The thrill of directing sleaze

The thrill of a kill is not Norway’s first sleazy exploitation film, but it may be the first Nordic horror film with a jolly hillbilly butcher.

Taking a break from the vast forests of Trysil to talk to his horror friends on the internet, director Lars Erik Lie explains why, how, where and with whom he made the film that brings you the most blood for the bucks thus far in a Scandinavian context. The thrill of a kill arrives on DVD in Norway on May 30th.

Nordic Fantasy: First, tell us a bit about who you are, what you do, and why you direct amateur films.

Lars Erik Lie: I have always been a “film geek”. After watching John Carpenter’s The Thing in the early 80s, I was hooked on horror films. I started collecting them on VHS tape, but of course most of the films were banned in Norway back then, so I had to go “underground” and find expensive 5 – 6th generation copies of the films I wanted to see. After a while I switched to collecting films on laserdisc, then DVD and now it is Blueray.

I have always watched lots and lots of films, and sometime in the early 90s I was thinking… why not try to make a short film on my own? I managed to get a hold of a cheap VHS camcorder, and that was it. Nothing to edit the film with, no tripods, no fx, no technical knowledge, just a whole lot of enthusiasm and willpower to make something. Of course I had to name my “film company” and for fun I named it Violence Productions, which is still the name we used for the presentation of The Thrill of a Kill.

Why directing amateur films? Simply because it is very challenging, very fun, and you can be very creative. You learn a whole lot as well, but the main reason is you want to create something. You visualize some weird story in your head, and you want to transfer it to a film. It´s like art I guess. It´s a creative process, fun, but also very challenging and sometimes very difficult.

Nordic Fantasy: What are your influences in terms of horror films or other films?

Lie: My main influence comes from the Italian scene. Directors like Dario Argento, Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci, Ruggero Deadato and others have been some of my favourites. But  I have also some American favourites, directors like John Carpenter, Clive Barker, George A. Romero, Wes Craven etc. I grew up with their films, and yes – still these old films pack a punch, and have lots of qualities in them.

The Thrill of a Kill is not influenced by any one particular film, it is more like it is influenced by genres, especially the slasher films and exploitation films. We made it as a homage to those old, classic films, but still tried to make it in our own way. It was made with almost no money at all, only 5000 dollars, but being creative is not so much about the money. If lack of money is ruining a scene, then maybe you can shoot it in another way? Its always a solution.

Nordic Fantasy: Can you tell us more about your film background – any film school education?

Lie: I have no film school education. But I have been into movies since the early 80s, watching thousands of films, paying attention to how they are filmed, and watching the style of the different directors. Then I started doing my own short films in early 1994. And between 1994 – 1996 me and some of my friends made around 15 short films. And ever since that time I have been filming all kinds of things, like martial arts seminars, sportsfishing trips in the wild, short films, concerts etc., getting experience with lots of different methods of filming. But of course, always on very, very low budgets or no budgets at all. We had to use our imagination to come up with solutions, and I think that’s a good thing. You learn to think “outside the box”.

Nordic Fantasy: When did you get the idea for your slasher film?

Lie: I got the idea in late 2006. And originally it was a short story, the plan was to make a movie around 15 – 20 minutes long. Then we started filming in 2007 and shot 4 – 5 scenes. But then suddenly the leading female actor decided to jump off the project, and I had no one to step in and take the role. So the project was “on wait” until the spring of 2010, when I got hold of Kirsten Jakobsen via Facebook. She had a friend (Camilla Vestbø Losvik) who wanted to join, and several other actors and makeup-artists also joined. Arve Herman Tangen and I developed the story, and then came Kirsten with her ideas about her character, and the story just grew and evolved. Toril Skansen, who plays the mom of Kirsten and Camilla in the film, also came with lots of ideas about how to develop the story.

After a time of filming we understood the film would be much longer than originally planned, and suddenly it was around 1 hour of edited footage, and that was even before we shot the final scenes. Only then we realized that this would be a full feature, an approximately 90 minute film.

Nordic Fantasy: The film is not just a slasher, it’s perhaps equally much a torture-porn film, and Norway’s first such film. Are you prepared for criticism?

Lie: Yes, it has a couple of “extreme scenes”, but I feel that this is needed, to “shock” the audience a little. Well, these days, after films like Human Centipede 2 and A Serbian Film, not much will shock the audience anymore, hehe! But in Norwegian terms, this is a pretty sadistic film. It is actually not THAT bloody, but its more the feeling of what goes on, that is very uncomfortable. And yes, I am prepared for criticism, especially from those who do not appreciate the genre. But as long as the slasher/exploitation fans enjoy it, then I am happy, because this is a film made by enthusiasts FOR enthusiasts.

Nordic Fantasy: Did you meet any negative reactions from people you needed help from during the preparations or shooting?

Lie: It is really hard to get funding for a genre film like we made, here in Norway. Especially when your name is unknown in the “inner circles”, where funding of films takes place. If you have the contacts and the network, maybe you can make it, the rest of us just have to make it with the little money we have. I funded almost everything in this film by myself, but thankfully some of my friends, some of the actors and some other contacts via Facebook, stepped up and put some money into the production.

Nordic Fantasy: The cast are all amateurs, how did you attract them to a horror-splatter film, as they probably had never done anything like that before?

Lie: I just announced via Facebook, and I guess the word spread, so we could get the people we needed. Then also a couple of old friends joined in, and we were able to start shooting the film. The serial killer (Arve Herman Tangen) is really a talent, and I knew it. But I also knew he hated horror movies, but thankfully I convinced him to join, and he enjoyed the shooting, even though his health problems gave us a setback in the production from time to time. He made an outstanding performance as the serial killer, and I am pretty  sure the audicence have NEVER seen a serial killer like this before.

Nordic Fantasy: The film has been applauded for including the back story of the hillbilly killer, was that part of the original idea or did that evolve later?

Lie: I think it is very important to show the audience who the killer really is, and why has become this “monster” of a man. There is always a reason why people get “crazy”, and I did lots of research on real-life serial-killers, and most of them come from a very tragic background, with abuse and violence in their younger years. I wanted to stay true to this fact, and also give the audience another view of the serial killer. When they see him as a little beaten-up boy, will they feel pity for him? Even after knowing what he does when he grows up? There are some serious thoughts about this, and even though most of those “back to the 60s scenes” are quite funny to watch, there is some thinking to be done by the audience, when going “behind” those scenes.

Nordic Fantasy: How do you introduce the main characters in the film, the girls and the killer?

Lie: The plan was to open with plenty of action, keep a steady pace, where the story is both interesting and driving forward the whole time. I know most amateur films fail with making a story that is really too short for an 80 – 90 minutes film. We did not want to fail here. In many amateur productions they try to “fill up” the time, just to come close to 90 minutes running time. Then we are very often left with half an hour of meaningless dialogue, car driving and people going to bathrooms etc. Things that are of NO interest at all in a movie. It is important to pay attention to the audience. If the movie is boring or have tons of meaningless dialogue or no forward-drift, they will fall asleep, and it was really important for me to avoid that. Even on a “no budget” – it is possible to keep things interesting, and we did the best we could for keeping the audience interested and awake during the whole 85 minutes of the film. And I am pleased to say that the feedback we have had so far is positive, and I don´t think anyone fell asleep yet, while watching The Thrill of a Kill.

So, to get things going, we see the “work” of the serial killer as soon as the film starts. Then the introduction of the leading female actor (Kirsten Jakobsen) seems to be quite “weird”, and for a while I guess people really don´t know what´s going on. We tried to make that introduction both a “mystical” one, stylish and with lots of “athmosphere” and I think we succeeded quite good with that. But of course, on a higher budget, we could have made that scene a lot more spectacular.

Nordic Fantasy: Tell us about the shooting locations, did you have to travel far or did you shoot just around the corner from where you live?

Lie: Actually, we were very lucky with our shooting locations. Most of them is quite near my home place of Trysil, Norway. Only one scene is shot outside of Trysil, and that was at a big waterfall in Engerdal, north of Trysil. The other scenes are shot from 2 – 25 km away from my home, so we didn´t have to go very far to our locations, which is very good, when the budget is almost zero, hehe!

Nordic Fantasy: Several Norwegian horror films takes place in the woods or in the mountains, and Trysil is a huge forest area. How much did the area itself inspire the film, and make it possible?

Lie: Yeah, a big part of Norway is after all forests, and especially the area where I live, Trysil, have some of the biggest forests in Norway. Therefore it was natural to shoot the film in these surroundings.  Some argue we could have shot the film in a city, and yeah, if our budget was 10 times bigger, maybe we could have done that, but we have to take into consideration the practicality of the filming. It had to be easy, not expensive and we had to be able to work effective, not having to travel a long distance to shoot the film.

Also, the forests in Trysil are very beautiful and I think the surroundings give the film an unique look, with all the spectacular nature surrounding the characters in the story. We did not think particulary much about the settings of other horror films, we just had to think practical, what can we do on this tiny budget? And the solution was easy, use our surroundings and nature here in Trysil.

Nordic Fantasy: The film was shot over four years; apart from the money factor, what made it take so long?

Lie: The story evolved over a long time, as it was ment to be a short film originally. And when the story expanded, so did the shooting time. Also, the female leading actor we had back in 2007 backed out of the project, and we could not find a replacement until the spring of 2010. That is the main reason it took so long. The main part of the film was shot in one year from the summer of 2010 until the summer of 2011. Four scenes were shot in 2007.

Nordic Fantasy: What was the most difficult part of making the film; preparations, shooting, funding, editing, getting it released?

Lie: Yes, yes, yes and yes, hehe! Everything was a battle, on such a tiny budget you have to think and rethink everything you do. Is it even possible to make things that way? Can we shoot there? How much will the makeup and fx cost? So many questions to think about and find a solution for. I think the most difficult part was the actual shooting itself, because we got lots and lots of unexpected problems every day, from actors who suddenly backed out of the projects, many of them told us just the day before shooting that, no, they would not be attending the film after all. Then we had lots of problems with accidents and sickness with the actors and crew, Tom Lindgren (the hermit) was actually on the operating table two days before he joined us for shooting his scene. Amazingly, he could perform as well as he did.

Then Arve Herman Tangen (the serial killer) got severe back pains and had to leave the production for several weeks. Most of the actors got sick after the swamp scene, because they were cold and wet all day long. One of our drivers got a burning piece of wood from a fireplace straight into his eye, and had to go to the doctor. Lots of equipment we needed for the scenes never arrived as promised, or if they arrived, they were broken or did not work.

We had problems with some of the people in the cast and crew, especially some of them were drinking alcohol the night before they were supposed to shoot their scenes. We had to fire one guy from the project, due to severe drinking, plus he gave his girlfriend at that time a black eye (and she had a role in the film too), so it was lots of drama. Actually the story behind the film have more drama than the film itself I think, hehe!

Nordic Fantasy: There is a lot of blood and gore in the film, but what were the limitations; budget, imagination? Were there some things you and the team could not do on screen?

Lie: The limitation was mostly lack of money and lack of time. As many of our actors came from other cities in Norway, they could be in Trysil just for a few days every time we shot, and there was simply no time in rigging complicated fx scenes. We had to do it the easy and simple way, and rely on post-production to fix the biggest mistakes. Thanks to Espen Andreassen who gave us help with the digital fx. Hopefully you will not even notice most of it, and that is the intention as well, just let it blend in and be as natural as possible.

With a bigger budget and more time, I would love to have a special fx crew that could create some really nasty shit, hehe!

Nordic Fantasy: You spent around 30.000 kroner on the film, was all of that your own money and what did the money go to?

Lie: I funded around 25 000 kroner from own bank account, then some of the actors and other friends stepped in to cover the last 5000 kroner. Additionally, the whole crew worked for free, and paid out of their own pockets the costs of driving their cars to Trysil, then on location they paid for most of their own food etc. We tried to help those who travelled a long way, but without people being willing to invest of their own time and money in this project, we could never have made it.

Most of the money was spent on makeup, special fx and blood, costumes, props and the rest was travelling expenses, food etc. during the production. In post-production we have spent some money on the licensea of some of the music. We also bought some camera-technical equipment, like batteries, a fig-rig and some other low budget stuff.

Nordic Fantasy: Did you discuss with the actors things their characters were supposed to do, and did any scripted violence face any problems?

Lie: Yes I did, and most of the big roles are developed together with the actors playing these roles. So they could influence their part a great deal. I think that is fine, because then the scenes will feel more “real”, more authentic, and that is especially important when dealing with amateur actors. Many of them have got very positive feedback by the people watching the film as well, and websites like Nordic Fantasy, Independent Flicks, Skrekkmania.com and Rare Cult Cinema seems to appreciate their efforts. Yes, they are all amateur actors, but I am still pleased with how they perform on screen. You could not expect more from amateurs. They did good!

Some parts of the “planned violence” had to be cut out, simply because we did not have the resources nor time to make it. So it was mostly lack of time and money that stopped us from making it even more extreme.

Nordic Fantasy: Some scenes are quite sexy, and this is rare in Nordic horror films, even if it’s standard in foreign films. Did you choose to push boundaries here, or was it a “happy accident”?

Lie: Since I wanted to make this like an exploitation flick, it had to be a bit “sleazy” and sadistic, and also a bit sexy and “provocative”. So yes, we wanted to push some boundaries, especially compared to other Norwegian films. Not that you actually see THAT much in The Thrill of a Kill, but the film is quite nasty, sleazy and sadistic in some places, which is really uncommon in Norwegian films. I think some people will be shocked by some of the scenes, while they probably will laugh at others, since there is also a dark and funny feeling in some of the scenes.

Nordic Fantasy: You cut a few minutes out of the film, what was left on the floor? Gore, talk or babes?

Lie: Most of what is deleted, you can find on the DVD in the deleted scenes department. That includes an alternative intro, a dream sequence, the killer talking to his victims while sharpening a knife, and parts of an ending scene we never used.

Nordic Fantasy: How do you place this film in the Norwegian and Scandinavian horror scene?

Lie: I am really not sure what to compare it to… I think The Thrill of a Kill is a lot more extreme and sadistic than most movies made here in Scandinavia. Norwegian horror tends to be so “correct”, and they rarely go all the way. We tried to do that.

Nordic Fantasy: There are many reasons for making independent movies, but what is your view on the “official” Norwegian horror scene where tax money goes to a few, slick movies that most of the time look very American?

Lie: Unfortunately, there is not that much interest from the people funding Norwegian film, to fund films like this. The films are not political correct, they are sleazy and extreme and maybe the people sitting on the money-bags are afraid that funding such a film could be dangerous for them, and they could loose power and money from the State, if they support such films. I don´t know… it seems like an elite is making most of the films, and it is really hard to get inside. If you have a known name, it seems like money is not hard to get, but if you come from the amateur filmmaking world or are an unknown name, funding a full feature film is almost impossible. You have to rely on your own network and connections, friends, family and whatever money you have in your own bank account. It´s hard, but it is the only way.

But younger filmmakers have more options, and I know several of them have been supported by some of the funds that focus on helping young filmmakers. So at least that’s something. Hopefully it will be easier for genre filmmakers to get support in the future.

Nordic Fantasy: I don’t know how many different jobs you are credited with in the end credits, but they are many. What is your advice to other newbie horror directors?

Lie: The MOST important thing is to plan as much as possible BEFORE shooting. Be prepared. Rewrite the story as many times as needed, get all your equipment ready and tested. Find actors and also reserves, in case the actors suddenly decide to drop out of the project. Find people you can thrust 100 %. Do not ask all your buddies to help you, because they are usually not loyal to the film. They will only say yes to help you and be a friend, but many of them are really not that interested in the film, and suddenly they may drop out and leave the project, leaving the rest of the crew in trouble. Find those that REALLY [have a passion] for the project and are willing to suffer. They will help you a lot making the film, in fact – you could not make a film without them!

As an independent filmmaker, I advice other amateur filmmakers to use only a small crew and not that many actors/extras in the scenes of the film. Stear away from big scenes with hundreds of extras. Keep it tight and simple. And if you can´t trust anyone, do it yourself.

As a director you need to be in control with everything, and especially on an amateur film. Without you, the project will most likely fall dead on the ground immediately. So, be prepared, that is my main advice.

Nordic Fantasy: Do you have plans for a sequel, or a new movie?

Lie: Yes, there are plans for another movie. Not a sequel, but definitely an extreme horror film, actually we [have made] plans for a mountain-cannibal film. A film like this have never been made in Norway before, so it is quite an exciting project! We have already several actors who are interested, and the main ideas regarding the story are drawn. It is going to be an exciting project and I hope we can have a better financial situation on this coming project than on The Thrill of a Kill.

Nordic Fantasy: Is it your ambition to direct bigger, professional films later?

Lie: I don’t know what will happen. It could be fun to work on a bigger, more professional project, but who knows, maybe I work best in ultra-lowbudget films? Hehe!  But if some producer or film company asks me to direct a bigger-budget film after they have watched The Thrill of a Kill, it would definitely be tempting to check out the project and see what they can offer.

Nordic Fantasy: What horror films are you looking forward to seeing yourself, and what kind of horror would you like to see made more of in Scandinavia?

Lie: There are so many horror movies coming out on the market these days, it is hard to keep track of them all. But I especially look forward to check out some of the other Norwegian horror films that I have not yet seen, like Thale and Dunderland, and the upcoming Escape.

Hopefully there will be a future for more genre films in Scandinavia. There are many excellent filmmakers here, and I believe they could do a hell of a good job in the horror genre. Exploitation films are maybe still taboo here in Scandinavia, but the Swedes started making them already in the 60s and 70s, and here in Norway, Reinert Kiil’s film The Whore was one of the first real exploitation films. The Thrill of a Kill is a mixture of many genres, but with its own style, and I hope people will enjoy it, especially when they know it is made for only 5000 dollars. Another World Entertainment liked it so much, they [decided] to release it on DVD, and how much more can an independent amateur filmmaker ask for? We MADE IT, and damn it, we are so happy about that!

Nordic Fantasy: Thanks for the interview Lars Erik, and have a nice trip back into the woods! Just don’t stop and ask a jolly butcher for directions…..

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5 thoughts on “The thrill of directing sleaze

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