The last of my three-part interview with Mark Devendorf, one of the writer/directors of the new film “Styria” now in post-production. It is a re-telling of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla” but set in 1989 Hungary.
You cast British and Polish actors. Tell me about that. Its kind of strange for two Americans to make a film with two English actors as leads. Real English actors. A lot of people kept telling us to use Americans and have them fake the accent. I mean, it almost never works. We definitely wanted real English (or Irish in this case) actors and then we wanted Central or Eastern Europeans. We looked for Hungarians. We looked for Czechs. There’s actually a dynamic between the General and Julia/Carmilla and we wanted them to be from the same place. Our DP (Director of Photography) is also Polish. And Mauricio, my co-writer, his family is from Poland. Mostly we just didn’t want anyone faking –. even if you don’t understand. I think it was just very important to us that they be from that part of the world and have that exotic-ness or otherness that an American would not have. Also it was important for these to have a strong difference as The Other. Julia is this quite interesting young woman who is always beautiful but has a lot of different looks. We wanted to play with that. And Jacek is just this amazing dynamic force. He has so much energy, it always entertaining but always with an undercurrent of danger, of power.
And Stephen Rhea of course. My favorite part, along with Kirsten Dunst, of Interview With The Vampire is just him and her. He has this great and exciting face obviously and he has that history. And it makes sense that he’s not in his thirties taking care of a 16-year old. It gives him a little bit of a distance, just like in the story.
It increases her loneliness. Now I know Rhea is Irish while Miss Tomlinson is English. So is Lara Irish? No. He, Dr. Hill, is Irish but somewhat of a removed Irishman. He’s teaching at Dowling University which is outside of Cambridge. Laura has been raised in a boarding school so she’s completely separate from any of her roots. He’s separated himself from his Irish roots by trying to make in the English academia and she has no connection to her mother.
Do you see any parallels between your depiction of vampirism and AIDS? Well there’s the same sex. Not too much. Ours is really having to do with this, if you want to look at it as the blood, something in the blood. But that seems like a 1980s or 90s trope about it. We went back a little further. What was underlying it.
There does seem to be a lot of same-sex fandom in vampirism. I think its this kind of unease. And again, the other. The vampire is always that. The earlier vampire stories, before DRACULA –which changed everything, making it very masculine—before that it was more feminine, especially the folktales. They had a more ethereal quality. Stoker brought in stakes which brought all kind of stuff which led to shootings and exploding vampires. But before it was much more subdued. Can you imagine what if DRACULA had never been written? If CARMILLA had just kept progressing? We thought along those lines. Because so many of the tropes of Dracula, which is why we have so many vampire comedies is because its so—I don’t want to say tired but overused. As soon as you see a villager with a pitchfork you groan. It all looks kind of silly, and we wanted to avoid all of that.
Does your Carmilla have fangs? I can safely say “No.” No plastic fangs at all. Which actually disappointed Julia Petrucha (Carmilla) quite a bit. She bought some cheap ones. We interviewed her for Behind The Scenes and she wore them. What we wanted was what’s underlying in this story, what we were really attracted to rather than the overt symbology, the stuff that is so easy to mock because we’ve seen so many times. Just kind of rediscover in a way some of the stuff we were saying. Consumption. Suicide. Teenage. This idea of suicide. I think it is Tom Sawyer who sees his own funeral? That seems like a very teenaged thing, you just imagine “Oh I’ll show them.” You just imagine your funeral. That’s vampirism.
There’s been a concerted effort in the last ten years or so to redefine the vampire genre, to make it fresh again. So in a sense aren’t you in the same school as LET THE RIGHT ONE IN? We’ve been working on this project for five years, and I’m sure you know something about making movies. For the first three years people kept telling us ‘Don’t make vampire films.’ Nobody makes vampire films. Vampire films aren’t popular. Don’t make this film. We got that a lot. Then around two years ago, whenever all the TRUE BLOOD/TWILIGHT stuff started coming out, people were ‘Oh you’re making a vampire film? Its tired.’ Everyone is always telling you don’t make the film.
As for LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, it’s a great film. I’d be happy to go along with that. The other stuff that’s popular right now, I’m not a huge fan of. I think I understand why its popular but its not what’s interesting to me as a vampire story. Vampire films are pretty tricky, because 90% are pretty bad. But in a great way. You still get something from VAMPYROS LESBOS or BLOOD AND ROSES. They’re still kinda great in their own way but they’r not great films. Horror movies seem easy to make cheaply so there are so many bad, cheaply made ones. Whereas THE INNOCENTS with Deborah Kerr is amazing on every level. And is also a horror film.
What sticks in your mind most about filming STYRIA? Just trying to find those moments, those images that you can use to punctuate. There’s a scene where there’s about ten graves. On fire. At dusk. I look at that and those are things that most interest me. And there’s a scene were Lara emerges from the castle and faces hundreds of hand-made wood crosses through this fog. When you’re editing a film the dialogue is probably the least interesting part. When you’re making the film that’s what you’re so concerned about, but its just trying to find those original images. Without giving too much away, a significant person dies and suddenly the village’s blood is poisoned. So someone’s cracking open an egg and the egg is filled with blood. Such a simple image in a way but you have a visceral reaction. Just trying to find those. Like shaving the eyebrows of someone. Its just so uncanny. You look at someone and something doesn’t quite sit right. You know when you’re suffering from tuberculosis or any kind of slow poisoning, it just feels like the shadows are slowly sinking into you, or that you’re sinking into the world of shadows. There’s this story about when people had gas in the house, and the gas would leak. So the family would slowly be poisoned? And then they would start seeing ghosts! Such is the scientific explanation. Maybe the more interesting explanation is that when you’re dying maybe you see a little bit into the land of shadows.