We here at Dread Central recently had the opportunity to grab a few minutes with director Mariano Baino, whose 1993 chiller Dark Waters just made its way onto Blu-ray from Severin Films. He was more than kind to give us the lowdown on that film, his latest project, and a few other topics – so settle in, read on, and enjoy!
DC: What can you tell us about your latest short film, Lady M 5.1?
MB: Lady M 5.1 is a 23-minute re-imagining of Act 5, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, which I wrote, directed and edited. It stars Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni (Opera, Phantom of the Opera, Mother of Tears) as Lady Macbeth, and her incredibly powerful performance in the film has recently been recognized with an Award of Excellence in the category of Actress: Leading at the Best Shorts Competition. Apart from acting, Coralina also created the costumes and composed the music. We both worked on the production design, and I also handled all the visual effects, creature design and construction, and sound design.
In Lady M 5.1 Lady Macbeth is destined to relive her most harrowing moment in a never-ending loop under the watchful gaze of a new bio-mechanical lifeform, born from the wreckage of civilization and the debris left behind by humanity. It’s an experimental science-fiction Shakespearean drama! Last month the film had its world premiere at Mana Contemporary, one of the most important modern art spaces in the US, and Coralina and I created a huge audiovisual experiential installation at Mana Contemporary to accompany the world premiere of LADY M 5.1, which was a great success and a brilliant experience.
DC: What were some of the horror films that influenced you the most when you were growing up?
MB:I have become cautious when it comes to discussing artistic influence in such matter of fact fashion. I truly have come to believe that influence, much like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. An audience will “see” influence based on their own viewing history and upbringing. I also notice that audiences think that being influenced by something is akin to feeding a sheet of paper through an old fax machine: You put the original in at one end, and an exact, albeit faded, copy of it comes out at the other end; I don’t think influence, at least for me, works in such a direct way, unless one makes a conscious decision to directly reference other people’s work. When it comes to horror films, I can definitely tell you that only hearing about The Exorcist scared me immensely, and I still consider it one of the scariest films ever made. I also remember being very scared of the water for a while after being exposed to Spielberg’s Jaws!
DC: With the majority of your projects over the course of your career having been short films, do you prefer the shorter presentations, and if so, do you feel that they can convey more of a story than a full-length film?
MB:I don’t prefer one over the other. For me every tool at my disposal, which allows me to express myself artistically, has equal importance. I think short films are sometimes considered embryonic feature films, as if just because they are shorter, they are somewhat less important, and I don’t think that’s the right way to look at them. I don’t think everything benefits from being stretched to feature film length, same as not every story can be contained within a short film’s running time. Also, because of their lower budgets, short films are a more accessible form of expression for truly independent filmmakers and provide greater opportunities for experimentation and risk-taking.
DC: With your incredibly creepy film Dark Waters getting ready to be released on Blu-ray, tell us about the biggest challenge you faced when directing this movie?
MB: Well, the challenges would fill many books! We made the movie in the Ukraine, shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and it was truly like setting foot on an alien planet. As soon as we arrived and were taken on a grueling 26-hour bus journey without food or water from Moscow to Odessa, we realized this was going to be an experience we would not forget in a hurry.
I will just list a few of the things that were happening to us off the top of my head: Our film stock was regularly sold on the black market by our own production manager, forcing our producer to send one of his people to Moscow to buy more film stock… on the black market! Our prosthetics and creature had to be shipped from England, and our creature got lost in transit! All of a sudden a truck arrived at the film studios in Odessa, and when we opened it, we discovered it was full of musical instruments which were supposed to be delivered to an orchestra in Moscow! Yes, you guessed it: The orchestra got our monster, and we got their instruments! I wanted to use flaming crosses in the catacombs, and they assured me it wouldn’t be a problem. I thought they had a safe way of doing it, but their way of doing it was tying together two pieces of wood and wrapping them in rags soaked in gasoline. So every time we lit the things, everyone was almost asphyxiated by the smoke and no one could see anything. We could shoot for a minute at a time, and then we had to wait for the smoke to clear to do another take. When we were shooting on the beach, they insisted on everyone having lunch in a village that was a 45-minute bus ride from the location so every lunch break would turn into a four-hour marathon. We would never have finished! Me, lead actress Louise Salter, and the few people I had brought with me from London decided not to eat lunch and stayed behind. So, for a week, as soon as the rest of the crew broke for lunch, we would start shooting at breakneck pace by ourselves. We would do 12 set-ups while everyone else was eating. It was the only way we could ever have finished the film. Even when we went back to London to do post-production, we ran out of money and I had to go back to Moscow to finish the film. And while I was there, Yeltsin decided to attack the parliament and I found myself right in the middle of a Russian mini-revolution, complete with tanks and cannonballs being fired at the Parliament. And, needless to say, the accommodation they had provided for me was very close to the epicenter of the revolution!
Every day there was a new adventure! I could go on and on, but then we would never finish…
DC: Lastly, what can fans expect to see from you down the road?
MB: Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni and I are producing a feature film, Astrid’s Saints, which we co-wrote. I am directing, and Coralina will star as Astrid. The film is co-produced by Italian producer Gaetano Di Vaio (Gomorrah) and will be shot in Naples, Italy. Also, lately, I have had many wonderful opportunities to exhibit my mixed media drawings around the world so there will definitely be some more art exhibitions and multi-media installations down the road.