We love the undead here at SGM and the only thing better than your traditional brain eater is the prospect of a good ol’ Nazi Zombie…so our very own horror fiend in jack boots Marc Lissenburg welcomed the opportunity to kick back with the team behind the OUTPOST movies, Steve Barker and Rae Brunton, to discuss the latest episode BLACK SUN and all things undead…
Marc: Hi Steve, Hi Rae...Thank you so much for making time to indulge in a little discourse with SGM..! A question for both of you, just to set the tone, I guess. What do you remember about your first EVER cinema experience?
Rae: I don’t know what the first film I ever saw at the cinema was, but I my first memory is either The Return of the Jedi or The Last Starfighter. It’s pretty hazy because I was still far too young to be in the theatre. I do know I was pretty impressed by Lando Calrissian’s shirt, though; possibly because I was chewing his action figure at the time, possibly because he was actually on screen. Who can say?
Steve: I have vague memories of being very young and seeing ‘The Jungle Book’. I embarrassed the hell out of my dad by screaming the place down at the end, when Mowgli unfathomably chose a girl over a bear that sings!?! My first real memory was going to see Star Wars when I was 6. I was so stupid that I thought the Pearl & Dean advertising logo where you fly down a tunnel was the actual movie. But I think the moment where I really caught the bug was seeing ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ when I was ten. I still vividly remember watching the opening with Paramount’s logo turning into a real mountain and thinking ‘If I can’t be the guy in the hat, then I wanna make the guy in the hat’. I guess doing bad Nazi’s came pretty naturally after that.
Marc: Ok, so the OUTPOST movies are commonly filed under the "Nazi /Zombie" subgenre but I felt they had an intelligently unique narrative by combing their occult and scientific facets. The Nazi’s association with the Occult, and especially their use of ‘Runes’, is an intriguing topic. How much did you guys already know about this enigma or did the OUTPOST projects spark off any research?
Rae: Thanks for calling us intelligent! I can’t say I knew a lot about the Nazis obsession with the occult besides what we all know from other movies and fiction. When I wrote the first film, I did a lot of reading on the Nazis in general – for me that set the eerie tone and inspired a lot of genuine horror. I thought that texture was the most important part and, initially at least, the machine and all the occult stuff was really just a story-engine for me – it provided a treasure chest for our characters to uncover, a mystery for them to solve and a hokey device to explain the existence of our monsters. It was really Steve Barker who introduced all the real world details about the Philadelphia Experiment and Einstein’s Unifying Field Theory to help explain the machine. Hopefully that stuff adds another layer of plausibility but, while I did do some research, I couldn’t begin to explain anything about theoretical physics.
Steve: Yeah, I’m the same, I didn’t really know a lot about the Nazi occult connections outside of movies I’d seen. The producer Kieran Parker had come up with the concept of modern day soldiers fighting scary undead Nazi’s, which sounded like a cool set-up for John Carpenter style siege horror flick, and we initially started to reverse engineer the technology in simply as way to make the narrative play. But once we started researching, the fact there were historical connections to be made within the script seemed like far too sweet an opportunity to pass up on.
Marc: Both OUTPOST movies so far have ended almost leading into a new narrative. Was it the intention right from the outset to create a ‘Franchise’ or did this develop due to the success of the movies as they progressed?
Rae: No, a franchise was never on the cards when we set to work on the first film. I think it’s maybe a personal taste thing, but I just happen to really like open ended stories. I’ve always liked to imagine that the world keeps turning and the characters keep going after you turn the final page or the credits roll. Also, with Outpost, I think we’re fortunate in that we’ve got an interesting enough premise that we keep adding to the story, but that’s definitely more about luck than design.
Steve: I remember that there were fanciful conversations on the set of the first one about what could potentially happen in a sequel, but they were really just chat. It was certainly never part of our thinking when we were scripting the first one and I think I’m like Rae in that I just like open ended stories. I do know that if we’d been aware at the time that the first movie would do ok and we’d be making a sequel then we’d probably have done ourselves a favour and kept at least one central character alive, just to give us some narrative consistency. Everybody being dead made writing the set-up for the sequel a nightmare, so much so that Klausener, the principle villain in Black Sun had to be based on a background extra in the archive footage for the first picture We’d just happened to give him lab-coat and said "Try to look impressive, you invented the machine.". Like Rae said, it’s definitely more by luck than design.
Marc: OUTPOST was given an 18 certificate while BLACK SUN only a 15. How conscious of certification and censorship were you while making the movies?
Steve: I’ve honestly never considered the certificate when I’ve shot either movie. And since the financiers always assumed that both pictures would be 18’s, I’ve never been under any pressure to hold back or censor anything beyond what we could achieve on the very limited time and money. I had a feeling going into Black Sun that it would feel less violent, simply because the movie wasn’t going to linger so much; it was going to be pacier, a bit more action oriented and that certainly turned out to be true. But I was a little surprised when the movie got a 15, if only because there’s actually more on-screen violence and gore in this movie than there is in the first one, it’s simply the pace that seems to have made it more palatable to the BBFC, so go figure, I guess.
Marc: Both OUTPOST and BLACK SUN had scenes where Beethoven’s Symphony no 9 CHORAL Molto Vivace bizarrely kicks in. What were the reasons for this?
Steve: In the first movie, the scene with Beethoven was specifically written with the track in mind. In fact it was hearing the piece that gave me the idea for the scene in the first place and I still remember playing the track to Kieran and Rae whilst effectively acting out the scene for them in an office (If you could see just how bad my acting skills really are and how deeply unspooky that performance was then you’d realise just what a leap of faith it was for them to go with it.) Then when I needed a track to play on the gramophone in Black Sun it just seemed like a fun little in-joke.
Marc: I loved the BLACK SUN artwork posted on the movies official website (the ‘Swastika’ poster is just killer!) Tell us a little about the concept art. Who created it and did it run into any problems due to some of the fascist imagery etc?
Steve: I’d love to take credit for that artwork but I can’t. The poster was put together by a brilliant company called Hicksville. We went to them for some concepts because they’d done such a great job designing the poster for the first movie and even though I gave them a couple of ideas they thankfully ignored them and came up with ripped swastika idea on their own. Most of the other, more traditional conceptual design paintings for scenes in the movie were done by a Scottish comic book artist called Alex Ronald. I’ve worked with him on two projects now and he’s not only a lovely guy but also an amazing talent. He did some stuff for scenes we had to cut from the script for budget reasons and I love the idea that there is still a really cool rendering of those ideas that exist somewhere, even if I couldn’t shoot them. He’s also done a full comic that covers a long pre-credit sequence we wrote for Black Sun but also had to cut for budget. It details what happened to the bunker in 1945 and it’s awesome. I think that’s getting released with Outpost 3.
With regards to fascist imagery, it’s something we’ve been very conscious of, not just in the promotion but also the production of both movies. I think the fantastical elements remove us sufficiently from the true horror and keep us within the boundaries of taste, and ultimately I think it’s abundantly clear that our take on these fuckers is that they were a particularly pure form of evil. But I do think that you still need to be very careful and trust your instincts when you feel that a moment or image is too close the bone and you need to back off.
Marc: OUTPOST seemed virtually bled of colour and had an eerie, almost suffocating atmosphere at times, whereas the action kicked in a lot earlier in BLACK SUN. Can you expand a little on the two differing styles of the movies?
Steve: That really came from not wanting to repeat myself or do a retread of the first movie. In that film a lot of the fun was to use mystery and suspense to steadily crank the atmosphere through the first half of the picture and I could do that because the movie was fresh and the audience wasn’t entirely sure what was coming. Going into Black Sun my feeling was that if I simply tried to do that again it would quickly become tedious because the audience had already seen what was ultimately around the corner.
This was obviously my first sequel, but having watched a lot of them, I’ve always admired the ones that try and make something fresh, it’s always a risk that you’ll alienate your original audience but I thought it was a risk worth taking, so we decided to shift genre slightly, go at it from the off, try something that was completely different tonally and hope that the people who liked the first movie came along for the ride.
Marc: There is a definite reluctance among fans of Horror to embrace, in particular, gore effects using CGI. As self-confessed genre fans AND filmmakers what are your viewpoints on this issue?
Rae: Well, for me it’s the unknown that’s really terrifying and I’ve always been a much bigger fan of that creeping sense of dread, of a tense atmosphere and the suggestion of a thing in the dark than the actual reveal. I don’t know, but once you see the monster – no matter how well realized – it’s just not as scary anymore. That said, if we’re taking a vote, I definitely prefer physical, in-camera, effects, even if that means blowing up a real person’s head! Sure, I’ve seen some great CGI gore, but something about the weight of the liquid is never quite right, is it..? No, when it comes to being truly grossed-out, nothing beats an authentic bit of splatter!
Steve: Strictly in terms of horror movies then I’d always push to do things in camera, simply because horror is such a visceral genre and generally the eye can just tell when blood or gore isn’t real. But when you’re working on budgets a low as these two movies then time becomes a huge issue and with practical gore it can take literally hours to get even the most simple shot so that’s not always possible. Looking back over the two movies I’d say the gore is probably 80% practical, and with the CG shots I think maybe half of those work, whilst the others were as good as we could make them for the money.
Then again I know that David Fincher rarely uses practical anymore because he hates the unpredictability of real liquid and all the waiting around for clean-up and re-set. Maybe if I ever had the budget and schedule to pull off the kind of amazing CG blood work that you see in Zodiac then I’d feel differently.
Marc: A question for Rae, OUTPOST III: Rise of the Spetsnaz is being touted as a prequel, yet BLACK SUN ends on somewhat of a cliff hanger. What can you tell us about that?
Rae: What indeed? I can tell you that we want and aim to give the audience something different with each new film. If Black Sun is different from Outpost, then hopefully Rise of the Spetsnaz is different again. Kieran Parker came aboard as director for the third film and when you change director you inevitably change tone as well. The appetite with this next one is to make an adrenaline fuelled escape movie where we get to x-ray the inner workings of the bunker and see some of the insanity driving the Nazis’ plan.
That said though, and while Rise of the Spetsnaz marks a definite change of pace, I wouldn’t want to abandon the strands left hanging at the end of Black Sun altogether. And if there was ever an opportunity to continue the story, I think the next chapter would be all about bringing those different threads together in as explosive as way as possible!
Marc: A question for Steve, the small amount I have read about the corrupt cop tuned vampire in BLOOD MAKES NOISE sounds gritty and original. Could you tell us a little more about the project and when it is likely to be completed?
Steve: Funny you should mention it, I actually delivered a draft of the script last night (hence my slightly late replies to your questions, sorry) and I’m hugely excited about it. The initial concept was pitched to me by a great friend of mine, Marcus Harben who has co-written it with me and I was drawn to it because for all that I love the vampire myth, there have actually been very few vampire movies that I truly love. Then over recent years the myth has been steadily veering ever more into ‘twilight’ territory so I thought it would be cool to try and make something that redresses the balance. I can’t really get into details, but it’s been written to play like a cross-genre collision of the vampire myth and Neo-noir, which has let me indulge my love of old school revenge flicks like John Boorman’s ‘Point Blank’, modern Asian cinema like ‘Oldboy’ or ‘I saw the Devil’ and the vampire movies I really do love like ‘Near Dark’. Hopefully the people with the money will like it as much as I do and we can shoot it soon.
Marc: Thank you both so much for your time. And if you ever get offered the inevitable "ILSA SHE WOLF OF THE SS" remake, I sincerely hope you let us announce it first on Sex Gore Mutants!! Irony aside, any final words for our readers...???
Steve: Not really, beyond thanking everybody so much for their support and I really hope they like the new movie.
Special thanks to Steve Barker, Rae Brunton and Bunmi at Market Me.