With Unhinged due to be released on 25th September, I had the pleasure of talking with the co-writer and director Dan Allen about why he chose to remake a 1980’s Video Nasty as his first feature film.
You started making films at a young age. What first got you into film making?
When I was young my parents got me a couple of these, behind the scenes books, mainly for Jurassic Park (1993). It showed you all these animatronic dinosaurs, what they looked like without skin on. They had the camera pointed at scenes where they have a head poking in and if the camera pans slightly to the right you would have this dude with all this metal polls and stuff. I just loved that idea of making things for the screen.
I have always been interested in the construction of film and I think Jurassic Park was one of the first films, because the major league element was so big, it really captured my eye. From then I picked up a camera and kept making stuff. A lot of the early stuff was nonsense and I hope it never sees the light of day, but it was just shooting stuff and learning how to put things together and post production to tell stories.
What type of training did you do for filmmaking?
I didn’t do any formal training. I have been making films since I was 12, maybe even 10, 11 and because I have been making films for so long, when I left school I went to study English Literature at university. Because there are some good film degrees, but they teach you everything from the ground up. My year was the first year they pump up tuition to nine thousand pounds, so I didn’t want to spend nine thousand pounds when the first year goes over the basics. I took literature which was more focusing on stories and the relationship between the author and the reader. To be honest, working with people in the industry I picked things up as I went along.
Unhinged, this is your first feature film which you co-wrote with Scott Jeffrey. Why did you choose to do a remake?
For me I have always been interested in adaptations. One of the first films I ever made was an adaptation of a poem. Even though it is a remake and these films are known as remakes, I kind of look at remakes as adaptations. There’s always this desire, especially from the audience perspective to sit the two films together to compare and contrast as recreations, but I look at them more as an adaptation of the first one. Taking some of the key points and expanding and focusing on different aspects of it.
For me it was very much in line with what I have done in the past, in an adaptation sense rather than a remake. Also, it may make it more accessible for fans of the genre. It’s still being done as an adaptation movie, but also playing off these themes that have already been brought to light by the movie of the same name.
You obviously take inspiration from the original video nastie Unhinged (1982), what other films do you take inspiration from?
Scott is a massive horror buff, he knows every single horror movie that’s ever been made. What I try to do is balance it out, I think more about indie drama films and the texture and tone of those type of movies. In a way, I think about trajectory of the character.
I like David Fincher, so I like to tell it very cleanly, but also have that slightly indie feel to it. Even films like Adventureland (2009), which has a lovely, slightly beautiful character vibe. I love the idea of taking those movies and references, then throwing the slasher genre at it then seeing how it comes out. I can’t remember some of the films that I was watching at the time, but I was trying to find influences elsewhere across other genres, so it would give it hopefully a unique feel to it as well.
How did it work together merging the two ideas together for the script?
We were looking at the key plot points from Unhinged (1982) and looking at what would work well together, which bits we liked and which bits we wanted to take forward. I was trying to focus on the arc’s and the journey of the characters and how those could be heightened or tested based on those plot elements. Whilst we were very much in sink on the plot, I would then try and bring to the light the arcs and journey that happens in between that. Scott was then challenging me and making sure it still fits into the frame. We were constantly pitching these two sides against each other, in a way that would bring more out in each of them.
With low budget horror movies, you can kind of tell, that there is less care and consideration for the characters. Although that makes for fun viewing, it ultimately means that you don’t care that much when they do die or meet an untimely demise. By talking a bit of care and consideration for the characters the audience feel a lot more for the characters emotionally when the horror elements really do come in full swing.
With the characters, its mainly an English cast apart from Kate Lister who is Australian, but they are all playing Americans. What was the reason for this?
It’s not about them being American specifically, but more about a sense of displacement and isolation. We knew wanted it to be set in England, for one with a massive production it’s slightly more straight forward, but it also gives it an English horror vibe as well. It more about them being outsiders. It’s about using their nationality to heighten the horrors of England or mainly Essex.
With the film being a low budget production, was there anything you had to adapt or change from the original script?
It was a very short and intensive shoot, but what we tried to do and I pushed for it very early on, was to not try and make a film which was beyond our means. Especially with low budget indie horror, the audience can kind of smell, they can see the scene that should have been but you couldn’t really afford to do. We were very much trying to work out what we can put on camera for real, what can we afford to do realistically. Do those well rather than trying to do a shoddy job on something bigger.
There is gore in it, but its not always full frontal on camera. We tried to make something that felt authentic, with the camera moving quickly in a way that it feels real in camera, with no CGI. We wanted to make something that feels grounded and hopefully the horrors of that are more effective than a cheap dismembering scene.
Sometimes seeing less works better when you are using your imagination.
I think that was the main thing that we did. It could have been a restriction of the budget, but we used that to our advantage to work out what we could or couldn’t do. The guns played a bit more in the original with the shotgun, but in this film, we tried to keep the weapons grounded to everyday tools. There is a whole collection of gardening tools that make an appearance throughout the film and we though those would be a grounded weapon of the villain. Hopefully when people go into their gardening shed after the movie will have flashbacks of some of the themes which take place.
What makes Unhinged standout from other horror in the genre?
For me, you’ve got those elements where people are pretending to be something they are not. It resonates well not just in the horror, but also the characters. People covering up the past, people lying about how they feel and who they are. Even though that is not fully explored in the original, I think that’s interesting because these are the real horror of everyday life. You embellish that and make it more of a visual in the movie. It’s that sense of identity in the original which was what captured me. I do like things that have a very human element or a supernatural element that is used to heighten something that is very real emotionally. Even though we worked the twists to a different way, there is still a past trauma which we tried to bring to the foreground. Hopefully people who may have horrors of their own past will resonate with the characters and their past as well.
Have you got any other projects which you are working on at the moment?
I have a couple of projects. The post production took a bit longer on this project than expected, but basically, I am developing a couple of projects, a couple of features. One by myself which is a pet project, it’s a horror detective movie. I can’t go into too much details regarding that. The other one I think Monty Python used to say, “And now for something completely different”. I am working on a musical black comedy with one of my film making buddies Charlie Field, which kind of explores the function of religion in the modern day. Two very different projects, but are very exciting. We should have scripts by the end of the year so we should be able to hopefully move them forward.
I have a short-called Love Bitten (2016) which was filmed last year and that will be out this year. It is a coming of age story about a guy who rather that deal with a break up, decides he would become a vampire and tries to exert his emotions that way. It’s the Inbetweeners (2008) meets Twilight (2008).
With the musical are you doing the music or just the script on that one.
I won’t be doing the music, we are going to be working with actual musicians. It will all be originals music across genres. We will have some gospel music, but also some acoustic and some grime as well. We want to cross the music genres. One of the reasons for that is part of religions in society is a massive age disparity between those that go to church and those that don’t. We want to go across the communities and the music that influences the different sub cultures and try to find parallels suppose between music and worship.
For any new film makers getting started, what sort of advice would you give them?
The classic is go out and do it. There is a real merit to that though, because when you start to go out there and start doing stuff you will eventually run out of mistakes and you will improve over time. In each film you make 20 mistakes, the next film you make 5 different mistakes, then 2 different mistakes and eventually you run out of mistakes. Don’t get me wrong you still make mistakes and not everyone’s filmmaking is perfect, but I think that process does help you fine tune your skills.
The other thing is try look at stories. When I was younger I was so interested in looking at cameras and the software that I wasn’t looking at the stories themselves. You realise that the filmmaking tools are just a means to an end and what’s realty important is learning about the story and learning about the characters. Also working out what your film is saying. If your film has something to say, there is no reason why your film can’t have the same as big budget films. People will view shoddy camerawork and even slightly weak editing and sound, but not too bad a sound or people won’t watch it. But people will give more to a film which has a meaning and resonates and how you’re saying it. The tools are secondary.
Anything you would like to add?
One last thing. I hope people come away from the movie and they think these guys really liked the characters. No matter what shit they went through, they fleshed them out hopefully that impacts on the horror that they uncover in the movie.