I’d become fascinated with Video Nasties (72 films that were banned in the UK in 1982 due to their violent content) and had also loved the Tarantino/Roderiguez double-bill movie “Grindhouse”. This led to me wanting to make an over-the-top, ultra-violent and knowingly trashy film in the same style. Also, with Kill Bill being one of my favorite films, I’d wanted to make a revenge movie!
Therefore, ‘Scarlet Inferno’ was a very different writing process to my usual technique, in that -instead of being struck suddenly by an idea- I watched film after film taking bits from here and there in order to make something that aimed to be the ultimate X-rated B-movie. The script also had a lot of comical elements, so though I followed the structure of rape/revenge movies (for example, “I Spit On Your Grave”) I’d cut out the rape -a little too dark and distasteful for this particular film- and left it simply as a failed murder attempt. If you’ve seen the film you’ll know the story I came up with is that Scarlet is kidnapped by a group of angry yobs, taken to the woods to be tortured, escapes but is instead killed by a psychotic hunter. Having been SHOT IN THE FACE she arrives in hell and a midget creature in a gas mask (‘Death’) grants her one hour (and two shotguns) to kill the yobs who kidnapped her.
We filmed for 5 long days and one night, in April 2011. The cast were my regular bunch, with the addition of Joel Henderson who was new to the group and would star heavily in my later short films. As the characters in the film were so exaggerated I think the actors had a great time playing them, particularly Charlotte Roest-Ellis in her role as ‘Princess’. The shoot ran fairly smoothly with only one day being really difficult, which was the scene in which Scarlet kills Hannah. On that day it was raining slightly and horrifically cold (even I was frozen under layers of coats and fleeces, and Francesca Lyons was only wearing a torn bridesmaids dress from BHS). We decided to all stay quiet and film as quickly as we possibly could, and I was pretty happy with the fight scene that came out of it in the end.
Shooting the climactic zombie sequence was a great day, although I didn’t have anywhere near as many extras to play zombies as I’d wanted (but this always happens…). Their zombie make-up was done with very sticky pastry, that would dry up and crack to make a nice rotting flesh look. I would paint the actors skin black, smear the pastry on top and then rip holes in the pastry and add fake blood to make it look like the flesh had torn open. There was a lot of excitement on set and everyone worked very well to make what was quite a long and complex sequence get completed effectively and ahead of schedule (!).
Despite being only a six day shoot, it felt like we’d been going at it for weeks, leaving the actors quite exhausted due to the physical demands of the film. My lead actor Francesca and I hated each other by the end of the shoot, though we’d work together many times after and remain good friends today.
Scarlet Inferno took a couple of months (maybe longer) to edit. It ran at 45 minutes which was longer than I had expected. Its quite an action-packed film which is probably why it took so long to complete.
I was also adding effects to make the film look both grainy and scratched (as if it were shot on film), an effect I’d really liked in the movie “Grindhouse”. I held a screening of the film in the Tobacco Factory and once again had a good turn out. The projector we watched the film off was quite low quality and also cut the edges of the screen off which meant that it must’ve looked terrible to the audience, which was a disappointment. At least it truly did look like a scuzzy Video Nasty though, as I’d intended).
The Q & A session was oddly short (I guess its not a film in which there’s a lot to talk about), but I sold quite a few copies of the DVD. Clearly the film was aimed at an audience who’d enjoy comedy, a fast pace and lots of action instead of ambiguous, David Lynch inspired surrealism and quirkiness, so the film was very popular amongst my friends, more so than my darker films. This is perhaps what led me to write another script; “Scarlet Inferno 2”…
SCARLET INFERNO 2
I had no money to make another film, but I did have all summer and a group of actors wanting to return for a sequel. So what idea could be better than simply reusing the same old props and costumes I’d brought for Scarlet Inferno and making a bigger, better, crazier sequel?
Once again we spent five long days out in the woods, beginning the film with another zombie action scene (the film picks up where the last left off) and bringing both “Princess” and “Joel” back from the dead (an advantage of having ‘Death’ as one of your characters). The story this time was that Scarlet (who hadn’t actually died in the first movie) and her enemies would team up and fight ‘Death’ and his zombie army in order to be free from the debt they owed him (an eternity in hell or something). Once again, we had a lot of fun (apart from when Sam, who played ‘Death’ got stung by a wasp, just moments after Francesca got her hair caught in the wheels of a skateboard as we dragged her around the woods on a rope).
By the end of the fifth day we still hadn’t shot the two biggest scenes of the movie. We were going to have to shoot two extra days, but by this point we were exhausted and were also hating each other once again… I was shooting a scene in which Scarlet gets hung from a tree. Francesca was complaining about rope burn, Charlotte had lost all concentration, darkness was fast approaching, we were behind schedule, it was just one of those moments when everything starts to go wrong. I’d chosen to fall a day behind as I’d called off the zombie scene as we (again) had so few actors to play zombies. Unfortunately, I had other film ideas brewing in my mind and had lost my enthusiasm for ‘Scarlet Inferno 2’ (I’d be shooting ‘In Vitro’ only two months later). I’d made a mistake and should really have left it at the first film. I guess I could have finished the film but I never did. At the time I had been making film after film after film; ‘The N.D.P’ in December, ‘Scare Vent’ in February, ‘Scarlet Inferno’ in April, ‘Love’ in June and ‘Scarlet Inferno 2’ in August! I knew that eventually this spurt of filmmaking madness would end in me making something that I hadn’t put enough time and care into, something that wouldn’t match the quality of my previous work, and I feared that ‘Scarlet Inferno 2’ was it.
Both Scarlet Inferno films were a great experience and a very fun time. Though sometimes the film just looks like a bunch of youngsters running around the woods with a camera, the film really required careful planning and hard work. I learnt probably more than I’ve learnt from any other film I’ve made and more than I’ve learned at film school even. Its a 45 minute film full of action sequences and that was difficult to achieve. I’m proud of the first film, its silly, over-the-top trash entertainment. Perhaps I’m glad the second one never got completed, because that taught me equally huge amounts.