Kool Kat of the Week: Ashley Thorpe Summons the Spirits of BORLEY RECTORY, Britain’s Most Haunted House, at Buried Alive Film Festival 2017!

Posted on: Nov 13th, 2017 By:

Filmmaker Ashley Thorpe.

In 2010, a trio of English filmmaker Ashley Thorpe’s short animated movies so captivated audiences at the fifth annual Buried Alive Festival, that they created the Visionary Award just for him. Ashley alas can’t make it back across the pond for the 12th annual Buried Alive (Nov. 15-19 at 7 Stages), but his Carrion Films‘ first feature BORLEY RECTORY is a much-anticipated festival highlight, screening Saturday Nov. 18 at 8 pm.

Ashley’s previous works formed a portmanteau of supernatural legends from Devon, where he resides with his wife Sue who played the femme fatale of “Scayrecrow,” a haunted highwayman’s revenge tale with a distinctly Hammer Films vibe. Also played at Buried Alive 5 were “The Screaming Skull” and The Hairy Hands.” BORLEY RECTORY is an eerie documentary chronicling the historic paranormal investigations of an Essex manor nicknamed “The Most Haunted House in England.” The unique look and high quality of his earlier works allowed him to expand the production to his most ambitious yet and attracted the star power of a who’s who of British character actors including Julian Sands (GOTHAM), Reece Shearsmith (LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN), Nicholas Vince (HELLRAISER), and Jonathan Rigby (ROUND THE HORNE…REVISITED). In the past few years, Ashley also realized a lifelong dream to become a cover illustrator and interviewer for Fangoria, the seminal horror movie magazine for anyone who came of age from the ‘70s onward.

ATLRetro caught up with Ashley to find out more about his quest to summon the specters of BORLEY RECTORY and more macabre matters.

ATLRetro: You grew up on Hammer Horror and your shorts have a bit of a Hammer look, even with some cameos” as I recall in Scayrecrow.” Did Hammer movies inspire you to be a filmmaker? Which is your favorite and why?

Ashley Thorpe: I’ve always loved Hammer horror. It was the Universal classics of the ’30s and Hammer horrors that were the first horror films that I felt brave enough to watch as a kid. I thought they were glorious. I was actually inspired to become a filmmaker via animation, so weirdly it was artists like Svankmajer, the Brothers Quay and David Lynch that made me believe that this was a medium that could really express the things going on in my head. The influence came back when I was producing “Scayrecrow,” a tale of a ghostly highwayman, and started imagining what it would have been like if Hammer had produced it, full of blood and thunder!

How did you first learn about Borley Rectory and what about it, other than the obvious most haunted house in England,” inspired you to make a film about it?

I discovered the story in the USBOURNE BOOK OF GHOSTS at the local library as a boy. I was very susceptible to frightening material when I was young—due to suffering from night terrors—but there was something especially haunting about this one story and I just kept going back to it like a tongue probing a bad tooth. I loved that moniker “The Most Haunted House in England.” This wasn’t just “a” haunting, it was “THE” haunting.

The story is replete with such delicious gothic imagery—a nun bricked up within the walls, a phantom carriage driven by a headless coachman, cold spots and spectral messages scrawled upon the walls. Wonderful material. It also represented the beginning of that blend of scientific method meets the supernatural which, of course, was such a huge influence upon things like Shirley Jackson‘s THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE and Richard Matheson‘s HELL HOUSE. At the time it was quite groundbreaking. Now, of course, it all seems so archetypal. Its fascination also lies with the people. All the major players in that case were curious characters. They’re all quite mercurial and mysterious so at the end of the case you’re left with more questions than answers. In fact, the ghosts are far easier to pin down than those investigating them!

Is it correct that BORLEY RECTORY started out as a short but expanded into a full feature? Can you talk about why you decided to take that bigger plunge with this particular project and how the finished film differs from your original concept?

Incredibly the thing developed organically. It wasn’t initially a conscious decision until quite late into the project. As each cast member came on board—from Reece onwards—I amended the script to give more interesting scenes, better dialogue, all without even considering how this would affect the running time! They were so good I wanted to give them more material. Seems obvious now, but at the time I was so buried in the practicalities of animating, trying to earn a living, looking after my then baby daughter, the day-to-day things, that it wasn’t really until I cut together the first seance scene last year that I realized that there was no way that this would be a 30-minute film.

Surprisingly though the finished film doesn’t really differ from the original concept at all. Another thing that I hadn’t really anticipated was how the pacing would affect the overall running time. Again it sounds ludicrous. I wanted BORLEY RECTORY to harken back to an earlier age of cinema, far from the machine gun edits and gimmicks of modern horror. I wanted long slow takes, so your eyes can explore the frame and realize that you’ve been staring at a ghost all along. One of my favorite sequences lasts for about two minutes and consists of about four edits intercutting between a little girl staring into the darkness at the end of her bed and what she sees there in the shadows.

L-R: Reece Shearsmith. Ashley Thorpe, Jonathan Rigby.

You have some pretty prominent British character actors involved, some of whom like Julian Sands and Nicholas Vince, are familiar to US horror fans. Any stories about how they became involved and what it’s like to work with them?

I worked with Nicholas—albeit briefly—on “The Hairy Hands,” wherein he contributed the voice of one of the radio callers and we kept in touch hoping to work together again. I met Julian initially via a retrospective that I wrote for Fangoria on Ken Russell’s GOTHIC (1986). Julian found my short films online, loved them, and after watching them asked if I was working on anything currently. As it happened I had just finished the script for BORLEY RECTORY. So we recorded Julian’s narration around Christmas 2011 and then some additional passages at Trident Studios last year. Both Julian and Nicholas are wonderful, genuine, sincere people. They’ve both been so supportive and done nothing but sing the praises of the production since it started. Whenever we meet it really is like meeting old friends. My children pretty much consider Nicholas a part of the family!

And Steven Severin of Siouxsie and the Banshees was to do the soundtrack. How did you meet him and what happened with his illness?

Again Steven Severin became involved with the project due to a Fangoria interview. He was touring VAMPYR [(1932) silent film soundtrack] and performed in my home town, so I grabbed the opportunity to interview him about his work both past and present. We kept in touch and I suppose Steven must have looked into what else I did apart from the Fangoria journalism and came straight out and asked me if I was working on any animations and would I consider him scoring my next venture. I’ve always been a huge Banshees fan so I was over the moon.

As to how it was working with him, I haven’t really had much of an opportunity.  The curse of Borley struck again. Steven has been in consistently poor health since recovering from a kidney transplant while we were shooting. For a while it looked as if he was going to be fine and was keen on cracking on with the scoring. Around the time that the first cut was sent over early this year Steven suffered a major pulmonary embolism and was rushed to hospital. So, after discussing it with Steven and agreeing it was definitely the best plan until he could complete or create a companion piece, the remaining scoring duties were completed by my long-term collaborator Mick Grierson who did an amazing job at scoring the film beautifully under ridiculous time constraints.

Although he is still recovering Steven has stressed that he is still planning on finishing the special music for the pledged vinyls, but until he is out of hospital I cannot unfortunately give a concrete date as to when this will be. It’s all been a bit of a car crash really, and it’s been down to Mick that the film even reached completion when it did.

L-R: BORLEY RECTORY Producer Tom Atkinson, Julian Sands, Ashley Thorpe.

Financing an independent film is always a huge challenge. You did two Indiegogo campaigns, as I recall, and had some prominent supporters like best-selling author Neil Gaiman singing your praises. Did you also have private investors? How did you do it?

Yes, the project was financed via two Indiegogo campaigns. The first one raised just shy of £7K back in 2013 which—although about £3K short of our target—allowed us to get the production underway in the summer of 2014 and shoot the majority of Reece’s sequences as his involvement had raised the profile of the project tenfold. Once I’d animated that central montage of the journalist essentially telling us the legend, we rolled out a second campaign that raised a further £13K in the end. The campaigns themselves were a huge amount of work but I was lucky on the second one to have a team behind me led by my producer’s wife Alice Bonasio. She stressed that I should concentrate on generating media to share while she and a small team “got it out there.” It was very successful.

The money raised was channeled directly into the production: hiring the studios, equipment, costumes etc. I did have a couple of private benefactors who put extra money into the production, and it was due to them that I was able to continue working on the film as although the production was financed I was made redundant [laid off] pretty much at the start of production and essentially lost my livelihood. These people kept me going at a time when it seemed as if everything—redundancy, family illnesses, burnt-out Macs—was loaded against me finishing it.

Your previous films have all had a distinctive look, i.e. animated but not necessarily what the average viewer would expect as an animated film. Can you talk a little about the effects you employed for this film to make it…dare I say…genuinely scary?!

Yes, they’re not your traditional animation. They are a collage of a number of different techniques really. The actors are all filmed against green screen and then rotoscoped whilst the backgrounds are all digitally painted and animated over. There’s a little traditional animation in there—some of the ghosts are painted—and a little 3D stuff done in After Effects, such as the aerial shots of the Rectory, but my aim was to take the footage of the actors and make them resemble the look of the “painted” backgrounds as much as possible. I also spent a great deal of time working into the footage to take the digital shine off of it using masks with various strengths of blurring to emulate  a depth of field that we’d really struggle with doing live at the green screen composite level. BORLEY RECTORY has pretty much every technique I know applied in it in some way.

Seance scene in BORLEY RECTORY.

BORLEY RECTORY has already screened at a number of festivals and has a few awards under its belt. Where has it screened so far and have you been pleased with the audience response?

Response so far has been staggering really. It’s not an easy sell or an obvious “crowd pleaser,” it’s what I call a “Marmite film,” but it’s been snapped up by the festivals and feedback has been very positive. I think we’ve played 14 so far with more coming in weekly and all those initial festival appearances were by request rather than us having to submit via normal channels which is incredible. We premiered at GrimmFest in Manchester October 8 and then played Cinemagic in Belfast, Dead of Night Southport, Telluride Horror Show in Colorado, Celluloid Screams in Sheffield, Horror-Rama Toronto and the Folk Horror Revival in Edinburgh. Last week we won “Best Animated Feature” at Buffalo Dreams and after Buried Alive in Atlanta, we’re set to play Sydney, Australia at A Night of Horror festival. One of my favorite responses was from Lisi Russell, Ken Russell’s wife, who wrote a lovely review online. She adored it.

“Thorpe’s vision of the legend is elegant, meticulously cinematic, beautifully spooky, atmospherically enveloping. The detailed and seamlessly inter-woven animation and rotoscope by multi-talented Thorpe is hypnotic, shocking, visually stunning–each shot an artwork. This is a film for film noir lovers as well as haunted house and psycho-horror fans, conjuring up echoes of classic early British horror films like THE INNOCENTS, THE HAUNTING, PSYCHO. Asks important and unusual questions about what we need from ghosts as well as what they need from us. This film is very, very different. Ken Russell seal of approval.” – Lisi Russell

You came to Atlanta in 2010 when Buried Alive screened three of your shorts and I believe you have a certain fondness for this festival. Is it special to you that it’s screening here and what can you say to anyone on the fence about attending Buried Alive?

I had enormous fun when I came across in 2010. It was actually my first bonafide horror festival and I didn’t really know what to expect, but the team behind it were so passionate about what they were doing and really made me feel special. So many great memories. The festival itself is wonderfully eclectic as well. They program every aspect of the genre, so there really is something for everyone. The genre should be about diversity—there should be room for every style, every era—and Buried Alive reflects that beautifully. I really wish that I could have made it out there to attend in person, and with my film’s production history in mind, the fact that my film has been programmed right before a screening of ED WOOD is genius.

Nicholas Vince in BORLEY RECTORY.

You also are an artist and have done a bunch of Fangoria covers, as well as writing articles for Fango. What was that like and how do you feel about the recent demise of that seminal horror movie magazine?

Well. Fangoria was a big part of my youth. I fell in love with it at high school back in the ’80s, and growing up in a small British town it was something of a revelation. Pre-Internet, these films and their production felt a million miles away, so finding Fangoria on the newsstands was incredibly exciting. At school, it felt like an outlaw magazine. So you can imagine how excited I was to be asked by [then-editor] Chris Alexander to both write and eventually produce covers for it. As a result, I got to meet wonderful people like John Hurt, Peter Sasdy, and, of course, it put me in touch with people like Julian.

How it all collapsed is really sad. You could see that there was serious trouble brewing when the payments became few and far between and contributors started bailing. I’m still owed hundreds of dollars which I’m sure I’ll never see, and judging from some of the vitriol online, my story is not an uncommon one. The publisher ran it into the ground and destroyed it. So sad.

What’s next for Carrion Films?

Apart from touring and then sourcing distribution for BORLEY. I’ll be catching up on some illustration work and looking towards the next project. We have a couple of options. A script for SPRING HEEL JACK exists in an early form which would be a Victorian melodrama. I also have HELL TOR which would be an Amicus-style portmanteau based upon Dartmoor ghost stories. Although there looks to be a chance that my next project may be adapting a popular British genre screenwriter’s novella. We’re in talks with the agent at the moment so we’ll see what happens next.

Purchase advance tickets to BORLEY RECTORY and passes to Buried Alive Film Festival here.

All photos provided by Carrion Films and used with permission.

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Kool Kat of the Week: A Spirited Endeavor: Filmmaker Ashley Thorpe Conjures the Ghosts of BORLEY RECTORY, The Most Haunted House in England

Posted on: Aug 22nd, 2013 By:

Ashley Thorpe. Photo courtesy of Carrion Films.

British filmmaker Ashley Thorpe’s trilogy of terror, SCAYRECROW, THE SCREAMING SKULL and THE HAIRY HANDS, earned a Visionary Award at Atlanta’s Buried Alive Film Festival in 2010. All three shorts produced by Ashley’s Carrion Films were set in the fascinating mythos of Dartmoor in Devon, a place so layered in fog and legend that people literally were known to disappear into its mists and never be seen again until they returned as ghosts. But it wasn’t just the rich subject matter that turned heads here in Atlanta, it was the unique look achieved through rotoscope animation, which particularly in SCAYRECROW, the tale of a haunted highwayman who rises from the dead to avenge his lover, also evoked Hammer Films’ horror movies of the ‘60s and ‘70s in its texture.

Ashley wasn’t able to attend the last Buried Alive but sent a trailer for his next film BORLEY RECTORY, a documentary short on a Suffolk manor that has a reputation as the “Most Haunted House in England.” Since then, he’s attached veteran actor Julian Sands (WARLOCK, GOTHIC and a guest at DragonCon 2013 next week) as the narrator and Steven Severin, one of the founding members of Siouxsie and the Banshees and now an acclaimed composer/accompaniest for silent films, to create the score, and is in the midst of an Indiegogo crowd-source campaign to fund the project which has the potential to launch Ashley to the next level. Meanwhile he’s also writing and painting some cool covers for Fangoria magazine, and yes, he has several features in preproduction as well – HELL-TOR, an Amicus-inspired portmanteau, and SPRING HEELED JACK, based on the Victorian London legend.

Beyond his talent as a filmmaker, Ashley’s one of the nicest chaps we know and the Indiegogo campaign is in its final push through Aug. 31, so well, we just couldn’t resist making him Kool Kat of the Week.

ATLRetro: Your past films are based on legends of Dartmoor near your home town of Exeter in Devon. Can you talk a little about how growing up in such a haunted area has influenced the arc of your filmmaking?

Ashley Thorpe: I was surrounded by local myths and ghost stories and specifically elderly couples eager to tell them! It seemed like an inevitability that most social get-togethers – especially at a country pub – would end with a grisly ghost story or two. Though I initially dreaded these chilling stories – in fact I’d often go and hide in the toilet until they were over – I now feel very lucky to have been “exposed” to these diverse tales of ghosts, demons and devilry at a young age as they’ve absolutely inspired and influenced pretty much my entire body of work, in there in my mind, a nest of tiny scorpions breeding in my cranium!

I think it’s because it’s a landscape that is simultaneously very beautiful and yet potentially very dangerous. It’s romantic and it’s deadly. And what’s more. Dartmoor has always felt to me like a region that has been precariously tamed. We may have civilized the outskirts by posting churches on the boundaries, but it’s really still a wilderness out there. Tales of the devil are common in this region and are more often than not pre-Christian. For instance, the actual tale of the demonic Huntsman and his pack of hellish Whisht hounds that I referenced in THE DEMON HUNSTMANGlass Eye Pix’s TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE radio theater series] is based upon a genuine Dartmoor myth that I’d heard as a kid, and its origin I suspect is probably prehistoric. It’s an ancient legend bound in the conflict between Celtic and Christian religions; the benevolent horned gods of one age becoming the malevolent devils of another.

I didn’t really appreciate how important the stories were to me until I’d moved away and lived in various cities and abroad, but it’s a land very close to my heart. I remember being told as a child that if all the unclaimed bodies, scattered in their shallow graves, rose from the moor, the dead would outnumber the living. Wonderful stuff! The earth out there is alive with their stories. The land has a thousand ghosts; all you have to do is listen.

Borley Rectory is in Suffolk, taking you away from Devon, but it’s also a story you discovered as a child. Can you talk a little about what drew you to it and made you want to make your next film about it?

I had the USBORNE BOOK OF GHOSTS as a boy, and although a great deal of the book frightened me, it was that moniker “The most haunted house in England” that really caught my imagination. I’d seen images of Harry Price debunking other supernatural phenomena in other mystery books, so for him to all but declare this as the pinnacle of ghostly phenomena made it seem all the more fascinating and scary. So the story has been with me again since childhood.

I spent a couple of years working on radio scripts and developing a feature script and it had all become very laborious. I wanted to make a new short to remind myself why I loved doing this in the first place, and I chose Borley Rectory because I could picture it very visually and it seemed like a nice summation of what I’d attempted to do thus far. I’ve always loved vintage ghost photography, not just because of the subject material but primarily because they are often very beautiful images. I wanted to see if I could make a film that evoked similar sensations that are evoked by such photographs. It’s a story that is rich in gothic archetypes, so visually very strong with plenty of scope for the various apparitions.

BORLEY RECTORY has a rich history of hauntings from headless coachmen to a bricked-up nun, a screaming girl, and being built on the grounds of a Medieval monastery, the British equivalent of an ancient American Indian burial ground. Will you be portraying the house’s story more generally or focusing on a specific legend?

Very generally. The funny thing about Borley is that the Nun is the only ghost that seems to have any “back story” as such, with the other apparitions almost functioning as satellite phenomena. This film is going to be an introduction, a primer if you will, very much like the Usborne book that sparked my interest. It’s a “way in” to the legend. The historical data on Borley and the hauntings are incredibly rich and layered and dense, often contradictory and beset with duplicity, so I think to make something “definitive,” you’d have to do an HBO series on it. You could make an entire film just on Marianne Foyster, for instance! What I’m really interested in is trying to evoke the place, and explore what it was that attracted people to the Rectory and its legends – manifestations of desire, loss or some fatal flaw in character.

The animation in your previous films, especially SCAYRECROW, owes an aesthetic debt to Hammer films, which you also grew up with. In the Indiegogo pitch, you talk about being fascinated with ghost photography. Will viewers of BORLEY RECTORY also see a Hammer influence or is this an indication that you will be taking a different direction?

Yes, SCAYRECROW is the one that is most obviously a love letter to Hammer horror, although I think  THE HAIRY HANDS has aspects of an episode of the HAMMER HOUSE OF HORROR TV series. BORLEY RECTORY will be created in the same fashion as SCAYRECROW’ and THE SCREAMING SKULL, but visually will be quite the different animal. I’m really aiming for vintage ghost photography – glowing black and white imagery, images that conceal as much as they reveal, yet texturally very beautiful. On occasion, it may even veer into abstraction with only the narration keeping it grounded. Consider it my ultrasound of a haunted house!

You met Julian Sands through interviewing him for Fangoria, for which you’ve recently been a correspondent and cover artist. How did this blossom into Julian as narrator, and I understand he’d like to work with you on future projects as well?

Yes, indeed. I interviewed Julian for a retrospective I wrote on Ken Russell’s GOTHIC. Julian saw the films, loved them and asked me if I was working on anything. I’d literally just finished the first draft of BORLEY RECTORY, and so I asked him if he’d be interested in performing the narration and thankfully he said “yes.” Julian and I have loosely discussed working together on other projects, but future work will absolutely depend on the success of this campaign. If BORLEY RECTORY goes well, I’d love to develop the Dartmoor portmanteau feature HELL TOR, as there’s definitely a role in there for Julian.

Julian Sands shares a laugh with Ashley Thorpe while recording the narration for BORLEY RECTORY. Photo courtesy of Carrion Films.

What about Steven Severin? Talk about a score in landing him to do the score. How did you get him on board?

That was Fangoria again, although believe it or not, I initially turned him down! Steven performed in Exeter, and I interviewed him about his score for Carl Dreyer’s VAMPYR. We kept in contact regarding the article [recently published in Fangoria #325], and then Steven asked me out of the blue if I’d had anyone in mind for the BORLEY RECTORY score. I was stunned. At the time, every film I’d made up to that point has been scored by my old friend Mick Grierson, so I initially said no! The Banshees are one of my favorite bands, but I explained that Mick was as much a part of Carrion as I am and that it would  feel like a betrayal. Mick is a department head at Goldsmiths College in London, and as the year wore on, it became obvious that he just wasn’t going to be able to dedicate so much of his time to the film. However, Steven remained dead keen even after the long production hiatus, and a combination of circumstances and Mick’s academic responsibilities just really made the partnership at this time an obvious choice. I couldn’t be happier really. It’s very exciting to be working with Steven, and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can create together.

 

The entrance scene from THE SCREAMING SKULL. Photo courtesy of Carrion Films.

Reece Shearsmith also has joined the cast recently. I know not everybody over here knows who he is, but for those of us lucky ones who discovered the weird and wonderful LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN, that’s quite exciting, too. How did he get involved and what role does he play?

Reece is amazing! He’s mainly known for his comedy grotesques, but he is an incredibly gifted actor. What’s more he’s also, like most of the League of Gentlemen team, an absolute dedicate of classic horror films. He’s a sincere fan, and we share many points of reference. His involvement came via a number of supporters like Derren Brown and Andy Nyman. I noticed that Reece had been tweeting support for our campaign so I tweeted a note of thanks. We got chatting, and he expressed real excitement for the project and the subject. So I just came out and asked him, and Reece, to my amazement, said yes. His involvement has really elevated the project. His fanbase are ravenous!

Reece will be playing the Daily Mirror journalist V.C Wall who was the journalist that really broke the story to the world in 1929, so a key role, and he’ll get to speak some wonderful and genuine news reports written by Wall from the period. I’m excited and simultaneously terrified to direct him! It’ll be fun. I have a feeling there’ll be a lot of horror nerd-outs!

You’ve also attracted some pretty amazing supporters such as Stephen Volk (screenwriter, GOTHIC), British mentalist Derren Brown, Robert Young (director, VAMPIRE CIRCUS) and comics writer Steve Niles. Have any in particular surprised or delighted you as the Indiegogo campaign progressed?

The support has been amazing actually and really quite diverse. Local support has been strong, but I’ve been slightly overwhelmed by the response internationally across the horror community. I’ve never been a fan of scenes as such, but the horror community have restored my faith in humanity after the film and TV industry gave it a good kick in last year! Stephen Volk and Johnny Mains have been incredibly supportive and generous with their time, and Chris Alexander [editor] at Fangoria has been there since the beginning. The support from Derren was great as he said a number of lovely things about SCAYRECROW when it came out back in 2008, so it’s a nice feeling to know that he’s still supportive, still watching. Indie filmmaking is tough so it’s invigorating, energizing to know that someone out there cares about what you’re doing or trying to do. Can’t do it without you!

Crowd-sourcing has its rewards but also its challenges. You have more than 80 supporters and have raised over 5,000 pounds, but you did extend the fundraising period and reduce the target of the campaign from 20,000 pounds to 10,000 pounds. Will you have to turn to another source to make up the difference, or will you just be tightening the production’s belts.

Yes, the extension was inevitable. I got hit with a very time-devouring contract to animate some feature titles shortly after the campaign launched, so as I was AWOL for a few weeks, I pushed the deadline back to the end of August. I reduced the target, too, as it became clear that we were going to struggle to reach 20K. We still may have to turn to other sources to make up the additional budget, or we may get started with what we raise and reevaluate later next year. Either way the budget has always affected me far more in terms of “time” rather than “quality.” Less money means less crew and more for the core to do. It will be distinctive and original whatever happens. “Don’t panic lads, we’ve been saved from casual mediocrity by lack of money again!” If we can’t afford horses, we’ll get the coconuts out again, ha ha. You know at no point during SCAYRECROW did any of us get on a horse. I spent much of it riding a tree trunk! You’ve gotta have that Terry Gilliam spirit to survive.

You have some pretty cool perks for contributors. What’s your favorite and why?

I spent a long time working out the rewards, but I think my favorite HAS to be the limited edition vinyl of the Severin soundtrack. I mean that has to be the best fundraiser perk ever, hasn’t it? It was Steven’s idea actually. I made a mock-up for fun of what the soundtrack would look like if it had been released in the 70s with a very Pan Horror / Amicus style sleeve, and Steven went crazy for it, loved it and suggested that we try it for real, make it a super limited edition very special reward for investors. It’s going to be a beautiful thing. A real collectors’ item. Even if I don’t make a penny from BORLEY RECTORY, at least I’ll get one of those! The tour of Borley with author and publisher Johnny Mains is pretty amazing, too, plus you’ll be “written into” a Robert Aickman tribute collection to be published next year. That’s pretty amazing, too.

THE CONJURING, an old-fashioned haunted house movie, has been a big hit stateside. Does that encourage you that there’s a market for a return to atmospheric ghost stories in the horror film genre?

I think it’s great that a decidedly – perhaps archly – old-fashioned ghost story has made such an impact, but the audience has always been there, it’s just taken the market an age to catch up with what people really want as is so often the case. I think the market becomes less and less important as time goes on. The audience will find or indeed make its own entertainment. I didn’t start making the animations about neglected myths to get noticed; it was an attempt to tell the stories I wanted to hear. If you can find a way of telling your stories whilst bridging a cultural void, you’re onto a winner. Fingers crossed, eh?

Finally, would you like to share anything else about upcoming projects, such as HELL-TOR and SPRING HEELED JACK or your recent work with FANGORIA?

I’ve always loved the Amicus portmanteau, and when I initially started developing a feature, my first notion was to create one of my own. HELL-TOR is a collection of Dartmoor legends woven together. THE HAIRY HANDS was originally the book-end story, but ended up being developed into the short I produced with the Arts Council. ‘THE DEMON HUNTSMAN was mooted to be in there, too. The other three stories haven’t seen the light of day yet, although the kelpie / exorcism story, “Crows Mere,” was one of the first pitches for the second season of TALES BEYOND THE PALE. It’s definitely something I’d love to make. It would be a wonderful opportunity to get a British Horror portmanteau back on the screen. I should probably chat to Reece about this!

My long term project is SPRING HEELED JACK – a Dickensian horror story – as opposed to the more familIar later period that sired Sherlock Holmes, Jekyll & Hyde and the Ripper crimes – and is inspired by the “genuine” boogeyman from the early 1800s. The tale of a rooftop bounding demon that could appear and disappear at will caught hold of the public imagination, becoming in time a popular character in Victorian fiction, in particular the Penny Dreadfuls [popular working class fiction] of the period who took the figure and transformed him from a shilling shocker phantom into an embryonic super-hero. With his crime -ighting exploits bedecked in bat-like cloak and horned cowl, it is difficult not to see him as anything other than the template of what would become Batman.

I have been fascinated by the myths of Spring Heeled Jack and have often wondered why his presence on film has been so negligible. Apart from it being a delicious bit of British esoterica, the story fascinates me because it occurs in a period that has thus far pretty much only been defined by Dickens. It presents itself not only as an opportunity to explore early Victoriana – at a time when genre templates for horror and detective tales were coalescing in popular fiction – but a chance to make something akin to a classic “Hammer Horror” with a real underworld edge. The script is currently in development, and I have started pre-production character and concept art. I suppose if I could pitch it, I’d have to say it’s “Victorian Batman meets Sweeney Todd meets THE FLY!” It’s quite melodramatic, psychologically disturbing, a tale of a super hero becoming a super villain.  It’s easily the darkest thing I’ve written, dark and dastardly – and deliciously deviant. I’d love to make it, a dream come true, but I have to be a midwife to history first!

To support or share the Indiegogo campaign for BORLEY RECTORY, click here. Watch SCAYRECROW for free on Vimeo here. 

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Kool Kat of the Week: Nervous Curtains’ Sean Kirkpatrick Channels John Foxx and Magazine and Explains Why the Last Thing the World Needs Is for His Band To Be Funky

Posted on: Apr 3rd, 2012 By:

When Dallas band Nervous Curtains listed post-punk experimental synth groups Magazine and early Ultravox (John Foxx/pre-Midge Ure) as two of its biggest influences, it was enough to make us prick up our ears. They’re playing Drunken Unicorn this Thursday April 5, and after reading a bit more and listening to their cut Wired to Make Waves,” we were sold on making band founder Sean Kirkpatrick Kool Kat of the Week. Fortunately he was happy to grant a last-minute interview and open the door into the world of Fake Infinity, “where everything you know is wrong.” Read on to find out more about the band’s unique sound and influences and why you better get out Thursday night and see Nervous Curtains with us.

What’s the secret origin story behind Nervous Curtains?

I was playing piano, keyboards and samples in the band The Paper Chase for about 8 years. I wasn’t the singer or songwriter for that band,but I’d had this role in previous bands. I put out a side project solo album in 2007 so that I could get back into the pursuit of my own musical vision. I asked Ian Hamilton (synth, organ) and Robert Anderson (drums) to back me up for some local release shows in Dallas. We kept playing together and developed a sound that far surpassed what I had originally hoped to accomplish. In 2008, we named the band Nervous Curtains and recorded the material that would become our first album OUT OF SYNC WITH TIME (2010). In 2010, The Paper Chase went on hiatus, allowing me to focus on Nervous Curtains full time.

Can you tell us a bit about the world of Fake Infinity?

It’s a failed utopia, a place for all the big dreams that didn’t quite pan out. It’s the glimpses of euphoria that didn’t sustain in the long run. After the sex, drugs, and rock and roll, we’re left with a wicked hangover. This isn’t the glorious future we were promised and we thought we deserved. So what we do with it now is our own decision. It’s the end of something false but could be the beginning of something real and finite. Sonically, we attempt to capture this setting with a mix of otherworldly synthesizers and echo effects and very gritty and grounded rock and roll sounds.

Not a lot of people even know Magazine and Ultravox, especially the earlier John Foxx incarnation, nowadays. How did you discover them and why do they inspire you?

We used to do a cover of “Someone Else’s Clothes” off Ultravox’s SYSTEMS OF ROMANCE. John Foxx’s solo album METAMATIC is a big influence as well. I have been a fan of this stuff for a long time – at least 12 years. A friend let me hear the first Magazine album a few years ago. I’d been seeing the name forever but didn’t realize what they sounded like or that they had connections to all these other bands: The Buzzcocks, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, Siouxsie and the Banshees. It just blew me away. It felt like a band that was made just for my tastes. The songs are incredible. The synth and piano work is stellar. The lyrics are really something special.

We are avid record collectors and enthusiasts. We keep up with a certain amount of new bands, but a lot of the music that we really love was created in the 1970s and 80s. Fifteen years ago it took a lot of work to discover this stuff. I remember hearing Television, Wire, Gang of Four, Can and La Dusseldorf. Even just discovering that Talking Heads, OMD and Gary Numan had these really dense, well-developed albums – not just singles -felt revelatory. This was always discovered through making friends that were as crazy about music as I was. Now information is much more accessible. It’s so easy to find much more obscure bands through blogs, youtube, reissue labels, rampant mp3 sharing, etc. Recently I’ve been listening to Pel Mel, The Wake, The Chills, Second Layer, Pink Industry, Scattered Order, Sort Sol, Vorgruppe, The Lines,  Modern Eon.

Nervous Curtains perform at Lola's in Dallas.

One of the words you use to describe the band is “synth-pop.” To many, that conjures up images of early ’80s Brit pop bands like Flock of Seagulls and Duran Duran, but Magazine and early Ultravox produced a darker, more gritty version. Can you describe what you’re going for those folks who might be confused?

Well, to be fair, I generally use the term “post-punk synth rock.” I don’t use the term “synth-pop” in describing Nervous Curtains to avoid the types of connotations that you allude to. We are trying to take past influences and create something new, exciting, slightly dark and dangerous with them. Too many bands that use synthesizers are just creating a purely retro pop sound, and we are not interested in this.

What other classic bands or sounds does Nervous Curtains count as influences or inspirations?

Polvo, The Minutemen, Echo and the Bunneymen, Harmonia, The Kinks, ZZ Top, Roxy Music, David Bowie, Tuxedomoon, Thin Lizzy, Slayer, Sonic Youth, early Simple Minds, Flying Lizards, early New Order, Bedhead, John Cale, The Birthday Party, Chrome. We’ve been listening to a lot of funk music and afrobeat. This is probably more inspiration than influence. It’s important to proceed with caution in these territories. The last thing the world needs is guys like us trying to be funky. That said, we love Fela Kuti, Tony Allen, Orchestra Polyrythmo de Catanou, James Brown, Stax Records, etc. Oh, we listen to a lot of metal too. Classic, doom, black, stoner, thrash.

I love the way you describe “It’s the End of Eternity” in your bio, i.e. ‘the song is a landscape
where discarded metal bakes on the broken concrete foundations of abandoned buildings and carefree summers of youth have given way to oppressive heat waves.” You obviously take time and care in composition. What’s your process like?

That song took me probably over a year to write. It’s a result of enduring the cruel and merciless Texas summers. Summers used to feel so fun and carefree. Now I associate them with doom and dread. I drive around and see everything just withering and dying in the heat. Buildings that once looked new and full of promise are collapsing in the elements. It took a while to figure out how to capture all that without getting too literal or being too much of a downer. I eventually found a pattern that worked for this and it led to a resolution that lightened up in the end. That resolution is like the first Fall morning when you walk outside and there’s a chill in the air. It’s such a relief after enduring the brutality of a heat wave. I write the music and lyrics and bring them to the band. We arrange the songs together and work extensively in getting our parts and the dynamics to come together as a whole. Then, sometimes things change and evolve in the studio or through playing live. It’s the nature of the creative process.

What song have you done that most encapsulates the band’s vision and why?

I can’t narrow it down to one song. Fake Infinity as a whole encapsulates our vision. It touches on a wide range of styles and influences while maintaining what I see as a singular vision.

What’s the alt music scene like in Dallas right now? Is Nervous Curtains one of a kind or part of a movement?

We don’t see ourselves as part of a scene. We do what we do and have a decent following for it. Sometimes we fall between the cracks. We’re too synth-y for some of the rock crowd and too pop/rock for the art/synth/electronic crowd. But that allows us to appeal to a wider range of folks. There are some interesting acts using keyboards in the Dallas [area] that we fit well with such as Pinkish Black, New FumesDarktown Strutters, and Diamond Age. But there are plenty of good bands, and we like to play with all types of acts.

Nervous Curtains at City Tavern in Hampton, TX.

What do you have planned for your gig this Thursday at Drunken Unicorn?

We’re very excited for our first Atlanta show. I always had great experiences at the Drunken Unicorn with my old band. We’ll be playing most of the new album and maybe a song or two off our first album.

What’s next for Nervous Curtains?

We’ve been so consumed with supporting this album and will continue to do that for quite a while. We’ve got this two-week East Coast/ Midwest tour, then some shows in Texas and the surrounding states throughout the following months. We’re making a lot of videos and doing whatever we can to get people to hear this record. Doing all this plus booking the shows handling everything else is so consuming that I have not had time to write any new songs. At some point, we’ll have some time to work on some new stuff, I’m sure.

NOTE: All photos are courtesy of Nervous Curtains.

 

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