Tuesday, August 23, 2011

An Interview with Director Drew Cullingham of Vampire Horror Umbrage

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Director/writer: Drew Cullingham

Cast: Doug Bradley, Rita Ramnani, Jonnie Hurn, and Natalia Celino.

Release: UK DVD: 17th October 2011, US Release Date: Quarter 1.

Quite often, the universal definition of the vampire gets bent out of shape in cinema. Either there is too much lust, or not enough blood. Writers and creators have often spun a new take on the creature of the night and there is no escaping the romance. The flavours that exist can vary, and for filmmaker Drew Cullingham, Umbrage: The First Vampire is his vision of two loves—or should that be three?

"I guess I couldn't decide whether I wanted to do a western, a horror, or a drama," jokes Cullingham.

This auteur has no problems with mixing up the genres, and sometimes it can lead to an exciting product. At other times, the product is simply misunderstood.

"I do willfully ignore and play with genre conventions," says Cullingham. "That's just me not being slave to convention–the character and the drama must come first."

This director also notes that the Coen brothers product, True Grit is about as anti-western as one could get. "And I know people who hated it because of that. But to me it's a story that you could pick up and put in any number of places."

In his movie, Umbrage, he is taking that philosophy and uses it to focus on the characters and how they interact; they also have to deal with survival and adversity, a defining trait in many a Western. That is also what this movie’s potentially new superstar, Phelan (Jonnie Hurn) has to deal with. He was a rough and tumble cowboy living a life in the Old West; but when he least expects it, he gets turned into a vampire by a vixen in a little black dress.

But there’s also another tale: Jacob (Doug Bradley) is an arts dealer who is trying to bring his family back together. From a previous marriage, he has his ward, Rachel (Rita Ramnani), who is the consummate rebel and she tests the patience of step-dad’s new young wife, Lauren (Grace Valloran). Jacob simply hopes a vacation will do some good. Instead, their life gets interrupted when Phelan takes up residency in Jacob’s barn.

What Rachel discovers in the old barn is the vampiric Wild West.

"America was full of first generation immigrants," says Cullingham, "and who are more prolific than the Irish? There's an obvious charm to them–the brogue, attitude, and cynicism… Jonnie and I made the bold decision early on to let Phelan’s accent fluctuate."

And there are cowboys all around the world; the culture it not unique. The character of Phelan only supports the legacy of the universal cowboy image. They exist all over the world, including the steppes of Andes. True to their life out on a range, the cowboy's life is a lonely one. The themes of isolation and solitude is not simply restricted to many tales of terror. The lone cabin in the woods, however, is. When the people inside the house start to feel that their world is shrinking, there isn't much space left.

"Once the story becomes claustrophobic, as the horror convention demands, it becomes harder to stay true to the Western formula. The way the camera shots are paced and framed are really not 'horror' at all,” says Cullingham, “There's a few that are, obviously–a few that came out of Sam Raimi's bag of tricks [from Evil Dead 2] but generally I wanted this movie to not feel like a horror film."

But there is more to this product after the carnage has been wrought. "I do like the idea of the geography being bigger than the film," continues Cullingham, "We have the US, the UK, references to Eden, immigrants and so on. I like the scope of that."

When talking about Eden, he is referring to the master villain: Lilith (Natalia Celino). She was designed to be more than the mother to all vampires. Cullingham was remarkably detailed when he researched this mythical figure. He put as much of what he learned into the portrayal of this character on screen. "The whole issue of maternity is so deeply important to the Lilith myths, hence the character of Lauren (who behaves more like 'Eve'). Because she was pregnant, she was an easy target."

And in some tales of the Wild West, the pregnant wife must be protected against the marauding Indians. Jacob does his best to protect his family, but when he's going up against Lilith, he needs the help of Phelan. And this cowboy is in for the greatest confrontation of his undead life. Bradley plays an important role in this film, and when the two meet, the outcome is best left to interpretation.

The seeds for another tale have been sown, but will there be another film when considering how Umbrage has been received? “Of course this product is flawed, but it's also its own animal,” says this director.

The video release will allow viewers to study this film even more before reaching a final conclusion.

Included in the UK DVD release are: a 20 minute “Making of…” documentary, a music video, an interview with the legendary Doug Bradley, and an audio commentary by both Cullingham and Bradley. Depending on the response, maybe Bubba Ho-tep will have a buddy to play with.

But if another film does happen, Cullingham wants to have Bradley back in some form, and have Phelan undertake new adventures. The medium could change too; this creator is open to new mediums to continue the tale.

“In Umbrage, he wasn’t afraid to travel great distances in pursuit of Lilith either," says Cullingham, "and that's exactly what happens in the 'through the looking glass' moment - Phelan winds up in HELL! "

The Umbrage homepage:

Umbrage Official Website

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