Bristol-born director Christopher Smith is fast cementing his reputation as one of the most exciting British horror directors working today. Making his directorial debut in 2005 with Creep, he showed that there were scarier things on the Tube than a sweaty armpit in your face. His follow up, Severance, proved that Smith was just as adept at laughs as at scares. His latest, Triangle, starring Melissa George, is played purely for mind-bending chills, and tells the story of a group of people who, after running into difficulties whilst yachting, take refuge on a seemingly abandoned cruise ship. As ever, things are not quite what they seem.
RT sat down with Smith last week as he cracked open a bottle of champagne to celebrate locking the edit on his latest, Black Death, with Sean Bean and Eddie Redmayne. He talked us through his favourite cult horror films, a list he found hard to whittle down. “For me, a lot of things that I think about putting in are not for the whole movie, but just moments of the movie, and I think for a lot of horror fans, that’s the case.”
Body Snatchers (1993)
It has a rather downbeat ending but they all have a downbeat ending. It’s got an amazing scene with Meg Tilly where she’s saying, “Where you going to go John? Where are you going to run? Where are you going to hide?” Meg Tilly, who I think is a great actor, is so haunting in that scene. Every time I see it… I don’t know, it just does it for me. Weirdly, I saw that film recently, you can get it for like £3 — for the price of a beer you get a really good film. I love Abel Ferrara – Bad Lieutenant is one of my favourite films – I think he makes films that have a really dirty, gritty, emotional feel, so you end up feeling a bit spun out by the whole thing. That does, weirdly, influence me. There are people who don’t like Creep, but the people who love it, they love it because it has that weird kind of feeling. You shouldn’t really get to know the monster, because that’s not what you do in a horror movie – and that, in one way, is the mistake of the film – but it’s also the strength of it to the fans, because you get know.
Dead of Night (1945)
Halfway through writing Triangle I was told to go and see Dead of Night. It’s a movie made in the 40s in England, and it’s a compendium of stories where they’re all inter-linked into one big narrative. That’s definitely one of my favourite British horror movies, because the weird thing about those kinds of movies, where the stories are one after another, is you always ask which one is the best one. What happens with that film is that it rather perfectly builds to the best one at the end, so you don’t get the best one at number three, and it’s not like they just put it in that order because they felt like it would be the best way to finish it. The actual interlocking stories all have an absolute guaranteed sequence that they have to go in. I think it’s one of those films that really should be seen because it’s fucking brilliant.
It’s a film that is almost the same story as Jonathan Glazier’s Birth, although the thriller/horror version of it. It’s about a child who is possessed by a woman’s dead husband. So you have this very twisted film whereby a grieving woman is trapped with this child who has her husband’s soul inside of him. It’s a really twisted horror movie, it still plays on all the gory aspects of movies of that period, but it’s just really twisted and very psychological, and isn’t just a gore-fest which you often get with films of that period, late 70s to early 80s. Great film.
Man Bites Dog (1992)
It’s a well-known title, but it’s fallen off the radar; you can’t even get it any more I think. I remember buying that film when everyone was raving about it, and weirdly, it came out at the time that Bad Lieutenant and Reservoir Dogs came out; those three came out together, and they were all brilliant, and formed my favourite movies. I didn’t see Man Bites Dog at the cinema; I only saw it on video. I bought the video, watched it, and took it straight back – swapping it for Godfather Part II – thinking I could never ever watch that film again because it was so putrid. But it’s really stayed with me, and if people haven’t seen it, they should dig it out. It’s about what it would be like to follow a serial killer around. It’s just so twisted that I would recommend that to horror fans. There’s a horrendous group sex scene where the next morning they’ve killed everyone, and it’s just a horrible horrible film.
It goes in a good double bill with Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Actually, I’m going to go for a triple bill. If you’re in a really good mood, and you’re as happy as you could ever be, and you want to try to not be happy — watch Man Bites Dog, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and A Short Film About Killing by Krzysztof Kieślowski. They are three of the darkest films ever made I think. A Short Film About Killing is 45 minutes of a man stalking a taxi driver and murdering him, and the next 45 minutes is him being hung by the state and it’s just grim.
Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde (1931 & 1941)
A good DVD recommendation to buy, you can buy a double bill of the 1931 and the 1941 Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, which I bought recently. If you watch the original – which isn’t the very original, so don’t start screaming, “no, there’s a silent one,” – but if you watch the original with Fredric March as Jekyll, there’s a trick in it where the transformation happens that is so amazing that when you watch it, it takes a good 30 minutes to work out how they did it. There’s no cut, and you watch him turn into the monster. I’ve since found out how they did it, but it kept the film industry spellbound for like 40 years. It’s actually really easy. It’s from 1931, directed by Rouben Mamoulian, but you should catch that in the double bill with the 1941 version.
Come and See (1985)
This is a war film, and it’s one of the darkest films that I’ve ever seen. It’s a Russian WW2 movie which is absolutely amazing. It’s about a young kid who grows up in the forest of the Russian front, and he goes of to fight the Germans, and it’s a horror movie in every sense of the word. There’s no more horrendous chiller than that film.
Triangle is in UK cinemas now.