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Q&A: Sean Hogan, on the Long-Awaited U.S. Bow of “THE DEVIL’S BUSINESS”

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In 2011, an intimate, brisk, affecting film unspooled at festivals around the world and introduced many audiences to UK talent Sean Hogan. The director of LIE STILL (unfortunately retitled to THE HAUNTING OF 24 in the U.S.), who had also just contributed to transgressive anthology LITTLE DEATHS, seemed poised to break through in a heavier manner. After all, his THE DEVIL’S BUSINESS was a literary, thoughtful piece of horror, one looking to enthrall and ultimately repulse, ending on a particularly eerie note. 

In 2012, THE DEVIL’S BUSINESS did just that, elevating Hogan and producer Jen Handorf (THE BORDERLANDS), and proceeding to effectively creep out many around the world, as the film found distribution in various territories. Weirdly, except the U.S.

Having never been officially released stateside until now, THE DEVIL’S BUSINESS remains an overlooked contemporary horror film for myriad genre fans. The second of beloved cult label Mondo Macabro’s first pair of Blu-rays, the film follows a pair of hitmen as they patiently await their target, as well as something far more frightening.

FANGORIA spoke to Hogan about the film’s richly deserved new release.

FANGORIA: THE DEVIL’S BUSINESS is engaging as an intimate, very literary film. What’s the process of keeping such a storytelling-heavy piece visually interesting as well?

SEAN HOGAN: That was always going to be the tricky part. It was shot on such a short schedule – 8-9 days – that I always knew we weren’t really going to have time for elaborate camera setups or a lot of coverage. So every day became about ‘what’s the minimum amount of shots we can cover this scene in and still have it be engaging and impart the information we need?’ Not an ideal way to work! I know Nicola, the DP, found it frustrating at times we weren’t able to push the visuals more. But that was what we had to work with.

So we planned a lot and tried to use the time wisely. We spent a lot of time discussing the lighting and tried to do as much with that as we could – if we didn’t have the time for a lot of setups, we could at least try and make the overall look as visually appealing as possible. So we definitely ended up using a fair amount of colored light to help give it mood, which is probably me indulging my Bava fetish! Beyond that, because we were using very lightweight cameras, we could at least get some interesting angles along the way, to help break things up a bit.

But essentially, there’s no getting away from the fact that it is a dialogue-driven film. However, I do tend to subscribe to the idea that a shot of a good actor doing their thing is often worth just as much as an epic landscape, and luckily we had some very good ones. I wouldn’t go back and trade the close-up of Billy Clarke telling his story for a day’s use of a steadicam, put it that way.

FANG:  How did you arrive at centering such a tale on hit men. Is it the dark, if professional, nature of their work?

HOGAN: I’ve been open about the fact that one of the main inspirations behind the film was Harold Pinter’s play THE DUMB WAITER, which is also about two hitmen waiting around to carry out a contract killing. So that was definitely how it started, me thinking: “Hmm, you could do a great horror spin on that concept.” So the hitmen kind of came with the package, to be honest!

But yes, as you say – there’s something fascinating about the concept of this being their job. They’re not just killers, but people who kill for money, which might be about as low as you can go. And then you get into the notion of what this sort of existence might do to a person, and ideas of guilt and sin and whatever. All of which tie quite nicely into a story with heavily Satanic trappings!

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And it just seemed like a fun idea to take someone who was by their very nature exceptionally dangerous, and then put them in a situation where all of their willingness to murder and professional cold-bloodedness meant absolutely nothing, where it wasn’t going to save them. I tend to write very character-based stuff, and you’re always looking for the right situation to put a certain character in, because that’s basically where your story comes from: THAT character in THAT situation.

So yes – the hitmen started with Pinter, and then I ran with them and did my own thing. It’d be a very different movie if it was two delivery men stumbling into Satanic goings-on, that’s for damn sure…

FANG: The film is being released in the U.S. some time after it first premiered and hit theaters and DVD in other territories. How has your relationship to the film changed at all since then? Has it?

HOGAN: I don’t know that it has. I’m still very fond of it, because it was a film we made for the love of it. I’d had a difficult, unpleasant experience on my previous film, and I just wanted to make something to remind me of what was good about the job in the first place. And I never even really expected anyone to see it, because it was such a small film.

So when it came out in the UK and did well, it was beyond what I ever expected from it. It actually sort of put me on the map there, which was ironic given it’s the smallest thing I’ve ever done. And so now that it’s coming out in the U.S., it just feels like another gift in a way; whenever new people get a chance to see it, I’m just thrilled that the film even has a life. (I’m also stoked that it’s being released on Blu-ray, kudos to Mondo Macabro for that!)

And sure, if I look at it now I think, “oh god, what if we’d had more time and more money.” But it is what it is, you know? I’m really proud of what we achieved for what we had, which was basically nothing. Who knows, maybe I’ll go back and remake it with a larger budget one day!

FANG: What’s next?

HOGAN: I’ve just finished producing a documentary on the UK comic book 2000AD called FUTURE SHOCK! which recently premiered at MondoCon and Fantastic Fest. That’s been a lot of fun to do and the response has been great, but I have no great love for producing overall and I’m itching to direct again!

So along with three other UK directors, I’m part of an anthology movie called ITS WALLS WERE BLOOD which is meant to be shooting early next year; it’s kind of in an Amicus vein but a much harder, nastier, more modern take on that genre. So that should be cool to do.

I also have my World War I horror script NO MAN’S LAND, which I’m dying to make; we just need to get the right actors attached for that to happen. And I’m just finishing up another script for someone else to direct; it’s too early to say anything about that now, but I’m really enjoying writing it and again, that’s meant to go early next year.

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About the author
Samuel Zimmerman

Fangoria.com Managing Editor Samuel Zimmerman has been at FANGORIA since 2009, where fresh out of the Purchase College Cinema Studies program, he began as an editorial assistant. Since, he’s honed both his writing and karaoke skills and been trusted with the responsibility of jury duty at Austin’s incredible Fantastic Fest. Zimmerman lives in and hails from The Bronx, New York where his pants are too tight and he’ll watch anything with witches.

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