I continue my chat with Mark Devendorf, one the writer/directors of the upcoming film “Styria” based on the vampire classic “Carmilla.” The movie finished filming in November and is now deep in post-production.
The location you showed me, the castle? That looks amazing! All these places are falling apart. About five years ago you could have bought this place for like two hundred thousand dollars. The basement, which is most of the time flooded. Corridors and corridors. The whole place is being held together by some fairly dodgy meetings. Its all just falling apart. What’s really strange is all these chimneys but not a single fireplace. Over the years they’ve been walled over. Eleanor (Tomlinson, who plays Lara) loved it! Eleanor was amazed by it. It was cold, though. You could bring in these heaters that were like jet engines, have two to them running the whole time and you were chilled to the bone. People got sick and stayed sick in all that damp and cold. It was almost always warmer outside than inside the castle. And it the basement it was ten degrees colder.
What were you looking for in casting Miss Tomlinson as your lead? Its kinda based on our character of Lara, which is different from Laura. We talked to her and we looked at her. Then we cast both her and Julia (Pietrucha who plays Carmilla). You look at these two and you cast them and then you realize they really are pretty close to that. We got pretty lucky. But I think first of all she has a face that draws you in, besides being technically a very good actress. She’s been acting from such a young age. There’s something in her that is attracted to this kind of material and that is what we connect to–this character who has a need to connect. Almost a desperation to connect., not necessarily to one person but to someone. We didn’t want her necessarily to be weak-willed but she needs to grow into a person that eventually either can confront Carmilla or succumb to her.
The other big thing in making a gothic story, there’s a reason she’s a victim and in our story the mother has a strong connection to this place, to Styria. A true gothic story is about poisoned bloodlines. It’s got to be about the blood and we wanted to tell a truly gothic story. This also goes back to the teenage suicide thing. In legend one of the ways to become a vampire is to commit suicide. Hungary is quite an interesting place when it comes to suicides. Its like a national tradition. There’s an author, I can’t remember his name, but he threw himself on the train tracks. Every year on the anniversary of his death several people will go and throw themselves on the same tracks. The connection of suicide and teenagers and vampirism and kind of poisoned blood or some trauma that happened early on is something I think is buried in the relationship between the two girls but not really in the story. It isn’t about suicide but about wasting away.
One of the intriguing details in the novella is the evil reputation of the Karnsteins, which is never explained. Do you know what Karnstein means?
Isn’t it based on ‘cairn’ as in a marker for a grave? Another way to translate it would be ‘meat.’ As ‘meat mountain’ or ‘a mountain of meat’ because stein can mean mountain. We’ve set so that the castle of Karnstein is actually once a mountain spa, and if you want to view it as a non-supernatural way Lara is dying of consumption. At the end of consumption you start having visions, things become misty. People would drink blood or all kinds of things to battle consumption. This whole image of fin-de-cycle or symbolism, this idea of women as a poisoning force goes right along with the atmosphere that Le Fanu wrote in “Carmilla.”
Laura’s father. He’s a mysterious person in Le Fanu’s story. Dr. Hill is definitely someone withdrawn. The mother isn’t there, and so cannot pass on even the wisdom of fairy tales. So Lara has no connection with the past. In this one her father’s busy doing his work, to remove these murals from Eastern Europe, which functions in a similar way as the painting does in Le Fanu. He’s removed from his daughter, in this intellectual world. And the intellect isn’t going to perceive vampires. You’ve gotta have a guide into the instinct, to be connected, to be grounded into the feminine. He doesn’t recognize the dangers. We don’t want to make him a bad person, but aloof and distant enough not to see that maybe hid daughter needed a simple kind of affection so she wouldn’t be so susceptible to those dark forces. And Stephen Rhea, obviously Irish—it seems for those early vampire stories you had to be Irish.
Like Stoker. And Le Fanu. Exactly. Its that kind of politeness thing. You invite someone in. Like—I haven’t seen the American remake but the Swedish “Let The Right One In.” That goes to the psychic idea of the home, which is supposed to be a protected place. You also had to protect your body, so you say a prayer over your food so if anything evil gets in your food. But basically made it so that he can’t say why you have to take this person in, which lowers her defenses. The wisdom of the old wives that says don’t let this person in, you don’t know who they are.
(To be continued… 2 of 3)