Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Whitby World of Horror

After a hectic week last week - which included having the first rough cut screening of 'Mum and Dad' for our execs from Film London (which went really well - there's still work to be done, but it seems to be working in the way that we want, which is a relief, especially after spending 15 hours in the edit suite the day before, trying to get it finished in time...) - I needed a break - which was lucky, because I'd already arranged a trip to Whitby, home of Goth, for a weekend of watching horror films along with my friends Chris, Gareth, John and Matt. This was planned as a kind of response to an art project which Jeanie had taken part in earlier in the year - albeit on a much smaller scale, with less talk about art and more watching of horror DVDs.

We hired a cottage near the town centre and basically spent the weekend nights watching films, and the days wandering about lovely (although constantly pissing with rain) Whitby. It was great.

After a five hour drive (including a detour to Yarm to pick up the keys, and torrential downpours for most of the journey) we got there Friday evening, had a few pints and a curry (in the hottest curry house in England - that's hot as in 'sweat dripping off your nose onto your poppadums', as opposed to 'spicy'), then it was back to the cottage (which we had managed to rearrange into a mini cinema, thanks to borrowing Jeanie's projector and rearranging all of the sofas) to start watching.

First up was one of the original Kolchak pilot movies, 'The Night Strangler'. Kolchak is always good fun, especially in his dealings, as I've mentioned before, with his editor Tony. 'The Night Strangler' is a story about a murderer with the face of a corpse draining the blood from young women on the streets of Seattle and it's a great piece of entertainment - obviously filmed on a budget, very quickly - there's one scene, where Kolchak has a great long speech revealing his theory where Darren McGavin half-fluffs a couple of lines but just keeps going - obviously aware that there wasn't going to be the chance to go again.

Next it was the French film 'Ils' (They) which came out earlier in the year. It's a lean, stripped-down atmospheric horror about a middle-class couple in an enormous house in Romania who get menaced by some intruders. It's an effective piece, but as it went on it kind of lost me a bit - I'm not sure there was any more to it than a drawn-out chase sequence, and the only idea seemed to be that kids in hoodies (especially foreign ones) are really scary.

Finally we watched a film I've been wanting to see again for years after seeing it on TV, 'Night of the Eagle'. Starring Peter Wyngarde (who spends much of the film in the highest-waisted trousers I've ever seen, puffing on endless cigarettes and smouldering (with brooding sexuality rather than fag-ash)), it's a great British witchcraft film, with a brilliant sequence set on a beach at night, which is one of the most atmospheric moments in British horror. The film also features a classic case of Husbanddickery from Wyngarde - a devout non-believer in the supernatural, whose entrenched contempt for his wife's belief in witchcraft leads almost to their deaths. The film also features a climactic sequence in a school with some great (though simply acheieved) effects work. All in all, it's terrific.

After a long lie-in, we spent the next day looking round Whitby, before going back in the afternoon to watch the rough cut of "Mum and Dad'. I was obviously very nervous about showing this, but wanted to get people's feedback. After about twenty minutes I had to leave the room (I'd watched the film twice through already in the two days before, and I was feeling too self-conscious), but the feedback I got from everybody was really positive, even with the film in still quite a rough state. There were a few helpful suggestions about things we could add or take away (at this point it's probably worth saying that it's MUCH EASIER to take stuff out than it is to add stuff - we're down to pretty much the bare bones as far as additional usable footage goes), but generally it seemed to go down really well, which was a massive relief.

With that out of the way, we went out for a pint and a walk on the pier and the beach, with John taking some moody photos along the way. Here we are acting like an extremely unathletic song and dance troupe:
And here we are looking like some dodgy Eighties rock band who have reformed for the cash and are now condemned to a life of greatest hits gigs around the north coast of England.

That night, we watched three more films, starting with George Romero's Martin. I don't know why Martin isn't more acclaimed - it's fucking great. Maybe it's because Romero is just seen as the Zombie guy, but the story of Martin is terrific - about a boy who may or may not be a vampire, who is sent to live with his elderly 'cousin' (a bloke who looks like Colonel Sanders and constantly greets Martin with a growl of 'Nosferatu!' while pressing a crucifix at him (that'd get on your nerves after a while, wouldn't it?)). The film plays with the ambiguity of what is the truth about Martin throughout, but it never feels like you're being shortchanged by not getting a definitive answer. Instead, it creates an atmosphere which is all to do with intolerance and lack of communication and the intransigence of religion, creating sympathy for Martin, while at the same time never shying away from the fact that he is murdering people and sucking their blood.

After Martin we watched a section of Dead of Night (in the interim, while stopping for a coffee break, Chris had been reading out his 'Ghost Stories of Whitby' pamplet which included a tale about a ghostly puppeteer...) - the famous ventriloquist's dummy story with Michael Redgrave giving a fantastic performance. Again, as with Martin it's always kept ambiguous as to whether the character is just mad or is in fact being influence by his devilish doll Hugo.

Next up - and putting a final nail in the coffin of the night - was 'The Incredible Melting Man', which both Mat and Chris had described as 'great'. A low-budget tale of space journey gone wrong (basically ripped off wholesale from 'The Quatermass Experiment') with decent effects by Rick Baker, it's one of the worst things I've ever seen. And not in a good way. Obviously struggling to make feature length, the film is padded out with shots of the IMM walking, very slowly, across hills and fields, with random shots, like this one of a nurse fleeing a shockingly understaffed (one nurse, one doctor, no security) military hospital, slowed down to half speed, just to pad out a few more seconds. The acting's rubbish, the script is non-existent and the pacing's appalling. By about half and hour in we were all willing it to end (the idea of actually GETTING UP AND TURNING IT OFF obviously being wholly alien to us), but on it crept, like badly-made slug, leaving a trail of crappy scenes behind it on the carpet.

The next day, we ventured out on a boat trip:
Got drenched, obviously.

Then we went back to the flat for one final film, Jack Clayton's 'The Innocents'. Weirdly, I'd never actually seen this all the way through before, but had obviously heard loads about it. Combining some of the themes of the weekend (Michael Redgrave, Peter Wyngarde, madness and ambiguity, and a variation of Husbanddickery in Redgrave's Uncledickery - 'I want you to take sole responsibility for these children. I do not want to be bothered with any of it while I am whoring my way through London.' (I've paraphrased a little.)), the film is gorgeously shot by Freddie Francis, brilliantly performed, deeply creepy (especially the lad who plays the boy) and truly disturbing. A great end to the weekend.

It was great to get away and watch some films - combining horror with British coastal tourism (chips, rock and pissing rain), and we're already talking about another one, maybe in Gareth's caravan in Wales (Four wheels of horror?). It would be great to do it again - as long as we don't have to watch 'The Incredible Melting Man' again.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Dyson Fly Death

Going upstairs to get some clothes for Betsy (my three year-old) this morning, I noticed an ominous low buzzing sound coming from the spare room. Gingerly pushing open the door, I found the windows covered in lethargic, swollen flies, like some terrible omen of doom. Noticing that they seemed to be coming out from the chimney, I stuck a broomstick up there and down tumbled - amidst a handful of crumpled pages of a decade-old Nottingham Evening Post (and another plaguette of flies) - two pigeon corpses. One was bloated, its head sunken into its puffed-up chest like a steroided bouncer, the other just a skeletal framework of bones and feathers. So, while Betsy watched Lazytown, I was stuck trying to hoover up flies from the windows and ceiling (the windows, I newly realised, had been painted shut when we had the outside of the house painted last year, so there was no other way to get the flies out) like in some extremely poor Ghostbusters roleplay.

The reason I'm at home and not in the edit is that Jeanie is also editing at the moment, a pilot for her new documentary Goth Cruise. She has to have it done by the end of the week, so it's the only way we can really both manage to work at the moment. I'm going to be back in London on Wednesday till Friday to pick up where Leo and I left off last week. At the moment, we're about an hour into the film. We're spending a lot of time just picking out little bits and pieces from the footage to feed into the cut that Leo made. With some scenes, obviously, there is a bit more to do and we more or less start from scratch, but a lot of the time it's just about making small but crucial adjustments. Now we're into the middle part of the film, a lot of what we're working on is about making the family dynamic really work, as well as upping the perversity of it all. And sometimes it's just little things - we inserted a shot - only about a second long - of somebody's foot slipping in some blood during some action, and that really helped add to the texture of the scene it was in - just a little reminder of the presence of horror, even in what is quite a 'normal' scene.

Away from 'Mum and Dad' stuff, I found a Korean webpage this week featuring loads of stills and a review of my short film 'Cry'. Not speaking Korean, I got Google to translate for me, and it came back with this.

"Fragmentary horror film of Steven [swey] one supervision of British native in fragment of psychological thrill [le] it is.
(The body and mind it sleeps weakly but at the minutes when there is a heart disease lonely autumn)
The [li] in the face which knows all blood seven A with one which it is confined in the plan which is isolated.
And after biting from, child voice one demon to release oneself, the [li] Oh situation,
It inflicts a threat sometimes and it creates a fear atmosphere.
The [li] it knows but and it does not shake rarely. The [le] polyvalent demon writes a last means,
The [li] the hazard which gets the freedom of oneself by self-will force it displays the force which is powerful. With the demon which the [li] it knows finally it is faced with and the place…
From first until end the beginning and end consistency with the dark screen there is a possibility of feeling the fear of the power which is powerful
[pul] It is a [le] D one work.
Unique rain [cyu] will freeze with [pul] the horror movie peculiar hand which is used from place [tu] [heyl] [tu] technique, and
The realism of the set which puts around the blood in all wall is living freshly the horror fragmentary public opinion excellent work
It is a work which it calls. Director: Steven Sheil | United Kingdom
[len] [ning] The time is 8 branch families quantity. Once sentiment it tries with joyful mind and it wishes."

I'm guessing it's a postive review. My favorite bit is "The body and mind it sleeps weakly but at the minutes when there is a heart disease lonely autumn". Which doesn't really bear any relation to the film, but sounds pretty.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Melon Smash Meat

I've been trying to spend as much time in the edit suite as possible over the past couple of weeks - in between looking after Betsy (Jeanie's been away filming in America for her upcoming Goth project). We're getting on well, I think - we've gone through the opening twenty minutes and worked them up, and inserted a lot of the second unit plane stuff which we shot, which really helps sell the idea of the airport. The week before last was mostly taken up with working on one long sequence in the film, where Lena wakes up in her room for the first time. The scene relies a lot on sound, and because that sound wasn't there while we were filming - and there wasn't ever really time to schedule it in as a separate bit of sound recording during the shoot - we've had to improvise and try and come up with some of the sounds ourselves - pinching them from other bits of the film and sound effects libraries as well as generating them ourselves. Leo, the editor, cajoled a woman from Speade (where we're editing) to come in and voice some stuff - all of which seems to work really well - and I brought in a bag of stuff from Tescos to experiment with. Because some of the sounds we need are quite violent and fleshy, I bought some heavy fruit - a melon - something that snaps - rhubarb - and a large piece of pork. We tried hitting the pork with a hammer, which gave us some good stuff, but I wanted to try and get something heftier, so then tried hitting the meat with the melon. While part of me was concentrating hard on trying to find the perfect sound of a body being flung against a wall, the more self-conscious part of my brain couldn't help but question the appropriateness of a grown man kneeling on a carpet smashing at a piece of pork on a glass coffee table with a large melon.

At the end of this week, we did a playout and I brought the rough cut of the film back to watch with Jeanie. It was a weird experience - as always - revealing things about the film that you'd either not fully realised or somehow managed to blind your mind to, while at the same time feeling too familiar. It gave me The Fear a little - although Leo's done a fantastic job in getting us to this stage, there is still a long way to go and I do need to start working a bit faster if we're going to get through it - but I think everything is more or less there to allow us to get what we need. It's just such a massive job, and everything takes time - although to be fair, it was only a year ago this week that I was on my way down to have my first meeting with Sol about the Microwave scheme, and it was only really on the train down that I came up with the pitch for 'Mum and Dad', so to go from nothing to rough cut in twelve months is pretty good going. Of course, there's still the cut to finish, the grade, the sound mix, (hopefully) the blow-up and we've got to sell it, so it could be ages yet before it's even Out There, but at least now some kind of end seems to be in sight - eh, Dad?