Interview: André Øvredal

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Originally published on The National Student on 28/03/17 and Cultastic on 30/03/17.

We caught up with the Trollhunter director as he takes the leap to the other side of the Atlantic, with grisly new horror The Autopsy of Jane Doe

Set almost entirely in the basement of a mortuary during an autopsy on an unnamed (and apparently dangerous) woman, André Øvredal’s sophomore release is a real celebration of old-school jumps and scares, keeping things simple whilst dialling up the fear factor all the way to 11. 

Hitting UK cinemas for one night only at the end of March, after a hugely successful festival roll-out last year, making waves everywhere from Toronto to our very own BFI-backed London Film Festival, The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a very special one for hardcore genre fans. Not for the faint hearted, of course, but for horror nuts and hell, even Brian Cox aficionados, it’s a must-see. 

Chatting to us on the phone before a very special FrightFest-backed preview in London, Øvredal was quick to push the importance of just where Jane Doe came from: “I grew up on American and British horror movies, and I love their clarity of storytelling; the way those movies scare.” With the backing of some stateside producers who were, like us, huge fans of Trollhunter, Øvredal quickly found himself with the script in question and the rest, as they say, is history. 

Filming wasn’t without its challenges though, namely the fact that casting the female lead (the eponymous Jane Doe – a character who spends the entire movie naked and motionless) was easier said than done: “You’re looking for somebody with strength and vulnerability, even just in their face. We see so much just in her face. So it became a picture hunt; I scheduled about 20 actors and models, and met with them.” 

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At times there were talks of shooting the entire movie with a very lifelike prosthetic model, but of course Øvredal was adamant on casting a real person: “She is the core of the movie, the movie’s titled after her… I insisted on it being a human being and not a doll, it had to be a person that you could identify with and I wanted the audience to know that it was a real person going into the theatre.” 

A person he actually found surprisingly quickly in the process: “Olwen [Kelly] was actually the very first one I met. We just talked in an office at the production company and we discussed the part, showed her the script so she knew what it was all about. The requirements, with the obvious issues of the nudity to the actual awkwardness of just lying on a table for weeks on end, and she was so relaxed about it. She had no issue with anything; she was amazing.”

Moving on to talk more directly about the film’s horror elements though, Øvredal seemed very aware of just how extreme his film was going to be, and how he needed to really earn those moments: “Even though there’s going to be extremities on screen, it always has to feel like they’re necessary for the storytelling to function.Then you can allow yourself to do almost anything, because the audience will want to see it. You have to make the audience want to see the next gruesome thing because the mystery compels them to need to know it.”

When asked if he himself believes in the extremities in question though, these supernatural digs at witchcraft and the afterlife, the director’s response was a fairly straight-forward: “No, I believe in absolutely nothing [laughs].” That’s not to say he doesn’t find interest in them however: “On the opposite end of that, I’m fascinated by the supernatural. I’m fascinated by the idea of God, because it’s such an extreme thing that the entire world has agreed that he even exists. So how you get there, that’s what this movie’s about. How can you walk a human being through that transition on screen in 90 minutes, from not believing to believing?”  

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Talking about genre more widely, another important tool in the modern horror market’s repertoire has very much been the jump scare, something Øvredal really masters in Jane Doe. His outlook on the whole thing though, is a lot more scientific: “They have to feel earned somehow… It’s Hitchcock 101: the anticipation, the building up to it, and then really hitting the audience with a bang. It’s about knowing the general psychology of a human being: how you perceive a scary thing or how you drive these kind of emotions that are really quite strong watching a horror movie.” 

And finally, when pressed if he had any tips for the next generation of filmmakers, Øvredal was all about the festivals: “My suggestion would be to make a genre short film, and don’t let it go over ten minutes. You have to be clever, and make it programmable for a festival. If you make it a genre short, you can get into more cool festivals then if you make it into a drama.” From there it’s just a matter of time:  “Slowly you can build a reputation, if you’re talented, and you have to really believe you are talented.” 

The Autopsy of Jane Doe is in UK cinemas for one night only on 31st March. 

Interview: Toby Kebbell

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Originally published on The National Student on 08/03/17. 

One of Hollywood’s most underrated stars went into detail with us about some of his less known work on the latest King Kong movie Skull Island. 

You might not necessarily recognise Toby Kebbell’s name straight off the bat, but between Dead Man’s Shoes, War Horse, The East, Black Mirror and most recently A Monster Calls, his face will no doubt jog your memory enough. He was the key performer behind Warcraft’s Horde, the motion-captured ape villain in 2014’s runaway hit Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and most bizarrely of all, above and beyond the best thing about Fox’s doomed Fantastic Four reboot back in 2015. 

Basically he’s a big deal, and considering his talents both behind and in front of the camera, he’s definitely here to stay. Luckily we had the chance to chat with him too, picking his brain about everything from his human character in the new Kong adventure, to playing the gigantic mighty ape himself in reference work for ILM. 

Fans of Matt Reeves’s rebooted Planet of the Apes series might want to give the interview a quick watch too, for some meaty details about the possibility of a return from Kebbell’s villainous Koba; a post-credits scene did nod towards his apparent survival after all. 

Check out the full interview below and our full review and other interviews here.

Kong: Skull Island is out in UK cinemas from 9th March. 

Interview: John C. Reilly

1Kong1.jpgOriginally published on The National Student on 08/03/17. 

The Step Brothers star and comedic heart of the new King Kong adventure Skull Island gives us the 411 on the movie’s greatest facial hair. 

We had the chance to sit down with the great, multi-faceted acting talent of Mr John C. Reilly last week to chat all things Kong, and, always being one for hard-hitting journalism, we naturally jumped straight to asking him about the gigantic beard he rocks throughout. 

Starring this month in one of his biggest movies to date, as a marooned World War II fighter pilot in Legendary’s huge-scale monster reboot Kong: Skull Island, Reilly had a lot to say beyond the obvious too though. Chatting to us about everything from the practicalities behind the film’s mysterious tribesmen, to top tips for any upcoming actors and performers, he was even kind enough to come dressed to impress too, in one of the most magnificent suits we’ve ever seen. 

Check out the full interview below and our full review and other interviews here.

Kong: Skull Island is out in UK cinemas from 9th March. 

Interview: Lloyd Kaufman

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Originally published on The National Student on 10/02/17 and Cultastic on 11/02/17. 

We found ourselves in a medieval crypt below a giant church, chatting to the founder of Troma Entertainment about everything from fandom to video-games, to his rumoured role in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. It was a strange Thursday afternoon. 

Lloyd Kaufman may well be one of the oddest and most exciting people in the entertainment industry, full stop. 

He started his career scouting locations for Rocky (believe it or not, he was the one who found those iconic steps) and now, by day he’s president of Troma Entertainment, a low-budget production company who make and distribute some of the cheapest and most depraved shit you will ever see in your life. And by night, he’s… well, he’s still exactly that. 

Kaufman works all day, every day, and has been for the past 50 years, attending every fan experience, Troma screening and yes, video-game press event he physically can – even if he barely has any notable role in what’s going on – because he loves his and other indie fans just that much. 

At the London launch of Haemimont Games’ newest incarnation of their fantasy RPG Victor Vran (which is, weirdly enough, a console-wide Motörhead-themed expansion), he not only shows up in the flesh all the way from the States to promote said game, but also brings along his usual flare for dark humour, and an actor dressed in full Toxic Avenger regalia, complete with full-size mop. And still, we get the feeling that this is just another ordinary Thursday for Kaufman and co. 

“I know very little about video-games, but the Troma employees, all day, that’s all they do. They play video-games and watch porn.” admits Kaufman. 

The reason he found himself at the centre of the Victor Vran universe, voicing a frankly dashing barman in a Motörhead themed game, is fairly simple: “Lemmy [Kilmister, lead singer of Motörhead], was in about 10 of our movies… he was the best. He never charged anything to be in our movies, he gave us free music.” This, tied with one of the key developers being a huge Troma (as well as Motörhead) fan was essentially how it all came together. 

In fact, Kaufman and Lemmy’s friendship lasted all the way up to the rocker’s death in late 2015, and the next Troma release on the cards is even dedicated to his memory. 

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But honouring his dearly departed friend isn’t the only thing that kept Kaufman attached: “I don’t know much about video-games, but this is art” he gestates, of course, rather wildly, “I know art when I see art, and this game is art! It comes from the heart, it comes from the soul, if it was a movie you would call the director an auteur.” 

When questioned about his own auteur status though, Kaufman got rather humble: “I’m amazed I’ve been able to make movies. It’s Troma’s forty-third year in existence. Troma’s the longest running independent movie studio in history, I’m told, and I’ve been lucky enough to make feature-length movies for fifty years… The fact that anybody buys a ticket to see one of our movies, I’m always astounded.”

Although he’s the first to admit that none of his Troma releases will be winning any of the big awards any time soon, and he’s perfectly okay with that: “People talk about Oscars and Grammys and all that stuff, for me this is like getting an Oscar. Because I haven’t bought it, I didn’t buy that. That came from love, that came from appreciation and love. To get an Oscar, you pay for that, it’s bought. I mean, they’re great films, La La Land is a wonderful movie, and so are the other movies, but basically, there are better movies that nobody’s ever heard about that should get Oscars.” 

In a world of $200 million blockbusters and his own micro-budget features, Kaufman insists that “you can’t buy word of mouth”. To him, it’s all about the fans, loving and respecting them as much as possible, just like his old buddy Lemmy. 

“We owe everything to our fans!” he summarises, before getting a little more political: “And net neutrality on the internet. Trump appointed a guy now to the FCC, who says he wants to get rid of net neutrality – that’s the free open and democratic internet. Internet is the last democratic medium, and that’s why Troma is still here, because we can talk to our fans, and they can talk to us.”

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And to be fair, he makes an incredibly good point. Without net neutrality, indie productions like his own don’t stand a chance in hell: “We can’t afford to advertise. If they get rid of net neutrality, a lot of innovation will go away, cures for cancer will go away, and, speaking of cancer, Troma will go away.”

Indies of course, were where a lot of the greats started, not forgetting Kaufman’s own protege, current Marvel Studios favourite and Guardians of the Galaxy helmer James Gunn. Kaufman himself appeared in cameo form in the Guardians’ first outing, but as for a follow-up role? He’s not too sure: “James Gunn is the best but he’s also a nerd, and I was killed in that movie, I’m dead. So apparently I can’t come back.”

The future still remains bright for both Kaufman and Troma though, with not only a new Nuke ‘Em High project on the horizon (cleverly titled Return to Return to Nuke ‘Em High Aka Vol. 2), but another stab at the bard too: “The good news is we’re going back to Shakespeare. This is breaking news: we’re writing The Tempest now, which is my favourite Shakespeare. I wanted to wait until I was old because of Prospero and the whole theme of the play is losing power and turning old. It’s trippy and druggy and dreamy, so we’re just getting in to writing that script now, and it should be very interesting! My only regret is that Lemmy will be looking down from Heaven and watching, and I’m wishing he was here.” 

Victor Vran is available now on Steam and the Overkill Edition, including the ‘Motörhead: Through the Ages’ and ‘Fractured Worlds’ DLC packs will soon be available on Xbox One, PS4 and the PC. More information can be found on the official website.

Troma’s latest film Essex Space Bin will be screening at the Prince Charles Cinema on Saturday 18th February with Lloyd Kaufman in attendance. More info here. 

Interview: Simon Barrett

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Originally published on The National Student on 30/01/17. 

We spoke to one of the filmmakers behind last year’s controversial Blair Witch sequel to figure out just what went on with the film’s wobbly fan reception. 

Originally titled The Woods and keeping its real identity hidden all the way up to the very first fan screenings just a few months before release, it’s fair to say that Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s Blair Witch follow-up came as quite a shock to horror fans. And not totally in a good way. “I think it did take some people by surprise,” suggests Barrett, “and they were just so surprised that they forgot to see our movie!”

Whilst the film itself was scary enough (check out our full review here), the direction the duo took things in seemed to not only fail to round up enough in box office returns to appease studio heads (despite making its tiny budget back several times over), but also managed to anger a few devotees of the series too. Not to mention the recent filmmakers’ commentary (published with the home entertainment release this week) which seemed to ruffle even more feathers. “We thought we had made a fairly crowd-pleasing Blair Witch sequel, and we only really discovered afterwards that literally no one but us wanted a crowd-pleasing Blair Witch sequel”.

Barrett openly speaks about he and Wingard both being “huge fans” of the original, and big supporters of the franchise, explaining that when they signed on the dotted line way back in early 2013, before their previous hit The Guest had even started production, they intended to “recreate” the feel of the original, but as even more of a “technical thrill-ride”, based more around “VR and video-games” than traditional found-footage.

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Originally titled The Woods and keeping its real identity hidden all the way up to the very first fan screenings just a few months before release, it’s fair to say that Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s Blair Witch follow-up came as quite a shock to horror fans. And not totally in a good way. “I think it did take some people by surprise,” suggests Barrett, “and they were just so surprised that they forgot to see our movie!”

Whilst the film itself was scary enough (check out our full review here), the direction the duo took things in seemed to not only fail to round up enough in box office returns to appease studio heads (despite making its tiny budget back several times over), but also managed to anger a few devotees of the series too. Not to mention the recent filmmakers’ commentary (published with the home entertainment release this week) which seemed to ruffle even more feathers. “We thought we had made a fairly crowd-pleasing Blair Witch sequel, and we only really discovered afterwards that literally no one but us wanted a crowd-pleasing Blair Witch sequel”.

Barrett openly speaks about he and Wingard both being “huge fans” of the original, and big supporters of the franchise, explaining that when they signed on the dotted line way back in early 2013, before their previous hit The Guest had even started production, they intended to “recreate” the feel of the original, but as even more of a “technical thrill-ride”, based more around “VR and video-games” than traditional found-footage.

“Our film, after screening at a few festivals, had extremely good reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. We had like 100%!” explains Barrett, about the film’s fallout, “and going into the weekend we were able to watch that number plummet”. Which, as you can probably guess, was fairly disheartening for both he and Wingard. “Because we didn’t test the movie, because of course it was such a secret, there were reviews that just flat out didn’t understand things we had intended to be quite clear.”

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And if they didn’t pick up on even the most obvious of clues, you can bet that a great deal of the subtext of the original Blair Witch legend was lost too. “It was this kind of wake-up call to how used to having information spoon-fed to them a lot of modern horror fans have become, because I think most studio horror films are so stupid and are designed for viewers who are very dim… People are furious at us for not answering questions and it was like, since when did Blair Witch fans want things spelled out to them? Since when was that the legacy of a film, that there should be no mystery?” 

Interestingly Barrett does add though that there is a way to correctly ‘read’ the film: “There are answers to all of the questions in our films; we do interpret them, the clues are actually in there.” But of course, it’s not particularly straight-forward. For example, the creature at the end of the film? That’s not the Blair Witch. 

“It wasn’t really until we screened the movie in Austin, and it was the first chance Adam and I had to see our end credits. The credits of the film said ‘Blair Witch arm’, and we were like “Blair Witch arm? Who approved that? There’s no Blair Witch on-screen in our film – we made it quite clear that it was the witch’s victim!” and it was like jeez, the person who did our credits doesn’t even get this.”

So whilst what he and Wingard had been attempting to imply only eventually got picked up by what he sees as “roughly half” the audience, Barrett doesn’t necessarily see this as a bad thing. “We set out to make what we thought was a weird ambiguous film that had a lot of cool history to it, that we thought people would enjoy dissecting.” And to be fair to the pair, on that front, they more than succeeded, even if the whole audience don’t entirely agree. 

Blair Witch is available in the UK on DVD and Blu-ray from today. 

Interview: Alice Lowe

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Originally published on The National Student on 24/01/17 and on Cultastic on 25/01/17.

We caught up with one of Britain’s most exciting new directing talents to talk murderous babies and all things horror, as her debut slasher Prevenge takes its UK bow.

You might remember that we were rather partial to Alice Lowe’s totally bonkers black comedy back in October when it premiered at the London Film Festival, and our opinion definitely hasn’t changed since. It’s easily one of the boldest and most imaginative British films of the year, making our list of hidden hits too.  

So obviously we couldn’t quite settle without talking to the woman herself about it. Below you’ll find a whole bunch of questions ranging from thoughts on violence, to horror, to whether or not we’ll ever see any more of Channel 4’s iconic cult series Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. Yep, we really dug deep. 

Without much further ado, here’s what Alice had to say in all its unedited glory:

Prevenge is such an incredible title and such a unique idea – how the hell did it come about? Did you conceive the idea before you became pregnant?

“No, the idea came about because of the pregnancy. I was pregnant, I had a chance to make a film, and thought “what sort of pregnant character would I like to play?’”And Ruth sort of ‘popped out’! I tried to think of the antithesis of the stereotypical pregnant woman. Not fluffy and light and looking to the future. But obsessed with death and destruction. Merciless. The title was initially a bit of a silly working title, but it just stuck! I think these days it’s quite important your title stands out, especially on the internet. So I made up a word!”

So you have a movie about a homicidal pregnant woman whose unborn foetus tells her to kill people, was it difficult to get it off the ground financially? Considering that it’s no secret that it’s especially difficult for female filmmakers in the industry too, did that play a part at all? 

“Well I had had an offer to make a low budget, micro shoot feature. Privately financed. No strings attached. In fact that was what attracted me to the project. Fast and without too much interference from several cooks spoiling the broth! 

“I’d got a bit tired of conventional script development, which can take years. I thought after Sightseers it would be easy to make another film, but it wasn’t. I think for many first or second-time filmmakers it’s very very hard to get something off the ground. But i do sometimes feel like I work much harder than some of my male peers, and I still feel like I’m having to prove myself over and over and over. I expect people to join the dots and start to work out that a common thread in stuff that’s good might have a teeny tiny bit to do with me! But… maybe I am just lucky! Ha ha!” 

What struck me about Prevenge more specifically is that it’s a lot deeper than the black comedy/slasher audiences might first expect; you quite often dig down into the prejudices that befall pregnant women in general, and there’s some incredibly dark meditations on grief too. What made you head down this more grounded/emotional route?

“I just wanted to evolve a bit. It’s a hugely personal project for me. Much more personal than I usually go. Although all of my characters are probably born of a deep dark side of myself. But I just think the more you put of yourself you put in a project, the more dangerous it is and therefore the most interesting. 

“I’m interested in drama and developing that muscle, because it’s all new to me! All my stories are serious, the jokes are just what gets sprinkled on top. I think life is a mixed bag of comedy, horror, tragedy anyway. I think of stories and characters before I start remotely considering comedy. But that don’t sell no bananas to BBC Two!”

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I was at FrightFest 2016 in London where you were talking up the movie, and you mentioned to Paul McEvoy that the most recent edit at that stage had gotten even darker than one he had seen before, was it ever on the cards to make a more straight-forward black comedy? 

“Not for me! But I think there was a point where the production company may have thought, “ah, it’s not a straight a comedy as we thought we were getting.” And maybe that meant wondering if it was going to be an easy sell. For me, it’s about never underestimating the audience. I think there’s a real appetite for the fresh and the new. And there to be some sincerity to a project. 

“I had an epiphany during the edit where I suddenly realised that you can only make the best version of what you’ve shot. You can’t change the nature of a scene completely without having the right heart behind that change. It’s like making a sculpture with a hunk of wood. You have to be sensitive to the material and go with the grain! The film’s there waiting for you to excavate it. Don’t think about the comedy or the horror or whatever. Just make sure the scene is fascinating. Interesting. And truthful to itself.”

On a similar note, the violence in the film is brutal and grisly, with a very real feel to a lot of it; was there ever a time when you considered going more over the top with the blood and gore? What made you lean more towards realism?

“I think probably for people who have experienced horrible events, the reality is probably horribly banal and it must feel very surreal and absurd almost. When you’re splashing too much gore around I think it starts to become cartoonish and perhaps even less morally responsible in some way? 

“I think when there’s violence, you want to make people feel as if they are actually there witnessing it and the complicated emotions they feel, because they almost become implicated in the violence. And I think that makes people think more deeply about what they are seeing. rather than this disposability of say, a zombie film, where heads are getting knocked off left right and centre without so much as a blink of an eye. Not that those films can’t be fun, but that’s not what I’m doing.”

You’ve shown before in a lot of your other projects just how thin the line between horror and comedy really is – as a performer that’s come from quite a comedy lead background, what attracted you to the darkness of horror? 

“I’ve always been a horror nerd. I love it.”

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Your written and directorial voice feels so incredibly British – is that where a lot of your influences come from? Could you ever see yourself taking a project over to Hollywood?

“I could because the money is good, and you can get proper budgets! Also, I think there’s a kind of equality there for writers/directors which is quite refreshing. It’s like “we need content and you’re a writer and so therefore we need you”. 

“If you’re willing to work, there will be people interested. And in new original strange ideas too! It’s like, “we don’t know what the next big hit is. It might be you”. And in the UK recently I feel more and more conservatism, particularly in TV comedy, so it feels very different in LA and quite heartening. But my style is incontrovertibly British; not much I can do about that. It’s everything, my rhythm, the nuances, speed, specificities. I will just have to make sure I do it well!”

Do you have any tips for first-time writer/directors or performers who want to break into the industry and get their film made? 

“Probably, ‘just make one’. On your phone, with your brother’s camera, in your mum’s house, with your friends, whatever. You’ll learn so much. And no one can take a film away from you. You’ll regret not making a film. But you’ll never regret making a film.”

Finally, had to ask, are we ever likely to see any more of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace? Would you be open to doing more? It’s such a killer idea, with such an incredible cult following!

“I’d love to do more. But who knows where Madeleine Wool is! Maybe she faked her own death and is now living as a sheep shearer in Australia.”

Prevenge is currently screening around the UK on various dates, and is set for wider release on 10th February. More info about where it’s showing can be found at prevengemovie.com

Interview: M. Night Shyamalan and Anya Taylor-Joy

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Originally published on The National Student on 19/01/17. 

The master of twists and his latest leading lady sat down with us in the flesh to discuss everything from genre to future advice. 

Quite a lot’s changed since we last caught up with M. Night Shyamalan a few years back. The Visit ended 2015 as a surprise low-budget hit, raking in a highly respectable amount of cash, and now his latest, similarly dark psycho thriller Split is looking to do the same, with an even more illustrious cast. 

Starring Brit-fave James McAvoy as a troubled loner who shares his mind with over 20 different personalities, Split’s about as bonkers as Shyamalan has been in years, offering up everything from genuine terror to a trademark twist or two. 

We were lucky enough to grab some time with the man himself, and the film’s female lead, the recently BAFTA-nominated Anya Taylor-Joy (someone who horror fans may recognise from last year’s The Witch) to chat about some of Split’s most exciting ideas.