The anthology horror movie is alive and well in the UK and indie Brit directors Jim Eaves, Pat Higgins, Alan Ronald continue the fun with the latest in their Death Tales anthologies NAZI ZOMBIE DEATH TALES. So join our very own Stu Willis as he joins the terror trio to discuss the series…
Stu: Hi, congratulations on the films and thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions. First off, you can tell us how the idea to work together on the original anthology "Bordello Death Tales" came about?
Jim: My wife/Producer and I were expecting a baby and I knew I couldn’t get a feature together in the time we had before the baby was due so I approached Pat – I loved the idea of choosing a subject/location and seeing how three or four directors would go at it. Pat recommended Al and the rest is history.
Pat: Jim approached me after a screening of his great sci-fi horror flick ‘Bane’ and said that he’d been toying with the idea of shooting an anthology, and might I be interested? The idea was right up my street and it was great timing for the project: I’d just shot three movies in about 18 months, and I wasn’t in a position to commit to another feature. 30 minutes of a feature, working with people whose work I really enjoyed, though… Now that sounded like a good idea. I suggested Al might be interested, and it kind of went from there.
Alan: The Death Tales idea was something Pat and Jim had been cooking up for a while before I came on board. I had worked with Pat before, and he kindly thought of me when it came time to forge ahead with Death Tales. When he approached me with the idea I agreed immediately, it seemed like far too much fun to pass up, and I was right.
Stu: What inspired the common theme between the three stories, and the wraparound story?
Alan: If memory serves it was decided fairly early on that we would set the first Death Tales in a location which would help sell the movie. And so the bordello was born. Madam Raven first showed up in one of my drafts of Stitchgirl and since she was the proprietor of the titular Bordello it seemed a natural choice to be included in our wraparounds.
Pat: Yeah, there was a clear decision to keep the theme of the anthology kind of ‘sexy’ for the first movie, given that we were taking a bit of a chance making an anthology anyway at a time when the genre wasn’t very visible. The wraparound kind of grew from the set-up, and it meant that we at least got a single day on set when we were all together.
Jim: Amen – sex sells, and the Bordello setting gave us such a wide net to cast our stories over.
Stu: Can you tell us a little about the talent involved in the film, both cast and crew?
Alan: Eleanor James was a natural choice for Stitchgirl. I actually met her on the set of Pat’s film ‘Hellbride’ and she sprang to mind immediately after drawing some early sketches of Stitchgirl’. She was just perfect for the part and gives an amazing performance whilst doing deceptively little. Eleanor and I became quite attached to the character and were sorry to see her reduced to a ball of fluff.
Julian Lamoral-Roberts played Doctor Whale and was cast purely from me hearing his voice. Our producer, Debbie Attwell, played his showreel and I heard it form across the room and immediately announced that he had to play the part. His voice (and luckily it turned out, his look) is straight out of the world of Hammer horror, perfect for Death Tales.
Natalie Milner embodies the character of Madam Raven as far as I am concerned. She just seemed to breathe that part from the off. Which is a little terrifying…
As for crew, Stitchgirl was all kept to a minimum, partly through necessity as the room in which we shot the bulk of the movie was very small. Only two or three people could fit in there at any one time. We filmed all of the room scenes in Stitchgirl over a single night, with various people coming in and out to help with booming. It was a long night, much coffee was consumed.
Pat: The cast and crew for Vice Day was pretty tiny. The smallest I’ve ever worked with, I think, which adds to the intimate, voyeuristic vibe of the chapter. My story plays out between a smart, beautiful webcam girl and the debauched politician on the other side of the modem, and for those two roles I was lucky enough to get Danielle Laws (who I’d worked with on KillerKiller) and Cy Henty (who I’ve worked with on damn near everything I’ve ever done). Danielle is not only gorgeous but also an extremely skilled character actress, which was exactly what we needed since I was adamant from the start that I didn’t want Destiny to be defined purely by her sexuality. Cy is totally unique and, I reckon, one of the most underused actors in the UK. Behind the camera I had a handful of my usual partners in crime (my producer Pip, Bev Chorlton on make-up and gore, James Mitchell on sound) and there were actually very few other people on set. We scored a wonderful location thanks to a wonderful lady called Mary Albanese, and the whole sucker just sort of fell into place.
Jim: I called on Tina Barnes, who I’d just worked with on Bane – I’d remembered her telling me should could pole dance so wrote a role for her that opened the movie and also knew she was great at physical performance so planned a pretty horrific death for her.
Stu: Drawing on your previous experience as filmmakers, what were the pros and cons of working together on the project?
Alan: Obviously it is a lot easier to create a third of a feature film. But also I think one of the benefits is that you can put a lot into a smaller project. There is no need for padding or spreading ideas too thinly, which can sometimes be the case with a feature. Also, I feel a real buzz and driving energy when working with Jim and Pat, we all get excited by each others’ ideas and it’s quite infectious.
Pat: Yeah, we all feed off each other. I think it breeds a healthy sense of slight competition: not trying to outdo one another, more just a desperation not to let the side down!
Jim: The pros are massive – you have two people who are in exactly the same position as you with the same production issues, casting, locations etc – always someone to share a problem with and nothing spurs you on like reading someone elses kick ass script or seeing some stills from another segment.
Stu: How was the film received?
Pat: Both movies have racked up some pretty glowing reviews. I think they strike a chord in people and they have an energy and enthusiasm that sort of infects the viewer. People dig them.
Alan: I think it proved, at least to us, that there is life in the old-fashioned anthology movie. I was just somewhat taken aback by the fact that we actually managed to pull it off!
Jim: Bordello was the experiment – we had nothing to lose on the movie and then we started getting good reviews – this tiny movie we’d cobbled together between us not only made sense as a whole but also had some fans. The success of Bordello really paved the way for Battlefield.
Stu: "Battlefield Death Tales" continues the anthology theme. What prompted the shift to a focus on war?
Alan: Partly it was to keep up with current horror trends, but by doing that I think we ventured into a genre that took even us by surprise. I don’t know about the other guys, but I certainly hadn’t considered doing a war movie until this came along. And it seemed like an exciting challenge.
Pat: It was suggested to us that it might be a smart direction to move in from a commercial point of view, and we just kind of went from there. I’d never worked with either real explosions or rubber monsters before, and I got to tick both of those off my ‘to do’ list!
Jim: Bordello was the first movie I had made in a modern time setting, ‘The Witches Hammer’ was set in a 1970s styled version of today, ‘Bane’ was set in the future so I felt it time to go back into the past and WW2 has so many visual elements.
Stu: Why no wraparound this time?
Alan: The turnaround for this Death Tales was insane. Really insane. I finished my script in January, shot the film in February and delivered it in June for release in August. With a turnaround like that, things tend to get lost in the mix, sadly the wraparound was one of them. Although had we managed to achieve the wraparounds I don’t believe they would have been as obvious as they were in Bordello. For me, the war was what connected the three stories. And I think we have all come at the idea of war from a very different perspective in this movie.
Pat: Yeah, it was a victim of time. Although there are little connections between all three if you’re really paying attention.
Jim: Like the guys say we went for it with this one – my wife was pregnant with our second child and I had a serious deadline my end so we went hell for leather and got it finished.
Stu: This film feels more epic, a lot more ambitious. How do you feel you’ve grown as filmmakers in the time between "Bordello" and "Battlefield"
Alan: For me the availability of DSLR has made the difference, both technically and creatively. There was always a barrier for me before, between the image in my head and the one I would see on screen, a barrier created by the horrible look of digital tape. Now with DSLR, I get excited to see my shots actually look like a movie, it’s thrilling and pushes me to write better scripts to match those images. Hopefully...
Pat: Yeah, we all made the shift to DSLR this time around, which does give you so much more control over the image in terms of lenses and cinematography. I think we all also get more ambitious with every passing film: neither of us are the kind of guys to rest on our laurels or repeat ourselves ad nauseum. My ‘Bordello’ story was essentially a guy and a girl talking over a webcam, so I grabbed the opportunity to give my ‘Battlefield’ story gun battles, genuine explosions and monsters.
Jim: I’d done some explosions before on ‘Hellbreeder’ but we shot those from way off with a stunt man – this time I actually got to run through the battlefield with the actors as the bombs went off – heart pounding stuff! Keeping your scene moving, operating the camera and trying not to get injured – that’s a skill.
Stu: I keep referring to the latest film as "Battlefield Death Tales", but it’s been retitled "Nazi Zombie Death Tales" for its UK DVD release. Care to explain why?
Alan: Probably because there are so many nazi zombies in it…*cough*
Pat: The new title wasn’t our suggestion, but, hey, if it helps the movie reach a bunch more people I’m not going to complain.
Jim: It was a strong suggestion from our distributors in the UK, we did discuss it with them and each other a great deal but in the end they have to get the film into the supermarkets and on the shelves so went with their expertise.
Stu: Can you talk us through some of the more elaborate FX sequences in the film: how they were achieved, and so on?
Alan: A lot of my effects were achieved with stop-motion techniques, which we did on location. Some work better than others it must be said. But I think it lends the film a sort of video nasty, old-school feel.
Pat: We went old-school practical. When shit looks like its blowing up, it’s because a pyro team blew some shit up. The Devil Spider in my section was drawn by a fantastic cartoonist called Russ Leach and then built by an obscenely talented monster-maker called Chris Garrard. The monster was a fantastic addition to the story, although I still feel guilty for losing his lower teeth somewhere on a charred battlefield near the New Forest.
Jim: Yes explosions were real, and fighting was as real as we could make it look. Lots of injuries from my stunt guys to prove it. Sam Smith (The Zombie Red Barron) is my resident martial artist and was a trooper throwing himself around in the forest.
Stu: How have the films been received overseas? Do they translate to overseas audiences?
Pat: Nobody’s seen the new one outside the UK yet… Our US premiere is at the Spooky Movie Festival in Washington DC next month.
Alan: I think the tagline ‘Sex! Zombies!! War!!!’ is universal.
Jim: Some international reviews should pop up soon so we shall see! I think the film is distinctly British and I think that’s going to hopefully be a turn on for our viewers.
Stu: I understand Safecracker Pictures, your collective company, aim to make more anthologies under the "Death Tales" banner. What themes are you looking at for future instalments?
Pat: Safecracker isn’t our company: they’re the distributors who picked the movies up. They’ve been brilliant to us every step of the way. Yeah, we’ve discussed all sorts of crazy ideas for a third one, but nothing we can really share yet.
Alan: I’m sure there are many more Death Tales to be told. And we are always open to suggestions.
Jim: It’s going to happen, I can’t say how soon but it will happen – its too much fun not to make another one.
Stu: Do the three of you have plans to work on individual films in the near future?
Alan: My first feature film "Jesus Versus The Messiah’ is being released on DVD in early 2013 via the wonderful Cine Du Monde label. At the moment my second feature ‘Chinese Burns’ is doing the festival circuit, notably the Marbella Film Festival amongst others. As for future projects, I am currently in the process of writing adventure/comedy/musical: ‘The Last Showboat’ along with Ki Longfellow-Stanshall which tells the story of the late Vivian Stanshall of Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band fame, albeit in a ludicrously exaggerated and heightened manner. With more squid.
Pat: The director’s cut of my movie The Devil’s Music has also been picked up by Cine Du Monde and will be out around the same time as Jesus Versus The Messiah. I’ve got two flicks roaring away on the starting line at the moment: Chainsaw Fairytale and The House on the Witchpit. Which one gets made first depends on boring funding issues. I can’t wait to get behind the camera again.
Jim: I am in the midst of writing at the moment and plan to shoot in 2013 – a bit like Pat, what I shoot will be dictated by the funds I can raise – more horror though and can’t wait to get back behind the camera.
Stu: Thanks again for your time, and good luck with the films!
NAZI ZOMBIE DEATH TALES is available on DVD from Safecracker Pictures.
Special thanks to Jim Eaves, Pat Higgins and Alan Ronald.