Writers: Lucio Battistrada, Andrew Baxter, Adriano Bolzoni, and others
Cast: Lou Castel, Mark Damon, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Lucio Battistrada, Andrew Baxter
Italy, Germany 1967
Riz Ortolani offers a standard score for a great neglected Spaghetti Western.
Carlo Lizzani’s 1967 Requiescant is perhaps an overlooked classic. Ironic considering the Latin title translates to mean ‘Rest in Peace’. Alex Cox, who for a generation of film fans, defined the notion of cult and weird movies via his 80s Moviedrome, named it the ‘one film to prove that the Italian Western was not solely Sergio Leone’s’.
The music on Requiescant is by early 50s Italian jazz musician turned composer Riz Ortolani. He passed away in January 2014, aged 87, leaving a legacy that stretches to more than 200 movie music credits, including a Grammy win and an Oscar nomination for the main theme to pseudo-documentary Mondo Cane (1962). He is probably best known for the haunting music on perennial video nasty Cannibal Holocaust (1980). More recently moments of his work were reprised when Quentin Tarantino (Kill Bill, 2003, and Django Unchained, 2012) and Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, 2011) rummaged through his extensive back catalogue.
The Requiescant soundtrack is not nearly as intense or ambitious as, say, the title track from his other 1967 score Day of Anger, but there’s lots to enjoy. The opening moments leading up to a massacre are coloured by a heavily plucked, detuned guitar whose sparseness is warmed by light touches of brass. It’s a signature refrain that is repeated later in the film during an absurd, drunk game of William Tell. Correspondingly the theme tune for the credits that follow the blood-soaked beginning is a much more traditional, orchestral arrangement that flirts with the bright tones of a mariachi band in-between sumptuous, melodramatic string sections.
Overall, it’s a fairly typical soundtrack for a Spaghetti Western. However, unlike the more abstract notions conveyed by Ennio Morricone’s music against the burnt and arid vistas of a Leone production, Ortolani’s musical additions to Requiescant are almost always used to directly inform the mood and action on screen.
Greg Klymkiw’s Colonial Report (on cinema) from the Dominion of Canada
Bob Clark, an American director who wisely moved to Canada and became a landed immigrant during the tax shelter period of the 70s and 80s, made some of the most successful and groundbreaking Canadian films. In addition to the Oscar-nominated Tribute and the acclaimed Holmes (Christopher Plummer) and Watson (James Mason) vs. Jack the Ripper thriller Murder by Decree, Clark’s two other Canadian films are notable for kickstarting the teen sex comedy genre (Porky’s) and the modern slasher film (Black Christmas).
Black Christmas (1974) was not only a huge hit at the box-office, but has become renowned for its alternately creepy and jolting scares, its originality in terms of both direction and writing, and the piquant black humour which drives the movie into territory well beyond strict genre parameters. Plus, there’s a perversely indigenous Canadian quality to it which places it in a realm that yields a movie that’s just enough off the beaten track to make it feel wholly prototypical to the genre, but also marks it as a very special example of Canada’s genuinely important place in the creation of contemporary genre cinema.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary, Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada has recently honoured Black Christmas with an exclusive, all-new, fully restored Blu-ray and DVD ‘Season’s Grievings’ edition that offers a gorgeous transfer and a Criterion Collection-worthy set of fascinating, amusing and informative added value features which feel very much like an ‘Everything You always Wanted to Know about Black Christmas* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)’ compendium in the spirit of the famed Dr. R. Reuben tome of fleshly love.
I recently had the opportunity to meet with three legendary Canadian cast members together in an Anchor Bay Canada boardroom in the St. Lawrence Market area of downtown Toronto. All three represent Canadian thespian gymnastics at their loftiest, but also had important roles in nailing the utter originality of the movie. Lynne Griffin, a renowned stage actress, kids TV personality and veteran of Canadian cinema was the iconic image of sheer terror on all ads, posters and home video packaging of the picture thanks to her extremely unique role in Black Christmas.
Nick Mancuso, the veteran film and television actor, who first burst onto the scene with his astonishing performance as the victim of a dangerous religious cult in Ticket to Heaven provided the sickening, horrifying and definitely iconic voice of Billy, the foul Yuletide serial killer of Black Christmas who is only heard during his numerous obscene phone calls.
The Holy Spirit of this thespian trinity is none other than Doug McGrath, one of Canada’s most beloved actors, first the star of iconic Canuck classics like Goin’ Down the Road, Wedding in White and The Hard Part Begins, then for many years one of Clint Eastwood’s favourite character actors in such great pictures as Pale Rider and Bronco Billy. In Black Christmas, he is the comic relief (along with Margot Kidder and Marian Waldman). Resembling a cross between Buster Keaton and Don Knotts’ ‘Barney Fife’ in The Andy Griffith Show, McGrath plays John Saxon’s thick-headedly inept desk sergeant, ill equipped to handle the wave of murders, assaults and disappearances plaguing the town in Black Christmas.
Here then is our lovely chat, which, frankly, could have lasted the whole afternoon, but sadly did not.
* * *
Greg Klymkiw: So Lynne, I’m sure this must be one of the more ubiquitous queries you get as an actress, but when your character, the sweet virginal sorority sister Clare Harrison in Black Christmas is forcibly enveloped in a plastic see-through cold-storage bag and suffocated to death by the psychopath Billy, it’s not only a jaw-dropping horror set piece, but one of the most terrifying moments in screen history. I can’t help but think how utterly horrifying it was to perform, even with all of the requisite safety measures in place. That surely couldn’t have been the safest stunt to perform.
Lynne Griffin: Well, we didn’t really have any safety measures, but god bless them, it was a risk worth taking for all the reasons you cited, but I was always front and centre in the posters, ads and every DVD cover.
Nothing more fetching than a sexy young lady with her mouth agape, enshrouded in plastic with a look of sheer terror etched into her face by rigour mortis.
Thank you for that lovely compliment [laughs]. And yes, as ubiquitous as I became on all the advertising material, so too are the discussions I’ve had about that scene. If that becomes my legacy, I’m delighted. Even when I go to horror conventions, I make sure to bring plastic bags with me for photo-ops.
Damn, I wish I’d brought one with me today.
The thought had occurred to me to bring one also. I’m still quite able to demonstrate my prowess under plastic.
I imagine the actual suffocation, with all the movement involved might have been somewhat simpler and safer to garner the required effect, but for the rest of the film, we keep visiting your lifeless body sitting rigidly in that creepy rocking chair in the attic. I suspect those shots must have been a killer, so to speak, to maintain the death grimace.
Even when we were shooting, it helped matters that I was an excellent swimmer and able to hold my breath for long periods of time. However, even if they poked air holes in the plastic to allow for subtle breath intake, there’d still be movement and, worst of all, the condensation would spoil the effectiveness of the shots, so to avoid this, it became a huge challenge. We finally agreed that I’d keep my eyes open and hold my breath completely. As a swimmer, I could hold my breath for the entire length of the pool.
Yeah, so you’re not sucking plastic down your throat.
Doug McGrath: That’d be a sure sign your corpse is trying to breathe.
[Mega-laughs all round. McGrath proves that even without cameras rolling he’s a master of the straight face and deadpan delivery.]
Lynne Griffin: There’s that one take in particular where I’m sitting there lifelessly for what seems like an eternity and when I looked at the new Anchor Bay Canada ‘Season’s Grievings’ edition, it sadly occurred to me that for all these years I neglected to include ‘playing dead’ as a skill on my resume.
[More laughs all round. ‘Special Skills’ – even playing dead – can be the lifeblood (as it were) of any working actor’s resume.]
With Black Christmas, Bob Clark really created a horror film which had a huge impact upon North American genre cinema. Clearly influenced by the Italian gialli – even one of your co-stars John Saxon had appeared in Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much – his was the first picture on colonial soil to present the killer’s POV, and it was such a huge hit that it was the film which inspired the entire slasher genre. One of the biggest differences, though, is that all the American films which followed Black Christmas utilised the creepy, twisted, moralistic story element wherein the ultimate heroine and survivor of the homicidal machinations of the slasher was always the virgin.
Not in Black Christmas.
My own virginal exposure to Black Christmas first-run was in a real movie theatre at a time when Canadian films actually played in movie theatres and sitting there, even at that age, I felt like I was seeing something different. The horror and suspense builds, but with a nice blend of genuine characters and a delightful sense of black humour, so that when your character is dispatched, it was, even then, utterly shocking to have such a nice person be so horribly decimated – and even more jaw-dropping, that Clare is the first person to die. Not to take away from any of the lovely surprises in Mr. Hitchcock’s Psycho, but I suspect the shock of Marion Crane dying so early in the film was slightly, moralistically tempered by those scenes of Janet Leigh lollygagging about in her bra with the shirtless John Gavin and then embezzling all that money. But here, we have this sweet, virginal thing adorned in her modest sweater, her chaste relationship with the nice, young hockey player and her excitement over spending Christmas vacation with her mom and dad and yet, she’s the first kill and one of the most shocking and brutal killings in screen history.
[Sounding like the character of Clare here:] It’s unusual, isn’t it?
What were your thoughts when you first read the screenplay?
I was working steadily at Stratford at the time and the idea of doing a horror film seemed like a nice breath of fresh air. Of course, Bob Clark was wonderful. He was so charming and delightful, he could easily sell you swamp land. He’d also assembled an amazing cast and I loved the idea of working with all of them – especially Olivia Hussey, because I really wanted to pick her brain about working with Franco Zefferelli in Romeo and Juliet.
Well, and I’m sure there might have been some burning queries about Leonard Whiting’s pert, shapely bum?
There is that, I suppose.
And of course, when I first saw the ads with you wrapped in plastic, I have to admit, I initially thought it was Olivia Hussey under that huge Glad baggie.
That was a very common experience. Even now, I’ll see one of those ‘Where are they now?’ write-ups for Olivia and they’re actually talking about me. It’s interesting that when I made many thrillers after Black Christmas, I was often cast as a victim. In [Charles Jarrot’s] The Amateur [with Christopher Plummer and John Savage], I was one of the hostages and the first to be shot in the head.
[Laughs] Lucky me, allright. There are, however, many films where I lived to the last reel.
So, here you are, doing some of the greatest theatre in the world at Stratford, then as a nice change of pace, you’re acting in one of the most notorious horror films of its day and subsequently all time, you’re playing a virgin, you get knocked off horrifically and yet, one of my strongest memories of you as an actress is when you hosted this innocent CBC-TV after-school daily programme which was a kind of pre-teen Romper Room.
[Laughs] Yes, it was called Drop-in and I did it for five years and we did it live-to-air. So, at 4.30pm every afternoon we did this magazine-style show with comedy sketches and interviews.
Okay, so I’m not going crazy.
Not at all, that was me.
Nick Mancuso: And what healthy young lad at the time, didn’t have a crush on you?
Tell me about it.
Lynne Griffin: Well, and this virginal quality Bob looked for in Black Christmas makes so much sense. To host those shows, you needed this sense of innocence, but it was also one which all the young fellas lusted after.
The Hayley Mills effect.
Oh, of course. Even now, when I still do the horror conventions, some forty years after, even these men, young and old, come up and they are, dare I say it, lust-filled and talk to me like I’m still this young, hot chick, and it’s so flattering. But there is a lot to be said for this virginal quality. I played the virginal young thing so often, even though, I wasn’t. Well, I was, of course, innocent.
I can accept that. [Then to Nick Mancuso] You’ve made so many great pictures, Nick, and that’s ultimately a legacy worth accepting, but the fact remains that, as a young man, you attached yourself to the off-camera role of Billy who I think is still one of the – no, the creepiest slasher serial killers in the horror genre.
Nick Mancuso: You know, I’ve acted in over 250 films and TV series, three of my pictures are with the National Board of Review in Washington, and the role I’m best remembered for is the voice of Billy in Black Christmas.
[laughs] I don’t know, Nick, Ticket to Heaven is the first major feature film to focus on the evils of religious cults and you’re damn brilliant as the young guy who’s sucked into the miasma of exploitation and then fucking de-programmed. It’s harrowing, memorable and probably going to be your most enduring legacy.
Well thank you. You have to realise that when I did Black Christmas, I was nineteen-years-old when Bob Clark auditioned me and had me improvise a bunch of grotesque sounds for the obscene telephone calls. He hired me instantly and
Gee whiz, tantalising Bob Clark so zealously in an audition to play a sicko is no slouch. Really, bud. In fact, that’s no mean feat.
I knew I had to create this strange voice, so I stood on my head to compress my thorax. And you know, I wasn’t the only voice in the mix; Bob Clark contributed growls and gurgles, plus on one occasion, an actress who was not credited, a stage actress whose name has I’ve forgotten, did some of the higher-pitched screams.
There are a number of sources which state that you appeared on camera as Billy.
No. Never. There is, however, one curious factotum. The producers couldn’t afford to bring Keir Dullea back to Canada to do a few lines of ADR [Additional Dialogue Recording], so during the climactic scenes when Keir goes into the basement to find Olivia, I did his voice.
It’s great that Bob Clark never felt the need to resurrect Billy, as so many of the American slasher films to follow did, and to keep the killer’s identity ambiguous.
It’s an original film on so many levels, but as you touched on earlier, the killer’s POV was already a staple of European thrillers like Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom from Britain – and, of course, everyone was in on it; the French, the Germans and especially the Italians.
Yes, Argento and Bava in particular.
For sure. The Italian influence on Black Christmas and horror films to follow was immense. Bob was a huge cinephile and Argento and all those other guys would have added to Bob’s bag of tricks.
Though it’s safe to say that Bob popularised and made the killer POV all his own in North American cinema.
I can’t take that away from him, but [with tongue in cheek] once again, the Italians are the instigating factor in higher culture.
[Laughing] Well, you’re certainly proof positive of that. In fact, speaking of Italians, your surname is identical to that of the legendary Frank Mancuso, CEO of Paramount and MGM, but weirdly I’ve seen you mixed up on less reliable online sources as Frank and vice-versa.
There’s lots of strange stuff like that, especially after I’d wrapped on the Stingray series, I was hired to star as Rudy Giuliani in a series focusing on his pre-Mayoral days as New York’s crime-busting D.A. and was paid a ridiculous amount of money for a show that eventually didn’t even go to pilot. While waiting for that to not happen, Mancuso F.B.I went into production with Robert Loggia as ‘Nick Mancuso’. I called Loggia up and he said in his trademark gravelly voice, ‘Yeah, hey kid, I know. I love the name and thought it might do you some good.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, right asshole!’ Then the producer of the series said he’d go through all the scripts and change the name from Nick to Nico. I said, ‘That is my name!’ [Nick’s full name is Nicodemo Antonio Massimo Mancuso – hence ‘Nico’, hence ‘Nick’.] The asshole then told me to get a good lawyer. Ah man, the weird things that happened because of my name. There was a spa in L.A. I occasionally went to and I was very good friends with Frank Mancuso who went there also, but years later, I got a call from the spa wanting to confirm my booking for thirty people! And not just a mere booking. They wanted to confirm that I’d paid for thirty people in full. Thirty people! It turned out to be from Frank’s son, Frank Mancuso Jr. This Mancuso link is so weird. There’s apparently a new show with a detective called Nick Mancuso. So let them, I say. And screw them!
Here you are though, an actor known primarily as the voice of a foul-mouthed serial killer, when you have indeed been in a whole whack of films, and some of them like Ticket to Heaven and Maria Chapdelaine are not just classics of Canadian cinema, but great pictures – period!
None of them made money! Black Christmas DID and DOES, to this day, make money. Of course, we get nothing in residuals for it. [Lynne Griffin and Doug McGrath chime in with full concurrence.] But you know, Black Christmas is one of those films that lives well beyond that sort of thing and is indeed a very special picture for all of us. Aside from Bob Clark’s masterful direction, a terrific cast, a well structured story and screenplay [written by Canadian A. Roy Moore], it’s a film that really deals with the deep unconscious, aloneness, sexual lust and isolation experienced by so many young people. To this day, it’s still that way. There’s also the clear linkage between sex and violence. [In stuffy Brit sotto voce] Not to get too philosophical about it, dear boy, but as Aristotle said, the function and purpose of drama is catharsis… [and back to normal Mancuso timbre] Purgation! And of what? Pity, or compassion and terror. Terror is the frozen fear that lives in the deep unconscious of the community and the young characters in Black Christmas get to purge it on the screen. Of course, as one gets older, the linkage between fear and sex, or rather the fear of sex is abated by the sure-fire cure of marriage.
[Huge laughs all round.]
Well you know, Doug, it’s very cool to speak with you about your participation in Black Christmas, which occurred several years after the first time – as a kid – that I encountered you on screen in Don Shebib’s Goin’ Down the Road. You know, when most Canadian movies actually played in real movie theatres.
Doug McGrath: At one time. A long time ago.
And you know, I pulled the movie pages from the newspaper archives from my hometown – Winnipeg! The ads were huge and the movie actually played for four weeks in one of the biggest movie theatres in my sleepy old prairie winter city. So here I am, ten or eleven-years-old, and I saw Shebib’s picture on the opening weekend. In fact, I didn’t even initially connect the dots that I was about to see a Canadian movie. I just went to see as many movies as I could. But as the picture unspooled, I became completely enraptured in the fact that something seemed so familiar in ways I’d never experienced at the movies before. It was Canadian and not only did I love the movie, but the feeling of experiencing something so Canadian. This was something I don’t think I’ll ever forget and it instilled in me, even back then, the importance of seeing movies that were Canadian. Of course, as a kid, I saw you in Wedding in White and The Hard Part Begins and a few years later, still a kid, I saw Black Christmas first-run. Of course, I noticed your name in the credits, along with a bunch of other Canadians and I was plenty excited. I loved movies, especially horror movies, and here I was about to see a Canadian horror movie. You, however, totally blew me away in that – at the time and even now – because amidst the carnage and chaos you’re standing there like some bizarre cross between Buster Keaton and Barney Fife from The Andy Griffith Show, and I pretty much peed myself laughing. I think what’s so great about your performance is your utterly straight face as this complete incompetent cop.
Yeah, I kind of fell into that performance because the writing is so strong.
How the hell did you keep a straight face when Margot Kidder gives you her telephone number with the new phone exchange ‘Fellatio’ and then having John Saxon and the other cop cracking up when they discover that you’ve been had?
[Chuckles] You know, that’s maybe a kind of good question. I was feeling a kind of frustration.
You? Or the cop’s frustration?
Well, both I think, and as I felt that double-edge frustration, I responded to the character as written and said to myself, ‘Okay, let’s go with this.’ And in a strange way, the character was sort of close to myself, so I also chose to play it like myself. It’s funny, I wasn’t prepared for it and yet, the writing is so good I realised, once on the set with Margot and John Saxon, that I needed to go with the frustration. Sergeant Nash really wants to be a good cop, but he keeps having stuff thrown at him that he’s not equipped to handle. And it’s so funny that [the arc of] the character builds to that point when he’s on the phone with John Saxon who tells him ‘not to fuck things up’ and maybe, for the first time, he realises he truly has. Yes, he is the comedy relief, but when I discovered that, I also knew that playing it straight was the right thing to do. It helped that Bob seldom said anything. He obviously was getting what he wanted and that’s a great feeling for an actor. And then there’s Margot Kidder, someone I had the deepest respect for. She’s spelling out the word ‘Fellatio’ and part of me is reacting to Margot doing that and another part of me is reacting to it like I would react and, of course, as the Sergeant – as written – would react.
Nick Mancuso: Bob was always such a generous director. He’d always give you the space you needed to nail it just perfectly.
Doug McGrath: He was so great. Keep in mind, I’d just come off doing one heavy realistic film after another like Goin’ Down the Road and The Hard Part Begins…
And lest we forget, the unrelentingly real and almost unbearably depressing Wedding in White where Carol Kane is forced into a shotgun marriage to an old man by her father Donald Pleasance after she’s been raped and impregnated by your character.
Oh gosh, yes. So here I am in ultra-realistic mode and I’m playing a role that’s supposed to be the comic relief in a scary horror film. I was so grateful to Bob that he let me find the realistic side to the bumbling desk sergeant. Actually, I worked with him soon after Black Christmas on Porky’s. That’s where Bob continued to use his faith in both, the shot and the actors within it, and also how he instinctively would just hold the shot. He’d hold and hold and never break up the natural rhythm of the scene.
[If you’ve seen Porky’s, you’ll know exactly the points in the film where McGrath has you rolling in the aisles – especially during some very long shots. If you haven’t seen it, just do so. McGrath delivers one of the great comedy performances from the latter chunk of the last century, as does his Canadian co-star Kim Cattrall.]
And in Black Christmas there’s the scene where you’re trying to explain the Fellatio telephone exchange to John Saxon, this incredibly stalwart figure who, as part of his character, is supposed to be holding back his laughter and trying to keep a straight face while a cop in the background is howling with laughter as the scene plays out. And witnessing your character’s utter straight-faced incredulity that there’s something wrong with a phone exchange called ‘Fellatio’, I can’t help thinking how hard it must have been for Saxon to stay in character and not cough up huge guffaws.
[With an ever-so slight touch of puckishness] Well, that may be so. Believe me, I kept my eyes on John for the whole scene.
* * *
Black Christmas is available in the all-new ‘Season’s Grievings’ Blu-ray/DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada Ltd. If you’re in the Dominion of Canada, it’s available everywhere. If you’re a foreigner, you’ll need to order it as an import from Amazon. It’s well worth it.
If you live in Toronto, you’re going to be blessed with a screening of an archival 35mm print at the TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) Bell Lightbox with a live appearance from Keir Dullea, and then again at The Royal Theatre in Toronto’s Little Italy featuring live appearances by Lynne Griffin and Nick Mancuso. At this latter screening, packaging artist Ghoulish Gary Pullin will be unleashing his ‘Season’s Grievings’ variant edition of the poster art. This gorgeous silk-screened poster, featuring metallic links, is limited to only 80 copies.
You can read Greg Klymkiw’s review of Black Christmas on his website The Film Corner.
Do what all stalwart Canucks in the colonies do – celebrate the birth of Baby Jesus with Black Christmas.
Cast: Udo Kier, Geraldine Chaplin, Matthieu Amalric, Charlotte Rampling, Maria de Medeiros, Louis Negin, Géraldine Chaplin
The co-writer-directors talk about the perks and pitfalls of collaborating, Udo Kier’s haircut and the best remedy against forgetting people’s birthdays.
No barrier could hold what is unashamedly unleashed in Guy Maddin’s The Forbidden Room, and equally there is no stopping the wonderfully twisted mind of the Canadian filmmaker as he consistently pushes further the various ideas he has developed in his previous films, from his hypnotic debut Tales from the Gimli Hospital (1988) right through to the magical and haunting Keyhole (2012). This time, Maddin has co-written and directed the film with his collaborator Evan Johnson (who has been working with Maddin since 2009). Together they have crafted a perfectly chaotic, yet fiercely formal, billet-doux to the lost, destroyed and forgotten films of previous decades by reimagining their very essence, sometimes based on little more than the original title of the films or the bare bones of their narrative. Immersing itself in a mad melange of wild plotlines, colour saturations, tints and overlays, the film initially evolved out of an even more ambitious project called Seances. Maddin and Johnson made lost films in public, filming at the Pompidou Centre in Paris and at the Phi Centre in Montreal, and these films will be made available next year on a website devised so that each user’s experience is unique and unreproducible. Part of this complex project, The Forbidden Room can and should be watched a number of times, not only to discover the cinematic treasures it hides but to appreciate the relentless effort and sheer love that went into its making.
Pamela Jahn sat down with Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson at this year’s Berlinale to talk about the perks and pitfalls of collaborating, using intertitles in talkies, Udo Kier’s haircut and the best remedy against forgetting people’s birthdays.
Pamela Jahn: You’ve been working together on other projects in the past, but this is the first time you are officially co-directing. How did that come about?
Guy Maddin: We all worked together on the companion piece to this project, the interactive website called Seances, ‘we’ meaning Evan and I, and also our third writer Robert Kotyk. We co-created it just through discussions in the screen editing room. But when it came to shooting, Evan and I were very close together, we’re inseparable. I consult with Evan for advice all the time. I tend to hold the camera more often…
Evan Johnson: I never hold it.
GM: But you have done on other films, on My Winnipeg and other short films, you’ve actually done the cinematography, so occasionally you do shoot. And it’s basically all just filmmaking. In the same way I long had a guilty conscience about my editor John Gurdebeke because, if an editor gets a bunch of found footage and makes a documentary out of it, he’s called the director, but if he’s just editing footage that we’ve shot, he’s called the editor. And I remember years ago, before I started working with Evan even, I asked John if he wanted to be called the co-director, but he said, no thanks, he’d rather be paid. So I kept him to that but I do try to give a shout out to him as a fellow filmmaker. And Evan is my co-director because he, too, is a filmmaker, even though our duties aren’t exactly the same. I couldn’t have made the film without him, or the editor, but John got paid eventually and Evan and I haven’t, so there’s that. Evan also does editing, or assistant editing for John, who gets things in a rough draft from us. And he does all the colour timing and effects along with his brother, the production designer Galen Johnson. I don’t do any of that, but I sit in a big comfy chair and write intertitles, the silent movie text.
What inspired you in the first instance to use both dialogue and intertitles in your films?
GM: I first became inspired to include intertitles with dialogue by the precedence set in Josef von Sternberg’s The Scarlet Empress. I like the way he uses intertitles with lots of dialogue and I thought, yeah, why would you abandon this wonderful vocabulary unit, just because you can have actors talk? Why not put these intertitles in which you can really establish a lot of flavour, in which a lot of expositional work can be done. And just like the way a child – if he or she learns a new word – doesn’t cough up the last word, so the vocabulary just keeps getting bigger and bigger. So, we kept the intertitles as an option here as well, even though our movies are essentially talkies.
The film is multi-layered with different storylines, genres and characters. How did you decide how to connect the various parts and, eventually, to frame everything with a prologue on how to take a bath which feels like another film within the film?
GM: When we were shooting some of the larger elements – there is a Filipino ‘Aswang’ vampire film and lumberjack-‘saplingjack’ film – we knew that those where going into the feature, and we knew ‘How to Take a Bath’ would be part of it. But then we had to start planning the links, and some of that was done after the shooting was done, which meant we had to go back and shoot some transitions. The narrator of ‘How to Take a Bath’, Louis Negin, and I ended up in Havana last year on a vacation together, and at one point I put him in a room – he didn’t really know what was happening – and I just pulled out my camera and there I had him. I mean, it’s clearly not shot the same year, the same country, the same camera, because I just opened up the laptop with his lines on it in really large font, and I just sort of scrolled down for him while holding the camera, so he could read the lines. But I love that because I’ve always loved the way my granddaughter could just gleefully slap together items and make a collage or a drawing, something with a noodle glued on, and I love the way Ed Wood or Oscar Micheaux did the same thing with film. And so I thought, well, I need some transitional exposition from Louis, and I’ll just take my camera and shoot this stuff before he goes to the beach.
Despite the dipping in and out of different storylines you end up with a surprisingly classic melodrama-like structure that carries the film.
EJ: We literally structured the whole thing like a classic Hollywood movie.
GM: Yeah, we bought Robert McKee’s book on how to write a screenplay, or a story, or whatever it is called – I never said I read it, but I bought it. But no, we worked way harder on this. I like working quickly on set, but I’ve always kicked myself for working too quickly at the screenwriting stage and never writing a second draft, and this time, we did second and third drafts of each different episode even. It took a long time, but I really enjoyed collaborating with Evan. I have always feared confrontation, and whenever I drew up designs for sets, half the time, the production designer would say, ‘No, you can’t have stairs’. I think I made eight movies before I finally got three steps in a movie! So in a way, collaborating was actually just compromising heartbreak and me hating myself for not sticking up for myself. But in the writing room we’d all collaborate and we argued things through and whenever it got personal – we can argue quite vehemently – there was no hurt feelings, and I think I learned that from Evan and it feels really good. And since his brother is the production manager there is none of that other stuff either. I got stairs, I got other things… I understand that things needed to be cheap but I was never just told, ‘no, you can’t have this or that’. And because they are brothers, they almost always worked things out between them and I never had to deal much with that. Before, my editor was my collaborator, and the most important collaborator was the happy accident, but now I have many collaborators and I really love collaborating.
You mentioned the Seances project earlier. Can you tell me a bit more about it?
GM: We shot a bunch of our own adaptations of long-lost films at the same time in Paris and in Montreal, in some cases with the same cast even, like improvised live ‘happenings’. That’s going to be an internet interactive, where anyone visiting the website can call their own a seance of lost cinema: little fragments of films will come up and interrupt and combine and collide to form new narratives. The programme will generate a title for that film, you’ll watch it and then it’ll be lost again. The programme creates and loses unique films and the title will be entered in an obituary list. Hopefully the two companion pieces will help each other, that’s the master plan.
Are you using some of the footage from The Forbidden Room when creating those seances?
GM: There is a little bit. Some the stuff from the film will be used as raw material in Seances, but it will be much altered in many cases, because they are alternate plots that you can change to incredible degrees by just re-wording the intertitles. That part gets hard because you have to come up with a completely different story that somehow fits the same edit – that’s the part that has racked my brain the most. But it’s really fun, it’s really satisfying when you come up with a plot that somehow fits. I guess it’s somewhat akin to Woody Allen’s What’s Up, Tiger Lily? where he took the whole movie and changed its plot, but I’ve never seen the film, I’ve only read about it. And with Seances, there are literally 500 billion different permutations that are possible and I still don’t have a concept of that number, so every now and then I go, ‘Are we really losing and destroying those movies afterwards?’ But yes, we are!
You’ve also made an incredible effort reworking all the palettes and colour-timing the raw material, as if to give it a new life of its own.
GM: At one point we discovered that movies weren’t just being lost in the 20s and 30s but that the Khmer Rouge destroyed many films in the 70s and sometimes they even murdered the directors. And there were low-budget exploitation films that were getting lost just because there was only one print and the director lost track of it, or he died and his widow didn’t care, something like that. There were lost films from all over and, for example, when Evan was colour-timing that little musical number with the obsessive man he decided to give that a lurid 70s palette. Whether or not it reads as that is beside the point, but it just felt ‘nower’, not just imitating the very limited two-strip Technicolour palettes of real film history – basically a blueish green and a pinkish apricot – but creating other palettes as if from a parallel universe of something.
EJ: I think in that case it was more Udo Kier’s haircut.
GM: Yes, Udo had a blonde Moe Howard thing going that determined the palette. It was really despairing while shooting because it was my first experience shooting in raw colour HD video and I just didn’t have the right attitude, I wasn’t seeing things that were really beautiful. But I have a lot more courage now, knowing how much the footage can be fixed. I actually made a colour movie way back in 1992 (Careful) where I controlled the palette literally by painting everything. I would paint people’s faces, their clothing, the walls… I even painted the plants, literally. But because we were so poor on this film, we had to take our props from anywhere and there was just no palette to the naked eye, no order, no control, no art, no thought put into the colour. I just couldn’t afford to think about it, so it had to be added later.
Given the low budget, you worked with an incredible cast. How did you convince them to take part in the project?
GM: They just seemed to be up for an adventure, because there is no way they could have known what exactly they were doing. I just told them they’d be acting in public. They saw the scripts eventually because they had to memorise some lines in some cases, but I think they were just up for finding out. We didn’t waste time asking people who would just say no. It was just a matter of meeting everyone for a coffee or lunch, one on one, talking to them for a little while and, every time, they agreed to show up. I couldn’t believe it. I was just waiting for them to just storm out of the set, but they never did.
As always in your work, there is a great sense of humour in the film.
GM: I’m a laughter slut, ho ho. I always take a laugh. I know people earlier in my career didn’t know whether the laughs were intended or not, so it made people very uncomfortable or embarrassed for me to the point where they had to go home early. But then, because I never quite had the nerve to make a joke, if it got laughed at, fine, but if not then I could save my dignity and the joke hadn’t failed. This time though, I started to make some changes and I made some conspicuous gags – although they are not that conspicuous, there are still probably not more than two people laughing at once.
You talked about your obsession with dreams before and there are some Freudian references worked into the film. Are you a fan of his work?
GM: I am a fan in theory, but I think my publicist at the Sundance film festival described me as a six-year-old pervert…
EJ: a cross between Eisenstein, Italo Calvino and a six-year-old pervert.
GM: Exactly right. I’ve only read a little bit of Freud, on the interpretation of dreams, standing up in a book store and it just ruined dreaming for me for the next couple of months because I was interpreting them while having them. And I like having dreams, they just come out of me and mystify me, and I start figuring them out later, but I don’t need Freud’s voice nattering in my ear all the time telling me what to think. So I just have a basic cartoon understanding of what’s going on, just like a lot of people probably did before he existed anyway.
How much of this film derived from your dreams?
GM: A few episodes came straight from dreams – that I am willing to admit. I don’t know about Boba and Evan. But there are a few guilt dreams and empowered-ness dreams… The dead father one is a recurring dream I’ve had since my father died in 1977. But there are other things like forgetting wives’ birthdays… there are not just dreams, they happened in real life too, and then they revisited me as nightmares over and over again. It’s about time to get over that. And what I’ve learned is that by making movies about things that really matter to me, things that I have experienced, I sort of cure myself of them. It’s a form of therapy. I don’t know what kind of therapy that is, aversion therapy maybe, where you just make yourself sick of something, because in the act of making something that matters to you into a movie, you have to turn it into work units, you have to cast the thing, you have to design a set, you have to shoot it, edit it, sound design it, then you have to talk about it with people and by the time it’s finally over, you’re cured. I’m cured of My Winnipeg, I’m cured of my childhood, so now I am finally cured of forgetting peoples’ birthdays – I am going to keep forgetting them, but I don’t care anymore.
There are good reasons why Britain is the home of the wolf.
In 1281 King Edward ordered the extermination of all wolves from his kingdom. Organised hunts had been going on for years and bounties had been offered by monarchs in the past for wolf pelts, but this was a full on attempt to wipe the creatures out. From this point on, any reference to wolves are vanishingly rare in the British Isles and any attempt to spot the last wolf or pinpoint the date is silly. A throat was cut, an animal trapped, or a lonely sick old thing died in the depths of the forest and they were gone. But things that we destroy entirely have a tendency to haunt us in our imaginations. Hollywood shoots its Indians throughout the early days of cinema and right into the 70s as a tacit admission of the genocide. They have to be the threat. They have to be an existential threat. After all, there’s no point killing a whole population so entirely if you’re not going to do them the honour of dancing on their graves and pretending they constituted some kind of threat. Like muscle memory we are forced to kill what we have already killed over and over again.
And so the howling of wolves has a peculiar place in the British imagination, wrapped up with guilt and the prevailing westerly wind blowing through the ghosts of forests long since chopped and burnt. It is an atavistic fear, for once upon a time we were torn apart by those teeth, felt those eyes watching us from the dark, detected the movement of the pack out there where the flickering light from the camp fire wouldn’t reach.
The two earliest Universal adaptations of the ‘wolf man’ are both set in the British Isles. Interestingly the first less successful version, Werewolf of London (1935), has the threat come from foreign parts as a kind of revenge of Empire narrative. Wilfred Glendon (Henry Hull) is a botanist hunting an exotic plant in far-flung Tibet when he is bitten by a creature. On returning to England, he is warned by a mysterious stranger that he has been bitten by a werewolf and will ‘attack the thing he loves most’, clumsily tying lycanthropy up as the animal lust that stands in opposition to romantic love. Although the first werewolf in the cinema feels very much like a vampire/Jekyll and Hyde mash-up and was probably influenced by Guy Endore’s novel The Werewolf of Paris, it firmly establishes the werewolf on British soil and will leave a clawed paw print on Warren Zevon’s hit song ‘Werewolves of London’ and John Landis’s 1981 comedy horror An American Werewolf in London.
Watch the trailer to The Wolf Man (1941):
The breakthrough came with Lon Chaney Jr.’s more famous follow-up The Wolf Man (1941). Set this time in Wales, the film sees a distinctly burly Larry Talbot (Chaney Jr.) return to his ancestral home to reconcile with his father, Sir John Talbot (Claude Rains). Larry becomes romantically interested in a local girl named Gwen Conliffe (Evelyn Ankers), but following a wolf attack Larry begins to change. The change itself became a moment of cinematic magic as the man transformed before our very eyes and a highpoint in all the subsequent sequels and spin-offs. Unlike Dracula and Frankenstein, the Universal wolf man had no literary precedent – if not the animalistic Mr Hyde or perhaps a hint of the demon dog from The Hound of the Baskervilles. This meant that screenwriters such as Curt Siodmak were free to invent and manipulate the lore as they wished. A popular character, the wolf man would reappear in early mash-ups like Frankenstein Vs The Wolfman, and with She-Wolf of London even get a female make-over in 1946, re-establishing the English location.
Unfortunately, the quintessentially English Hammer production The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), introducing Oliver Reed to cinema audiences for the first time, was set in Spain, somewhat oddly as it was based on Endore’s The Werewolf of Paris mentioned earlier. But An American Werewolf in London (1981) quickly recognised the home of the wolf. Sure, there was The Howling and Albert Finney in Wolfen, all released that same year, but wolfs in the backwoods of California or prowling New York City seem silly and will always seem silly compared to a foggy night on the Yorkshire moors, interrupted only by a brief respite in The Slaughtered Lamb. The Americans are natural innocents abroad, similar to Henry James’s heroines. And it isn’t only in the damp of the English evening that they find the horror, but also in the grimier reaches of Soho.
Watch the trailer to She-Wolf of London:
Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber (1983) took on the grisly adult themes of fairy tales, bringing the sexual, erotic and violent subtexts to the surface. Unfortunately, this idea has curdled into a lumpy mess of origin stories such as Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) and Maleficent (2014), but Neil Jordan’s adaptation of Carter’s story The Company of Wolves (1984) is an imaginative and at times genuinely disturbing take on the wolves that plague the English mind. Beginning in present day, the film frames everything as the nightmare of a pubescent girl, Rosaleen (Sarah Patterson). Her dream begins with the ‘nightmare’ of her sister being hunted and devoured by a pack of wolves, signalling immediately that nightmares – as Freud taught – are nothing more than fantasies we don’t want to admit to ourselves. A series of tales told by her Grandmother (Angela Lansbury) all warn of the wolf as a male threat to a young girl, a husband who might respond to a call of nature at night and come back changed, a travelling man whose eyebrows meet in the middle, an aristocrat with frivolous interest in destroying a girl. Set in the woods of Shepperton Studio, Jordan complained about having to film the same 12 trees on an obvious sound stage, but the sunless dreariness of the woods, the claustrophobia – we are after all in a young girl’s head – all lend themselves to a growing sense of entrapment. In fact, there are animals throughout the film waiting to burst out, under the skin, in dinner parties, eyes shining in the night. And so it is with a dreadful inevitability that, as the film draws to a close, the line between waking and sleeping is also breached and the wolves crash through the windows of our cottages hungry for their ultimate revenge.
A new special edition release, includes the director’s short films and music videos, and a director approved High Definition transfer
Distributor: Arrow Video
Director: Jörg Buttgereit
Writers: Jörg Buttgereit, Franz Rodenkirchen
Cast: Monika M., Mark Reeder, Lena Braun
The German filmmaker talks about women aggressor characters, the banning of his film in Germany, realism and truth.
After last year’s groundbreaking DVD release of Jörg Buttgereit’s punk-art bombshell Nekromantik, Arrow Video is making its 1991 sequel, Nekromantik 2, available on home video for the first time in the UK. Banned in Germany at the time, Nekromantik 2 is the female pendant to the original film, starring the disarmingly sweet Monika M. as a necrophile torn between a dead and a living lover. Slicker and more melancholy, although still punctuated by moments of hilariously incongruous humour, the second instalment of corpse love mixes pop art and gore to probe the limits of the normal and the abnormal.
Virginie Sélavy talks to Jörg Buttgereit about women aggressor characters, the banning of the film in Germany, realism and truth.
Virginie Sélavy: After Nekromantik, you initially refused to make the sequel people were demanding. What prompted you to make a Nekromantik sequel after making Der Todesking in 1990?
Jörg Buttgereit: I was always playing with the expectations of the audience, so when I made Der Todesking after Nekromantik people were surprised. I was trying to get more freedom to do what I wanted to do. After I had that freedom with Der Todesking I wasn’t afraid to do a sequel anymore because I knew I could do something different, I didn’t have to do the same thing all over again. The fact that the Wall came down in between the first and the second Nekromantik was a good way of having a different point of view on the topic. And of course this time the film was made from a woman’s point of view, which is something I felt was necessary, because all the movies I made before had a male audience.
Did you always want to make the film from a female perspective?
Yes, I think so. The idea might have come to our minds when we did one of the episodes for Der Todesking, the ‘ego-shooter’ woman. That was also a female take on the male character from Taxi Driver. That was something we explored more accurately in Nekromantik 2. And in the first Nekromantik we had Beatriz, who was also a very strong woman, so it was just taking it a step further.
So you were interested in depicting a woman aggressor rather than a woman victim.
Yeah, which is something that from today’s point of view may not look too exciting, but 25 years ago it was still necessary. And it worked out in a way, because one of the first festivals the film was invited to was a feminist film festival in Vienna. It was a film festival that only showed films with women aggressors. But I wasn’t allowed to go because I was a man. That was a little depressing! They screened films like Empire of the Senses and Ms 45. They made a hardcover catalogue for the festival. I think it was the first film book that Nekromantik 2 was in. They told me that afterwards they had a shooting lesson for women. The festival was called Mörderinnen.
You have said that the film was liked more by women than by men. Do you think that’s still the case?
Maybe that was the case when the film came out. But the fact that the film got banned in Germany made it very attractive to people who didn’t like it in the first place, which didn’t do any good for me because I wasn’t allowed to distribute the film for two years. But for me it was very satisfying that there was a female audience at all for a horror film. That wasn’t very normal in those days. We’ve just been to some festivals with German Angst in Austria and with Nekromantik 2 in Finland, and I was surprised to see how many female audience members we had – really young female audience members. After a screening of German Angst I was so curious that I approached the young girls and asked why they watched a film like that. My episode [in the three-part anthology] is very close to Nekromantik 2 I think. To them it felt very normal to watch these films, they couldn’t really explain. So it was a very satisfying experience to see so many young women attending screenings of horror films.
Do you think that the fact that the film is about a woman also played a part in the reaction of the authorities in banning it?
That’s very hard to say. If I think about it today, maybe. But the Werkstattkino cinema in Munich, where the raid happened in 1992, was raided on a regular basis. The same thing happened for Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. So I think that for the authorities it was just another one of those films, and they didn’t even know it was a German film. When they banned a movie like Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 or an American horror movie nobody complained because in the case of TCM 2 there wasn’t even a German distributor, so it was very easy to get rid of those films. But when they took my film I had to fight back because they were trying to destroy the negative, something that was really frightening, and that resulted in raids on our homes as well. So what they did was more like a political attack. And maybe it was also due to the fact that it was my third movie. When I made Nekromantik it played in exactly the same cinema in Munich but nothing happened because the authorities didn’t know me. After the third movie it was ‘OK, this guy is not going to stop if we don’t do something’.
It’s interesting that you made the first Nekromantik as a reaction to German censorship but nothing happened and it was only with the sequel…
Because Nekromantik was so small. It was me driving around with the film prints to all the different cities. Nobody had seen the film. If you wanted to see it you had to go to a midnight screening and district attorneys don’t go to midnight screenings. Sometimes it’s easy to get away from censorship by just making it exclusive. We hadn’t put it out on VHS, that came a year later, so it was a really underground independent film. Everybody heard about the movie. I think the first screening in Berlin of Nekromantik was in a three-seat cinema and 500 people came. After that screening it was just word of mouth. But with Nekromantik 2 it was different, it was reviewed like a normal movie.
Did you still feel you were making a film in reaction to German censorship when you made Nekromantik 2?
I was feeling quite secure, quite free to do what I wanted. So when I heard that the movie was confiscated in Munich, I wasn’t there, I was in Paris, promoting the release of Der Todesking I think, and Nekromantik on VHS. Someone phoned me in Paris and told me the cinema had been raided and I would be charged with ‘glorifying violence’. I didn’t take it very seriously in the first place, but when I got back home and they had raided the place of the producer it got quite serious.
What do you think of that accusation of ‘glorifying violence’?
That was the usual way of getting rid of movies like this, it’s a paragraph of the law where you can skip artistic freedom. It’s aimed at Nazi propaganda. If you glorify violence against foreigners you’re doing something against the law and you should be treated like a criminal and not like an artist. That’s the concept behind it. So I didn’t take that accusation very seriously because I knew that it was not true. That’s why the film was unharmed in the end, because it was not true. The judge watched the movie and an art historian came up with a thesis about it being a metaphor for East Germany and then the film was cleared. If you watch it it’s very obvious that it doesn’t promote violence against other people. It was stupid to take this kind of bullet-proof paragraph of the law to get rid of it, they were just too lazy to think about it.
There is a direct reference to real-life necrophile Karen Greenlee in Nekromantik 2 through one of her drawings, which appears on Monika’s wall. This grounding in reality always seems essential to you.
Yes, of course, because that’s something normal horror movies do as well – ‘what you’re about to see is based on actual fact’ – all this stuff gives films a more realistic and threatening kick. But my films are about real horror, not about walking dead and ghosts from another world. I wouldn’t dare to touch stuff Hollywood could do better. If you work with friends, there’s no money, it’d be ridiculous to do something like Lifeforce [laughs]. You have to stick to your abilities, throw everything away that could be ridiculous if you tried it. I think that’s why so many independent or low-budget horror movies suck, because they want to do the same things as Hollywood, which is pointless in the first place because those movies already exist, so why bother doing it again?
The film pragmatically looks at the reality of being a necrophile, for instance in the first scene, when Monika can’t have sex with Rob’s corpse because it makes her physically sick.
That’s something Dennis Nilsen describes in his book, Killing for Company, which I’d read before doing Nekromantik. There are pictures in Killing for Company where he drew how he put the corpses and the heads in plastic bags, and where he put air freshener in, which I was trying to copy exactly. If they could choose I think they would prefer a living person, but that’s so complicated sometimes [laughs]. Dennis Nilsen had living people in his flat but he was afraid that they would go away, and so he got them drunk to make sure that they would stay. It’s a very innocent and childish concept but he, and Monika too, would have preferred to have a living partner, and that’s what the movie is about. That’s why she’s trying to make the straight relationship work with Mark Reeder.
There’s something funny, but also quite poignant, about the scene when Monika is taking pictures with Rob’s corpse on the sofa.
Again it was a way of trying to picture what I read in books like Killing for Company, having a relationship with this person that you killed last night [laughs]. That was something that fascinated me. When Dennis Nilsen killed someone, he took a necktie from them and went to work the next day with these clothes. He was pretending that this was normal, and for him it was normal. I’m trying to show something normal, which is of course funny and creepy.
The idea of what is normal and what is not normal runs through the film. There’s a really interesting contrast in the film between Monika and her very unconventional desires, and Mark, who works in porn, but is very conventional in terms of his romantic relationships.
That was something I had in mind all the time. It’s still true because if I tell people today that I’ve just done a horror movie called German Angst, they don’t say, ‘That’s great, tell me more about it’, they say, ‘Why? Why do you do this? What’s wrong with you?’ In Germany you have to justify what you do, and people treat you like you’re not normal, but I always felt normal, and I felt more honest in doing these kinds of movies. So that’s maybe the main theme behind it, the need for all German horror film fans and horror filmmakers to justify themselves all the time.
Why did you decide to repeat the climax of the first film in the credits of the sequel?
I think it was mainly because of the fact that Nekromantik 2 starts very slowly and I wanted to have something at the beginning that makes you aware of the fact that there will be something terrible happening after a long wait. Many horror fans were waiting for a film like Nekromantik 2 and I was not giving them what they wanted, I was playing with expectations again. So with the credit scene at the beginning I was making them feel safe so they wouldn’t walk out after five minutes [laughs].
You also include a parody of Louis Malle’s My Dinner with André. Why that particular film?
At the time the film was made I had a subscription to Fangoria and I learned English from reading all the letters in that section of the magazine. There was often hate mail that would say, ‘If you don’t like this horror movie, then go and watch My Dinner with André, so My Dinner with André was like the antithesis of a horror movie. When I thought of the concept for a film-in-a-film, I hadn’t even seen My Dinner with André [laughs]! So it’s mainly a spoof on this very dumb approach horror fans have to art movies, where they just won’t watch them, and that was me playing with the expectations of the audience, giving them an art movie. That’s why the characters in that film-in-the-film are played by famous underground artists Wolfgang Müller and Käthe Kruse from the group Die Tödliche Doris. I said they should be naked and I asked them to find out what they could talk about, and so this is like a spoof on the narrow-minded horror fans [laughs], and I’m having a laugh in the back of the cinema about the horror fans who have to sit through this art stuff.
How important was it that you found Monika at a screening of Lucio Fulci’s House by the Cemetery?
The fact that she was there on her own was something that was not ‘normal’ at the time, and it meant that you could at least hope that she would be open-minded to be in an art movie about necrophilia. I don’t know how aware she was of what she was doing. She was very flattered that everybody was giving her so much attention and that we liked every move she made in front of the camera. We never talked much about it. I can’t really remember directing her like, ‘This is your motive’, and stuff like that. It was more like, ‘OK, the camera is here, you walk from here to there to put this on that’. It was a very pragmatic way of directing. That’s always the way it is with me. She had seen Der Todesking and she watched Nekromantik, and that was more than I could have explained.
Did she have a problem with any of the things that she had to do?
No. That was something I was very curious about too. That was maybe one of the main concerns. I told her what we were showing on screen to make sure that we didn’t exploit her. That was something we talked about a lot and I gave her the chance to be in the editing room in case something wasn’t kosher with her.
What do you think she brought to the character?
The most important thing, innocence. Because she didn’t know anything about acting, or about necrophilia [laughs]. And beauty, of course. The perfect contrast to the idea of necrophilia. When we were doing these films we didn’t know what we were doing. But that’s still the idea now. When I work for the stage I make sure I don’t know exactly what I’m doing. For German Angst it was necessary for me to put something dangerous in the movie. So I took this young girl who was not experienced in acting, and that was my dangerous item for the film. That’s what I look for. I’m not trying to make normal pictures like Hollywood, I look for some kind of truth or authenticity.
Interview by Virginie Sélavy
The interview was first published in December 2015 for the release of Arrow Video’s limited 3-disc digipak (Blu-ray, DVD and CD soundtrack).
A Deviant View of Cinema – Features, Essays & Interviews