Welcome to the DoT Daily Horror Film Fest! Throughout the month, I’ll be featuring new horror every weekday. Sometimes that will be indie films, sometimes it’ll be big-name stuff, shorts, or even TV shows. Scary, funny, schlocky, quiet, eerie – something for the well-rounded horror fan. Plus interviews with filmmakers and a chance to support projects still in the works. Today’s feature is Blood of the Tribades (pronounced Trih-bids) by Michael J. Epstein and Sophia Cacciola.
It those names sound familiar, it may be because you listened to Episode 5 of the Department of Tangents Podcast. I spoke with Mike and Sophia about Tribades, their other films, and their music. The film has been making the rounds on the festival circuit, and plays Fright Night Horror Weekend in Louisville, Ky next month. I expanded on Tribades with Mike and Sophia in this e-mail Q&A (they wrote their answers together).
What made horror the right vehicle for this particular socio-political point, rather than a more real-world narrative?
There’s something great about being able to craft a world precisely to your focuses and points. We love both sci-fi and horror, and believe that they are both only in their true form when they address something bigger than the narrative itself. Realistic films about religious zealotry and bigotry would be quite dull too. You can just turn on the news and listen to many of our political leaders speak.
When it’s presented in fantastic form and realism is abandoned, you can present ideas with combinations of dialogue, action, and visual metaphor. It’s less likely to bounce off viewers without real impact. It feels more new. We also wrote this film to be extremely heavy-handed and over-the-top politically. Then, with this year’s election season, we realized that we hadn’t even really exaggerated at all.
What political horror movies do you enjoy?
Dawn of the Dead – A satire of consumerism. Zombies in the mall!
Chopping Mall – More malls plus the militarization of law enforcement.
They Live – The reptoid 1%! All about consumerism and brainwashing, though Seth Chatfield (who plays Grando in Tribades) recently pointed out that if you look at this movie from the other perspective, it’s about a delusional, paranoid, libertarian drifter who believes he has to take up arms to take down the powers that be. We prefer to think of it as the real anti-Reaganism film of the 80s.
Aliens – Space marines and hyper-militarization.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre – A look at the neglected, post-Vietnam rural US, surrounded by dying industry. They also go from working in a slaughterhouse to killing people. The line of morality between the two is thin.
Der Samurai – A police officer who is surrounded by a society that hates homosexuality is forced to confront his own inner truth, which manifests as a wild man.
The Stuff – Consumerism, consumerism, consumerism.
Godzilla – Nuclear proliferation.
Honestly, almost every great horror film has a powerful socio-political subtext.
How did you conceptualize the world of the Tribades? What went into the look and the dogma the characters live by?
Part of the goal of the film was to pay specific tribute to the Hammer, Rollin, and Franco films (among others) of the early 70s. So, we wanted to go for a specific kind of costuming and look to match those influences. We wanted the men to very much have a look and feel like the Brotherhood in the film Twins of Evil.
Twins, incidentally, is a film that contrasts a Christian group murdering innocent women for allegedly being witches, with a worshiper of satan carrying out human sacrifice. In fact, although there are twin lead characters in the film, we might argue that the title refers to parallel paths of Peter Cushing’s religious leader, Gustav Weil, and the satanic vampire, Count Karnstein. So, that film, and particularly Cushing’s character were a major influence for the look and behavior of the male characters.
The women were modeled visually after many of the Hammer films (examples here and here) and tonally after the airy women of Rollin (examples here and here).
Rollin films tend to have ultimately strong, triumphant women, and we wanted to show a transformation from naive and helpless to powerful.
We really wanted the film to be set in the crumbling ruins of a late medieval French village that had seen no advances in technology and no real repair or upkeep in 2000 years. We wanted the settings to be striking, but no longer as beautiful as they once were.
As for the specific religious dogma, we love the set of films often referred to as, “lesbian vampire films,” which honestly mostly just have lesbian overtones and are presented very much through a male gaze. We thought it would be fun to replicate the style, but try and shift the gaze over the course of the film, and end with a reversal of the subjugation. In particular, although our film is also hardly really a “lesbian” film, we try to present it as an advanced version of those 70s films.
The script originally had a little more exploration of racism in that society as well, but that got toned down because it didn’t feel like we could handle it meaningfully and respectfully enough in the context of everything else going on. We still kept quite a lot of intersectionalism in the story and the women also had their own social structure that was oppressive. We wanted to make sure that aspect was complex, and that we could show that there is a lot of work to be done.
In the real world, we are just getting to the point where feminist conversations are becoming intersectional feminist conversations, so we thought it was important to express that. But, it’s an 80-minute movie about vampires, so we could only do so much without seeming insincere, so we tried to keep it sincere and subtextual where necessary.
Do you have another feature film in mind yet? What do we have to look forward to?
We have a variety of projects in early development, but it is unclear at this point what might go forward next. We are spending this year finishing out the festival run for Blood of the Tribades and settling after our recent move from Boston to Los Angeles. We’re trying to go for something at least a little bigger budget than our previous films, so it becomes mostly a question of financing. With luck, we’ll go into production on something in 2017.