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Heeding the Banshee's Call

An Interview with Brett Anstey, Writer and Director of a new Australian horror film Damned by Dawn

brett ansley

Damned by Dawn (Aust-2009, directed by Brett Anstey)

Damned By Dawn - Official Movie Trailer from The Amazing Krypto Bros on Vimeo.

Brett Anstey has worked with film and television editor Dave Redman among others as a longtime collaborator on the production of short films. He is currently completing work on a supernatural horror thriller titled Damned by Dawn, which was shot back in 2006. Its huge number of visual effects has meant a marathon post production time and will be completed soon. Impressed by the newly released trailer, I contacted Brett to ask him about the film and himself.

Rob: Brett, from the teaser trailer you've released, Damned by Dawn looks as though it has all the potential to be a cult hit. Perhaps you can start this interview by describing it for us. What sort of film are we dealing with here?

Brett: In simple terms it's a supernatural horror film, with dashes of Irish mythology. When we were in development, we repeatedly used the term, "beautifully haunting" to describe it. I've always been a huge fan of the Hammer horror films and they were a big influence on the overall look and tone. In particular, as a kid I was never quite sure where exactly some of the Hammer films took place, geographically speaking. They had a nether world quality, almost like a fairy tale. I suppose the same could be said with the Universal films from the '30s and '40s too. So I worked hard to instill that feeling into Damned By Dawn.

Rob: Yes, I sensed a Hammer influence. Can you expand on that a bit? What exactly is the Hammer style and what attracts you to it?

damned by dawn pic

Brett: I guess there's just something "Hammer" about Hammer horrors. They all have an identifiable style, which I'd say consists of a number of elements, such as the regular actors, the Technicolor photography (and the day-for-night shots), the production design, the class conflicts, the superstitions and mythology, the lushness of the dense forests, the cobblestone streets, the extreme redness of the blood and last but not least, the atmosphere. And as a kid growing up in the 'burbs of Melbourne, the Hammer "world" was for the most part, just so alien to me. It was so "old worldly European". And so scary!

I'd say "for the most part" because the only thing remotely "Hammer" in my world back then were pine forests. And the forests in the Hammers were always so dangerous. They were filled with evil; vampires, bats and wolves inhabited them. And I was attracted to that. I think because there was that connection. Because I could ride my BMX down the road to the forest and play within the "Hammer world" on a Saturday afternoon!

So I took Hammer's "what evil lurks within the forest" element and used that in Damned by Dawn. And the use of fog. We used a lot of fog!

Rob: So what's your history, Brett? How did you get started in the film business?

Brett: When I was 6 years old, one Saturday my Dad took me to see a double bill of Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger plus Godzilla vs Megalon. Then the following day we went to see Star Wars. So from that point on I was obsessed with monsters and movies! It's fair to say that one weekend changed my life! I wanted to be the guy who created the monsters; I wanted to be the next Harryhausen! A few years later I sold my ColecoVision and bought a Super 8 camera. And I started making stop-motion films, usually featuring my cousins battling dinosaurs and aliens. Then I went through my gore faze by shooting Friday the 13th-inspired shorts, trying to out-do Savini.

By my mid teens I'd traded in my Super 8 camera for a 16mm Bolex, and not only did the quality of the films skyrocket, so did the ambition. A few years later, I hooked up with other like-minded guys and together we started making genre mini epics -- featuring elaborate stunts, visual FX, monsters, space battles, etc. And I'm fairly certain that from about 1992 to 2004 there was always a film in production -- mind you, some films took 4 years to complete, so it's not like we were churning them out at a great rate!

Rob: So where does the production of Damned by Dawn come into this? Who are The Amazing Krypto Bros?

Brett: The Amazing Krypto Bros have at one time or another, consisted of myself, Russell Friedrich, Charles Thompson, Justin Dix, Hugh Fleming, Reg Spoon, and on loan from Strongman Pictures, Dave Redman. You could say there's been a revolving door policy. And we all proudly wear many hats, multi tasking is something we do. For instance, over the years we've all directed different films -- but then I may shoot a film for Dave and then Dave may edit a film I directed.

After we finished Atomic Spitballs, Charles suggested we put the comedy to one side and make a serious horror film. So in early 2005 we embarked on Damned By Dawn.

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Rob: The central premise of Damned By Dawn revolves around the Banshee, which you adopted -- and adapted -- from Irish folklore. I confess that my image of the banshee is taken from the Disney movie Darby O'Gill and the Little People (1959); it had a scene where the banshee heralds Death's coach, which is coming to fetch O'Gill's soul, and it scared the hell out of me back as a kid. All that eerie wailing! There was also a Vincent Price flick back in 1970 called Cry of the Banshee, in which the banshee becomes more a demonic instrument of revenge than a herald of death. Despite these -- and two still-unreleased horror films titled Banshee! (one by Colin Treys, and another by Emil Novak and Mike Bohatch, both of which give a non-traditional slant to their title being [see article on Undead Backbrain]) -- the banshee hasn't had much of a presence in horror films over the years. What attracted you to this particular spirit-being and how have you interpreted it for your film?

Brett: I'm glad you mentioned Darby O'Gill, because that scene always frightened me as a kid, too! And that image, actually the whole concept of the banshee, really struck a chord with me. I was always flummoxed that there hadn't been more banshee films. I mean, the idea and concept of a banshee is just ripe for a film. So as we were brainstorming ideas for a new film, I found some notes and research I had done on banshees years earlier, and bingo! we had our new film. It was only when we were in post production that I became aware of those other two recent productions. So great minds think alike, or something like that. Through researching banshees, I discovered there are many different interpretations. Is she a young lady? A washer woman? An old hag? If you hear her wailing, does it signal it's you who will die? Or is it a loved one? So then it was just a case of what will work best within our story. What's creepier? Once the first draft of the script was completed, Justin Dix began designing our banshee -- and I can't say much else, though you do see glimpses of her in the trailer.

Rob: I have to ask: the title, Damned by Dawn, is very resonant of Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn. Is there a Sam Raimi influence?

Brett: The film actually went through a number of different titles. The most obvious one to use was, The Banshee. But that seemed too literal, too obvious. Another name was The Wailing, but we thought people may think the film was about Greenpeace or something. So the title wasn't a deliberate homage to Evil Dead 2, it was an accident. I guess the main Sam Raimi influence in our film was in the actual production and how we set this whole film up, similar to how they made the first Evil Dead. We followed their way essentially.

Rob: There's a tradition in horror film production that weird shit happens during or in connection with the filming process. Any stories to tell in this case? If not supernatural, how about just amusing? How did the actors handle the whole thing?

Brett: We were told that one of the houses we used for the interiors was reportedly haunted, but we didn't experience any paranormal incidents. However, there was "shit" happening all the time on set -- not sure if I'd class it as "weird", but certainly it was some degree of "shit"! In fact, I could fill a book with the stuff that happened. For instance, there are many scenes that featured cockroaches -- hundreds of them actually. Trying to control that many cockroaches always made for a fun time!

 damned by dawn pic

Rob: So what's the future for Damned by Dawn? When can we see it and where?

Brett: The plan is to have the "world premiere" here in Melbourne, in May. I'm fairly confident in saying later in the year the film will screen at a number of festivals. And then it's in the laps of the distributors. So watch this space.

Rob: And what about your personal plans, and the future of the Amazing Krypto Bros? Any juicy titbits you can tell us about upcoming projects?

Brett: There are no juicy bits here, I'm afraid. I can however say that there are a number of new horror-related projects planned -- all depending on what sort of funding we secure. There's one film that has been in development for years now, so I'm really keen for that one to be our next film.

Rob: Thanks for sparing us some time, Brett. I'm sure everyone reading this will be eagerly looking forward to the premiere.

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• Official Damned by Dawn website

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