Well there's absolutely no doubt whatsoever what is the horror movie of the year (if not the millennium so far)…yes 'Haute Tension' (or 'Switchblade Romance' as it's more commonly to be known in multiplexes across the UK when released by Optimum on September the 24th)…Alexandre Aja's ground breaking shocker is the first film in years to make a theatre full of die hard horror fans sit up uneasily at this years 'Dead by Dawn Horror Festival'. This simplistic but nerve shredding shocker is everything that the genre hasn't been since the hey day of the splatter filled 1980's…and some, quite simply the best horror film in years. Here SGM chat with director Alexandre Aja and star Cecile De France about not only the making of this modern genre classic but Alexandre's thoughts on his upcoming remake of the 'Hills Have Eyes'…
SGM: 'Haute Tension' opened the 'Dead by Dawn' Horror Festival in Edinburgh earlier this year (the films UK premiere in fact) to resounding applause. This seems to be the welcome reaction across the genre community (both with fans and critics) globally, how does this feel to someone like yourself who is obviously a fan of the genre?
Alexandre Aja: We did not believe it would have such an impact. French critics liked the film but at this time the life of the movie for us was finished. And now it has just grown from this. For us it was a tribute to all the films we liked very much; a way to say we like the genre, that we like to make this kind of film so let's see what we can do, nothing more. And now, to see all these reviews and to hear all these people discussing the film, in the press and on the net is great, it is huge. We are very happy.
SGM: Was there any particular genre movies or characters that yourself and (co-writer) Grégory Levasseur revisited for inspiration ahead of going into production?
Alexandre Aja : The witch of Snow White (laughs)! The Shining, all of Stephen King adaptations, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Maniac, Halloween, Friday 13th, all of the Elm Street's. When we had this classic storyline in mind; 2 girls in a house, a killer, one night, we were thinking that is good way to make a tribute to all of these movies which influenced us so much as we grew up.
SGM: The film has been retitled for the English market as 'Switchblade Romance' which to a point is a subtle plot spoiler for the films twist finale - did you have much say in the films repackaging?
Alexandre Aja: After we finished the film, the next step was to find a suitable title that would work in foreign territories. After some thought, we came across Switchblade Romance and instantly felt very happy with it. When Lions Gate bought the film, they were very quick to inquire as to who came up with the name, saying that it felt out of place. Optimum Releasing however felt that the title suited the film wonderfully…which was nice!
SGM: Genre fans will be familiar with Philippe Nahon from the similarly frenetically charged production 'Irreversible', how did you persuade him to take the 'killer' role when some actors may worry about being potentially typecast?
Alexandre Aja : He is one of only a few actors who could play this killer without a face. You don't see much of the killer until towards the end of the film; until then you only get glimpses of his boots scraping the floor as he walks, you hear him breathing, you see his hulking shoulders…. We wanted to portray the character as an ogre of sorts and Philip is ideal in playing this role and he is very expressive and scary. He isn't actually as tall as he looks however; both of the female stars of the film are very tall so we had to employ some tricks to give the viewer the impression that he was this giant of a man. When we offered him the role, Philippe was at first adamant that he did not want to portray another villain as he had done in Irreversible, but we soon managed to convince him to reprise his role just one more time. As an actor, you don't know how the film will look on completion so it was excellent for him to have a great deal of trust in our abilities.
SGM: Cecile, this is your first foray into the horror genre (and quite an extreme one too), how did you land this plum role in Alexandre's movie?
Cecile De France : I met Gregory and Alex in a café, we discussed the film and the role they were keen to offer me. I was very quickly interested; I took the script home and read it like a very good book. It gave me a real thrill; it genuinely scared me but I devoured it! When I was young I didn't like horror films. But as soon as Alexandre offered me the role, he asked me to watch The Hitcher, Duel, The Shining, Silence of The Lambs, Aliens, Rosemary's Baby.
SGM: Horror movie sets (more so in smaller budget productions) are notoriously arduous experiences for cast members, how was the 'Switchblade' experience for you?
Cecile De France :Mentally it was not hard at all because I was so excited to work on the film, to see all of the workings of the special effects and make up which were provided by Giannetto de Rossi. For me I was very excited. But physically, it was very hard. All of the exterior scenes were filmed in the middle of the night and I was barefoot. All of the crew bar Maiwenn (Switchblade co-star) and I were wrapped up in warm jackets and I was just in my vest! As well as this, the imitation blood is very sticky so you cannot put a blanket or anything over you between scenes as this would create more work for Giannetto. But I was prepared because I did 2 months of physical training before filming began. I wasn't used to such exertions so I lost a lot of weight and gained a lot of muscle. I did this for 2 reasons; Alexandre knew the conditions would be hard because it was a low-budget film. He was also aware that we would be asked to do a number of scenes which involved us running around so he wanted me to build up my stamina. He also wanted me to look thinner and my face more angular so to hint at the darker side of Marie's mind. I am always keen to do whatever is required by my director to ensure that I bring all I can to whatever role I am playing.
SGM: You mentioned the legendary Giannetto di Rossi, the film contains some of his finest gore effects to hit the screen since the splatter heyday of the 1980's. How did you manage to get Giannetto on board with the production?
Alexandre Aja: We knew from the beginning that, even in a very low-budget film, we needed nothing but the best person to provide us with necessary special effects. To simply have some ketchup would destroy all of the tension that we have tried to build - this would be a terrible mistake. So, we asked around and we knew Giannetto and the incredible work that he has done. Our line producer was Italian and he was able to introduce us to him. After speaking with Giannetto, he accepted our invitation to work on the film and in fact he came to the set alone, without any crew or assistants. I think it was a very exciting for him to do this little film. He is a great guy, very creative. Even if you have a question about something which is not special effect-related, he is so in love with the genre that he would always suggest a solution.
Cecile De France :I was so impressed when I first saw the kind of things he could create. I spent a great deal of the time in his trailer, asking questions about how he created such gruesome and realistic effects. It's wonderful to see how impressive his works look on the big screen, especially the decapitation scene! I was transfixed when Giannetto was preparing the scene; even Philip Nahon was somewhat nervous as he didn't want to make a single mistake! I was like a little girl who had just discovered what was happening behind the mirror. Giannetto is quite clearly a master of his work as well as being a terrific character and great fun to be around.
SGM: I have no doubt that if the film had been made in the 1980's (when splatter horror was last truly at the fore) it would have encountered serious censorship problems (similar to what happened previously to your previous film 'Entre Chiens et Loups' here by British film censors), was censorship ever a concern ahead of production and did you have problems with film censors?
Alexandre Aja: No not at all, our producer Luc Besson said from the very beginning that we could do what we want, which was great. In the US they kept the film in its original state and so it was releases with an NC-17 certificate. In the UK we did not have to make any cuts either which was a big surprise as we are used to seeing UK versions of films on VHS and DVD with numerous cuts.
SGM: Luc Besson is very active in assisting with funding/producing quality genre movies, how did he come onboard with the film and how did he respond to your finished production?
Alexandre Aja: When we initially took the script to him, he liked it very much. After we worked a bit on the script together, he agreed that his film company Europa would fund the film. People say he his very overwhelming producer, a tough producer. But at the end of the day, we were totally free to do what we wanted. When we showed him the final film, he was very impressed. What more could I ask for?
SGM: With the mouth watering news that you and Grégory are working on a remake for 'The Hills Have Eyes', with the clout of folk like Wes Craven and the Hollywood big shot team at the William Morris Agency behind you will you be getting the luxury of being able indulge your vision for this movie or will you be required to 'tone down' the similar extreme horror you and Grégory will no doubt envision?
Alexandre Aja: We are right now finishing the writing with Wes Craven (laughs). That is huge to say that! We are planning to start filming at the beginning of next year. Because it is a project we are writing, it means we don't have to discuss at all who is going to have control over the final cut. It is French law that if you are the author then you have the final say in what the finished article will look like. In the US it is obviously very different. So by writing the script, it ensures that you will maintain control over the film from principal photography right through to the editing suite.
I think The Hills Have Eyes will be great; it will be nasty, savage and very scary. For the film, I think we can just improve on what we tried in Switchblade Romance. Wes is very sweet man, just great as he instantly makes you feel very comfortable. We first met Wes to talk about Switchblade Romance and then now we are working on a remake of one of his best known films. And it is much more than a simple remake; it's a very good survival film.
SGM: Thanks for your time folks, hopefully we will see you in Scotland sometime at the 'Dead by Dawn' festival (perhaps with 'Hills Have Eyes'?) so you can savour our love for a good fright! Till then, good luck with the general release of 'Switchblade Romance' - keep them screaming in the aisles!
'Switchblade Romance' is released across the UK this Friday the 24th of September, if you only drag yourself away from your DVD player to go see one movie in the cinema this year then this should be that movie…kick back and savour the audiences fear!
To watch the 'Switchblade Romance' trailer (Windows Media Player format) then simply click here.
To win some truly blood thirsty 'Switchblade Romance' goodies enter the SGM 'Switchblade Romance' competition by clicking here.
Special thanks to Alexandre, Cecile, Optimum Releasing, Andy at Substance and Teresa at Hub - heroes one and all!