applicants and then had to go and find the rest of the money. I went to Em-media, who had financed a couple of my shorts and asked them for the rest. They said yes and then we were set to go. It was a ridiculously quick process really.
CFQ: Do you think, now you have this one under your belt, that the next one will be easier?
steven sheilSTEVEN SHEIL: I don’t know. Easier to make? Probably not, in some ways. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the freedom that I had on Mum & Dad, and despite all the constraints, it was a pretty straightforward shoot. The other scripts that I’m writing are more complicated – bigger casts, more locations, a lot more production design. As for funding – I think Mum & Dad has been seen by enough people that it should be easier to get to have meetings with people who might be able to fund my next film. But I’m taking nothing for granted – I know how hard it is to actually make yourself a career making films in this country.
CFQ: What do your own Mum & Dad think of the film? [I lent my parents the DVD, and when they handed it back, their faces spoke volumes!!]
STEVEN SHEIL: I was a bit worried about my parents watching it, especially as they used to work at the airport, so some things might have struck them as being a bit close to home. I pre-warned them about the nature of it – I know they don’t like horror films – but then they told me they liked it. They liked the humour of it, and the Christmas scene. Don’t read anything into that about our past family Christmases, though…
CFQ: Who would you say was your greatest inspiration from this genre?
STEVEN SHEIL: In some ways it’s obvious, but Texas Chain Saw Massacre was big inspiration, more for the feel of the film than for the plot – although there are similarities. I just love the way that TCM makes an audience feel.
CFQ: What can we expect next?
STEVEN SHEIL: I’ve got a few projects I’m working on – another horror, again with a family theme, and a couple of twisted science-fiction films.
CFQ: Finally, and I have to ask – you do know that it’s very, very, very wrong, don’t you!?
STEVEN SHEIL: Yes. Yes, I do.