Ian Powell, Karl Ward Razors Creators Talk on Horror Franchise
In an exclusive online interview with DecayMag. Powell and Ward discuss their upcoming film, Razors. Presented are the key details on the upcoming franchise. Interesting degrees are presented surrounding the horror genre. Please do take a moment to read this intriguing Q&A. Questions furnished by Ken Artuz Founder, Editor for DecayMag.com
Thank you, Ian Powell and Karl Ward, for taking the time to answer our questions. From all of us at DecayMag best wishes on your endeavors. Thank you for your contribution to the Horror genre.
DecayMag.com: In Razors “Jack The Ripper” is the antagonist.
- What is it about this serial killer that seems to be a recurring theme in horror?
- How did the creative process resurrect the Legend for the film Razors?
First of all, we would like to say thanks for your review of the film and for giving us the opportunity to talk about Razors. It has been a four-year project for us to bring it to the screen and quite an experience.
It is not uncommon since the original Halloween to invest serial killers with supernatural powers or to make them unstoppable killing machines.
Jack the Ripper is almost unique in that he was a real historical figure, but also took on a legendary, almost mythical status in the minds of the public, both then and now.
This may be partly because no one can truly know his identity, although many people have claimed to. He was a figure of mystery to us, and probably also to his victims, who may not have seen his face and may well not have known his identity.
I like to feature things that have a magical, talismanic quality in stories. In my previous film, Seeing Heaven it was the main protagonist himself who had a Dorian Grey type quality.
In Razors, it is the box of the Ripper’s knives that Ruth, the main protagonist is told should never be opened, but also of course the Ripper himself.
In First Edition, a film I hope to shoot in the future, it is an undiscovered set of stories by Edgar Allen Poe, that were found by his side when he turned up in the gutter, with amnesia a couple of days before his death.
The original idea of Razors was to tell a classic old dark house story like the original 1963 The Haunting, with the visual strength of Mario Bava’s films, but also to bring back “Jack the Ripper” as a magical talismanic figure.
When Karl came on board to help re-write the script and to co-direct we both had strong feelings, that what the Ripper had done was more significant than the mystery of who he was.
One of the characters actually says that in the film, that “The Ripper” has a power as one of the ultimate forces of evil. He is a shadowy figure, and as such he can remain partially hidden by darkness, you don’t have to show too much.
My grandmother lived in the east end of London until she was in her late twenties and would tell me stories that all the children playing in the war-torn streets would still avoid the famous spots were Jack murdered his victims.
Jack the ripper is a reoccurring figure in horror because he existed.
He is not just a nightmare figure in film but also as a presence on the streets that Ian and I live in….Although the torrents of partying crowds may be oblivious to this.
Bringing Jack back in Razors was quite interesting… We separated Andrew Shire who played the ripper from the cast, a process he enjoyed. There were times when he came on set pretending to be a part of the crew- stalking Kelby Keenan (Ruth) and the others.
DecayMag.com: Razors is the first installment to what is marketed as a new horror franchise. With the film exploring supernatural and mystery, what can audiences expect with the next installments?
With the first Razors film, we wanted to set up a new mythology, that played with elements of the real story, but which could also take it forward into the present day.
(Editor’s note; Powell warns of plot spoilers)
Crucial to this is the mysterious little Victorian ghost girl, who is of significance herself in the historical ripper story. We intimate that there may have been an additional ripper murder in a bricked up chamber in the building the six screenwriters have been taken to.
The little girl trapped the spirit of the ripper there, by stealing one of his knives and hiding it within the dank walls of the building. By finding it Ruth will either destroy him for good (like Dracula in a hammer movie) or set his evil free to roam the World in the 21st century.
We think it is a powerful idea. The ripper’s knives acted as a seal on his tomb, and a tomb that no-one even knew about.
Now wherever they are taken, The Ripper’s spirit also goes, taking out terrible vengeance on anyone who comes into contact with his murder weapons.
So one film will carry on from where the first left off, with Ruth (the Kelby Keenan character) in hospital trying to convince the doctors that The Ripper re-birth really happened, whilst a petty thief has taken the knives from the burned out location of the original film, at the behest of a mysterious rich collector, who wants to use them to his own evil ends. But can he control a figure like the Ripper or will he and all his cohorts end up being destroyed by him?
We also have a much more “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” type movie which we think will be really chilling and which we want to do next.
Basically, the writer of the original film (a fictional character) who lives in a run-down apartment near the site of the original murders, feels guilt about using the miserable deaths of five real women to propel a piece of fiction.
He finds himself contacted by the ghosts of the original five victims, who appear in reflections in water and mirrors in his apartment and in his peripheral vision.
They put pressure on him to find the identity of the real killer, as they never saw his face and can’t rest in peace until they can solve the mystery of his own deaths. The ripper is now after his own girlfriend and only by doing as the ghosts ask, can he protect her from a terrible death.
Thirdly, we will almost certainly be doing a sequel in America.
Several ripper experts have written that he probably traveled to America after the original Whitechapel murders, which is why that series of murders stopped here, and a similar series started, I believe around New York. So you can see there are many possibilities.
Oh, and in addition, we have an interesting idea of who we think the Ripper was! Jack before his macabre transformation. That’s all I’ll say because I don’t want to give too much away.
DecayMag.com: Razors presents the time-tested formula of the female heroine versus a strong male antagonist. With that in mind will audiences see actress Kelby Keenan in a recurring role one that becomes the next female lead in horror?
We would certainly like to do that. We interviewed many actresses for the part, and all were good.
when we saw Kelby’s audition tape and even more so when we met her in the flesh we knew we had found Ruth.
Kelby couldn’t just portray Ruth, she was Ruth! She can give a very intense performance as a driven person, but has vulnerability underneath. She is a strong woman, but can show a backstory of pain and suffering just in her face.
We think she has the same kind of qualities Barbara Steele had in her early films and the same kind of look. We are looking for interesting ways to bring her into the sequels, maybe both battling the Ripper and as a real person who was the inspiration to the original writer.
Kelby was also a joy to work with, always prepared, always 100 percent committed and able to switch on a powerful performance in an instant. She was in nearly all the scenes of the film. She has just done a film with David Tennant, and I know has plans to work in LA.
I think she is going to find major success there and I would recommend her to any other director. All the actors in Razors I think are good, but she especially along with Thomas Thoroe anchors the film.
Having a strong female protagonist is crucial to the story. Without this the premise wouldn’t work.
It is funny seeing Ian get excited when talking about Kelby’s audition. The process was long as we genuinely considered hundreds of people, yet I think we knew immediately who would play the parts when we saw them.
The film starts with a seemingly unrelated brutal murder of a woman which Ruth witnesses through a vision later on in the film.
Ruth is relentless as she tries to unravel the mystery of the knives and rid of the ripper… Whether or not she succeeds is another story. Ruth will definitely return to fight In a sequel.
DecayMag.com: In Razors the cast of characters is centralized with one common theme -screenwriting.
- Was there an underlying message especially on the Horror film genre?
- What was the message conveyed?
We wanted to say something about how horror can take real life terrible events and make them into an entertainment. How moral is that? Also, the ripper crimes were particularly misogynistic.
There has always been a debate, especially in the 80’s with the slasher boom, about the whole women as victim thing.
We had to cut parts of the script in order to get everything shot on our tight ten-day, I think some of that subtext got jettisoned.
But also we wanted the different characters to voice, different genre traits in horror. The Brash Zack is making more of a Sado-Porn film, while James as a know it all is making something more intellectual that Zack finds pretentious.
Denton, played by Josh Myers (usually cast as a heavy in British gangster films) here plays someone more sensitive who is penning a more socially conscious “George Romero-esque” film.
Lastly, Sadie and Jane who are so close they can read each other’s minds are making a more evocative “Countess Bathory” like horror. All, of course, have to pitch their ideas, to win the budget to make their film, but Ruth trumps them all by carrying the box she claims holds the real knives used by Jack the Ripper.
“Horror has to be balanced with beauty…it’s the unwritten rule” That is what I believe, and if people take anything away from the experience of what hung the film…I hope that will be it.
That is not to say in any way I am anti-gore, but just that for me the things that have always made a horror movie stick in my mind is odd eye-grabbing images and a sense of poetry.
Probably my favourite movie in terms of atmospherics (but not in terms of story) is Mario Bava’s Whip and The Body. It is ravishing. He just creates an atmosphere of necromantic dread.
Fulci’s gothic films have that too…..a sense of dream logic, that make us believe a kind of truth (even when the actual events they portray might be borderline ridiculous.)
I think both Karl and I have pretty good camera eyes for composition but our greatest asset is Alessio Valori A.I.C, who was the cinematographer on the film. He lit everything with candles and torches and made it look magical, alongside our two production designers, Daniel Mangham and Lucy Isdale.
DecayMag.com: The source of inspiration for Razors were evident as the film progresses. Stating that, what were the influences that composed the film?
As I say, for me it was Bava, Fulci, Argento, Leone (for composition) and the original Robert Wise, The Haunting. We I hope paid homage to the Richard Johnson part in that film, with Thomas Thoroe’s authoritative role in this one.
Magic is everywhere, and all around us at all times. I think that is the most evocative line in horror.
I think the little girl with the red ball comes from Bava. I love Lisa and the Devil. I also love that line in Suspiria
Although I know he also likes these classics, I think Karl also has many more contemporary influences .
One of the big joys of working with a co-writer, director, and especially one from a younger generation, was that we could combine both. I would also just say that I was really influenced by the original Nightmare on Elm Street.
When I was twenty-one I spent a week with Wes doing the UK PR tour for the film. He (Kraven) had major battles to get it made, and I learned a lot from him which I hope I can put into practice.
Ian and I share a love of horror directors and great storytellers. I have to be typical and briefly mention my obsession with Stanley Kubrick and Werner Herzog. I also love the westerns my grandfather had on repeat including The good, the bad and the ugly.
Seeing the alien burst out of a Nostromo crew members stomach. Alien, when I was 10 had a profound impact on me thanks to Ridley Scott and sneakily watching late night TV.
Also, the moment my brother and I witnessed a zombie drag a woman’s eye onto a splinter in Fulci’s Zombie, we both couldn’t believe what we had just seen.
We lived in the middle of the British countryside at the time and used to buy recommended DVDs from amazon. This somehow helped me feel connected even though it was getting completely lost in the worlds of these storytellers.
DecayMag.com: Razors delves on multiple genres (supernatural, mystery, slasher) how difficult was it in setting the right balance between the varying aesthetics?
I think this was tough, and for the Razors sequels we will concentrate more on making the Ripper truly scary and ratcheting up the fear factor.
In this one, we wanted to lay the ground rules and to set up the mythos around the ripper’s knives sealing his tomb, and the little ghost girl trying to draw others to solve a mystery that would give her closure.
I will leave Karl to say more about this. Horror can be like comedy in those creating moments of fear is like creating a joke with its payoff line.
Sometimes the simplest ideas work the best.
We could have just taken six teenagers into the Forrest and have the ripper slice and dice them. But then where do you go?
I hope if people enjoy the film it will be for the incidentals, the flickering candles, and the creepy lighting, and for a big scary idea that we can take for a walk in the next films. I hope at least we have managed to do something original with the idea and the plot twists.
DecayMag.com: According to IMDB.com Razors is the first full feature Horror film for both Ian Powell and Karl Ward careers. What is the allure to the genre that sets it as a starting platform for a film franchise?
My first film was a horror short in which a girl slices off a man’s face because he has etched into it the likeness of her dead sister.
I also co-wrote a film back in 1986 with Cliff Wallace (Willow) which was a sort of Howling/Pet cemetery mash up. Ironically that looked like it would be made By Vestron and Martin Myers, who is an old friend from my PR (Public Relation) days and he is the Executive Producer on this film.
Also, my first feature Seeing Heaven, has a lot of Giallo aspects to it, lots of dream sequences and a dark figure in a mask. I know Karl also has a horror thriller short which pre-dates Razors.
I think if you think in terms of images, visuals and dream logic, horror is the genre to go to.
As Kim Newman says in his book; Nightmare Movies, tropes from horror have now interbred with lots of other genres.
There has been a bit of cynicism about us announcing that we wanted this to be a series of films when we have only made one film. But why not.
Surely it is a strong enough idea to explore across a number of films, and if we can’t get budgets together for more films we will bring out the sequels in book form.
If films about teenagers getting lost on country roads can become a franchise, surely we have a chance.
DecayMag.com: As independent filmmakers what are the problems faced in creating a full feature and ultimately a franchise?
It was a tough three years getting it together. Originally I pitched it at a 3D festival in Belgium and then also tried to get funding together via a pan-European training initiative called “Closing the Gap”.
This latter course was great but I did encounter possible backers who said “where are the monsters….or where are the strippers!” Breaking Glass have been fantastic and are old friends.
Martin Myers has been a fantastic godfather to the project and recognized the commercial potential of the concept and the title instantly. And this is the man who picked up Misery and Dumb and Dumber and Young Guns for the UK.
When I first met him 30 years ago, I had the pleasure of introducing the director Nick Castle (the shape in Halloween) to Michael Myers (Martin’s father) who a John Carpenter had named the shape as a thank you to Michael’s enthusiastic distribution campaign for Assault on Precinct 13.That was at the premiere of The Last Starfighter, which Castle directed.
I think the most difficult thing to hear is that taking an idea forward to a series of films is dependent on how the first film performs when on the first film you barely have the resources to do it justice.
I think in via Breaking Glass and Martin we need to attract the attention of someone like Lionsgate to enable us to up our budgets. If anyone out there would like to help get the sequels going, please get in touch!
Shooting a film as atmosphere heavy as this in ten days was obviously a challenge. Our cast and crew were fantastic and we worked with many students from SAE institute in London.
for who this was their first opportunity to work on a feature. We had very talented production designers and heads of Costume and makeup and good line producers and assistant directors to keep us on track.
And poor Alessio ended up hand holding the Red for ten hours a day for the entire shoot, doing all the camera moves and pull focuses with two excellent assistants. If we hadn’t worked that way we just couldn’t have shot the film!
The multitude of roles we all had to take on to get the film produced, shot, edited and ready for the film market. It can make you feel a disoriented and shattered wreck.
I remember falling asleep at on the beach watching a film on a screen at Cannes. Ian and I should have been at a party but we passed out.
Our energy had been absorbed by the Marche du film and having to try and get our foot through the door of various companies. Luckily Ian had released his previous film with breaking glass who wanted to take on Razors.
DecayMag.com: What swayed decisions in becoming a filmmaker was it a hobby turned profession or a course predefined?
It is what I always wanted to do and I had the pleasure as a 21-year-old PR (Public Relations) of meeting heroes like the Coen brothers, Wes Craven and Nik Roeg who is my favorite director.
I don’t think there is any better feeling in the World than knowing you have just lined up and got a really cool shot or s good angle. It is pure magic.
DecayMag.com: Aside from Razors in terms of Horror, Scifi and Thriller are there any future projects slated for development?
It was a great pleasure to work with committed and professional actors like Kan Bonfils who made a big impression with two of the Bond films, Batman Begins and one of the Star Wars films.
This was very sadly his last film and we have dedicated it to him. I had planned to write a film called First Edition, about a previously unknown Poe manuscript, with magical powers completely around him. I guess I am a little influenced by The Ninth Gate.
Kan was such a fascinating character and had such range and depth as an actor. I would like to take that forward but it will now inevitably become a different film. I know Karl also has lots of ideas that I would like to help him work on.