Watching this wonderfully brutal, head hacking-ly hilarious little film and reviewing it simply wasn’t enough. Per-Ingvar is such an interesting and all around entertaining fellow that I couldn’t resist the need to sit down to an extensive interview with him. Here’s what he had to say:
I figure I’ll get the most uncomfortable question out of the way first. You’re the first filmmaker we’ve ever interviewed who is in a wheelchair, can you tell us how you came to be in your present condition and has it made film making difficult?
I was born with brittle bone disease (Osteogenesis Imperfecta), the same thing Samuel L. Jackson’s character Elijah Price has in “Unbreakable”. This means my bones break very easy, so while in elementary school I got stuck in a wheelchair. After a lot of hard work and intense training, I’ve been able to walk a few times since then. But I always ended up breaking something, and having to start all over again… So I figured “fuck it”, I can rather spend my time doing stuff that’s more important to me. I don’t know if my condition has made filmmaking that more difficult per se, but of course there is stuff I can’t do because of my limitations. My dream is to be a director anyway, and just order others to do stuff for me… and I can certainly do that. Although I haven’t found filmmaking more difficult because of my disability, it certainly have had some unusual consequences. Like Samuel L. Jackson in “Unbreakable, I won’t let my handicap prevent me from doing some really fucked up shit. And the combination stunt work and brittle bone disease probably isn’t the smartest… but then again neither am I. So during the shooting of “Christmas Cruelty!” i sustained several broken fingers, toes and small bones. I broke two ribs while fighting Santa Claus. I broke my jaw while recording Foley, I wanted the sound of a bone crunching punch to the face… and that is just what I got. The sound was actually used in the final movie. And finally I fractured my scull while we were filming a scene were I hit my head into a table, we took several more takes of this even after I cracked my scull so I ended up with a concussion and permanent brain damage… But in my case I guess a little more brain damages really doesn’t matter. The thing that bothers me the most about that, is that I have a much harder time remembering the names of actor, filmmakers and stuff like that… And also communicating, so answering questions like this in a foreign language is a bit more difficult.
What made you want to be a filmmaker?
I’ve always loved movies, but the decision to become a filmmaker was made the summer of ’95. The story starts june 19th when my cousin (Thomas Utgård – who also plays in “Christmas Cruelty!”) and I were going to the movies to watch “Dumb and Dumber”. On our way to the cinema I managed to crash my wheelchair, taking a nose dive to the pavement. I crushed and dislocated my left shoulder, splintered my upper leg and showing the bone through my thigh muscle. This meant I were going to spend most of the summer at the hospital, and my grandmother gave me a VHS as gift to pass the time while chained to that hospital bed. This was Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece, “Reservoir Dogs”, and this film changed my life… I decided right then and there that I wanted to become filmmaker, and I’ve pursued that dream ever since. “Reservoir Dogs” is still my favorite film of all time. That summer I watched it up to eight times a day… while high on painkillers. By the time I was released from the hospital I had already worn out my first copy of the film, and had to buy a new VHS. In stead of going to some kind of film school, I’ve constructed some kind of self made film education largely based on the wisdom of Tarantino. He said that you will learn more from making movies, then you ever will in a traditional film class… so that is what I’m doing. I’ve made some short films and a micro budget feature length movie earlier. I also tried to make a very personal film, but I realized that I didn’t have the skills, talent or money to do this film justice yet. So I decided to make kind of a trilogy, were I would challenge myself to the limit and hopefully get a real understanding of the process of making movies and become a more capable filmmaker. “Christmas Cruelty!” is the first installment in this series, and the next two will not be sequels but they will all be linked in some strange way.
What made you decide to go for making a Christmas Slasher movie?
I grew up on horror movies, and they have a very special place in my heart. I’ve also always had a fondness for Christmas movies… from “Christmas Vacation” to “Gremlins” and “Die Hard”. And Christmas slashers are one of my favorite sub genres. I just love films like Lewis Jacksons surreal gem “Christmas Evil” or “You Better Watch Out” (the title Jackson preferred) and Monte Hellman’s brilliant satire “Silent Night, Deadly Night III: Better Watch Out!”… I simply can’t comprehend why there aren’t more people who like this film, because I think it’s fucking awesome! Your favorite of this franchise, “Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker” is also one of my favourites.
I wanted to start with a slasher film, because I felt pretty confident that I could make a decent contribution to this genre. I’ve been watching them all my life, these stories comes natural from my sick and twisted mind. All the Christmas stuff gives kind of a nice dimension to the film, and I also thought it work beautifully with my underlying theme of the movie. Probably inspired by George Romero, I wanted to have a real message inside my simple slasher movie. My underlying theme is a reckoning with the government. I felt a guy dressed up like Santa, trying to maintain the illusion that he’s bringing nice gifts and joy while actually bringing pain, horror and death would be the perfect metaphor for the government. In our movie the killer works for the welfare services (which I felt was a nice ironic touch), and that’s how he can find all this personal information about his victims… It’s actually kind of a scary thought when you start to think about it, because I believe quite a few people take these jobs because they like to bully people. And I am sure many of them are psychopaths. The main reason I felt our government would be a perfect villain in my movie, is that most of my personal experiences fitting a slasher have been encounters with government employees… most of them by doctors.
When I was like three or four years old they used the wrong knife doing an experiment on me, so I almost bled to death. One doctor broke my leg pretty much the same way the killer does in the movie, without any painkillers or anything… his argument was that this was so painful that painkillers wouldn’t have made any difference. The scene with the chainsaw to my leg is based on an operation, were they completely miscalculated the amount of anesthesia needed so I woke up in the middle of the procedure… Staring straight at a bastard sawing through my leg bone (he used an electrical saw and not a chainsaw, but I figured I could take some creative licenses). They had a tube down my throat, so I wasn’t able to scream or anything. The little sound I was able to make, was washed out by the sound of the saw working it’s way through my bone. It felt like forever until someone finally noticed that I was awake, excruciating pain of course makes time go really slow. The next time they opened me up, they did the complete opposite and gave me way to much anaesthesia… Actually so much that I stopped breathing, so they kind of killed me. I have tons of experiences like that, and since they both tortured and “killed” me – that kind of messed me up as a kid. You could say that “Christmas Cruelty!” is some sort of twisted therapy, getting a lot of stuff of my chest.
There’s quite a few cool little stories around the production of Christmas Cruelty, can you share some of them with us?
One of my favorite stories from the production was when our stuntman, Jan Rune Ødegård and I was at hardware store looking at power tools and other instruments of pain and death. We were having a discussion like: “Do you think this saw can handle the amount of blood it will get?” “Is this blade big enough to cut through the bones?” Then I say: “Remember, it’s just a small baby we’re cutting up…” At that moment I turn around and stare straight into the eyes of a young father, with a small baby in his arms. You could se the extreme terror in his face, and before we got a chance to explain the situation he just ran off. The timing and his expression was just priceless, and one of the things that we unfortunately didn’t catch on film…
The serial Santa in the film has a very distinct creepy appearance, can you tell us about the design and materials used to accomplish the mask and outfit?
The design is mainly inspired by the mask of Michael Myers and Martin Scorsese. And because Santa is Satan in our movie, I also put a bit of Robert De Niro’s look from “Angel Heart” in there. In my opinion that is the best portrayal of the Devil ever put on celluloid, and his appearance was also inspired by Martin Scorsese… So at least in my head these elements fitted perfectly together. I’m a huge Martin Scorsese fan, and the visual style of especially “Mean Streets” and “Taxi Driver”, was the style we were going for in “Christmas Cruelty!”
You pretty much play yourself in the film, why did you choose to do it this way and what are some differences between the real Per-ingvar and the character?
I wanted “Christmas Cruelty!” to be a very personal film, so to me it seemed right to just play a version of myself. And since we were trying to blur the lines between film and reality, it made sense that we all kept our names in the film. We wanted our group of misfit friends to have very distinct personalities, and I was suppose to be the pathetic loser, with low self esteem but essentially a very nice guy. I guess the “nice guy” part is the biggest difference from “real” me. And I was actually surprised to find out that I was a more pathetic loser in real life, than my character in the movie. He has two friends that hang out with him all the time, and one of them is even a beautiful girl. We also had to upgrade my apartment and wardrobe, because my real stuff didn’t even work for a complete loser on film… it just looked like bad filmmaking. Luckily when my character died I got to inherit all of his things, so I now have a much nicer wardrobe… and something like 19 pairs of Tiger Asics shoes in different colors, so I should be set for life. The low self esteem was also something I had to work quite a bit on. I had been depressed and suicidal most of my childhood, but when I was about 15 years old I had figured a way to block that stuff out. And in the name of method acting I decided to open these wounds back up, and it worked like gangbusters. My self esteem plummeted, I got really depressed and suicidal again, and I really felt like my character. The problem was when the movie was finished, I realised I had opened Pandora’s box and that I wasn’t able to switch these things off. I’ve adopted a lot of the characteristics I display in the movie, and still struggle with some depression. Although the urge to kill myself, gets less and less frequent.
You have some very impressive effects in the film and managed to achieve them on an amazingly modest budget. Considering how expensive things are in Norway how were you able to accomplish this?
Thanks… Well the effects was a huge chunk of our budget. We spent quite a bit of money on two-component silicone, alginate, plaster, fiberglass, plasticine and “Kensington Gore” blood, but we did make all the effects ourselves so we didn’t have to pay for all the man hours… And there sure was a lot of them, several thousand hours were spent mixing silicone, making molds and stuff like that. We also got a lot of help and good advice from Steinar Kaarstein (who made the effects for the “Dead Snow” films and many others), his support was invaluable. We would never have been able to figure out how to do this stuff without his help.
Will we see more Holiday themed horror films in the future? Perhaps The Yule Log massacre or The Whit Sunday Slaughter?
You might… I just wish that I get the chance to keep on making movies. At the moment I’m working on a dark comedy, but I would love to come back to the horror genre. How much do you want in royalties if I decide to use one of these titles?
Foreign language films can be a difficult sale here in the states have you considered an English dub version of the movie?
This movie is a difficult sell in Norway as well, so I don’t know. I really don’t like dubbed movies, although it might be hilarious to hear myself speak Belgian or North Korean. But if Hollywood wants to remake “Christmas Cruelty!” I’m all for it, and would like to suggest Brad Pitt in my part…
You have some great music featured in the film, how did you hook up with the bands and decide which songs to use?
A lot of the music is made by my co-director, Magne Steinsvoll. I would just tell him; I want something “Lynyrd Skynyrd” sounding for this song… or; can you make something like the music from “Cannibal Holocaust”?… or; please make a John Carpenter style melody, and a few days later he would come back with a perfect piece of music. He is a real genius at stuff like that, and he also came up with lots of great stuff without any suggestions from me. He also has a lot of friends and contacts that are great musicians, and most of our music comes from them.
What are your favorite films and how have the influenced your work?
Like I mentioned earlier my favorite film is “Reservoir Dogs”, and I just love everything Tarantino has ever made. I don’t think I would be making movies if it weren’t for Tarantino, and I sure have stolen a lot from him. Both from his movies and his philosophies on filmmaking. Tarantino has given me an understanding and appreciation of cinema, that has completely shaped me as a filmmaker and a person.
Are there posters, shirts or any other promotional items available from the film and if so will shirts be available in 5x for us fat tall guys?
We do still have some posters (with typos and everything, so these might be very valuable some day) and maybe some pens. We’re all out of hats, mugs and T-shirts… And the only company we could afford to make our T-shirts didn’t have an option lager than XL… Sorry…
There’s alot of great actors and characters showcased in your film how did you meet all of them and what made you focus so much on character development when so many other directors of slasher films skip this aspect and focus purely on gooey kills?
It’s much easier to care about the film if you actually care about the characters, and it also makes the horrific things that happens to them all the more gruesome. I love movies were you get to hang out with the characters, and really get to know them. To me that is usually much more engaging, than a film being driven forward by some plot. I also wanted to challenge myself as much as possible, and try to make a slasher movie were you don’t really need the slasher stuff. I wanted it to make a real impact without using the cliches of scary movies, we didn’t want to use jump scares, scary filming, scary editing, scary music or anything like that. Developing believable and interesting characters is some of the hardest thing to pull of in a film, but definitely something a filmmaker should have in his arsenal.
Almost immediately after Magne and I decided to make this film, I received an E-mail from Tormod Lien (who plays the killer) asking if we needed an actor… I have no idea how the hell he had found out that we wanted to make a movie. We had a meeting, and he told us that he wanted to play an evil character to get away from the goodhearted, nimwit characters he had been playing lately… And he sure got what he wished for in our movie. Tormod than recommended Raymond Talberg (who plays “boyband shrimp”). Raymond recommended our leading lady Eline Aasheim, and we were pretty much good to go. These great actors just sort of fell in our lap, and we never had to have a single audition. We tried to taylor our screenplay to the actors we had, and they all did a phenomenal job i the film. I’m also really blown away by how dedicated and brave they all were, these aren’t easy roles in any way, shape or form…
You’re working on a new project now, can you tell us about it?
Sure… It’s the second instalment in my “Film School Trilogy”, and this time we are making a pitch black comedy. It’s about two desperate filmmakers (who have made a film called “Christmas Cruelty!”) who decide to kidnap the Norwegian minister of culture in order to finance their next film (a ghost film called “Angst”). It’s a very sick and twisted story about cultural politics, terrorism and filmmaking. The main characters will be played by Raymond Volle and myself… and we will be playing ourselves. A couple of the other actors from “Christmas Cruelty!” will also pop up in this movie?
Will there be A Christmas Cruelty sequel or continuation or was this a one time deal?
I actually spoke with a guy who had some good ideas for a sequel last week. He seemed eager to make “Christmas Cruelty!” into a franchise, so we’ll just have to wait and see. I feel I have told the story I wanted to tell with “Christmas Cruelty!” and don’t really have anymore ideas for that storyline, but maybe I will some day… and I can make “Christmas Cruelty! IV: The beginning of the Final Chapter” or something.
What was the most challenging aspect of making Christmas Cruelty?
Probably the lack of money, time and sleep…
How do you feel about the state of Horror today with all the remakes and pre-teen re-imaginings of classic monsters with films like twilight and Warm Bodies?
I certainly don’t feel that American horror cinema is at it’s peak at moment. I much prefer the classics from the 70’s and 80’s, but once in a while we still get a nice horror movie from the states… and once in a blue moon even a remake will work, but no doubt most of them suck big time. I haven’t bothered to see “Warm Bodies” or “Twilight” (even though we actually have a reference to it in “Christmas Cruelty!”), so I can’t really comment on them. And there are many films above them on my “Have to watch”-list, so I don’t know if I ever will get around to them either. In my opinion Australia has several of the best contributions to the genre in recent times, and I’m also very pleased with some of the horror films Norway have produced lately, both underground and mainstream movies…
Who are some filmmakers who you admire and why?
Obviously Quentin Jerome Tarantino is planted firmly on the top of my list. I think he’s just a brilliant filmmaker in every single aspect. Watching one of his films is the very best escape from my life, and I can watch every single one of them over.. and over… and over… and over again. Most of the stuff I know about filmmaking, I’ve learned from him. Our new movie is very much inspired by Edgar Wright’s Cornetto trilogy, he’s another filmmaker that both Raymond Volle and I admire a lot. Then there is David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Bobcat Goldthwait, Rolf de Heer, David Cronenberg, John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Michael Mann, Brian De Palma, Stanley Kubrick, Samuel Fuller, Sergio Leone, Monte Hellman, Lewis Jackson, Don Coscarelli, Mark Lambert Bristol, Tobe Hooper, Ben Wheatley, Richard Franklin, Brian Trenchard-Smith, Arild Fröhlich, Magnus Martens, Arild Østin Ommundsen and Anders Thomas Jensen, because they are awesome filmmakers and make great movies. But since this is “B-is For Best” I would also like to mention some Norwegian hardcore underground filmmakers like Kenny Wang, Reinert Kiil and Lars-Erik Lie, who keep on making bad-ass movies without any kind of support from the industry.
Alot of blood and other gooey bodily pieces were tossed about while making some of the more prolific scenes in Christmas Cruelty, how long did it take to clean all that up?
I’ll get back to you with that when it actually has been cleaned up… My apartment is still covered with blood, there is brain matter on my kitchen ceiling, there is a dead body in my bedroom and there are body parts everywhere… I’m actually not kidding…
How long was the shooting schedule for Christmas Cruelty?
We started filming a few takes on July 25th 2010. Principal photography started August 1st 2010, and wrapped August 31st 2013. So it was a long and hard shoot…
Is there anything you’d like to say to those who dream of being filmmakers? Any advice you’d like to bestow?
The smart thing is probably to pursue something else, but we definitely need more good filmmakers… Especially now that there is less and less money in filmmaking, we need people who are willing to work 18 hours a day, without pay, risking their health, sanity and everything else in order to make good movies. The qualities I found most useful in filmmaking is stubbornness, dedication and passion… But asking advice from me is really… stupid, and probably borderline dangerous.