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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.



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.



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.


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. 


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.'”


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. 


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




One of Hollywood’s most respected genre writers, Todd Farmer will soon revisit Australian shores to present his two-day industry and writing seminar at The Gold Coast Film Festival. As to be expected of the man behind such gruelling splatter classics as Jason X, My Bloody Valentine 3D and Drive Angry, the event won’t be your average ‘three-act template’ screen-writing gabfest.

“I guarantee Robert McKee does not have blood as part of his seminar, but I will,” Farmer says with a laugh, chatting with SCREEN-SPACE from his Los Angeles base. The 45-year-old Kentucky native has found constant work since landing in Hollywood in 1996, his commitment and natural talent catching the eye of screenwriter Dean Reisner (Play Misty for Me; Charley Varrick; The Enforcer). One of old Hollywood's finest craftsmen of thrillers, Riesner (pictured, right) mentored Farmer before passing away in 2002.

“He taught me how to deal with the gatekeepers, how to deal with the guys who can’t do what we do.” says Farmer, recalling the industry knowledge the veteran imparted about the new regimes, who bombard young writers with often inane ‘script notes’. “He taught me to argue those kinds of notes three times and if you can’t convince them, let it go and cash the cheque. We are here to tell the best story we can tell but at the end of the day, somebody is paying for that story. And I listened, because he wrote Dirty Harry, High Plains Drifter and Starman, all great stuff.”

Farmer got his appetite for the horror/fantasy genre from many of the same sources as the rest of his generation (“I grew up reading Stephen King, so that’s a big part of it, as well as Jaws, Alien, Aliens, Halloween and the Star Wars trilogy.”) and has parlayed his talent into a career highlighted by new spins on old franchises.

“I wrote a draft of Freddy vs Jason, which was fun, so I’d like to actually work with ‘Freddy’. We also did a draft for a new Hellraiser, which was a thrill and I would’ve like to have seen come to life,” he says. “I grew up with those movies and I like re-telling their stories.” Also doing the rounds are unproduced treatments for the Halloween and Ghost Rider properties; these works are highly favoured amongst genre-friendly industry insiders, but are unlikely to see the light of day.

His most successful films to-date have been the spectral thriller The Messengers, on which he recieved a 'Story by' credit (featuring a pre-stardom Kristen Stewart; pictured, above left), and the three-dimensional remake of the seminal 1981 slasher, My Bloody Valentine, helmed by his professional partner, director Patrick Lussier. The $100million global take of his 2009 reworking of the legend of ‘The Miner’ still eases the sting of failure the pair felt on their 2011 follow-up project, Drive Angry, starring Nicholas Cage and Amber Heard.

“That was a tough one because, apart from some constraints that were imposed because of the budget, Drive Angry was exactly the movie we wanted to make,” Farmer recalls of the experience. The critical drubbing and meagre box-office still rankle the writer, though his outlook has become pragmatic over time. “The fact that people just didn’t go and see it, that hurt. Those that saw it seemed to have really liked it. Those that didn’t (like it), I’m fine with that, too. We knew we were making a film that was either a love-or-hate prospect. What I don’t ever want to do is make movies that people go to see and forget after a while.”

The vicissitudes of fanboy response was also experienced after the release of Jason X (pictured, right), his 2001 relaunching of the iconic hockey-mask killer of the Friday the 13th franchise, directed by the late James Isaac. “With Jason Vorhees, there had been nine other movies and it was time to do something different. Because of Freddy vs Jason, there was no way we could tell a story that took place in the present,” recalls Farmer of the narrative logic that took the machete wielding villain into orbit. “I suggested we set it in the future, the original idea being to have it in sort of a Blade Runner-type world. But early on we knew we couldn’t afford to create cities of neon and stuff that like that, so I said ‘Alright, fine, let’s make it Alien and put it on a spaceship.’”  

Todd Farmer is enthused about the future of big-screen horror, an optimism he hopes to share with young Australian screenwriters at the event in April. When asked if the glory days of horror films were a thing of the past, he riles up. “No, man, they’re still around!” he bellows, the Kentucky accent peeking through for the first time in our chat. “Back when I started, there were only a couple of outfits making horror movies, Dimension and New Line. Everybody looked down their noses at it, thought that horror was beneath them,” he recalls. “Then Scream came out and changed the landscape. Then The Ring was a hit, and there were a whole lot of films taken from Asian horror. Then, torture porn ran its course. Now, every studio has a genre department, though admittedly some are doing it not so good and others are clearly better than others. But horror is here to stay.”

Todd Farmer will be hosting The Gold Coast Film Festival’s 2013 Screenwriting Seminar, a two-day event to be held April 22-23. Bookings are essential and available at The Gold Coast Film Festival website.   



Now in it's fourth terrifyingly fun year, the brrrrrain-child of a fun-loving group of zombie nuts is producing some short film shockers in Steel City.

The nomadic nature of the great shuffling undead will be celebrated in the port city of Newcastle on Australia’s eastern seaboard this weekend with the annual Zombie March (pictured, above, in 2011) taking place through its streets and parklands. In conjunction with the cosplay extravaganza will be the short film event Scream Screen, featuring next-to-no-budget efforts from local filmmakers who will get to watch their blood-drenched efforts on the big-screen at Tower Cinemas in the dead centre of town.

“Zombies hit such a nerve for people, especially in Newcastle. My sponsors all came on board because they are zombie fans,” says Ella Reed (pictured, right), one of the founding members of the Newcastle Undead Society, the ever-growing band of living, breathing aficionados who drive the event forward. “Two friends and I were encouraged to apply for some funding from a youth arts body,” she recalls. “We thought of the most ridiculous idea we could and they gave us a ridiculous amount of money.”

From humble beginnings, the Zombie March has taken on an epic sense of the absurd and is enjoying the kind of year-to-year growth in popularity that would be the envy of many event organisers. “It started small with around 100 zombies marching through huge amounts of rain and the footy grand final to now having around 400 zombies march,” says Reed, a born-and-bred Novacastrian. “The hope is to continue to expand and grow the event to turn it into a large scale festival with zombie art, zombie zines, comics and stories. We keep infecting so we’ll get there one day.”

Reed is particularly enthused with the film festival component. “There is a theme of black comedy for this year. I like people using their sense of humor for this topic, it makes it more morbid. Each year the films get better and better, I’m excited to see what people come up with every year.” The nine finalists, which feature such pun-tastic titles as ‘Board and Gored’, ‘The Undead and the Unsuitable’ and ‘A Break in the Monotony’, will be judged by ABC Radio’s Rod Quinn, Screen-Space’s own Simon Foster and evergreen Newcastle celebrity, Maynard. The 2011 winner, Paul A Verhoef's thrilling splatterfest Unconsumed, can be viewed below.

The festering-ivities (alright, enough puns) start shuffling at Newcastle Museum from 2.00pm and will finish in King Street for the Scream Screen showings.