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Dominic Corry: The ABCs of Death directors' horror questionnaire

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Dominic Corry talks to directors from The ABCs of Death about horror movies past and present and asks them to reveal what films scare even them.

A scene from The ABCs of Death. Photo/supplied
A scene from The ABCs of Death. Photo/supplied

In last week's blog, Kiwi producer Ant Timpson talked about his new anthology horror film The ABCs of Death, which has its local premiere at the Civic Theatre this Saturday, April 20th as part of the New Zealand International Film Festivals' Autumn Events.

In anticipation of the screening, I had the chance to submit a short horror questionnaire to just over half of the 26 directors behind the new film, all of whom are rising genre stars. Here's what they came back with:

1. What is your favourite horror movie death?

Nacho Vigalondo (Director of A is for Apocalypse as well as 2007's Timecrimes): Cassavetes exploding at the end of The Fury.

Adrian Garcia Bogliano (B for Bigfoot): Guy stabbed to death by evil dwarf in Don't Look Now.

Ernesto Diaz (C is for Cycle): Texas Chainsaw Massacre hammer kill.

Marcel Sarmiento (D is for Dogfight): Not really horror, but Samuel Jackson in Deep Blue Sea.

Noboru Iguchi (F is for Fart): The heart (or liver) skewering scene from Flesh for Frankenstein (Andy Warhol's Frankenstein).

Thomas Malling (H is for Hydro Electric Diffusion): Honestly don't know.

Yudai Yamaguchi (J is for Jidai-geki): Question #1 is tough! In Profondo Rosso/Deep Red, where the clockwork doll quickly dashes out and its face gets split in half, maybe?

Timo Tjahjanto (L is for Libido): Probably the whole deaths in Hellraiser trilogy and PJ's Braindead.

Simon Rumley (P is for Pressure): Tough one! I think the last time I did something like this it was the kids under the ice in The Omen 2 I think but then I also saw it in The Dead Zone so maybe it was that? For a different answer, I'll choose the bathroom scene in Final Destination where we think the guy's gonna die and we see all the possible ways he could die, none of which actually materialize. Then he slips in the bath and gets strangulated to death by the shower curtain cord. Builds your expectations up, knocks them down and then confirms them when you're least expecting. Great stuff.

Simon Barrett (Writer of Adam Wingard's Q is for Quack): I'm sure I'm forgetting some amazing death scenes in classic films, not to mention the entire Final Destination series, but off the top of my head, Samuel L. Jackson's death scene in Deep Blue Sea is literally the only thing I can remember about that film, and I remember it quite vividly.

Jake West (S is for Speed): Loads I could choose - but Alien, the chestburster scene one of the first I remember as being awesome.

Kaare Andrews (V is for Vagitus): The tongue-choking demon in Ghoulies is seared into my 12 year old brain.

Jon Schnepp (W is for WTF): Barry Convex exploding with Sentient Cancer in Videodrome.

Xavier Gens (X is for XXL): The first one who pop up in my mind is the death of Robert Shaw in Jaws, just amazing. Also the death of Murphy in Robocop by Paul Verhoeven, just the most hard-boiled scene ever filmed and in the same film the guys melted in acid and exploded by a car. Very fucked-up.

Jason Eisener (Y is for Youngbuck): This moment from Plague Dogs rocks my world every time.

Yoshihuro Nishimura (Z is for Zetsumetsu): The scene in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre where the guy slowly approaches the interior door in the house, and is then hit with the hammer (by Leatherface), and the door quickly slams shut. Also, the "Jesus wept!" scene in Hellraiser where the man is pulled apart.

2. What is your favourite segment of The ABCs of Death that isn't your own?

Vigalondo: D is for Dogfight has got already more praise than Argo, so I'll say Y is for Youngbuck.

Bogliano: N is for Nuptials.

Diaz: D is Dog Fight.

Sarmiento: A

Iguchi: Jason Eisener's Y is for Youngblood and its gay youth story.

Malling: F

Yamaguchi: X is for XXL by Xavier Gens. It's not just an exciting short, but it also has a great story and some real drama to it.

Tjahjanto: XXL, Xavier Fuckin' Gens

Rumley: Impossible to give you one but i'm a generous guy so will give you five, in no particular order: Q; I; R; D; L.

Barret: I love so many of them that it's honestly hard to pick, but I'm going to go with my first instinct, which is L by Timo Tjahjanto. The first time I saw it, it blew me away. It's amazingly well made and has a concept so unique and hilariously dark that it could only be a part of this project.

West: H

Andrews: M is for Miscarriage. It makes my segment look both puritan and expensive.

Schnepp: X is for XXL, by Xavier Gens, since I'm a fatty and have thought of carving off my fat rolls instead of exercising.

Gens: I really like L as for Libido and D is for Dogfight. F and Q are pretty cool too.

Eisener: D is for Dogfight in the undisputed champ, but the Intercontinental belt goes to Z is for Zetsumetsu.

Nishimura: Probably X is for XXL, where the woman feels she has to slice off all her flesh.

3. What is your favourite anthology film?

Vigalondo: Creepshow 2... really.

Bogliano: Cat's Eye

Diaz: The ABCs of Death

Sarmiento: Nightmares

Iguchi: I can't really think of one.

Malling: The Shocks

Yamaguchi: For me, the omnibus film begins and ends with Romero's Creepshow.

Tjahjanto: New York Stories; Twilight Zone: The Movie and OG Tales from the Crypt.

Rumley: Sorry to say I don't think I have one...

Barret: I'm tempted to say Trick 'r Treat but I'm not sure if that counts as an anthology due to the cross-cutting, so I'll go with the 1945 film Dead of Night. That movie really creeped me out as a kid. The 1972 film Tales From The Crypt is also real good.

West: Dead of Night (1945)

Andrews: Creepshow, for a US release. Three Extremes for Asia.

Schnepp: Creepshow.

Gens: I will say The Twilight Zone by Spielberg, Joe Dante, John Landis and George Miller - just the best bunch of directors in that time.

Eisener: Nightmares (1983) and Tales from the Hood (1995). The Bishop of Battle segment from Nightmares may be my favourite short film.

Nishimura: I love anthology films, but I'm not sure whether I can think of a favorite. Recently, I really liked the Japanese anthology Ten Nights of Dreams (2006), based on the stories of Soseki Natsume, although I did special effects makeup for several of the segments.

4. Is there a film that you are too afraid to watch?

Vigalondo: I won't watch again the turtle sequence in Cannibal Holocaust. Leave the animals alone.

Bogliano: Not that I can think of.

Diaz: No.

Sarmiento: G.I. Joe: Retaltiation.

Iguchi: The scene from The Sentinel where the big crowd of freaks come into the mansion still really messes me up.

Malling: Antichrist.

Yamaguchi: I was too afraid to watch Japanese director Nobuo (Jigoku) Nakagawa's Ghost Story of Yotsuya (Tokaido yotsuya kaidan, 1959). The ruined face of the spectre in the film is still so frightening, I can't really watch it.

Tjahjanto: Off the top of my head - Alone With Her, Amour and A Serbian Film.

Rumley: Of course not!

Barret: Not really, not even bad romantic comedies. That said, I can't stand to watch any real life snuff or animal killing videos, I have no stomach for that stuff; Cannibal Holocaust, for example, is not my cup of tea. This aversion, which Adam shares, was somewhat of the inspiration for our segment.

West: Sex in the City?

Andrews: Faces Of Death-- or anything else that shows actual deaths on screen. I know, I know, most of Faces is fake but still... I prefer fantasy to reality in my horror and adult movie viewing.

Schnepp: Garfield: The Movie

Gens: When I was a child The Exorcist was really terrific for me and it still one of the most scary horror films.

Eisener: I still cant watch Fire in the Sky by myself at night.

Nishimura: The special effects makeup on the lizard creature in Hammer's The Reptile really upset me as a kid; even now I have some psychological trauma because of it.

5. Are horror films scarier than they used to be, or just more violent?

Vigalondo: I'm afraid to simplify that way. Too much great horror movies out there.

Bogliano: In general terms, I would say more silly...

Diaz: Are the same, just onces in a while appears one film that is able to scare you for real.

Sarmiento: More violent

Iguchi: I still feel that the first half of the 1970s produced the scariest films, ever.

Malling: More violent.

Yamaguchi: Horror films lately are definitely more violent, and also seem more realistic in what they're showing, but older horror films generally paid more attention to story, even though they may not have had a budget that allowed them to do much else. Which is preferable, I can't really say.

Tjahjanto: Don't know how to answer this but we're definitely becoming more desensitized with violence and old horror films are definitely scarier in general , particularly those from the 70s and early 80s.

Rumley: I'd say more violent and louder. A lot of the films I watched had atmosphere and tension, elements which I think are lacking in a lot of contemporary films.

Barret: Horror films are more violent than they used to be, at least if you go back a few decades, but I wouldn't say they're more frightening overall. Sound design in horror films, for example, has gotten more aggressive in recent years just as a fad, which means audiences maybe jump more often than they used to, but startling people isn't the same as scaring them. Ideas and scenarios are what really scare people, and that's a constantly evolving process.

West: No

Andrews: Neither really. The amount of found footage films is probably what defines the most recent generation of horror. And there are both good and bad in this new(ish) sub genre.

Schnepp: Both, but so is the world around those horror films.

Gens: Now it's difficult to be scary but there is some directors like James Wan who try to push in that direction. I really can't wait for [Wan's upcoming film] The Conjuring, the trailer is amazing.

Eisener: Today's Horror can be whatever the hell it wants to be. There are so many different kinds of horror films being made right now. Films have become cheaper to make, so filmmakers are getting down and dirty, trying new things and getting a little crazy.

Nishimura: Because there's been a lot of technical progress in terms of what kind of horrors can be portrayed onscreen, nowadays filmmakers can make the kind of horror stories that weren't possible in the past.

6. Could there be a scary horror film in which nobody dies?

Vigalondo: Absolutely. And you can make a comedy in which everybody dies.

Bogliano: Rosemary's Baby and April Fool's Day are the closest things that I can think of...

Diaz: If it has the threat of death, YES.

Sarmiento: Of course.

Iguchi: I think that, as long as the film is psychologically scary, it's fine. Like Polanski's horror films, for example.

Malling: Yes. The Temptation of the Christ is an example.

Yamaguchi: Although my reasons for watching horror films aren't necessarily because people die in them, death is such a universal experience and simple to portray onscreen that it can't really be helped. But take Don't Look Now as an example - really only one person dies in the film, yet it's superbly scary.

Tjahjanto: Absolutely, there are plenty fantastically scary films where death is not shown or didn't occur during the film's running time. The Others; Poltergeist; the very creepy Peter Weir's Picnic at the Hanging Rock, The Changeling (George C Scott's not Angelina Jolie's, although that one is great as well); Polanski's The Tenant, Eyes Without a Face.

Rumley: Absolutely. It'd be tough but i think doable. The Changeling is a great example of atmosphere but I think in the end the George C Scott dies?

Barret: Absolutely. Horror is often about tension and atmosphere; fear of death is a major human terror, but we're scared of lots of things; in fact, we're scared of being scared, which is what most ghost movies are basically about if you really break it down.

West: Yes.

Andrews: No, not for me. The anticipation is always more thrilling than the act... but without the act, the anticipation is meaningless. Fear is a primal response to keep us alive. We respond to horror because we all meet death eventually. We are simply preparing for it.

Schnepp: Has anyone here ever seen the 2004 Fat Albert Movie? It could cause comas it is so inept.

Gens: Yes sure, the question is from where the conflict is coming. And in my opinion, if I remember well there is not a lot of death in Poltergeist.

Eisener: I don't believe Fire in the Sky featured any deaths and that film scarred me more than any other film when I was a kid. That damn film made me keep a baseball bat under my bed.

Nishimura: That's really up to the power of the filmmaking!

7. Michael Myers; Jason Vorhees or Freddy Krueger?

Vigalondo: Michael Myers has the coolest music around him all the time.

Bogliano: I prefer Angela of Sleepaway Camp but if I had to chose, definitely Jason.

Diaz: Myers in the original one.

Sarmiento: Michael!

Iguchi: Michael, I think. Carpenter's version.

Malling: Freddy.

Yamaguchi: If I have to choose from those three, definitely Michael Myers. Carpenter's version, of course. (Rob Zombie's was too realistic in its violence.) But I want to ask: why wasn't Leatherface included??

Tjahjanto: Jason Vorhees...it's an aesthetic thing.

Rumley: Well I grew up more on Freddy than the others. However, I saw Nightmare on Elm Street recently and thought it was a bit camp and not very scary. John Carpenter's Halloween always still holds up in my opinion. I never really bought Jason so i'd have to say Michael!

Barret: It's pretty damn hard to top the original Halloween. I feel like Jason and Freddy wouldn't have existed without Michael, therefore my vote goes to him.

West: Krueger

Andrews: The original Freddy is one of my favourite designs of all time for a horror character. But I'm not sure it could beat the yogurt aliens from The Stuff? Pure terror...

Schnepp: All of them in a Ring, fighting against Pinhead, no tap outs, just death.

Gens: Michael Myers from the bottom of my heart and for ever. I was a big fan of Freddy Krueger until he turn to be a clown.

Eisener: When I was in first grade an older kid came to school dressed exactly like Freddy Krueger. I remember all the kids were too afraid to leave the school. When the let us out for recess he chased us all around the playground and I seriously felt like I was running for my life from Freddy. I've been a Dream Warrior ever since.

Nishimura: In terms of the design and execution of the makeup effects, Freddy is my favorite.

The ABCs of Death screens at 10.00pm at the Civic Theatre on Saturday April 20th. Buy tickets here.

Phew! That's a lot of death and horror. Good times though. Agree? Disagree? Comment below!

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