Over the opening weekend of Austin, TX’s storied South by Southwest Film Festival, a diverse group of horror directors including Ti West, Matt Reeves and Neil Marshall converged on the Austin Convention Center to participate in a panel entitled "Directing the Dead” which was moderated by FEARnet film critic Scott Weinberg. Following the panel, FEARnet was lucky enough to catch up with some of the filmmakers, including Mr. Marshall, for some one-on-one time to talk about their current and upcoming projects.
Marshall also attended the festival to offer the first-ever public screening of Centurion, a period epic in the vein of Gladiator starring Inglourious Basterds co-star Michael Fassbender. The filmmaker sat down with one of his stars (who is also his wife), Axelle Carolyn, earlier in the week to discuss his affection for genre properties, which culminates in Centurion. Meanwhile, the duo also offered their thoughts about The Descent: Part 2, which is scheduled for release on DVD in April but made without their participation.
FEARnet: You clearly have an affinity and an affection for genre material. With each different genre you conquer, Do you have an impulse to operate at a certain scale
Neil Marshall: I think I inherently bring something to it which subverts the genre, whether it’s the language or the characters or the way it’s shot, or trying to do something with a cold and bleak feel to it as opposed to a hot and sweaty feel to it [like in Centurion]. I guess I inherently kind of bring my own British sensibility to it or sense of humor to it – that’s common throughout the films – but for me, I want to make something that’s cinematic. I want to push what we can do with the money that we have and put everything on screen; I don’t want to waste money on anything that’s not going to be seen, so with the help of my crew and my cast, we make the biggest movie we can possibly make, but not lose sight of the characters and the story. I guess Lawrence of Arabia is the perfect example for me – it’s the biggest epic thing that you could ever imagine, but still it’s an incredibly personal story. That’s what we try not to lose sight of; everything else is backdrop, it’s gravy, but let’s get it out there and spend the money wisely.
FEARnet: What’s next for you guys?
Marshall: I’m currently executive producing a film that Axelle has written, The Ghost of Slaughterford, which we’re going to shoot in the UK in June. That’s really kind of an exciting prospect, producing for the first time – which is a whole new world of stress and trauma. I’m attached to direct next a project called Burst, which Sam Raimi’s producing with Lionsgate and Ghost House, which is this 3-D horror movie about people exploding, amongst other things.
FEARnet: Is there a director lined up for Slaughterford?
Marshall: We’re currently in negotiations and discussions with a couple of directors at the moment, but he don’t have it fully settled yet.
FEARnet: Axelle, can you talk about the tone of the film, or your approach to the story?
Carolyn: Sure. It’s kind of a throwback to old British films, a kind of cinema that Britain hasn’t done in a very long time that has influenced all of those British filmmakers but no one is really doing any more. There’s been so many movies like The Others or The Devil’s Backbone or The Orphanage, but they all come from Spain, strangely enough, and they’re all kind of influenced by those old ghost stories that were written and shot in Britain, and we kind of thought let’s bring that back to the UK and make something that’s very old-fashioned and traditional, but at the same time uses the techniques which we have to scare people and just make it really atmospheric. It’s kind of a mix between those films and The Wicker Man and Hammer films, and it’s got that kind of flavor as well.
Marshall: Very much like Dennis Wheatley novels – the stuff that goes on in the dark recesses of the English countryside in small villages. It’s called The Ghost of Slaughterford because we stumbled upon this real village called Slaughterford and it’s just this astonishingly atmospheric, creepy little place, and it lives up to its name, totally.
FEARnet: Are mainstream audiences still susceptible to that kind of atmospheric horror? It seems like those sort of films appeal to a more limited niche of viewers.
Carolyn: I certainly hope so. All we can do it try, but the problem is that to a degree, because those films were made in Spanish, we don’t know if they would have reached the audience if they had been made in English.
Marshall: The Others is probably a good example. But being scared, and certainly being scared by ghosts, is kind of universal and timeless, and I don’t think there’s any problem in terms of reaching an audience. Everybody’s going to identify with that.
Carolyn: It’s different, obviously, but Paranomal Activity was not exactly fast-paced either. It was also a slow burn and creeping tension and it worked.
Marshall: And no gore. It was like after the wave of torture porn, to see a film that was just genuinely atmospheric and scary, it got everybody.
FEARnet: Are you guys diehard horror fans, or do you find that you’re more discriminating and like fewer of them as you see more?
Marshall: [Axelle] has watched a hell of a lot more of them than me, but I don’t know. We’re slightly discerning but we do go to a lot of the horror festivals and try and keep up on what’s new.
FEARnet: You didn’t participate in The Descent: Part 2. Was that an easy property to relinquish control of?
Marshall: So much to it was out of my hands that there was little I could do to steer it any way, so it was difficult to let go – I mean, there’s just no getting around it. I mean, if it had been up to me, there wouldn’t have been a sequel anyway. It didn’t need a sequel, but they chose to make one, and so I kind of didn’t even really supervise from a distance. I haven’t even seen the finished film. So yeah, it’s pretty tricky to watch something you created taken off in a different direction than you would have liked, but it was unavoidable.
FEARnet: But is there a legitimacy to what Matt Reeves has said about his Let the Right One In remake – that the original still exists, so it doesn’t matter what comes afterward?
Marshall: Perhaps in the case of Descent 2, because what happens in it kind of undermines the ending of the first film, yeah, I think that does kind of affect it slightly. I mean, yeah, the first one obviously does still exist, but the knowledge that there is a second one affects your perception of it. so that’s an unfortunate side effect, but in terms of what Matt was saying about remakes, I think he gave a really good argument.
Carolyn: From what we understand happens in the sequel, the first one is all about her trying to find the exit; she has to find a way out, and she doesn’t find one. In the second one, she’s suddenly outside, and no one really knows how, and it feels like it’s a bit saying, you know that first one? Yeah, that didn’t really matter.
Marshall: It wasn’t so tough after all. So yeah, it does kind of annoy us.