Exclusive: Chris Smith Talks Black Death, Witchfinder General & More

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On his latest film available on VOD

The wait for Christopher Smith’s Black Death has been a long one, but it certainly is worth it. Now available on VOD through Magnet Releasing, before the distributor takes it out on the limited theatrical run March 11, Smith’s fourth feature film not only demonstrates the director’s palpable desire to stay within the genre, but his need to explore wildly divergent backdrops.

This time, he escapes the seedy underground of Creep, the wooded environs of Severance and the Twilight Zone-esque nature of Triangle and heads to the Dark Ages where Sean Bean plays a Christian soldier who is accompanied by his men, as well as a monk (Eddie Redmayne), to a remote village curiously not afflicted by the black plague. They hear rumors that a necromancer resides there and, if that’s the case, they’ve got a trusty iron maiden that’s ready for use.

In a year in horror that has kicked off on a weak note, Black Death is the film to seek out, especially for fans of Mark of the Devil or Witchfinder General. I can best describe the film as an atmospheric, powerful tale that plays out like “Witchfinder General: Year One.” I can’t imagine Black Death in anyone else’s hands. And, to think, at one time it was.

The film has faced a number of changes since its announcement in 2008. Geoff Sax (White Noise) was originally attached to direct with Lena Heady (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles), Rupert Friend and Sean Bean starring. Sax dropped out, as did Heady and Friend. Bean stayed aboard, Smith slipped into the director’s spot and Carice van Houten (Valkyrie) was brought in.

Shock recently spoke with Smith and he loves to hear any parallels that are drawn between his film and the aforementioned witchfinder flicks. “Modern action cinema has taken away the chance to do stuff like Witchfinder General and Mark of the Devil, thematic films that twist you up,” Smith says, commenting on his intentions for the film. “Because you need to have sword and sorcery stuff, medieval quickly becomes fantasy before it has a chance to be realistic. The first director was going to do something more supernatural with this film. And I told Sean Bean, who was on before I was, I’m taking out the supernatural stuff and making it really grim and realistic. He loved that, he was really up for that. Sean was a huge ally of the film.”

Smith was allowed to tinker with Death‘s script and he says a lot of work was done on the second half of the story, which introduces a chilling twist. But that was only part of the thrill for him on this picture. He says working with his cast, and the storytelling that comes out of that experience, is something he looks forward to. Here, he hails Bean and Van Houten for their work. “Carice is amazing. She has this ability to look beautiful and twisted. She’s got a 1920s style. We tap into her style and the way she moves. At the end of this film, I think she brings a real wit to the part. Stuff I didn’t know could be funny, but the way she says it is witty.”

Asked if Smith feels Black Death could be made on U.S. soil, the director says, “A lot of our crew worked on the Nicolas Cage film Season of the Witch before mine. They were allowed re-shoots and more money, but on a film like mine, we’re given six weeks to shoot a film and that’s it. I’d like the chance to have a film and get the ability to go back and get some additional shooting in. Woody Allen always scheduled one week after principal photography to allow for that. I think I’ve earned it.”

“American independent cinema has always been my favorite growing up,” he adds. “But what’s happening now, there are certain considerations, what happens with horror is there’s this idea of making really gross-out stuff that’s not scary. If it’s not scary, it’s not going to work. The jump moments don’t scare movie, it’s the twisted moments. The more we can take horror off of the gross-out stuff and go for the creepy stuff, we’ll find more interesting movies happening.”

As for what Smith has coming up next, it will likely be a film noir-ish thriller called Detour. “Just after I finished Severance, I wanted to make a clever road movie like Strangers on a Train. When two strangers meet, how can destiny be changed? There’s a femme fatale. I love that world. I wanted to do a modern spin on the film noir. And those types of films are few and far between. You can make them for a low budget, but there’s a huge fan base. Fingers crossed I’ll get to make the movie!”

Source: Ryan Turek, Managing Editor