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AICN HORROR talks with writer/director Pascal Laugier about MARTYRS, the HELLRAISER remake, and his new film THE TALL MAN!!!

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Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Today I have part two of my two day coverage of THE TALL MAN a new film from writer/director Pascal Laugier who most have to thank for scarring their lives with the diabolical and mind shredding film MARTYRS. After experiencing that film, Laugier is definitely a director to watch in my book. Earlier in the week, I talked with THE TALL MAN star Jessica Biel and reviewed the film. Below, is a talk I had with Mr. Laugier who had a lot to say about MARTYRS, THE TALL MAN, his take on modern horror, and his brief stint aboard the new HELLRAISER remake. Plus towards the end, he talks a bit about his newest project. Enjoy…

AMBUSH BUG (BUG): Well let’s talk about THE TALL MAN. I have to say that you are definitely a director that every time I hear your name attached to a project I really look forward to it. We are here to talk about THE TALL MAN, but can we talk a little bit about your previous projects as well?

PASCAL LAUGIER (PL): Sure, of course.

BUG: Great. Well I know you kind of burst on the scene with MARTYRS. I know you’ve been doing a few other things before that, but MARTYRS was the film that I think really made everyone stand up and take notices of you as a serious director. Going into that film, it’s such a harrowing journey for the characters involved. What was the inspiration for that film specifically?

PL: It’s always very complicated to consciously know about the way films come to your mind and how come you choose to do one movie rather than another one, so it’s very difficult to answer that. The fact is, my previous film before MARTYRS was not understood or liked. The audience walked out with such distance, and I’m talking about HOUSE OF VOICES, my first feature film. I was a very young filmmaker, but that totally created a strange new form of anger in me, that in a very strange and twisted way it created a block of energy in me and that dark energy I put all of it in my following movie and that was MARTYRS. The question I kept asking myself with MARTYRS was “Can I cross the line?” I wasn’t really aware that I would be crossing some line. I think I put the audience in a very vulnerable position including the hardcore horror fans, including the audience that is used to very gory and extreme films. In a way I did this movie as thinking it would be my last feature film as not a single producer would give me the time to do another feature film. It was a very desperate movie at a very desperate time in my life, so I shot MARTYRS as a melodrama, as a love story that turns really, really wrong and really bad. And once again I thought I would never be able to approach a camera again after MARTYRS and that movie started getting noticed. I wouldn’t say career as a filmmaker, but it traveled all around the world, was received amazingly well by the audience and opened everything for me and made it possible to do another one, another movie. So it was a very good experience doing that movie.

BUG: Yeah, well I have seen MARTYRS with multiple people. Some of them had to leave the room, some of them had to just watch through their fingers. It always fascinates me how people respond to that film, because it does touch on so many deep and dark things. I mean it starts out kind of like a ghost story and then it really turns into something so much more real. I just want to congratulate you on what I consider to be a masterpiece in film. I think it’s amazing.

PL: Thank you.

BUG: Have you had any personal experiences talking with people, whether they loved it or hated it after they saw it?

PL: Sure. I traveled with it all across the world to promote and support the release of the movie world wide. I had so many twisted and weird moving experiences too from people in the audience. Some loved it, some chose to insult me thinking I was this crazed guy. I thought it would be pretty obvious that the film was filmed with honesty and sincerity and in a really strange way the movie for me is supposed to be a moving film. My intention was not to disgust the audience, so when some people came to insult me it was really bad for my private person and it was very strange, but I had the opposite too. I had a lot of testimonies and especially from female members of the audience, especially from teenagers who received the movie totally correctly. They got it, you know? A lot of people came up to me after the screening and told me a lot of private and intimate things from their lives. They were sharing a lot of very moving things with me because of the movie and because of what they had felt watching the movie. I have been insulted by fans of hardcore heavy metal audience, because I shook them and I felt very proud getting to shock these guys with tattoos all over their bodies. I shook a lot of these guys and I felt very proud of it. It’s really truly hard to shake these men, so yeah I have witnessed some of the members of an audience collapsing during the screening or being forced to leave the audience.

BUG: Definitely. I always find it interesting that people like to laugh at horror a lot of times, but really after watching THE TALL MAN and MARTYRS, there’s not a lot of comedy going on. There’s not that release where you can just laugh about being scared in your films and it seems like that’s an intentional thing that you are doing. Is that a valid assumption?

PL: There are so few films in movie history that combine humor and horror like maybe the first EVIL DEAD did, as that’s a great example of it being skillfully achieved. I’m a horror fan myself and I hate most of them, because most of them just don’t work at all. The characters are all very cynical and I hate that, because I prefer having a serious approach to the story and as a member of the audience I love being told stories that don’t feel safe, but once again mixing humor and horror is really tricky.

BUG: Definitely. Well I definitely want to talk about THE TALL MAN here. I can talk about MARTYRS all day, but THE TALL MAN I saw a while back and it really did blow me away. Like MARTYRS, there’s a whole lot going on that the audience doesn’t know about and I don’t want to reveal too much about the film, but I’m sensing a theme in these two films, just that there’s more than meets the eye as far as what’s going on.

PL: Yes. The comment from the films is kind of a sad reflection of the social castes system. For me I’m trying to use the genre as a way to depict human relationships and the way that our society is created, organized, and the whole social class system has not changed a single bit since the nineteenth century. When I finish writing a movie I find out “Oh, again it’s about the way our social system works” and it’s pretty obvious in THE TALL MAN. It’s the very reason for me to have handled such a project, but what I like to do is choose the genre archetype and change it in order to play with the audience’s expectation, which is probably why half of the audience hates what I do and the other half is attracted to it.

BUG: This is your first American film, correct?

PL: Yes.

BUG: What was that like for you?

PL: You know what? I felt very protected, because the way the movie had been financed was very special. It’s not a Hollywood movie. It was done outside the Hollywood system and the studio system, so I felt I was completely free on set. I didn’t have any producers behind my back telling me how to do things, so we had this French director with an American cast and an American production, so for me it was just the perfect combination between the freedom that a director doesn’t have in my country, France, and so it was great. Once again I did the movie exactly the way I wanted to be done, so I can’t say it’s the typical American film or lets call it a totally independent strange American film done outside of Hollywood.

BUG: I had talked with Jessica Biel a couple of weeks ago about the film and you really put her through the ringer as far as physical stunts and things happening to her. How did she respond to all of that stuff?

PL: She was so amazing. She was a trooper. I mean the best proof I can give you is that she was fully committed to it is when we were hitting financial problems halfway through the shoot, she proposed to become co-producer and put some money into the movie in order to finish the film the way we wanted. So that’s the best guarantee that she fully believed in this movie and was like a soul mate with me on it. But it’s true also that shooting the film for her was very difficult and it was of course there’s the cynical aspect of the movie, the movie chase scene in the woods; there was a lot of running for her, but also there were so many different emotions during the whole movie, so I had to be on her back constantly to get what I wanted emotionally. I didn’t want to just stay on the surface with this thing. Some times she was a bit hesitant, because it’s very, very difficult everyday to get hurt and to go inside yourself to get you to cry. I mean it’s very difficult on a daily basis. It’s very easy for an actress to cry for a few hours, but after seven days straight it becomes really tricky. We worked a lot together before the shoot. We rehearsed a lot in order to have a strong relationship full of confidence, so she was not worried or scared to cry in front of me.

BUG: As a side note, I actually work in the childcare profession. I work in a residential facility for boys and girls and I’m a therapist there and so I see the slow process of the child care system and this film sort of deals with that, without giving too much away of the film. Was there any type of research you did as far as that aspect of the film?

PL: I didn’t do a lot of research necessarily, I just met with people. I met with doctors and nurses working in third world countries and I interviewed them a lot and asked them a lot of personal questions about their work, but also their way of seeing the world. There’s a reason why they were doing what they were doing and I asked them a lot about their positions and I realized that a lot of these people believed—regular people would find these people like angels, just because they go to Africa to help kids and the way they see the world and the way they see human beings is more complex than what we think. They are not just nice angelic people, they are almost like cops and if you ask them for a solution in order to change the planet, the way our system works, you would instantly be shocked. We became friends and then for a few months after I started to write THE TALL MAN, in France there was an organization that brought back like thirty or fifty kids back from Chad pretending these kids were orphans and after investigation the cops realized that these kids had killed their parents.

BUG: Oh wow.

PL: They had been stolen from Chad and brought back to France. I mean it raises all sorts of questions. There could be something said about the relationship between poor and rich countries, about the kids. We all know about the shit storm with Madonna or Angelina Jolie going to third world countries and bringing back kids. All of it is questionable and really, really weird. And the movie is all about this too.

BUG: Fascinating stuff. Having filmed this in America, is that something you’re interested in doing again?

PL: The way this last movie was handled was perfect for me, because of the complete freedom I was given. Honestly I would love to do another movie with the same producers and the same financing system and we are working on my next movie already. It’s going to be a cross over between a thriller with a lot of suspense, but now the crossover will be with a love story. It’s about a man and everything looks and sounds perfect for him and his point of view. He is a very regular, average man, not ugly, just normal and seems to fall in love with a very beautiful girl, like she is too beautiful for him and of course she is totally irresistible and “is she sincere? Does she want something from him?” It’s all about love, about the worry we feel as we are falling for someone who might seem too beautiful for us. That’s something we’ve all felt at some point in our lives and that brings us to that movie with something I hope is unpredictable.

BUG: That sounds really interesting. How far along are you with that project?

PL: I’m in the middle of writing and working again with the same producers, so hopefully we will announce when will begin at the beginning of next year.

BUG: I know that you were attached to the HELLRAISER remake and you’re no longer attached to that anymore. What happened?

PL: You know, what happened is I had this feeling that the producers behind the new HELLRAISER didn’t really want to do a solid serious movie, so for me a new HELLRAISER is all about S&M gay culture, because it comes from a homosexual desire and HELLRAISER is about dealing with these very questions and I don’t want to betray Clive’s vision. I’m a huge fan and I love HELLRAISER and maybe I was wrong, but I had the feeling I was wanted to do something much more for a teenage audience. One of the biggest problems in Hollywood when you love horror is that Hollywood doesn’t. You either do a slasher or you don’t do anything, you know? HELLRAISER is not a slasher. It’s not about killing a teenager and seeing random things between murders, it’s not that at all. It’s much more complex. It’s definitely adult oriented and they asked me to do something very commercial you know, which is fine, but it was a bummer that I didn’t want to do what they wanted. I’ve learned to just run away.

BUG: Yeah, well I don’t blame you. I agree, I would not want to see that type of a HELLRAISER film either. Any last words about THE TALL MAN for the Ain’t It Cool News audience?

PL: I know the movie is going to surprise the audience and in making it we knew with Jessica we were working hard to make sure the movie would move the audience and that’s something I’m most interested in. My main inspiration comes from the golden age of cinema, where movies were more of an experience and more complex. You know the first time I saw TAXI DRIVER I thought… I’m talking about my reaction as a member of the audience at that time, I didn’t know what to think about the movie. I couldn’t label the movie. “Is it a thriller? Is it a horror film? Is it a psychological drama?” It’s very hard to say and I love the idea that my film is very hard to put a label on, but I’m also very aware that some people will obviously be disappointed by the content of THE TALL MAN and this is something I can’t do anything about if I offend them. But again, I love the films of the seventies, where movies were much more difficult to put a label on. They were just choosing some genre and some archetypes of the genre as a way to express themselves and a way to share a vision. That’s something I want to go for, the kind of cinema I still want to do. As a member of the audience I’m so fed up with formulas. It’s always the same thing and I hate that. I’m turning forty and I don’t want to be told what I’m supposed to think and feel when I’m watching a movie. I love films that constantly have levels of complexity. That’s something I try to give back to the audience with my movies, so I know that probably won’t help commercially, but I also hope it will make the movies last in the audience’s mind. That’s my only ambition.

BUG: Fantastic. Well I can’t wait to see your next film and I loved THE TALL MAN, so thank you so much. I really appreciate it, and you have a great day. Thanks for your time.

PL: You too. Bye, thank you.

BUG: THE TALL MAN is available now on Video On Demand and is in theaters this weekend! Check out my interview with the star of the film Jessica Biel and a review of THE TALL MAN here!

See ya Friday for our regular AICN HORROR Column, folks!

Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/reviewer/co-editor of AICN Comics for over ten years. He has written comics such as MUSCLES & FIGHTS, MUSCLES & FRIGHTS, VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, WONDERLAND ANNUAL 2010 & NANNY & HANK (soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND & has co-written their first ever comic book LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in late 2012 as an 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark has just announced his new comic book miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment to be released March-August 2012. Also look for Mark's exciting arc on GRIMM FAIRY TALES #76-80 which begins in August 2012.

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