Every October press, industry types and fans flock to Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, CA for the annual Screamfest Horror Film Festival. The fest has a long and storied history and has been responsible for exposing many modern classics to the world. Each year brings more new films and new faces, looking to give their own fresh take on horror. We spoke with one of these new faces, director John V. Soto, about his voodoo based murder mystery flick Needle.
Producer: Deidre Kitcher, Star: Trilby Glover and Director: John V. Soto
So John, what can you tell us about the film?
John V Soto: The film is a supernatural murder mystery and revolves around a young guy who inherits this 18th century device. Later he does research into it and finds that it actually has supernatural powers and harnesses voodoo. Then the machine gets stolen by one of his friends. He shows all of his friends one night and then it’s gone in the morning. Then one by one his friends start being knocked off. It’s a who done it. So then he teams up with his estranged brother who’s a forensic photographer, and they work together to try and solve the case and they get themselves in deeper and deeper. They eventually unmask the killer at the very end of the film. When people watch the film I’ve got six specific clues, so you can solve it if you’re really thinking while you’re watching. There are both visual clues and word clues and by three quarters of the way through you should be able to guess who the killer is.
So the film takes some inspiration from the giallo genre?
Soto: Yeah. I did an homage to giallo, I had the black gloves. When the machine’s in operation you see these black gloves operating it and you don’t know who’s they are or even if they’re male or female. I’m a big fan of Argento. Deep Red is a masterpiece. So there’s a bit of that, there’s a bit of Hellraiser with the box and there’s a little bit of I Know What You Did Last Summer in the sense that there’s some young, not teenage, but university college students being knocked off.
Was it different doing a slasher without having an actual masked killer?
Soto: I wanted to make the ultimate slasher where the slasher isn’t physically doing it and is using the machine and the voodoo to knock people off. Therefore there’s no evidence who’s behind it. The only way you know they may have done it is if they’re not in the scene but I’ve got a few of them that aren’t in the scene.
A lot of horror fans complain about pointless fast editing but I felt that you had a purpose behind yours. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Soto: Well I got Jason Ballantine, who cut Wolf Creek and Prom Night. I did particularly like the editing style he used on Prom Night so when we sat down and discussed how he would edit Needle that idea was raised. I don’t like sitting in one scene and constantly cutting back and forth between the different characters. I prefer to intercut two scenes, which in this case is perfect because there’s the killer in the room working out how to kill the victim and then you’ve got the victim suffering [elsewhere] and I can cut between them to create a kind of suspense and rhythm to their death. I think it worked well. In terms of fast editing in kill scenes, the worst example I’ve scene is Alien vs. Predator. You can’t see anything. So I made sure that whatever kills we did, you could see the results.
The Australian horror scene has been on a steady rise in the U.S. in recent years. What do you think it is about Aussie horror that makes U.S. audiences flock to it?
Soto: We bring a fresh approach. I mean I don’t know about you but I’ve never seen a film where there’s a machine that makes wax voodoo dolls. Aussies like to look at the horror genre and bring something new to it. We’re also big fans of American horror films. All of the Australian horror directors have seen Halloween, they’ve seen Friday the 13th, they’ve seen all of the classic American horror films. We know our stuff and when coming to America we want to bring new material that’s going to get the Americans excited and hopefully we’ve achieved that with Needle. You mentioned the machine, is there an actual history behind that or was that your own creation?
Soto: The machine actually works. The lights turn on, the wax goes into it, the blood goes into it, everything actually works. The guy that built it worked with Peter Jackson. His name is Jeremy Shaw, which is funny because Shaw is the name of the first guy that gets killed in the film. But yeah, Jeremy worked under Peter Jackson for King Kong and Lord of the Rings. So with that experience he made something that would have cost many millions from other people and gave it to me much cheaper than that.
In the film you used a mixture of practical and CG blood effects. Which do you prefer?
Soto: I prefer practical all the way. CGI is difficult, costly and time consuming and you don’t get what you really want. I’m a practical effects guy all the way and I try to minimize the use of CGI, though we have got a bit. Practical to me looks real and in most things, if it had been done with CGI it would have looked terrible.
The gore scenes seem to follow an escalating scale of cringe inducing moments. Can you talk about the kill scenes?
Soto: Absolutely. We introduce the audience to a small scale death and then gradually crank it, crank it, crank it to keep the fans interested. Otherwise if you start a film with a big bang and a big kill and all your successive kills are not as good the the fans get bored. They want more and more. I cranked it as much as I could.
Considering his presence in the modern Aussie horror scene, how was working with John Jarratt for his brief role in the film?
Soto: He’s a pro. I loved working with him. It was nice to have him as the coroner other than as the bad guy like he was in Wolf Creek. John is an amazing actor. He just turned up on set, knew his lines inside out and brought a slight comedy element to it and I love it.
What are the plans for releasing Needle in the U.S. outside of Screamfest?
Soto: We have got a U.S. distributor looking at our film and they have put an offer in but we’re not closing any deals in the U.S. until American Film Market. Hopefully we’ll get some good size distributor to come on board. Whoever does come on board has to be passionate about the film. They’ve got to love the film and want to get it out to as many people as they can. Plus they’ve got to embrace the murder mystery element because that’s what makes the film fun.
Many thanks to John V. Soto for taking the time to talk to us. Needle will hopefully be available sooner rather than later. Look to Killer Film in the coming months for updates on where you can find the film.