Alexandre Aja (Director & Writer) and Gregory Levasseur (Writer) talk about their startlingly violent film, called “Switchblade Romance” in Britain, High Tension in the United States, and “Haute Tension” in its native France. At the same time it’s a slasher film, a brutal thriller, and deeply moving tragedy. Of course, it packs a mean punch and has a violent twist like any good modern horror film. It seems that things are looking up for horror films, especially independent horror, with the onslaught of Shaun of the Dead, SAW, and Open Water recently, the path is paved clearly for this French nightmare…
“Switchblade Romance” features some extremely violent imagery. Did you have problems with film censors?
No, not at all. Our producer, Luc Besson, said from the very beginning that we could do what we want, which was great. In the US they kept the film in its original state and so it was released with an NC-17 certificate. In the UK we did not have to make any cuts either which was a big surprise as we are used to seeing UK versions of films on VHS and DVD with numerous cuts.
What are some of the characters and films that have scared and influenced you as a director/writer?
The witch of “Snow White” (laughs)! “The Shining”, all of Stephen King adaptations, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, “Maniac”, Halloween, Friday 13th, all of the Elm Streets. When we had this classic storyline in mind; 2 girls in a house, a killer, one night, we were thinking that it is good way to make a tribute to all of these movies which influenced us so much as we grew up.
How did Philippe Nahon become cast in the ‘killer’ part? After his performance in Irreversible, it was a pleasant surprise to see him in another gritty, brutal role.
He is one of only a few actors who could play this killer without a face. You don’t see much of the killer until towards the end of the film; until then you only get glimpses of his boots scraping the floor as he walks, you hear him breathing, you see his hulking shoulders… We wanted to portray the character as an ogre of sorts and Philip was ideal in playing this role and he is very expressive and scary. He isn’t actually as tall as he looks however; both of the female stars of the film are very tall so we had to employ some tricks to give the viewer the impression that he was this giant of a man. When we offered him the role, Philippe was at first adamant that he did not want to portray another villain as he had done in “Irreversible”, but we soon managed to convince him to reprise his role just one more time. As an actor, you don’t know how the film will look on completion so it was excellent for him to have a great deal of trust in our abilities.
Gianetto De Rossi has worked on some of the most famous Italian horror films ever produced. When he was hired to provide make-up for “Switchblade Romance”, were you aware of his background?
We knew from the beginning that, even in a very low-budget film, we needed nothing but the best person to provide us with necessary special effects. To simply have some ketchup would destroy all of the tension that we were trying to build – this would be a terrible mistake. So, we asked around and we knew Gianetto and the incredible work that he has done. Our line producer was Italian and he was able to introduce us to him. After speaking with Gianetto, he accepted our invitation to work on the film and in fact he came to the set alone, without any crew or assistants. I think it was very exciting for him to do this little film. He is a great guy, very creative. Even if you have a question about something which is not special effect-related, he is so in love with the genre that he would always suggest solution.
How much involvement did Luc Besson have in the film?
When we initially took the script to him, he liked it very much. After we worked a bit on the script together, he agreed that his film company Europa would fund the film. People say he his a very overwhelming producer, a tough producer. But at the end of the day, we were totally free to do what we wanted. When we showed him the final film, he was very impressed. What more could I ask for?
There’s been word that you’ll be directing a remake of Wes Craven’s “The Hills Have Eyes”. Can you tell us anything about that project?
We are right now finishing the writing with Wes Craven (laughs). That is huge to say that! We are planning to start filming at the beginning of next year. Because it is a project we are writing, it means we don’t have to discuss at all who is going to have control over the final cut. It is French law that if you are the author then you have the final say in what the finished article will look like. In the US it is obviously very different. So by writing the script, it ensures that you will maintain control over the film from principal photography right through to the editing suite. I think “The Hills Have Eyes” will be great; it will be nasty, savage and very scary. For the film, I think we can just improve on what we tried in “Switchblade Romance”. Wes is a very sweet man, just great as he instantly makes you feel very comfortable. We first met Wes to talk about “Switchblade Romance” and then now we are working on a remake of one of his best known films. And it is much more than a simple remake; it’s a very good survival film.
This film challenges traditional perceptions of men and women (especially women) in horror films. Did the fact that your main lead was a woman allow you a greater scope compared to if it was male?
“Alien”, “The Terminator”, “Silence Of The Lambs”; these all have a female as the main protagonist. When the star of the film is a female, it’s much more interesting. It means you can play with all the typical cliches associated with this. You have the cliche of a shy girl…..
The film opened the Dead by Dawn festival to great critical acclaim. Did you ever think the film would receive such a great reaction?
We did not believe it would have such an impact. French critics liked the film but at this time the life of the movie for us was finished. And now it has just grown from this. For us it was a tribute to all the films we liked very much; a way to say we like the genre, that we like to make this kind of film so lets see what we can do, nothing more. And now, to see all these reviews and to hear all these people discussing the film, in the press and on the Net is great, it is huge. We are very happy.
Was changing the films name from “Haute Tension” to “Switchblade Romance” something you had a say in?
After we finished the film, the next step was to find a suitable title that would work in foreign territories. After some thought, we came across “Switchblade Romance” and instantly felt very happy with it. When Lions Gate bought the film, they were very quick to inquire as to who came up with the name, saying that it felt out of place. Optimum Releasing however felt that the title suited the film wonderfully…which was nice!