Tuesday 27 September 2016

Video Killer (UK 2016: Dir Richard Mansfield) including interview with the director

Two of Video Killer director Richard Mansfield's earlier 'shadow' films, 2015's Count Magnus and this year's The Story of an Appearance and a Disappearance, were based on short stories by master of weird fiction M R James. The spirit of James is very much present in Video Killer, a quite extraordinary micro budget film which also, in its fractured and oblique storytelling style, recalls Inland Empire-era David Lynch.

Amy is a young woman, documenting day to day life on her phone, who has been plagued with her doorbell being rung every morning at the same time. There's no one there, but on one of the occasions a dirty old VHS tape has been left for her. The tape contains some crude animation, which she describes as being like an old Public Information Film, showing a young boy who is killed when his kite sails into power cables. There's also another strange figure with bleeding eyes, and the animation is interspersed with live action footage of a woman being menaced by a man in a mask which seems to disappear when she re-watches the tape.

Elsewhere we see another man, Michael, who calls himself Victim 88 and has been summoned to a park he frequented as a child, also as a result of receiving what we assume is a similar tape.

Meanwhile another victim films himself, clearly in some distress, being drawn to an abandoned garage again and again to meet a frightening figure, also wearing a mask. Is this a dream or reality? And another man, filming himself, sits in a tube train carriage, convinced he's being watched.

These fractured but creepy story strands (together with odd inserted nightmare scenes) gradually pull together, but don't expect everything to be tidily explained - Video Killer is a film about urban paranoia and primal fear which doesn't offer any easy answers. It's indebted to a number of J-Horror films like Hideo Nakata's 1998 movie Ring (there's a couple of scenes with lengths of murderous video tape which are genuinely weird), but the film also captures a world - or more precisely north London - where everything is filmed, and the concepts of  'is it live or is it Memorex?' (to quote an old ad line) are stretched to breaking point.

Mansfield films with a variety of filters and achieves some very unsettling effects on little more than careful lighting and great camerawork. The film also benefits greatly from a moody and occasionally jarring soundtrack from the enigmatically named D. Smoker, and the confusion of story strands adds a richness to the events which all transcend its budget - this is a film maker who knows what he's doing.

Mansfield and his husband Daniel (who co-produced Video Killer) are some of the more interesting low budget UK filmmakers working at the moment. As well as a number of interesting and stylish short films utilising simple but effective silhouette figures (a very traditional almost magic lantern presentation style), Richard made the rather oblique gay supernatural drama The Secret Path back in 2014 and the equally eliptical The Mothman Curse (filmed in blurry Guy Maddin-esque black and white and using London's The Cinema Museum as a location) the same year. Daniel Mansfield, who has collaborated with Richard on many of his projects, made the erotic vampire thriller Drink Me in 2015 and has just completed the extraordinary John Waters-esque Showgirls 3: London Calling. Whew!

Fascinated with the ingenuity and overall chutzpah evidenced by Video Killer and the director's other work, I asked him a few questions about it:

DEoL: Richard, how did the idea for Video Killer come about?

RM: The idea for VK came when I was thinking of making a web series about a recurring demonic stalker called Babyface. I think it could have worked well as a series but I love making features and changed my mind to edit it together as one film. I love the idea of a curse and old technology. I felt a real sense of nostalgia towards VHS tapes and it seemed like a fun way to tell a story, and I could include more experimental material and make it part of the strange films people were receiving.

DEoL: If you don't mind me saying, Video Killer seems like a rather exploitational title for a film that is actually much more experimental than that. So why did you choose it?

RM: I don’t mind you saying! The title is very exploitational and is intended to be. Getting a film’s title and imagery right to sell it is quite a tricky thing. With most low/no-budget horrors a stock image will be used for its marketing rather than actual images from the film. It’s to make it appear more ‘Hollywood.’ It’s pretty cynical but then there are so many movies being released now it’s hard to find a way to stand out.  My other feature The Mothman Curse was originally titled Who is coming but no one was interested so I retitled it and a distributor got straight back to me! If you have an idea of a more accurate title for VK I’d love to hear it. It’s never really had any other working titles (other than VHS Killer). I have written a sort-of-sequel, maybe I could use your suggestion if I ever get to make it (I've been thinking hard on this one, readers, believe me - Ed).

DEoL: Tell me a bit about the casting and filming process.
RM: I’ve worked with all the cast of VK before and all are friends - we were round at Victoria’s (Victoria Falls, who plays Amy) last night for dinner - so it was a real pleasure to work on. Victoria had worked on several of my husband Daniel’s films and I thought she’d be great in a lead role. We filmed most of her scenes in one weekend - the hottest weekend of 2014. Overall I spent about 5-6 days filming which is a pretty usual timescale for all my features. VK was simpler because I shot everyone’s scenes separately with the exception of Amy and Michael’s scene together. I much prefer to tailor roles to individual actors rather than cast a role specifically. I find the process then feels more organic. Some of the video nightmares came from unused footage from one of Daniel’s films that was never completed. He gave me the idea to use the Resusci-Anne mask (used in CPR training - Ed) which I found weirdly beautiful and very creepy.

DEoL: I notice that the spirit of M R James haunts a lot of your work - certainly it's strong in VK. Were there other influences at play when making the film?

RM: M R James is a huge influence on all my films, particularly the idea of old technology harbouring ancient evils or being a spirit conduit. Most of my influences come from film but I had a supernatural experience when I was a child and I think it has fascinated/scarred me for life. For a while I was aware of a shadowy figure in my bedroom silhouetted against the window at night. It terrified me and I’ve never forgotten it. I found out many years later that the cottage was rumoured to be haunted. My favourite film of all time is Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls - it’s so wonderful and I love its unearthly atmosphere. Also the films of David Lynch, John Carpenter's The Fog and Halloween, and Jack Clayton’s The Innocents. I’ve recently re-discovered Blood on Satan’s Claw which terrified me as a teenager. I really go for the atmospherics. I think it’s essential, and it’s so often missing from most modern horror films.

DEoL: Can you tell me anything about your next projects, The Devil Waits, Fright Christmas and House of the Mothman, which I take it is a sequel to The Mothman's Curse?  
RM: The Devil Waits is probably going to be re-titled Scare Bear. It’s a folk-horror with mainly one actor (Henry Regan from VK and The Secret Path). A young man called Tommy is metal detecting in the woods in 1978; he starts to dig up toys that remind him of his childhood and his sister Grace who went missing when she was 8. He digs up a toy intercom telephone and Grace starts calling him and tells him about her friend Mister Bones, a sinister figure with a teddy bear head! Again we filmed it for a week in the woods in June and it will feature some weird marionette shows. The soundtrack is being created by George Hoyle and his band ‘Cunning People’ and evokes films like The Wicker Man and Blood on Satan’s Claw. I’ll be releasing it digitally in early 2017 hopefully.

Fright Christmas was going to be a film about Krampus but I’ve cancelled it and can’t remove it from IMDB! House of the Mothman is a planned follow up to The Mothman's Curse but will stand alone as its own piece. The original Curse was filmed with an experimental black and white camera which gave a beautiful low-resolution image but this will be much more conventionally filmed. I was due to make the film back in April but two cast members pulled out and so I put Scare Bear into production instead. I’m currently re-writing the script but I’m unsure yet as to whether it’ll get filmed.

DEoL: Thanks very much for your time Richard. We'll be looking out for Scare Bear!

Video Killer is available now on DVD from Amazon.com here and to rent or buy on Google Play.


  1. Hi-

    While the genre doesnt particularly grab me, i agree that carnival of souls is essential, transcending genres and many other unspecifiable things.

    Talk of toys took me to an Alfred Hitchcock Presents i saw as a kid in tbe South in the early sixties, where a white child plays with a blacj doll when at a crucial moment rhe races are reversed. Truely chilling!


    Young William

  2. Thanks for your comments YW. Alfred Hitchcock Presents is to my shame a show of which I've never seen a single episode. I must rectify that.


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