SFX blogger Alasdair Stuart interviews the writer and director of new British horror flick Stormhouse
In 2002, the English military made a disastrous attempt to weaponise a supernatural entity. Able to contain, but not control, the creature, the decision was made to bring in a psychic to try and communicate with it. The results were disastrous. Or at least, they were if you were a character in new indie horror movie Stormhouse. Combining paranormal lore with elements of action thriller and horror, Stormhouse will be shown at the Edinburgh International Film Festival this year and I spoke to director Dan Turner, and writer Jason Arnopp, about the influences behind the movie. First up, Dan.
What influenced the look of the film? I can see a little cold war iconography in there?
“The looks of the film is very much dictated by the environment that is created from having captured a supernatural entity. Coldness is a big factor. I can’t go into too much details because it would give away the plot! But, rather than adopt an existing style, I let the narrative dictate the feel of the scenes in picture and in sound. ”
There’s something peculiarly English about the idea of the supernatural colliding with the military industrial complex. How do you think that alters the tone of the film?
“Actually, we set out to make a very international film. Granted, it’s set on an English base. But it's set during a time back when terrorism was hanging over us all in 2002. After 9/11 and the subsequent Iraq invasion, there was that feeling that anything could happen. A feeling of paranoia and suspicion. that really feeds into the film! ”
What, if anything, was cut?
“What you see on screen is pretty much what we shot. There were a few nips and tucks that helped the film, in terms of pacing. We paid more attention to script editing, right up until shooting, so we only shot what we really needed.”
What influenced your choices during the shoot? Did anything change from the planning stages?
“Shooting a visual effects-heavy film requires a lot of planning. But it also means you have to problem solve and think fast on your feet when you are shooting. We combined some old school special effects with the latest digital effects, so it was a very very focused and intense shoot to pull off some of the ambitious sequences we have in our film. I’m proud of what we accomplished.”
Horror’s a fascinating genre, full of signifiers and symbols and I was wondering whether there was anything you used to set the mood on set?
“To be honest, the location was enough to get everyone in the mood! Where we shot, Rendlsham forest, there are many paranormal and UFO related mysteries that have occurred. Even just recently there were tabloid stories about military documents that allegedly detailed covert supernatural military action. There are also many secret inaccessible rooms and under buildings that we were made aware of. It’s a very spooky place, and gave the crew, who all slept in the barracks, quite a few sleepless nights!”
Your point about economy of shooting is really interesting as it’s something which I’ve started to see more and more. What’s more attractive as a director: focusing on what you know you need or shooting what you might need?
“There is something very exciting about shooting at a pace. When you have a that’s a roller coaster ride that doesn’t let up, it’s good to mirror that feeling in how you shoot. No long breaks or multiple takes. Always keep moving and thennthe relentless feeling you have in shooting translates to screen.”
Did you drop any Easter Eggs or name checks into the movie?
“If you are a fan of John Carpenter’s The Thing , then there are a few nods. That was my biggest reference. Jason and I didn’t directly reference horror movies, but we certainly paid our respects to the genre.”
And now, over to Jason
What influenced Stormhouse ? I’m seeing a dash of Quatermass and Wyndham in there, but what about the central idea?
“The director Dan Turner and I tend to have pretty similar tastes in horror films. One particular horror film we talked about a lot was John Carpenter’s The Thing . That film was cruelly ignored back in 1982, but is my favourite horror movie – and that of many other horror fans, too. So without us taking anything specific from that film, I’d say The Thing rather seeped into Stormhouse ’s system, as much in terms of tone and menace as anything else. We also talked quite a lot about The Exorcist , both in terms of scariness and also authenticity. As wild as the ‘military captures a ghost’ premise might be, we wanted Stormhouse to feel like this could actually have happened in 2002.”
There’s a curiously English, pragmatic approach to horror that you’ve taken that really interests me, specifically the idea of quietly trying to turn something horrible and supernatural into a weapon. Was this an approach you were consciously aiming for?
“I suppose so. Horror’s often at its best when humanity is to blame for the abominations. Once Dan’s ingenious idea of the military imprisoning a ghost had been established, the inevitable next question was ‘What would the military do with it?’ And it didn’t take much consideration to realise that they wouldn’t use it to further our understanding of death and the afterlife.”
Was there anything in early drafts that didn't make it to the final cut?
“A few bits and pieces, but nothing I really miss. I wrote Stormhouse on a fairly tight schedule, so there wasn’t much time for second-guessing things. This works in the film’s favour, I think – hopefully it has a certain urgent electricity to it. And as viewers will see, a whole lot of reverse electromagnetic energy.”
What's the scene or line you're proudest of?
“The final scene. No doubt about it. We hope it will be one of those scenes which is remembered and talked about for a long time to come.”
With excellent advanced word, entry into the festival circuit assured and a great central premise, Stormhouse is definitely one to watch even if you watch some of it through you fingers. Find out more at:
Dan Turner: http://dansdisasterarea.blogspot.com/
Jason Arnopp: http://jasonarnopp.blogspot.com/