Ever since Neil Marshall burst onto the scene with Dog Soldiers in 2002, horror fans have been earmarking him as a top-notch director to watch. It's taken him three years, but now he's finally back, ready to scare the living daylights out of us again with his new film The Descent which opens on Friday 8th July.
Directed by Marshall from his own script, The Descent tells the story of an all female caving expedition that goes terrifyingly wrong in a cave system deep in the Appalachian Mountains. When an unexpected rock fall blocks the exit, the six girls soon find themselves hunted by a race of fearless, hungry predators, once humanoid but now monstrously adapted to live in the dark…
We were lucky enough to see this film last week, and can honestly say, hand on 'beating-very-quickly' heart, that The Descent is one of the best British horror films of recent years (read our review of The Descent here). So, when offered, we jumped at the chance to grab a few words with the UK's fastest-rising director, covering all aspects of The Descent's production with him, from early location scouting to the need for boatloads of Marks & Spencer's G-Strings...
To view the video clips you will need the latest version of Quicktime, then simply click on any one of the links below to see that section of the interview, or watch The Full Neil Marshall Interview - 8m 28s - (10.7mb). For those of you without Quicktime, there is a full transcription of the interview below.
The Descent stars Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder, Nora-Jane Noone and MyAnna Buring and was filmed on location in Scotland and at Pinewood Studios. The film is released in cinemas on July 8th 2005.
EMB: The turnaround on The Descent has been fairly rapid…
NM: Oh, the turnaround has been absolutely insane. We haven’t had to rush anything; all we’ve done is overlap things that normally would be a long way away, which is the finish of post-production, and the publicity and release of the film. With Dog Soldiers they were like a year apart, with The Descent, they’re overlapping. So, we only actually finished the film two weeks ago (mid-June), but that was according to our schedule anyway. It was Pathe’s idea that we should try and get it out in cinemas before The Cave, just to try and beat them to the punch, piss on their chips a bit, which I thought was a really good idea.
But yeah, we started filming in December, wrapped in mid-February, and we’ve been editing, dubbing and scoring ever since, and finally got it all sorted out a week ago Friday (22nd June). And we release it next Friday (8th June). It’s absolutely insane.
EMB: Where was The Descent filmed?
NM: Very early on we thought we’ll have to look for caves, we’ll have to look for a cave entrance. But we didn’t find anything, and we knew we were limited to where we were able to film, so at the end of the day, we just threw all that out of the window and realised it was going to be completely impractical to actually film in real caves. And we couldn’t find anything that would fit the bill for the cave entrance. So, we’ve utilised effects, and there’s no real cave in the entire film. There’s CGI, there’s miniatures and all of the actual cave interiors were at Pinewood. It’s down to Simon Bowles, the production designer, who has just done a fantastic job of trying to make it look real, and he’s succeeded.
EMB: Did you enjoy finally filming in Scotland?
NM: Yes, filming Scotland as Scotland! Well, for Dog Soldiers we managed to do a couple of days aerial photography, just to get the mountains in, just to sell the illusion a bit more. And although we filmed partly in Scotland, doubling up for the Appalachian Mountains in America, the white water rafting sequence is supposed to be in Scotland, so that was quite unique for me, filming Scotland as Scotland. But it was a pleasure; the only trouble filming in Scotland was that we had six-hour days, because it was December, and you know, it gets dark after six hours. It was nuts.
EMB: What was it like casting and filming with an all-female cast?
NM: It was a long process, in certain cases. I mean, in the case of Nora-Jane Noone, she was the only person we saw for that part, and we just said ‘She’s the one’. Other parts were, er, harder to find. But people like Shauna Macdonald and Natalie Mendoza, they came in with such enthusiasm for the project, and they fought hard. We had call-backs and call-backs, and they just kept on fighting hard to get these parts, and they’ve absolutely deserved them, they’ve done a fantastic job of them.
It was very hard work for them, far more physical than anything the Dogs guys had to go through. You know, lying in cold rivers all day, and in Shauna’s case, being in a vat of blood all day, covered head-to-toe and fighting with a Crawler in this vat of blood as well. But they were as tough as nails, and they were so dedicated, that they never complained, they just got on with the job, and did a fantastic job.
EMB: Were you happy with the way the Crawlers have turned out on screen?
NM: Oh, I’m incredibly chuffed. And the thing is, when I was watching them in action, basically a bunch of Geordie guys, covered in KY and body paint and prosthetics and stuff like that, false teeth and contact lenses. When they were acting away there, I just thought Pete Jackson could have saved himself a fortune on all that CGI stuff on Gollum. He should have just got himself a couple of Geordies (laughs).
EMB: Didn’t you create the original designs for the Crawlers?
NM: I did do the original design, but we tried that out and it didn’t quite work as well as I had in mind, so we then re-adapted it. I came up with the basic principle, and just let the sculptors do it. We didn’t want them all to look the same. We wanted them to have individual characteristics based on a theme, which was that their ears had got bigger for better hearing, their teeth were better for ripping flesh, they’d gone blind and that was essentially it. So based on that rough characteristic, oh, they were hairless as well, they just designed a whole bunch of different faces, and I would go in and say ‘Well, I like that face, I don’t like that one, I like that one’, and that’s the ones we ended up with.
EMB: Were the Crawlers full body suits then?
NM: Well, that was our hardest problem in that they were totally hairless, so there was no way of disguising that, but we did have to come up with some kind of solution, because they’re not wearing body suits at all. I mean I chose actors that had incredible physiques, and I was looking for a real Iggy Pop look of being very lithe, but not overly muscled. They were very muscular, but also very skinny.
So they’ve got silicone prosthetics on their faces, their ears, and all their heads and stuff. A little bit of prosthetic on the top of their spine, fingernails, and things like that. But the rest of them, it’s all just them. And then we obviously had the problem of, like how the hell are we going to, what are we going to do with their tackle basically (laughs). And we came up with a solution where the prosthetics guys went to Marks & Spencer’s and bought in a boatload of little g-strings. And, the actors had to put these g-strings on, and they were basically glued in place, and then they cut away the straps at the side. And then they just smeared the whole thing with latex and paint, and just disguised it, and made these little stuck-on codpieces for the actors to maintain their dignity, to a degree (laughs).
EMB: Why did you keep the cast from seeing the Crawlers before their first filmed encounter?
NM: Well, it was great just to maintain an air of tension. On the set, they knew that they were going to meet something; they just had no idea what. I mean we kept everything from them, we kept the actors from them, the designs, we didn’t let them see anything until we were rolling cameras on that take where they turn around and the Crawler’s in the same shot with them, and that was the first time that they actually saw one. And, it was so funny, because they’d built up this façade of being tough girls by this point, they’d done their climbing, they’d done their white water rafting, and been in rock falls and all kinds of stuff. Lots of action stuff. And as soon as this Crawler appeared right behind them, they all just ran off screaming into the corner of the sound stage, they just panicked and ran. It was wonderful to see (laughs)
EMB: Did you enjoy messing around with all the blood’n’guts in the film?
NM: Oh yeah. I like getting my hands bloody when I’m making a film (laughs). Splashing around the claret a bit. Because literally on one of the sets, we had buckets of it, that we were just throwing against the walls. You know it was like an abattoir in there. You know, it’s part of the fun of making these films for me, just to see how excessive can we go without getting too offensive.
EMB: Do you have any tips for first-time horror filmmakers?
NM: Well, the market for horror is out there right now. It wasn’t around the time we were trying to get Dog Soldiers off the ground, there was less an appetite for it. Now there’s a huge appetite for it, so I think it’s probably a lot easier. The trick of it is to have a good script and a great idea. And to think about, I never normally say this, but you have to think about your budget while you’re writing it. Keep the cast small, keep the locations minimal, and you’ve got a far better chance. If it’s strong on ideas and short on budget, then you’ve got a good chance.
EMB: What do have line up next? Will it be your zombie film Outpost?
NM: I’m quite keen to sort of take a break from horror on the next one, just to stretch my legs a little bit, and do something else. Show people that I can do something other than horror. I don’t want to get tired of doing horror, I love doing horror, so I want to come back to it at a later date, come back with Outpost and do something very different again. That’s the plan.