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Splat Chat: Adam Mason

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If the name Adam Mason sounds familiar, then congratulations, you're a serious horror fan. While his two best features (Broken and The Devil's Chair) got a fair deal of attention on the festival circuit, Mason has yet to "break out" with a mainstream flick. His next one is a fine thriller called Blood River, plus he's also putting the final touches on another film called Luster. AND he's got a few colorful studio projects on the back burner that just might make Mason more of a household name. Well, a horror household name anyway!

Scott: So before we start in with Broken and The Devil's Chair, fill us in on your early experience, your short films, and those features that you don't really love that much.

Adam: Well, I guess my transition to where I am now has been a pretty long one, you know ... I don't really ever understand how people learn the language of film, but for me it seemed to take ages! When I was a kid I had this vague idea I wanted to make films, but I grew up in the middle of f-ck knows where, and I never had the slightest clue how to get into it: Films, music, art, whatever. So I basically came out of school where I was super dyslexic and treated like a feeble minded idiot ... and didn't do so well. Went to university to do English, was a mess of booze etc., didn't go to a single lecture ... fucked up big time. Got kicked out after about six months, so I went to see this work advisor woman, and she asked me what I really wanted to do, because I clearly wasn't cut out for much at all. I said I either want to be in a metal band or make movies ... and she actually had some really good advice for me! Put me on to a couple of film schools in the UK.

SO, haha, my parents were pretty pissed at me, cause I just turned up back at their house one day with all my stuff packed into my pathetic little car. I said 'I'm going to go to film school' and then began that whole process, which took a while because the government in the UK at the time didn't recognize filmmaking as any kind of occupation whatsoever. I got in to the London Film School, which was kind of prestigious, but I couldn't get a grant, so we were back and forth for about a year.

Anyway, after about a year I got it sorted and went down to London and started -- and it really opened my eyes. I'd never met another person who actually made films, and suddenly there I was with a class full of people who wanted to do it. As far as I am concerned that is the day my adult life started. Suddenly I felt for the first time I was on the right track. I did pretty well there ... made some shorts which were well-received ... then it came to an end.

Next thing I knew I was back being unhappy -- so I knew the only way to get going was to raise some cash and try and make a movie. I got hold of one of my friend's little brother's school yearbooks -- and in the back it had a list of the parents and what they did for a living. So anyone who was a doctor or dentist or business owner I sent a letter to, asking for money for this film I wanted to make, and after getting a hundred or so rejection letters I got a couple of guys who were interested, god knows why.

So, me and my best mate from film school made this piece of shit film called The 13th Sign. It was right at the beginning of DV and that whole thing -- so we made it for about $15k I think.(pounds not dollars) And I spent about two years on that, learning how to edit, learning how to put a film together -- and the investors were (for some reason or another) happy with it. So they agreed to give me the money for another one and I made this film called Dust -- which was a very weird film and not in a good way! All in all I put about four years into those two very bad films, but I cut my teeth, I guess you could say.

Scott: So would you say Broken represents the "grown-up" filmmaker in you then?

Adam: Broken was made from a very angry place. I was furious at the time, at myself and my life more than anything. I was consumed with how nihilistic I felt the world was and I channeled that into the film. Of course at the same time I also found Simon Byes -- who has been with me creatively since that day.

Scott: So if Broken was a lot of your own anger and intensity ...  then what was The Devil's Chair? Your happy side?

Adam: That was when my life just went insane! Ha ha ... that film is a weird period for me. Going into it -- we had the backing of a Hollywood company who wanted a pretty run-of-the-mill haunted house story. But I managed to hijack the film and basically pumped all of my unhappiness and turmoil into it. When I see it now -- as I did the other day when I stumbled across it on the internet -- I'm kind of a bit ashamed ... it's like losing your temper publicly.

Scott: Whatever. Clearly I like that movie more than its own director. Before we dive into Blood River (dive! ha!), let's backtrack: Did your parents LET you watch the video nasties when you were a kid? Or did you sneak 'em?

Adam: Yeah it was all sneaked in. I used to love it back then in the late '80s early '90s because to get a hold of the genre classics was so f-cking hard. I had seen Re-animator and The Thing to start with, and that got me into the rest of them. So I'd be reading Darkside magazine and in the back there'd be ads for getting hold of The Exorcist or The Beyond  or Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I started saving up and buying them off these dodgy guys - two weeks later you'd get a brown envelope with a 5th generation VHS. Those were the days. That was back when film felt dangerous. It doesn't anymore, that much is true. Do you agree? How was it in the US?

Scott: Well, I also had to dodge my parents to see the best stuff, but no ... they weren’t banned. We don't ban things in America. Except weed. And gay marriage.

Adam: Ha. At least you could get The Exorcist or A Clockwork Orange!

Scott: So who would you call your biggest influences - as a fan or a filmmaker?

Adam: Back in the day it was all about The Exorcist, Angel Heart, Jacob's Ladder, Texas Chainsaw. But I also loved Argento, Fulci ... I love Stuart Gordon's early stuff
I started off wanting to do FX more than anything, so for ages Day of the Dead was my favorite, but as I got older I realized I was more into the psychological stuff, and I hated the acting in a lot of horror stuff. I couldn't understand why it couldn't all be as good as The Exorcist, you know?

But when you watch something like The Beyond or Opera, sometimes you don't really care about the acting. It's purely about the rollercoaster or the gore! Braindead was a big turning point for me as well -- when I could see how stuff like that and the Evil Dead movies worked and were so good with the gore. But I wouldn't say those films really influence me now. I just really like them..

Scott: So your third "real" movie is Blood River, and it definitely seems, again, to be different from your other flicks. Is this one a bit more 'mature' than your other movies?

Adam: Yeah, well, those films are kind a trilogy to me in the sense of the things I went through as I was making them. I always invest a lot of myself in my films, as pretentious as that sounds, but it's true. I always want to make films about how I feel, which makes watching them a few years later a bit awkward. But Broken is about general rage at life -- at how I see people treating each other, women particularly. The Devil's Chair is about how nothing is how it seems, and in that film I am pretty much Nick West, destroying everything in his path. 

Then Blood River is about the guilt. It's the cold light of morning hitting you in the face. And in that sense it's the most grown-up thing I've done so far. It was a long time in the making. We had this glitzy premiere the other day in Hollywood -- and I was standing in the aisles watching a bit of it for the first time in about six months, thinking, 'yeah that’s me ... I'm Clark!.. I'm the bad guy ... no one knows who I really am! So yeah, it's more mature in the sense that it's more focused on the issues I'm interested in, which are to do with who you think you are as a person. Hey, you see Dead Man's Shoes?

Scott: Hell, yes I'll see anything Shane Meadows does.

Adam: Yeah, he's as good as it gets these days.

Scott: So is it an active decision to do very different concepts each time out? You seem to be trying out all sorts of horror sub-genres...

Adam: I'm not sure I'm trying horror sub-genres.  Andrew Howard and I were talking about it yesterday because we've got some reshoots to do on our new film, Luster. He was trying to get away from the blood I want to shed, but for me it always comes down to violence. I dunno why ... maybe the stuff I witnessed growing up, but to me it is always the logical end point of any conflict, and drama is always naturally about conflict. So my stuff always comes back to violence. Does that make any sense? Is horror just about violence?

Scott: No. Taxes aren't violent. 

Adam: Brilliant!

Scott: OK, so give the salesman's pitch on Blood River: what it's about, who's in it, when can we see it, how drunk is your co-writer?

Adam:  Blood River is a simple little story about a couple traveling across the desert to tell her parents she is pregnant. They have an accident and realize their only option is to walk to the nearest town -- a place called 'Blood River.'

Scott: Sounds inviting.

Adam: So they head out there with no water, etc. and arrive to discover that it's a ghost town, and as all hope is lost, and it seems that they will die out there in the blaze of the sun, a drifter turns up. This guy called Joseph who knows a bit more about both of them than you might expect. And at that point the whole movie turns on its head, and you really are not sure which way is up.

Scott: And that should be out relatively soon. So tell us what you can about Luster.

Adam: It's a step in a new direction for us. If people like the other films then I think they'll really like this one. It's much better than the other stuff I've done. It feels big and proper to me. Not that I'm not proud of the other films, but this film is all about confounding expectations -- whatever they are. Anyone who loves gore is going to hate it! So that's most of my distributors list screwed then, isn't it? But I'm sitting here at the very end of post and it's by far the best thing I've done. It's got the most incredible performance by Andrew Howard. I mean -- it's just ridiculous what he's done on this one. It's a lot lighter in tone than what I've done before. I'll be interested to see what people make of it. It's kind of an extension from the ideas of The Devil's Chair, but with a lot more humor... we'll see if horror audiences like it.

Scott: Did you have a big enough budget for a plot synopsis?

Adam: It's about a guy in L.A. whose getting fucked over by life. He's convinced that his neighbor, who is this two-bit soap actor, is trying to nail his wife. Trying to make him feel crazy, moving his car in the night, his keys, all sorts of tricks. So he decides to try and catch him in the act, and he sets up CCTV cameras, only to find that the intruder is (of course) himself ... it's him sleepwalking every night. And then the sleepwalking "him" finds out our hero is on to him and starts trying to destroy his life. And then it all goes mental.

Scott: As things often do in your films…which reminds me, you have some choice words for "horror fans" in the voice-over of The Devil's Chair. I remember them from my first visit with the flick at Toronto, and I'm wondering if you could clarify those ironically hurtful remarks?

Adam: Well, all that stuff is me talking to myself. And while I agree with what he's saying, it doesn't stop me from watching. It's kind of about car crash culture, the way we all look at something disgusting to justify our feeling OK in our own lives. So when he's saying 'is this what you want to see' that's me asking the same question of myself. It sound ridiculous writing it down -- but that's how I sometimes feel when I'm watching some of the banal shit I see. When we were filming I wasn't behind what I was doing at all -- I didn't believe in it. So when I was saying all that stuff about 'torture porn gore hounds' I was really talking about myself and nothing more.

I just felt the film I made was deeply silly, and in some kind of weird post-modern way, I was slagging myself off for having made it! If you watched the majority of that film without having a context for it being made ... it would be much like a lot of the other shit you see out there. And that doesn't mean I don't love Barker and Lovecraft, because when its done well it's spellbinding. I just didn't feel at the time I'd done it justice, so I turned it back on myself and pointed the finger at my sorry hand.

Scott: I respect your candor, but I refuse to let this go; how does it feel, as a filmmaker, when you find people who like your movie more than YOU do? Is that weird?

Adam: Well, it's affirming -- because I think as a filmmaker you put so much of yourself into this stuff, especially doing it super low budget. It's amazing when people get it. Making a film is maybe not as big a deal as people give it credit for.

Scott:  Or maybe I just like gory monsters more than you do.

Adam: It's like when you've done some terrible thing out of anger or whatever - you look back on it and you cringe, like you'd rather forget it! Hey wait, I like gory monsters too!

Scott: OK, this might be the longest article ever written in the history of mankind. Say hello to all the horror geeks and let's get outta here!

Adam: There's really nothing like the horror audience when it comes to uncompromising material. and there is nothing that gets me going more than when I see film fans getting excited for Inside or Martyrs or Grace ... I just love all this stuff.

Scott: Well said, sir! I'm going to bed now.

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