(13/07/07) The serial killer movie never really went away, but in amongst all of the straight-to-video schlock that utilises a low budget to exploit stalk-and-slash mayhem and copious female nudity (such as Tartan’s own The Hillside Strangler, a more fantasy-based approach to the genre has been paying off dividends at the box office. The Saw series, for example, has made it to part three, whilst The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning continues that long running franchise. This, alongside the more serious likes of Wolf Creek and the upcoming nasty The Lost show that whilst serial killers may not always guarantee quality movies (both pictures are dire) they can at least attract audience attention and obtain a wide theatrical release. In amongst all of this comes Antibodies, a German attempt to add some innovation to the genre by basically starting its story where most pictures end. Antibodies, director Christian Alvart’s second feature, begins with the police capturing a serial killer and then taking him in for questioning so that they can find out what happened to his victims and where they are buried… however, a damaged mind can reveal some terrifying secrets, as the law soon finds out. A stylish and, at times, very disturbing effort – Tartan Films had enough confidence in the film to schedule a UK theatrical run and Alvart has found himself signed up to direct the new Renee Zellweger shocker Case 39. Is this the beginning of a new terror talent? Check out Antibodies and decide for yourself – the movie hits Region 1 DVD on August 28th courtesy of Dark Sky movies whilst the UK disc is available from Tartan.
In amongst all of this comes Antibodies, a German attempt to add some innovation to the genre by basically starting its story where most pictures end. Antibodies, director Christian Alvart’s second feature, begins with the police capturing a serial killer and then taking him in for questioning so that they can find out what happened to his victims and where they are buried… however, a damaged mind can reveal some terrifying secrets, as the law soon finds out. A stylish and, at times, very disturbing effort – Tartan Films had enough confidence in the film to schedule a UK theatrical run and Alvart has found himself signed up to direct the new Renee Zellweger shocker Case 39. Is this the beginning of a new terror talent? Check out Antibodies and decide for yourself – the movie hits Region 1 DVD on August 28th courtesy of Dark Sky movies whilst the UK disc is available from Tartan.
What attracted you to doing a movie within the serial killer genre?
It is about moral structures and society and what encourages us to behave in the way that we do. That was the starting point for me and I thought that a thriller would be the perfect way to examine these two areas. First came the theme and then came the genre (laughs).
I notice that you use the word "thriller" instead of "horror" – Tartan is pushing this as a horror movie, do you see it as a thriller?
Yeah, I would say it is a thriller – although the good thing is that horror fans like it and label it as a horror movie (laughs) but, for me, it is definitely a thriller.
What led to you making Antibodies? I believe this is your second movie, is that right?
I started as an amateur filmmaker, just working on projects with some friends. I started with a Super 8 camera and $2,000. The problem with doing that is that these things never get finished because someone is always leaving – they get a new girlfriend or are about to fail a college class or something. They don’t show up again and you start thinking up silly plot devices to make excuses for it – they disappear behind a bush or something. I later moved to Berlin to work with some professional filmmakers and around that time I wrote a screenplay about a guy who spies on his neighbours called Curiosity and the Cat. It was very contained and we built an apartment in an empty warehouse and made the picture for $35,000. It was not intended to be released – it was just to show producers and tell them I can direct but it got distribution and went to a lot of festivals. After that I prepared new projects and one of them was Antibodies, which is now my second feature.
You shot the movie in widescreen – why did you choose the cinemascope format? Considering you made Antibodies with a minimal amount of cash ($1.5 million) were you never worried that such an epic look could reveal budget constraints?
First of all, I just like big cinema but, also, I think the style of this sort of movie should be big – that lets the audience know that it is about a theme and not just about a series of killings. I just love the format and because directing is very much about, "where do you put the camera and at what time and what do you show?" the widescreen format is like my first language. I think I speak it very well and I wouldn’t know how to shoot in any other format (laughs).
Was it hard to raise the money to do a violent serial killer movie in Germany? In the UK genre flicks are very few and far between and usually independently financed…
Yeah, it is almost impossible. Everyone keeps telling you there is no audience and that no one will want to fund this and it is also very controversial – people are afraid what the churches might say. Every television channel turned us down except for one very final one who said, "Yes we will buy this." The same with distribution and with subsidies, we were always turned down and it was always the last hope that – surprisingly – said yes to us. I don’t know how many of these movies are stuck in development hell and never get made. However, we did manage it – this is a low-budget film made entirely with German money.
Your film begins very violently and then it slows down for the remainder of its running time before all hell breaks loose again at the end. Why did you begin your feature with so much violence when most filmmakers prefer to leave their "money shots" until the end?
I’m glad you noticed that. It was actually a very conscious decision because from the outset it may look like a very common thriller but what I did structurally is very uncommon – to make that work I had to pull some tricks and in order to do this I gave the audience the promise that something bloody was always going to happen in the film. For a long time, as you say, nothing gory happens but I like to keep the tension up – and that is why I started the film in such a violent manner and, in the end, we get there again. Also, the idea was to get away from a typical serial killer thriller by having the guy arrested in the first five minutes. The idea behind that was to have the ending, the raiding, the violence, the action… this is a typical ending to a movie but we go beyond that and start our movie only after all of this has happened.
How do you want the audience to react to your leading man (Wotan Wilke Mohring) who plays a somewhat unpleasant detective figure? He is not very likeable, wouldn’t you agree?
Yeah, but I hope that they like him enough to become engaged in his dilemma and follow him through his journey. I don’t want them to totally dislike the guy, but I know that he is tough to love. I think it works, even when people say, "I couldn’t stand the lead" they admit that he is a very complex, torn-up guy. It is strange, when I meet Hollywood people they tell me they love how complex he is, they say, "Your lead character – I love him, he is so engaging and human." They tell me love him but they will never put a character like that onscreen – that is strange.
Why the use of a voiceover at the end? Is that not a bit like "speaking down" to your audience? Do you not think that you are feeding them an emotion to feel instead of leaving things ambiguous?
It is nothing that should speak down to the audience… it is more like music – just another element that sets up a tone, rather than really explaining people. The use of heavy religious imagery at the end has caused a lot of controversy…
Did you use religious imagery just to be controversial or do you think it serves a purpose to the plot of Antibodies?
No, I come from a heavy religious background so it didn’t seem controversial to me at all. Usually serial killer movies fool around with religious imagery, but just as a gimmick – they don’t take it seriously. So I wanted to take this and be more serious – go the full nine yards with it. Some producers backed off, in Germany, because they were afraid of the reaction from the church. The church has people in almost all of the film committees – the funding boards, the television channels… Personally, I think it should be separate, the church and the state, but there is a lot of intertwining going on. We were actually fully prepared for a full-scale attack but it never happened. Perhaps it is because I’m not making fun of anything, or being arrogant about religion.
There is also a clear element of child abuse in the film… Why use this?
Because serial killers often choose little boys as their victims, so it is a very real thing. However, in the media – but not in my movie – it is very much exploited, as if this is the first time they have heard about it… however, if I’m making a movie about evil, and this evil is happening in the world, then I feel I should not back off. I think a lot of these films avoid getting into the really bad stuff – like to have a character such as Hannibal Lector who only kills unsympathetic characters, that makes audiences root for him and I did not want a serial killer that the audience would root for. I wanted a guy that really does disgusting things, and for the audience to see this.
Have you seen a movie called Tenderness of the Wolves? Antibodies reminded me a lot of it…
I have heard of the title – are you sure it is a German movie?
Yeah, Fassbinder produced it and starred in it – it’s directed by a friend of mine called Ulli Lommel.
I am pretty sure that I have heard of it, but I have not seen it. I will check it out now – thanks.
Despite your slam-bang opening sequence, the movie is never as gory as something such as Saw – which is the type of serial killer flick that is really en vogue just now. Why did you opt to leave so much of the gore off-screen?
I didn’t need that level of violence – also if you use a certain level of violence it takes away from the realness. Saw is a complete fantasy film and everyone that sees that wants to be entertained and to be taken away from reality. I wanted to make a film about reality, something that would be really gritty and the subject matter – child abuse and religion – is very heavy. Every time when I was in post-production and the sound designer had all these weird sounds to scare the audience – I cut 95% of them out. I wanted to stay pure. Not that I do not like these styles at all: for a different kind of movie they would be perfect but for this they would spoil things.
You got a big German release, is that right?
Yeah, we got a pretty big release on 200 screens, which was a big surprise. It is hard because German audiences do not trust German movies and, as a result, they do not go and see them – except for maybe the odd comedy. You really have to force them into a movie like this and this is why it was done on a low budget, despite being the sort of genre that needs a lot of money. However, by keeping it cheap it has already been successful.
The most famous, or infamous, German filmmaker on the planet right now is Uwe Boll, and he’s making pretty big-budgeted movies. Does this surprise you?
No, I’m not surprised because I know him.
I do too, and he’s a very, very nice guy – despite what people may say about his films…
I agree – he is a very nice guy – but he’s full of lies all the time so don’t trust anything he says, and he would sit next to me right now, in front of you, and agree with that which is kind of honest – he will actually say this (laughs). So, no, I’m not so surprised. He is full of energy, he definitely has a lot of drive, I’ve worked on one of his sets… but I don’t think that he is a director. Of course, he does not agree and he continues to make movies. The thing is that he hasn’t made it in Hollywood at all, he is completely financing his own movies with his own funds and that is very unique. He is the only guy doing that in the world: all of the money that he uses to make his films is from his own fund in Germany. He bought the rights to all of these computer games, and he has a built in audience for that, so he makes the money back and people keep giving him more. Every film he does is more expensive and more successful – I wish him all the luck. What he does and what I do is completely different so he is not a threat.
What’s next for you then?
I have prepared an English language film but it fell apart just weeks before shooting. It is called Killer Queen and it is now set up in the States – so it might still happen. It is about these people who play chess… but with real humans! So they hunt each other. I also have a lot of offers from the big Hollywood system but nothing is secure at the moment. However I am cautiously optimistic that my next film will be a big studio effort in America and that it will shoot very shortly (too right – Christian began directing his new horror flick Case 39, starring Renee Zellweger, not long after this interview wrapped!). I would like to pursue that career because it would help with the smaller movies that I want to make. I don’t want to just make big Hollywood movies like Wolfgang Petersen does, I am not like that, but to go back and forth would be great. That is my plan anyway and I hope that it works out.
Antibodies is out in the UK now and is released in the U.S on 28 August. Please follow the links provided to buy or pre-order a copy and support Kamera by doing so.