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Entries in SITGES (2)

Friday
Sep152017

SITGES BOUND DOC HONOURS CANADA'S HORROR FILM FOREFATHERS

While Carpenter, Romero and Craven were crafting new wave horror works in the U.S., Canada was forging its own bloody and brave breed of genre storytellers. In director Xavier Mendik’s documentary Tax Shelter Terrors, set to screen at the prestigious Sitges Film Festival in October, some of the most influential names in Canadian film culture are finally being given their due; men who recognised that the rebellious counterculture influencers of the day would respond to bold, frightening film visions. Bolstered by healthy production sector tax initiatives (hence the film’s title), they would shape the ‘Canux-ploitation’ horror era that would become synonymous with a golden period in genre cinema….

André Link and John Dunning (Founders of Cinépix Inc.)

Hungarian André Link immigrated to Canada in 1954, joining the sales department for International Film Distribution (IFD). Earning a reputation for his savvy business acumen, he broke from IFD and, with John Dunning founded Cinépix Inc. The fearless pair embraced the movement known as Quebec’s Quiet Revolution, releasing a slate of risqué films in defiance of the conservative agenda forged by the Catholic Church and the Duplessis government; Cinépix titles included the works of Denis Heroux’s (Valérie, 1968; L’initiation, 1970; L’amour humain, 1970) and John Sone’s films, Love in a Four Letter Word (1970) and Loving and Laughing (1971). With a young production executive called Ivan Reitman at their side, Link and Dunning executive produced David Cronenberg’s early horror classics Shivers (1975) and Rabid (1977). While Link worked the books, Dunning found the talent; their collaborations would include Reitman’s hit directorial debut, Meatballs (1979), George Mihalka’s slasher classic My Bloody Valentine (1981), veteran director J. Lee Thompson’s horror entry, Happy Birthday To Me (1981) and Lamont Johnson’s 3D sci-fi adventure Spacehunter: Adventures in The Forbidden Zone (1983). (Pictured, above; Dunning, left, and Link)

Pierre David (Producer)

Pierre David’s early productions spanned genres, from documentary (A Child Like Any Other, 1972) and kitchen sink drama (Les colombes, 1972) to broad comedy (J’ai mon voyage, 1973) and prestige pic (Je t’aime, 1974, with the late Jeanne Moreau). He recognised the young David Cronenberg as a rare talent, backing his breakout hits The Brood (1979; trailer, above), Scanners (1981) and Videodrome (1983). With the home vid sector providing a hunger for genre product, David exhibited a commitment to stylishly executed horror works, including two from director Jean-Claude Lord, the hospital horror cult classic Visiting Hours (1982) and sci-fi/horror of The Vindicator (1986); George Pan Cosmatos’ paranoid infestation thriller Of Unknown Origin (1983), with Peter Weller; Sandor Stern’s body-horror shocker Pin (1988); and, VHS hit The Dentist (1996) and its sequel (1998), from horror icon Brian Yuzna. His two diversions into feature directing were the instinctively commercial B-movie shockers, Scanner Cop (1994) and Serial Killer (1995).

William Fruet (Director)

Born in Alberta, William Fruet (pictured, right) is a writer/director whose first script, director Donald Shebib’s wilderness-set buddy film Goin’ Down the Road won Best Film at the 1970 Canadian Film Awards. He parlayed industry buzz into his directorial debut, Wedding in White (1972), a searing rape drama adapted from his own play that would win Best Picture at the 1973 Canadian Film Awards. He re-examined sexual assault in his follow-up film, the revenge-themed shocker Death Weekend (1976; aka The House by The Lake), starring Brenda Vaccaro as the rape survivor who wreaks vengeance on her attackers; the film would win Best Actress and Best Screenplay at Sitges 1976. Fruet would carve out a career of memorable Canadian genre works, including Search and Destroy (1979), the Genie-nominated Funeral Home (1980, aka Cries in The Night), the hillbilly horror of Baker County USA (1982, with Henry Silva) and the monster-snake creature feature, Spasms (1983, with Peter Fonda and Oliver Reed); one his most popular works was Killer Party (1986), one of the Canadian sector’s better entries in the ‘sorority slasher’ genre of the day.

George Mihalka (Director)

With only one feature credit to his name (the ribald 1980 teen romp, Pick-up Summer), Hungarian-born George Mihalka was 26 when he was offered a derivative ‘Friday the 13th’-style script by first-time feature writer John Beaird called My Bloody Valentine (trailer, below). Genre house Cinepix recognised a keen horror voice in Mihalka, who delivered a lean, mean slasher thriller that became one of the production company's most profitable properties; Paramount picked it up for US distribution and turned it into the sleeper hit in February ‘81. Mihalka followed …Valentine with the adult comedy Scandale (1982), returning to serial killer territory with Eternal Evil (1985) and a stream of commercial pics in both English and French (Hostile Takeover, 1988; Le chemin de Damas, 1988; The Psychic, 1991). His 1993 satire La Florida earned 8 Genie nominations, winning the Golden Reel award for the highest-grossing Canadian film of the year. His most prestigious work to date was as helmer of the 1995 adaptation of the Len Deighton thriller, Bullet to Beijing, an international co-production starring Michael Caine, Michael Gambon and Mia Sara.

Steven Hoban (Producer)

At the forefront of a new generation of Canadian genre talents, producer Steve Hoban learnt his craft on a series of well-received shorts before bursting into features with director John Fawcett’s critical and commercial hit, Ginger Snaps. Starring Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins as teenagers coping with the onset of lycanthropy, the film scored three Genie nominations, became a legitimate cult hit (it has spawned two sequels) and has been lauded as a rare and insightful genre work that deals with female-centric issues. His close ties with director Vincenzo Natali were forged on the 1996 short Elevated and led to their collaboration on Nothing (2003), Splice (2009), Haunter (2013) and the 2013 television series, Darknet (produced by Hoban's production shingle, Copperheart Entertainment). Hoban tipped his hat to the great Canadian horror films of the 70s when he produced the 2006 remake of Bob Clark’s landmark shocker, Black Christmas. In 2015, Hoban stepped into the director’s chair, helming a segment of his own horror anthology production, A Christmas Horror Story. (Pictured, above; Hoban, left, on the set of A Christmas Horror Story) 

SCREEN-SPACE acknowledges and thanks producer Deke Richards for his contributions to this article.

Xavier Mendik's TAX SHELTER TERRORS screens October 12 as a work-in-progress at the 2017 SITGES Film Festival, October 5-15. Session and ticketing details can be found at the event's official website.

Monday
Aug172015

BORN AGAIN: THE BRYN TILLY INTERVIEW

A fascination for the macabre courses through the veins of Bryn Tilly. Between penning horror short stories and overseeing the popular website Cult Projections, the Sydney-based New Zealand expat has been shipping his film, the vampire-themed short Umbra, to genre festivals worldwide. The surreal work has impressed fest organisers; having wowed Australian audiences at underground showings in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane, the global rollout starts August 27 when it screens in London’s Film4 Frightfest, followed by a prestigious slot at SITGES 2015 in October.

SCREEN-SPACE sat down with the director and good friend (pictured, below) to recount his film’s journey from its no-budget origins in chilly Wellington to the horror industry mecca on Spain's sunny Catalan coast…

You are open about Umbra's past, and that this edit is a reworked, condensed version of footage shot in 93 under the title Penumbra. What brought about the resurrection?

After Penumbra was completed I shelved the film, only bringing out the VHS copy when I was drunkenly nostalgic and feeling a little tragic. There was some great imagery and genuinely atmospheric moments in the film. I began wondering if there was a way of salvaging those moments, of re-harnessing that vision. In early 2014, I invited my friend, editor Michael O’Rourke, to help bring it back to life. We judiciously cut it from half an hour down to just over five minutes, removing virtually all the dialogue and many elaborately shot scenes, yet still managed to keep the overall narrative arc. We treated the image, adding film scratches and grain, intending it to look like a lost Euro-horror from the late 70s/early 80s. My brother, Miles and I composed a new score. And I shortened the title from Penumbra (meaning “half-shadow”) to Umbra, which was perfect as it means “shadow”, but also “phantom” or “spectre”. The new film had finally captured the atmosphere and tone I had originally envisioned.

Were there key technical issues that had to be addressed when working with footage shot 22 years ago?

I had to locate the original master tape, since all I had was a steadily deteriorating VHS copy. After unearthing the U-matic master cut - yes, it was shot on three-quarter inch U-matic videotape, an almost forgotten format! - I had the footage digitized; thankfully I managed to find a service that still had a U-matic player. Although the tape appeared to be in okay condition and “baking” wasn’t required, the digitized footage did reveal weathering had occurred. Michael and I decided that the lo-fi look could work in the film’s favour, especially with the recent trend of retro-designed horror movies.

How hard was it for the happily married 40-something father of 2015 to reconnect with such darkness? Describe the experience of revisiting a vision created by a much younger version of yourself...

I’ve been a fan of dark horror and science fiction tales since I was a boy. Doctor Who’s The Ark in Space on TV in 1975 left a strong impression. Then there were the rather nihilistic and genuinely nightmarish experiences of The Omen and Alien on VHS when I was around ten or eleven, all dealing with birth/death/rebirth. When I wrote Penumbra, it was intended as a dark and macabre vampire tale. I wanted Umbra to be tenebrous, but I wanted it to be very dreamlike, surreal, invoking a kind of fever dream. Essentially the older me favoured a more subtle, expressionist approach, and it was a joy to see that Umbra reflected my truer influences as a filmmaker, even though most of my favourite vampire films now are the same ones I had when I shot Penumbra. (Pictured, above and below; scenes from Umbra)  

You open with a Poe quote that addresses the line between the present and the beyond. How does the film represent your beliefs in the afterlife and the mythology of immortality?

 I’m an atheist and a skeptic, but I’m a diehard horror romantic, especially when it comes to the supernatural. I want to believe. I love the essence of vampirism, the dual curse/gift of immortality, the sensualism and the fragility. What I especially love about the Poe quote is its ambiguity; it’s not just about the reality of life and death, it’s about the powerful fabric of dreams and nightmares.

Some imagery recalls Neil Jordan's Interview with the Vampire. You’ve mentioned Alien, The Omen, Doctor Who; what other authors/artists/filmmakers influenced you?

 Certainly Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat were big influences back in 1993. There was a cutaway in the original that showed a bookcase with Interview on it. Murnau’s creepy 1922 classic Nosferatu and Herzog’s haunting 1979 remake were inspirations. Whilst editing Umbra, the works referenced most were David Lynch’s Lost Highway and Dario Argento’s Suspiria and Inferno. I love their oneiric application, the dreamlike atmosphere and nightmare logic. Less obviously, French extremist Gaspar Noe influenced me, with his a penchant for pushing the camera into the darker corners.

It features a rich, vividly ambient soundscape. Describe the intent and intricacies of its construction...

 I had co-composed an original soundtrack for the 1993 production but I knew the new film needed new music. I wanted it to have a lush, dreamy vibe, but at the same time capture an ominous and menacing tone; reminiscent of the stuff Trent Reznor has been doing for movies. Miles and I have been collaborating on electronic music together for more than ten years. We took a brooding techno track we had already recorded and put it through a time-stretch software program, which slows the music down. We singled out the best sections, and then Michael and I layered those pieces into the film along with a few of the original sound design cues.

And Umbra's own re-emergence, it's own rebirth? What is its point-of-difference that has seen become a 2015 horror festival favourite?

 It is a narrative short with no dialogue, relying on stylised, almost iconic imagery. The pronounced ambient soundscape is an invisible character, intensifying the mood. Most significantly, the look of the film is a aesthetically lo-fi in a world saturated with High Definition. This grungy aspect enhances the nightmare edge, pulling the viewer into a mysterious yet strangely inviting place. Umbra looks and feels different than many of its contemporaries, but surreptitiously bridges the present and the past. It has a curious history, as a vampire film brought back from the dead. It has been reborn.

Umbra teaser trailer from Cult Projections on Vimeo.