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‘Deathcember’ creator Dominic Saxl talks ‘A Door too Far’ segment

‘Deathcember’ is set to be the ultimate Christmas horror anthology for genre fans, with its UK premiere just around the corner at the Grimmfest Xmas Horror Nights.

We got the chance to quiz Deathcember creator and director of segment ‘A Door Too Far’ about what we can expect.

What can you tell us about your segment “A Door Too Far”?
”A Door Too Far” is the opening chapter of DEATHCEMBER, and the reason it‘s placed in such a prominent spot is not oversized vanity on my side: It’s a story about a mean-spirited boy who seals his own fate by desecrating the Christmas season tradition of opening only one door of an Advent calendar per day. And since DEATHCEMBER as a whole is set up to work as a cinematic Advent calendar, this story seemed like the perfect way to start the anthology; to get audiences in touch with its narrative framework. It‘s also my personal nod towards classic TWILIGHT ZONE, one of the greatest TV shows of all time. Mysterious, fantastic stories that always deal with basic human traits, have a clear morale and elementary chains of cause and effect at their core. “A Door Too Far” is not bloody or violent, its tone is probably rather fairy tale-like, but I believe it has a very radical, gruesomely consequent outcome, like every horror film should have.

Did you take inspiration from the Grimm fairy tales when putting together this story?
I was raised in a somewhat traditional German family, so the stories of the Brothers Grimm were quite present to me growing up. But so were all kinds of other fairy tales, legends, sagas of Siegfried the dragon slayer, the Nibelungs and all that mythological stuff from all over Europe. In some way, I was actually raised on these impressive, simple stories with a strong, clear morale: there’s good, there’s evil, there’s the right and the wrong thing to do. Of course, especially the Grimm‘s stories are often centred around kids as the main protagonists. So yes, in some regard my DEATHCEMBER segment does take inspiration from the Grimm fairy tales, but not in a very conscious, direct way. It’s more about the stance on morale; the inevitable consequences of doing wrong, of being evil. From that perspective, there’s certainly a similarity in ”A Door too far“ to what every good fairy tale is about, just as in THE TWILIGHT ZONE.

Was “A Door Too Far” always planned as part of Deathcember?
Yes, it was. When I had the idea for the anthology and developed its concept, I knew I wanted to have a film of my own in there. It had been ages since I had directed a film and I was eager to do it again, so I started developing ideas specifically for a DEATHCEMBER segment. I ended up with about 10 different treatments, some of which would have been impossible to realize with the given time and money constraints. Out of the remaining ones, ”A Door Too Far“ was the only one that had an Advent calendar, so it was kind of the natural choice to pick and turn into a full-fledged script. But actually, I think most of the films in our anthology have been written specifically for it; I don’t think that a lot of our directors had a story for a crazy Advent/Christmas horror anthology short film readily at their disposal when we approached them.

We have had plenty of Halloween horror anthologies but very little Christmas-themed ones, do you think Deathcember will fill that void?
I sure hope so! I know that there are others, such as the recent ALL THE CREATURES WERE STIRRING – which I have yet to watch –, but not too many, and I haven’t seen a lot of franchise potential so far. Which is weird, because Christmas horror is a well-loved staple of the genre of course. DEATHCEMBER is unique in its approach though; if you watch it in December you can use it like a real Advent calendar, open one door and watch one film a day. If horror fans jump on it, it could become a new Christmas season tradition, or so we‘d love to hope, at least for everyone who’s as crazy for Christmas horror as we are.

Deathcember was created by yourself, what was the process like obtaining the other stories and were there any particular themes you wanted to address in the 24 stories?
I first started working on the concept in autumn 2016, and by the time we switched into full-on ”let’s make this real!“ mode in 2017, my production partner Ivo had already touched base with a few directors who were very interested in the idea. Over the following months we talked to ever more filmmakers we wanted to have in the anthology. I think we filled the very last open spots at Sitges 2018 where we saw films like Isaac Ezban’s PARALLEL or Lazar Bodroza’s EDERLEZI RISING / A.I. RISING, were blown away and got the directors on board immediately. And through Chelsea Stardust, whom we’re eternally grateful to, we got in touch with a big group of young, exciting US directors. We asked all prospective participants to send us their idea, or treatment, for a short film – some of them even offered us a variety of ideas to choose from; we picked the ones we found most interesting and finally asked their respective writers/directors to develop them into full scripts. Of course we made sure that no two films had the same story or setting, but aside from that, we gave the filmmakers more or less free reign. Everyone had the same budget and time frame at their disposal, we knew what their film would be about before they started producing it, but we didn’t want to limit anyone in their creative process. So no, there were no particular themes we wanted to address; we took care, however, that there would not be 24 evil Santas stomping through the snow with an axe in their hand. Don’t get me wrong, I adore SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT, I love slashers and hellish Santas, but it has been done a few times too often. So we were generally looking for more original content, for fresh ideas, for new ways of looking at this classic horror movie holiday.

Of all of the other 23 films, which is your favourite?
Actually it’s not only 23 further films but 26: following “door number 24”, Trent Haaga’s “Operation Dolph”, there’s two more films hidden in the credits sequence. And film number 27 is “Ring My Bell” from Alyosha Saari which serves as a bonus and promo episode (and is in the 2-volumes cut of our film, which we created for specific festival screenings). I can’t really say which one is my favourite, they all feel like elementary parts of the anthology to me and I have deep feelings for each and every single one of them. Some of them are just so much fun that I can watch them over and over again, like John Cook Lynch‘s retro sci-fi satire “Cracker“ or Trent Haaga’s ultraviolent Psycho Santa romp. Others are sheer works of art to me, like Isaac Ezban’s brilliantly crafted “Villancicos“ or Lucky McKee‘s black-and-white horror western (!) “They Once Had Horses“. Others brim with so much atmosphere that I can get lost in them, like Sam Wineman’s “Milk & Cookies“, Sonia Escolano‘s “Joy To The Girls” or Jason A. Rostovsky’s “Before Sundown”. So, I really can’t pick a favourite, all of our films (and their makers) feel kinda like family to me.

What was your reaction the first time you saw the finished film?
Well, I had seen all the individual short films a number of times before we put them together to create our feature of course, so there weren’t any particular surprises left in regards to the films themselves. But watching the finished film for the first time, I tried to look at it from the eyes of an audience, to judge if the whole thing worked as it was meant to. Determine if the pacing as a whole was right, if we should maybe swap one segment with another … and so on. Honestly, I was never able to just sit down and “enjoy the film as it is”, there were always thoughts like “Does THAT work? Would this segment be better placed there?” Etc. The first time watching the whole thing put together though … it felt kind of surreal. “Here’s 145 minutes of Christmas horror. Created by directors from around the globe who you’re a fan of. You brought them together. You did this. This is your dream come true. Wow.” You don’t have that many chances to feel like that in your life, do you?

The film is screening at Grimmfest’s Xmas Horror Nights event soon, what can UK horror fans expect from the film?
A very wild ride. Seriously. Don’t expect non-stop, high-speed blood ‘n’ gore action from start to finish though, quite a few films in this anthology take their time and aren’t overtly violent, instead they build on story and atmosphere and get to you with a vicious twist. Of course there are others though that are over-the-top brutal, too. DEATHCEMBER is all kinds of modern horror, it’s not high budget, slick and streamlined, but it’s not “trash” horror either; it has something for everyone, from splatter to mystery to black comedy to elevated horror. From very offensive and gross to very conscious and thoughtful. From pure fun to message-driven. It’s everything you can imagine Christmas horror to be. Delivered in one big, blood-drenched package. We hope you’ll enjoy!

Win a Festival Pass to the UK premiere of Deathcember at the Grimmfest Xmas Horror Nights, which take place on 11th and 12th December 2020.

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