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Director Richard Rowntree talks ‘Mask of the Devil’

After a successful crowdfunding campaign, Mask of the Devil, the latest feature from independent horror director Richard Rowntree is currently in post-production.

Billed as a love letter to visceral VHS 80s horror, Mask of the Devil is set to bring the blood in bucket loads.

Bloody Flicks caught up with Richard for a quick update on the film –

Can you tell us where the idea for Mask of the Devil came from?

As with most of our work, we spitball ideas – sometimes pretty outrageous ones – and then see what sticks. The story we really wanted to tell was about how “selling out” your artistic ideals for the sake of fame and success is a really dark path to go down – so we started with that and then worked out how we could set up a framework around that with believable (albeit sometimes caricatured) characters, environment and events. What was fun about this movie was that we have so much fun and laughter during the creative process and we wanted to bring an element of that to the screen, so there’s a lot more dark humour in this film than we have had previously with DOGGED and NEFARIOUS. I love a challenge, and I’d always thought I would struggle to make a slasher movie – so we decided that was going to be our sub-genre. Mashing all of those things together was a blast!

Tell us about the writing process with Matthew Davies?

Matt and I have known each other for almost 30 years, and we share many of the same tastes and ideals – both within the stuff we consume and also how we want to approach our work. We have a good shorthand, and aren’t afraid to tell each other if we think an idea isn’t working. So we loosely come up with an idea – throw it around a bit and chat before we begin putting anything on paper. When we’re in that position, generally I do a first draft, incorporating our ideas – then send it to him – he comes back with pages and pages of notes on how bad it is (haha!) – so I re-draft it – and then from there we go back and forth taking turns to write a draft and send it to the other – so we’re always chopping and changing things in that way – there’s so many considerations outside of the artistic element to take into consideration with indie movies too – are we going to be able to afford to shoot this scene in a certain way; is this a realistic location for us; can we get VFX to make something work and so on. We also work extensively with our crew HOD’s to discuss what’s possible so we can ensure the writing is considerate of limitations!

Given your last feature Nefarious, I guess we can expect plenty of gore?

Haha! Yes, plenty of gore in this one – but a lot of it in a more fun presentation than NEFARIOUS – we barely had a day on set where we didn’t kill someone off and use litres of blood this time! There were some challenges with this one – we had a lot more deaths than we have in any of our other movies, and we wanted to make them creative and relevant to the characters, so hopefully it will be a fun, gruesome watch!

Is the plan to submit the film to festivals this year?

Yes absolutely – we love the horror festival circuit, and have seen great work and made good friends over the last 4-5 years all over the world – any time you’re accepted to a festival and get to see an audience reaction to your work is a great thrill for me as a filmmaker – after all, that’s why we make movies – to entertain! Fingers crossed we should start a festival run in the second half of the year which we hope will be successful and long!

Were films such as Serpent and the Rainbow an inspiration for Mask of the Devil?

Although I do love that film, I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily been a direct influence for this movie. We’ve described it in the initial marketing as BOOGIE NIGHTS meets FRIDAY 13th – which, now we have picture locked, is a pretty fair representation! I re-watched a lot of the 70’s and 80’s slasher movies, as well as some older stuff too as reference – the look and feel of MOTD is a grimy, VHS vibe – and I think we’ve managed to pull that off whilst still injecting some new ideas into the visuals and story.

It’s very interesting it is involved in the world of pornography too, how did you strike the balance between that and it being a horror film?

So essentially we, as producers, have lots of discussions about whether we should stick to our ideals and make movies solely for us to watch, or if we should try to produce something with “mass/commercial appeal”. Striking a balance between the two isn’t always easy, particularly if you want the movie to get noticed. I’ve met several filmmakers over the years who have subsidised their serious indie filmmaking by working in pornography for stints, which really intrigued me – and of course there’s examples of people who went on to have lots of success after starting their careers in adult movies as well – Abel Ferrara, Wes Craven, Kubrick and so on. There’s a pretty fine line between what filmmakers will and won’t do, to either make a quick buck or simply just get something made for their own creative satisfaction. It’s an exciting parallel to explore for me – and with the historical links between pornography (or at least sex) and horror, it felt like a great place to set our story. MOTD doesn’t delve in to the nudie category, but focuses more on the actual people who work in that part of the industry, and how they consider themselves serious filmmakers and have lives outside of their work. Throw in a supernatural slasher element to that, and it becomes a pretty nice allegory for indie filmmaking too. I hope the audience sees the link and enjoys the humour that derives from those situations!

Tell us about the casting process?

This was a really fun one to cast because of the roles – but the actual process wasn’t easy – because of the pandemic, we were unable to hold in-person auditions – so we had self tapes and conversations with actors and worked on their characteristics remotely. We stuck with some tried and tested collaborators for some roles (largely because they were written with those people in mind), but we also needed actors who were capable of bringing comedy to the film, as well as solid horror work. Casting that wasn’t easy, or fast, but I think the performances all have a huge heart to them and bring out the written characters very well. We went in to casting with a very open mind, and were happy to cast smaller roles around what the principle cast bought to it – there really had to be a chemistry for the ensemble pieces to work – and everyone got on famously, so I think we’re vindicated in our decisions!

The film was funded through a Kickstarter campaign, how stressful are these campaigns for filmmakers?

Stressful beyond belief! We ran our campaign late in 2020 – everyone in the world was sort of 8-9 months in to this horrific pandemic and everything that happened that year – so we were wary of launching then, as it perhaps didn’t necessarily feel appropriate to be asking people for money to make a movie when many people were struggling financially, and mentally too. But we also needed to start the process for our own mental wellbeing I think – so we launched, not expecting to hit our target – and we struck gold again, with the support of our magnificent backers, many of whom were fans of previous movies. I had several messages during the campaign from people who said that they felt inspired by what we were doing, and wanted to help us bring this quirky vision to life. We hit our goal faster than we ever have before with a campaign, and I think that’s testament to the fan base we have now at Ash Mountain Films, and also because of the wonderful generosity of family and friends again. But I don’t advise anyone to go into a crowdfunding campaign unprepared – or without a thick skin – but if you love making movies and don’t have any other way of doing that, then it’s absolutely worth every ounce of energy you put into it!

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