Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Kill List

Kill List
Directed by: Ben Wheatley
UK, 2011

A few weekends back, I was honoured to be part of a debate panel on Monsters, Horror and Genre at the first ever Monsters of Film festival held here in Stockholm. (A great little festival that I hope lives on forever) During this debate, or rather discussion panel, I tried to make a point that there’s a trend now of fictional monsters being replaced by factual monsters, i.e. us. We, mankind, are the monster in so many films I see these days that I have to say it’s a budding genre trend. A Serbian Film, The Bunny Game, The Human Centipede, Pig, Grotesque, etc., the list can go on forever, in several ways completely different films, but they are all connected by having a antagonist in the shape of a Human. My rapidly blurted theory got thrown something track as one panel colleague argued that mankind isn’t really a monster, preferring to look at the acts of evil instead. But then again, it’s acts of evil that define a monster; otherwise we’d call them something else. If it’s not evil, then it’s not a monster, is it? So when a human does evil things we call him, or her, a monster. It’s the red-zone definition of evil being.

I just saw a movie that I’m pretty convinced could be placed in that debatable niche, Ben Wheatley’s Kill List. A film where man is monster.
Jay [Neil Maskell] is a former soldier now taking assignments as a hit man together with his mate Gal [Michael Smiley]. The pair ventures out on their first assignment after an eight month absence, following an “Incident” during their last mission, in Kiev. Pretty soon the balance comes off kilter when Jay, without warning goes off the deep end once again. What was supposed to be a series of simple assassinations, instead become acts of profound violence. Gal see’s his best friend going over the deep end, and following an uncanny encounter with a strange pagan cult, they take the decision to walk away from the three part assignment.  This decision drives them deeper into the sinister scheme they have unknowingly have been drawn into.
If you come into Kill List expecting a generic horror film then you may be confused by what you see. If you come into Kill List looking for something rare, powerful and terrifyingly close to earth, then you are in for a treat. Kill List is a captivating movie, I was pulled in and manipulated to such an extent that the last act pulled the carpet from under my feet. I really get a kick out of movies when they trick me with their storytelling or move me with their cunning manipulation. I don’t intend to peel away all the layers of mystery in the movie, but I can certainly point out a few really impressive traits that make it one hell of a powerful movie, with that unsettling last moment mind fuck that really messes you up as the film dives into it’s end credits.
The first oddity of the film is the way Wheatley uses the Ordinary world. Normally one would build to a breakpoint where the unnatural suddenly bursts on screen, or is slowly introduced, and the nightmare begins. Wheatley more or less stays in the ordinary world through out the whole movie. Nothing really slips through, there’s no real transition into a haunted realm or moments where the uncanny is introduced into the world he takes us to.  It’s all realism to the max. It’s almost like watching a Ken Loach, Lindsay Anderson or a Mike Leigh film. A terrifyingly realistic, and everyday familiar setting, where you never really know how they are going to wrap it all up, in despair, turmoil or a sigh of relief ending. It’s similar in mood to the emotional ride of Shane Meadow’s Dead Man’s Shoes blended with the curios paganism of Robert Hardy’s The Wickerman and even Ray Austin’s Virgin Witch in some aspects.
The drama unfolding never really gives you a chance to relax as you sit on edge waiting for answers to questions you have, not knowing where Wheatley will take his characters. It’s intriguing and captivating.

So, lacking release Wheatley never once lets the unnatural in, but instead builds slowly, slowly, until the last possible moment. This not saying that there’s nothing there at all, there is, but it’s done in a subtle way as small details, which may not really seem unnatural are introduced along the way. He builds towards the last minute reveal, where a haunting rush of insight slaps the viewer right in the face. Jay and the audience are plunged into the depths of profound darkness. None of it possible without the tools of manipulation had been cunningly manipulating you whilst you watch.
A second important detail that sells the ordinary world is the relationship between Jay and his Swedish wife Shelly [MyAnna Buring]. It’s a marriage on the rocks, both of them frantically grasping at something that’s just not there anymore. There’s animosity, constant conflict, anger. All strong emotions that reflect back into Jay’s behaviour during his assignment.

Further questions are posed when the constellation becomes apparent. Where one would think Jay would keep his profession from Shelley, it’s in fact she who we could call their manager. This is somewhat unique and creates a strange mind-set. It would be very easy to write them all off as evil, as they are merchants of death. But it’s not quite that easy. Wheatly and co-writer Amy Jump push the right buttons by first presenting the ordinary world where Jay and Shelly are struggling for their relationship. The most of us can relate to this and recognize the feelings of anger, remorse, frustration that comes with fights and their aftermath. This helps us in our emotional recognition with Jay. We need this to bond with him, to invest in the character and it also is vital to help us empathize with him. Important for the climax and the disruptive feeling the film will leave us with.
During surveillance before a hit, Jay and Gal find a video recording of something that disturbs these hardened hit men to the verge of tears. This declares that Jay isn’t just the cold-blooded killer we presume him to be, but he’s also an emotional guy who holds some moral ground despite his dark profession. It’s another moment in which we empathize with him. This also sets up a strange moment when we find ourselves agreeing with the immense amount of violence Jay uses when he confronts the victim about the recording he found. We more or less feel that the act taped justifies the violence.
The most important ingredient to Kill List is the complex character of Jay, and the dimension he has. If he’d been nothing else than a cold killing machine, the ending would never have the same effect. Here it comes rapidly from a slow build, presents several stunning rushes of insight and proposes a whole new scenario to be. If this where an American movie, I’d have guessed they where setting it up for a sequel, but instead it’s a fantastic ending that cuts off at just the right point. Tying up so many loose ends in one single scene, only to cascade the viewer with new ones as the movie peaks to a climax.  Again, it’s not until the end credits start rolling that the moment catches up with me and the impact of what I just saw starts to sink in.
I’ve seen and been moved by a lot of the later years disturbing dark British horror films, but Kill List may just be one of the most ferocious Brit flicks made, as it’s final act opens doors most others end by closing. I’m left with a portal into a void, and it’s only my imagination that limits the atrocities to come. Keeping the twist until the last possible moment is a stroke of genius. There’s nowhere Wheatley could have taken us that would have provoked more than the ending that is. As said, the mind and our own mental images of what happens next are much more effective and intense than anything Wheatley could have put on screen.
Returning to the opening theory, perhaps the real mind fuck of the “man is monster” niche is that quite often the monster is a character we feel for. Even way back in John McNaughton’s ice cold, masterpiece Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, empathy for the psychotic and disturbed Henry [Michael Rooker] is evoked. Adam Rehmeier’s The Bunny Game, where we never actually see Hog [Jeff Renfro] kill Bunny [Rodleen Getsic]. Instead there’s a strong moment that I read as Hog feeling remorse, hence handing her over to the Jonas character. Milos [Srdjan Todorovic] in Srdjan Spasojevic’s profoundly dark and provocative A Serbian Film isn’t a good guy in any way. But within that midpoint twist where Milos say’s he want’s nothing to do with the perversities of Vukmir’s [Sergej Trifunovic] so called art, and walks away from the lucrative deal, we start developing some kind of bond with Milos. We may not like him, but we empathize with him as we do with many of those other monsters. We become one with the monster, as we can empathize with their reason behind their dark acts. We justify their acts.
So why do I want to place Kill List in the Man is Monster niche? I do so because Jay is the monster. Definitely a tool for the cult, but at the same time a monster who has no problem taking to excessive violence, a man whom the cult can shape for their use, a monster who commits and will commit further evil actions. We empathize with Jay when he shows emotions; when he leaves his family for the mission, when he reacts to the video, when he witnesses the pagan ritual, there’s emotions that in contrast to the violent behaviour gives him dimension. Potent traits, which are essential to creating an empathetic monster. We may not agree with his profound use of violence, but we can understand it. Hence, Man is Monster.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Necronos - Tower of Doom (Revisited)

Above you see the first official art work to the US release of the Rohnstock Brothers' splendid German splatter flick NECRONOS - TOWER OF DOOM

Yes, the guys have tied a deal with legendary TROMA and therefore a fair warning is in it's place: Brace yourself America, The Rohnstock's are about to invade the U.S.A.

I sincerely congratulate Marc, Lars and everyone else connected with the movie! Well done!

If you still don't know anything about this bloodstained monstrosity, then read my review of Necronos - Tower of Doom and the German Splatter niche right HERE!

Again, Congratulations guys, and see you in November!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Graveyard of the Living Dead

Graveyard of the Living Dead
Directed by: Marc Rohnstock
Germany/UK, 2008
Horror/Splatter , 89min
Distributed by: Dark Entertainment

A mate of mine says that I’m becoming something of a patron saint of German splatter, as I’m always going on about it, and taking up web space by writing serious reviews about those movies. Well what can I say? I like enthusiasm, and if there’s one thing that shines through all the carnage of German splatter films it’s the enthusiasm of the filmmakers. It almost taint’s it’s audience and sends them off into the world with a sensation of felling good after watching a German splatter flick. I’ve previously written on the traits I find associated with German splatter, and they make up a great cocktail of what some may call morbid entertainment. But I find it peculiarly close to the aesthetics of punk rock. Yeah. The philosophy being – “wot’s gonna stop us, pick up an instrument and let’s go”. It’s the same with independent filmmakers, what’s going to stop them? They pick up their cameras and go. Add to that that German splatter film directors and producers are always terribly polite, terrifically enthusiastic and let nothing stop them in their vision of carnage.
At the Institute für Meizinische Laboruntersuchungen a scientist pushed by his bosses to create a reanimation drug, pushes too far, and it obviously goes terribly wrong.  A bloody carnage takes place leaving the scientist and his boss [played by producer Lars Rohnstock] minions of the walking dead. Fast cut to opening titles and the introduction of characters on their way to be slaughtered. A band of black clothed kids out on a countryside drive, who just happen to take a piss-break right outside the old cemetery on the hill.
Obnoxious one, Rick [Ramon Kaltenbach who also composed the score for the flick], is the first to go and so far it’s all pretty straight forward. Zombie shuffle, zombie grab, girls scream, guys try to run, zombie chomp, guts and goo a go-go! Then the first of several small quirks, which work in favour of the film kick in. The gang fight off the undead and run to safety in a small shed… The shed being a problem as they now are trapped inside whilst zombies ferociously pound on the door outside. The dilemma being that both Tom [Played by writer/director Marc Rohnstock] and David have been bitten, David so serious that he’s unconscious. Knowing their zombie lore, they know that time is precious.
Unlike many other German splatter films, there’s not much comic relief in Graveyard of the Living Dead, which makes the cynicism and irony stand out so much more. The simple irony of life, the things we moan and complain about everyday, those “oh why does this always happen to me…” moments. Which is why we laugh when they find a chainsaw, only to realize it’s empty of gas. The band of mates flee into the cemetery and start fighting off the zombies, which produces fountains of blood and gore which drenches the ground below the infected beasts. The kids leave the battle as victors and the story could have ended here… alas nay, before they have had time to return to the humble shack and fetch still unconscious David, the blood of the zombies seeps into the soft soil of the cemetery and resurrects the living dead.
This is where the film get’s groovy, turn on the smoke machines, lay down the Misfits sound-a-like beats and let the dead rise from their shallow graves… Oh and one of them seems to have lost her shirt. What is it with naked zombie chicks that get’s me all worked up? Survival horror starts now!

There’s a morbid cynicism to the film as Tom is bitten early on when they try to save Rick. If there’s one thing everyone knows about zombies it’s that their bite turns their victims into one of them as the infection is transmitted through bodily fluids… wait, hold the naked zombie chick fantasy for a moment. This is the kind of cynicism I’m referring to when I call it a trait. Sometimes I have a problem getting into zombie films as they frequently end up walking that very nihilistic doomed ending path, hence resulting in me not really caring about the characters, after all they are all going to die anyway! Unless they are well written and manage to draw me into their story, which will have me empathise, and invest in them, giving the result that I will give a damn. In some way I can say that the Tom character is what makes it interesting. There’s something captivating in that “I’m doomed, but I’m going to fight for my own, and your survival as long as I can” persona. It’s what I sometimes refer to as dimension within a character, even if it includes going out amongst the undead, siphoning petrol from your own car so that you can fill up the chainsaw and get some serious mayhem as you massacre your way through the undead in the final act!
Back to that punk rock aesthetic; I really love the way the movie is shot, away from the dark of night, the fog of customary. Instead it’s shot in the bright sunlight! So everything is clear to see, no blurry dark basement special effects, it’s all out there in the light of day for you to see clearly. Effects are cheap; acting is so so, camera work is good enough, but just like punk rock, it doesn’t really matter how well produced your track is, as long as it delivers. Graveyard of the Living Dead delivers, just as a three-minute shit kicking punk track delivers, it delivers an eighty-nine minute gore drenched shit kicker.  Graveyard of the Living Dead is a punk rock bloodbath, frantically spitting and stomping untill the last frame. Decapitations, intestine grappling, headshots, fountains of blood and everything that comes with the territory including some surprise jump scares, a cameo appearance by Timo Rose, and a shocking last minute twist that you will never see coming. 
Ramon Kaltenbach and Martin Rüdel’s score does what it’s supposed to do, but for me the big kick is the many psychobilly / horror punk rock bands in the vain of Glen Danzig’s Misfits that are a treat. Bands like Blitzkid, The Other, Godforasken, and electro band Blutzukker. They bring a high production value to the flick and I’m still singing The Other’s Beware of Ghouls as I write this.
Kudos to Dark Entertainment who in this constellation, and previous incarnations of their lable, have always been prone to distributing the real, real indie productions of the world. Without them, I'm sure a lot of the movies in their great back catalouge would never have been released at all. If you are attending the Weekend of Horror's in Bottrop, Germany in November, make sure to drop by their stall and pick up a fist full of their great releases!

Included on the disc is the Rohnstock brothers 2008 short film Dark Awakening. They followed up Graveyard of the Living Dead with the magnificent Necronos : Tower of Doom 2012 also available from Dark Entertainment in it’s complete uncut glory.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

INTERVIEW : Silver Ferox Key Art (Exclusive!)

Leaving Brixton, UK for the Irish countryside in 2000, Silver Ferox immediately fell in love with the clean air, space and relaxed lifestyle. Seeking a change of direction in life, he regenerated and focused on a new path. Real countryside dark is something to behold if you've been a suburban/city rat most of your life and like the precarious bridge in The Evil Dead, the internet connection in his parts of the world are an unpredictable lifeline to the outside world, without which he would be destined to roam the forests with only his imagination for companion... 

...perhaps this is where he finds inspiration for the stunning artwork he's been producing these last couple of years. I decided it was time to seek out the man behind the artwork and have a chat about exploitation cinema, poster design and what makes good art.

Thanks for taking the time out of your hectic schedule for this little chat!
Thank you, Jason. I've been a fan of your Cinezilla blogspot and many FaceBook album posts over the last few years – your hipstamatic snaps ranging from European cuisine to a fistful of ladybirds had me hooked!

Thanks! So, what’s your story? How come you ended up a graphic designer; what path brought you here?
The path of least resistance. I was watching Hammer movies at five years old, due to my complete insistence that I was woken up at around eleven at night for the few hours in which the UK BBC TV horror double bills aired weekly during the 70s. By the time I was 13, I was renting and buying every so-called 'video nasty' on V2000 (yes, it was me who bought into that fledgling format) and boning up on my FX masters and horror directors from issues of Fangoria, Starburst, Samhain and Deep Red. I aced my grades in my 'O' and 'A' level Art exams at school and college (both of which I loathed with a passion) since I grew up being taught how to draw and paint by my dad and with these tickets I landed myself a death sentence in an established architectural firm in London's Regents Park for the next four years. A welcome redundancy caused by the UK recession in the early 90s meant that I then spent my twenties committed to a string of activities ranging from regular Tai Chi practice and the study of holistic and esoteric philosophies whilst also Djing at the height of the UK acid house movement with a hardcore dance outfit which eventually led to me spending most of my time making noise in a home midi music studio set-up. I abandoned my visual art practices for over a decade during this time until I took stock of my life and moved to Ireland when I was thirty where I returned to college on the West coast, graduating with an Honors Degree in Fine Art in the mid-noughties.

You’re making yourself a good reputation for poster art and design. What got you started with this?
In early 2010, I sat down and made some fan posters in Photoshop for some of my favorite flicks for no reason other than to indulge my passion. A month later I joined FaceBook and started posting up a few of my creations and within a few months I had over a hundred designs cooked up. Feedback was good from fellow genre fans and a few of them who also happened to be independent directors from the US and UK contacted me asking whether I'd like to make posters to promote their features. That was the critical stage for me – doing what I loved in a movie genre I had grown up with and then placing those creations where they could attract the attention of like-minded individuals. I then established an online presence with my Silver Ferox blogspot and began to approach anyone who I thought might require designs, as long as what they were doing was of personal interest to me - that's the only way I'll ever keep my heart in my work and deliver a true communication through my art.

So, what are the inspirations for your designs?
Atmosphere, resonant and palpable is essentially what drives me – it's paramount for me to feel a gut reaction from anything I see or hear in order for it to influence my work. 70s and 80s movie posters and video cover art plus the work of the great masters of fine art and design is my main pool of 2D resources, but essentially, I have gotten my deepest sensations through watching and listening to my favourite films and music and then attempting to transfer those feeling-thoughts to my designs.

Throw me a couple of names that have been important for you as a designer.
H.R.Giger, Edgar Degas, Andy Warhol, James McNeill Whistler.

How long have you been working with (poster) design?
Two and a half years. I think I had a day off this year.

Although your art does speak for itself, and certainly is fierce, tell me about the name - why Silver Ferox Key Art?
I've always loved the word 'ferox' from the Cannibal Ferox movie title – although I hadn't a clue as to what it meant initially; it just sounded like everything I imagined something taboo and brutal as hell to be. It's Latin for the word 'fierce' or 'feral' so it expresses the savage and untamed, a quality I like to express through my art – primal freedom to create outside of the constraints of conventionality and conformity. It also has the letter 'x' in it which reminds me of the UK 'X certificate' that adorned all the movies I had to take steps to see when I was a kid – it's as if the word itself has an 'X rating' at its footer. 'Silver' alludes to the term 'silver screen' which was a common type of movie projection screen used in the early days of cinema. Literally covered in silver dust to reflect outward the light from the projector, it is also a metaphor for an entrancing oasis of light from which man's dreams are made visual. 'Ferocious Cinema Key Art' is a suitable translation, with 'key art' being the professionally accepted term used to describe main poster campaign art used to promote a movie – the images and logos utilized to 'unlock' the essence of the movie being advertised.

Once upon a time poster art was all about painting an imaginary portal into the world of the movie. Images triggered the imagination and generated so much more anticipation than the generic “number of cast faces on display”. I’m almost offended by generic poster art and more frequently I’ll reject titles due to crap artwork that doesn’t tickle my imagination. Many of your designs capture that key essence of the movie and really do push the imagination. What’s your philosophy when it comes to designing a poster?
Listen to the images! They are portions of consciousness and they'll communicate to you if you respect that. In practice, this means I obtain the best images I can get my hands on from a movie and present them in as pure and uncluttered a way as possible, supported by complimentary use of fonts and layout. That's my main approach. I'm all about the raw image and try to avoid gilding the lily with extraneous use of Photoshop technique or trying to cram in too many images unless it generates a desired overdrive effect as opposed to diluting the impact of the design. One of the main reasons I have so far used photo stills from movies or shot my own photographic images in an appropriate style for my posters is to remain as true as possible to the aesthetics of the movie and you can't get closer than actual movie frames on paper/onscreen. Painted and illustrated posters using either traditional materials or contemporary digital painting techniques along with a combination of media – photos/painting, graphic shapes and creative use of type - are all highly effective in transporting the viewer of the poster into the world of the movie it is advertising, although these renderings are more about the poster artists' individual perspectives as opposed to attempting to become transparent as an artist and directly showcasing the images from the movie itself.

If you want to develop a style, you should focus on what you're proficient in and develop further skills until such time as they're employable. Most important for me personally is that the poster emanates a quality that can be felt as well as seen- how you arrive at that conclusion/the technique used is irrelevant.

If we were to talk about poster art of today, I’d say that I find it really boring, tedious and immensely repetitive… What would you say, and why?
Until many production companies and distributors start to invest an appropriate amount of money in selling their products through 2D imagery, the commissioned artists will only deliver an appropriate level of commitment and quality of work, unless they are personally motivated to generate work that breaks the mould since it reflects on their reputation and satisfies' their creative goals. There are, however, a number of artists and studios around who are on the cutting edge and deliver incredible pieces outside the call of duty and this serves to demonstrate that they wake up each day with the intention of fulfilling their creative passion as much as possible as opposed to focusing on exactly how much money they can make/save.

It’s obvious we share a passion for eighties horror, and many of your works on the site are re-workings of some of the best films in the genre. Tell me about these works…  As I mentioned before, these new artworks contain enticing imagery that are often lacking from a lot of modern poster art – why rework old classics, and what has the general response been towards this?
The reason I either rework or just do my own thing when it comes to my favourite classic flicks is simply to quench a compulsion I feel to connect with them in the best way I know how to. There's a bracket of maybe around two-hundred of my favourite films that I'm focusing on doing designs for as part of my private/portfolio work which encompasses Eurohorror, American independent, Hammer Studios, 70s and 80s crime, exploitation and arthouse features with my essential directorial line-up of usual suspects comprised of Lucio Fulci, Dario Argento, David Cronenberg, John Carpenter, George Romero, Ruggero Deodato, Stanley Kubrick and Abel Ferrara among others. I have spent years building an image database that has maybe around 50,000 images of posters and various format video covers and lobby cards and this is where I go to research the necessary details and drink in the vibes that I then dress my work in. Collecting fonts that have been used on vintage posters for use in my own work is also an essential practice, along with using only the original taglines that appeared on the official posters to aid in an authentic updating. Technically, the main ingredient I bring to my designs is perhaps a tighter approach to layout and text sizing plus sprucing up of the images in Photoshop for increased tonal levels.

Version 1.

Above all, my goal is to produce work that is contemporary, making use of advancements in the digital realm to fine tune certain elements to my current taste and not to attempt to create something that might be regarded as a forgery of something that could have existed back in the day. If I wanted to do that, then I'd have to disregard all of the production stages I spend an increasing amount of time on these days, which were lacking from my early work and which subsequently resulted in three of my early Fulci posters from 2010 appearing in Blu-ray disc galleries and in current horror magazines because the editors sincerely thought they were original official promotional posters from the early 80s.

Such incredible images were prevalent in that golden era, and all embedded in the velveteen quality of film so it's just a privilege to be able to work with them and incorporate them into my work. There are still so many images that have yet to be used from most of these movies and so, on top of building my image database for simple perusal as mentioned earlier, I make a habit of tracking down hi-res scans of international lobby sets as well as selecting the precise HD resolution frame I want from digital releases for utilizing in the work itself in order to present designs which showcase hitherto unused images at some of the highest resolutions currently attainable outside of actual film frame transfers.

The general response has been overwhelmingly positive, with many requests from enthusiasts for me to tackle their favourite movies too - some of which I have taken on board and might not necessarily have done so if it were not for their passion igniting my own.

Funny thing is, being an avid collector of original poster art for many years; I was never really keen on 'fan art' initially, thinking it somewhere between sacrilegious amateur cheesecake and still worse. I'm steeped in authenticity when it comes to collecting memorabilia as an investment on top of its geek value and that used to affect my judgment of less than 'official' posters, which meant that I was frequently negligent of their artistic value if they didn't slot into some form of official lineage. Of course, the tables are turned when it comes to wanting to create my own 'unofficial' designs for established movies and then have those pieces appreciated outside of the context of commissioned artwork, so I've adjusted my attitude, thankfully, through direct experience. Movie paper collecting has also exposed me to many international release posters and this has influenced my work to the point where I've produced designs in US, UK, Japanese, Yugoslavian, French and German languages (the text for which I've adapted from existing international posters).

A few of the re-workings of them led to an interesting collaboration with Paura Productions, tell me about that.
Head Honcho Mike Baronas saw my work on FaceBook, contacted me with an offer to do a poster for his upcoming 30th Anniversary Cast Reunion of Lucio Fulci's City of the Living Dead (an eternal favourite) and about ten days later I delivered fourteen different designs, some of which he had printed up and made available on his table for signings at the Chiller Theatre convention, 2010. He sent me a few in the post signed by Catriona MacColl (who could attest to the fact that I had complete carte blanche, but not a blank cheque!) which was a huge thrill since up until that time I was stoked simply scoring official signed posters from eBay, let alone having my own designs signed. I'll be returning to these designs, recreating them and updating them using even higher resolution images that I've since acquired.

Some of your designs have also ended up gracing DVD releases, and I know that there’s a full series of Olaf Ittenbach films, some Brian Yuzna titles and others released by the Danish company Another World Entertainment. How does designing DVD covers differ from poster art? Do you approach them in a different way, or is the process similar?
The challenge for me when designing a DVD cover is that you never know exactly where the final text will go, since it's usually left to the DVD company to insert. It's therefore nearly impossible to create an airtight design where the text and images knit together seamlessly, particularly on the back panel. You have to work around approximations, which doesn’t suit my perfectionist streak, and of course, like all commissions, the company has final word over what images they would like you to use. Supplying designs for A.W.E. is a knock-out - they know how to market their amazing collection of genre titles with saliva inducing gorenographic covers and I was fortunate to be led by the hand into this area by one of their key designers, whom I met and become pals with online.

What I really like is the way one sees certain images and then starts to recognize the aesthetics of the artist. Once one has a general feeling of their style, you start to see their work all over the place. Like connecting dots. This is how I came to appreciate your commissioned work. Poster after poster would turn up online, and I’d go, “damn I knew it” each time Silver Ferox Key Art was named alongside the artwork. Let’s talk about that, do you feel that you have a “trademark” signature in your work?
While I've often used just one still image plus the requisite title logo, credit block and tagline to create the most basic of designs, I do so since I feel the movies at hand fair well with that type of treatment. Most of the movies I like can produce an eye-catching design with the use of just one still, if chosen effectively. If you choose the right still you can convey a wealth of meaning in one fell cohesive blast. For example, my 'Venus de Rampling' designs for The Night Porter showcases a single image which has enough signifiers in it as to divulge most of the main themes of the movie. In this one frame you have a Nazi era, uniform fetish parading nymph flaunting herself in front of drinking, smoking, piano playing freak-mask wearing voyeurs. The strap line “The Most Controversial Picture Of Our Time” isn't exactly needed, but I transferred it from an original campaign since I liked the way it serves to cement the intentions of the original advertisers to portray this scenario as taboo as opposed to a regular night out down at the local burlesque. Alternatively, my 'doorway silhouette' design for the same movie again employs the use of a single still, but this time there are very few clues given as to the film's content – this time it's all about teasing the viewer with minimal yet intriguing imagery.

There's over five hundred and fifty completed designs currently on my site and I'm sure many look similar in style since they deal with many similar films of the horror and exploitation genres. There are others, however, for example Midnight Show, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Hooligan Wars, In The Mood For Love, The Shining, Psychos In Love, Emanuelle In America, Shogun Assassin and The Last House On The Left that I reckon appear to have no connection due to the fact that all these films are so different which is reflected in the diversity of layouts and techniques used. When Troma commissioned me to produce posters for Father's Day, I had a comment on my blog to the tune that all nine of the posters I'd created all looked the same – I replied that they were a suite and weren't supposed to look like a disparate collection of posters from nine different artists, even though the various layouts encompassed everything from a classic character montage to single shots plus double and triple-split designs. One thing that certainly unites my work overall is the fact that so far I have used photography as the basis and not illustration, but this will eventually evolve into an amalgamation of the two, as I am planning on introducing digital painting methods into my work.

A lot of new wave UK directors have used your art in their teaser and regular artwork. Alex Chandon, Darren Ward and Paul Campion – which all have some really intense imagery, and again have that “hook” that I look for in poster art, a moment that captures the essence of the movie so to say… How did the collaborations with these guys come to be?
All of these directors are primarily huge enthusiasts of the horror and exploitation genres and that's how we all came into proximity. They put their life, soul and last buck into their movies and they want an artist who has the same level of enthusiasm when it comes to embodying their precious projects in poster art form. On the surface, yes it's all about FaceBook and email hook ups, but that emotional/energetic tug beneath is the true harbinger. Since these guys are amongst the first people I created posters for, they only had my fan art portfolio to go on when determining whether I'd be suitable for the task, which is why it is so important to constantly create work outside of paid commissions to demonstrate your passion and skill set.

Oh, the only reason I eventually picked up The Devil’s Rock was because I’d seen your Nazi Chick teaser poster which I completely fell in love with. It’s simple and to the point. Do you prefer simple and to the point or complex artwork? 
Simple and to the point, undoubtedly. If complexity can lead you back to simplicity then it is a charming route to take, although not required. Revelling in the details and techniques can undoubtedly enhance enjoyment of a piece, but when it comes to promotional artwork for many productions, these promo pieces require an instant understanding by the viewer to quickly lodge its message. If you can communicate an image instantly such as a skull and on closer inspection you realize it is in fact an illusion created through careful alignment of other images, then that artwork is appropriate for advertising since after its initial instantaneous recognition it can cause the viewer to linger while they decode the illusion which may ultimately be good for business if it means the poster has extra 'eye service'.

Incidentally, The Devil's Rock's 'Nazi chick' design was one that's been slammed for its inappropriate advertising of the movie's content. Fair enough, if that was the main key art used, I'd agree, however it was one of three different designs I created to compliment the main poster (the content of which leaves absolutely no doubt as to the movies themes and imagery) in order to spin off different elements of the movie for a multifaceted advertising campaign. Just like the 'farmyard porn' teasers for Inbred, once I saw that image of Gina Varela I knew it would make a killer poster and pull the promo angle into new territory.

At what stage of the production do you become involved? Are you around early on for brainstorming with the director, do you read the scripts? What is the process?
I've been approached at all stages. The ideal stage would be as soon as the production has enough decent hi-res stills for me to work with, but this rarely happens. In a brainstorming situation, the director, for example, might have these grand ideas as to what he wants the poster to look like, but unless I have the images to support his vision, it's going to be very difficult to achieve it in an organic way. The only time I've had to call quits on a job was because the director's request was so elaborate that I knew it would end up looking like a phony Photoshop composition of incongruous elements and I didn't want to create that type of work. I did offer an alternative solution, but it wasn't taken up. You can't expect an artist to be able to do absolutely everything – you need to look at his portfolio and play to his strengths to get the best result, otherwise it's like asking Snoop Dogg to sing opera.

I have been offered scripts, but I refuse to read them – I ask for a synopsis plus a list of key words so I have an overview of the storyline and content. A shortlist of words such as 'gypsy, curse, tragedy, zombie, triplets' will tell the story in a moment! Aside from not wishing to invest the time or having the inclination to read a lengthy script, at the end of the day I read images as opposed to words. Asking clients to peruse my portfolio and pick out any relevant designs including any other existing poster art for similarly themed films so I have as much an idea as possible as to what's desired is always a solid plan.

I generally start with designing the movie title logo and may try out up to around thirty different fonts and text layouts until I'm left to ponder over which one to use and at this stage I might show my client a few flagged versions to see if they have an opinion on which one to approve. For Joe Bosco's The Bottle, the Chain and the Damage Done I initially came up with a logo that I was pleased with, since I'd managed to pull together such a lengthy title in a way that was compact, easy to read and aesthetically swell. The response from the production was that it looked cool but to eliminate its slightly 'wild west' styling in order to better represent a contemporary action road movie. This is where the pain starts, as you feel you've done your best with a logo design where all the letter forms snap together perfectly (as if by magic!) and now you need to change direction with the design. I submitted a further two logos, of which they approved one but in my heart I knew I still hadn't nailed it. I spent another two days researching fonts until I hit on one which allowed me to retain my original layout, so all the words were in my preferred configuration, yet which replaced the original block serifs in favour of a sans-serif family with angled edges which generated a hard and rugged, machine-made vibe (the 'C' of 'Chain' in the title now looked like a chain-link graphic, to boot). I presented this after I'd already had a previous design approved and got the thumbs up.

Let’s stay with Inbred for a while. One of my favourite t-shirts I have is the image of the scantily clad woman, with a horses head naively taped over her face… a great image only seen for moments in the film, but still ended up on poster art.  How the hell did you come up with that image?
Director Alex Chandon sent me around three hundred and fifty production stills ranging from publicity shots to red camera stills and 4K screen grabs out of which there was one clear and usable photograph of the 'Farmyard Porn' magazine used in the movie. Bizarre, depraved and darkly humorous, I immediately earmarked it for two teaser designs (I split the photo in two to make two different designs now known as 'chicken' and 'horse' porn). This is a perfect example of why I always ask for as many images from the production as possible in an attempt to avoid having to rely on the image selections doled out to me from clients who think they know what's best to use (not that this was the case in this instance, since Alex totally understands the process and supported the designs with this abundance of stills). It's very highly unlikely that this particular image would have been picked out for use on a poster if left to the producers – however, in this particular case, Alex flexed his creative control and let it be known that even if the producers didn't want to support my designs, then he'd reach into his own pocket, since he knows the value of covering as many facets of the film as possible especially at the critical teaser stage. A poster such as the 'horse porn' teaser has an instant effect on the people who 'get it', making them want to check out the movie some more, while other more commercial designs may go past unnoticed by that particular crowd, so it makes sense to dictate your requirements to the artist whilst also giving them the resources and initiative to do their own thing.

I know that you have worked with US indie maverick Jim VanBebber known for some really “out there” movies, and his infamous turmoil with his The Manson Family film. Tell me about that collaboration, because this is a guy who was around making movies when movie posers still looked cool by default. What was it like working with him?
I got Jim's attention when I pushed his way a suite of fan art posters I created for his seminal 80s indie gang thriller Deadbeat at Dawn, after which he kept me in mind to do the package design for his upcoming DBAD soundtrack premier CD release. His long term Director of Photography, Mike King coordinated the project along with Jim and they really let me do my own thing, citing elements of my DBAD posters as a reference. Jim's movies are packed with detail, so I basically put together a package that utilized as much panel space as possible to bombast the DBAD visuals. I went through every scene in the film and took DVD screen captures of the exact frames I wanted to use and then I placed each image relevant to the various cover panels in order to tell a visual story, with the CD disc itself being adorned with an image of a car radio from the movie for extra detail. I presented two versions of this layout and Jim picked the one he liked, specifically because it had an image of the angelic cemetery statue overlooking the montage, so there was a definite back and forth relationship with the project to ensure creative control was in Jim's, Mike's and my own hands. My first cover submission featured a tri-toned image of Jim sprinting that he rejected in favour of the classic 'Jim sandwich with extra ketchup' photo and rightly so – it's probably the best representation of the movie in one shot. For the cover logo, I adopted the original font used in the title sequence of the movie itself (also used to great effect on the US poster logo for John Carpenter's Escape from New York) to further transfer Jim's vision to the package. Finally, I asked Jim to write liner notes and he responded with a concise overview of his upbringing and the genesis of his movie and accompanying soundtrack, which is the icing on the cake. My attempt at scraping off a layer of his film and placing it onto the CD package without interfering with its aesthetics has now led to me working on the artwork for Jim's latest shot on film production Gator Green.

There’s a bunch of young US indie filmmakers who you have made artwork for, Scott Goldberg’s The Three, Craig J. McIntyre’s The Los Angeles Ripper and Brian C. Weed’s Bloody Homecoming to name a few… is there any difference in what US indie filmmakers want compared to UK filmmakers?
There's nothing that stands out to me. The internet facilitates easy viewing of poster images from across the globe so this means both countries now desire the best elements from all international artworks thus making their desires very similar. US and UK productions can see outside of their cultural particularities enough these days not to be too readily influenced by them. Most of the impact made on the poster designs in each country is more a result of the various design studios employed to produce the artwork as opposed to the producers' particular taste. The US has a great many high powered design houses compared to the UK, so it's possible their poster work may contain a level of production value not easily attainable by smaller outfits in the UK.

Is there any reflection of nationality in what they want in the imagery?
Only really as far as it corresponds to the theme of the film and there is a definite trend in the UK, for example, to exploit what used to be termed the 'working class' hero – the boiled beef and carrots, cheeky and chipper but hard as nails barrow boy stereotype which has now transformed into the multi-racial, sports gear drenched aspiring 'chav' cliché. You'll see UK crime dramas 'big up' their national identity by utilizing Union Jacks on their posters as much as we used to see the Star Spangled Banner frequently adorn US artwork in the 70s for themes concerning the American Dream but in all honesty the cross pollination of US and UK cultures nowadays makes it difficult for me to tell the difference. If you were to compare other countries such as Japan, Thailand and Africa, for example, then you would see a clearer reflection, since these cultures vary more from each other compared to the US and UK through not only the obvious ethnical differences of the actors on the posters (regarding movies made in their own country), but you'd also see made more apparent the cultural preferences for different design approaches to poster art, especially if you consider pre-90s output. Japan has a long history of employing busy, photo based layouts and graphics, Thailand primarily used hand-painted images adapted from publicity photos and African hand-painted posters exhibit wonderfully child-like renditions seemingly pulled out of the local witch-doctor's worst nightmare.

The art for Darren Ward’s A Day of Violence (which I still have to see) is pretty gruesome. Have  encountered any negative feedback or response to your art work?
Surprisingly, hardly any, aside from the occasional eye-dagger from my fiancée when I proudly show her my latest atrocity. That's the nature of the beast – if you're going to deal with extreme subject matter, then you have to faithfully transmit that content or else you're sabotaging your work and your duty to the production with half-assed politically correct bias and self-righteous censorship. I attempt to transmit atrocity in the form of an artistic, lyrical or darkly humoured context which is why I like most of the great 70s and 80s horror flicks which were packed with extreme gore set-pieces yet had a certain fantasy element and quasi-realism which entranced you as you enjoyed the spectacle for what it obviously appeared to be – a special effect illusion. As amazing as the classic practical effects were, they still had a certain crudity (you could spot a fake severed head from a mile off) which had an artistic and make-believe value built in by default which is a long way off from the degree of nauseating realism achieved in many of today's horror movies. Like the strings viewable in a puppet show, I like to see that connection to a reality that lies in the wings – it adds to the awareness and appreciation of fabrication instead of presenting you with something that crosses the line into sterile hyperrealism.

And talking about controversy, Ruggero Deodato! A living legend and household name to anyone familiar with the trashy exploitation films that came out of Italy during the eighties, how did you come to be involved with The House on the Edge of the Park Part II, which in some ways plays with that complexity we talked about earlier.
I spied on the net that North Bank Entertainment were in line to produce Deodato's sequel so I contacted them with a proposal to create some teaser posters, mentioning that I was very familiar with the Italian horror cycle and Deodato's films in particular. After they checked out my portfolio I was asked to create a retro-styled poster and I advised that it might be a good idea to instead go full-on contemporary with the designs in order to appeal to the investors who may not necessarily be fans of vintage movie posters themselves. North Bank said go for it.

This was the first time I'd taken the initiative and it was a big deal for me, compounded by the fact that there was no imagery yet available for the movie, so I knew I had to come up with something from scratch. My first concept was simply to showcase the original star Giovanni Lombardo Radice aka John Morghen since he's an icon of 80s Italian horror cinema who is to reprise his role in the sequel – the plan was to grab the attention of the genre fans whose subsequent word-of-mouth might help generate publicity. The only recent and decent image I could find of Johnny was a publicity still which I gleaned from his website so I adapted it for the poster via cropping, distorting and grading.  I came up with the tagline “Everything you fear under one roof” and placed this text as if it were a shadow being cast onto his head suggesting that his cranium be viewed as a metaphor for the 'roof'. I read a criticism of my use of the ever-popular Trajan (Pro) font in the logo due its similarity to the then current logo for the US remake of The Last House on the Left but like I said, that was something I did deliberately to firmly cement my poster in a tried and tested contemporary design style – at this initial stage it was all about demonstrating that modest independent UK productions could deliver artwork indefinable from the larger US studios' output.

I created a second teaser design, the 'skull tree' that ended up being the more popular of the two due to its overtly macabre imagery. This design was a riff on the original US artwork, which features a painting of an illusion of a reaper's skull formed from the trick-of-the-eye placement of the titular house and parkland. I scoured my local area for ominous looking houses amid the forestry and met the sight of a very creepy looking tree right next to a house entrance that looked unique and perfect for the task. Fortunately, this was autumn time and if I had gone at any other season this tree would have looked entirely different and ineffective for the job. I overlaid my photo of the tree with an image of a skull, which finally clicked into place after I removed the jawbone. Much to Deodato's delight a collector pal of mine had this file printed out to full one-sheet poster size and presented several of them to Deodato to sign at this years Texas Frightmare Weekend convention (2012) after which I was sent a signed print, which was formidable.

You have designed a whole series of exciting posters, new renditions of classic pieces, for the movie club Cigarette Burns. How do you approach these pieces, especially a movie like A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin which already has so many iconic artworks, but then you still come up with something that captures the essence of the film, feels fresh and at the same time feels as if it could have been of the time period?
Each movie I've been assigned by Cigarette Burns Cinema club to produce a poster for has been one I've grown up with and also have a large database of hi-res images for. The design I used of Florinda Bolkan reclining on the couch for the A Lizard in a Woman's Skin poster came about after I initially wanted to do my own version of the fantastic US poster art that featured a splice of an image of a woman (a studio model) with that of a lizard. I began marrying various lizard and Bolkan images but soon realized that if I simply tinted green an appropriate picture of her (one in which she was lying belly down and splayed out over some vintage patent leather avant-garde seating arrangement – the ultimate lounge-lizard!) then I had no need to go further to reference the title of the film. An overlaid pattern of undulating lines to subtly evoke reptilian scales and classic 70s psychedelic motifs plus the warping of the title logo to echo the main curves of Florinda's torso whilst playing off the distortion of the couch as it appears to push out the nearby line of text all supported the main themes within the movie through design elements typical of vintage graphic art of the era. This instils a retro vibe to the poster, while careful choice of an image that has never been used on official artwork for Fulci's movie lends it a fresh perspective. Fulci Lives, dammit!

He most certainly does, and I really love that piece you did for A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin! How come poster art feels like a dying trade?
One reason it seems to be becoming extinct is because the artisans responsible for creating illustrated posters over twenty years ago have transferred their talents to the digital domain. There's an abundance of digital art being produced while traditionally illustrated poster art is virtually non-existent now. So many designs will never see the light of a print run these days since most content is viewed digitally or online. Another major reason why there's an abundance of dreadful movie posters on the net is that many producers are quite content to knock up a design in their lunch hour for the sake of saving themselves a few hundred quid. It's a false economy on top of foolish practice since these 'masterpieces of shit' posters cheapen their movie production and scare off potential viewers with their less than skilful presentation. I've seen many a production refuse to spend an appropriate 500 quid (and that's a bargain) on a decent poster to represent a production they've just spent a quarter of a million on, for example, which is insane and shows a complete lack of marketing skill and respect in representing all the movie's contributors in a professional manner.

Is there any artwork, new or old that you look at and say, “Damn I wish I’d made that?”
Too many!

What do you see on the horizon for genre film poster art? Do you think that the fine art of the poster will return or do you think that we’ll see more generic stuff like the “faces of cast against black” nonchalantly hurled at the fans?
We will definitely see a return to the golden days of yore as much as we'll see an increasing barrage of pre-fabricated fodder – it's up to us to explore that contrast and support what's most appealing.

What would be a “dream come true” project to design?
Anything that involves dealing with leading edge subject matter and not necessarily in the exploitation or horror genre.

Ok, I know that you have to get back to work so I’ll let you go now. Thanks for taking the time out and I’ll be looking forward to seeing more of your great artwork on your webpage.
It's been a pleasure, Jason. I have an exclusive here for you too – it's a first look at a commissioned teaser for the upcoming US indie psychedelic road movie The Bottle, the Chain and the Damage Done. Thanks a lot for the interview and good luck with your book!


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