Monday, 14 March 2011

#10 Contact: Plus An Interview With The Director!

So, something a little different for the blog this week (I know, twice in two weeks! But you hate change! Don’t worry, next week I promise to stick entirely to formula). This week we’re going to take a look at the short horror film Contact from director Jeremiah Kipp. No zombies, and only the merest whiff of a post-apocalyptic landscape, but you’ll see soon enough how it fits right in with the rest of our catalogue here.

I believe you’ll find that Contact is the perfect date movie, and ideal for watching with a partner of your gender of choice to get them in the mood. Watch it here:

Yes, I’m sorry, that was a cruel, cruel lie.

Contact is about as disturbing and head-fucky as a film can get. It’s the sort of film that is best watched alone in a darkened room, immediately before going into a bright space full of people.

However, here at Chris Writes About The End Of The World we know better than to judge art based on the first, visceral gut reaction. So once you’ve got over the “What would it be like if Agent Smith had done that mouth sealing thing to Neo while he was getting off with someone” image, we can look at the film from a slightly more rational perspective.

I’ve talked before about the way horror tends to be an inherently conservative genre- regardless of the sympathies of the artist. Usually horror works by showing us something horrifying to define what isn’t horrifying- most explicitly in all those drunken promiscuous girls that get knifed to death while their chaste, sober friend is able to defeat the baddy before going off with the hunky but boring dude who only wants to hold hands.

At first glance Contact seems to be the epitome of this. In fact, its roots seem to go further back, past horror movies to their grizzly, considerably more child-murder friendly ancestor, the fairy tale. It’s the story of a girl who leaves her family, goes off the path in search of romance and adventure, finds something horrible there and runs back to her family wiser and more chastened.

The nice, civilised looking dining room is contrasted with a world of ruined buildings and sinister drug dealers with police batons and eyeliner. The sexual contact that ends in a gross, fleshy Chinese finger trap is contrasted with a wholesome paternal hug.
The worst part? He's still using too much tongue
On the surface that’s pretty much exactly what this film looks like, and I’ve got to admit on my first couple of viewings that’s exactly what I thought it was. But even then there were certain things that didn’t sit right with me. The wholesome, safe family home that our heroine runs from and returns to doesn’t seem all that appealing. There’s nothing all that homey or comforting about the neatly set table and wordless parents. The protagonist looks uncomfortable in the buttoned down outfit she’s wearing. The scary sting at the end of the movie shows us she’s still traumatised by her bad trip, but there’s an argument to be made that the real fear is that this has scared her into never leaving the comfort zone she was brought up in.

Or maybe it’s just a film about how drugs are bad. Either way, it scared the crap out of me.

It’s likely you’re going to be hearing more from Contact’s director, Jeremiah Kipp. He’s got another short film coming out soon, Crestfallen (which I’ve already seen, because I’m just that cool). Crestfallen is equally atmospheric in a very different way, doing away with the ambiguity of Contact to make the point that killing yourself is a bad idea. Not long after that, he also has a feature length horror movie coming out starring legendary zombie murderer Tom Savini.

Oh, and look, he’s here now to answer some of my questions. Isn’t that handy?

Okay, so the first question I want to ask, and I'm sure you get this a lot, is: What is wrong with you?! Why can't you just make a charming romantic comedy, or something where Tom Hanks triumphs over adversity?

You don't think CONTACT is life-affirming? I am interested in people, and hope for the best when it comes to interpersonal relationships. CONTACT may seem like a dark movie, but when we made it, much of the time we were filled with enthusiasm and had a wonderful time. As little children, we aren't interested in fairy tales about two children picking flowers in a field -- unless those children get lost in the woods, find a witch in a gingerbread house, and find themselves nearly broiled in a steaming pot for lunch. Kids intuitively understand these grim little stories, because in some way they live them. The adult world is a strange and complex place. While we can triumph, the road is not an easy one, and that is the lie most movies tell us. A lot of times, I feel like the so-called feel good movies are insidious and cruel, and some video nasties are surprisingly more humane because they show life as precious, fragile and worth fighting for.

The film contains a pretty strong anti-drugs message. Did you set out to make a movie that demonstrated the more traumatising side of substance abuse, or was this just the most effective way you could think of to make people poo their pants?

People say that this is an anti-drug film, but that's not what I set out to make. Drugs can press someone to reveal their true character, their deepest fears, their paranoia and dread, and this particular couple rides the gauntlet and can't break through the barrier. For this reason, a lot of folks including good friends of mine think I was making a horror variation of a public service announcement. It's fair enough, though, because once you complete the movie it no longer belongs to you. It belongs to the audience, and they can interpret it however they like. I will say our latest short film, CRESTFALLEN, is very specifically intended as an anti-suicide film. The screenwriter, Russ Penning, wrote a very personal, very daring and sincere piece about a young woman (Deneen Melody) who feels like she has no other recourse but killing herself, and the movie takes a journey with her where we want the audience to see the value of life. I do like the idea of the audience being scared by trauma, though -- drugs and suicide are real life transgressions and have vast consequences for you and for your near and dear.

On a similar note, how important do you think gore is in these films? Aside from being an excellent way of making people watch a movie through the cracks between their fingers, what uses do you think gore has?

I wish there were more gore and nudity in films. Special effects allow you to make a metaphor into a reality -- if you feel like you and your lover are being torn apart, then gore effects can make that quite literal. The gory effects in VIDEODROME and THE THING and in much of Clive Barker's writing is a triumph of the imagination, and yes, it's really nightmarish and grotesque, but so are the things we're afraid to see. We're also afraid of pain, or of cancer and death, but it's easier to see someone transform into a giant fly than watch someone perish at their death bed. The gore in CONTACT (by Daniel J. Mazikowski) was all about making a connection to another person, but that can be incredibly frightening. Isn't it scary during the first month of dating someone? You know so little about them, you're in many ways quite vulnerable and see their vulnerability. The actors who braved the special effects and nudity in CONTACT and CRESTFALLEN were incredibly courageous, and I'm grateful they trusted me, since this sort of material can easily be prurient, offensive and gratuitous. It's important to me that the cast and crew understand what we're trying to achieve, because we're asking them for the difficult. I hope not to let them down with the finished movies. It has our names on it; it has to have value for us as creative people.

Now on this blog I've written a lot about how, particularly in genres like horror and sci-fi, everyone is constantly ripping off everybody else. So this is a great chance for you to 'fess up. Which artists and works do you make a habit of ripping off, what is it about them that you most want to steal?

Oh, I steal all the time. But so did George Romero (he robbed from I AM LEGEND), Wes Craven (from Ingmar Bergman's LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT), John Carpenter (from Howard Hawks) and Sam Raimi (from Bugs Bunny!). For CONTACT, I am sure David Lynch and David Cronenberg were on the brain. You can't make experimental body horror movies without in some way acknowledging them. I also drew from the painter Edvard Munch, whose "The Kiss" has haunted me for a long time, and photographer Gregory Crewdson for the scene involving the parents. Crewdson steals from Steven Spielberg, though, so I don't feel bad robbing from him.
Until just now you thought this painting was really romantic
And for CRESTFALLEN, my conversations with the director of photography/editor Dominick Sivilli revolved around BEOWULF, Chris Cunningham and commercial and music video director Chris Milk, but that movie was also us trying to reach for the epic and the mythic because it was based on a naturalistic true story, and we wanted to make the picture feel as large and grand as our emotions. When we feel love or pain, it is as large as castles and kingdoms. That said, we only had $300 to make that movie, so it's a chamber piece that yearns to be an opera.

Your next film, The Sadist looks sort of like First Blood, if Rambo hadn't been such a peaceloving hippy. How did it come about, and what more horrible, horrible things will you expose us to next?

THE SADIST is a bad-ass killer in the woods movie. The producers (Frank Wihbey and Joe Pisani) saw CONTACT and hired me as a work-for-hire director based on that. We approached the material with high aggression, with tremendous empathy for the characters who meet this strange enemy in the forest. Most of the crew from CONTACT was on board, including Dominick Sivili (DP/Editor), Daniel J. Mazikowski (Special FX), Alan Rowe Kelly (Production Manager) and Bart Mastronardi (Associate Producer). We're still in post, but hope to be finished soon. As for what's next, I'm starting principal photography on another feature in May (this time a non-genre film) and am in early talks for another horror feature later this year. Executive Producer Marv Blauvelt is finishing up the horror anthology PSYCHO STREET, and I associate produced the segment "No Rest For The Wicked" directed by Raine Brown. I'm looking forward to that. But when it comes to projects, it's best to let the future reveal itself. We rarely know what's around the corner. I'd love to work on a larger project with Zoe Daelman Chlanda, the star of CONTACT, and Jerry Murdock, a wonderful actor who is the Bruce Willis of indie horror.

The Sadist stars Tom Savini, who when he isn't appearing in virtually every horror film ever, is doing the make up, special effects and stunts for every other horror film ever, and still manages to find time to fit in some directing as well. It's fair to say he's something of a legend in the genre, so how was it working with him? Were you daunted at all?

Tom Savini signed up because it gave him the opportunity to play a non-speaking predatory villain, not unlike some of the roles played by his hero Lon Chaney. Tom was fantastic to work with, full of enthusiasm and high energy. When I called around to other directors asking what he was like to work with, to a man they said he was a true collaborator. Let it be known he does not suffer fools gladly, and if he doesn't trust you, he will walk all over you. But my time with him was wonderful; one of the best experiences of my professional career.

Finally, given this is a blog primarily about the zombie apocalypse, we have to know: What is your zombie apocalypse survival plan?

I subscribe to the George Romero technique, which is still the best way to go: (a) Steal a helicopter, (b) bring a film crew and some guns, (c) take over a shopping mall, and (d) let loose the dogs of war.

CONTACT from Dominick Sivilli on Vimeo.


  1. After reading this post I promptly added Jeremiah Kipp to my zombie apocalypse survival kit.