Kitty is killing Down Under! An Interview With Dave Jackson (Cat Sick Blues).
Over in the UK, those of us who attended last year’s Celluloid Screams Horror Festival in Sheffield may recall a unique and twisted short film titled Cat Sick Blues from all the way in Australia. The concept primarily surrounds an ambiguous and disturbed individual stalking a random couple on their way home from the beach while disguised in a black cat mask. Cat Sick Blues puts the audience on the fence as whether to laugh or squirm at the bizarre events that unfold before our eyes. With being both humorous and dark, Cat Sick Blues is an innovative piece and was always intended to become a feature film. Now with our help this could become a reality. Director Dave Jackson and Producer Matthew C. Vaughan have set up a Kickstarter campaign to bring the killer kitty to the big screen. With big plans for locations, sets, a cast and practical effects, Cat Sick Blues is set to be an ambitious project. Hayley’s Horror Reviews was given the fantastic opportunity to speak with Dave Jackson about his vision for the project, making an existing horror trope into something sinister, the inspirations behind transforming the idea of a sweet and innocent cat into a fiendish feline and what backers can expect from donating to this cutting-edge new horror film.
Hayley’s Horror Reviews: Congratulations on launching your Kickstarter campaign, how has the response been so far in regards to developing Cat Sick Blues from a short to a feature film?
Dave Jackson: Thanks, Hayley! I was pretty terrified about launching this Kickstarter. You tell yourself you’ve got nothing to lose, but you do: your dignity! The Kickstarter is something we’ve — we’ve being myself, Matt Vaughan (producer and Catman) and Andrew Gallacher (co-writer) — been discussing for a long time. It really seemed to be the only option to make the feature version of Cat Sick Blues, but the idea of asking friends, family and strangers for money and promoting ourselves like mad was quite a scary concept to three shy types like ourselves! I had a lot of nightmares leading up to the launch of seeing our project sit at zero dollars for thirty days then remain online for the rest of time!
But the response we’ve had has honestly been amazing. So many friends have come forward and dished out the most incredible amounts of money. It is really humbling. I actually cried a little bit when we had three massive pledges in a row. I’ve never experienced this sort of support for any project I’ve done in the past. Regardless of whether we make our target goal, I’m forever grateful to those who have already backed us.
I think we’re lucky that we’re working on the horror genre too. I think there’s an outdated idea of horror fans being mostly male basement dwellers who want nothing to do with anyone outside of murdering them. This is total bullshit, of course, but I still get this attitude even from close friends. In my experience both as a creator of horror and writer for a horror/exploitation themed site, horror fans are generally warm, interesting, and of both genders! I think that perhaps this stigma has led to the horror genre becoming a really supportive community. We’ve already started to feel this support for Cat Sick Blues, and we really appreciate it.
HHR: Was it always intended to be a feature with the short used simply as a teaser? Or were you inspired from the feedback the short received to develop the story further?
DJ: Andrew and I wrote Cat Sick Blues as a feature. The short that you watched at Celluloid Screams is actually the opening ten minutes of the film. We deliberately wrote the pre-title sequence as a standalone piece, so we could send it out as a short and see what kind of a reaction it garnered. The plan was to integrate it into the feature, but it looks like we’ll be reshooting a different opening — partly because we’re shooting the feature with a different camera, but mostly because there’s a lot of things that I’m not happy about with the short. The feedback we received was pretty fantastic though. Obviously the short is not for everyone, but it was exciting to read positive reviews from folks like yourself and to pick up an award at Freakmacine in Spain.
HHR: Cat Sick Blues is such a bizarre and innovative piece, how did you first come up with the idea?
DJ: It was a weird kind of amalgamation of lots of different things. I think it started when I watched the film Feast of Flesh (the Argentinian film by Emilio Vieyra, not the American film of the same name). It was the secondary feature in Something Weird’s release of Night of the Bloody Apes (a favourite of mine). In some ways,Feast of Flesh was a bad film, but it really got under my skin. The beach setting in the opening, the killer’s mask, the cheap but stark cinematography — I really dug it a lot. That was the spark for Cat Sick Blues I think. It got me wanting to step away from short films and television, and make a feature length horror film with a low budget.
I also really like the idea of turning something silly into something scary. I tried to think of something that was impossible to turn scary. Cats sprung to mind. Every film I’ve seen that tries to make cats scary fails — the scene in Inferno (my favourite Argento film, by the way) where Daria Nicolodi is being pummelled with cats, the hilarious Strays and Night of a Thousand Cats. I love those films, but they definitely do not succeed in making cats scary. Around this time I watched Jean Rollin’sThe Nude Vampire for the first time. It’s not one of Rollin’s best, but there’s a fantastically creepy sequence featuring people wearing these disturbing animal heads. The two separate ideas — cats and mask wearing creeps — came together.
I have a close connection with cats. I’ve always had cats as pets. It still upsets me when I think about my last cat that had to be put down, despite that being a decade ago. Losing a pet is similar to losing a family member in a way, but there’s something different about it. It’s almost like losing a part of yourself because a pet becomes a part of your every day existence. That’s how the idea of Ted formed — what happens when a mentally unstable lunatic loses his beloved pet? Ted loses part of himself. He loses what was left of his humanity. His sanity has been teetering on the edge of madness before the death of his cat, and this feline death becomes his breaking point.
After I formed the basic idea, I wrote a script, but I wasn’t happy with it. It didn’t feel any different from a typical masked killer slasher. So I passed the script along to my good friend Andrew Gallacher, a novelist responsible for the horrifying Snake Jaw, and told him to go nuts. He went really nuts. He put his own spin on the film entirely, basically writing a completely new story that kept the basic theme of grieving for a pet intact. From this point on, we worked together to develop the script into something cohesive and something I’m really excited about.
HHR: Several Horror films disguise their killers in masks, what was it about a cat mask in particular that creates a sense of unease?
DJ: I think the cat mask we’re using reminds me of a similar lack of emotion and empathy of the Michael Myers mask. But I think the “cuteness” of it further adds to the sense of unease. Mixing cutesy elements with the macabre always creeps me out. Chucky from the Child’s Play movies, for example, gave me many a nightmare as a kid. My hope is that when you first see the Catman in action you laugh, but then, after a while, those blank, dead cat eyes start to get under your skin. I love the idea of a horror film being funny and scary at the same time. I don’t mean in a typical over the top horror-comedy kind of way, but something that makes you do a weird kind of laugh-scream the whole way through its running time. That’s how I felt watching Takashi Miike’s Gozu. I’ll never forget how uncomfortable that movie made me.
HHR: The short was incredibly gory and it appears you’re going for the same style with the feature film which is awesome. Have you always had a particular enjoyment for gore films and what will the gore bring to Cat Sick Blues?
DJ: Throughout high school I was obsessed with Lucio Fulci and Euro horror in general. Seeing films like The Beyond blew my mind. I couldn’t believe that films were allowed to be that out of control. My descent into sleaze and horror was a sharp one. I was always on a mission to find the most violent, gory and generally upsetting films in the video store (living in Australia where censorship runs rampant, this was always difficult). I dug my way through countless Troma films, I was enamoured with Jörg Buttgereit’s stuff (with his work, it was more than just the disturbing violent stuff, I think Buttgereit has an incredible visual style), I rented every video in the horror section at least once with anything gore-drenched and 80s getting re-hired several times. The Evil Dead films definitely saw the most replaying. Evil Dead 2 remains one of my favourite films.
These days I’m not quite as enthused by gore. I definitely need more than just gore to hold my attention, though I still get very excited by a good exploding head, a John Woo-esque squibbing, a well executed dismemberment, and a needlessly explosive geyser of blood (I saw Lady Snowblood recently and I’m using the explosions of blood as a reference point for one of the deaths in Cat Sick Blues). The gore in Cat Sick Blues is essentially a gift to the teenage version of myself. Initially, I wrote some scenes that cut away from the violence, then I thought, “Wait! The teenage-me would be furious about that!” There is a lot more gore in the feature compared to the short — throat slits, decapitated heads, exploding cats, and maybe even a dismembered penis. Haha.
HHR: Cat Sick Blues looks set to be a recreation of old school horror with the practical effects your intending to use. Many independent filmmakers choose this method over digital effects, why is it more important to you to create something more organic looking over using modern technology?
DJ: To be blunt, I fucking hate CGI. I grew up watching films where the practical effects were like works of art. I like to know that a creature I’m seeing in a film, no matter how rubbery, exists in a physical form. I think a lot of independent filmmakers around my age, especially those working in horror, have the same opinion. I think there’s a lot of merit to CGI outside of the horror genre and I’m obviously not trying to suggest that CG animators aren’t artists in their own right. But CGI has no business in the horror genre. I mean just compare John Carpenter’s The Thing with that recent prequel they made. The effects in The Thing, the real Thing, are beautiful. They are nauseating, utterly horrifying. The recent prequel managed to go backwards in terms of its effects work with its computer generated effects. It just lost all its heart and soul. I didn’t think it was a terrible movie, but it completely lacks the raw, gooey power of John Carpenter’s original and a lot of that is because of its lack of “real” effects.
HHR: There has been some amazing fan-made art work created for the film that echoes back to the days of VHS covers; do you think these help to promote what Cat Sick Blues is all about?
DJ: I hope so. We’re lucky to have a lot of friends who work as artists or designers, and these friends share my taste in movie posters. I love poster art, but I think, like practical effects, it’s becoming a lost art form with most modern posters being a bit slick and soulless. There’s a few great artists kicking around at the moment that make great posters — The Dude Designs and Jason Edmiston are amazing. I love their work.
Matthew Revert, who is both the music composer of Cat Sick Blues and the designer of a lot of the imagery on our Facebook page and Kickstarter project (he’s also a dear friend), has a style that I think reflects an old school look and also takes its influence from older Eastern European film posters. I think this nicely matches the style of the film and what we’re all about. This is a film with an old school touch but there’s a weirdness lurking beneath it all that I hope will give it a unique identity.
HHR: What is it about Ted’s story that will be compelling to viewers?
DJ: I’d imagine most people watching the film will have experienced the heartbreaking loss of a pet at some point in their life. Ted is the monster of the film, I suppose, but I struggle to see him purely as a villain. He’s a maniac, of course, but I’ve grown very attached to him while writing this script. I feel quite sorry for him. Andrew’s reworking of the script turned Ted from a one-note antagonist to a real person — at least that’s how I see it. I hope the emotional attachment I feel will be shared by our audience.
HHR: You already have a dedicated team on board and the role of Ted is being reprised by producer Matthew C. Vaughan, but who would be your dream cast for Cat Sick Blues?
DJ: Haha! Just yesterday Matt and I were joking about having Chris Hemsworth — or just any of the lesser Hemsworth brothers — as Ted the Catman. That would be so fantastically surreal and stupid to have a big muscled hunk as a murdering loon. Really though, the role was written with Matt in mind, so it’s difficult to picture anyone else in the role.
I think if the Catman was re-written as a Catlady, Tilda Swinton would make for an amazing feline-loving maniac. I saw her recently in Snowpiercer and thought she was incredible. I could also see Jeffrey Combs as an older Ted. I love Combs. If I could have any actor in something I was making, it would most definitely be him. I’d probably fill the rest of the cast out with my other favourite performers — Kathy Bates, Kenichi Endo, Karen Black (if she was still alive). Seems I like actors with first names beginning with “K”?
HHR: Tell us a little bit about what’s on offer for the backers that support bringing Cat Sick Blues- the feature to life?
DJ: We thought long and hard about what to offer backers. We looked back on crowdfunding projects we’ve supported and what made them work. I think the main thing we wanted to offer was the film itself. It’s important to us that everyone who backs over $15 gets a copy of the film — whether that be a digital download or DVD depending on the amount of the pledge. As mentioned earlier, we’ve been lucky enough to have several talented artists attached to Cat Sick Blues, helping us out with posters and original artwork. Backers can get their hands on four different posters, or a “ultimate pack” with all of them.
They can also get original painted artwork (although only one painting is left now). They can get hand-crafted props from the film (that includes fake dead cats and the Catman’s gloves — both crafted by the wonderful Deiter Barry Creations), a download of the score, t-shirts, a very limited VHS, and they can even get killed by the Catman on film. There’s also other fun and weird stuff like a photo shoot with the Catman. At the top end of the backer rewards is a chance to be credited as an associate or executive producer of the film.
HHR: Finally, once the film is in post-production, what’s the plan?
DJ: Post-production is probably my favourite part of the filmmaking process. I love the total madness of shooting a film — not sleeping, working yourself to near death (really I do) — but I find editing to be such a euphoric and intimate experience. There’s nothing better than being able to see everything come together, even if it comes together in an entirely different way than planned, and even if you can see your plunders. So yes, I’m really looking forward to post-production even though it’s some months away.