Interview: Neil Marshall – 'There was malicious intent on my part I wanted to scare the shit out of people'
Horror director discusses The Descent, Dog Solders, Lost in Space and Dark Signal
Neil Marshall is one of Britain's greatest modern horror directors. Bursting onto the scene with savage werewolf movie Dog Solders in 2002. A cult classic featuring Sean Pertwee and a bunch of squaddies being attacked by hairy monsters in the Scottish wilderness. Then came the terror of The Descent as a group of female potholers were besieged by subterranean creatures. More recently Marshall moved into TV directing Hannibal, Black Sails, Constantine and two of the most explosive episodes of Game of Thrones ('Blackwater' and 'The Watchers on the Wall', basically if you want an epic battle in GoT Marshall is your man) and he's currently working on a sci-fi adventure Timeless and Netflix's reboot of Lost in Space.
On the side he's also a producer encouraging young horror talent. Including creepy ghost story Dark Signal written and directed by Ed Evers-Swindell.
How did you get involved with Dark Signal?
I got involved before the project even started. Ed and I have been mates for over 20 years. We bonded over movies, we're both Indiana Jones fanatics and 80s movie nerds. It was always the plan that Ed wanted to direct and I was happy to help in any way I could. He came up with this idea of someone in a car being haunted by a ghost and the radio signals concept. So I said 'get it written and we'll see what we can do.' By chance I was a at a BAFTA event in London and met this young producer Jonas [Babics] and he was looking for projects so I put him in touch with Ed and they clicked so Jonas went away and raised the finance. I was the middle man.
Are you a hands on producer?
I tried to mentor Ed as much as possible, giving him advice right up to the shoot, script notes and things like that. But left him to it for the shoot because as a director I knew he had to get though the process himself. I didn't want to tell him what to do or be hanging over his shoulder so I left him to it and got back involved again with the edit.
What's Dark Signal about?
It's two stories combined, this character who is haunted by a ghost who's trying to relay a message and this radio station that's closing down. I can't tell you too much as there's a big twist and I don't want to give it away. The two stories collide and the two groups of characters collide in the night, in the dark.
Is there a secret to making a scary movie?
It's different for every film and for every director. When I made The Descent I very specifically set out to make the scariest movie I could. There was malicious intent on my part, I wanted to scare the shit out of people. In some respects I underestimated audience behaviour. With The Descent specifically I thought maybe three out of ten people suffered from claustrophobia and they would have a really hard time with it, what I discovered is that it's more like nine out of ten. More people are afraid of the claustrophobia in that film than the monsters.
It's trying to find those core fundamental fears and tap into those, the things that people feel or understand and can relate to directly. Ghosts tend to do that in a way, everyone is afraid of death and what comes next.
You made a big impact with Dog Soldiers. Do you have any tips for first time directors?
Yeah don't do a werewolf movie. Dog Soldiers was hugely ambitious for a first feature. At the time it was considered low budget but now it would be considered a fairly decent budget at £2 million. That's because the nature of the business has changed you can buy a fairly decent digital camera, shoot a movie and edit on your laptop; and it can still be of a quality that you can broadcast. That's changed dramatically how much money you need to make a film.
Horror fans love sequels will there ever be a Dog Soldiers 2 or Descent 3?
I think it's safe to say there won't be a sequel to Dog Soldiers. Not because I didn't want to make one but I don't own the rights and the people who do didn't want to make one with me. Dog Soldiers was intended to be the first part of the trilogy. The Descent was never intended to have a sequel, I don't think the story warrants a sequel, but there is a sequel so make of it what you will.
What are you working on next?
I just finished a pilot for NBC that got picked up. It's a time travel show called Timeless, it's sort of Back to the Future meets Mission: Impossible. We got to blow up the Hindenburg and build a time machine, it's great fun. Then I'm off to do Lost in Space for Netflix.
What can you tell us about Lost in Space at this stage?
I don't know what I can say beyond it's going to be epic and amazing. We're trying to capture the essence of the original. It's 50 years old but people love it and most of those people didn't even see it when it was first made. We have a responsibility to the original but also a responsibility to make something new and fresh.
Dark Signal is available on DVD now.