Impact talks to local filmmaker Steven Sheil about his new film, Mum and Dad, and video nasties about melting homeless people!
Over Halloween weekend the Broadway Cinema played host to the Mayhem Horror Film Festival where national and international independent films were shown for three consecutive days. Local writer and director Steven Sheil was part of the team responsible for the organisation of the festival which, unashamedly (and why not?), featured his own debut feature-length film Mum and Dad. Sheil describes the film as “a brutal and perverse horror film about a murderous family who live in a house at the end of an airport runway…It’s kind of a Heathrow airport chainsaw massacre.” The film follows Lena, a young airport cleaner who is stranded after missing the bus home after work. Invited back to a colleague’s home, events take a turn for the worse with an explosion of pure unadulterated torture when Mum and Dad come out to ‘play’.
Now, you could easily make the mistake of thinking of it as yet another torture porn film ‘inspired’ by the likes of the Saw franchise and any other rubbish that Lionsgate Studios release. But you would be very, very wrong. “You know what, I really don’t watch those type of films,” says Sheil. “Over the past few years I’ve ended up watching more and more older films and less newer films.” This is no lie as 80s ‘video nasty’ film titles are thrown into conversation left, right and centre. “Street Trash: the original ‘melt’ movie. It features great effects of people melting. The story is about a guy who owns a liquor store who finds a case of really old booze and decides to sell it to all the tramps around the area. So all these bums start drinking and it causes them to melt. It’s a classic B-movie”. But it is in the British film scene that most of the film’s influences lie. “With Mum and Dad there was this seventies British, slightly sleazy, film that I wanted to get across. There is a guy called Pete Walker who made a few films – Frightmare and House of Whipcord – which in terms of tone were quite influential”.
As with most gutsy horror films it has been met with some controversy. Reports from a Dublin showing note that there have been some walk-outs, and even faintings, as a result of the macabre and brutal subject matter. “I think one of the reasons why I like horror films is they have this ability to create such a strong reaction from people. They really work on a gut level. Mum and Dad isn’t some kind of full on gore fest by any means… well, there are a few choice moments in there. It depends on what you are expecting”.
Sheil joins a long line of film-makers that are based in or have come from Nottingham. He reveals, “what has really kept me here is the film scene. It has always been really strong and over the last 15 years has grown up despite there not being any real industry in terms of television or production companies. There has always been a really strong backbone to independent film-makers”. This is certainly true when one observes that the East Midlands alone accounted for 6 BAFTA awards in 2008 from the talents of Shane Meadows, Samantha Morton and Paddy Considine.
Sheil admits that “it’s kind of hard in this country, it’s not that easy to get a continuous career out of film-making and it is quite hard work. There are only a few film-makers who have [succeeded].” This is not to say that Sheil is disparaging about his industry and does indeed have some tips to any budding student film-makers. “It sounds clichéd but the best thing to do is to go out and start making films. Stick to what you know and what things you have around you. People always say ‘but I don’t have the money’. If you know someone with a mansion and a pool use them! When it comes to getting a job, it really isn’t what qualifications you have but the experience you have in making films.” Sheil claims his own family life had no reflection on his work, so all you budding film-makers need to create a film as intense and shocking as Mum and Dad is just £100,000 and one hell of a disturbed imagination.
Mum and Dad
Sheil inventively sets himself apart from not only horror porn but the entire genre, with his decision to deprive the heroine of a voice to scream about the horrors to come. He does this by having Mum lovingly inject her new prisoner with a solution that prevents her from speaking, treating her like an insolent child whose days of passive innocence are gone: “now you be a good girl”. Leaving the truly…truly… truly horrible 17th minute a mystery, the horror of the film not only comes from gross-out nastiness, but also an inversion of a very British family dynamic. On Christmas Day Dad gets slightly pissed, screaming “Christmas is family time”, and turns his attention on the innocent captive in a scene that captures this uncomfortable look at the traditional British household. The film brilliantly adopts Dad’s means of controlling his “family”, choosing to surpass the conventional approach for the desired effect, and the effect is lasting.