Gutierrez, Sebastian (Rise: Blood Hunter)
With as little melodrama as I can manage, let me make this short introduction … When we first heard about Rise: Blood Hunter there were key elements we instantly took note of. This was to be a vampire tale that focused more on a murder/revenge angle, boasting a cast impressive enough to pull it off, and do I have to mention, one you normally wouldn't see in a horror film.
As the news trickled in like Chinese water torture (no pun on Lucy Liu intended), it became clear that the movie company was a little reluctant to stand on the tallest mountain and wave a flag for their new project. When something substantial finally surfaced it came in the form of a seriously steamy leaked scene of Lucy Liu and Carla Gugino, covered in blood, rolling around in bed together. It doesn't get any hotter than that!
Now Rise: Blood Hunter was set to hit the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City (see coverage here) and a red carpet event was listed in the programming. Unfortunately as the date approached, the carpet walk was cancelled, even though we were told key celebs and the film's director were in town. Odd? Nevertheless, audience reaction to the premiere was very favorable.
Around the same time, poster art for Rise was revealed, depicting giant bat creatures with glowing red eyes (which never once appear in the movie) and a very Underworld-y looking image of Lucy Liu's face staring sternly at you, as if challenging you to come see her naked. Weird. Now, Dread Central gets the chance to sit with the film's director, Sebastian Gutierrez to get some insight into this film and answer some of the burning questions ... like what studio in their right mind would cut a love scene between Lucy Liu and Carla Gugino??!!
Nomad: Are you into horror movies personally? Give us a bunch of your favorite titles.
Sebastian Gutierrez: Absolutely. The Shining, The Innocents, early Polanski. I'm particularly fond of Cronenberg's take on the "horror of the body" and how the monster isn't outside but inside us. That concept is really intriguing and disturbing. It's the push-pull of repulsion and craving that I find so cinematic, and this point of view informed both She Creature (a Creature Feature I did for HBO) and Rise.
N: Rise has a more realistic bent on vampires, reminding me of the David Bowie classic The Hunger. Tell us a little about your take on the traditional bloodsucker.
SG: The Hunger and Near dark were reference points. My thinking was, I love vampire tales, but as soon as the fangs and garlic come out and people start flying, it becomes really campy for me. I'm no longer scared. I wanted to portray the vampires as a cult we know very little about. A cult of serial killers. They hunt, they fuck, they kill. Nothing you can say will sway them. They have no empathy for you. It's not personal. I thought the idea that you could beg for your life and someone, in the most detached manner, will nonchalantly tell you you're gonna die is very scary.
N: You know, we recently gave out the movie poster at Monster-Mania 8 and I noticed giant bat creatures hanging at the bottom. I have to say straight out to the readers, this movie has ZERO giant bat creatures. While, no doubt, people who go see Hostel Part II are not going to leave saying "fuck...I didn't see meat anywhere in this film. JIP!" (referencing the now infamous "meat poster), putting monsters on a poster that have nothing to do with a film is an odd egg. Any thoughts on this marketing decision?
SG: The giant bat creatures are a mystery to me. Then again, so is the "Blood Hunter" of the title. I was certainly never consulted on either decision. Marketing departments often try and turn things into the closest cliche in their arsenal. In this case, replacing Kate Beckinsale's face with Lucy's and hanging vampire bats for werewolves somehow seemed like a sound idea to them. Never mind that Rise was meant as the polar opposite to Underworld and Blade.
To think how cool the poster could've been, with Lucy in the morgue, for example. Naked and with no reflection in the mirror. Or hanging upside down in the meat locker; an image not dissimilar to the one heavily publicized in the Hostel Part II campaign. It's creepy and effective. And plays a big part in our movie.
N: How involved were you in casting this film? I thought the actors worked very well with each other in ways you wouldn't expect.
SG: 100% involved. Lucy understood the material immediately. Knew that this was a hard-boiled noir with vampires in place of gangsters. She is extremely good at the tough guy dialogue, one of the best. So is Carla, thanks to her Elmore Leonard/Karen Sisco training. Sometimes that kind of stylized dialogue can come off very precious in the wrong hands and both of them were dead on.
Michael Chiklis is just an all around cool guy and was interested in playing a really damaged character - much more damaged that Vic Mackey on "The Shield". This guy is more like George C. Scott in Hardcore. He's lost the one thing he cares about and will not give up until he finds out what happened. In that sense, both his character and Lucy's are extremely messed up. One doesn't care if he dies, the other one is already dead.
N: It's clear the tone and look of Rise were intertwined with the story, taking you from anonymous basements and city streets, up to remote hideouts and Gothic mansions. Seems like the message was everything can look very normal on the surface but within, you find a darkness you may not have expected. Am I completely off base?
SG: You're right again. The movie is set in LA, but I wanted to steer clear from high-tech, glossy surfaces, clubs, leggy models; all that stuff. I wanted to use a lot of downtown, desolate LA that felt almost like a dilapidated version of 50's Cuba.
Again, in conversations with cinematographer John Toll, we decided NOT to follow the Ridley Scott template of metallic blues and silver that these stories seem to gravitate toward and use lots of sensual greens and reds. Keep it based in reality at all times without being dull.
N: Your movie does not shy away from the red stuff. How important was the amount of bloodshed and unflinching gore in one particular scene to the film? (Note to readers: This scene was SICK for a mainstream movie! Just imagine if they'd actually showed you Hannibal Lecter peeling off the guard's face in Silence of the Lambs. Nuff' said.)
SG: The finished product probably has a little more blood than I wanted. It was tricky finding a balance because from the get-go I said the one shot I DIDN'T want was the typical "biting-of-the-neck" shot. In its place we came up with the moment you're referring to, which, without giving anything away, I thought would be a very effective way of illustrating the unwilling vampire's plight. If you HAD to feed on blood how would you do it? And what would that feel/look like? It's a total junkie metaphor, sure, and audiences have been responding beautifully to that moment. The camera just doesn't look away and Lucy is really, really good because she's so revolted but HAS to go through with it.
N: So would you say you are pleased with the way this plays out, with more blood on the screen, or were you going for less is more? Ultimately, were you going for a darker movie with a creepier feel and less obvious bloodshed?
SG: The script and original cut of Rise are definitely much moodier and the events less spelled out. More "Disturbing thriller with horror elements" than "Horror" movie. It's not in chronological order and the feel is much dreamier. A vampire take on Point Blank was always a starting point. For the uninitiated, John Boorman's Point Blank has Lee Marvin waking up in Alcatraz, left for dead. He goes after the guys that did this, one by one, simply trying to get paid his share of the loot. He ends up killing everyone. But because it's a perfectly 60's movie, there's ambiguity as to whether he's actually doing this or it's all a dying man's dream. And that gives the movie an extra kick that really resonates.
Once the decision was made to restructure Rise in a more or less chronological fashion, certain gaps had to be filled. And that translated into some more gore than was previously there. I feel this distracts a bit from the really effective stuff (from both a gory and character standpoint), like the aforementioned scene in the homeless shelter.
N: Speaking of changes to the finished product, available (if you were looking) on several sites across the Internet was a fairly graphic scene shared between Lucy and Carla where they seem to REALLY like each other. Were you involved in clipping this scene from the final cut? Any reasoning?
SG: Hmm. Let's see, how to put this diplomatically? No, the decision was not mine to cut this from the movie. It's hard to talk about this stuff without giving plot points away, but the scene you're referring to was one of the centerpieces of the story. Sex and murder are the vampires' way of life. It's their essence in a nutshell, and that scene illustrated that. It managed to be really disturbing AND a turn-on at the same time. The people that saw it felt really weird about it, because here you have Sadie (Lucy's character) being put through this terrible ordeal and then it mutated into this sexual, animalistic thing with Eve (Carla's character), who's both a villain and also, in a way, Sadie's savior. She's the one that brings Sadie back to life. All of this is now merely implied in the theatrical version. But it was much stranger (in a good way) than that. Think of Eve as a very, very R-rated Catwoman.
The reasoning remains alien to me. The greatest explanation that I heard was that "teenage boys don't like lesbian scenes" and at that point I knew I was coming from a completely different place. But I certainly don't want to misrepresent the scene. It wasn't sleazy. And it wasn't like crazy graphic or anything, but you did have the two characters naked in bed, covered in blood, in a key moment where Lucy's character, who SHOULD by all means be dead by now, open her eyes after being fed on, and Carla's character realizes there's SOMETHING about this girl that wants to stay here. She interprets this as meaning Lucy is meant to become one of them. And so she begins to turn her.
N: We've been told Rise will only be opening in Seattle, Minneapolis, and Phoenix ... not touching either coast, with no commercials or advertisement anywhere I can see (by the time you read this, the movie will have already been released). Why the half hearted release for a movie I honestly thought was damn good fun?
SG: It's all part of a new experimental strategy to target only the most "vampire-friendly" cities out there. Minnesota in particular is apparently filled with bloodsuckers. Or so I hear. In their extensive research, the studio decided not many people actually go to the movies in LA or New York. They figure if somehow the movie is a huge word-of-mouth cult hit, they will open it wider. And think of all the money they'll save in prints and advertising!
N: WOW. Fantastic. Now with writing credits for Gothika and Snakes on a Plane under your belt, you could say you are no stranger to big budget horror films. What do you think about the direction Hollywood is taking right now, acknowledging horror as big business while still insisting films be fairly bloodless and without any real scares?
SG: I think the answer is embedded in your question. It's no mystery that horror is relatively inexpensive to make and huge on DVD after a successful theatrical run. There seem to be to distinct schools at the moment: a) the slick bloodless trying-for-pg13-to-duplicate-The Ring's- success movies (i.e. Gothika) and the b) Balls-out torture gross out movie (i.e. Saw, Hostel, etc.).
Snakes on A Plane I'll leave out of this because it's a different beast altogether -- a straight up B-picture that juggles humor and scares without veering into camp. Not easy to do, given the premise. But again, the audience didn't quite catch on because what the Internet buzz/joke campaign made it out to be WASN'T really what the movie was.
You're also at the mercy of the marketing department. And some of these leave a lot to be desired. The Descent is an excellent movie but the studio just couldn't sell it. Hell, look at Warner Bros not being able to sell LA Confidential and that was the best studio movie of that year (!)
I think for horror to really work, the audience has to feel unsafe in the hands of the director. The "anything-goes' mentality, as set forth by Hitchcock (in Psycho), Argento, Jodorowsky, Bava and Carpenter, etc., etc. NEEDS to be continually refreshed. Otherwise we're stuck with formula, whether it's J-Horror remakes or endless sequels of torture stuff. Horror is the most manipulative of all genres. Its ONLY purpose is to scare the audience. As a result, it behaves as the most complacent of genres in the hands of the studios, because they can make money making films that are, and I quote,: "fairly bloodless and without any real scares".
Ultimately, it's up to the audience to be a little more discerning and demand they're not treated as idiots and have everything dumbed-down for them. Horror can be smart and playful; sexual, too. Sexual repression is one of the great elements of horror, but you hardly ever see it in modern American movies.
In any case, some of the best horror movies being made aren't even classified as horror: Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind is a terrific psychedelic horror movie (NOT a romantic comedy). The amazing Apocalypto probably has more edge of your seat tension and scares in it than most horror movies out there. But for the ultimate horror for a filmmaker there is Lost In La Mancha, about the un-making of Terry Gilliam's Don Quixote. Man, much as I try and laugh, it just ends shivers down my spine. Spooky stuff!
Thanks to Sebastian for taking the time to chat with us about his his film. If you're in one of the selected states Rise: Blood Hunter, get out there and support it! Be sure to check out the trailer for Rise: Blood Hunter, which Dread Central world premiered, and stay tuned for news on when you'll actually be able to see this fucking movie!