Maniacs, monsters, demons, creepy kids, apocalyptic visions, phobias, heavy metal meltdown and snails - yes, it's the FrightFest International Short Film Showcase, an eclectic mix of worldwide cutting edge short films, which is once again being presented by Horror Channel. It will kick-off at 1pm on Sunday 26th August at the Empire Cinema in London's Leicester Square.
One of the shorts is The Captured Bird from multi-talented Canadian Jovanka Vuckovic. This dark but beautiful fairytale reminded me of the classic horror comics of the 60s and 70s so we chatted to Jovanka about her inspiration for this stunning short and her plans for future projects.
HC: Can you recall the very first horror movie you saw?
JV: It's tough to say because I saw so many as a young child, they all kind of blurred together. But I have some very early memories of staying up all night watching the Roger Corman Poe films, with Vincent Price. I suffered from childhood insomnia so my parents would just let me 'sleep' on the couch. Of course I'd really be watching television all night long. In Canada, censorship was pretty relaxed, especially in the late 70s and early 80s, so I saw all kinds of stuff that scarred me. I saw The Exorcist when I was about 8 years old and it put a permanent wrinkle in my psyche. I was hooked!
HC: Was it this one that made you a fan of the genre? If not which horror film turned you into a horror fan?
JV: My mother always says it’s just the way I was born. My brothers had a similar upbringing and they turned out "normal", so to speak. But ever since I could hold a crayon I've been drawing monsters, writing and telling stories about them. Of course I have to say that seeing films like The Thing, Night of the Hunter, Bob Clark's Deathdream (A politically charged Canadian horror film) pretty much galvanized my interest in horror at a young age. There was no going back. Also, growing up in Canada, there was a children's variety show called The Hilarious House of Frightenstein. It was about a castle of monsters and it was hosted by none other than Vincent Price! It aimed to be educational but was just totally fun. I think Frightenstein had a big influence me. I cut my teeth on that show. I always sat that when it comes to horror, I feel like Lt. Ripley in Alien 3 when she says,"You've been in my life for so long, I can't remember anything else."
HC: Do you have a favourite horror movie?
JV: I hate this question but whenever I am backed into a corner I always choose John Carpenter's The Thing because it is a perfect movie and it's the genre's exhibit A that you don't need boobs for a good horror film. Just a story well told. It's about twelve men trapped in an icy tomb with an otherworldy ambomination that threatens to exterminate humanity one... cell... at... a... time. It doesn't get much better than that and it has aged really well. And Rob Bottin's make up effects? Spectacular. Can't be beat. Even to this day. He was one of my heroes growing up so I feel blessed that he is a personal friend today.
HC: You worked at Rue Morgue magazine for a number of years, how big is the horror scene in Canada?
JV: A lot smaller than it is in the US. It took a lot of hard work to get that magazine recognized in Canada. It has a lot more support in the US than it does here. We don’t have horror conventions six times a month in every province like the US does. It just happened to come out of Canada because a group of obsessed horror fans came together and made it happen. No different that Wicked or Dark Side or any of the genre publications you have in the UK. Well, wait, we never had to deal with the Video Nasties movement! At least we could rent tapes that were uncut!
HC: Your short, The Captured Bird is a rather moving, gothic feeling piece. Where did the idea come from?
JV: It was initially conceived a couple of years back. My partner and I were on a long flight and we were discussing these black figures that appear in the waking dreams of dreamers all over the world - a paranormal phenomenon known as The Shadow People. As it turns out, my partner, as well as my twin brother and several other people I know have had experiences with these beings at some point in their lives. And when you have these experiences as a child, they seem all the more real. It gave me an idea so when I got home, I started writing.
HC: Did it take you long to write?
JV: Not long. A day or two. It just came out of me, like automatic writing.
HC: Skyler Wexler who plays the young girl gives a rather moving performance, what was she like to direct?
JV: She was incredible. Everyone warned me about "working with animals and kids" but she great. She just required a different approach than working with adult actors. I actually asked Fred Dekker, director of The Monster Squad for advice on directing children because he did such an amazing job with those kids. He gave me some invaluable advice that I actually used on set. But Skyler is a natural. It was her first leading role and short film but she just got cast as "Young Carrie" in the upcoming remake of the De Palma film with Julianne Moore, so she's clearly got what it takes. And just 6 years old!
HC: OK, going to name drop on your behalf, how did you get Guillermo Del Torro on board?
JV: Guillermo and I are friends and years ago, when I was a film journalist and magazine editor, I had expressed interest in making a film of my own. He told me that when I was ready, if I needed help, all I had to do was ask. Years later, I had written my first short and I sent it to him along with a plea for help. A man of his word, Guillermo agreed to help me out in whatever way he could. In the case of The Captured Bird, he's kind of my Master Miyagi (his words). When I need help, I ask him and he always gives me great advice. But it is my producer, Jason Lapeyre, who is really the person responsible for making the film happen more than anyone else. He's the guy who was on the phone all day, in meetings, helped raise funds, got gear for cheap, hired crew, filled out grant applications - the nuts and bolts stuff.
HC: It's very ambitious containing Matte Shots, CGI, animatronic effects, did you have a large budget?
JV: We had about $70,000 - a third of which came in the form of a generous grant from television broadcaster Bravo and the rest we raised online through our innovative crowdfuding campaign, which was successful in just over 24 hours!
HC: What tips would you give to anyone making a horror movie short?
JV: Well you know I'm just figuring it all out myself. The Captured Bird was sort of my film school. I don't think I am in much of a position to be giving anyone advice other than follow your dreams and be true to yourself. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't do something... Because you can.
HC: What do you think will be the next big thing in horror?
JV: Trends are difficult to predict but you can clearly see them when they are gaining traction - such as the J-horror movement of the early 2000s or the torture porn movement. Now it's all about remakes. And I don’t think that’s slowing down any time soon.
HC: So what’'s next for you?
JV: I'm just gearing up to shoot my next one for the Toronto International Film Festival Talent Lab. I was selected for the programme this year so I'm making a short film called Self Portrait for that. But it's much more of a no-budget, guerrilla style shoot compared to The Captured Bird. On that short I was spoiled with a 50 person crew and huge craft service truck. Self Portrait will be me and few friends and calling in a ton of favours. It's sort of a homage to Martin Scorcese's The Big Shave by way of Lucio Fulci. Much grosser and darker than my first short film.
HC: Jovanka Vuckovic, thank you very much.