David Chaudoir is an award-winning director who has worked on music videos for bands like Starsailor and Athlete, as well as commercials for shows like The Walking Dead. His latest short film is Bad Acid, which tells the story of a washed-up magician who acquires a magic lamp with a sinister backstory. Chaudoir told us that his short was very much inspired by 1970s horror.
Splats of Blood: You’ve mentioned Bad Acid was inspired by films of the 1970s. Were there any specific movies from that era that particularly inspired you?
David Chaudoir: Certainly there were. There was a film called From Beyond the Grave, which is a Peter Cushing film produced by Amicus. In the UK in the 1970s, there was a boom in horror, and every Friday night for a couple of months in the summer there was this double bill on BBC2. They’d have a Universal film, and then they’d have a more contemporary film from the late ‘60s or early ‘70s. And there were some films made in the 1970s like Theater of Blood and From Beyond the Grave, and more specifically it was the portmanteau films where they present four or five stories. From Beyond the Grave managed to combine dark humor with cautionary tales. And also on British TV we had Tales of the Unexpected presented by Roald Dahl…there was a lot of horror on TV, and a lot of twisted tales, so it was that [that inspired Bad Acid.]
The thing about these British films…they always had a bit of humor to them. Although I love horror, and I do love horror that takes itself seriously, I love a bit of horror that has a twinkle in its eye and sees the ludicrousness in the situation.
Splats of Blood: Speaking of that, a lot of horror-comedy struggles to get the balance right and can go too far in one direction. How do you make a film that both has the audience laughing but also is able to scare them, without those two canceling each other out?
David Chaudoir: There are some brilliant examples in the last couple of years, like Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. I think because that film takes the horror element seriously and everybody’s playing it straight, then any jokes that you put it, whether they’re completely black like the kid running and jumping into the wood chipper…it’s not played for laughs, but you laugh anyway because it’s so shocking. I think it’s in Evil Dead II, there’s a moment when somebody’s eyeball pops out, [Bobby Joe] is screaming, and the eyeball goes in her mouth…if she were playing that with a smile in her face, the moment wouldn’t have worked. Horror is like a pressure cooker. Even in conventional horror, which doesn’t go for laughs, very often the audience laughs at the end of it because they’re kind of reassuring themselves that everything’s okay. They’re laughing as a relief. I think if you can put in the release valve of humor, then you can get the balance right. If you play it like Scary Movie or something like that, it just becomes inane.
Splats of Blood: One thing I like about your film is that it gives the audience glimpses of the monster while also keeping things vague. What’s it like to find that balance between showing too much and not showing enough?
David Chaudoir: Part of it comes down to pure budget. When I conceived of the idea, I had no idea of what to do, whether to make somebody up, have somebody in a prosthetic…and it soon became apparent that I couldn’t afford to do that properly. I think with the supernatural stuff, just giving little glimpses and hints…with the payoff at the end, I haven’t given away what’s happening, so I hope the audience comes out thinking, “well, what really happened to him at the end?” I personally wanted to go for suggesting things. With some of the best supernatural films…it’s a law of diminishing returns. The more you show a monster, the less powerful it becomes. It’s a little bit like Ridley Scott said about Alien: you really want to see as little as possible to suggest that there’s this creature.
My thing is to show as little as possible and to keep it hidden. Somebody else I read had said that they hardly showed anything of a monster, and the audience came out with all sorts of different ideas about what they’d seen. Obviously, sometimes you’ve got to show the monster, like The Thing, but that’s a rare film because the monster is constantly changing. Or you have a monster that has a different motivation or a different role to play, whether it’s just bumping people off, killing loads of teenagers at a lake or something like that. But my personal thing, and certainly in this film, is to show little glimpses, and it’s never fully established whether it’s just in the hypnotist’s mind and whether it’s just his trip. There’s a lot of power, especially in the supernatural, of just suggesting stuff and not giving it away.
Splats of Blood: You’ve written both feature-length films and short films. Do you find one to be more difficult than the other? Is it more difficult to write a short film since you have to be more concise?
David Chaudoir: Writing anything is a slog. Anybody who writes will tell you it’s a slog, whatever you’re writing. Yes, you have got the opportunity to explore more in a feature film, but anybody who writes will tell you it’s a bloody slog doing either [laughs]. When I watch back Bad Acid, I wonder whether I crowded too much information in it, but somebody else who watched it said they could see all sorts of little connections if [I] ever wanted to make it into a feature. I did try to put a lot into Bad Acid. I kind of wanted to crowd in a lot, I suppose, and I don’t know whether I’ve been successful, but I wanted you to have some sort of sympathy with the idiot [laughs] and I wanted to show his relationship and see the world that he lives in as well. But the short answer is all writing is hard.
Splats of Blood: Were there any elements of the film that really changed from how you originally conceived them?
David Chaudoir: One thing straight away was that the first script I submitted to my producer, she said rewrite it. She thought a couple of elements in it were unnecessary. Secondly, there’s this whole saying that 90% of directing is casting. When I originally wrote Marvin, it was for an older actor, someone in their 50s. But when I met with Tristan [Beint], I was so impressed with him that I thought, “I’ve got to change my script and make him slightly younger.”
When you’re on a low budget, you’ve got very little control in terms of what’s available to you location-wise, and nothing in my head when I wrote the script is how [it looks in the movie], but you’ve got to be flexible when you’re making a short film. When you go location hunting, your vision changes, and so you’ve got to be flexible and your idea has to be malleable. The character in my head was very different, the locations obviously were different, and then the monster…I had a few vague ideas…and then the actual scene in which Marvin is in his dream with the girl, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do with that. I had the entity appearing behind him, and then in the edit suite we discussed the idea of having the entity being him, so that changed massively. And I think that was very beneficial, because when the magician is being interviewed by the policeman, now he’s become the prime suspect in this girl’s death, so just that simple thing of where the genie appeared changed the story again.
They say that a film changes three times: in the writing, the shooting and the editing, and that’s very true of the editing. There were certain things the editor, Tom [Walker], suggested that I hadn’t thought of, and they worked spectacularly well, like when the girl is screaming on stage. I always had the magician outside smoking, but [Tom] found the smoke tied up with the girl’s breath, so that transition was purely created in the editing. It wasn’t planned. And the time that it changed again was with sound, because especially in a horror film sound is so key in creating atmosphere.
Splats of Blood: What was your experience like raising money on Indiegogo? Do you think crowdfunding platforms have fundamentally changed the filmmaking process?
David Chaudoir: I personally think that there’s a lot wrong with crowdfunding because it sets people’s expectations up that you can put a project on there and suddenly the money will appear. It doesn’t. I approached loads of small businesses beforehand, one of which is a tech company who produce hardware for films. Initially they agreed to put up 50%, but they dropped out. I approached an ad agency, and they dropped out. Eventually my father stepped in with a quarter of the budget, and then I raised the rest through Indiegogo and my own contributions. I think actual, spontaneous contributions through the site, i.e. people who weren’t my friends who hadn’t met before, probably accounted for about 1%.
Also, I think Indidiegogo in particular is only interested in tech. Whenever I get mail from them, that’s all I get…I don’t get any sort of art projects. I probably wouldn’t go through them if I were to do this again, and I probably wouldn’t go crowdfunding again as well. I’ve seen a lot of people fail on it. I see a lot of people do well, but again, I don’t really know where the money is coming from, whether it really is spontaneous. If Tom Savini went on Indiegogo and said he’s making a horror film, he’d get it funded straight away, but for the little guys like me, one, you give away a lot of money to the site, and two, they don’t really promote you.
In the end, I did a lot of work for people who then paid me through the site, and I also badgered all my friends who probably won’t talk to me again [laughs]. I did have one amazing donation from a guy in Canada…I better readjust the 1%. It was maybe 1.5% that came through spontaneously. And then a couple of people through Twitter, but we’re talking $8 here and $8 here.
I would suggest to anybody who’s making a film, possibly go down the Sam Raimi route. To fund The Evil Dead, he went to a load of dentists, basically. They’re the ones with the money [laughs]. I would, personally, if you’re going to embark on this, find small businesses or wealthy individuals who like horror.
Splats of Blood: What got you interested in horror from a young age?
I’m not sure what attracted me to horror, because initially horror really did scare me. I think the first film that scared the pants off me was From Beyond the Grave. I saw that as a 13-year-old on one of those Friday night things, as I was telling you about, and it absolutely did it for me. One of the short stories is about a chap who buys a mirror and there’s a ghost behind it, and that completely freaked me out. I think I also saw Rabid by David Cronenberg, which I found incredibly disturbing. But I didn’t ever really like the films that were incredibly bleak…I found this whole idea that it was the end of everything to be too real. What I liked about some of the horror that I watched was that it was real, but because of some of the laughs, there was just a slight distance from reality. With The Evil Dead, I saw that on VHS at a friend’s house when I was 14, and it scared me, but I also laughed. It goes back to what I said about a release, I suppose.
I think that there is an element of childishness in horror. A lot of horror websites and horror conventions trade on nostalgia, like Freddy and Jason or whatever it is, and those are the things that first terrified you as a child. It’s funny that these boogeymen now are almost like heroes, and I think it’s that as a child, you’re kind of attracted to it.
Splats of Blood: What do you particularly find scary, and what kind of scares just don’t do it for you?
David Chaudoir: I hadn’t watched horror in quite a bit, and I came back very late at night and put on Channel 4 and started watching a Japanese film that I knew nothing about, and it was The Ring. That absolutely, utterly terrified me. I hadn’t read anything about it, I didn’t know what it was about, and it scared the pants off of me to the point that I had nightmares every single night for two weeks [laughs]. I also went to see The Texas Chainsaw Massacre…there was a cinema which had a special license to show films that didn’t have a certificate. At that time, Texas Chainsaw Massacre had not gotten a certificate from the BBFC. I went to see it, and I had what could only be described as a physical reaction to it. My hands were like claws gripping the seat in front, and I was sweating through the whole thing [laughs]. I think it was the sound and just utter relentlessness of it.
What doesn’t do it for me is torture. I just think the world is a bleak enough place and there’s enough torture going on…people talk about A Serbian Film, and I don’t want to watch that. I don’t want to have that imagery stuck in my head for the rest of my life. To my mind, there’s a slight infantilism in horror, which is about telling ghost stories around a fire and trying to scare each other, and there’s a slightly magical element to that.
Splats of Blood: Do you feel like horror in general relies so much on nostalgia because everything is much scarier when you’re a kid, and so we as adults are constantly trying to recapture that feeling we had decades ago?
David Chaudoir: I think so. Watching horror films is sort of like eating spicy food. [After a while] you sort of get inured to the spice. I think there is a danger in a horror market that relies too much on that nostalgia and getting money off of people, and also these remakes which seem totally unnecessary. Why would anyone want to see The Texas Chainsaw Massacre  when the original was perfect? You see it in certain films, where somebody’s brought out a horror film and the antihero has got a mask, whether they’re trying to do a Carpenter or another Jason Voorhees, they’re trying to invent a new character. And I think that the best horror messes with tradition.
Splats of Blood: What’s your next project?
David Chaudoir: When I was making Bad Acid, Madeleine Bowyer, who plays the manager of the magician…I had a story in my head that I knew I wanted to write…it was about satanism in the suburbs, and normal-seeming people but where something odd is going on behind closed doors. I didn’t want to write it as a proper script…it would have cost me £30,000 or something to make, but when I met Madeleine I wondered if I could do it as a monologue. She was so brilliant and so inspiring that I said to her at the end of the film, “I’m going to write something specifically for you.” You know what I said about writing being a slog? I turned out I think seven pages in two or three days or something like that, and I gave it to her and she said “Yeah, I’ll do it.” It’s just a monologue, just her to camera…it’s one person’s testimony, and I won’t say any more, but that I shot for peanuts but it looks great and has a fantastic twist in the tale. I’m going to try to get that into festivals along with Bad Acid. I want to continue writing films and writing horror films from a British perspective, unless some American gives me shit loads of money [laughs].
I’ve started writing an anthology called Horror Cells, which is a portmanteau-style horror, four different testimonies from people who’ve been locked into a police station that’s closing down…I’ve got all the different stories outlined. If somebody likes Bad Acid and says “David we’d like to make a feature with you,” I can say, “A-ha!” [Laughs]