I recently did a review with the cast and crew of LONG PIGS, a mockumentary about two struggling film-makers documenting the life of a cannibalistic serial killer. I talked with co-director Chris Power, actor Anthonly Alviano, and special effects artist Chris Bridges about the making of this film.
INTERVIEW: Long Pigs cast and crew.
Interview by Aaron Allen
What does human flesh taste like? Chicken or pig?
When Horror in the Hammer brings the film Long Pigs to Hamilton on June 17th, horror fans will have a chance to find out for themselves. Long Pigs is a Canadian mockumentary from directors Nathan Hynes and Chris Power about two struggling filmmakers who decide to document the life of a cannibalistic-serial killer (played by Anthony Alviano) [ TRAILER -- SITE]. With special effects created by Chris Bridges (Diary of the Dead, 300), Long Pigs promises to deliver a gruesome and creepy yet darkly humorous twist on the horror mockumentary genre. To whet your appetite for the savory texture of long pig (i.e. human flesh), Horror in the Hammer put the filmmakers of Long Pigs on the grill to find out more about their experiment in cannibalistic cinema.
THE BIRTH OF A CANNIBAL
What exactly brings two independent Canadian filmmakers together to make a mockumentary about a cannibal serial killer?
“Well, there are two parts to that answer,” says co-director Chris Power. “When we were still in our early 20’s, [co-director Nathan Hynes] and I were looking to write a horror story based on actual events. Nathan (who’s originally from Newfoundland) had heard about a strange case that possibly involved ritualistic killings, and [we] actually contacted the murderer in prison – that evolved into a documentary in which we broke every journalistic rule in the book and made every mistake imaginable. Cut to many years later: we were gearing up to do a slick $100,000 ‘calling card’ short when someone contacted Nathan about investing in our company. Of course, this so-called investor was actually just looking to bang one of Nathan’s co-workers, but it got us thinking high concept / low budget. We knew we had [actor Anthony Alviano], so I pumped out the first thirty pages overnight, and within a week we had the script for Long Pigs.”
Since developing the script, the road to production on Long Pigs has been a long one. Although Long Pigs is being released in 2010, it began production in 2003. Throughout production, Chris and Nathan have embraced the independent nature of the production all the way. “In the past we’d tried to have a more graphically-designed, classical approach to film making and realized that if you don’t have good performances you don’t really have anything,” says Power. “One of the goals in making Long Pigs was to never sacrifice a good performance take because of a technical glitch and the bumbling nature of the filmmakers’ camera, and the rough editing style [of Long Pigs] allowed that to happen.”
Naturally, people are going to draw comparisons to other horror mockumetnaries that have since been released such as the metatexual slasher film Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. “We weren’t aware of Behind the Mask,” notes Power, “but certainly we were both fans of Man Bites Dog,” a Belgian film about a film crew documenting the life of a murderer. “I don’t want to say what makes Long Pigs unique, but I’ll say that I’m most proud of our actors’ performances and Chris Bridges’s amazing special effects.
Perhaps the most talked-about actor in Long Pigs is Anthony Alviano who plays the self-named cannibal Anthony McAlistar. Much to the relief of his cast mates, Anthony didn’t approach the role as a method actor, but he did say that he and the filmmakers “created the character in a naturalistic way, so he evolved as we shot. While some of the scenes followed the script, at other times I was reacting to the situation that the character was in, and the questions that were thrown at me.”
BLOOD, BONES, AND GUTS
No doubt these situations often involved the grisly mutilated remains of Anthony’s human ingredients – all special effects props created and designed by Chris Bridges. Bridges – whose past jobs includes work on films like Mimic, Diary of the Dead, Jason X, 300, Silent Hill, and Blade II – was brought on to Long Pigs to redo some special effects. “For me,” he says, “the most exciting effect was the male corpse. It was not technically difficult, but it took the whole day to shoot. The body was quite simple, Tony and I jumped in at every cut and applied blood, bone and guts so that it looked as though the body was anatomically correct. I am so happy about how it turned out.”
Speaking of blood, bones, and guts, what kind of effect does working with severed limbs and bloody corpses have on the minds of the actors and special effects crew?
Anthony Alviano, who plays the lead cannibal, found it easy to get in character around such gruesome props. “This was my first experience with extensive SFX. The quality of the physical effects allowed me to easily ‘be in the moment’. Working in such close quarters in that basement for so long allowed me to get used to it in the same way that the character had grown used to it.”
And what about the man behind the effects? Has he grown desensitized to gore on-set and when watching other films? “I think that’s fair to say that I am desensitized to gore,” admits Bridges. “Most of the time it looks like an ‘effect’ to me, and it’s hard not to be critical. I really appreciate great films that suck me in to the story, when that happens I stop being so critical and really buy into the effects." Dealing with realistic gore effects and cannibals would be a harrowing experience for anybody, but co-director Chris Power has his own share of horror stories from taking Long Pigs on the unpredictable independent film festival circuit. “The festival thing is tricky,” Power tells us. “There are numerous festival highlights – but let’s face it, the gut-wrenching lows are more entertaining. . . . We got off the plane for our World Premiere to find us incorrectly listed in the main festival program for instead of PM! Four of us hustled our asses off handing out postcards with the correct time for over a week, and when the night of the premiere finally came around, we were delighted to see a huge lineup at the theater. Unfortunately, that theater was also premiering 300 on the same night. We played to about 53 people including our parents.”
Dealing with realistic gore effects and cannibals would be a harrowing experience for anybody, but co-director Chris Power has his own share of horror stories from taking Long Pigs on the unpredictable independent film festival circuit. “The festival thing is tricky,” Power tells us. “There are numerous festival highlights – but let’s face it, the gut-wrenching lows are more entertaining. . . . We got off the plane for our World Premiere to find us incorrectly listed in the main festival program for 10:00 AM instead of PM! Four of us hustled our asses off handing out postcards with the correct time for over a week, and when the night of the premiere finally came around, we were delighted to see a huge lineup at the theater. Unfortunately, that theater was also premiering 300 on the same night. We played to about 53 people including our parents.”
Ouch, that is pretty bad. But Power isn’t done yet: “Another festival had a packed house full of people laughing and loving the movie. With 10 minutes to go, the film suddenly stops and begins to rewind. The projectionist gets the film back to the same place – it stops again. Basically, the guy who had transferred the festival’s program tape had fallen asleep and not seen that the tape ran out before Long Pigs finished. With no other playable format the lights just came up and the crowd was apologetically asked to leave.”
What’s success without a little bit of tribulation? Seven years after production began, Long Pigs is finally available on DVD in stores and online retailers such as Amazon. Chris Power and Nathan Hynes are very thankful to have their film off the shelf. Since the 1970s when Canada was producing such early slasher films as My Bloody Valentine and Terror Train, the Canadian film grant system and tax syatem has become increasingly bureaucratic. “Because we were totally unknown, there was no way we were qualifying for anything,” Power says. “Our investors were private citizens who just happened to like the script, and if it weren’t for them Long Pigs wouldn’t have been made. No studio would have touched this in a million years and certainly not the Canadian government . . . . For now we’re just happy people are able to even see Long Pigs after it came so close to sitting on the shelf forever. Thank goodness for horror fans!"
And what about actor Anthony Alviano? Now that people will get to see him play cannibal Anthony McAlistar, how will audiences compare his character to other famous horror cannibals? For example, if Anthony McAlistar and Hannibal Lecter where to face off in an episode of Iron Chef with human flesh as the secret ingredient, who would win? Anthony stands by his character: “I would say the Iron Chef judges usually reward originality – and I think Hannibal Lecter would stick to classic dishes whereas Anthony would be more adventurous. I’d be close, but McAlistar by a nose."