Exclusive Interview: Chris Alexander Talks 'Blood for Irina'



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Just about every horror fan knows about Chris Alexander – writer, musician, journalist, and most famously Editor-in-Chief of Fangoria magazine. Now you can add film directing, cinematography and editing to that resume, as Chris has recently completed his first feature Blood for Irina – a surreal, dreamlike and provocative experiment inspired in part by some of international cinema's most beloved auteurs. I had a very cool Q&A with Chris about the film, his creative process, and the musical score, which he composed and performed himself.

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FEARnet: I'm excited that Blood for Irina is making the rounds now. How does it feel seeing it on the big screen?
CHRIS: It is exciting, and extra special for me, considering it was made for nothing and was my “hobby” movie. A few people actually like it and some even think it's destined for cult status. Who knows? But I'm enjoying the ride. 
How many screenings have you held so far?
I think this week makes the sixth public screening. We've played Bruges, Mexico, Brooklyn, Toronto... and we played for one night (January 29th) at the coolest venue ever: Times Scare, the year-round haunted house & bar in Manhattan. That's my final destination.
I read that Harry Kumel praised the film... that must have been an awesome feeling, since I'm sure his Daughters of Darkness was one of your inspirations. 
Daughters and Werner Herzog's version of Nosferatu are without a doubt my favorite vampire films. Kumel has that gauzy, dreamy sensuality and Herzog brings a studied, still, organic aesthetic.
I'm so in love with Herzog's film. It's a personal favorite of mine.
Both of those pictures exemplify the single most important emotional component of the vampire motif, and that's loneliness. There is a romantic ache to those pictures that I tried to capture and it's probably the strongest component of my little film. Irina is about people – living, dead, in limbo, whatever – that cannot connect with themselves, each other or the world, though they desperately want to. 
Did you screen the film for Kumel specifically?
Yes, in fact Harry was the first person I screened the film for, and I was honored that he responded to it. He didn't care for all the blood, however, which is odd considering that I think Irina is relatively tame. I also screened it for Jenny Wright of Near Dark fame, and Jenny is such a poet. She responded very enthusiastically to my deliberate approach – which, let's face it, is not for everyone.
In your imagery, I also see some of Jean Rollin's earthy gothic tones, but with lots of red filters, like a classic giallo.
That use of the color red is in keeping with that Italian and European designer horror flavor.
Were you also inspired by films and directors outside the horror genre?
Yes, I've always loved the meandering, often frustrating approach of masterworks like [Luchino Visconti's] Death in Venice and more recently, Terrence Malick's Tree Of Life. Not that I'm in any way shape or form putting Blood for Irina in the vicinity of Tree, but there is way that film creates an impressionist environment that you kind of get lost in, your mind wanders around in it, it's a fully contained atmosphere where the narrative becomes an almost subjective experience. That was indeed my approach with this film. Many of the sparse night walking scenes were in debt to the "fake New York City" sets of Eyes Wide Shut too.
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I picked up a little taste of Carnival of Souls, especially given the seaside location.
You're bang on, there is some Carnival in there; also a dose of Curtis Harrington's dreamy Night Tide. Of course, there's also a dash of early Cronenberg, David Lynch and that sensual slow movement of the vampires in Paul Naschy films like Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman and Count Dracula's Great Love. As I was finishing cutting the picture in the summer of 2012, I managed to catch Peter Strickland's new picture Berberian Sound Studio, and was excited that the uses of repetitive, obsessive images is in line with my own work. And like Berberian, you either appreciate that and let it work for you, or you reject it. We've won some awards and accolades with Irina, but make no mistake; it's a divisive picture and we've had many walk-outs.
Did you know ahead of time you'd would be filming at that old seaside motel? 
Yes, the film was rushed into production so I could film at the motel before it was demolished. It was the Riviera Motel in Burlington, just outside of Toronto. It was built in the 1930s and was essentially a rooming house in recent years – completely run down, home to real (as opposed to reel) fringe people, and the lonely. It looks like a contemporary Gothic ruin, like Dracula's castle in Nosferatu. This is kind of an art-house Canadian Gothic, after all... or as Geoff Pevere from the Globe and Mail called it, "A DIY Nosferatu for the digital age."
That puts you in good company then. So did the location influence the way the story played out?
I actually penned the film around the location, the way I felt about the location, the way it made me feel. In many ways, the film is about four characters, with the Riviera being one of them. 
It's cool that you were able to immortalize it on film before it disappeared forever.
Yes, it's now a hole, where a condo will soon stand. That's funny, because in many ways Irina is about destroying the old to make way for the new.
Music for Murder
The first time we featured your work on FEARnet, you'd just released Music for Parasites, which included some score cues you wrote for other films. When you were working on that album, were you already forming plans for a feature film of your own?
Blood for Irina grew out of music – some of my old cues, some new ones. The movie is wall-to-wall sound and music; there is no dialogue, and it's just a visual extension of the atmospheric music I like to create. I've always wanted to do something like this, but the chance to actually do it only became real last year.
Some of the Parasites titles returned on your later CD Music for Murder... are they newly recorded or remastered versions?
Longer versions, alternate takes. Some are duplicates. That's the beauty of doing small, limited releases like Parasites: you can resurrect select works that you really like, and chances are they'll be new to other people.
I love the way you use effects to sculpt guitars and vocals into these surreal, pulsing patterns. I imagine that would fit this dreamlike style of filming very well. What kind of music did you settle on for the Irina score?
Exactly that: deep drones, analog synth washes, sparse guitar treatments, female voice, repeating loops... and the images mimic those sounds, I think, fairly effectively.
There's a chaotic, kind of fractal feeling to your tracks, which got me to thinking: did you go into the scoring sessions with certain musical ideas in mind, or did you experiment more freely in the studio without always knowing the outcome?
I made many of the tracks first before I shot anything. In fact, I built much of the film around my music. Then when I got the footage back, I blended new stings, sound effects and vocal experiments to draw out a more visceral and emotional  impact. It was cut in segments, to give visual to the sound. 
It sounds like the whole post-production creative process was very spontaneous.
Well, I call this film an experimental picture for many reasons, though my actor and co-producer David Goodfellow thinks otherwise, as the film we made was designed intentionally to be as it was. But it was still an experiment – from the music on down, it was an attempt to test the audience's patience and create a flowing, organic work of art.
Will you be releasing a soundtrack album?
The plan is, when Autonomy [Pictures] releases the picture in May, to include either an isolated score track, or a separate disc with the music.
I'd love to hear that. The folks at Autonomy seem to be in tune with experimental and extreme cinema, like The Bunny Game. 
Bunny Game was actually a pick-up picture. Mine is their first in-house production.
That's awesome. Did they live up to their name and leave you alone to pursue your vision
I'm happy to say they asked not for one change from me. They let me do it all alone. 
Very cool!
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The budget was beyond minimal, so their investment was an incredibly low risk. In fact, I asked for half the budget they offered; I didn't want to waste a dime on superfluous expense and didn't want any expectations.
Will the film be distributed by Autonomy as well?
Yes, they'll release the picture on Blu-ray and DVD this May.
Do you have any other features in the works?
My next film is ready to go. It's tentatively called Chris Alexander's Queen of Blood,  not to be confused with Curtis Harrington's classic, but in some ways honoring elements of that film. It's a bizarro world vision of Irina, amped up with a bit of Lifeforce by way of McCabe and Mrs. Miller.
That's a very cool concept.
It will be another low budget, arty affair... it'll have much more evolved effects and sets, though still very organic. We only used natural locations for Blood for Irina, and I plan the same for this, save for an operatic sequence that shows the genesis and birth of a female vampire. It's still up in the air as to who will finance... perhaps Autonomy, perhaps not. But this time next year, no matter what, Queen will be ready to be seen. 
That's an amazing turnaround.
I work fast, impulsively. That's my comfort zone, and I think in that zone I create the most interesting work.