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Marshall, Neil (The Descent)

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Neil MarshallI’ve seen The Descent four times now in various settings, from being by myself to being in a room full of people, and it still never fails to creep me out. That’s no easy task for any horror film considering how many of them I’ve seen and how used to watching them I am, but Neil Marshall managed to pull it off with is second feature. It’s a beautiful thing.

Our foreign correspondent Axelle recently got the chance to sit down with Marshall and have a one-on-one about his fantastic film, and the results should be enough to get you slavering to see this even more. As you know, Lionsgate will be releasing the film theatrically this summer, but there’s a Region 2 disc already out in the UK that is more than worth getting.

Enjoy the interview and if you haven’t seen it yet beware off SPOILERS! (don’t worry, they’re well marked -Johnny)


Axelle Carolyn: The Descent is your second horror film, yet you don’t want to be known as a horror director…

Neil Marshall: I don’t want to be just a horror director; I love doing horror films but I don’t want to be pigeonholed. I’ve done two horror films back-to-back now, very different to my mind anyway: one, Dog Soldiers, is a sort of black comedy horror film. The Descent is a darker film. Now I want to go and do something totally different; I’m directing a science fiction film next and exploring some other genres, other stories and characters and then come back to doing horror films! I love horror films and I think secretly I love scaring the audience.

AC: Where did the idea of The Descent come from?

NM: I’d read articles and books and seen documentaries about caving. I’d never gone caving myself but it sounded pretty scary so I thought I’d come up with a story set in a cave. It was ideal for a horror film to utilize an environment that is about darkness and shadows.

I remember when I was ten or eleven years old I went on a school trip and we went in a mine. We all gathered together and the guide said, “I want you to turn all your torches off”, and for the first time in my life I experienced pitch black. It’s not like when you’re at home and the lights are off, when you have streetlight coming in or the stars or whatever; it’s pitch black. You can move your hand in front of your face and you can’t see anything. It made me cling to my torch; out in the world it is just a torch but in there it’s your whole life.

As part of research for the film I did go caving and yea, it’s intense, I thoroughly enjoyed it but I don’t think I’d like to do it again… So I was really interested in that idea, and it’s a friend of mine who said, why not make them all women? I thought, that’s inspired, that’s genius, why not?

The DescentAC: Well, maybe because it makes it more difficult for you to write it…

NM: It was certainly more of a challenge for me as a writer, but it’s a contemporary idea and more importantly for me, the story was is no way dependent on the fact that they were women, they just are and you accept that. And nobody ever made an all female ensemble in a horror film.

AC: Going back to the idea of the cave, it is a perfect setting for a horror movie, but at the same time it sounds quite impossible to film…

NM: Totally. And for that reason we made the decision very early on that we wouldn’t be filming in a real cave. The main reason, obviously, was how dangerous and impractical it would be coming into the cave with the material; it’s just far too risky. But also we had very specific action within the script and we had to find a real cave that fit the bill. Finding all of that in one cave would have been impossible, and finding it in a bunch of caves was an unrealistic possibility.

So we built everything, there isn’t a single real cave in the film, everything’s faked. There’s a matte painting, miniatures, and 98% of it are sets we built in Pinewood. Our production designer and my director of photography both did a fantastic job of making these caves look incredibly real. We used the same set, a sort of corridor thing, something like twelve times! We just made it look different every time. Also, we only used the light sources that the girls carry down into the darkness with them. There should be no extraneous sources of light because that’s cheating, that’s how it is in the dark.

The DescentAC: I guess you used all sorts of reflective boards to use the light to its maximum?

NM: Yes, reflective boards hidden in different places. We used every trick in the book. It was kind of fun trying to solve all these problems. And since the actresses were using their own lights, the lighting was never the same twice, which also helped us make the sets look different.

AC: What kind of budget did you have?

NM: It was 3.5 million pounds… like 6 or 7 million dollars. The TV company who made “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?” made a fortune. Paul Smith, the guy who runs it, wanted to get into filmmaking and a couple of years ago he created Salvador Films; their first production was Dirty Pretty Things and The Descent was their second film. They were the sole source of financing; it’s a really unique thing in the UK because I only had the producer and the executive producer to deal with, it was ideal.

AC: How did you cast the actresses?

NM: Some were easy, like Holly; but for Sarah, we looked at so many people for that part. Shauna came back again and again and again. Every time we had an audition we’d bring Shauna back. We were doing all sorts of things, we were lining chairs in a row, because one of the scenes we auditioned with was the bit where she gets stuck in the tunnel and collapses, and you can’t do that just sitting in a room. So we had them crawl underneath the chairs and I filmed them with a camcorder. It really helped with the whole audition process.

AC: Did you also make them audition together?

NM: If we passed somebody, we’d ask her to come back in and play with the others. I wanted everybody to be visually and physically different. I wanted them to sound different because they would be filmed in the dark; I wanted them to be very accomplished actors; that was the most important thing. They had to be physically capable of what we were gonna put them through; everybody was warned very early on that it was gonna be an incredibly difficult shoot and they all said yes. They were great, they were true to their word, none of them complained that we made them suffer. They all went to climbing training, rafting training, caving training before the shoot, and the shoot itself was physical. The guys in Dog Soldiers, it was a walk in the park for them; they just had to sit in the house. These girls had to lie in freezing cold water all day… They all had cuts and bruises by the end of the shoot.

The DescentAC: Did any of them know anything about caving before?

NM: No. Shauna [MacDonald] had gone climbing before, but she’d never gone caving and we discovered that she was really claustrophobic. But that helped her play the character.

AC: Why did you decide to shoot the film in sequence?

NM: It was the only way we could do it. They never revisit the same cave twice and we only had a certain amount of sets, so what we had to do was use the set then pull it apart and rebuild something else. That’s the way we had to do it; the characters make a physical and mental journey through the cave, and it’s better for them to film it in story order and it’s better for us. The only thing that we didn’t shoot in sequence was the bit of the film where she comes back out of the ground.

AC: But you did start with the rafting sequence? It looks like one of the most difficult scenes to shoot though…

NM: Yes, it was the first day of shooting and the most difficult part for me. We were filming in Scotland in December when it gets light at 10 am and dark at 4pm, we had six hours to do the entire sequence! Luckily we had five cameras to cover it and the girls were so adapted to rafting the stunt guys said they could go on their own, they would be fine.

AC: The opening sequence is a great introduction to the characters and to the atmosphere of the movie. Where did the idea come from?

NM: It was two things. First it was an homage to Deliverance, which is one of my favorite films of all time and a huge inspiration for this film. Also, just to show that these girls are strong and independent, they like to do adventurous sports. Someone suggested skydiving at first but I thought it was a bit too nice, with blue skies… I wanted something a bit messier and I thought rafting would be good for that.

The DescentAC: How did you design the creatures?

NM: I did some ideas on my computer, initial concepts, but then when we got the actors and the designers came in we came up with different ideas and it evolved from one thing to the other. I always wanted them to be as human as possible and to have evolved in that environment logically; their eyes are blind and have gone bigger, they use their senses in a different kind of way to us, but they are essentially human. It was a lot of fun designing that one.

AC: There have been rumors about another ending for the US version…

**SPOILERS**
NM: Yes, the American distributor decided to change it. There won’t be anything new; the only difference is that when she climbs out of the cave and she gets in the car and she drives along, it cuts back to her being in the cave: that’s what they’ve cut. So she’s in the car, Juno sits next to her and she screams and that’s it. All it really does is it suggests that she does make it out of the cave. She’s still bad, but she’s out. They tested both endings and it played a lot better without the last bit. For whatever reason they preferred the idea that she made it out of the cave. Fair enough, she’s killed all her friends but she’s out of the cave, so it’s ok! (Laughs.) My original ending has been seen in the UK, has been seen worldwide, everybody else is going to get to see that, but well. It’s a totally different mindset; I can’t get my head around it, but whatever. They’re going to get to see the complete ending on DVD anyway.
**END SPOILERS**

AC: What are you working on now?

NM: I’m doing a project called Doomsday. It’s a break from horror; but it’s still gonna be pretty dark, full of action and violence, but it’s more of a tribute to films like Mad Max and Escape From New York. I’m not just a horror fan, I love all sorts of films and I’ve always wanted to make a sort of science fiction, post-apocalyptic adventure. It’s all set in the UK and we should be shooting that this summer. I’m going to try to get the same team from The Descent back.

AC: So you have no intention to leave the UK?

NM: No, I have no interest in doing anything in L.A. I don’t want to be making films with happy endings!


Big thanks to Axelle for allowing us access to the interview and of course to Neil for making it happen in the first place! Lionsgate has big plans for The Descent this August, likely giving it a huge promotional push, and I hope that you’ll head out and see if when it’s here, you won’t be sorry. Keep it here for more on the film!

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Vampire Hunter D: The Series Gets Writer For Pilot Episode

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It’s been a little while since we’ve heard news about “Vampire Hunter D: The Series”, the CG-animated series based on Hideyuki Kikuchi’s titular character. However, some new news broke today over at ANN as they’ve reported that Brandon Easton, who is writing the scripts for new Vampire Hunter D comics, has been tapped by Unified Pictures to write the pilot for the series. The pilot will be based on Kikuchi’s “Mysterious Journey to the North Sea” storylines, which make up the 7th and 8th titles in the book series. Unified is making this series in conjunction with Digital Frontier, the Japanese animation studio behind the CG Resident Evil titles.

Easton told the site, “I’ve had to manage the expectations of three entities: the creator Hideyuki Kikuchi, the producers at Digital Frontier and Unified Pictures, and ultimately myself. This means that you have to find new and exciting ways of telling a story that has a set of concrete rules that have been fully established by the novels.

Meanwhile, the studio has also announced that Ryan Benjamin is taking over as the artist and colorist on the Vampire Hunter D: Message From Mars series with Richard Friend inking the issues.

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Watching A Quiet Place’s John Krasinski Get Scared by Freddy on Ellen Will Brighten Your Day

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I was just researching the new Platinum Dunes horror-thriller A Quiet Place and stumbled across this video. It features the film’s writer-director and star John Krasinski getting scared by a man dressed as Freddy Krueger on “Ellen.”

It’s as much fun as it sounds, and I’m sure it will make your day. It sure as hell just brightened mine.

Give it a watch below, and then let us know what you think!

John Krasinski directs the film, which will be the opening night entry at this year’s SXSW festival in Austin, TX. Emily Blunt stars alongside Krasinski, Noah Jupe, and Millicent Simmonds.

A Quiet Place will then open wide on April 6.

Synopsis:
In the modern horror thriller A Quiet Place, a family of four must navigate their lives in silence after mysterious creatures that hunt by sound threatens their survival. If they hear you, they hunt you.

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Interview: Director Jeff Burr Revisits Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III

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Director Jeff Burr was gracious enough to give us here at Dread Central a few minutes of his time to discuss the Blu-ray release of his 1990 film Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. Recently dropped on 2/13, the movie has undergone the white-glove treatment, and he was all-too-happy to bring us back to when the film was being shot…and eventually diced thanks to the MPAA – so settle in, grab a cold slice of bloody meat, read on and enjoy!

DC: First off – congrats on seeing the film get the treatment it deserves on Blu-ray – you excited about it?

JB: Yeah, I’m really happy that it’s coming out on Blu-ray, especially since so many people bitch and moan about the death of physical media, and this thing made the cut, and it’s great for people to be able to see probably the best-looking version of it since we saw it in the lab back in 1989.

DC: Take us back to when you’d first gotten the news that you were tabbed to be the man to direct the third installment in this franchise – what was your first order of business?

JB: It was fairly condensed pre-production for me, and there really wasn’t a whole lot of time to think about the import or the greatness of it – it was basically just roll up your sleeves and go. It was a bit disappointing because a lot of times in pre-production you have the opportunity to dream what could be – casting had already been done, but certain decisions hadn’t been made yet. A very condensed pre-production, but exciting as hell, for sure! (laughs)

DC: R.A. Mihailoff in the role of Leatherface – was it the decision from the get-go to have him play the lead role?

JB: No – I totally had someone else in mind, even though R.A. had done a role in my student film about 7 years earlier, and we’d kept in touch, and I’d felt strongly because I’d gotten to know him a bit that Gunnar Hansen should have come back and played Leatherface, which would have given a bit more legitimacy to this third movie. He and I talked, and he had some issues with the direction that it was going – he really wanted to be involved, and it ended up boiling down to a financial thing, and it wasn’t outrageous at all – it wasn’t like he asked for the moon, but the problem was that New Line refused to pay it, categorically. I think the line producer at the time was more adamant about it than anyone, and Mike DeLuca was one of the executives on the movie, and he was really the guy that was running this, in a creative sense. I made my case for Gunner to both he and the line producer, and they flat out refused to pay him what he was asking, so after that was a done “no deal” I decided that R.A would be the right guy to step into the role. Since New Line was the arbiter of the film, he had to come in and audition for the part, and he impressed everyone and got the part. He did an absolutely fantastic job – such a joy to work with, and he was completely enthusiastic about everything.

DC: Let’s talk about Viggo Mortenson, and with this being one of his earliest roles – did you know you had something special with this guy on your set?

JB: Here’s the thing – you knew he was talented, and I’d seen him in the movie Prison way back in the early stages of development and was very impressed with him, and he was one of those guys that I think we were really lucky to get him on board with us. I really believe that The Indian Runner with he and directed by Sean Penn was the movie that truly made people stand up and notice his work. Every person in this cast was one hundred percent into this film and jumped in no questions asked when it was time to roll around in the body pits.

DC: It’s no secret about the amount of shit that the MPAA put you through in order to get this film released – can you expound on that for a minute?

JB: At the time, I believe it was a record amount of times we had to go back to the MPAA after re-cutting the film – I think it was 11 times that we went back. What a lot of people don’t realize is after Bob Shaye (President of New Line) had come into the editing room and he thought that it was very disturbing, and cut out some stuff himself. He thought that it would have been banned in every country, and it was banned in a lot of countries but so were the previous two. It was definitely on the verge of being emasculated before even being submitted to the MPAA, and I would have thought just a few adjustments here and there – maybe a couple of times to go back…but eleven? It was front-page news in the trade papers then, and I think that the overall tone of the film was looked at as being nasty. The previous film (Chainsaw 2) had actually gone out unrated, and with the first film being so notorious, I think it was a combination of all of that, and now even the most unrated version of this would be rated R – that’s how far the pendulum has swung in the other direction.

DC: Looking back at the film after all this time – what would be one thing that you’d change about the movie?

JB: Oh god – any film director worth his salt would look back at any of their films and want to change stuff up, and with this being 28 years old, I can look back and say “oh yeah, I’d change this, this and this!” You grow and learn over the course of your time directing, and this was my third movie and my first without producers that I had known, so the main thing that I’d do today would be to make it a bit more politically savvy. I had always thought that they wanted me to put my vision on this film, and that wasn’t necessarily the case, so maybe I’d navigate those political waters a little better.

DC: Last thing, Jeff – what’s keeping you busy these days? Any projects to speak of?

JB: Oh yeah, I’ve got a couple of movies that I’m working on – I’m prepping a horror movie right now, and then I’ve got a comedy film that I’m doing after that. You haven’t heard the last of me! I’ve had a real up and down (mostly down) career, but I still love it – it’s what I love to do, and it’s still great that after 28 years people still want to talk about this movie, and are still watching it – that’s the greatest gift you can get, and I thank everyone that’s seen it and talked about it over all these years.

BUY IT NOW!

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