Interview with Nicholas McCarthy – Director of THE PACT

THE PACT is one of those low budget horror success stories that comes along every so often and manages to strike a chord and cross over into the mainstream. Shot on an extremely low budget, director Nicholas MCarthy’s film was given a wide release in the UK when it opened at the beginning of last month.  

Nicholas very kindly agreed for us to interview him and, as you’re about to see, Euro Cult films (and their makers) occupy a very special place in his heart…

I would automatically assume that you’re something of a film buff. Please can you elaborate on the films that formed a significant part of your education as a filmmaker? 

I’ve always liked all kinds of movies.  When I was a little kid ANYTHING was worth seeing, even movies that were way over my head.  But horror got its grips in me early.  I grew up in New Hampshire and we had a black and white TV set that got about 6 channels and used a rotating antennae on top of the house.  Occasionally I could catch Godzilla movies playing and the concept of monster movies began to obsess me.  I used to pour through the TV listings to find evidence of anything horror-related.  There was this mysterious channel that we didn’t receive, out of Boston–Channel 56–they were always airing films on Saturday afternoons with titles like IT!  THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE or DESTROY ALL MONSTERS.  What were these things?  I could only imagine.  Then one day all of a sudden we were able to get Channel 56 over our set — they must’ve boosted their signal.  I waited all week to see the two movies they were showing, which I soon learned was their programming block called “Creature Double Feature.”  That weekend they showed a Toho monster movie I now can’t remember followed by the completely bizarre FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE SPACE MONSTER.  Viewing that second movie was a life-changing experience.  It was “bad,” but at age 8 I had no measurement of bad.  It was shot in Puerto Rico and there was no Frankenstein monster.  Most of it was post-dubbed.  I could hardly make sense of it.  It had a scene where a robot, who was running amuck, threw an axe in someone’s face.  Those 90 minutes changed my life forever.

As I got older I started to watch all kinds of films in the genre and outside of it.  But the dark and strange always stuck with me, and that’s always the stuff I liked best.

I think you’ve just described how many of us became so enamoured with film, Nick! We had only four channels when most of us were growing up here in the UK, so we had far less horror on our screens, with the notable exception of the double bills that were screened over weekends and Alex Cox’s excellent Moviedrome series. The advent of rental VHS opened things up a lot wider and horror became far more accessible (until the introduction of Britain’s draconian Video Recordings Act!). Do you have any fond memories or standout experiences from the time when you were introduced to video?

Video was so important to me growing up.  I saved up my own money to buy a VCR.  It was a used, giant top-loading JVC model.  Like so many other horror fans, an entire world of the genre was opened up to me with that machine  It was all the more exciting back then because there was so much less context for what was out there — the video shelves were like a wild west, “respectable” studio product right alongside the sleaziest no-budget horror movies imaginable.  I started to program all night marathons for my friends and we would watch both the stuff I wanted them to see, along with cult and horror movies I had read about and thought might be great – sometimes they were, sometimes they weren’t.   I also began taping things off late night TV back then, which is how I caught favorites like SHOCK WAVES or ZONTAR: THE THING FROM VENUS.  That old VCR was how I saw so many of the great and awful films that I still love.

I’ll also say this about watching movies on home video — it’s STILL something I’m amazed and grateful for, because I remember when I was first introduced to this concept — that just because you’re thinking of a movie could now mean you could choose to watch it, then and there.  That is an amazing luxury.  The other luxury is the huge mine of cinema history that opened up with the ability to cheaply acquire and watch older movies.  In the Euro Cult world I’m always impressed how we can pour over these films that never really were meant to stand some kind of test of time – but that’s one of the qualities that make them so special.   These films were made with an urgency because there was a market that was just hungry for more and more movies, coming at a time of real inventiveness in cinema.  When I made my own movie, that urgency was something I kept in mind–THE PACT was not made after 10 years of developing it–it was written in six weeks and shot in 18 days!  But with the budget so low the financier was basically like “just go do it” and I had no time to think too much about anything beyond trying to make this weird little movie I had imagined in my head just weeks before.  Some might criticize that approach, but I wouldn’t have traded that freshness for anything.  The whole thing was just full throttle, the same way that guys like Enzo Castellari operated, back in the day.

Did reading about the way in which Italian filmmakers made their films or even watching the special features on the DVDs have any impact on how you’ve honed your skills as a filmmaker? You mention Castellari, but did he or any of the other prolific filmmakers of the period make an impression on the way you made your film on such a tight schedule?

One of the things that I’ve come to really admire about many of the directors from back then was how prolific they were.  I mean, a guy like Castellari had a film coming out every 6 months in the 70s!  And in all different genres — westerns, crime films, comedies…  As I said earlier, I think there’s strength in making things quickly, to attack a script and move on.  It can produce all kinds of films — some terrible, but also some that are masterpieces.  And that’s not limited to exploitation — many of the titans of the “art film” did the same thing — Bunuel, Bergman, Fassbinder… they just made film after film after film.  That’s something I aspire to do.

The circumstances of the Italian film industry in the 70s are exceptional, there’s no going back to that time economically or culturally.  But the more of the films from the period that I watch the more in tune I feel to that urgency that went into making them, and it in turn, that inspires me to create something.  Their energy is contagious.

Are you a big fan of Euro Cult cinema? If so, please can you touch upon the genres, films and filmmakers that have inspired you as an artist? 

The first Euro Cult films I saw were, like a lot of other fans, viewed on cropped VHS tapes. Probably the first Euro genre title I ever saw was Fulci’s GATES OF HELL aka CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD.  I was about 13 and probably read about it in Fangoria, which obsessed over how much blood was in a movie, therefore it paid special attention to this title.  It was a little boring at that age, but strangely fascinating.  It came from another world, outside of American cinema.  It had a whole different cinematic language.  And it was disgusting.  I was interested.

It wasn’t until a few years later, at age 16, that I truly “discovered” Euro Cult, when I went to see a 35mm screening of SUSPIRIA.  I knew next to nothing about this movie going in, maybe just that it was an Italian horror movie.  I was nearly all alone in the theater, by myself, mid-week, during a hot summer.  The sound was LOUD.  When the film finished my mind was shattered.  I had never seen anything so scary, so cinematic, so strange.  I wanted more. Since then I’ve watched Italian, French, and Spanish genre movies non-stop.  My next obsession after Argento, of course, was Mario Bava — his work blew me away, I loved exploring film after film of his, each one so different and amazing.  As I got older I developed a soft spot for gialli and the whole spectrum of crime films.  Probably my favorite giallo is STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH, but I’ve seen dozens and loved many of them, from the beautiful ones like LE ORME to the cruddy insanity of Umerto Lenzi’s EYEBALL.

Crime films it’s the same thing — I’ve been enthusiastic about the classier examples, like MACHINE GUN MCCAIN, but also loved the trashiest of the trash, like the movie I first saw on a double bill with MCCAIN — ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY WEAPON aka ROME ARMED TO THE TEETH.   That movie is batshit crazy.

SUSPIRIA seems to be an entry level title for many EuroCult fans, it was one of the first Italian horror films I saw too. You mention ROME ARMED TO THE TEETH, again this was one of the first poliziotteschi films I caught and, like my friend who introduced me to them, I stumbled upon the genre because I found myself seeking out the work of the directors of Italian horror movies – was this the case with you? Looking at the work of directors such as Umberto Lenzi and Sergio Martino in particular as both dabbled in many different genres, do you have a preference to a particular type of film that they made?

Yeah, horror was my entry point and I think it’s true for a lot of fans.  What I discovered was that really there are so many more interesting European thrillers and crime films than horror movies.  It’s fun to trace the careers of a lot of these directors because you see their strengths and weaknesses, but I also have learned that the strength of the work often has a lot to do with the circumstances of both when the movies were made and how well they were produced.   When Sergio Martino made STRANGE VICE… it was at the very beginning of the giallo flood and for me it feels like the quintessential movie that defined the cycle after Bava and Argento put the elements together.  For that reason it seems like everything falls into place for Martino on that movie and I’ve watched it many times.   In the same way, with Lenzi’s films, I first heard about him because of the notorious, sloppily made horror movies from the later part of his career, but when I saw his late 60s giallo ORGASMO with him working with a stronger budget and just at a different pop cultural moment I was like “wow!”  That film is one of the all-time classic Euro Cult titles to me.  Then I started seeing his crime movies in between and I was like “holy shit, this guy is crazy!  Who knew he could do that too?”

Have you paid homage to any of your favourite films or directors in THE PACT?  

Well there’s a lot of different genre films that influenced the movie, and there’s a lot of Euro Cult in there.  There’s a shot at the beginning that is a direct reference to SUSPIRIA, where the camera rises up and peers down at the actress through a hanging lamp.  In Argento’s film they’re on some crazy crane, while we just used the boom arm on the dolly, but it was a total homage.  I showed my director of photography Bridger Nielson sequences from SUSPIRIA to give him an idea of how we wanted to establish camera movement.  It was funny, the film is like a sacred text to me, and Bridger thought it was cool, but he kept pointing out how bumpy Argento’s dolly shots were!

The mystery plotting of the movie was inspired completely by the Italian giallo film.  There’s a kind of fetishy attention to detail in those movies that I tried to get in THE PACT, with lots of close ups of clues.  There’s also a murder sequence in the movie where all you see is a hand with a knife and the audience doesn’t see who’s holding the knife.  The concept for the scene came from the classic giallo template, and for reference I actually showed our makeup FX guy and my DoP a murder in Argento’s OPERA. There are tons of dolly shots in the movie following people around.  Part of it was inspired by the classic, poetic horror movies of Val Lewton, but the look and size of the shots came from the park sequence in FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET.

Finally, there’s a long daylight sequence in my movie that is entirely modeled on the look and feel of Antonioni’s BLOW-UP.  I was watching that movie again a few years ago and realized how much Argento took from it for BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE – the movie that kicked off the wonderful wave of all those gialli.  So it’s a kind of Euro Cult reference in a more oblique way.

BLOW-UP is a wonderful film and one that gets better with each subsequent viewing. Were you aware of the importance of creating a work that stands up to the scrutiny of repeated viewings and did you deliberately make choices that would allow for things to go unnoticed when the viewer watches THE PACT for the first time?

I was just concerned with trying to create the movie in my head, which on our budget meant trying to get as many different shots as we could every day.  I really feel like you can’t think about the future when you create something like this, you never know how it will be received or who will like it.  One of the things that’s been cool about getting the film out there is some of the people who I respect, horror fans with blogs, genre savvy writers like Kim Newman in particular, have given the movie props.  But in no way did I ever try to calculate or predict that sort of response.  I was just trying to make my first movie.  I hope that some people will return to it.  Lord knows there are a lot of films that I’ve watched again and again where the creators never imagined people would see it more than once, like so many of the Euro Cult titles we love.

Thank you, Nick, it’s been great chatting with you.

Cine-Excess Final Surprise Screenings Announced

Midnight Extreme: The Freakmaker (AKA The Mutations, 1974)
Friday 25th May – Midnight (The Italian Cultural Institute)  Click HERE for details and booking info

Robert Weinbach has personally chosen this screening to accompany his visit to Cine-Excess VI, and we are delighted that he will be introducing the film on Friday 25th May at 12 midnight, followed by an exclusive screening of this cult rarity.

The Director Approved Screening of The Bronx Warriors (1982)
Saturday 26th May – 4pm (Following Enzo G. Castellari Interview, Odeon Covent Garden) Click HERE for details and booking info

Enzo G. Castellari has personally chosen this screening to accompany his visit to Cine-Excess VI, and we are delighted that he will be introducing the film on Saturday 26th May at 4pm following his on-stage interview and career retrospective at the Odeon Covent Garden.

Cine-Excess VI – Full Schedule

Cine-Excess VI  – Transglobal Excess: The Art and Atrocity of Cult Adaptation

24 to 26 May 2012 – Odeon Covent Garden & The Italian Cultural Institute, London


Final Programme

Thursday 24th May 2012 (ODEON COVENT GARDEN)

Conference Registration 11.30 -1pm
1pm-1.15pm Conference Welcome/Conference Opening
1.15pm-2.45pm Panel 1 The American Nightmare: Visions of Adaptation and Excess
Chair: Kate Eagan
1. Laura Mee, (De Montfort University) “Think you can bring the dead back to life?”: Platinum Dunes and the Horror Franchise Reboot.
2. Wickham Clayton (Roehampton University) “Unnatural, unnatural, unnatural, unnatural, unnatural!”… but real?: The Toolbox Murders as a True Story Adaptation, or Not
3. Aaron McMullan (King’s College, London) “Blowback Horror: Adaptation, Interrogation and Revelation in Post-9/11 American Horror Cinema.
3pm-3.30pm Coffee
3.30pm-5pm Panel 2 Transnational Excess: Cross-Cultural Studies in Adaptation
Chair: Leon Hunt
1. Ben Halligan (Salford University) Factory as Laboratory: Vinyl – Andy Warhol’s A Clockwork Orange.
2. Alex Marlow-Mann (St Andrews University) Feeling across Borders: Transcultural Appropriation and Sensorial Embodiment in Cattet and Forzani’s Amer (2009).
3. Adrian Horrocks (Anglia Ruskin University) Modern French Horror: Foreign Genre Cinema as Site of Adaptation and Allegory.
6.30pm-7.30pm Script to Scream: The Time Out Magazine and Cine-Excess Discussion – The Art of Cult Adaptation
8pm-9.30pm Cine-Excess UK Theatrical Premiere 1: Closed Circuit Extreme (Giorgio Amato, 2011)
10pm -11.30pm Cine-Excess UK Theatrical Premiere 2: Shiver (Julian Richards, 2011)


Friday 25th May 2012 (ODEON COVENT GARDEN)

Registration/Coffee 9.30am-10am
10am-11.45am Panel 3 Literature, Lust and Laughs: Cult Adaptations of the Erotic
Chair: Mark Goodall
1. Clarissa Smith (Sunderland University) A Mother’s Love Cannot be Denied: Ma Mere.
2. Sarah Harman (Brunel University) Returning to Roissy: Just Jaeckin and’s adaptations of the Story of O.
3. Tamao Nakahara (Independent Scholar) New Hats and Shoes: Cross-Dressing in 1970s Italian Sex Comedies.
11.45am-12.00pm Coffee
12.00pm-1pm Keynote 1 Professor Steffen Hantke (Sogang University) ‘West German Cult TV: Re-Packaging Subcultural Capital.’
1pm-2pm Lunch
2pm-3.30pm Panel 4 Maniacs, Myths and Monstrous Movies 1: Adapting Themes and Figures of Evil
Chair: Filippo Del Lucchese
1. Daniel O’Brien (Southampton University) Blue Collar Mephistopheles: Videodrome and the Subversive Sidekick.
2. Elisabetta Di Minico (University of Barcelona) Horror and the dystopia.
3. Finn J. Ballard (Warwick University) Uwe Boll’s Auschwitz as Holocaust ‘Torture Porn‘.
3.30pm-4pm Coffee
4.00-5.30 Panel 5 Maniacs, Myths and Monstrous Movies 2: Cult Adaptations of the Manson Family
Chair: Charlie Blake
1. Mark Goodall (Bradford University) Helter Skelter: Charles Manson goes to the Movies.
2. Nicolò Gallio (University of Bologna) Surfing with Charlie.
3. Ian Cooper (Independent Scholar) Family Values and Creepy Crawlies: Manson and the Horror Film.
7.30pm-9pm: The Year’s With(out) Lead: Bodies, Bullets, and the 1970s Italian Extreme: A Special Panel Discussion between Enzo G. Castellari, Sergio Martino and Professor Mary P. Wood (Birkbeck College, London).

9pm- 10.30pm The Italian Cultural Institute- Cine-Excess Screening 3: Keoma (Enzo G. Castellari, 1976)
10.30 pm-12.00am The Italian Cultural Institute Cine-Excess Screening 4: Your Vice is a Locked Door and Only I have the Key (Sergio Martino, 1972)
12.00am The Italian Cultural Institute Cine-Excess Midnight Movie Excess (Screening TBA)


Saturday 26th May, 2012 (ODEON COVENT GARDEN)

Registration/Coffee 9.30am-9.45am
9.45am-11am Panel 7 Comics, Posters and Pop: Adaptations of Cult Iconography Across Mixed Media
Chair: Julian Savage
1. Neil Jackson (Lincoln University) Stained with the Blood of the Marketing Department: Discourses of Violence in 1970s Film Posters.
2. Leon Hunt Brunel (University) Danger: Diabolik – The Italian Comic-book Anti-Hero as Superhero.
3. Rachel Mizsei Ward (University of East Anglia) Criminal Lifestyles, Sexuality and the Martial Arts: Appropriating Blaxploitation in Hip-Hop Music Videos.
11am-11.30am Coffee
11.30pm-1.30pm Panel 8 Europa Excess: The Italian Trans-Cult(ural) Image
Chair: Xavier Mendik
1. Stefano Ciammaroni (Manchester Metropolitan University) In Too Deep (Red): The Politics and Historiography of Violence and Death in Luchino Visconti’s Ossessione and Dario Argento’s Profondo rosso.
2. Anthony Page (Hertfordshire University) ‘High” and ‘Low’ Art Nazis: Cavani’s The Night Porter and Canevari’s The Gestapo’s Last Orgy.
3. Karen Oughton (Regent’s College) “Who Do You Think You Are Kidding, Mr Fulci? The Role of Metanarrative in Cat in the Brain”.
4. Kate Egan (Aberystwyth University)The Women in White: Aesthetic and Thematic Uses of Costume in Argento’s Films.
1.30pm-2.30pm Lunch
2.30pm -4pm Panel 9 Agonised Bodies, Adaptive Performance: Sexuality, Ethnicity and Excess
Chair: Leon Hunt
1. Darren Elliot-Smith (University of Hertfordshire) ‘Queer Poe-nography’: Gay Shame and Gothic Layering in David DeCoteau’s Edgar Allen Poe Cycle.
2. Adam Locks (University of Chichester) Chicks with guns: The cult of female bodybuilding.
3. Grisel Y. Acosta (Queensborough Community College, NY) “‘Spork’ Mixer: Tough, Twisted Girls in Borderless, Multicultural Oz”.
4. Iain Robert Smith (Roehampton University) It’s a Bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s Shaktimaan! : The Bollywood Superhero from Mr India (1987) to Krrish (2006).

4pm-6pm Inglorious Icon: Enzo G. Castellari On-Stage includes Cine-Excess Screening 6: (To Be Announced)
6pm Odeon Close
8pm-9pm The Italian Cultural Institute: Sergio Martino Onstage at Cine-Excess VI
9.30pm-10.30pm Cine-Excess Screening 7: All the Colours of the Dark (Sergio Martino, 1972)
10.30pm -12.00 Cine-Excess Screening 8: Fair Game (Mario Andreacchio, 1986)


For booking and ticket prices head on over to the Cine Excess site for full details…

Cine-Excess Final Schedule released this week…

Keep an eye on the Cine-Excess facebook page this week as the final schedule is due anytime…

Dear Cult Film Fans,

Very excited to be releasing the final Cine-Excess screening schedule later this week.

Expect UK theatrical premieres of fantastic new American serial killer movies, gritty, unsceen Australian ‘Last House on the Outback’ riffs, and one of the most terrifying new ‘realist’ horror film I have seen in years! Add to this some classic cult retro screenings from the Enzo Castellari and Sergio Martino archives (hand picked by the fab people at Dania Films), and I hope there will be an eye popping selection of screenings to please the Cine-Excess crowd.

We are also proud to be hosting a special Time Out ‘Script to Scream’ panel on how to write the perfect terror film. More details on all of the above from Simona and myself during the week….