[J Kerswell chats with Maurice Devereaux]
Just when you think the subgenre has all but exhausted itself, along come films that startle, provoke and have the good sense to entertain just like those classic slasher movies used to. Canadian director Maurice Devereaux has a rare talent for making films that do just that. We thank him for taking the time to chat with us!
Q: Most of your films, with the exception of 1998’s LADY OF THE LAKE, have been firmly within the slasher subgenre – albeit with distinctive elements. What attracts you to the subgenre?
There’s an old saying about film director’s I heard once that said “they always make the same film” so since my first film was a slasher with supernatural overtones, well I guess that’s what I’m stuck with … There is some truth to that saying, and if you look at some directors careers it’s absolutely true (David Lynch, Cronenberg, Argento come to mind), sometimes from the get go, there are some themes and obsessions that just never go away … Maybe it’s a way to try and get it right later in life, since our first films usually suck (with a few exceptions, thank you very much Orson Welles, for making us all look bad).
But it’s strange to think, if I had today’s computer FX technology if I might not have made Star Wars or Superhero rip offs instead of horror films when I was starting out at age 17 making films. Because I was such a comic book, sci-fi geek as well as a horror fan in my teens. It’s just that at the time it seemed more feasible to do my own Halloween or Evil Dead then Star Wars.
Are there any other slasher films you admire, or would state as an influence?
The first, “original” Halloween, Texas chainsaw, Nightmare on Elm Street (what a strange time it is now, that I had to specify “original” to every movie I talk about liking). Deep Red, Suspiria, Body Double … Those are some of my “slasher” foundations. I was never a Friday the 13th fan.
Did you grow up as a fan of horror movies?
Yes, but not just horror, I was a movie fan, and loved anything fantastic (sci-fi, super-heroes, horror, fantasy), but I always had a soft spot for horror.
I’ve heard that your first film (which I have yet to track down), the killer monks opus, BLOOD SYMBOL (1992) was actually filmed at the tail end of the 1980s slasher boom in 1984. Is this true? If so, why did it take so long to come out?
I usually avoid any mention of dates, to not give away my age…J
Let’s just say that I started Blood Symbol when I was 17 in college and it took years to make, because me and my co-director/cinematographer at the time Tony Morello were paying for everything and we’d always run out of money. Since we were shooting on film (Super 8 at first then 16mm) and it was bloody expensive, to not only buy the film stock, then have it processed, then transfer it on to video and pay the Betacam tapes, then pay for an off-line VHS editing suite, then an on-line Betacam editing suite etc. Today with affordable computer editing and digital HD cameras (even in phones!??!), people don’t realize how expensive it was back then to make a movie. Tony and me worked shit jobs in burger joints and put all our money in the film, and I personally sold my entire 7000 comic book collection to finance the film. Together we must of spent at least $35,000.
If I had had today’s technology when I was a teenager, I probably would have made 15 shitty feature films in 6 years (with each one getting slightly better), instead of just one shitty film over a 6 year span.
In 2001, your film SLASHERS was a forerunner for other later subgenre films, such as MY LITTLE EYE and HALLOWEEN: RESSURECTION (both 2002); taking reality TV as a springboard for mayhem. As with many of your films, it asks uncomfortable questions. Namely that has the line between real and reel violence has become so blurred as to become indistinguishable? As devil’s advocate, is there a possibility that could play into the hands of those who say that horror films damage society?
This is the question that will never go away, people will always look to blame horror films, video games, comic books, heavy metal music, whatever … For violence in society, because it’s a simple solution to a complex question. But humans are and were violent, way before any of these inventions. Anyone who studies history knows this, the Spanish inquisition didn’t need to have seen the SAW series to invent the cruelest tortures devices you can imagine. People say if a “deranged person” sees a horror film he might emulate it, well I say, if he’s “deranged” he can be set off by anything … He’s bloody “deranged”!!! That’s the real problem! He’s mentally ill, and needs therapy, medication or to be locked up. It has nothing to do with horror films. And these people who would be happy to ban horror films and all the rest … I ask this … where would you stop? No acts of violence in movies at all, then you would also take away most other films as well, then what … You can’t show the news on TV right … Violent acts are described there as well, it might set off a “copycat deranged” person too … Then books etc … It has no end.
My belief is if we took away every single work of art, movie, TV, comic book, novel etc that features violence, it would not change a single thing to the violence in the real world.
Violence is a product of poverty, greed, lack of education, mental illness and just the plain fact, that human being are generally stupid selfish assholes…J
Movies are a “reflection of” and not the “cause of” of violence.
Your latest film is 2007’s END OF THE LINE, which tackles the controversial subject of religious extremism. Why did you take on such a highly charged subject?
Because religious extremism scares the shit out of me!!! There is nothing scarier! Because you’re dealing with lunatics who cannot be reasoned with because of the brainwashing of their religion. For most of us who have the privilege to live in peaceful countries (no war), it is very rare that we would encounter someone who wants to kill us. A robber can be reasoned with (take my money and my wife please) but someone with a bomb strapped around them, who just can’t wait to blow himself up to go to “his” heaven and be with his 72 virgins is terrifying.
Obviously, we are sadly used to hear about outrages committed in the name of other religions. Do you seen such extremism as a genuine threat to our way of life? And can you ever see a day where Christian fundamentalism becomes so extreme that it could spill over into similar violence?
Once again, anyone who studies history knows that religion was, is and will be a threat in the future.
Religion is a very scary weapon used to control the masses, gain money and political power and is either run by lunatics or crooks that use it to fuel hatred and ignorance. Unfortunately religion is one of the saddest inventions of humanity. And after 9/11 people were very quick to demonize radical Muslims, but this kind of behavior is not limited to that particular religious belief. History has shown us, that no religion is immune to killing in the name of one God or another. The inquisition, Jim Jones, The Order of the Solar Temple, David Koresh, the muslim extremist who killed film director Theo Van Gogh, 9/11 and the Aum Shinrikyo Japanese cult that carried out the sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subways were all very sad inspirations for my film.
And do I believe that there will be a day where Christian fundamentalists become violent … Absolutely! They are already violent! They have killed doctors who perform abortions!
I’m a (very) lapsed Catholic, so I naturally loved it! But what kind of reaction did the film get from religious groups (always touchy at the best of times)? And did the subject matter make the film more difficult to distribute?
Well I never heard from any “religious groups’, I got one religious lunatic who wrote to me directly and who was very insulting, but I responded to him with actual bible verses from Jesus preaching forgiveness and it just confused the shit out of him … As everything he had said to me in his letter was against the beliefs of his own religion … Ah the irony …
Also I’ve read a few comments on the internet and on IMDB, but as a general rule those who would be offended by the film, never heard of it and do not watch this kind of film. If the film had a Hollywood big budget film with millions in advertising and had been released on 3000 screens, it probably would have been picketed, and there would have been insult and threats … I’m glad I avoided those.
Was it right that you self-financed for around $200,000? If so, has it become easier or harder to raise money for independent productions?
Yes I worked my day job for years, saved up money then blew it all on the film (it was actually much more then $200K, but even I don’t know the exact amount, and I don’t want to know, as it makes me want to crawl into a ball and cry, as even if the film was released in many countries, I only made back about 35% of what I spent).
Easier or harder, well of course on the technical side of things it’s easier. You can literally make a movie for nothing today if you have a computer and someone has a camera. But I would say it’s harder then it ever was to make a living at it. There will less and less B moviemakers like Ted.V Mickels, Hershell Gordon Lewis, or more recently David Decoteau, Jim Wynorsky’s … Director’s who make movie after movie (of variable quality) but who could earn a decent living doing them.
Now anybody can make a movie, so there is a glut of product, and with illegal downloads there has been a crash in the DVD market. So distributors are paying LESS for indy films today then they were 25 years ago.
So unless you “win the lottery” and are one of the rare filmmakers that are plucked out of the crowd of thousands of indy films by Hollywood, you will have a hard time.
But hey … No one ever said it was supposed to be easy.
Had you seen the British film DEATH LINE (1972), which is also set on the underground? In my opinion, END OF THE LINE make much better use of the locations than either CREEP (2004) or the recent STAG NIGHT (2008). What challenges were there shooting in that environment?
Yes, I saw DEATH LINE (but under the RAW MEAT title) it was a fun film. Well it’s impossible to shoot in a real subway (can you imagine the cost of closing down a real city subway) so my film was a combination of different locations (an abandoned underground car tunnel, an old train car in an outdoor museum and lots of CGI effects). For me one challenge, was that in the underground tunnel, the walkie-talkies didn’t work, so I had to continuously run up 12 flight of stairs to get the actors on the surface or to ask for a prop or something (I couldn’t afford enough assistants).
The other challenge was more for the actors because it was cold and damp in the tunnel and they were lightly dressed.
You may not want to give away the film’s secrets, but there has been much debate on the film. Subversively, it suggests that the religious zealots might be right and it really is judgment day after all. On the other hand, some have suggested that it’s a bad trip (through drug laced muffins) that explain the visions and slaughter. Care to elaborate?
No, there are enough clues in the movie to figure things out, and it makes a second viewing more fun. It pleases me when I hear all the different theories about the film, but everything you need to solve the mysteries are hidden in the film, if you know where to look.
Is French your native language? If so, do you think there would be a market for a French spoken Canadian horror movie?
Yes, French is my Mother tongue, but I grew up bilingual, watching American movies and TV and reading US comic books, so my culture is very affected by the US.
In my hometown of Montreal, some people have complained that I did my movies in English instead of French, but they don’t understand that when you are financing a film from your own pocket, you have to make the film in English to at least have a chance to sell it elsewhere. French Canadian films are financed by the government and would not exist without them. We do not have a big enough population (6 million) to sustain a private industry. I hope one day to receive funding from the government to do a French Canadian horror film but it will be very difficult, because the people who choose which projects get money notoriously do not like horror films. They are not considered “high art”. So that is why there are almost no French Canadian horror/fantasy films. The rare exceptions are LA PEAU BLANCHE (White Skin) a vampire film, SUR LE SEUIL and ST-MARTYRE DES DAMNÉS (both supernatural thrillers) but there has never been an all out straight scary film that proudly proclaims itself a “Horror film”. I hope to be the first to do so.
What is next for you? Do you have plans to say within the subgenre?
Right now, I have a completed horror script that will be put through the official government subsidies applications process … If it works out, 3 years from today, I might get some money to make the film, if they say no … Then no film.
In the meantime, I’m writing another horror film, that unfortunately, I will once again make with my own money, because life is too short and I need to make another film, because I need to tell stories and express myself in a creative way. Even if it means my financial ruin.
If you have time, please share any anecdotes from your career.
Filmmaking for me is life, filled with the greatest joys, pains, frustrations, defeats and triumphs.
review of END OF THE LINE.
Maurice Devereaux at the official END OF THE LINE website.