Ginger Nuts of Horror
By Alex Davis
Film Gutter's Alex Davis sat down with Kasper Juhl director of the rather excellent Your Flesh, Your Curse for a special Gutter Talk interview.
Born Kasper Juhl Pedersen in Roskilde, Denmark, on April 12th, 1991. He got his first camera at the age of 8 and has since been passionate about making films. He's known as the founder of controversial independent film company Hellbound Productions, where he has directed, written and produced several feature- and short-films. He has since written and directed the feature film "Gudsforladt" (english title: A God Without A Universe") which premiered on CPH:PIX film festival in 2015 and won the "Best Feature" award at the BUT Film Festival in the Netherlands, and the "Jury Award" at the Sadique Master Film Festival. He's currently one of the most active directors in Denmark.
First off, I wanted to say how very impressed I was with Your Flesh, Your Curse! What can you tell us about the inspiration behind this movie?
I talked with my producer, who’s also the composer/sound designer on the film, about making a beautiful extreme horror film. We quickly found out that we would like to do another film in the same universe as our previous film, ‘Madness of Many’ – this time we just wanted to make more of a visual stunning piece of art.
This movie sees some stunning performances, especially from lead actress Marie-Louise Damgaard in the role of Juliet White. How was it on set in putting her character through so many horrific events?
Yes, she went through a lot. We always talked about everything in detail before each shoot, so that she was 100% sure of what was going to happen. I did everything I could so she would always feel safe during the shooting. Between every shoot everything was fine, we were laughing and having fun.
The whole film feels extremely authentic, which makes it very hard to watch in places, How much of what we see on screen was real, if anything?
All of the torture/abuse, not involving blood and gore, is in some way real. The actresses I worked with were aware that they could get hit, scratched, spit at etc. but all under professional circumstances. No one was harmed under the shoot in any way and everyone had fun, even though the scenes are quite extreme.
The film very much eschews traditional narrative for a much more unusual style of storytelling – was that a conscious decision from the very start?
Yes it was. We set out to make an abstract/experimental horror film. To me film is about feelings and not so much about a narrative story. It’s like Stanley Kubrick said: ‘The truth of a thing is in the feel of it, not in the think of it.’
Were things shot in order, or did you look to create scenes and then put them together in the editing process?
Everything was shot in order and we followed a script.
The visual aesthetic was stunning, really finding a dark sort of beauty in the nightmarish chain of events. Do you have a particular process in creating the 'look' of your films?
On this film me and my producer really talked a lot about the visual look of the film. We used most of our funding to buy a professional 4K camera, as we wanted to make a visually stunning underground film. Before each scenes, we talked in detail about how we should shoot it. We chose to have everything handheld, as we still wanted a realness to the scenes.
Are there any other filmmakers or directors that have particularly inspired you? At moments it put me in mind of Lars Von Trier, if you don't mind me saying so!
Trier is my favorite director, so I am just glad you can see the comparison, even though I didn’t went out to make a Trier-style film. I’m inspired by a lot of filmmakers like Harmony Korine, David Lynch, Lukas Moodysson, Larry Clark, Gaspar Noe, Tobias Lindholm, Thomas Vinterberg, Martin Scorsese, Wes Craven, David Cronenberg, Park Chan-wook and Alfred Hitchcock.
Your Flesh, Your Curse is a really intriguing and very complex movie – even after watching it twice I don't feel as though I have got everything out of it yet! How would you describe the message of the film?
It’s all about what you feel when you watch the film. What message you get when watching the film is probably the right one. I have my own idea of what the movie is about, but your interpretation is probably just as correct as mine.
This is your seventh movie so far – can you tell us anything about what you're working on next?
I’ve just finished editing my next film ‘Forever’, which will be an avant-garde documentary about the loss of my dad, who died on the 23rd of February 2016. It will be my most personal film yet, but it has nothing to do with horror. As for 2018 I have some huge plans, but can’t say anything about that yet.
BY ALEX DAVIS
Dir. Lucifer Valentine, Canada, 2012
Coming back to the world of Lucifer Valentine isn't something you could really say you were looking forward to. The director of the infamous Vomit Gore Trilogy is likely one of the most singular directors around, horribly original and never copied or imitated. Those three films – now four with the addition of Black Mass of the Nazi Sex Wizard – are and absolute marathon of endurance. You almost have to tip your hat to anyone that's made it through them. And although this short film comes with the Vomit Gore boxset, it's pretty different in tone, though keeps many of what you would call the Valentine trademarks. And if watching Megan is Missing hadn't already firmly put you off meeting people online, then A Perfect Child of Satan is here to drive the point home once again.
Our lead is Sarah, a woman who is very excited to meet her perfect boyfriend she met in an alternative chatroom. The opening scenes of the movie are pretty endearing – while Sarah does talk about some of the slightly unsavoury things she does to and for her 'clients', in general the opening ten minutes or so are pretty sweet as she dreams about what he'll look like and the things they'll do together. It's a pretty realistic depiction of the buzz of being in the scenario, and actress Chelsea Chainsaw plays the part perfectly.
But before long it's on to meet her online dream man, and the meeting takes place in a fairly anonymous hotel room. The camera switches from Sarah holding it to her unnamed beau holding it, which gives a different perspective to the second half of the short film. Initially there seems to be a buzz and a chemistry, but it turns nasty quickly as the man gets uncomfortably close to her before dragging her to the ground. What follows is pretty unpleasant as he strangles her, beats her, rapes her and then basically leaves her for dead on the bathroom floor.
I say 'pretty unpleasant' where you might think to yourself 'that sounds deeply unpleasant.' But it's all about context, and if you've seen any of the Vomit Gore movies, and built yourself up for something that horrible, then this does fall short of those for pure shock value. It's a more psychological nightmare, even though it has a physical aspect – the final scene is intercut with romantic proclamations made online, and one of the most cutting aspects is Sarah realising what she has gotten herself into and that her dream man is actually a nightmare. The filming is a bit chaotic, which adds to the sense of reality, and the closing shot is Valentine through and through.
Ultimately it's a pretty simple film, one half of which builds up the character before a second half that fundamentally destroys that same character. That gives it something different to Vomit Gore, as many of the victims in those movies we know little or nothing about. It's a bit of a new road for the director but one that I'm glad he decided to explore. No doubt there will still be viewers who find this one too intense, but in relative terms this is a director softening his style slightly to deliver something that remains very effective.
RATING: 8/10. Nothing revelatory in terms of plot or concept – the dangers of online dating and interaction have been discussed in movies plenty before – but the delivery is tidy and clever, and the fact we get to know Sarah and just how happy she is with no idea what is around the corner is pretty uncomfortable. This is probably some of Valentine's best work, or at least the most palatable, and if you wanted an introduction to the director's world I would start here. Because if this is too much then you'd be well advised not to delve any further. This one has a bit more psychology and less physicality, and so gets a very worthy 8/10.
By Alex Davis
Dir. Buddy Giovannazzo, USA, 91 min
Now, I must confess I found it hard to picture the day I'd be turning my attention to a Troma film here at Film Gutter. While I've never been an avid follower of the cult company, it's hard not to have stumbled across at least a few of their movies over the years and while some have been fun, it's hard to deny that many are absolute and utter trash. There are a handful of b-movies I have a fondness for, but on the whole I'm not a fan of that end of horror. Just because there's a low budget doesn't mean a movie has to be low quality or low brow.
Some people might argue that the nature of Troma's movies makes them ideal for Film Gutter, but I've tended to try and veer away from flat out 'bad horror' in order to focus very much more on the extreme elements. There might be a few more Troma features that could fit the bill, but there's plenty that would come before those on my list of preferences. However Combat Shock has been on my radar for a while, with many claiming the film features one of the most disturbing finales of all time. That's a privilege that still belongs to Megan is Missing, in my opinion, but it's sure big talk to put on the table. So how does Combat Shock stack up?
Well, I have to say this one was a pretty pleasant surprise. It is low budget, and you can see that it's low budget, but it is one of those gems that uses this fact to its advantage to develop a movie that is grimy, unpleasant and uses what it has in an ingenious way. The story follows Frankie, a Vietnam war veteran whose life has well and truly hit the skids after his dark experiences. We see a little of that to kick off with in flashback, and revisit them a few times throughout the story as rather broken memories. He's got no job, no money, a marriage to Cathy that is deeply struggling and a baby that is anything but normal (which gets attributed to all the chemical warfare he was a part of in Nam) and cries constantly, a pretty harrowing background to Frankie and Cathy's misery. The main part of the story follows Frankie as he wanders the desolate streets of town, bumping into drug addicts, pimps, prostitutes, crime lords (whom he happens to be in debt to) as he makes his way to the unemployment office looking for something, anything by way of a job. All the while we see splices of his experiences as a prisoner of war, and the building implications that come with his long recovery and the amnesia he suffers about the attack in one particular village...
For me, this one was pretty impressive and explored a lot of interesting ground. It's a story of urban decay, of what war can do to a person, or having no hope and no visible way out of the situation you're in. Ricky Giovinazzo does a good job in the lead role as Frankie – he's very believable and his various struggles are pretty well depicted – and the constant, hideous crying of the baby is cleverly employed as a background sound throughout a lot of the movie. Sure, some of the scenes and the acting performances around the wider city are a bit ropey, but many add to the scenes of grit and grind that everyone there is experiencing. It's a story that really embraces the underbelly of society.
And the finale? Yeah, I'm happy to concede it was pretty full on. It's not completely unexpected given what comes before it, but it does certainly pack a punch and is a suitable conclusion to what is a pretty nihilistic movie. Combat Shock has certainly built up a cult following, and remains weirdly current and prescient. There are still people struggling desperately at the bottom rung of society, and soldiers fighting in conflicts all over the world who simply don't have the support they need. I also think it's a good example of what you can do in a movie without a lot of money to do it with, so for me it's a real credit to all involved.
RATING: 9/10. Maybe enjoyable isn't quite the right word for a movie this bleak, but it certainly was compelling despite a few flaws here and there. But given what the movie is some of those more ridiculous performances from the minor characters don't feel so bad – in fact many seem to fit what is a dark but absurd scenario. I can certainly see why this one has built up a following – in fact it's no shock at all to hear. I'm happy to give this one a highly creditable 9/10.
By Alex Davis
Dir. Kasper Juhl, Denmark, 100 mins
Come on in, the water's beautiful...
The extreme horror scene is one where a new name can really emerge and make a great impression. In recent years we've seen fantastic talents like Phil Stevens and Arthur Cullipher come through, among many others, and a name that keeps circling onto my radar is Kasper Juhl. Still only 26, the Danish writer/director has just finished his seventh movie, Your Flesh, Your Curse, and here at Film Gutter we were lucky enough to have the chance to take a look at his latest.
Your Flesh, Your Curse follows the story of Juliet White, a beautiful but broken young woman who spends most of her life in a haze of either alcoholic binging or drug-fuelled paralysis. She has a few friends, all of whom encourage and share in this type of behaviour. There are hints from early on that Juliet has some pretty serious past trauma, which is confirmed in a video clip from her father apologising for the horrible abuse he inflicted upon her. This seems to see her revisiting – maybe even being unable to resist – abusive characters in her life, and we see her endure some pretty torrid sexual encounters in the opening of the movie.
Sounds pretty dark, right? Well, rest assured YF,YC is merely warming up at this point. When Juliet passes out in public as a result of her drug use, she's found by Max, who forces himself upon her before slashing her throat. And here begins a sort of hell for Juliet, who is forced to relive some of the most awful events from her history, as well as experiencing new aspects of nightmare.
There are three main things I want to say about this movie, two good and one not so good, and I'll endeavour to do so without giving any spoilers. First off, this one is beautifully shot – everything looks stunning and there's obviously been a great deal of thought about the look and feel of this film. There are a lot of fine details that add a lot, and even the grubbiest and filthiest of scenes are shot cleanly and with real precision. There's no doubt this is a skilled cinematographer at work – it's lavish and it's perfectly easy to get lost in its arthouse qualities.
Secondly, the lead actress in the role of Juliet, Marie-Louise Damgaard, is absolutely fantastic. Obviously a vast chunk of the story hangs on her performance, and she really delivers – it's not hard to believe that she's genuinely going through hell here. The whole thing looks like an extremely difficult shoot to put yourself through, as Juliet spends a great deal of the time going through either physical or mental abuse at the hands of many different characters. It feels like a real landmark performance for her – in fact I struggle to think of many better leading roles that I've seen in extreme horror. It just feels real, which is a true testament to it, and I'm sure there are bigger things ahead for her.
The last thing I have to say is that – for all that I think this movie is overall very good – it did leave me feeling pretty confused and a little uncertain as to what I had just witnessed. I'm not averse to a bit of abstraction or alternative storytelling – in fact I'm something of a fan of it – but I don't feel like I really had enough to grasp onto that was cogent. I couldn't really tell you adequately what Juliet's arc was, and I don't think we really have a suitable resolution of the dark story with her father – I thought that was going to be a key part of the film, but didn't really seem to go anywhere (unless you choose one certain interpretation of the pretty ambiguous finale). Our ending scene suggests some sort of character development, but other than that it's almost a montage – one that is in equal parts glorious and harrowing, but a montage nonetheless.
With the above said, don't make any mistakes, YF, YC is extremely good. I mentioned Phil Stevens earlier on and the comparison is practically an irresistible one – these two young directors are really exploring just how beautiful and arthouse extreme horror can be in a way that is rarely done. If your view is that extreme horror means that is has to be grimy and visually unappealing, I suggest you watch this film and prepare to eat your words.
RATING: 9/10. Your Flesh, Your Curse is stunning to watch, superbly acted and kind of washed over me (in a positive way!) as a watch – I was fully immersed, so much so that when the movie came to an end I found myself pretty surprised. The overall effect is impressive, and this is obviously a filmmaker delivering a singular vision really powerfully. The surprise came because in some way I had expected something more of the plot to reveal itself – the last scenes are pretty ambiguous, and it's a film that not just begs but basically requires some viewer interpretation. If that's your thing, then you should check this out for sure – in fact if you like your extreme with more of an artistic angle, I'd suggest this is essential viewing. It's the kind of bold and brave filmmaking that suits me to a tee as a viewer – 9/10 from me.