Cruel Britannia - Exclusive Interview With Simon Rumley, Director Of The Living And The Dead
By James Whittington, Wednesday 20th April 2011

Frightfest Simon RumleyDuring April the Horror Channel celebrates the best of contemporary British horror with a special season of UK TV premieres under the banner Cruel Britannia which showcases some of the finest home-grown directorial talent around. You'll find sadistic killers, destroyed families, violent paranoia and self-destruction. Each movie is accompanied by a filmed introduction with the directors and keep tuning in as the season is being promoted on-air with some specially shot sequences presented by femme fatale Emily Booth.

The season continues on April 29th with Simon Rumley's critically acclaimed chiller The Living And The Dead. Here he chats about how the film and his honest opinion on the state of the British horror film industry.

HC: The Living And The Dead was written after the death of both your parents who died within three months of each other. Did this make writing the movie after these events a cathartic one?

SR: My father died of a heart attack when I wasn’t in the country so although shocking and upsetting, it was nothing like watching my mother slowly die of cancer over a three month period; watching her fade from being a very healthy being into literally nothingness. It’s very hard to concentrate on things after such a devastating experience so in this respect it was good to have something that I could try to focus on that was creatively positive. That said one thing I was careful of doing was monitoring myself so that nothing that happened between my mother and I ever reached the script and certainly not the screen. At a few festivals people asked me if the film was autobiographical which I always thought was a strange question since the lead character had a condition that meant he acted with the mental age of about a 5 year old!

HC: How long did it take you to have a working script?

SR: Longer than it would usually take me; I think in the end it took me about 8 months to do the first draft but I was dealing with several things at that time relating to my parents’ deaths as well as trying to come to terms with them. In the end, I finished the first draft of the script at the end of 2002 and we shot the film in the Autumn of 2005. During that period I think I re-wrote it about 5 or 6 times.

HC: Was it a difficult movie to pitch as the content isn’t your usual cinematic fare?

SR: Yes, the people who read it came back and said they thought it would make either one of the best films ever or one of the worst! In all honesty, we didn’t pitch it to that many people since it’s really not going to be a film that someone like the BBC or Pathe are going to touch. We had one distribution company who told us they’d put in £50,000 for UK rights which for our budget was about right but they never honoured this in the end and we spoke to the Film Council for a while but they couldn’t agree with themselves what kind of film they wanted us to make so we walked away from them. In the end, our financiers liked the idea that we could make a full length feature film for a fraction of the price that they’d been making them for and in actual fact, I don’t think they actually read the script!

HC: What was the casting sessions like and did the themes in the film put anyone off?

SR: We didn’t really have casting sessions. Leo Bill was the first and only person we met and Roger Lloyd Pack I met for lunch in Soho. Kate Fahy we met about two days before filming started when she came to do some fittings for costume.

For the reason some people are put off by the subject matter of the film, others are attracted to it. My last three films have been incredibly hard to cast due to their unrelenting subject matter and whilst with The Living and The Dead we were getting worried about not having our female lead 3 days before shooting, it wasn’t as bad as on my most recent film Bitch (part of Little Deaths) where, 3 days before filming we didn’t have any cast at all! Leo, Roger and Kate were all bowled over by the script, claiming they hadn’t seen anything like it ever before and that they were very keen to take the journey to the dark recesses of their (and my) mind.

HC: The strong cast you assembled, especially Roger Lloyd Pack and Leo Bill who play father and son, give incredibly intense performances; did anyone stay in character between takes?

SR: Thanks. No they didn’t in fact; they were all a pleasure to work with and easy going both on and off set. I think Leo found it the hardest due to the mental age of the character he was playing but he was very focused throughout and was able to switch on and off with seeming ease.

HC: The film is very original, did you fear that audiences wouldn’t get what you were trying to say or get across?

SR: Thanks again, but no, not really. I’d been watching a fair few Asian films by this stage which generally pushed the envelope in the way that British/American films generally weren’t doing and there was a massive fan base for this kind of Asian extreme film so I was confident that there was an audience and certainly Tetsuo The Iron Man and A Tale Of Two Sisters were of some influence on me. Also, I felt that, ultimately, this is a really sad and tragic film and that, again, people would be moved by what happened because it really is a terrible tale where these bad things happen but without any real malice intended.

Sadly, it was the film industry at large who thought it would be too much for audiences and so we struggled for a long time to get any interest. Luckily an LA based company, Imagination, saw the film and loved it and ultimately did a great job of selling the film around the world.

HC: How did audiences around the world react to it?

SR: Generally very well. Inevitably, the film isn’t for everyone; it’s too dark or it’s too stylistically schizophrenic or it’s too much of an assault on the senses for some people but I had a lot of amazing feedback. I remember one guy in particular in South Africa, in Durban, who was in his mid-teens and he said he thought it was a great film but it made him really sad because it reminded him of his experience with his mother; she had full blown Aids and he had carried her 20 miles or so in a wheelbarrow to get to a hospital but they was turned away because the mother was on the verge of death. The part of the film that touches many people is the caring aspect of it; the mother looking after the son, the son trying to look after the mother, the father guilty for not really looking after either.

HC: If you had a bigger budget would you change anything about it?

SR: No; it was an excellent experience where the whole crew pulled together to make exactly the film I wanted to make. I guess I would have shot on 35mm instead of Super 16 but that would be the only difference.

HC: What's your take on the current British horror film scene?

SR: I think it’s a pretty healthy, exciting time for British horror. You have your bigger budget directors and your indie low/no budget directors with pretty much everything and everyone in between. I think FrightFest has been responsible for providing a platform for the films to be shown theatrically and I don’t think that should be under-estimated. Personally I’d like to see less Zombie films but yes, generally, it’s as thriving as ever I remember it.

HC: What's your next project? Do you intend to carry on making “horror” films?

SR: Well I’ve already shot a couple of films since The Living And The Dead – Red White & Blue which we shot in ’09 in Austin Texas which is coming out theatrically in May this year and then Little Deaths which is an anthology film that I shot with two other directors – my segment is called Bitch.

At the moment I have two films which are in the pipeline – one is a chase movie set in China and the other is a cautionary tale about vanity and plastic surgery set in Los Angeles. The latter is written by the writer of The Last House On The Left remake – Adam Alleca and I’ve been developing the script with him for a while now and, in my opinion, it has the potential to be an absolutely classic horror movie, especially since, like most those kind of films, it somehow transcends the genre.

HC: What's your top 3 horror films of all time?

SR: Well it changes from time to time but would include Freaks, Hellraiser, The Omen, Santa Sangre and Don’t Look Now to name a few…

HC: In your opinion what is the all time best British horror film?

SR: The Living And The Dead of course!

HC: Simon Rumley, thank you very much.

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