H.P. Lovecraft is one of the most influential writers in the horror genre, with his stories still seeing new and exciting adaptations to this day, more than 80 years after his death.
The Deep Ones is the latest Lovecraftian offering, written and directed by horror veteran Chad Ferrin, and screening at this year’s Grimmfest. We spoke to Chad, as well as actors Robert Miano, Silvia Spross and Kelli Maroney, plus composer Robert Band, about what to expect from their interpretation of the legendary Elder Gods.
Kirstie: Tell us about your film The Deep Ones.
Chad: It’s kind of like H.P. Lovecraft meets Rosemary’s Baby, so if one or both of those two things interest you, then jump on this. It was a blast to film – the cast is amazing, the score is amazing. For me, it was a dream come true to take elements of Lovecraft, bits of his stories and writings, and intertwine them into my film. I hope the audience enjoys watching it as much as we enjoyed making it.
Kirstie: What made you want to make a Lovecraftian horror movie?
Chad: I think everything I’ve made has bits and pieces of Lovecraft, whether it’s intentional or subliminal. His works permeate things they touch. With this one, it kind of came about due to the location. Originally it was going to be a slasher film set in a beach house, but I’ve always wanted to do a cult film, and the ocean made me think of Lovecraft. What we had to use dictated the story and the screenplay. I’ve also worked with the actors before, so I could write a role for them that works its way into what we had to work with. It was kind of a kismet thing, with loving Lovecraft and having the opportunity to make something ocean-centric.
It came together organically. I don’t try to fight the natural order of the way things come together. It’s the same on set – if we’re filming and something isn’t working, be ready to change it, be ready to work with what you’ve got. Nine times out of ten, it’ll come out better than the way it’s written or the way you imagine it in your head. I’m a free-wheeling kind of director. I just take what the world gives me and make that my own. So if an actor is having trouble with lines, it’s about finding something that does work, and it usually comes out for the best. People are more invested when you give them creative freedom. I try to give each artist their own voice and see what they come up with.
Kelli: I’ve always wanted to do a Lovecraft film because it’s so classic. I’ve worked with Chad and this team before, so I was up for whatever. But then I read the script and I thought that this was some of the best material I’ve ever got to work on, so it was a done deal. Plus it was a wonderful character for me – something I don’t always get to do.
Silvia: When I first read the script, I was like “Oh no, running naked on the beach!” But then I kept on reading it and I thought “Gosh, I really like this script”. The story, the cult, it was so fascinating. And then he wrote that she was German or Swiss and I realised he had written her for me. The more I read it, the more I fell in love with it and I thought, “Well, I’m just going to run naked on the beach”. I think it’s an awesome role, a really cool character, something that I don’t get to play a lot, so that was very inspiring.
Robert: When I saw her running down the beach naked I thought, “My goodness, I would marry her all over again!”
Richard: You are a smart man!
Robert: It’s true! I didn’t know much about Lovecraft when Chad gave me the script. Then when I started reading Lovecraft, oh my God – the mythology, the lore, the imagination this man had. No wonder so many filmmakers craft – no pun intended – their movies and stories around his narrative and his mythology. I’ve never played a cult leader quite like that, but it was so fascinating to get into that world and how it reflects what’s going on today, with aliens and UFOs and creatures, where we came from, the aliens of ancients, the twelfth planets… It was fascinating to get into that world and be able to explore it as an actor.
Richard: Having done now maybe six or seven Lovecraft films, I guess I’m the most experienced Lovecraftian, so to speak, at this point. He is incredibly unique. You have to look at the time period that this guy existed in. We’re not talking about today, we’re talking about a hundred-odd years ago. I would’ve never guessed in a million years, when I did Reanimator, which would be about 37 years ago, or From Beyond, quite close to that, that Lovecraft would become so huge over the past few decades. I just have such an affinity towards that time period and the style that he sets up in all his writing. I think that’s probably why Chad wanted me to score this film. I have a bit of an imprint on the style of this film, in how you can put what I like to call “the third dimension” in a two-dimensional medium. Forget going to 3D movies for a second, but what does music bring? It brings that unspoken part, the feelings, the atmosphere, all these different elements. Things that you don’t necessarily see on the screen, but are feeling. That’s why I’ve always loved doing fantasy, sci-fi and horror, which is the bulk of my work. But Lovecraft is unique unto himself. You have so many films and TV shows that concentrate on him. It’s remarkable and well-deserved.
Kirstie: In telling a modern story, how did you decide how you were going to update the original stories to fit a new time and setting, and decide which elements of Lovecraft’s stories to hold onto?
Chad: I reread a few of his stories – Dagon, Shadow Over Innsmouth, The Dunwich Horror – and pulled things that I liked from those. It happened naturally, and whether it worked or not for the Lovecraft experts out there, I’m not sure! I liked his work as a kid, but didn’t appreciate it as much then as I do now as an adult, when I reread it and really got into it. As for what I was able to pull from it, it was quite a natural thing in terms of what worked with me. It kind of wrote itself. Some scripts are harder, some are easier. Elements of his that I really liked that could fit with the setting, like the mood and the sense of dread – which is one thing I hope is captured within the film.
To me, that’s what makes the perfect Lovecraft film. Whether there’s monsters or tentacles or whatever, for me it’s the ambience of his writing and that dread within it. Any film that does that is pulling from Lovecraft. The ambience he creates is phenomenal. If any of that translates within this, then I’ll be able to say it was a job well done. There are few things in Lovecraft that jump out and scare you. Instead it builds to that, then you’re left with a feeling that hits you days later how scary it was. It’s scarier than a film that’s filled with loud noises and jump scares and music cues that tell you how to feel.
I was trying to capture his writing in the most honouring way without stepping on toes, trying to be true to that, to someone I admire greatly. Hopefully fans will appreciate that and see that, instead of picking it apart. For me, as not a Lovecraft fanatic but a Lovecraft fan, I tried to bring what I interpreted his writing as into my own project. I might be right, I might be wrong, to some, to all, to most. I hope they at least see that here is someone who appreciates Lovecraft and wants to bring it to a new audience who might be experiencing Lovecraft for the first time. That’s a really exciting thing. If you can catch one or two people in that audience who might discover his writing for the first time, that’s a job well done.
Kirstie: What was your trick to creating that quintessential Lovecraft dread?
Chad: That found its way in the editing. Originally in the script, it was written that she was running naked on the beach and was captured by the cult, and then the whole ending was also in the beginning happening to Silvia’s character, Ingrid. It had the monster and all of it. Once it was cut together, it was too much. It gave away too much and it was a shock to the senses. The audience watched the first fifteen minutes of what’s basically a rape scene. It was hard, even for me as the director and the writer who wrote it, to get back into the film. So once I took that out and had that sense of mystery to it to pull the audience in, rather than giving it away at the head… If I’d just followed the script, it would’ve been too much. So, the editing really dictated that opening and how it pulled you into the slow burn, which I think worked for the better. And I’m a huge horror guy, so if it was too much for me to get over… The editing process helped to create that slow burn, when it wasn’t originally envisioned.
Richard: I think it also helps that the editor and the director get along so well, as Chad was the editor and the director, so he didn’t have too many battles. It really was a collaborative project, with the actors and with myself – we were all heavily involved in that process throughout. That’s important in the way that Chad works: he’s open-minded and not set in stone. That is a very good reflection on him. We all get invested in the project, not only with our particular craft, but emotionally. It comes out in the film, I think.
Robert: It was a real team effort, from beginning to end. Chad is open to your input, which really supports the creative process. One thing about Lovecraft: Lovecraft is timeless. And I think that’s the attraction to Lovecraft. You really can’t pin him down. So it stimulates your imagination. There’s so much mystery in his writing and in his narrative. It’s something you can’t really define, and there’s the creative aspect of it – that it’s unknown in his mythology. It’s really out there and that’s why people are still doing his work.
Richard: It’s an interesting thing, but I have a belief when I’m doing these kinds of films – especially with Lovecraft – that you can see better when you use candlelight than when you use fluorescent. It’s a way to look at it where darkness helps you see into the character and the time, and how far his imagination went and therefore how we, as interpreters of his work, can take things. He’s an incredible, fascinating character, and his writings tell us a lot more about ourselves than they do about him even. I think that’s why there’s still that big interest over so many decades now.
Kirstie: Many of Lovecraft’s monsters are described vaguely, leaving readers to fill in the blanks with what scares them the most. How did you decide how you were going to depict those legendary monsters on film?
Chad: I took things that I loved as kid, like the movie Chud. I wanted the glowing eyes and Cthulhu beard, these things that I like, and melding them with the classic Lovecraft tentacles and whatnot. Also working them out within the budget that we had. We already had a suit that we modified with certain details, so it was taking things that were already there and rolling the dice on whether it was going to work.
If you were to stay focused on it going one certain way – whether you’re looking at the effects or the music or anything – you hinder the way the creativity gods smile down on you in some sense. When he showed me the monster, I thought it worked and it was great. I think it married the perfect elements of what we had to make something not only scary, but something that makes an imprint on you, the same way Chud did to me.
Kirstie: What do you hope people take away from your film?
Chad: An interest in Lovecraft, I think. If they know his work, I want them to think “hats off to the homage”. Or if they don’t know much about Lovecraft, that they can start reading his work and fall in love with it the way I did. If you can spark someone’s imagination, or make them want to look into something deeper, even if it’s just Googling Lovecraft’s stories and seeing where I drew my influences from… Or even just developing a love for literature, because really that’s what got me into horror.
You go see a movie and it’s great, but if you read more horror it opens up a whole new world to you. If you’ve seen every horror movie there is and then you discover literature, there’s a whole new facet of suspense and sci-fi. Lovecraft for me definitely did that. It helped not only with my cinematic tool chest, but it helped me enjoy certain things more. For instance, I just saw that film Underwater and I had no idea it had anything to do with Lovecraft, and at the end it’s got this giant Cthulhu monster. They never mention it, it’s never in the trailers, and then you see it. Okay, I may not really like the movie, but I like the Cthulhu monster and the Deep Ones floating around – that’s pretty awesome. Now I appreciate a movie that I might have just written off tenfold.
So what I want people to take from it is that we tackled Lovecraft, did service to his work and actually appreciate what he has done for literature and cinema. Hopefully we accomplished something that he’d be proud of.
Kelli: The fans of Lovecraft on social media are really open to and excited to see different interpretations. As long as you’re having respect for the story, I think they like to see different stuff. I think people are really going to enjoy it because it is different. Chad also imposed a sort of warm sense of humour to it, and you can tell it’s very loving and very respectful, but it’s a modern-day tale. It’s timeless, so we’re able to do that without stepping on any toes.
Kirstie: What are your post-Grimmfest plans and hopes for the film?
Chad: We’ve got a few more festivals coming up. For me, the festival route is great because it builds word-of-mouth and the reviews hopefully will be positive. Festivals have been a godsend for my films. My film with Silvia, Someone’s Knocking At The Door, played at Grimmfest way back in 2009 or 2010. It’s neat ten years later, with Silvia, to play at Grimmfest again. They’ve grown, we’ve grown. I love festivals and I think all filmmakers should really embrace festivals because the people behind all of them – the people who revere them – are true cinephiles. It’s heartwarming when they accept the film and people review it and interview us.
I’m very grateful for you and for Grimmfest and for the audience that are watching. Without those people, it’s just a movie sitting in a closet that people worked hard on but might never see the light of day. It’s got sea monsters raping women and women running naked on the beach – that doesn’t follow the rules of today, but for me it’s like the movies I grew up on and made an impact on me. Festivals are great thing for something, whether a distributor picks this up or it’s never seen again, at least for this moment in time, it’s screening and hopefully people will dig it. That’s all thanks to Grimmfest and the people that love movies and like offering the little independent films out there a wider audience.
Richard: I’m always amazed and so thankful and appreciative of the incredible fan base this genre has. Were it not for the fans, I don’t know what we’d all be doing. The fans everywhere are just amazing. Nothing comes close to the fanbase of the sort of things that we’re doing. Nothing. Not that there is not wonderful work in drama or comedy or anything, not to take anything away from that. But my God. All you have to do is go to Comic Con in San Diego, or just see how many of these festivals there are – not hundreds, not thousands, but tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands. I’m just so appreciative over the years of the fans. You’re the reason we’re doing this, quite honestly.
Kelli: You don’t have romantic comedy conventions. There’s something about horror. It’s a family. The passion for it is so unique and special. It’s like nothing else.
Kirstie: Do you have any advice for anyone looking to get into the kind of work you do?
Chad: Just to keep at it. For me it was always about writing. So, write a script. Try to get it made. Do whatever it takes. Just don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. I’m living proof of having half a high school education and a love of literature and learning and getting on set and making it happen… Something in you makes you do it. If you’re gonna do it, you can’t stop it. Whatever means are at your disposal, use it and make it work for you until you get it right.
Robert: For the actors, just keep going.
Silvia: Yeah, there’s no finish line. Keep at it.
Richard: For anybody who wants to get into any aspect of this business, you’ve got to love it. If you don’t love it, it’s just work. You might as well be shovelling dirt. The passion and the love of it is what gets you through the day. If you don’t, forget about it and go find something that you love. It is that simple. Whether you’re in front of or behind the cameras, stop thinking about glory or fame, because it’s elusive and it’s meaningless, and unless you really love what you’re doing, it’s not worth it. If you love it, go for it.
The Deep Ones is screening at Grimmfest 2020 from 7-11 October.