In the rush to talk about obscure early 70s exploitation-tinged psycho-sexual drama, I completely forgot to mention that my own late 00s exploitation tinged psycho-sexual concoction 'Mum & Dad' has now been released in the States. The film is available on DVD and on download (details here), including iTunes, and its even managed to cross the Atlantic with it's spelling intact (a version of the film with 'Mom' instead of 'Mum' was mooted at one point - which I wouldn't have minded, considering that the original 'Mom and Dad' was the film which gave me the title...)
There's a review of the film on the Fangoria site, and the film is also featured in a 3-page spread in the latest edition (the one with Sam Raimi's 'Drag Me To Hell' on the cover... I've also done another interview, this time with Bloody Good Horror, where you can read me talk about video nasties, broken britain, and watching young women fight on grubby kitchen floors...
Noodling around the BBC schedules late the other night, I came across a film called ‘The Fiend’. By virtue of the title – and the fact that the BBC regularly show half-remembered early Seventies horrors like “The Beast in the Cellar” (Beryl Reid harbours a dark secret in the basement) or 'I Don’t Want To Be Born' (Joan Collins as a stripper giving birth to a demon child (and the film which gives my sister-in-law hives at the very mention of the title)) at preposterous times of the morning – and because I half had it down as 'The Fiend Without A Face' (featuring a memorable insectoid brain monster...) I figured that it might be worth a watch. When I checked the film out online, I found out that it is in fact from the Seventies - but also that the film was directed by Robert Hartford-Davies - who made the Peter Cushing face-stealing horror 'Corruption' - and written by Brian Comport - who also wrote the screenplay for 'Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girlie', one of the influences for 'Mum & Dad' (it even, coincidentally features a character called Birdy...). All of which made it unmissable, for me at least.'The Fiend' - released in the States as 'Beware My Brethren' - is a story about a young man, brought up in the bosom of a strict religious sect, who now goes out and murders young woman whom he considers of loose morals – (prostitutes, topless bathers, anyone who expresses any kind of ‘brazen’ sexuality, basically…). Living with his diabetic mother – his father having left years ago with another woman – in the house which also houses the chapel of ‘The Brethren’, the church to which both belong, Kenny Wemys (the killer) is a mess of repression and self-loathing and desire. Looking like a cross between Michael Caine and Harry H. Corbett, Kenny works nights as a security guard (and the film features a great,brawling punch-up in the opening ten minutes as Kenny, dressed in black, almost Nazi-style uniform and crash helmet, takes on two burly thieves in a junkyard) and days as a lifeguard at a swimming pool (loudly hectoring women who dare to loosen their bikini straps), both of which occupations he uses to line up his next victims. Kenny has a weird relationship with his Mum, Birdy – both of them at times seem to express a repressed incestuous desire for each other – although the only release (well, besides all the murdering) that Kenny gets is in going down into his cellar where he either sits in a room surrounded by his hanging bra collection (‘scalps’ from his victims) or at his workbench where, using three tape players, he makes his Pervert’s Own Mix Tapes – mashing-up recordings of his killings with tapes of The Brethrens’ American leader giving his inspirational speeches.
Scenes like these have a great feeling about them – really messed-up and sordid – and the killings are pretty well done too. There’s a real feeling of Seventies sexploitation about them - Hartford-Davies also made the girls-in-prison film ‘A Smashing Bird I Used To Know’ and the schoolgirl sex education movie ‘The Yellow Teddy Bears’ – with a grubbiness that you only really get from seeing middle-aged British character actors being given blow-jobs in knackered old cars on industrial estates by young prostitutes who gob the resultant mouthful out onto the gravel before being bludgeoned to death by truncheon-wielding nutjob God-botherers.
The film isn’t uniformly great – the opening sequence, cross-cutting between the young Kenny’s baptism in the chapel - orchestrated by severe minister Patrick Magee - and grown-up Kenny’s chase and drowning of a young woman in the canal, all soundtracked by church member (and original Grand Final Winner of Granada Television's Stars In Their Eyes (as well as the world's very best impersonator of Shirley Bassey)) Maxine Barrie’s psychedelic funk-tinged gospel song (the backing track of which appears, very unconvincingly, to be played by Kenny’s mum on the church organ) ‘Wash Me in His Blood’ – is terrific, but the film never really sustains the same intensity. Some subplots – mainly the police’s investigation into the killings – just peter out, and some sequences feel like they’ve been cut with a minimum of footage (reusing shots and jumping weirdly in time and perspective), but the film is always watchable and the characters – with the exception of the do-gooder nurse, her journalist sister and suave boyfriend (played by archetypal Seventies smoothie Ronald Allen, who presents a classic case of Husbanddickery throughout) – are interesting and engaging, with weird undercurrents and twisted perspectives (just how I like them.) If you get the chance, it's worth a watch - and would probably go great on a double bill with Pete Walker's 'House of Mortal Sin'. Ah, religion, cause of and solution to all of life's problems. No, wait, that's alcohol, isn't it...?
Last weekend, myself and Perry Benson were both invited out to the Brussels International Fantasy Film Festival (le BIFFF) to introduce 'Mum & Dad' and do a Q and A afterwards. It's the first time that I've been out to BIFFF, but I'd been told by a few people who have been that the crowd is very passionate and vocal. I don't know if I exactly took this to be a euphemism for 'they love to heckle', but it did make me a little bit apprehensive about the film's reception...
Being driven to the venue from the airport, I got told that it's a bit of a BIFFF tradition for the crowd to ask directors to sing a song to introduce the film. Having the vocal talents of a distressed cat with a throat wound, I was a bit nervous, but luckily Perry was along to save the day. He immediately started preparing an acapella version of one of his self-composed numbers 'Mad Mum' (v.fitting) and also got the festival organisers to write out for him an introduction in both French and Flemish. Man, that guy's good.
The venue itself was a place called 'Tour and Taxis' - an immense complex of buildings that used to house the customs office for Belgium. For the festival, one of the halls is converted into a kind of bar/cafe/shop/marketplace, while a neighbouring space is transformed into a massive 750 seat cinema.
'Mum & Dad' was screening at midnight (as seems to perpetually be the case...), and we had a good sized crowd for the show. Once up on stage, Perry read out his introductions, then launched into 'Mad Mum' with me on distracting backing vocals. I have no idea what on earth the audience made of it (and part of me wondered all the way through whether we hadn't just been made the butt of a particularly elaborate practical joke (a feeling which didn't quite leave me until I met another director later that evening who confirmed that he'd been through the same thing)), but we got a good round of applause. I only stayed in for parts of the film (it's got to that stage where I'm not sure I'll be able to actually sit through a whole screening of the film again for a good ten years) but from what I saw and heard, the rumours about the crowd were true. They are very vocal, almost holding a perpetual conversation with the action on screen, really unlike any other crowd I've seen it with. Not speaking either French or Flemish, I couldn't get a great idea of what was being said, but they seemed to laugh and groan and react at all the right places.
The only problem with screening at midnight is that you end up having to do the Q and A at two o'clock in the morning, which is what happened here. Factor in the additional elements of a) a free bar stocked with Belgian beer and b) Perry Benson, and you've got a recipe for a rather looser question and answer session than you might normally get. I think we both managed to hold it together to talk about the film lucidly enough, and we seemed to get a good response, with some interesting questions and comments (one guy asked why I was 'so fucking English and repressed' and I could only answer that I was born like that. Turns out he was another filmmaker, Alberto Sciamma, a Spanish director now living in London, who, I later found out, made the film Killer Tongue (which I haven't seen, but looks like it is a far cry from repressed...) who we ended up hanging out with for a lot of the weekend. After that we did some signings - including writing our names in the festival's own guestbook, a lovingly recreated Necronomicon - then went out and got horribly drunk. This wasn't the initial plan - I'd been told that Brussels 'wasn't really a late-night city' - but the combination of travel, long day, screening stress, Q and A adrenalin buzz and Troll beer led to wrongness. Unfortunately (for him), one of the people we were out with was director Lucky McKee, whose films I really like, especially the great May, a fact which I repeatedly told him in a drunken fug for about an hour. My only hope is that he was as drunk as I was and has even less memory of what was going on.
The next day, with ringing hangovers, Perry and I both did a couple of hours of press, including interviews for a couple of French websites and magazines, one of which is already up (the link's here for anyone who's got a good grasp of the language...), then went on to watch the football - Arsenal (Perry's team) versus Chelsea (my team) in the FA Cup. It was a good-natured contest - with Perry the loudest fan in the pub (full, seemingly, of Belgian Gooners), at least up until the Chelsea winner. From there, onto dinner and then back to the festival to see a little of the Ball of the Vampires (which reminded me a lot of my experiences on Goth Cruise, except with a lot more elaborate dressing up and some great make-up (they had an all-day make-up booth for both face-painting and SFX make-up - I saw one guy who looked really convincingly like his nose had exploded across his face. (If there's anyone reading this who had a terrible cocaine-swapped-for-gunpowder mishap at the festival, my apologies for the previous comment.)))
It's one of the great things about having made a film, getting to go to places like this and it really serves to remind you (especially when you're in the middle of head-scratching, knuckle-gnawing script revisions) why you're doing what you're doing. Everybody we met at the festival was really passionate about what they were doing, whether making films, programming them or just along to watch, which is a great atmosphere to be in. I only wished I'd had more of a chance to see some films, which always seems to be the problem when you're actually showing something...
Down to London this week for a meeting about my new script, 'Empire of Flesh', with my producers, script editor and development funder from Em-media. I always try and be open-minded and responsive at these meetings, although it can be tough sometimes when you have face a lot of questions you'd really rather not have to face (even though you know at heart that you are going to have to). I try to do a lot of listening, letting stuff sink in and percolate a bit, rather than reacting immediately because I know that the people I'm talking to a) want the best script possible, b) believe that I can produce it and c) are an audience - so if the script isn't working and they've got questions, then it's likely that any other audience might have similar questions. It's hard though, sometimes I can't help but get defensive - in this instance I ended up using the phrase 'it's not fucking Dora the Explorer' to object to a suggested story direction I wasn't immediately sure of, which was both very childish, and very revealing of the extent of my current cultural frames of reference. (I've often thought that it would be great to do an Alan Moore style fictional mash-up (in the manner of his recent 'The Black Dossier' wherein Bertie Wooster meets one of The Great Old Ones from H.P.Lovecraft's fiction) between Dora and the 2000AD character Rogue Trooper - I could just see Dora, grown up now, in a future science-fiction war, with only her friends Backpack and Map for company...)
So, now I've got a bunch of notes and a few thorny problems to deal with. I've spent today wrestling with one of the key problems - which actually threads its way through the whole script - and potentially come up with a workable solution, but I'm going to let it mull over the weekend, just to see if it still hangs together on Monday morning...
Another good thing about going down to London was that I got to try out my new portable DVD player on the train. Although it's a bit of a weight to lug around, it was great to have something to do apart from read the paper (I find it really hard to do any work on the train). It also gives me the chance to catch up on films which I've been meaning to see but not had the chance to watch yet. This time around it was the brilliantly (and lengthily) titled 'Female Prisoner #701: Beast Stable' the third in the series of early seventies Japanese exploitation films featuring the brilliant Meiko Kaji as the stone-faced, taciturn (she doesn't say more than about 30 words in the entire film) and almost supernaturally resilient lead character Scorpion. Whereas the first film was a women-in-prison film and the second more an escape and siege film, 'Beast Stable' is more of a crime drama. It might be my favourite of the three - all of which are great - because it is so beautfully shot, with terrific flashes of more avant-garde technique - the picture allowed to white out as the exposure changes from inside to out, a fantastic strobe sequence in a garish neon-lit bar, a fish-eye lens on top of a police car - and horribly memorable sequences - the film starts with Scorpion escaping the police on a tube train and, after getting handcuffed by a cop, cutting his arm off to free herself. She is subsequently discovered in a graveyard by lonely prostitute Yuki (who nightly allows her mentally disabled big brother to have sex with her to satisfy his sexual urges), holding the severed arm with her mouth while she tries to scrape the handcuffs loose on a gravestone. And you don't get to write sentences like that too often. There's also a horrible scene with a golfclub and a beautiful image involving matches and sewage. I'm not sure it was the most appropriate thing to watch on the 10.02 to St. Pancras (I had to angle the screen away from the aisle a couple of times - especially during the sequence labelled simply as 'Abortions!' on the chapter list) - but it's a terrific film. And it's got a great theme song - "Her Song of Vengeance" - sung by Meiko Kaji (Scorpion) herself. I love it when films use title songs to comment on the action, especially when they're sung by actorsfrom the film...
No posts for a while, due to a few extenuating circumstances - 1) Christmas, 2) going away to America, 3) being up to my neck in writing a new script, 4) being completely talked out about 'Mum & Dad' and 5) a virulent stomach bug that passed through my family like a soul-possessing demon made of vomit. Charming, I know.
For anyone looking for some of the press reaction to 'Mum & Dad', I've been maintaining a library of scans and links on the film's Facebook fan page, where there's also details about upcoming screenings of the film. It's been strange, having the film out there in the public. We've had some great reviews, but some people have HATED it. I got called a 'nitwit' by the Daily Mail (but then, if we'd got a great review from them, then I'd figure I'd been doing something wrong...), The Times found it 'bonkers', Metro called it 'a work of staggering bad taste' (hey, in some quarters that would be considered a recommendation...) and Little White Lies called it 'a vile piece of masturbation' (they've changed their tune.) Some of what people were complaining about concerned the idea that the film was 'based on the story of Fred and Rose West'. Despite me saying, whenever I was asked, that I didn't base it on anyone's story, it all just came out of my own head (better out than in, I always say), it seemd to become one of the 'facts' about the film. Weird.
But, to be honest, the negative reviews were in the minority, so I could deal with that (although they did upset my Mum a bit), especially as they didn't seem to harm sales of the DVD, which have been really good so far. It was very strange going into shops and seeing it on the racks, like here, a couple of weeks ago, in HMV in Oxford Street. Or even in the airport, on our way to the States. (Although my favourite sighting was a few days ago in a WH Smith's in Nottingham... ...sandwiched between Tinkerbell and Sleeping Beauty, which, as the father of a five year-old girl, pretty much sums up my existence at the moment). It was also strange to find ourselves walking along Oxford Street and seeing posters for the film, when we didn't know they were going to be there. Still, it did provide for some cheesy photo ops.
Now that we've had the UK release, the focus has moved on to the American one. A few weeks ago the film had it's US premiere at Slamdance in Utah. The festival is held at the same time as the Sundance festival, in the same place, Park City, a small ski resort town near Salt Lake City. Lisa and I both got the chance to go over for the screening - a long old hike, but really worth it for the experience.
On the flight on the way out there we met Damon Wise from Empire magazine, who was probably the first person to write about the film following the press screening at the Edinburgh Film Festival. He was heading over to cover Sundance, and gave us some tips on getting by in Park City.
We were staying at the ski resort, a couple of miles out from the main street. It was, as you would expect from a ski resort, very cold and snowy, but also beautiful. (Yeah, we were moaning about the freezing weather conditions and snow weeks before it was cool...). It was about -10 some nights up where we were staying, and although it didn't snow while we were there, it was very very cold. So cold, that they have actually built permanent outdoor fires to warm your toes on while you're out in the street. (And so cold, that it routinely created THE PERFECT MURDER WEAPON!) Slamdance takes place at the Treasure Mountain Inn, a hotel at the end of Main Street. The set-up for screenings at the festival is admirably (and in keeping with the low-budget, independent ethos) ramshackle - there's no actual cinema, instead there's a video projector and screen put up in a couple of the conference rooms, with a few risers with chairs on them for the crowd. (This means that screenings can be a bit more active than normal - we watched a film with subtitles on which meant that you spent about 50 per cent of the time ducking and weaving your head around to see past the people in front.) It's a great festival though - with a real sense of identity, and a great team of people behind it.
As we had a friend out in Park City (Sol, who exec-ed 'Mum & Dad') who had a film showing at Sundance - Alexis dos Santos' Unmade Beds, screening at the lovely Egyptian Theatre - we got a couple of passes to allow us to get into some of the Sundance buildings. (No screenings though - trying to get hold of tickets for anything was like trying to source hen's teeth and rocking horse poo combined). Sundance is a bit more spread out - some of it is housed on Main Street, while a lot of the screenings take place about a mile away, in and around a group of hotels, where most journos, critics and filmmakers hang out. Main Street itself is where you tend to see the odd star though. I saw a third of Ashley Judd's head, caught a glimpse of Mariah Carey (who seems to be a tiny orange growth attached to a pair of enormous black-clad security men) and a mobbed Robin Williams all of which was trumped by Lisa, who stood next to Robert Redford in a bar.
Our screening was late on the Sunday. We found out when we got to Park City that there are regulations about where you can put your posters and flyers (you can't just hand one to someone in the street, you have to do it as part of a conversation). There were a few boards specially designed for this purpose dotted along Main Street, which were inches thick by the end, as people stuck their own posters over others. We had only brought a stack of postcards, some badges and some enormous quads, so our presence on the boards was either subtle or decidedly emphatic We had a good crowd for the screening and the film played well, with a great Q and A afterwards. (I didn't stay in for most of the screening, but this meant that I was allowed the opportunity to observe a slightly grumpy Ron Jeremy retrieve his suitcase from beneath the desk we were sitting at). I was worried that the film might be too British, but it seemed to travel fine and people got the humour. One woman asked me if I had been worried about screening the film - which includes a Christmas-themed quasi-crucifixion - in the highly religious State of Utah and I had to admit that I hadn't even thought about it. After living with the film for so long, some of the more contentious elements of the story now seem, weirdly, almost cosy.
It would have been great to have stayed longer, but our flight was booked for midnight the next day. I only got to see a few things - including a great documentary called Graphic Sexual Horror, about an extreme BDSM website called Insex and the man who created it (I met the directors, Anna and Barbara at one of the Slamdance events and had a great chat about the film - and about the prospect of whether it could ever get a release in the UK, due to the newly passed law banning the possession of "extreme pornography". They also gave me a T-shirt with the film's title on, which should cause a stir at the next parents' evening.) I also got the chance to meet up with MyAnna Buring, who I worked with on my short film 'Deliver Me' back at the end of 2006. She was out there with a whole gang of people from a film called City Rats, which she worked on and which was also showing at Slamdance. It was great to see her again - she's done quite a bit of horror now - including 'Doomsday', 'Freakdog' and 'Lesbian Vampire Killers' - although 'City Rats' is completely outside the genre and she's great in that too. One of the producers, Dean Fisher, was also someone we'd met through Microschool (albeit with a different project), and it was good to see him again, too and to meet the rest of the crew. (Although we didn't envy them their living quarters - about 5 of them were squeezed into an RV together with minimal heating. Makes my teeth chatter just thinking about it.)
On the way back (after nearly being killed by an overly chatty, mobile phone-using, sleep-deprived taxi driver, who pretty much fractured her arm just before setting off on the hour long journey to the airport along dark, mountainous icy roads) we missed probably the most significant day in recent American history. But then the flight was empty and I got to sleep (finally) across four whole seats, so, hey, I guess it all evens out in the end. For Lisa's version of the whole of the above (and more) go here.. I'll try and be back sometime before the end of the year...