Does Tobin Bell just get nicer over time? For anyone that’s met the legendary actor, he’s the epitome of kindness and class within the horror community. In director Emilio Portes’ spiritual horror film, Belzebuth, Bell is still immediately recognizable even when he’s covered in religious tattoos that look like they date back to the Crusades. In the below interview, we both agreed that his character, Visilio Canetti, may be his best look yet. Partly an incredibly dark procedural and also an otherworldly battle between good and evil, Belzebuth is being resurrected on DVD and Blu-ray as well as On Demand on Tuesday July 7th. It’s also currently streaming on AMC’s Shudder.
Speaking with Tobin before the release, we got into his experiences filming in Mexico, how the Saw franchise has prepared him for anything (including the violence in Belzebuth), and how much he misses the fan community during the pandemic.
Be sure and check out Tobin as a battle tested, badass rogue priest in when Belzebuth hits later this week. Read more about his character’s backstory below.
Synopsis: In Belzebuth, Special Agent Emanuel Ritter leads a police investigation into a series of shocking deaths. But after a priest from the Vatican finds a link between the murders and an ancient demon, a descent into horror ensues.
Dread Central: You add a real sense of adventure, your character, and it really takes off in a new direction when you’re fully in the film. Was this one of your favorite characters in your career?
Tobin Bell: I liked his look, you know? I liked Emilio Portes’ visual sense. He’s very strong visually, almost a painter in his idea of a landscape. We worked in some amazing locations. I play a guy named Vasilio Canetti, a former Vatican priest who discovers that the Messiah has arrived on Earth. He tells the cardinals but they don’t listen. He knows that there are evil forces that want to destroy this kid. So he takes off his collar. He knows he’s in a third world country and he ends up in Mexico. That’s the kind of jumping off point.
I was in Mexico City for maybe three weeks, Drew, and it was an amazing cultural experience for me. Film has a very strong historical tradition in Mexico City and the artists there are really solid.
DC: The art department really did an incredible job on this, there’s so much religious imagery. It’s really beautiful. Filming in Mexico really adds a much deeper layer to the film. Do you think this movie could’ve been made by a major Hollywood studio?
TB: No. Well, the compelling reason for doing it was really two reasons: one was Emilio’s very strong visual sense and his enthusiasm for cinematography, for lighting and the look of my character and second, having a chance to go to Mexico. And not only get to spend a lot of time in Ciudad Mexico but also in a little town called Mexicali which is right across the border from California and Baja. So we had a little rural and a little urban and then the Churubusco Studios where the stages were built. That’s always an incredible part of the magic is rubbing shoulders with the carpenters and the set painters and scenic designers.
DC: There’s nothing like being on set. The movie itself is set up for the story to continue. Would you ever be in a prequel? Coming from the Saw films, do you look at characters like Vasilio the priest and think, how can we continue this story in other films?
TB: No, honestly don’t. I have thought a few times when I’m in the middle of Saw, I mean, I’ve done eight of those films. Right about Saw 3 or 4 I started thinking about how are we going to move forward with this? It seemed to me that there was that kind of energy involved. But generally speaking, no, I finish a project and it goes in the rearview mirror and I move on to the next thing. If I’ve learned anything over the course of 35 to 40 years in this business is it all comes down to the writing.
DC: There are some really graphic scenes in this, especially with children, which I thought really worked in the film’s favor. Is there any kind of subject matter or scenes of violence that would give you pause as an actor accepting a particular role? Is there anything too taboo for you?
TB: I can’t think of anything. I’d know it if I saw it.
DC: I think that’s a good answer.
TB: At the beginning of the Saw franchise they would use the word “torture porn” to refer to what was going on in the films. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand what they were talking about. I’ve always tried to bring, whether you agree with what he’s doing or not or would do that yourself, I’ve always tried to bring a clear sense of John’s motivation for doing what he’s doing.
Frankly, I’m much more concerned with the real violence that exists in our world than I am about some fictional violence that’s in a movie. If something exists in the human condition, it’s fair game for art. If people don’t wanna see it, they shouldn’t go. The people that are most often offended with violence in films, they don’t go to those films! I’ve sat in Saw movies and people laugh in the places that are most horrendous because it’s so horrendous. People’s reactions to scary situations are multiple; you never know how people are going to react to those things.
DC: That’s a horror fan for you. Always laughing in the wrong parts. You’ve always been such a great ambassador for the genre and so classy around the thousands of fans you’ve met. I’m one of them. Are you missing that interaction at all right now?
TB: I’ve had nothing but amazing experiences with horror fans: they’re smart, they’re caring, they’re devoted, committed, amazing. I’ve had people drive from Chicago to Dallas to shake hands. They don’t do that for rom-coms. I got nothing but respect for this genre and for the fans. I think like all of us, everyone’s feeling quite isolated. In the entertainment business, we don’t know how the hell we’re gonna get back to work. So, I know they’re workin’ on it. I think we ‘ought to just be patient and sit back and see how things evolve. Hopefully, this thing won’t get worse.
DC: Luckily, we all have Shudder to watch right now and that’s been a big help. I’m sure a lot of people will be discovering Belzebuth again.