It takes a special kind of director to add freshness to the serial killer genre – especially when it involves strangeness like a 'taking eyeball fluid upon the eve of death' murdering female. Welcome to "The Theatre Bizarre." (Hitting theaters for Midnight shows in select markets beginning Jan. 27 from W2 Media) Working from a script he originally wrote as a feature film that nobody would touch, Writer/Director Karim Hussain (though he prefers the moniker of cinematographer first!) is the mastermind behind "The Theatre Bizarre" anthology segment Vision Stains, an intense look at a killer gal who seeks to experience other people’s memories by draining their vitreous eye fluid and injecting it into her own socket. Of the six stories that make up "The Theatre Bizarre" (directed by masters like Richard Stanley of "Hardware" fame!), Vision Stains is a stellar standout and raises the stakes for originality and style in horror. We recently chatted with the humble Hussain one-on-one and talked to him about the genesis for Vision Stains, the casting of his five-star leading lady and the possibility of turning his short back into a full-length feature. We proudly present the mind behind the mayhem, Writer/Director (and cinematographer!)...
The story for Vision Stains is so amazingly original – where did the original idea come from?
Karim Hussain: Around my late teens and early twenties I was growing up with a lot of junkies at one time. I was working on a pretty hardcore underground movie at that time period and basically the whole mechanics of it was the fetishization of injection hardware and obsession with trying to escape from reality into something else. Of course, I’m really obsessed with women and eyeballs too – fantastic subjects in the world!
How long did you try to get the feature script made?
KH: The feature script was written around 1999. I sent it off to a few producers and the basic reaction was this thing is petrifying and there’s no way we will remotely even try to get this thing financed. So I put it on ice for a while, moved on, worked on a bunch of other movies and really developed my career as a cinematographer. That’s my main career – I’m primarily a cinematographer. I directed three features before this one and it was cool and everything, but it was really when David Gregory came up to me with the concept of "The Theatre Bizarre" that it was a chance to dust off that old screenplay. Funny thing was originally it was a male character living in South America during the civil war, so he had free reign to lost victims of war to capture their stories. That movie obviously would not have been made under the financial limitations of "The Theatre Bizarre," so I basically adapted it for the times and put a female slant to it.
What was the main resistance from folks when you were pitching it as a feature?
KH: It’s disgusting! (Laughs) The basic thing is people did not see dollars signs with the magic combination of the syringe and the human eye, you know? (Laughs) But I’m a big horror fan and the genre is really my thing.
Your leading lady Kaniehtiio Horn has such a unique look and raw emotional presence – how did you cast her and what was your process with her on set?
KH: Kaniehtiio Horn is a pretty amazing woman. She’s a Mohawk girl and has rebellion sort of naturally integrated in her blood. She’s a well-known name in Canada; she’s been in a few movies like "Leslie, My Name Is Evil" – which is called "Manson, My Name Is Evil" in the US – and "Good Neighbors" that Magnolia put out recently. She was in a movie called "The Wild Hunt" and that was a movie that really impressed me. There’s not a lot of English speaking actors or actresses around the Montreal area – where I sometimes live – that really impress me, where I think these people have guts and I want to work with them. After seeing her I thought she could bring a savagery, an animal instinct to this performance that a lot of actresses that are just worried about looking pretty wouldn't have the guts to do. The process working with her was immersive – she’s a real team player.
The eyeball effects were so piercingly realistic – how did you achieve them?
KH: This is a side note and something of a dying breed – there’s not one frame of CGI in Vision Stains. Absolutely all of the effects were done practically. C.J. Goldman, who’s my regular special makeup artist and has done tons of films with me, actually had to reinvent the ways of filming fake eyes. Normally fake eyeballs are hard, they’re not porous and you can't press them or anything. So they went through a very elaborate process, weeks and weeks of testing different types of silicone eyes that actually could implode and when you put a real needle into them they would close up again for multiple takes and such. It was really impressive on C.J. and his teams’ part – it was all done old school. Everything was three times larger then a normal head would be and we even had syringes that were three times the normal size of a syringe going into them. And no fluid was actually pulled out of them. There’s a series of strings on the back of these oversized silicone eyes that when we wanted the eyes to implode you would just pull on the string and the eye would implode and pop back up when you would let go – very user friendly for multiple takes.
The music is key to the compelling nature of the piece – a cross between the Tangerine Dream score in "Near Dark" mixed with the hard-edged metal music of "The Matrix" – how did you and Simon Boswell, who I’m an uber-fan of, ultimately decide on the style and tone?
KH: I met Simon Boswell through Richard Stanley, who’s an old friend of mine. In addition to directing and shooting Vision Stains, I was also the cinematographer for Douglas Buck’s episode The Accident and Richard Stanley’s The Mother of Toads, so we’re all friends and communicated throughout and I met Simon on the set of The Mother of Toads in France. He showed up and we instantly clicked and had a rapport. Of course for me, I’m a huge Simon Boswell fan of as well, not only has he become a friend but throughout the years of my early 90’s and mid to late 80’s horror fandom Simon Boswell is obviously key. We really discussed going back to going back to some of his earlier work – "StageFright" or "Hardware" era – which Simon was initially nervous to do. But being a fan I wanted to go back and give fans another great Simon Boswell score that was reflective of that era. The hard rock stuff was actually done by a local rock band called Mille Monarques, so they did more of the rock stuff and Simon did more of the traditional let’s say ‘Boswelly’ kind of score.
Now that Vision Stains is getting much notice as a segment to watch, any desire to go back and make the full-length script?
KH: It’s tempting. I certainly know how to do it – I would change it, but still keep some of my original concepts. It’s something I would like to do one day, but it would be a very different film and something that would compliment segment of "The Theatre Bizarre" and not just repeat it. But at this time I’m basically just concentrating on my cinematography career, shooting non-stop. I just came back from shooting two movies in a row and it looks like 2012 won't be any less quiet. I would love to if someone approaches me to do it, but I’m not going to actively go run after it.
Richard Stanley is a very curious and mysterious figure – having also shot his segment The Mother of Toads what kind of a director is he?
KH: Richard is great. People like to put a huge shroud of mystery and enigma around Richard, but he’s basically a director like any of us. He’s very Hitchcockian in his approach – everything is about the prep and doing very precise storyboards. When you end up on set it’s in many ways about execution. I think he’s awesome.
You also shot the very tasty "Hobo with a Shotgun" – how did you become involved in that and what was that like creatively to shoot?
KH: Hobo was amazing! Working with Jason Eisener was a beautiful experience. We have very similar tastes and backgrounds in cinema, so it was like working with family. It was a match made in hell – a beautiful hell of truth! We had a lot of fun. I just finished shooting Jason’s "ABC’s of Death" episode in Halifax and we’re hopefully going to do another film in the fall – we’ll see.
Stay tuned for a final "The Theater Bizarre" review up next!