Lisl and the Lorlok

Dark fairy tales — as the creators of the upcoming film Lisl and the Lorlok describe their work — seem to be on the rise. I remember back in late 1997 seeing a horror-styled version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, titled simply Snow White: A Tale of Terror (US-1997; dir. Michael Cohn), starring Sigourney Weaver and Sam Neill, which took the famous fairy tale as we know it and darkened it up even more than it already was. Since then darkness has overwhelmed the genre.

It’s not an odd thing — this darkening of fairy tales. The originals of most of the famous fairy tales were extremely dark and nasty — representing a sort of pre-industrial scare campaign targeting the overly naïve world-view of the young and dangerously innocent. Many of these mortality tales were “cleaned-up” during Victorian times when children were re-envisioned as nice, unsullied slates on which only good things should be written, little recognising the morbid curiosity that often drives them toward blood, guts and tales of violence. In fact, traditional fairy tales have a tendency to look at the dark side of life and death. So sex and mortality can quite easily retro-fit back into the censored versions:

As well as in comics such as the above and in anthologies such as Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling’s A Wolf at the Door and Other Retold Fairy Tales and its follow-ups (not to mention Aussie dark fantasist Margo Lanagan’s stunning novel Tender Morsels), fairy tales and original fairytale stories that are horrific in nature have been turned into horror films, some suitable for kids and some not. In 2007 South Korea produced both Bunhongsin [aka The Red Shoes] (dir. Yong-gyun Kim), based on the Hans Christian Anderson story) — see Undead Backbrain review — and a rather grim horror film based on the Hansel and Gretel tale,  Henjel gwa Geuretel (directed by Pil-Sung Yim).  Then there’s Spike (US-2008, dir. Robert Beaucage) in which “a young woman finds herself trapped in a nightmarish fairy tale come true, and must rescue her friends from a strange creature who idolizes her and will have her at any cost” (see Undead Backbrain article). Add to that, Terry Gilliam’s The Brothers Grimm (2005) and Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) [aka El Laberinto del Fauno]. All these (and more) could be styled as “dark fairy tales”.

Lisl and the Lorlok (US-2011; dir. Ignatius Fischer), which is currently in post-production, looks like another example, and a particularly classy one at that. Writer/director Ignatius Fischer, who before this worked in the SFX industry fabricating miniatures for films such as The Fifth Element, Titanic, Dante’s Peak and HBO’s From the Earth to the Moon, commented that his aim was to make a horror film that kids could watch with their parents — “a fairy tale, complete with an allegory”.

This is my first feature as a director and I knew I needed to make something on a very small scale, but I wanted an original story, something that could be, at the very least, a little unique. The film is not fast-paced, not fx-driven; there are no four-letter words, no gore and very little violence. But hopefully there are some very unsettling scenes and high levels of suspense… Ultimately I hope children and adults can enjoy the motion picture with a bowl of popcorn and the lights turned off.

The theme, he says, centers around issues of mortality and addiction (allegorically presented), “as seen through the eyes of a child and couched in a suspense/horror movie framework”.

Synopsis:

When tragedy strikes, 10-year old Lisl returns to the family estate to care for her ailing grandmother. She soon discovers a dark creature haunting the house and realizes she may be the only one who can save them. Believing is only half the battle …

Katerina Fischer as Lisl and Bobbye Louise Ames as Grandma

An odd stone, given to Lisl by her adventurer Grandfather

Long Synopsis:

Lisl Pratt is ten years old. Her mother, Mischa, is a nurse, putting off a career in photography to cover the family’s bills while her father, Harrison, the famous author, deals with writer’s block. When her adventurer Granddad dies mysteriously, Lisl and her parents travel to the old family estate to take care of Grandma. Lisl soon encounters a frightening creature, but is certain the adults won’t believe her. Eventually Lisl suspects Grandad might even be haunting the house. As the adults begin to withdraw into their own worlds, leaving Lisl to fend for herself, the little girl dons her grandfather’s adventure gear and sets out to track down the monster on her own. When she discovers what the creature is doing to her family, she must figure out how to save them and battle the Lorlok once and for all.

Ivan Borntrager as Harrison

Lisl and her mother, Mischa (Kimberly Parmon)

Adventuring

Check out the trailer:

Though director Ignatius Fischer and his crew are keeping the final monstrous Lorlok largely under wraps, he’s provided some hints. The Lorlok, he says, is “a magical creature that preys on the psychic energies of people, on what may be called the spirit or soul.” The real question, he adds, is “where does the lorlok come from?”

These screencaps (and others throughout this article) are largely raw stills, with no colour correction, etc. But they give some indication of the insectoid nature of the monster — and its size.

Fischer recounts how the Lorlok was created:

Initially we’d decided to create the lorlok as a 1:1 scale puppet that would be shot as a live action character interacting in real time with the actors. A creature fx designer was hired and plans were drawn up. On the first day of shooting…. there was no lorlok. The creature never showed up and we were faced with a major dilemma: scrap production until a creature could be fabricated by someone else or roll the dice, shoot the film and hope we could find a digital effects team who could work with our lack of budget and create a digital version of the lorlok. We rolled the dice and in the end, it was certainly the right decision. Sohail Wasif brought his amazing illustration and design skills to the table and sculpted a wicked lorlok in 3D space; Roger Wickes too that 3D model and breathed life into it with his animation prowess, working constantly against a production that was not at all prepared from a technical POV for CGI animation. Two years after production we have a finished film with a terrifying monster — it was worth the wait.

If you want to get a clearer view of the design of the creature, below are some conceptual illustrations by Sohail Wasif and Bimal Gorajia, who also designed the poster (click on the images to enlarge them):

Meanwhile, Lisl and the Lorlok is official selection at the upcoming 2011 Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema in Idyllwild, CA, where the film will have its world premiere (on 12 January).

Hopefully we will all be able to see it before too long.

Check out more images from the film and its production in the Gallery below.

Gallery:

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