Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS interview. One of the cooler films I’ve seen in quite a while has been RABIES. I reviewed the film here on AICN HORROR last week and the film has recently been released on DVD and BluRay. One of the coolest little fun facts about this film is that it is Israel’s first horror film. I had a chance to talk with the writers/directors of RABIES, Navot Papushado and Aharon Keshales, about their new film and what it’s like to be horror trailblazers for their native country. Here’s what they had to say…
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): Congratulations on a fantastic film. I caught it last fall at a festival and recently rewatched the DVD. RABIES is a difficult movie to categorize. How would you describe it to someone who has never even heard of the film?
NAVOT PAPUSHADO (NP): When we pitched the idea to our production company we said: It's a mash-up between BOOGIE NIGHTS (or maybe SHORT CUTS), HALLOWEEN and the nihilistic comic nature of the Road Runner cartoons.
AHARON KESHALES (AK): We can say that RABIES isn’t just a typical slasher film in which a psychopath meets girl, psychopath kills girl, and nobody lives happily ever after.
NP: We knew we wanted to play with the audience expectation so we decided to do something different - but not from the start. I think everybody notices that we’re starting with a very typical slasher film. You see the first 15 minutes and you say: “Oh my God, we’re seeing the same film again" and that’s the whole point. You’ve got the douche who talks about fucking all the time, the stupid blonde girl, the "do-right" guy etc. Everything is very stereotyped to the point you say, “Oh my God, didn’t they see the last 100 years in film?” Then we kind of sneak behind your back with a surprise because the douchebag becomes something more complex later on. The virgin is not the blonde girl but the blonde boy, and as for the true identity of our slasher...well, we don't want to ruin the film....
BUG: Going into this film I thought it was going to be a zombie movie given the title and the bloody poster art. But it isn't that at all. It actually reminded me more of a PULP FICTION style film with multiple storylines and intersecting characters. What films influenced you as you were making this film?
NP: We love the age of Fulci and Bava. We admire the early works of Wes Craven. A personal favorite is HITCH-HIKE with Franco Nero and the late and great David Hess. Our bad cop in "Rabies" is a direct salute to Mr. Hess.
AK: But in all fairness, we're crazy about Korean films. We admire the works of Kim ji Woon (I SAW THE DEVIL), Chan Wook Park (OLDBOY), and Bong Joon-Ho (MEMORIES OF MURDER). The way they play with different tones and genre in the same movie, sometimes even in the same scene is mesmerizing. In RABIES we tried to go for the same effect.
NP: We must also send a special salute to Quentin Tarantino, especially to the way he infuses witty dialogues to gory scenes and the way reality always sneaks up break the rules of a specific genre convention. And The Cohen Brothers--where would be without the Cohen Brothers?
BUG: The film is touted as the first Israeli horror film. What's it like to have that honor put upon your film? Why do you think horror hasn't really been a genre explored in Israeli cinema?
NP: Naturally, there was a lot of pressure. Being the first is always a hard task. But we wanted to make a change in the Israeli film industry. For years, Israeli cinema has been obsessed with two major genres: military dramas (LEBANON, BEAUFORT) and family dramas (BROKEN WINGS, LATE MARRIAGE). In the last two decades you could count on one hand the number of comedies made in Israel, and as for other genres—they basically didn't exist. There is a feeling that everything in Israeli cinema has to be political or morbid, and preferably both. There’s little room for subtext in these kinds of films. Everything must be overt.
AK: So we decided that we wanted to become the pioneers of the Israeli horror film genre. The question we are always asked first is: Doesn’t Israel have enough terror and bloodshed in reality? Why would you want to put more gruesome images on the silver screen? We have answered with the following: If that’s true, why is Israeli cinema so keen on making war films? Furthermore, war films use realistic images and real events as their backbone. Horror movies use surrealistic and often absurd images and events as their foundation. The horror genre uses violence and gore to induce catharsis.
NP: However, RABIES still has a lot to say about the reality of life in Israel. You can even describe it as a dark and twisted allegory about the state of Israel: a country so obsessed with conflict that it has forgotten to ask questions about its own societal problems. With a former president who was just convicted on rape charges, and a bunch of ministers and army officials undergoing investigations for sexual harassment and corruption, there is a feeling that underneath the surface, the land of milk and honey is rotting. There’s violence and intolerance everywhere you go. Israelis are renowned for having a short fuse, but in the past ten years it seems to have become even shorter, almost non-existent.
AK: Kalevet in Hebrew means rabies—a disease that attacks your nervous system. In RABIES, we take a bunch of innocent characters and put them in an intense environment to see whether or not they become infected and lose their humanity. As you might guess by now, the name of the film is metaphorical. RABIES is a horror satire about the unbearable harshness of living in Israel.
BUG: What type of hurdles did you have to leap in order to make this film? Any interesting stories about struggles you had during filming?
NP: We had 19 days of shooting. A shoestring budget. We shot only in available light (except from the dark opening scene), in broad daylight and in the winter (which means we have like 8-9 hrs of shooting).
AK: Also the Israeli film industry never encountered a film with make-up effects (chopped fingers, broken jaws, etc.) and the actors (all a-list actors, mind you) never played this kind of roles: how does an actor respond when his stomach is pierced with a sharp object? How do you get shot? Do you die with your eyes open? Who will write the first horror score?
NP: We shot most of our special effects scenes in long takes. This is a very small budget film, so we had one or two takes for these complicated shots. One of these shots involved a long tracking shot, a huge explosion followed by a flying stunt man and capturing the reaction of a very scared actress. There was such a lot that could go wrong—the actress making the wrong gesture, the cinematographer missing his cue, the stunt man sailing through the air and ending up in the wrong place. We knew we had a second chance to get the shot, but not a third. It was extremely nerve-wracking. Luckily, we did it in two takes! Needless to say the actress was very convincing—she was truly terrified for the entire shot!
BUG: In my review of the film, I tried to explain the title saying that RABIES refers to the fact that when put into dire situations, we are all capable of horrible and disgusting things. Would that be a fair assessment of your film?
AK: No doubt. We guess the whole idea developed from the following question: "Why do you want to make a slasher film in Israel? We don't have serial killers in Israel, nobody will buy that idea?!?". We took this question and made it the premise of our film: What would an Israeli killer be like? Probably incompetent; possibly lazy. So who will do all the killings, you ask? The paranoid and intolerant psyche of the Israeli citizen.
NP: We used the title on a metaphorical level. When you think of RABIES, you think about a disease, and every disease has its biological reason and its patient zero. But what happens if we throw the biological reason out the window? What if there is no germ or slasher to blame? RABIES deals with humanity; the disease is social (intolerance, lack of communication, paranoia etc.) and patient zero is us – every one of us.
AK: As a viewer, when you have a murdering system, you always feel secure in the end of the film. I'm a virgin - so I'll live. I don't do drugs - so I'll live. I'm not a total douchebag - so I'll live. In RABIES we invented a new set of rules which have a lot more in common with human deeds than with religion (although we did use a lot of biblical allusions in a twisted way).
BUG: You seem to have no problem with gore. I was especially creeped out by the broken jaw scene. It's an effect that has been rarely used, but is such a fantastically gross and effective wound. What's your reasoning behind the extreme violence in this film and the gore that accompanies it?
NP: We love to play with viewers’ expectations in RABIES. In some scenes you think you're going to see a gory and detailed image but we cut away (like with the bear trap and the girl who shoots off the cop's fingers) but then you get two or three scenes which are very detailed. We tried to develop a system of inconsistencies in order to pull the rug out from underneath you. In that kind of system you never get used to the violence (sometimes it's off screen and sometimes it's right in your face, literally in your face).
BUG: What was it like having your film so well received at festivals? What does this mean for Israeli genre filmmakers?
AK: When we went to do RABIES we did it because we wanted to give Israel the gift of horror. Not even in our wildest dreams did we think this movie would get a universal reaction and such notice and even awards at festivals. Due to RABIES’ international success you can definitely sat that it's easier to talk about genre films in Israel and "Horror" is not a dirty word anymore. It was easier for us to find backing for our next dark thriller and there are at least three more horror features in the making. In this perspective we guess we owe a lot to the international market, to the wonderful crews and audiences in various film festivals and especially to the foreign press who really threw their arms around this little movie, embraced to its heart and promoted it with a lot of caring and real love .
BUG: What's coming up for you next? Are you going to be doing more horror or are there other genres that interest you?
NP: Our next feature is a kidnap thriller with a dark and comic twist. Its working title is BIG BAD WOLVES and it deals with lives of three characters which are affected by a kidnap incident: the main suspect who claims to be innocent, a grieving father and the dedicated detective.
AK: We love all sorts of genres and we'll probably want to play with all of them. We already have a great idea for a Spaghetti Western which will take place in Israel of the 40's.
BUG: Thanks for talking with me, guys!
NP: Thanks for this amazing opportunity. We’ve always been a fan of your site and we're still pinching each other to see if we're not dreaming.
BUG: RABIES is out now on DVD/BluRay. Be sure to check it out. Here’s the trailer for the film below!
See ya Friday, folks!
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/reviewer/co-editor of AICN Comics for over ten years. He has written comics such as MUSCLES & FIGHTS, MUSCLES & FRIGHTS, VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, WONDERLAND ANNUAL 2010 & NANNY & HANK (soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND & has co-written their first ever comic book LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in October 2012 as an 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark has just announced his new comic book miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment to be released in March 2012.
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