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Q&A: Director Mark Neveldine Goes Back to Hell With “THE VATICAN TAPES,” Part One

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Hell hath no cinematically stylistic fury, or berserk characters, like those unleashed by Mark Neveldine. One might say that a fiery supernatural energy has always ridden along with Neveldine’s intense vision, no more so than for his new film THE VATICAN TAPES.

An off-Broadway actor and director turned director of photography who pioneered such crazed camera moves as the “roller dolly,” the then singularly-named Neveldine, along with (Brian) Taylor, hit Hollywood with explosively hilarious blasphemy when they co-helmed 2008’s CRANK. It was the film that truly made Jason Statham’s Hollywood career as a criminal raging to live, yet even more unkillable than Jason—even when tossed from a helicopter and barbecued for the sequel CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE. Just slightly less outrageous were Neveldine/Taylor’s outings into body horror with PATHOLOGY and the first-person slaughtering of GAMER. They also lit Nicolas Cage’s fever-pitch performance as Marvel’s demonic vigilante into the even more visually striking GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE.

Neveldine has gone it alone as director of THE VATICAN TAPES, opening this Friday from Pantelion Films and Lionsgate. Pitched somewhere between the ethos of found-footage horror and more narrative-based chills, TAPES (scripted by Christopher Borrelli and Michael C. Martin) puts the Pope’s stronghold on watch in the personages of Vicar Imani (Djimon Hounsou) and Father Lozano (Michael Peña). The latter is a priest who deals with more earthly matters in Los Angeles, but gains a whole new belief in the power of evil when he encounters the beautiful and increasingly possessed Angela (Olivia Taylor Dudley), whose ability to twist the minds of those she encounters into madness and far worse marks her as the Antichrist. The hellzapoppin’ battle for Angela’s soul unleashes Neveldine’s intense talent for in-your-face aggression, climaxing in an explosive, intense exorcism that tests the chains of the film’s PG-13 rating.

The picture of controlled, nice-guy normalcy in person, Neveldine spoke to FANGORIA about this new direction in his career, which blends more restrained, chilling drama with the rage-unleashing thrills that have marked his past work, this time with the sign of the devil.

FANGORIA: Do you think it’s natural that the man who co-directed a stylistically crazed movie like CRANK would do an exorcism film, especially given that your last picture was GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE?

MARK NEVELDINE: Sure—I’ve been possessed my whole life, if you haven’t noticed! But I wanted to do something crazy in a different way. I wanted to explore possession and religion and spirituality and things that get under people’s skin—things that people think about late at night before they go to bed. I also wanted to stretch my directing muscles.

FANG: How did you want to vary your more frenzied stylistic moments with straightforward dramatic scenes in THE VATICAN TAPES?

NEVELDINE: It’s a different kind of style. I really cared about color and texture and lighting in this movie. My director of photography Gerardo Madrazo was incredible. He’s one of the best lighters I know, so to me there’s as much “style” in this movie as in my other films; it’s just another kind. I was going for a different palette, something really naturalistic, because I wanted to make this a slice-of-life possession movie. Yet at other times, the approach is very melodramatic.

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FANG: THE VATICAN TAPES occupies a weird netherworld between the found-footage and narrative approaches.

NEVELDINE: I didn’t want THE VATICAN TAPES to be a found-footage movie. That was also Lakeshore’s directive when they brought me the project. They said, “We want to make this more cinematic movie; let’s completely move it away from found footage.” I thought that was neat, because I’ve been involved with a lot of projects as a producer where people have said, “Let’s turn this into found footage because we can make it for a million bucks.” This is the first time I know of where someone has taken a found-footage movie and flipped it the other way around. Though the movie is called THE VATICAN TAPES, I didn’t want to do it in that style. It just wasn’t interesting for me, because I wanted to make this film’s world much bigger, to be about good and evil. It was too hard to think about that in terms of found footage. It felt like I would have had to cheat horribly to make that approach work here.

FANG: Do you believe found footage is a good or bad thing for horror in general?

NEVELDINE: I it’s great for certain movies. I mean, THE LAST EXORCISM was phenomenal, and that style really suited it well. I just think you have to be smart about what you’re going to use found footage for. I love when it’s done right, when it’s as organic as possible, which makes it all the freakier. But there are times when these movies should have just been made as “movies.” I know some people say found footage is dead, but it’s absolutely not. It’s just another format to tell a story with, and I think it’ll be around forever.

FANG: Any movie like this has to excise memories of THE EXORCIST, which is an impossibly iconic horror landmark to aspire to. Were you worried about trying to make your climactic exorcism compare to it?

NEVELDINE: I never worried about that. I was born the year THE EXORCIST came out, and I love that movie and I love ROSEMARY’S BABY. I know a lot of people think you have to achieve what they achieved. But no, you don’t. I just wanted to make my own movie. I grew up going to church and going to Catholic school, so I wanted to show people the things that scared me growing up.

FANG: What was the scariest thing about Catholic school?

NEVELDINE: When you believe so deeply, everything is scary. You go to bed at night wondering if you’re going to be woken up by demons or angels. I think religion is a great thing—it gives us structure and discipline—but it also inspires a wild imagination. Our minds can take off to many places, and that’s a lot of fun to explore. It’s great fodder for horror movies and thrillers.

FANG: Do you consider the PG-13 a hindrance? You really seem to have gone to the edge of that rating with his film.

NELEVDINE: I actually love the challenge of PG-13. Sure, it was hard to adhere to it, especially given where my mind goes. But I said to myself, “I don’t want to scare people with gore in this movie. I want to scare them with the truth. I want to scare them with the thing they believe in, and I want to get under their skin.” There are torture-porn movies out there that I love, but I did not want to do that with this film. At the same time, I wanted THE VATICAN TAPES to be visually naturalistic and organic, which meant that there were things I had to do in this movie with blood, broken bones and eyeballs. And I wanted to make sure they felt very real, so I pushed the MPAA as far as they would let me go. It’s cool that we did a PG-13 movie. I’m fairly young, so I feel like I’m going to do a couple more of them, even if I feel like R-rated films are more in my wheelhouse. It’s likely that 90 percent of the films I do from here on out will be rated R.

TO BE CONTINUED

Joseph Bishara’s score for THE VATICAN TAPES can currently be downloaded and will be available on CD August 14 from Lakeshore Records. Special thanks to Cheryl Singleton for transcribing this interview.

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About the author
Daniel Schweiger
Daniel Schweiger is a writer for AssignmentX.com and the soundtrack editor of Filmmuscimag.com. He’s mishandled corpses in BUBBA HO-TEP, died in BLOODY BLOODY BIBLE CAMP and DIE-NER and will soon be seen in PHANTASM: RAVAGER and MAKE THE PRETTY GIRLS SUFFER.
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