“It’s essentially a rom-com plot pushed to a dark place by the threat of impending death”
With its World Premiere at FrightFest this August, portmanteau horror anthology Midnight Peepshow promises to be provocative. Centred on a sinister Soho peep show, it follows one unlucky patron who gets more than he bargained as he slips into a world of dark desires…
Here Johnny Restall sits down with directors Ariel Anthony Hayles, Andy Edwards and Ludovica Museumeci to talk about sex, death and the fine line in-between…
Who generated the initial ‘wraparound’ idea for the film, and how were you as individual directors enticed to the project?
AIRELL ANTHONY HAYLES: I came up with the concept a while back, wanting to fuse a Twilight Zone into three stories of sexual fantasies that go wrong. This idea of a ‘horror threesome’ that would explore the nightmare side of sexual fantasy was a fun hook, and led the script down a dark and dangerous path.
Later I teamed up with Jake West to write another version that pushed the limits of the story even further – he was enticed by the idea one night in the bar after a FrightFest event. I pitched it to him, and his eyes lit up at all the crazy directions we could take such a bold premise.
We teamed with Andy Edwards for the middle story – he had a brilliant high concept, that we thought had a ton of potential and would fit into the world we had already created. And Ludovica Musumeci had a desire to explore the dark side of cinema.
ANDY EDWARDS: When I came on board Airell and Jake had already written the wraparound and the opening and closing stories – they were just looking for a filling for their sandwich. They’d both seen my latest film, the erotic thriller Graphic Desires (out soon!) and thought I’d be a good fit.
As the rest of the film is pretty dark and disturbing, my plan was to come up with something a little more blackly-comic, to serve as a palate cleanser between the other courses. I pitched them several stories, and the one they liked best was “Fuck, Marry, Kill”.
What’s the set-up for your particular section?
LUDOVICA: My section is “The Peepshow” and unlike the other three it’s split throughout the film. It begins when we follow Graham (Richard Cotton) through the streets of Soho, continues into the peepshow and ends with the closing scene. In essence, my section is the glue that ties the other three stories together.
ANDY: “Fuck, Marry, Kill” pretty much does what it says on the tin – our lead protagonist has to choose between three ex-boyfriends and decide one to fuck, one to marry and one to kill. The twist is that all four characters are being held hostage by a demented game-show host (played by Zach Galligan of Gremlins fame) and if our hero Helen (Miki Davis) doesn’t complete the tasks, everyone dies.
AIRELL: With my segment “Personal Space” people will hopefully enjoy a new twist of ye olde’ home invasion story. I like the direct and alarming energy of those stories, from extreme French thriller Inside (2007) to the brilliant high concept of Don’t Breathe (2016). Without wanting to give too much away the story was inspired by watching a home invasion film and hoping it would go in a certain direction, which that one didn’t. This one does…
Midnight Peepshow is described as exploring “the nightmare side of psychosexual fantasy.” What drew you to this particular area, and how conscious were you of any need to balance the setting’s potentially exploitative elements with social comment?
ANDY: I’d already been exploring some of the darker areas of sexual fantasy in Graphic Desires (out on 15th August on demand in the UK!). One of the reasons I wanted to make an erotic thriller in a post #MeToo world was to prove that you could work in that genre without being exploitative of cast or crew, and also appeal to both male and female audiences. Sex has become something of a taboo all over again for filmmakers due to both self-censorship and actual censorship, but I think there are definitely ways of including sexuality in movies without exploiting anyone, whether that be cast or audiences.
One of the things I did on Graphic Desires was use an intimacy co-ordinator named Jamila Wingett, and I brought Jamila with me onto Midnight Peepshow. I shared the best practices I’d learnt, and the other directors used Jamila in their sections too. For anyone thinking of shooting sexual scenes in their next movie, I’d definitely recommend working with an intimacy co-ordinator – both to keep cast and crew feeling safe, but also to get better results on-screen.
As for social commentary, “Fuck, Marry, Kill” – despite the extreme setting – is a relatable scenario, in which a commitment-phobic character is suddenly forced by circumstance to commit. It’s essentially a rom-com plot pushed to a dark place by the threat of impending death.
AIRELL: What drew me to this topic was the taboo nature of it. No-one talks about this stuff. Loving films like Clive Barker’s Hellraiser and David Cronenberg’s Crash we wanted to play around in a different kind of sand pit. Speaking for myself, there was ZERO conscious effort to balance exploitative elements with social commentary. We simply told the story, and let it take us where it wanted to go. Any deliberate attempt at either social commentary or exploitation sticks out like a sore thumb and loses its power. We just followed the story, sometimes into some scary places and dark corners. Life is full of those. Story can shine a light into them – thats the very nature of horror cinema as I see it.
LUDOVICA: My section only deals with the consequences rather than the actions themselves, and without spoiling too much it’s actually quite a cathartic segment for all the characters involved, right to the very end.
How would you define the enduring appeal of the portmanteau horror movie, and do you have any particular favourites among the anthology films of the past?
ANDY: I think the appeal is two-fold: firstly they’re classic campfire storytelling, and secondly if you don’t like a section you know the next one is along in ten minutes and that might be better, something which doesn’t happen if you’re not enjoying a feature film.
And for filmmakers there are added bonuses – you essentially make a short but get a feature release, and you get to collaborate and see other talented filmmakers in action. On a personal level I’ve known Jake and Airell for a while now and admired their work, but as we are all directors it would be unusual to collaborate on a standard feature. And I’ve also got to work with Ludovica, who’s working on her first full feature at the moment and is definitely a talent to watch for.
As for favourites, there’s probably all the classics most horror fans know, from the Amicus anthologies all the way to the V/H/S series. One that does stick in the mind though is the first Three Extremes movie which is a pan-Asian trilogy of horror shorts, notable for featuring shorts from the legendary Takashi Miike and Park Chan-wook, although the best story is probably “Dumplings” by Fruit Chan.
LUDOVICA: Watching a portmanteau film is essentially like getting a taster menu rather than just a very large main at a restaurant. The audience gets to experience different styles, stories, visions – essentially different recipes. However they all have a theme tying them together, balancing the different flavours and textures.
AIRELL: I think the appeal of the portmanteau horror film is it’s a rich celebration of creativity. You get lots of stories, not just one. You’re going on a ride with them. Each will thrill / chill you in a different way. You’re truly made a child again at the prospect of collection of horror stories presented in one film. It’s Christmas morning for horror hounds.
The ones I love are Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) – especially the opening with the two guys driving at night. I remember seeing it as a kid and the way it built suspense was amazing. Trick r’ Treat (2007) was a brilliant twisted trilogy of Halloween tales. Michael Dougherty is a genius. Finally, A Christmas Horror Story (2015) had its ups and downs, but the ending knocked the ball completely out of the park. Loved William Shatner’s role in it too…