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Saturday
Dec282013

ICEMAN: THE JEFF RENFROE INTERVIEW

Genre flicks with mid-range price-tags were a Hollywood staple for decades, only to have petered out as audiences demand for expensive spectacle grew. But director Jeff Renfroe has proven that action and thrills don’t need a mega-budget with his snowbound, post-apocalyptic work, The Colony. From his base in a suitably chilly Montreal, Renfroe spoke to SCREEN-SPACE about the Canadian production, working with mad man Bill Paxton and crafting an elegant, bloody adventure story outside the studio system.

“If this film had been made by a Hollywood studio, there would certainly be another zero on the budget,” says the director, who brought in his vision of a decimated Earth for US$16million “It was a real challenge to get some of the shots called for in the script. But thanks to dedicated, extremely talented people behind the camera and behind the computer, I think we were able to get a pretty cool, very unique looking genre world.”

The Colony imagines a planet ravaged by a new ice age; small outposts of mankind still exist, living underground in rusty industrial landscapes. When contact is lost with the nearest settlement, Sam (Kevin Zegers) and Briggs (Laurence Fishburne) set out to find an answer, only to discover that the survivors have resorted to brutal cannibalism to survive.

“When I first received the script, it was one of those virus movies, a zombie-style story where if you get bitten by one of the things you become one of the things,” recalls the director. “I suggested it might be better if we just took it down to a real base level. To me the central question is, ‘What happens when you run out of food?’ Instead of some crazy-ass science-fiction myth, the horror becomes tangible and an ethical issue. How desperate would our decline have to be for mankind to cross that line?”

Though it amounts to a catering spend on most Hollywood blockbusters, the budget is a sizable one by Canadian standards. Renfroe knew star power was needed to give his movie the necessary scope as well as assuring a US theatrical release and international sales. Fanboy favourites Fishburne (The Matrix; Event Horizon) and Bill Paxton (Aliens; Near Dark) were just the ticket (pictured, left; the stars and their director). “Bringing a couple of guys with name value into the mix was absolutely integral,” says Renfroe. “The financiers want to see names that they recognise and that they know the audience will recognise.”

What the director didn’t expect was the genre knowledge that the two actors brought to the production. “Fishburne is a huge fan of post-apocalyptic stories, be they films or comic books, so he was really excited about the picture and brought his love for the genre every day,” remembers Renfroe. “Bill was the same; he loves these movies and would not stopped entertaining us all with stories about James Cameron and yelling out randomly, ‘It’s just like Aliens, man!’ They were totally focussed on making the best film that we could.”

To ensure that the freezing conditions required by the script were convincingly realised, The Colony cast and crew were shipped to the most northern part of Ontario during the coldest weeks of the Canadian winter. “We shot in an abandoned airplane hangar in a place called North Bay, and we had to keep one huge hangar door open all the time,” says Renfroe, who recalls days when the temperature hit 30 degrees below (pictured, right; Renfroe on-set with Laurence and Zegers). “Lenses were freezing up, mechanical stuff was seizing. I equate the whole experience to shooting underwater, everything moved so slowly.” The production was also able to utilise an abandoned NORAD facility, a location that took the crew 60 stories down into the earth's surface. 

The film found a mixed critical reception upon its North American release (“I respect their opinions and try to learn from them but I don’t take too much of what is said to heart.”) Instead, Jeff Renfroe cites the response from the crowds at horror and fantasy festivals like Sitges; the world’s leading genre film event awarded The Colony the jury-voted Best Film honour this year. The award is a source of tremendous pride for the director. “You check in with the people who love these sort of movies,” Renfroe says, “and judge yourself against their sliding scale.”  

The Colony will be released on DVD/Blu-ray in Australia on January 8 through Eagle Entertainment

Friday
Nov082013

MONSTER FEST 2013 FILM FESTIVAL SPECIAL

Under the guidance of festival director Neil Foley, the 2013 edition of Monster Fest kicks off in Melbourne on November 21. Lovers of international horror cinema, including visionary works such as Big Ass Spider (pictured, below) will settle in for 12 days of films made to shock, disgust and delight. As a dedicated follower of the genre, SCREEN-SPACE will be providing extensive coverage of the event, with interviews, reviews and features. Bookmark this link to follow the ever-expanding content.

Features:

Creepshow: The Monster Fest 2013 Preview: “Monster Fest champions films that challenge our imaginations, films that confront our fears, films that twist our realities..." 

Kier-La Janisse and The Women in Her Life: "Canadian film scholar Kier-La Janisse paints an unforgettable portrait of international cinema’s most deranged and driven female leads in her landmark book, House of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films..." 

Cannes Critics Maul Dario's Dracula: "The internet was buzzing with negative feedback to the trailer, but any work from the Giallo master is keenly anticipated and the film had been afforded the first Midnight Screening slot at the 2012 event..."

Interviews:

Joe Somebody: The Michael Tierney Interview: "I don't think I had a personal identity any more. I had become Joe Blow..."

Body Melt: The Addison Heath Interview: "We wanted to take dark subject matter and turn it in to an absurdist comedy. One of our initial concepts was ‘What if Wes Anderson directed Taxi Driver?’...”

Welcome to the Jungle: The Andrew Traucki Interview: "There were many physical challenges, especially given that at one point, it rained for a week during filming. There was so much mud!..."

The Killer Inside Me: The Duncan Cunningham Interview: "I am in love with the process of creating a world full of characters that didn't exist. And to see what you have created in a moving picture is phenomenal..."

Reviews:

The Banshee Chapter 3D: "Winter, a striking beauty and convincing on-screen presence, has a terrific chemistry with Levine, who whoops it up as the off-the-rails anti-establishment underground renegade..."

Here Comes The Devil: "It exudes an effective creepiness and a free-wheeling attitude to both hot and horrible sexuality..."

Contracted: "Much about Contracted is reminiscent of the AIDS era horror film, when films like David Cronenberg’s The Fly and Brian Yuzna’s Society reminded us all that pleasures of the flesh often cost a pound of the same..."

Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla: "As Warren, the extraordinary Glen Maynard creates one of the most memorably sympathetic portraits of repressed rage and social disconnection in local cinema history..."

Foresight Killer Instinct: "There’ll be something to offend everyone (feminists and cat-lovers, in particular, should stay well clear)..."

Hatchet III: "Finding a comfortable middle-ground between the jokey tone of the first instalment and the overly grim milieu of its sequel..."

Friday
Sep062013

VISIONS OF THE PAST: THE CHRISTOPHER AD CASTILLO INTERVIEW

Though still very much a young man, Christopher Ad Castillo carries with him a lifetime of movie memories. His late father, the great Filipino director Celso Ad Castillo, was a defining force in Asian cinema; his son would often accompany him on-set, leading to acting roles in several productions. Now, the son is a directing force in his own right; Castillo's third feature, the independently-financed supernatural thriller The Diplomat Hotel, featured at the recent Cinemalaya Film Festival and opens wide in its homeland this week. SCREEN-SPACE spoke with the LA-based director about his ghostly tale, the role of memory and spirituality in his storytelling and the legacy left by his father’s love and talent…  

What were the origins and inspirations for your story?

My interest in The Diplomat Hotel began two decades ago when I was an actor in my father’s film. We were shooting a scene in front of the already abandoned place and strange things happened that night that I cannot explain. So right there and then I knew that the next time I came back, it was to do a movie about the place. I have always been fascinated by personal tragedy. We were put in this world to suffer tragedies. From there, we decide whether to rise above it or sink further below. The will to get up and get back in the game is something not everyone can accomplish. It takes a certain pedigree. And to a storyteller, tragedy is the battery that powers life. It is very interesting to watch people caught in it struggle to find a way back, to find redemption.
So if tragedy is the story then the idea of redemption is the soul. This is what (lead character) Veronica (pictured, below; lead actress Gretchen Barretto with the director) has to deal with. To have her great life ripped out from her in front of a mass audience and to climb back from the dead to get everything back that belonged to her. It’s always been a very interesting dynamic that is the basis for some of the oldest stories ever told. That’s the brave new world we live in; Veronica inspires people and she inspired me to write this story. 

Describe shooting at a site that is famous for its supernatural properties? What influenced you to decide to shoot on location, especially this one?

People leave traces of themselves where they live. And the longer you stay in that place, the stronger you embed yourself. Now that print could be about happiness or darkness. The Diplomat Hotel was built in 1913 as a rest house for Dominican priests and the 2nd World War is where evil emerged when the Japanese beheaded the priests and nuns. And the traces of the dead stayed in that place and as the years go by, their prints become stronger. Their souls become the building. So there’s something there. It cannot be spared from what happened. The place gets very uneasy as night time gets nearer and the coldness invades it. The main thing is the shadows. They appear in certain areas and you realize that there’s no angle of light from where it could originate. It’s not just me who saw it, several of us did.
And that is the idea of why I wanted to shoot there. If I could not make my film there, then there’s no use in making it. Unlike other real haunted places like the Amityville house where no one has really seen what the interior looks like, The Diplomat Hotel has become a tourist attraction and a lot of people have been inside. So cheating the interiors would be unnerving to people and would take them out of the story. Plus it’s the most haunted hotel in Asia. Who would not want to shoot in there? 

The great horror films draw upon and provide commentary on the society from which they are created. What did you see as the important underlying issues central to The Diplomat Hotel?

The Philippine culture is filled with stories of monsters and creatures that were partly used by our elders to scare us into doing their bidding. And they’re great stories, full of life and energy. As the stories get passed from generation to generation, the monsters get bigger and the stories get bloodier. That’s the idea behind The Diplomat Hotel. Stories have been told for decades now of headless priests, roaming children, wails and moans, and of evil itself. But what if it was not true? What if the place was not really haunted and it just became evil because society keeps talking about it and keeps saying it is? What if the energy of the stories gave it life? Words are powerful, enough to destroy nations and people. What if society created the persona of The Diplomat Hotel? What if we were responsible for it being evil? Those are the questions asked by Veronica and that’s the commentary that I built the story upon. (Pictured, above; from left, the director on location with cast members Sarah Gaugler and Mon Confiado).

You are revisiting the location after having worked with your late father on the site. Did the themes of memory and recalling the past hold special relevance for you during the shoot?

There were times leading up to the shoot and during the shoot and even up to now that I stop and think that the film exists because of my father (pictured, right). And how cruel fate can be that he’s not around to see it, that his idea decades ago of bringing me to a place I have never heard of has become something that I have offered to the audience as a creation.
I thought of the irony that I play with memory and the past in the film and I thought about him when I was alone. Memories are a very dangerous thing that can entirely consume a person and it helped that I was really busy with a very difficult shoot. I was able to set aside any sadness that I had.
It’s funny to think that a haunted hotel has become the last physical bond between a father and a son. This film was about much more than just me directing; it was also about me coming to grips that he is gone. I was exorcising any guilt that I had as a son as I finished the film. None of us are perfect and there are times where I think that maybe I could have been a better son, a better friend, and involved him more in my adult life. I should have told him how much I loved him more often.
I miss The Diplomat Hotel. No other film will be made about it. We are the first and the last. It is already being renovated and it will look totally different a year from now. And it will always be the place that I share with my father. Sometimes something good comes out of something evil.

Read our review of The Diplomat Hotel here.

Saturday
May042013

SECOND THOUGHTS: CINEMANIACS AND THE HORROR SEQUEL

The horror sequel is one of the most unfairly maligned of all mainstream movies. Their very existence is often viewed with cynicism, many discarded as artless, crass grabs designed to milk a concept for a few dollars more. Audiences and critics eager to relive the precise experience of their favourite fright films often dismiss the follow-up for not delivering the same visceral rush.


The Melbourne-based film-fan collective Cinemaniacs are addressing the imbalance with a 4 film programme called ‘Scream and Scream Again’. In conjunction with the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, this band of genre experts will present, for your reconsideration, Damiano Damiani’s Amityville II: The Possession (pictured, above), Jeannot Szwarc’s Jaws 2, Rick Rosenthal’s Halloween II and Mike Hodges and Don Taylor’s Damien: Omen II.

“What I love most about many horror movie sequels is the idea that the monster is never truly dead and that the leading lady’s story is never truly over,” says Lee Gambin, one of Australia’s leading authorities on horror and Director of the Cinemaniacs team. “There is much more room for memorable cinematic moments, there is room to develop characters and move them forward and it’s always very cool to see actors from previous films reappear in new ones.”

SCREEN-SPACE spoke with the Cinemaniacs team to get their ying to the critical yang that greeted these films upon their initial release.

Amityville II: The Possession:
What the Critics said: “There are some good performances here, by Jack Magner and Olson in particular, and some good technical credits, especially Sam O'Steen's editing. It's just that this whole ‘Amityville’ saga is such absolute horse manure.” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times; January 1, 1982.

What Cinemaniacs say: “I remember seeing it as a kid and being instantly hooked. I was addicted to the plight of Sonny and his descent into demonic possession which alienates him from his family. It’s such a creepy sleazy fun ride and I adore it! Not to mention it boasts super performances by the likes of Rutanya Alda, Diane Franklin and Burt Young.” – Gambin.

Jaws 2:
What the Critics said: “The shark may be bigger and its teeth sharper, but Jaws 2 does not have the same bite that the original Jaws gripped the country with three summers ago” – David Watters, Herald-Journal; June 17, 1978.

What Cinemaniacs say: “This film has plenty of bite! Chief Brody returns to face greedy capitalists, undiagnosed post traumatic stress and Amity Island’s curious case of over size sharks. Jaws 2 is bigger, meaner (poor Orca!) and more monstrous due to a mishap where half of his face is burnt off Phantom of the Opera style, casting a perfect portrait of a slasher villain, hell bent on eating horny teenagers AND a helicopter. You will never see Freddy or Jason do that!” – Ki Wone, Programming Co-ordinator.

Halloween 2:
What the Critics said: “This uninspired version amounts to lukewarm sloppy seconds in comparison to the original film that made director John Carpenter a hot property.” – Variety (author not credited); October 30, 1981.

What Cinemaniacs say: “John Carpenter has admitted that he co-wrote a lot of Halloween II at 2am in the morning after a six pack of beer and that he never wanted to make a sequel in the first place. With that in mind, just imagine how amazing it would have been if he'd been sober and interested! This film not only broke new ground by setting a Horror sequel immediately after the first film - it practically helped create the blueprint for slasher sequels that would be photocopied again and again throughout the 80s and beyond.” – Anthony Davies, Artistic Consultant.

Damien: Omen II:
What the Critics said: “Perhaps my resistance has given out but I must say that ‘Damien: Omen II,’ though it's as foolish as the first film, is rather more fun to watch and sometimes very stylish-looking. “ – Vincent Canby, The New York Times; June 9, 1978.

What Cinemaniacs say: “Scott Taylor's portrayal of the adolescent Damien is highly nuanced and complex. Damien: The Omen II paints its characters with shades of grey, giving the film an emotional resonance which adds to the horror. It is filled with some wonderfully stylised death scenes, a hauntingly beautiful score, fantastic cinematography and superlative performances. It's a great study into the nature of evil in our society while still being fun and frightening. A true horror classic that's not to be overlooked.” – Lisa Bartolomei, Researcher.

Details of the Cinemaniacs Season at the Australian Centre of the Moving Image can be found here. The group are also holding retrospective screenings regularly at the Tote Hotel.

Saturday
Mar092013

A NIGHT OF HORROR / FANTASTIC PLANET 2013 FILM FESTIVAL SPECIAL

Coming to Sydney's inner-west on April 11 will be the latest edition of one of Australia's most respected horror film events, A Night of Horror / Fantastic Planet Film Festival (ANOH).

With an encyclopaedic eye for genre gems, founder and head programmer Dr Dean Bertram will offer one of his most extensive programmes ever. SCREEN-SPACE will be covering the event with constantly updated reviews, interviews and images. Please bookmark and revisit this page for the latest in A Night of Horror / Fantastic Planet images.

INTERVIEWS:

Space Man: The Armen Evrensel Interview: “My goal was to make it stand alone, proudly unapologetic as a low budget sci-fi comedy..."

Skin Flick: The Eric Falardeau Interview: "The hardest part when making that kind of film is always how much of yourself you put in it and how much darkness in yourself you have to get out to get the proper tone and feeling..."

Apocalypse Now: The Andrew Robertson and Lilly Kanso Interview: "We have a lot of extinction anxiety, which is what accounts for the fact that our movies, tv shows and video games are all obsessed with the genre..."

In conjunction with the A Night of Horror/Fantastic Planet Film Festival organising committee, SCREEN-SPACE was asked to interview three of the filmmakers attending the festival as part of Launch Pad, a series of World Premiere screenings to feature at the event:

Wet and Reckless: director Jason Trost and producer Lucas Till.

A Dark Matter: writer/director James Naylor. 

FEATURES:

Nightmare Factory: A Greg Nicotero Retrospective: “I have friends who will introduce me to people as, 'This is Greg Nicotero – he did the dick in Boogie Nights.'”

REVIEWS:

Buck Wild: "The overall impact suggests it will fall short of breakout hit status, but it is certainly fun enough for those that will watch anything zombie-themed..." Session time: Saturday, April 20, 11.00pm.

The Human Race: "A thrilling indie-sector vision that trumpets the arrival of a skilled, bold storyteller in writer-director Paul Hough..." Session time: Saturday, April 14, 7.00pm.

All Superheroes Must Die: "Constantly struggling to match the promise of its premise..." Session time: Thursday, April 11, 7.00pm. (OPENING NIGHT)

Cockneys vs Zombies: "A comic-relief bit part in an outrageously bloody zom-com may not have been the swansong that the late Richard Briers envisioned for himself..." Session time: Saturday, April 13, 7.00pm.

Found: "A grisly but oddly affecting amalgam of JJ Abrams’ Super 8 by way of William Lustig’’s slasher classic Maniac..." Session time: Tuesday, April 16, 7.00pm.

The Mansion: "Few movies have captured the tension of a post-catastrophic societal change with such teeth-grinding effectiveness..." Session time: Thursday, April 18, 7.00pm.

The History of Future Folk: "An all-too-rare example of the cynicism-free modern comedy..." Session time: Sunday, April 21, 7.00pm. (CLOSING NIGHT)

The Taking: "Destined to confound and frustrate as many as it frightens and disturbs, The Taking is a determinedly non-linear dreamscape of foreboding if occasionally abstract imagery..." Session time: Saturday April 13, 9.00pm.

Wet and Reckless: "These are not people you want to get stuck with at a party, but as caricatures of the worst type of modern celebrity, they work a treat..." Session time: Monday, April 15, 7.00pm.

Mon Ami: "Imagine Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar transplanted into a Fargo-esque milieu..." Session time: Saturday April 13, 5.00pm

Thanatomorphose: "...the loss of control of one’s physicality is a potent visual and metaphorical tool and the debutant director displays the by-products of degeneration with nightmarish style." Session time: Thursday, April 18, 9.00pm.

Space Milkshake: "One of the great joys of this daft adventure is that everybody is in on the joke but no one winks to the camera ironically..." Session time: Thursday Aprill 11, 9.00pm. 

FESTIVAL WRAP-UP:

Read all the winners of the 2013 A Night of Horror / Fantastic Planet Film Festival awards in our review of the event here.

 

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