“It was always intended to be a wild ride,” writer, producer and director, James Di Martino, tells FilmInk. “Violence and gore is what makes a good horror film. I was big on a lot of blood, and if there wasn’t enough, I would stop and wait for more. Or I’d have to do it myself.”
James Di Martino definitely got what he wanted with his debut feature film, The Faceless Man. There’s blood by the bucket-load, and it gushes forth with gleeful abandon as heads, hands and other body parts are lopped off, and bodies are eviscerated en masse. Low budget local horror at its most gruesomely inventive, The Faceless Man is awash in familiar genre tropes, but they’ve been put through the cinematic blender and have come out looking all fresh and new…though decidedly blood-stained. “Someone that watched the film said that it was like John Carpenter and Quentin Tarantino had gotten together and made a picture,” Di Martino laughs of his heavily referential effort. “Sam Raimi’s work was also influential, as was Greg Mclean’s work on Wolf Creek. Ozploitation and Mad Max were big inspirations. Tarantino is not a horror filmmaker, but I borrowed – stole is probably a better word – a lot from him.”
In no short order, The Faceless Man features a crew of hard-partying teens; a trio of Russian gangsters; a small town full of crazy rednecks with a powerfully enforced moral code; and a mysterious monster that might be real, or merely a psychological manifestation of some inner horrors. “The Faceless Man was one of the first ideas that I had for a feature film,” Di Martino explains. “I was inspired by The Babadook, and I wanted to create a new kind of monster from scratch…one that represented cancer. I then looked at inspiration from The Evil Dead and Wolf Creek.”
Though The Faceless Man marks Di Martino’s first feature film, it’s far from his first time behind the camera, with the young director boasting five short films on his resume. “The first thing that I wanted to do when entering this industry was to make a feature film,” he explains. “I knew that to do it well, I needed a body of shorts first…and I needed to make at least one well before attempting a feature. It’s very different working on a feature. It’s a lot more work – a lot more – and it’s something that when done well can be used to sell as a product. Shorts are not marketable unless they’re properly packaged, and even then it’s hard to get people to watch them. The shorts that I worked on ranged from 4-8 months each compared to the feature, which was 20 months of work. I did work nearly every day on it over that time period. The film was screened privately one year after principal photography had ended. That’s not bad for an independent production.”
Made well outside Australia’s traditional financing and production processes, The Faceless Man proved to be a big challenge for Di Martino and his young cast and crew, many of whom he ported over from his short films. “People change over the making of a feature,” the director says. “It’s a big undertaking, and on a 31-day shoot, it can get very exhausting for actors who are not used to working more than a few days on a short film. Communication is something to really have nailed down to avoid problems while the production is in motion. You have to be wary of what people say they can do compared to what they can actually do. I had to make a lot of hard calls and tough decisions due to people not doing any work or getting credits where they did not hold up their end of the deal…especially when my company funded the whole film.”
While he might have experienced a few bumps during production due to his cast and crew’s youth and inexperience, Di Martino also had the pleasure of working with two true-blue veteran Aussie legends in the form of hard-working character actor Andy McPhee (Wolf Creek, Sons Of Anarchy) and cult icon, Roger Ward, best known for abusing Olivia Hussey in Turkey Shoot, and for his role as hulking cop boss, Fifi, who hollers futile cries of inspiration at Mel Gibson in Mad Max. As a small-town thug whose joking, jovial exterior hides something very sinister indeed, McPhee is viciously hilarious. “Andy’s part was written for him before I even got to meet him,” Di Martino explains. “After watching him in Wolf Creek, I needed to create a role that people would love to hate him for. Andy liked the idea of a horror film that referenced many other films, and thought that the character that I created worked well for him. It was basically like his character from Wolf Creek x 100.”
Roger Ward goes even more gleefully over the top as small-town patriarch, Dougie. “Roger was originally going to play a different character, but he loved the role of the town’s boss, so I changed things around and made it more of a Mad Max throwback, which works 100% in the film’s favour. It’s like Fifi from Mad Max goes mad and creates his own town with its own law. Andy and Roger were both very professional, and it was an absolute pleasure to work with them. Andy has a lot of unique ability as a character actor and brings a lot to the table in terms of how to improve his character and it was great to work with him. Roger just has years and years of experience behind him, and I could feel his energy bleeding through like some strong aura as we shot his parts over the three days.”
Making something original for hardly anything is no mean feat (“It’s a unique film in an age when that’s hard to find,” Di Martino says), but the battle is set to continue for the director, who now plans to get the film into cinemas himself. There’s a special Halloween event booked in for Melbourne’s Classic Cinemas in Elsternwick, as well as plans for further screenings and even showings at drive-ins and other unconventional venues. Di Martino, however, already has his eye on his next endeavour. “I have a secret project in the works,” he reveals to FilmInk. “The script is written, but I like to re-write and refine before I commit to it. I do have a few ideas for The Faceless Man universe. That all depends on how this one goes. The biggest thing for me is to create something worth watching, so while I may go back to making something connected to The Faceless Man, it would have to be different yet again and add something to the pool of horror films.”
The Faceless Man will premiere in Melbourne at a special red carpet Halloween event on October 31 at Elsternwick’s Classic Cinemas. Click here for tickets and more information. The upcoming screening at Monster Fest is already sold out.
Click here for our review.