“CONTRACTED”: Sex = Death, A Q&A with Director Eric England
In writer/director Eric England’s disturbing CONTRACTED, STD not only stands for Sexual Transmitted Disease but also Something Totally Deadly. In the IFCMidnight release, which makes its East Coast premiere November 17 at the New York City Horror Film Festival at Tribeca Cinemas (54 Varick Street), Samantha (Najarra Townsend) has a drunken one-night stand with a guy she meets at a party and soon begins suffering from a horribly disfiguring illness. Director England, who previously helmed the indie fave MADISONCOUNTY and a segment in Chiller’s CHILLING VISIONS: FIVE SENSES OF FEAR, gave Fango the scoop on his squirm-inducing shocker.
FANGORIA: What was the inspiration for CONTRACTED?
ERIC ENGLAND: The inspiration for CONTRACTED was wanting to tell a story within the virus/infection subgenre like we’ve never seen before. I’ve recently become interested in using sex as a device to drive genre films because it’s something most people can understand and relate to, so your story inherently feels familiar to the audience. To me, that’s what makes good horror, something the viewer can relate to. I also wanted to tell a story that was drastically different from my previous two films, so CONTRACTED provided me the opportunity to branch out and really experiment with my idea.
FANG: Some of the press materials give too much away. I like the ending to be a surprise. How do you feel about preserving CONTRACTED’s final revelation?
ENGLAND: I completely agree. I believe you’re referring to the international sales trailer, which I never approved to go public. It was given to festivals and was published online without our consent, so it was out of our control. The official trailer, which was recently released by IFC, is the only approved trailer by myself that I want the audience to see. But preserving the secrets of CONTRACTED is of the utmost importance for me. It changes the entire film, and I want people to know as little as possible going into it. It’s definitely been tough keeping certain elements away from the public.
FANG: The film reminded me of early body-horror Cronenberg.
ENGLAND: Thanks! That’s a huge compliment. I actually didn’t have that goal in mind going into it, but I certainly won’t turn that down.
FANG: I like the fact that the lead character is bisexual or perhaps gender confused. Was this always your intention?
ENGLAND: Absolutely. We live in a progressive world today, and I think films don’t reflect that enough. I wanted this story to portray our culture as accurately as possible so that the horror felt like it was happening in a real world. Having Samantha in a lovers quarrel with girls and guys just added to the conflict in a positive way, so I thought it was the best direction to take the story in.
FANG: Thanks for the FANGORIA plug in the film. Was the mag something you always read?
ENGLAND: I’m glad you caught that! It’s so quick! That’s actually the issue with the big article on MADISONCOUNTY, so I thought it was a nice little thing to include. I’ve always been a huge fan of FANGORIA. It was a dream come true to be in the magazine!
FANG: Talk a little about the makeup FX and what you were going for.
ENGLAND: The makeup and special effects were done by an extremely talented makeup artist named Mayera Abeita. She’s incredibly talented, and we gave her pennies to pull off a job that needed thousands of dollars and tons of time, which she had very little of. So she was a total rock star in not only pulling off this incredible makeup job, but also keeping track of the progression of the virus and the execution of it.
When May and I first started talking about what I wanted to happen to Samantha, the main goal was always to make it feel as real as possible. Essentially, I started working my way backward from where I wanted the film to end and thought about the stages she would go through in order to get there, and we used that kind of as our guide. Mayera really brought a lot of great ideas and tricks to the table that allowed us to pull off an impressive look for very little money. I’m still blown away by how incredible of a job she did. And on that note, Najarra Townsend, who plays Samantha, was an absolute trouper to be put through the shit she was with the makeup and special effects. She loved it and her performance is insane. I can’t say enough good things about these ladies.
FANG: Caroline Williams is great in the film and seems to be making a horror film comeback these days. What led you to cast her?
ENGLAND: Thank you! She is amazing. Caroline was incredible on set and just brings such knowledge and energy to any set she’s on. I’m glad to see her on screen more recently! We honestly just wanted to cast someone we haven’t seen in something like this either ever, or in a while. Matt Mercer and I did the casting ourselves (with the help of co-star Katie Stegeman, who was a massive help in finding us talented people to put in the movie), and one night we were watching Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN II as part of our “Drunken Horror Movie Nights” where we watch certain horror movies and drink copious amounts of alcohol. And I turned to Matt and said, “What if we got Caroline Williams to do it? Do you think she would?” And he loved the idea. Next thing I knew, we were researching her, and we found out she was from Arkansas, which is where I’m from—so it seemed kismet. Matt reached out to her, set up a meeting and before we knew it, Caroline was playing Sam’s mom.
FANG: It was fun seeing writer/actor Simon Barrett as the source of the virus. What made you bring him in?
ENGLAND: Simon’s a really great guy, an amazingly talented filmmaker and a friend. We met at a screening of my first film, MADISONCOUNTY, at Screamfest, and I was a massive fan of his movie A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE, which had just come out. I knew the producers of that film, so I naturally wanted to know Simon. He had nice things to say to me and great advice on not only my film, but the business in general, so I knew he was someone I wanted to learn as much from as possible. When writing CONTRACTED, I really wanted someone nondescript for BJ. Someone you couldn’t really pick out in a line-up, so it felt like he was anyone. And even though Simon is an extremely charming person with a lot of charisma, he’s great at blending in—which I think he learned from being a private investigator in the past. So I asked him to do it, fully expecting him to say, “Your script is shit, f**k off,” but he accepted.
It was great having Simon on set because I got a lot of great insight as to how he collaborates, and he was always on the same wavelength as me because even when he’s acting, he’s got his filmmaker hat on, which makes things move a lot faster. He was helping out in between setups and writing his next film while we weren’t shooting his stuff, so he was just an absolute asset to the movie.
FANG: Are you hooking up with Simon and company as part of the “mumblegore” movement in horror?
ENGLAND: I would love to be in a category of talented filmmakers that are finding success by telling unique stories in an interesting fashion, as long as they stop calling it “mumblegore” [laughs]! Simon and all the successful recent filmmakers are all just talented artists who are doing what they do the best way they know how. I hope I can continue to do that and help inspire others to do the same
FANG: What’s next for you?
ENGLAND: CONTRACTED has opened a lot of interesting doors for me, so I’m happy to say I have a lot of opportunities on my plate at the moment. One of the most immediate things I have is a film that was once called UNDERNEATH, but we’re in the process of changing the title. It’s an incredible script, written by talented writer T.J. Cimfel, and we’re gearing up to potentially shoot that next year with Method House Films. I’m also really close to shooting a couple of other films I have: one is a horror-comedy we plan to shoot next year in Oregon, and the other is a psychological horror film in the vein of VIDEODROME. I’m excited to get busy on all of these crazy films!
After closing the New York City Horror Film Festival on November 17, CONTRACTED officially opens in NYC and LA on November 22. The movie will also be available on VOD and in the iTunes store. England, Townsend and others will be in-person at the LA debut, while Williams will host the NY fest date. For tickets to the LA screening, go here and here. For more information on the NYC Horror Film Festival, including the full line-up and to purchase tickets, go to the official website here and visit the Facebook page here.