“We will never compete with the budgets of US movies, but we can deliver something different in style.”
In recent years there have been a handful of films which have been either directly influenced by giallo (Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s dazzling Amer) or at least partially pay homage to the subgenre (Aronofsky’s Black Swan). Andreas Marshall’s (Tears of Kali director) new film, Masks, owes a debt to the splatter-opera masters of the sixties and seventies, while also drawing inspiration from Brian De Palma, Italian maestro Mario Bava and Argento.
Marschall’s film deals with contemporary themes and issues (the pursuit of celebrity), has a distinctly European flavour, sweepingly beautiful cinematography, a script full of jaw-dropping suspense, some deliciously macabre death set-pieces, and neat direction which should secure Marschall a seat alongside the greats in the giallo pantheon of filmmakers.
The story revolves around the beautiful, driven and ‘easily seduced by the prospect of fame’ Stella, who is accepted to the Mateusz Gdula School – a school renowned for all the wrong reasons following the grisly deaths of several students and the suicide of its founder whose training methods were anything but orthodox. No sooner has Stella settled into her new environment and strange things start happening. Once the greedy minx starts to suspect the training method is still being practiced, she wants in, and will do anything to get ahead…
Masks really captures the sinister and sumptuous visual elegance of seventies giallo. You made the film without funding, what did you need to overcome to complete the film?
AM: The whole production was very difficult. I filmed in a real drama school, the REDUTA School in Berlin, where I could only shoot during the summer and winter holidays, so we had long pauses in the middle of the shooting. I combined young acting students, who stood in front of the camera for the very first time, with experienced actors like Magdalena Fernandez Ritter.
Some of the actors weren’t available at the same time. There are scenes in the movie where you see a teacher, Stella, and other students together in one room. But the shots of the teacher were shot two months after the ones of Stella, because Michael Balaun – the teacher – lived in Vienna and was only available for one day. The shots of the other students were shot separately too. Sometimes, it was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. We also had to decorate the whole school and make it giallo-esque – all the blue and red walls were made for the film. The whole school turned into a film studio, which caused problems with the teachers.
AM: Sadly, there is no support for genre films at all, except for comedy. Germany has a long tradition in fantastic horror, which goes back to the twenties. The term demonic screen was used for German silent films like Nosferatu, Der Student von Prag and Das Kabinett des Dr Caligari, but this tradition ended with the rise of Nazism, because there can’t be horror films in a totalitarian regime. Directors, like Fritz Lang, emigrated to the USA. The German film industry never recovered from this loss of talent. In the sixties there were some Italian/French co-productions like Argento’s Bird with the Crystal Plumage; also the Edgar Wallace series, as well as a few genre directors like Alfred Vohrer. But in the seventies, when the film industry fell into a deep crisis and films were produced more for the TV market, Germany became the country of boring art-house movies. Everything is a TV co-production now. No blood and gore allowed. However recently, more and more independent filmmakers are coming through, doing horror films without any funding or TV producers. I just heard of a new zombie-movie called Extinction – the G.M.O. Chronicles. This month a well-made independent German torture porn had its theatrical release, Urban Explorers.
You have created album sleeves for bands like Annihilator, Blind Guardian and In Flames. When you storyboarded Masks, was it a collection of pictures in your head that you needed to put together, like a puzzle?
AM: Yes, but I only storyboarded the murder scenes and some of the key scenes. Mostly I work with shot lists and complex shooting plans. Shooting a film is a lot different to doing artwork. It’s more about group dynamics and collaborating with other talents.
How did you write the story?
AM: I wrote the screenplay pretty fast, because I had a very clear idea – the horrors that a young girl gets into when she sells her soul for fame, which is a very contemporary theme. I gave lessons in camera acting at the Polish Drama School REDUTA BERLIN, where they taught the extreme acting methods of Jerzy Grotowski, inventor of the ‘Poor Theatre’. The principal of the school, Teresa Nawrot, was Grotowski’s right hand in his acting community in the seventies. This was an interesting inspiration for the Gdula-School. During my workshops I was confronted with students who wanted to be famous so badly that they would sacrifice everything for fame – even their health. All this seemed perfect for an allegorical horror tale. It just blended well into my love for giallo and the story seemed to write itself.
You wanted to create a sequel to anthology debut Tears of Kali, but it ended up in development hell. Can you see yourself returning to the project at some point in the future?
AM: Absolutely, I skipped the first idea, which was too expensive and wrote another anthology-movie. It’s about the mythology of angels and angel-cults. It’s very scary. I hope I will have the opportunity to do it some day.
What do you think needs to change, if anything about European horror cinema?
AM: I love French horror films, especially Martyrs, which show that you don’t have to mimic American horror films to be successful. Many Spanish horror films have a European accent, too. I think European filmmakers should find their own style, like they had in the seventies. We will never compete with the budgets of US movies, but we can deliver something different in style. We should remember the genre traditions of our countries and film funding should be open to genre films.
What is your next film, can you talk about it yet?
AM: More likely than not it will tell the story of group therapy going horribly wrong. It’s supernatural horror. It explores a kind of horror, which I used in the third episode of Tears of Kali, but in a more elaborate way.
What are some of your favourite giallo death set pieces and why?
AM: My favourite giallo murders are in Deep Red – for example the murder in the bathroom – where the victim makes use of the steam from the hot water to write a last message on the wall. I also like the killings in Tenebrae because they don’t come out of the darkness but take place in front of white, over-lit walls – an aesthetical coldness, which has a terrifying effect. I like Argento’s way of staging murders like ceremonies. I also like the absurd chain of murder scenes in Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood, which is the ancestor of all Friday the 13th movies. And – although it’s not an Italian giallo – the first murder scene in Robert Siodmaks The Spiral Staircase from 1945 is an absolute classic; using the macro-shot of the killer’s eye for the first time.
What are your thoughts on seventies giallo versus contemporary giallo?
AM: I haven’t seen a satisfying giallo for a very long time. I love Amer, but this is more a film about the genre, not a typical giallo. I think that typical seventies giallo had a certain naivety in storytelling which is different from contemporary screenwriting where absolutely everything has to be psychologically motivated and realistic. Seventies giallos were always a bit like dreams. It’s not a very intellectual genre – as we Germans say: more for the belly than for the head.
AM: Is there a perfect movie? Even a masterpiece like Hitchcock’s Marnie has crappy back projections. A Clockwork Orange, Psycho, Rebecca, Suspiria, Alien, and Black Sunday might not be perfect, but they are great movies. I can watch them again and again.