Q&A: Paul Davis on Horror/Comedy FrightFest Premiere, “THE BODY”
For many, Halloween is a night to be anyone they want. For The Man, it’s an occasion to be exactly who he is and receive otherwise untypical praise for it. That’s exactly how Paul Davis’ latest short, THE BODY plays out. World Premiering as part of the acclaimed Film4 FrightFest in London, the film stars GAME OF THRONES’ Alfie Allen as a black-suited murderer transporting a corpse out in the open, where most assume it’s an elaborate contribution to All Hallow’s activities. An evening of horror and humor (of the gallows sort) ensues. Fango spoke with Davis (BEWARE THE MOON: REMEMBERING AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON) as he begins to carry THE BODY through its festival life.
FANGORIA: Horror/Comedy is always a tricky balance, but there’s a natural absurdity in the extremity of certain terror or violence. When did you first realize you wanted to explore that as a narrative filmmaker
PAUL DAVIS: For me, horror and comedy are only work when your story and characters are rooted in reality. Our reality. The reason movies like AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON work so well is because you have ordinary people in the middle of inexplicable events, reacting how normal people would react if put in that scenario. Werewolves don’t exist, so your characters aren’t going to buy it, yet everything still plays out in front of them regardless of whether or not they believe. Those reactions tend to create nervous laughter. When we’re scared we get nervous and sometimes that causes us to crack jokes when faced with something outside of your comfort zone. I kind of did this with my first short HIM INDOORS. While I purposely wrote jokes in it, they were at the expense of characters reacting to a situation. What I wanted to do was create something where only the main character and the audience were in on everything and I’ve pretty much done the same with THE BODY. We’re introduced to this character in the wake of a murder. We know he’s done it, but then everybody else he meets in the movie just thinks this body that he’s dragging through the street is a Halloween costume. So again, we’re on it, and the lead character is in on it—which makes for a rather dark, sickly sense of humor running throughout the film. I like doing that, and a story like this I think can only work in this manner. You couldn’t really take it seriously as it’s only interesting when you know what’s really going on and everybody else is none the wiser.
FANG: I know comparatively little about the psychology of serial killers, but one of the great things about THE BODY and its setting is it seems to open a brief window where The Man can avoid being caught, yet be commended for his work. Is this vanity something inherent in killers, have you done research in that light?
DAVIS: The vanity thing is definitely there in some known serial killers, and I can’t help that some of that have been caught far too easily were because they wanted to get caught. The thing with The Man in THE BODY, played by Alfie Allen, is that I wanted the very little reveal we give his character to be a slow burn. The first third is incredibly ambiguous but then we later learn a little bit more about him during a fleeting piece of dialogue that suggests that this isn’t just a hapless, bumbling amateur. He’s found himself in this situation, which to be fair, his own nonchalant approach got him into, but he doesn’t panic. He just waits for the right moment to fix the problem that he’s confronted with. He also never confirms or denies that it is in fact a costume either. So when asked if he’s “supposed to be a killer” he simply answers with “yes, I am a killer.” I guess that’s a sign of his enjoyment as to what’s happening beyond anything else.
FANG: The Man is kind of giddy character, which had me questioning whether it was just the circumstance of the evening, or if he’s relatively new to the killing game?
DAVIS: Quite the opposite. He’s a guy that knows what he’s doing throughout. I think if someone “new to the game” was caught in the situation that he finds himself in, he would have panicked, done something rash. I wanted Alfie to play the role always on his guard and always thinking. Thinking about how he was going to fix this little blip in his plan to get this dead body from A to B. The only time he ever really lowers the shield is when he’s in the presence of Maggie (played by The Inbetweeners’ Hannah Tointon). She is absolutely adorable and completely captivating. Even he can’t resist her charms, and show a little bit himself.
FANG: There’s probably a madcap feature length version of this where The Man goes much of the night getting into various odd spots with the body. Did you and co-writer Paul Fischer ever envision it as such?
DAVIS: Well there was already a fifth draft of the script before I ever saw it. My producer and co-writer Paul Fischer had been working on the screenplay a while with Mary Kerr, who came up with the initial idea, long before I was approached. I had been recommended to Fischer by Axelle Carolyn after the premiere of HIM INDOORS at FrightFest last year, as the script had a very apparent jet black sense of humor. I got the script around September last year, and while I thought it was great, and a wonderful idea, I felt that as it was it was far too ambitious and just not punchy enough to be a short. There were scenes at a fairground, for example, and a lot more characters. So I came in and did a re-write on the third act before locking everything. I don’t think it was ever intended to be a feature, because as with HIM INDOORS it’s a one note joke. You run the risk of beating a dead horse (body) very early on. I might be wrong though. A lot of people that have already seen THE BODY, including Paul McEvoy at FrightFest, wished that it was a feature.
THE BODY premieres Monday, August 26 at 3:35 p.m., just prior to ODD THOMAS. For more on THE BODY and its upcoming festival screenings, follow the film’s official Facebook.