The first movie the filmmaker Erlingur Thoroddsen remembers seeing is the 1989 Tim Burton/Michael Keaton ‘Batman’, at multiplex in the Reykjavík suburbs. “I just remember the music and how dark it was,” he says now of his first impressions of cinema. “I don’t remember remembering the story at all from that time, but the darkness of it somehow stayed with me.”
Erlingur’s film ‘Child Eater’, is now playing at Bíó Paradís: it’s his first feature, but the Icelandic writer-director, who now calls New York home, has been making horror films since he was a teenage movie geek. (For a scene in which a character had his head bashed in by a sledgehammer, he and his friends filled a papier-mâché skull with oatmeal and red food colouring.)
‘Child Eater’ is expanded from a fifteen-minute short that was one of Erlingur’s thesis films at Columbia University’s graduate film program. It’s got enough creepy and gory flourishes for a whole shelf in the Horror section of your local Blockbuster (RIP): an a babysitter looking after a precocious, fearful, motherless little boy in a creaky old house, and sheriff’s deputies blundering into harm’s way in an abandoned family fun park in the deep dark woods; eyeless dolls and scarecrow masks; and a local-legend monster who’ll eat anyone’s eyes, but prefers those of children (“they’re best when they’re fresh”).
“The original genesis of the short film was to do a proper horror movie, something scary,” Erlingur says. “I went back and was like, ‘What scares me?’ So all these things kept creeping in—it became a hodgepodge of all these elements. We wanted it to be something that felt familiar, that almost felt like a movie you could have rented from the video store back in the 80s.” What Erlingur calls the “timelessness” of the movie comes through in the production design and cinematography: the land-line phones and warped closet doors, the dead pine needle autumnal palette and widescreen compositions shot with vintage anamorphic lenses, for a distorted, dreamy feel.
Lead actress Cait Bliss told the filmmakers that the town in the script was exactly like her upstate New York hometown—so they shot there. The house where things go bump in the night, a clapboard Victorian with wraparound porch and weatherbeaten paint, is actually her own home. “Like, her parents still live there,” marvels Erlingur.
Like the 1979 adaptation of Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot’—another work about a creepy old semi-rural house and resurfacing ancient evil—‘Child Eater’ draws on the classic ‘Nosferatu’ for its creature design, the elongated pale face and fingers and the bat-wing ears of its slow-moving boogeyman. The other photos Erlinger gave his costume and makeup team were of Francis Bacon paintings, and Christopher Lloyd as Judge Doom in ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’ (Vindication for at least one friend of mine who was also terrified of that film as a child. If a future horror filmmaker thought it was scary…) ‘Child Eater’ has already begun to find a niche audience since its festival-circuit debut last month (a VOD release is planned for early next year), and that’s hardly surprising for a film that, like its maker, is steeped in genre traditions. “There’s the references that I’m totally aware of,” says Erlingur, in between discussing John Carpenter and Brian De Palma’s compositional sense, the scores of Jerry Goldsmith, and the suspense of ‘The Shining’. “And then there’s probably a lot more that got in there subconsciously.”
The Child Eater is playing now at Bíó Paradís. Check the website for exact dates and times.
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