Alex Chandon (Part 1)
Alex Chandon is the enfant terrible of British horror, director of Bad Karma, Drillbit, Pervirella and Cradle of Fear. This interview was conducted in November 2001 and a short extract was used for a feature in Fangoria.
Jump straight to Part 2 of this very long interview.
What was the inspiration that made you want to make Cradle of Fear?
"Well, I’d directed two promos for Cradle of Filth. The first one ‘From the Cradle to Enslave’ went off and did really really well. We put two and two together and thought let’s make a film featuring the band. So that was the initial catalyst. Then sitting in the pub, as you do, and chucking around ideas, we just thought at the end of the day it’s going to be easier to do an anthology. Because we knew we wouldn’t have a huge budget and it would be a nightmare to keep people working for us and keep the same actors and stars for more than a few days.
“As soon as we thought ‘Right, it’s an anthology-type movie,’ that was the catalyst to come up with some stories. Then it was a case of raising the money. We didn’t find much encouragement with the normal British film industry, funnily enough. So when it was the year 2000, everything was going very 2000-y - this was in January - I just thought I’d raise the money myself. Which is what I tried to do - and it worked."
So where did the money actually come from?
"From about 40 different people all putting in small amounts. All private investment. It was literally ringing them up, showing them the business proposal, showing them the video for the band, letting them know what they were getting themselves in for - see if they went for it. I think the fact that Cradle of Filth are doing quite well - they’ve just signed to Sony - that helped. As far as I’m concerned, even though I didn’t want it to be a heavy metal film, I was quite happy for it to be based on their imagery. Quite dark and gothic and covered in blood. In those respects there was that sort of mutual attraction and it all seemed to work."
How did you and the band first get together?
"Just doing stuff in the past. A model who was in one of the Cradle of Filth photoshoots gave the art director a copy of Pervirella and he was looking for a director for their promo. I think the band had already seen Bad Karma and Drillbit. So we just met up on the strength of that and got on like a house on fire straightaway. I went off and did that video and they all loved it."
Did the band have much creative input into the film?
"The lead singer Dani did more than anyone else. Not so much in the storylines, although he was always there, but I pretty much wrote everything. But I asked him about the sequences featuring him. I didn’t want him to do anything he was uncomfortable with, and I also didn’t want to stray too far from the image that he had for the band. The fans would be disappointed if he wore a pin-stripe suit and a bowler hat!"
He’s the character who is a puppet of the real villain, yes?
"Yes. We called him The Man. We never actually name the character but in the script he’s just called The Man. He’s the spectral link between the stories, avenging his father’s incarceration for eating too many children. The difficult thing about working with a band was that they had so many commitments with tours and photoshoots and writing albums, so it was very difficult to pin down Dani for his sequences. We used all the other band members in cameos, but it was tricky just finding them, let alone keeping them there for a day and filming them. Doing photoshoots is different: they’re the stars of the piece and they can look into the camera and mess around for five hours and get really drunk. But on film you can’t get that drunk! And I always had to say to stop looking into the lens.
“Apart from that, we had all the other problems you have with low-budget films. But I think my strength was, having done stuff like Pervirella before, learning from mistakes that we’d made, I’d learnt how to use low-budget and make it look more expensive than it is. Getting good results, using a good crew, a lot of people I’d worked with before. A lot of people from the industry have actually given their services for nothing so that’s why we had a good level of, say, effects work."
The movie looks a lot more professional than Pervirella, which was deliberately cheesy fun. How have have you as a film-maker progressed from Pervirella?
"Pervirella was a brilliant experience, especially because we shot on super-16 so I can actually say that I’ve shot something on film. But I say now and I said then that it was more Josh Collins’ film in quite a few respects. In a way, I was making his film, even down to him having final say on the edits. He deliberately wanted that kitsch, cheesy look, so it was difficult to bring something super-slick to that. That’s not what he wanted, which is fair enough. I think with Pervirella we achieved that kitsch, fun, you-can-see-the-strings sort of look.
“I guess it was doing that first promo for Cradle of Filth: we were under pressure with a deadline and they wanted it to be super-slick. So that was a chance for me to do horror with a decent budget and see if I could make something really nice. Everyone was blown away by that so we realised we could do this. So I did see it as a big change from Pervirella. Pervirella was supposed to be that sort of cheesy look. I always wanted to make something slick and nice but to do that I knew that I needed to have people around me. With the birth of digital video, you can shoot something reasonably cheap and get a look almost equivalent to 16mm. I had the right medium and time and crew to be able to do something this slick. I’m really pleased that it looks this good - now I can’t wait to get my hands on ten times the budget and see what I can do with that."
Can you say what the budget was?
"I can’t really because it’s a bit of a double-edged sword. It was a low budget but I don’t want to say how low it was because we’re still trying to get distribution deals. If I’d had more money I don’t think it would have made the film much better, but it would have bought us all piece of mind. It was two years unpaid, everyone put a lot of effort into it. Obviously we want to make some money out of it, hence the way we’re selling it at the moment through the website, but when we do the next film we don’t want someone to say: ‘Here’s the same amount of money, give me the same sort of film.’
“There’s only so much you can do for nothing and it gets to a point where you just think: ‘Fuck it, I want a house, I want a car, I want money, I want a few luxuries.’ Also to make a film where I don’t have to rely on my mates. They’ve done it for ten years now so they’re getting a bit pissed off, so it would be nice just to sort them out. I’m still using the same effects people that I used on Bad Karma."
Have they gone on to other things?
"Duncan Jarman at the moment is doing Stig of the Dump but he’s just come off Band of Brothers and before that was Saving Private Ryan. And he’s won two Emmys for Hallmark productions. He did Arabian Knights and Jason and the Argonauts and Alice in Wonderland, which he won the Emmy for. And Mike Dom, who came in on Drillbit he did the Aphex Twin video ‘Come to Daddy’ that won all the awards. He recently did Farscape and he worked recently on Danny Boyle’s new film. He’s directing a short film now. So yes, a lot of our team are doing bigger and better things. I’m finding it quite a struggle because what we’re doing is quite a niche market in the UK. I think in America there’s far more independent horror films and independent productions as a whole, but in the UK the industry doesn’t encourage commercial films, especially horror/gore/slasher/effects films."
Regarding the level of violence and gore, were you mindful of what might get past the BBFC or did you just throw it all in regardless?
"It was sort of the opposite. I was mindful of not getting an 18 certificate. Basically I didn’t want to get an 18 because I knew we weren’t going to get a certificate when we were selling it ourselves. We found we could do it legally over the internet as long as the video was actually sold from Holland. So we avoided getting a certificate, saved all that money. It would probably be about £2,000 and I think they’d cut a couple of scenes so then we’d have to recut it at our own cost, so it can be much more than that. So we just thought it’s not worth it. Also we thought it would be nice to know we couldn’t get an 18.
“But one guy from the BBFC came to the screening at the Prince Charles. He got in contact and he thought if we got them on a lucky day it might get passed uncut. Another chap who works for the BBFC said they’d have problems with the scene with the cat, even though, as you said, it does look quite fake! But I think it’s the principle of animal violence. They don’t like it: cats and breasts. that’s why the blood-on-tits shot was in there."
Are you establishing yourself as the enfant terrible of British indie horror cinema?
"Only by default, I think. The fact that there isn’t anyone else really doing this. Because I did the Cradle of Filth promos and now this, and nothing else inbetween. Someone’s approached us about developing one of the short stories into a longer feature. So that will take us down the same road, and then more Cradle of Filth videos next year, and I’ve got another idea for a horror film. As I say, if there were other people in England, I would love to have competition. And I do know other people in England but it’s so difficult to make something. I would love a bit of competition but there doesn’t seem to be any and I’m quite happy to take that crown."
So where has Cradle of Fear shown so far?
"Frightfest was brilliant because that was Leicester Square in London, the Prince Charles Cinema, projected from the digibeta master. It just looked absolutely amazing on the big screen, like a real film. Full cinema, brilliant response. Since then, it’s been a quiet time of year for festivals and also we missed a lot of deadlines for Halloween stuff. It was recently shown at the German Halloween Filmfest which Eileen Daly attended and we won Best Special Effects, which was cool. Eileen said it wasn’t a big festival but it was up against independent films. Then it was shown on Hollywood Boulevard, again on Halloween, and it won Best Editing and Best Special Effects."
Have you had any interest from any distributors?
"Yes, that’s what’s going on at the moment. It’s a priority but we don’t want to do a release now, we want to do it after Christmas, so we’re not in a desperate hurry to sign the first offer that comes along. At the moment we’re talking to two reasonably big video distributors in the UK and we’ve got a sales agent in America. We’ve got a couple of chaps in America interested. A lot of people are interested in the DVD as well, which is something that we deliberately try not to talk about. We’re just saying that there might be something very special for next year. So the bottom line is that we are talking to distributors but we’re also looking for distribution so if anyone’s reading this and likes the movie...
“It’s difficult to find territories in the Far East. Cradle of Filth are quite big in Japan but we haven’t had any orders from Japan, which we put down to the translation problem with the internet. So there’s markets that we want to break, but they’re quite difficult to get into. But it’s early days as far as we’re concerned. Even getting stuff in Fangoria is a dream come true because it’s a magazine I grew up with. Stuff like this, letting people know it’s finished and it’s out there, will hopefully benefit us in the long run and lead to more sales and more outlets."
Continue to Part 2 of this long interview, where Alex Chandon discusses the cast and effects of Cradle of Fear and his horror influences.