Wednesday, January 21, 2015

SIPHON: A Retrospect- Part 1 (About "SIPHON" and The Villian "Stalker")

SIPHON was a short horror film I wrote, directed, and produced during the period of late August through mid October of 2014.  The film originally stemmed from a horror anthology called "Cinema Inferno" that was to be shown at a Halloween gathering put together by myself and fellow filmmakers Dan Fowler and Dal Kalsi.  Given each of our histories in concerns of working on independent films in some capacity (with both Dan and Dal having written, directed, edited and produced several of their own independent films in both collaboration as well as solo), I found myself somewhat of the underdog in the sense of my experience, at least mainly in the technical aspects of film production.  While I had co-directed and worked somewhat in the capacity as a co-producer on an independent dark comedy called "Bone To The Dog", most of my creative energies were put towards the actual writing of the script for the film as well as actor direction on set. Despite having some experience with editing, lighting, and shooting films, my education is somewhat on the amateur side.  Most of those responsibilities fell onto the shoulders of my friend, artistic co-collaborator, and technical wizard Aaron Pate, whom in my humble opinion is one of the most talented videographers I've met.  He was the man that brought to life the words on the page.  I would again ask him to go behind the camera for SIPHON, but this time it would be in a limited capacity.  For better or worse, SIPHON would be the first film I would be working on that I would have complete control over. While I did seek advice throughout the process of creating the film, from the initial script to the final edit/cut of the film, ultimately the finished product was a result of my decisions.  While the film has it's issues (in which I will go into detail further in this series of posts), ultimately I found the finished product rewarding. I wanted to take the time to go through the brief history of the project, from the initial story idea/inspiration, script writing, production, product, and finally what lies next for the project. Below I have a link to the actual film as well as brief synopsis about the film's story if you're not familiar with or haven't seen SIPHON yet.

SIPHON:  Starring- Mark Meekins, Leah Kathryn, Drew Nicely, Jennifer Carolina, Cody James, Clay Chapman

Synopsis: Roanoke, Virgina-1984: A string of strange murders in which victims are paralyzed by the employment of an unknown gas agent and drained of their blood in their own homes are causing the citizens of Roanoke, Virgina to descend into panic.  One of the victim's husband, Roger Graham, was subdued in his bed along with his wife by The Stalker's paralytic gas agent.  While paralyzed in bed Roger is forced to watch as the monster behind the gas mask drains his wife of her blood, leaving him for hours to stare at his deceased wife until the effects of the gas wore off.  Roger is left as a widow and single father to his daughter Lauren Graham whom discovers the ghastly sight upon returning from a party the next day.  Two years later, Roger and Lauren's quest for vengeance against the killer only known as "The Stalker" culminates as they track the killer down to his hidden dwelling/refuge; an abandoned factory.  Here this story will culminate to a horrific climax.

Part 1:  Inspirations for SIPHON's antagonist- The film's influences are many, but it was my hope that the concept and script for the film would be original enough to where the viewer would distinguish it as standing on it's own merit instead of merely being a ripoff of this or that horror cliche. If you've been a follower of my blog or if you're perusing through it now, you'll see that I wrote a two part post discussing the "Phantom Anesthetist" or more commonly known as "The Mad Gasser of Mattoon".  I unabashedly took parts of this true life story and adapted aspects of the Mad Gasser's  modus operandi into the concept of SIPHON's killer; known within the script as "STALKER".  Much like the Mad Gasser, Stalker used an unspecified gas deployed by an old model insecticide sprayer.  Though, unlike the Mad Gasser of Mattoon, I wanted Stalker to be more menacing.  Instead of paralyzing victims for unknown reasons and leaving them relatively unharmed, I opted instead to give Stalker a reason behind paralyzing his victims while leaving enough of a mystery behind it to where people would begin to ask questions.  Since Stalker was already apparently proficient enough in chemistry, since he was using a paralytic gas to subdue his victims, I decided that Stalker needed a reason behind his killings and his unusual skill well as to add a terrifying way of going about disposing of his victims.
An antique insecticide sprayer used as a prop in SIPHON

I had been discussing with a fellow horror fan our dissatisfaction with how vampires were being portrayed in current cinema, lamenting mainly about how vampires were now being overtly romanticized and had been "defanged" of their true horror elements (I wont soil my post mentioning the garbage films and series we talked about.  You probably have a good idea which ones I'm speaking of).  I decided then that, while I was avoiding supernatural elements in my film, that I would take the concept of the vampire and tweak it to work within the framework of the film.  Stalker would soon become a man that, for unknown reasons, needed a constant supply of fresh blood to replace his own.  One scene early on I wanted to see make it from script  to film was that of an emaciated Stalker having to perform self dialysis with the blood of a recent victim, his own body in return pushing out black ichor while the fresh blood replaced his own.  Though, before I could have this scene in the film I needed to figure out a way for Stalker to quickly drain his victims of blood as well as for that method to remain both terrifying and somewhat in the realm of reality.  I had decided then that the apparatus would have to be something attached to him and also be fairly easy to employ. I had decided to design the apparatus to attach to one of his hands, with the end result being something reminiscent of Freddy Krueger's glove...though instead of being implemented as a slashing weapon, it's only purpose would be to stab and siphon an individual's blood.
Prototype of Stalker's glove
As seen in film
The actual needles on the glove are real needles borrowed from an antique cabinet of medical equipment from the 20th century provided by the Nursing Program at the university I work for. The tubing attached to the needles comes from a discarded assembly used to recreate veins within a static arm nursing students use to practice injections.  

The actual tubing and manifold displayed above could easily be recreated with a few items from a local hardware store, but luckily I had accessed to this dismantled unit.  I found the merging of this tubing system with the glove interesting given their original purposes of recreating veins while in the film they're being used as artificial veins as Stalker siphons blood out of his victims.  The idea of a somewhat proto-biomechanical mechanism was appealing.  While not completely merged permanently within the physical biology of Stalker, the siphoning mechanism would act as artificial veins providing him with a way to circulate in fresh blood and out the poisonous ichor his body was producing.

The actual attire of the Stalker would be influenced by a back story I created for the character.  I knew from the beginning that I wanted the film to be set in the 80s as I've always had an affinity towards the horror films of that era.  Given the cunning of the Stalker and his proficiency in both chemistry and medicine, I decided that a military background and back story might help to explain both his skills and eventually the malady that forces him to drain the blood of others and replace his own poisonous blood with theirs.  As a fan of conspiracy theories and such, I've spent a great deal of time studying about the U.S. Government's testing of biological and chemical agents on their own populace, especially soldiers during war.  Several secret experiments on servicemen during Vietnam, including supposedly drugs used to alter and enhance the performance of troops during prolong missions, have been rumored and whispered about by both former soldiers and conspiracy theorists. Evidence of such experiments have emerged from declassified documents over the years, but the true nature of the experiments and results are unknown.  Chemicals ranging from 3-Quinuclidinyl benzilate (BZ) to Sarin were used by the military on their own personnel in order to gather data of their effectiveness before being used on enemy combatants.  I decided that Stalker's background would be as a survivor of one of these experiments.  He was at one point a member of the U.S. Chemical Corps and after being exposed to an experimental agent, he would be the only survivor initially.  However, the chemical agent would have profound effects on his body, eventually turning his own blood into a poisonous sludge that he must constantly remove and replenish with healthy blood.
U.S. Chemical Corps uniform from 1950s

His affliction would also have slowly weakened his body, so thus the need to paralyze his victims before draining them of their blood.  The Stalker, while not as physically built as the typical horror movie villain would need to use his brains instead of brawn to survive. The gas mask Stalker wears serves several purposes.  Obviously it protects him from his own chemicals when he's using them, it obscures his face from detection, and finally due to the constant dialysis he must perform on himself, it helps to protect him from sickness caused by a compromised immune system.  The military trench coat is only there to hide the malformed condition of the Stalker's well as to obscure any features since the budget wasn't there for any heavy practical make-up effects.  Unfortunately most of this back story never made it into the film due to time and financial constraints, but for anyone interested in the reason's behind Stalker's motives, there ya go.

Concept artwork of "Stalker" by Mitch Rogers

Since the film takes place initially in 1984 and moves ahead 2 years to 1986, I wanted to show in the film how much the malady had taken a toll on Stalker.  Initially in the film we see a somewhat healthy Stalker with hair and fairly robust figure, but by the scenes in the abandoned factory 2 years later, we have a more gaunt (and bald) killer covered in gauze as well as needle marks from constant dialysis.
Stalker (1984)
Stalker (1986)
I chose two actors to play Stalker in the film, the 1984 version being played by Clay Chapman and the 1986 version being played by Drew Nicely.  Obviously their physical characteristics were important to show the progression of the Stalker's transformation over two years.  Even something as simple as having one actor shave their head and applying some medical gauze gives the illusion of a much more decrepit and gaunt figure, despite (in the case of the 86 version of Stalker) Drew's normally healthy body type.  With some simple techniques, you can easily give the appearance of sickness and malformed structure by modifying movements and posture.  Since Stalker is caught off guard by Roger and Lauren later in the film, we see that the killer has modified his domain to serve his needs, including an access point that he can inject a hallucinogenic compound into the buildings still functioning air system to help slow down any potential intruders as well as an alarm system if the building is entered.  The Stalker is very much a creature whom uses his environment to his advantage.  The wounded animal is often more vicious than a healthy one, especially when they're clinging onto life so readily.  Ultimately I wanted to create a villain the film that encompassed some of our own most prevalent fears: Isolation, Powerlessness, Morality vs Instinct.  While the film touches on some of these, enough of the fear factor of the character makes it onto screen.  While the story isn't as fleshed out on film as in my initial script design and back story, he still remains a terrifying presence on screen. 

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