With his latest film, Centurion, out on DVD and Blu-ray this week, the British filmmaker discusses his childhood love of horror and why he's trying his hand at 3D.
Few writer-directors have flown the flag for British horror in the past decade as emphatically as Neil Marshall. Since his grizzly feature debut Dog Soldiers, the Newcastle-born filmmaker has continued to hone his passion for horror and sci-fi cinema with the likes of Doomsday and his widely acclaimed second film The Decent. Marshall broke from horror earlier this year for his fourth film in eight years, Centurion. LWLies caught up with Marshall recently to talk about how he handled switching from splatter-fest horror to Swords and Sandals adventure cinema.
LWLies: You tend to avoid saturating your films with political connotations or cultural reference. How much is that deliberate on your part?
Marshall: I always set out to make something fun, something audiences can enjoy and be entertained by. The same is true with Centurion; it's an adventure film, first and foremost. I mean, I'm sure there are political comparisons that can be drawn from this film, there are certainly parts of Centurion that reflect what's going on today, but that is never intentional on my part. People just tend to read into things.
But you were conscious of using certain imagery?
Yes, of course, but only because I didn't want to strongly infer anything. As I say, the analogy will always be there if you go looking for it.
It's interesting that in the history of British civilisation the Picts are essentially the ancestors of modern Britons, yet you position the Romans as the heroes of this story. Why is that?
You have to remember these heroes are 15 or 16 individuals, I'm not suggestin that the whole race of Romans were heroes.
Sure, and the Roman generals are shown in a less flattering light, but the Picts are simply savages here...
They are, yes, and that's because they were like that. It was important to humanise them just enough, but these guys were primarily grotesque beings, and they lend themselves to the villain role well in that respect.
There's this sense throughout the film that everyone is constantly on the edge of kicking off and beating the shit out of each other, was that a fun character element to work with?
Definitely, I mean, it was a time of extremes and there were no half measures. It was a brutal time. Just look at Hadrian's Wall; you've got this 30ft stone wall the Romans made to keep something out. How fucking scary must they have been for them to reinforce border so emphatically?
Was it a tough environment to film in?
There were hard times up there, we were pretty much in the heart of this wilderness, but it was important for us to be walking on the same stones and through the same woods as the Picts and the Romans did all those centuries ago.
Aside from the visual authnticity there's a lot of contemporary stuff going on in Centurion, a lot of modern dialogue, for example...
Well, I wanted it to be watchable and I don't think I'd have been able to get that using 2000 year old dialogue. My thinking was that regardless of how long ago it was, I bet they all swore like troopers, so yeah, I didn't want the dialogue to be ultra-authentic and archaic.
There's been a mini resurgence of Swords and Sandals-style epics in cinemas this year. But Centurion has a very different tone to the likes of Robin Hood and Clash of the Titans. How important was it for you to achieve that balance?
Oh, hugely important. I mean, it's a serious film ,but it doesn't take itself too seriously. There's fun and frivolity and a sense of humour which I think is lacking in a lot of films of this style. Going back to dialogue, it was all about interpreting how they would have spoken to each other, as opposed to giving them a voice that isn't relevant to today's audience.
Most of the cast have either worked with you or with each other at some point, did that help in terms of establishing on-set chemistry?
Yeah, there was great camaraderie with all the guys, it was a very easy working environment. I think without those existing relationships we would have ended up with a very different, more serious, film. Dominic (West) and Michael (Fassbender) were great mates from their time on 300, of course there was a bit of oneupmanship but it made for a pretty relaxed shoot.
Centurion is something of a departure for you in that it's not a straight up horror film. Yet it still received an 18 certificate. Was that your aim?
I was thrilled we got an 18 certificate. It's not a family film at all, I wanted a certain audience to appreciate it. Obviously you can get away with a lot more in an 15 these days, so it's harder to get an 18 in many ways. Often you have to have some sort of gratuity or sexual violence, but I'm glad we achieved getting the certificate we wanted without resorting to that.
Where does your passion for horror come from?
I was very much brought up around the age of the video nasty. Stuff like I Spit on Your Grave and Zombie Flesh Eaters were a big draw for me as a kid. I must have seen Evil Dead 10 times by the time is was 13.
There have been several recent remakes of horror films from that period; Last House on the Left, I Spit on Your Grave, etc. Could you see yourself having a go at a similar remake if you were approached?
It depends what it was, but I'm not against remakes per se. Some of my favourite films are remakes, like The Fly. But I don't know, it's difficult to say because I haven't been approached.
Is there anything you would like to remake?
And what's next for you, is there anything your developing right now?
Hopefully the next project's going to be something Sam Raimi is producing called Burst, which is going to be a 3D movie.
What are your thoughts on 3D?
It' a great tool if it's used well, but everyone's in so much of a rush to try and get something out in 3D, when really not everything suits the format. I'm looking forward to it though, because I know I can bring something new to it and it's an exciting time to be involved with something that's still very much in an experimental stage. We're going to be filming in 3D as, so you'll be able to see the difference straight away. Really, if you're going to being working with 3D, you have to shoot in it. Otherwise you'll end up with a mess and not a movie.
Centurion is out now on DVD and Blu-ray.