Ginger Nuts of Horror
Recently at Film Gutter we had the pleasure of watching and reviewing Contracted, a unique zombie movie with a strong body horror element. Pleasure might not quite be the right word, because this one had me squirming uncomfortably throughout. So, to find out more, we spoke to director Eric England on body horror, make-up, effects and much more...
Alex: First of all, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us here at Film Gutter. Tell us a little about where the concept for Contracted came from.
Eric: It came from wanting to do a film that felt personal and intimate to the audience. I wanted to challenge myself to do something different than "kids in the woods" like my first film was. I also wanted to do something that felt a little more modern and different. To be frank, I had never seen a film like CONTRACTED and wanted to make one.
Alex: I felt this was a really interesting take on the body horror genre, which is a patch of horror that has always disturbed me. Is that something you're also a fan of?
Eric: You know, I actually wasn't as big of a fan (and wasn't really as aware that it was a "thing") before I made the film. I didn't think of the film as a body horror film, I thought of it more as a Zombie origin story. The body horror aspect of it was just inherent to the story of a girl rotting away and becoming one of the undead.
Alex: What do you think it is that makes body horror so disturbing and so enduring in cinema?
Eric: I think because it's relatable. We all have bodies and we're all terrified of losing control of them. So watching horrific things happen to someone's body just hits us in a place where we feel vulnerable.
Alex: Najarra Townsend was a great choice for the lead role – did she have any reservations about any of the scenes in the movie?
Eric: None at all. Najarra is a true professional and fearless actress. She felt so attached to the character and that's the best thing a director can have, an actress that takes ownership over the story and the character. She's a huge reason why the film works as well as it does.
Alex: There are some extremely clever visual and sound effects, especially in the very end of the movie. How did you go about delivering these?
Eric: I tried to make the film a steady escalation that built to a peak, so it made sense for the visuals and sound to get more intense and crazy - especially at the end.
Alex: I also though the make-up was wonderful throughout, really subtle – it almost seemed that Sam was getting worse scene by scene. Tell us a little about how all that was delivered.
Eric: She is getting worse scene by scene. I wrote what happens to her very specifically in the screenplay and worked closely with Mayera, my make-up artist to get a very specific vision and look. She was amazing at keeping track of her condition and look, so I trusted her immensely. We did tests and tried looks and honestly, the make-up is never enough if the performer doesn't know how to use it. So Najarra took it to a completely new level with her talent. So it was a beautiful marriage of design, execution and performance.
Alex: It's a fairly tragic story, as ultimately there's no-one Sam can tell the truth to about what is happening. Was that an angle you had in mind from the very start?
Eric: Yeah - I always wanted her to feel isolated and alone. Originally, the film was going to be shot in a foreign country (like Spain), where she didn't speak the language. I felt it would be even more terrifying for her to go through this process alone and then adding the fact that she couldn't speak the language -- I felt that would've been brutal. But we didn't have enough money to shoot outside of where we lived (we even used our actors homes to shoot in!), so we made do with what we had.
Alex: Horror cinema has explored this idea of the sexually transmitted disease a few times before and since – most notably in It Follows. What do you think makes it such an interesting area to explore?
Eric: We did it before It Follows ;-). I think it's because it's relatable. People have sex. It's human. So when you take something we do and something we enjoy and turn it against us, it's scary... Very scary.
Alex: Contracted: Phase II was out a few years after the first – what was your take on that?
Eric: I left the project because I wanted to do a sequel that did the first film justice and the producers wanted to make something fast and cheap to make money. That's what they did and I think the film they made isn't good. Too bad.
Alex: Can you tell us anything about your next movie, Get The Girl, or any of your projects beyond that? Things certainly look busy for the future!
Eric: Absolutely - GET THE GIRL is coming out in a few months I believe. It's a dark comedy crime thriller about a fake kidnapping gone wrong. It's hilarious and dark -- very different than what I've done, but I'm happy with how it came out and can't wait to see how audiences respond. Outside of that, I'm doing a straight drama called HUNTSVILLE in a month. I'm knee-deep in prepping that at the moment. We have an amazing cast that I can't wait to work with. And on the horror front, I have two new movies to shoot over the next year that I'm excited about. They haven't been announced yet, but they're going to be nuts. Bigger budgets. Crazier stories. I'm excited.
After a lapse in her relationship with her lover (Katie Stegeman) forces twenty-something party girl Samantha (Najarra Townsend) to move back in with her overbearing mother (Caroline Williams, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2), things seem to be at an all-time low. But the devil-may-care Samantha soon finds escape in a one-night stand with a mysterious man (Simon Barrett, V/H/S) who leaves her hung-over, guilt-ridden and infected. Uncertain of the disease or the man who gave it to her, Samantha attempts to hide it from her loved ones. But she soon realizes that she is not just the victim of an STD, but rather the host of something much more catastrophic, and that she and those around her are in mortal danger. Part zombie film and part body-horror shocker, director Eric England s CONTRACTED is a skin-crawling experience in biological horror.