Down and dirty with “THE DEPRAVED”
In the past few years, the urban exploration scene has grown exponentially, with thrill seekers looking for new ways to go off the grid in a world otherwise revealed by Google Earth and GPS-enabled cell phones. However, as with all mysterious locales, there comes the danger of the territory, and it’s that danger that inspired THE DEPRAVED (formerly known as URBAN EXPLORER), the brutal new horror film from director Andy Fetscher. The film, which comes out on DVD/Blu-ray from Uncork’d Entertainment June 4, follows a group of young urban explorers in Berlin who learn the terrifying truth about a local urban legend, which Fetscher claims is partially inspired by his own experiences.
“Berlin is one of the best places for an illegal spelunking tour because the city’s underground tunnels are full of history,” the director says. “I spent many weeks exploring and meeting with professional urban explorers. Some of them helped us find the right locations, and some of the stories we heard had a direct influence on the script [by Martin Thau]. If you sneak under the city, you have to be prepared to bump into really weird people. We used all those incidents to make our film even more disturbing.”
Fetscher’s inspiration for the film came also from a longtime curiosity, as well as a morbid moment from his own past. “I have been obsessed about Urban Exploration for a very long time,” he says. “As kids, my friends and I spent our summers climbing through rundown factory buildings or abandoned Bavarian breweries. One day, we sneaked into a burnt down house where we found the remnants of people who died in the fire. Those experiences were both eerie and beautiful.”
Despite the grim inspiration, THE DEPRAVED also comes from a place of curiosity and a desire to bring something new to audiences. “Plain slasher or torture films bore me. We wanted to do a picture that blends different genres,” says the German-born Fetscher. “But primarily, our main approach was to show very special locations that have not been filmed before. About 80 percent of the movie is set on real locations: real tunnels, real sewers, real bunkers. We even had to bribe to get access to Berlin’s sealed-up locations. Sometimes we had to sneak down into the tunnel systems without permission at all!”
THE DEPRAVED earns its name in spades, as the moments of violence that do hit the screen hit hard, and definitely may turn away squeamish fright fans, if such a thing exists. “Writing the script was one thing, but the biggest challenge for us was to decide how far we could go in depicting violence without setting local authorities against us,” says Fetscher. “The audience is expecting it, and I want to appease their hunger. But that is what horror movies are about: sheer excess and generating nightmares in the mind of the audience. And there is the last shot of the movie, which I think is not only sinister, but also very funny.”
According to the director, the shoot itself was almost as torturous as the film. “Moments of sheer tension were much harder to create on set, since working on those moments need time,” Fetscher says. “We always had to be on the guard, in case security officials would show up. Lots of crew members got arrested during the shooting process. My assistant director and I spent a shooting day in custody because they thought we wanted to derail a subway train.”
In addition to avoiding the authorities, Fetscher was also tired—and inspired—by his multiple roles in the filmmaking, simultaneously wearing the hat of cinematographer as well as editor. “It makes many things faster, if you know what is possible and what not,” says Fetscher. “Of course, it was damn exhausting doing directing and cinematography in one go, but it also helps me apply my mind to work with the actors, and applying my hands to the lights gives a nice variety to my job.”
Despite the arduous shoot, THE DEPRAVED paid off for Fetscher, as it won four awards at the 2011 Screamfest in Los Angeles, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Klaus Stiglmeier, who plays the film’s villain in a memorably unhinged performance. “Klaus was always the first on the set and the last to go home,” Fetscher says. “He was pushing all of us to go further and become more violent. Actually, he had spent several years of his life in Afghanistan, so some of the things that happen in the movie are based on what he experienced with the Mujahedeen in the early ’80s.”
Fetscher even suggests that Stiglmeier’s crazy performance may have not been too hard for the actor to embody from one strange incident. “One day, we were shooting in a former autobahn tunnel that was built by Nazis around 1939 and sealed during the Cold War,” he recalls. “In the middle of the night, we bumped into some three-phase electric power supplies, which lead us into a subterranean dance floor—deep green flickering lights, smoke all over… there was an illegal underground rave going on!
“They were not happy to see us, of course,” he continues. “One of those creeps was a fire breather, and he tried to burn my camera assistant. It was Klaus who saved us, as the same morning he had swiped a power drill from the art department. So he stepped forward, making the power drill whir violently and threatened the fire eater! I even had to intervene so that Klaus would not ram the drill chuck into the poor devil’s head.”
And although his experience with THE DEPRAVED led to terror both on and off-screen, Fetscher claims that he’s not finished with the genre just yet, although he’d like to explore some other genres. “I have several horror stories in my repertory, but there are also other different genres I want to explore,” he says. “I like the multilingual aspect of making movies. Making a studio picture in the U.S. is certainly very high on my list. As long as it is a story where I can work with strong visuals, I’m open for almost everything.”