Paul Hyett has been involved in the British film industry for quite some time as a bit of an unsung hero of horror make-up. Now he’s got the chance to delve further into the business with his directorial debut The Seasoning House. The interview was only supposed go on for roughly ten minutes but in the end turned into a half hour conversation about our mutual cinephilia. Continuously open to chat about his own films, influences and other recent horror films; Hyett even spoke to us about his position on horror remakes.
One of the main topics that came up was his directorial debut of course which is being theatrically released on June 28th but opened last year’s FrightFest to rave reviews. Critics have been complimenting its creepiness, claustrophobia and cynicism as the highlights. Below the man reveals all.
You’ve been a big part of the make-up and special effects industry, especially when it comes to horror. What made you go into make-up and special effects? Were there any special influences?
A love of horror movies growing up. I loved films like The Thing, An American Werewolf in London, all those great horror movies. I loved slasher movies: Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street… I just had a love of cinema as a child but it was usually the horror films. Not just the slasher ones; the intelligent ones, the creature ones, just a love of horror movies really. I was really into sculpting and painting and it was a way to kind of getting to work on horror movies, doing make-up and creature effects, which I have an interest in. Kind of progressed like that.
How did the opportunity come about for you to transition from make-up and special effects to directing
Myself and Michael Wiley (the producer of The Seasoning House) talked about doing a film together for years with me directing. I’d been wanting to direct for a while. You get to that point where you’ve done everything you’ve wanted to do with prosthetics and creatures. You’re on these sets and everyone’s getting their first chance, you start to think it’d be nice to get my own story directed somehow. We talked about a slightly higher budgeted film but it seemed hard for my directorial debut to get a big budget. We thought we’d do something more contained and one of the other writers came up with a premise of a young deaf girl stuck in a brothel. I thought ‘that’s a really good idea!’ so we said it was a good film for me to develop but to do it quite contained. We wrote it and we were picked up pretty quickly, financial wise. It’s been something I’ve wanted to do for five years or so. It was just trying to find the right project, the right time because I was so busy with prosthetics. It took time but it’s something I’ve done now and I really want to be doing.
Due to what seems like grim cynicism and realism, where did the idea of The Seasoning House come from?
I knew that for my first one I had to do something quite hard-hitting as I didn’t want my first film to just disappear. I didn’t want to do clichés or the monster movie or anything like that. I love good characters, interesting subjects. When I heard about this I thought it was a really good idea, interesting characters and a hard subject matter to tackle. It was a really interesting place to set the film with those characters. I think the darkness comes from the environment and the violence that’s happening to these girls. It was a subject I thought was interesting and interesting to tackle.
Was it easy to then get it off the ground running and get it going?
We wrote it within a few months and someone took an interest in it straight away. I think it was about six-seven months after that the money was there. Within writing and shooting it was less than a year – which in film world is very rare. Obviously we didn’t have a huge budget to worry about. They were very interested in what I would do with my first film with this very interesting subject matter. If we’d had a bigger budget I think it would’ve caused a lot of problems because of how dark the material is. I think, for what we were doing it for, very hard to get off the ground.
From what I’ve heard, the film is reminiscent of Polanski, Carpenter and others. Who were your influences for the film? Which directors would you say helped you create the atmosphere you wanted?
There’s influences of Pan’s Labyrinth in there; I love the dream-like, fairy tale world of that. There’s a certain amount of influence in the The Seasoning House because the first half of the film is very dream-like, very fairytale-like. This young girl who is forced to drug up. I kind of wanted that feeling – because she’s deaf as well – of disembodiment of this car; she was emotionally numb, she couldn’t feel. Having this dream like state showed that she totally wasn’t feeling this world, she was disembodied. You kind of get this feeling with her. But also drug taking also happens with these other girls. We shot the first half of the film in this opiatic, surreal, dream like feel. That was kind of influenced from Pan’s Labyrinth: dark fairytale. Also I’m a big fan of Polanski and Hitchcock. It’s also brutal yet intelligent films Martyrs and Frontiers. That nu-wave French horror completely blew me away. That you could have a film that’s brutal and harrowing but thought-provoking and really well thought out and beautifully shot as well. Those were the kind of influences that spurred me to do The Seasoning House. I didn’t want something that isn’t thought-provoking or that’s a usual horror film like monsters or giggly girls. I didn’t want to go that route at all. I hope I’ve made it thought-provoking and dark with an interesting subject matter that’s beautifully shot, not in an obvious way, that it works to the tone and the feel of the material.
What tricks or experiences or advice did you use to heighten tension because, from the trailer and stills, it seems really bloody creepy
We wanted that feeling of claustrophobia, having this environment that was dark. A lot of people have said this film is violent but it’s kind of not violent, it’s one of those things where there only a few violent moments in it but when they are there they’re really horrible. The whole feeling of this world, how we set it out, how we shot it and the people that inhabit this place it gives a sense of menace all the way through. There may be a couple of light moments and flashbacks but having this environment I feel, with film, if you set it in a really nihilistic environment that gives you this feeling of creepiness all the way through. That constant feeling of danger! You’ve got a character that can’t hear as well so all the things that happen around her is like a boiling pot of water about to boil over because you’re never quite sure who’s going to come in, what’s going to happen. I think for the first hour you really get that feeling of pure creepiness, you never know what’s going to happen. I feel this entire film has an air of oppressive menace. That’s what gives it its real creepiness.
I don’t understand the criticism of violence because that’s how it happens
I think you get these films where loads of people kill – a Hollywood movie where so many people are shot but there’s no real consequence. This has hardly any violence in it but realistic violence is harder to watch. Without giving too much away when it’s violent it really gets to people. Interestingly enough girls seem to really like it in the festivals. A lot of girls came up and said ‘I’m really glad you made this, it shows what women go through, the violence towards them was realistic and how they reacted’. It’s a bit like the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre where there’s not a lot of violence but the film feels really violent. It’s that feeling I get from The Seasoning House.
How was it finding it a cast and crew? Being the decision maker for all things production must have been a bit stressful and tiring.
You know something, it was really quite easy! The casting… I’d gone through about 130 girls to find Rosie [Day] and I found her in the last ten and by that point I was like ‘oh my god!’ It was really important to have an actress play an emotionally numb girl, deaf, that could express stuff with her face. There’s a lot of progression from her character – flashbacks when she was happy to her emotionally numb to her to being brought back by this girl that she befriends and then the turn. All this time she’s been surviving and she suddenly turns and that’s when the revenge factor comes in. There was a lot to deal with for this seventeen year-old actress; as well as all the physicality of stunts, fights and living within the walls of this house. To find all of that in one girl was really hard. Like I said it was the last ten we found Rosie Day and she was amazing, from that she was chosen as Angel. After that it was quite easy with filling the roles of the other girls because a lot of the cast really wanted to do it. Sean Pertwee loved the script, came on board quickly. I’ve known him from working with him many times. Kevin Howarth, who plays Victor, I’ve known him for many years, worked with him many times, he was a natural shoe in. Anna Walton I’d work with before. Some of the cast I’d worked with before and the others were just really, really into it. Crew wise there were a lot of people I knew from my career beforehand but a lot of them came in from the producers’ last film. Everything slipped into place quite easily. I was really lucky to have such a good cast and crew.
It’s quite a rarity for things to go so well.
You’re always kind of thinking ‘OK, it’s all going so well, what’s going to go wrong?’ but we got through it really well.
What are your future projects? Are you returning to make-up and special effects or going to focus entirely on directing?
Yeah, I’m going to focus on directing now. There are a few films I’m attached to, doing my own projects, hopefully there’ll be an announcement soon on my next one. I’ve had a great career [in prosthetics], I’ve been doing it for 18-19 years but now it’s the time for me to really focus on doing what I want to do which is directing.
Can you tell us a bit more about your future project or are you muted?
I can’t at the moment, it’s very close to announcing. Rest assured whatever I do will always be quite dark. It’ll be in the genre, well my next couple of projects will be in the horror genre…
As I said, the pleasantries went on for much longer than expected so I’d like to invite you to come back tomorrow to find out what else Paul had to share with me. In the meantime here’s the trailer for The Seasoning House which will be appearing at this year’s Bilbao Fant Festival in May and gets a theatrical release on June 28th.