Best weather station

The following interview also appears on and in the book, Lurker in the Lobby: A Guide to the Cinema of H.P. Lovecraft...

First, let me thank you for agreeing to do this interview. I feel (as do many people I have talked to) that you are one of the rising stars of Lovecraft cinema, and the horror field in general. The Shunned House will surely be considered one of the classics of Lovecraft cinema. What inspired you to start directing movies? Is there a specific film or director that has influenced your work most?

Ivan Zuccon: It's something that grew up along with me. Since I was a kid I was fascinated by cinema. I really loved Sergio Leone's westerns. I remember planning to shoot a si-fi western, and starting to put down a plot. The real passion came years after, getting acquainted with the horror genre. I had always been scared to death of horror movies, but one day I decided to face my fears and watch the movies of the horror masters. I rented ten movies and closed myself in a room, alone with my VCR. I was impressed by Mario Bava, Dario Argento, Sam Raimi and John Carpenter. I was mostly interested in the technical side of Raimi's films and the visionary approach of Bava's. I decided I would make horror movies, because they would allow me to use a more creative way in shooting techniques. I fished out my father's old super8 camera and shot some very short movies, which I edited myself. It was fun, and very gratifying. Since then I've never stopped thinking and making cinema. What made you choose Lovecraft as the basis for your films?

Ivan Zuccon: I love Lovecraft. But rather then his stories I'm much more interested in the man. I'd like to make a film telling his biography as the real story it was. His literature comes by him feeling like a "stranger", an "alien" to this world. Something I share with him. My interest in HPL comes from this feeling, not much by the terrible creeping creatures but by what they really meant for him. Often I get more exited by how one story was conceived than by the story itself. And I appreciate his terrible effort trying to describe what cannot be described. Why were the following short stories (The Shunned House, The Music of Erich Zann, Dreams in Witch-House) chosen for the film The Shunned House? Were any other Lovecraft stories considered?

Ivan Zuccon: My screenwriter [Enrico Saletti] and I were looking for three stories sharing the same location but taking place in different times, so we came up with The Music of Eric Zann and Dreams In The Witch House, which shared the inn's location. Then we used The Shunned House to glue the previous two together. At first we were undecided between The Music Of Eric Zann and Cool Air, but in the end we selected Music because we think it's a better and visually more interesting story.

.com (fan question): In the film, The Shunned House, how did the character banging her head against the wall tie into the story?

Ivan Zuccon: The head-banging woman once was one Estelle Roulet's follower and betrayed her. Her punishment was having her lips knit together (maybe she talked too much?) and her eyes ruined (as she probably saw too much of what was going on in the Inn). Then after so many years of this sort of limbo she is forced to suicide, and her blood (since it's spilled and therefore it opens doors) brings a hole in the floor to life. Thanks to this new live threshold the girl's corpse turns into the living mould which is seen by young Alex as he comes to recover his ball, and that kills Rita spreading itself over her face and into her lungs. (fan question): The deleted footage [from The Shunned House] implies a rather large plot change at the climax, how did this come about?

Ivan Zuccon
: Editing a movie (and sometimes even shooting one) if I realize some scene doesn't work I usually change it. Sometimes in a radical way. I try not to fall in love with any of the scenes, dialogue or shots, because the risk is to be blind before evidence. I try to keep my distance and cut! I do this because I want the results to be the best. So it happened in time I found myself with different choices in the movie's solution. Editing is when you give sense to the whole, create the mood and take every scene to its best. Besides The Darkness Beyond, Unknown Beyond, and The Shunned House, what other films have you been involved with?

Ivan Zuccon: I started shooting short films in 1995, and I still shoot some, waiting to find the money for my next feature-length movie. You learn a lot shooting shorts. I've shot 12 short films, mostly horror. Some of them don't have real distribution, and are shown rarely because of they are politically incorrect. One example is L'Ultima Cena (The Last Supper), a sort of re-examination of the Gospel, taking place in the future and with a cannibalistic turn. Another is Degenerazione (Bad Brains) in which I put on screen a matricide. These shorts were screened at several important festivals, producing a hell of arguments and resentment towards the festival boards. Recently I shot a couple of different shorts. One is L'Albero Capovolto (The Upside-Down Tree), where I tell the story of a lonely painter, a girl, who finds out a lock implanted in her belly. And Neve (Snow), the latest, which is a very intense family drama. Right now I can't wait to shoot another full-length horror. Is the short film L'Altrove (which was expanded into The Darkness Beyond) available, and if not are there plans to release it? Can you tell us a little more about this film?

Ivan Zuccon
: No, is not available and there are no plans to release it for the moment. I started shooting The Darkness Beyond (L'Altrove) during summer 1998, with a ridiculous budget, about $ 2,500. The actors worked for a very small wage and I called a friend of mine, Massimo Storari, to take care of special effects and make-up. We worked 9 days from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. inside an abandoned farm. We wanted to make a horror short which could bring attention to our work so to find enough money to shoot a real film. Darkness Beyond was shot on digital, the camera I used was really good and lighting was conceived to make everything very alien and disturbing, after Mario Bava. Massimo Storari proved himself to be an excellent special effects maker, actors were good and competent. The result was an amazing and really scary 30 min short. Then everythingwent to sleep. It took us two years to find someone interested in our work. I showed some scenes of the short to Prescription Films (once a Los Angeles distributor), pretending they were part of a feature length movie. They really liked it and told me they would distribute it. So I wrote in a rush other scenes to turn it into a full movie, found a troupe and shot for ten more days, with some new actors I had just recruited. The $ 7,500 budget had to be enough for editing and soundtrack too. I had the film ready just in time for Cannes Market, and that's how our international adventure begun. Do you have any films you hope to do in the future? Do you have a dream project that you hope to one day do?

Ivan Zuccon: We are working, my scriptwriter Enrico Saletti and I, on a couple of very interesting projects, which unfortunately are much beyond our present financial resources. If I had carte blanche I would surely start working on one of the two. The most interesting one is titled Time Out. It's a science fiction story taking place in a post-atomic future where, due to obvious resources restriction, overpopulation is controlled by a device implanted in everybody's wrist which "decides" how many years that person is going to live. This situation alone generates a conflict worth a movie, but the story I have in mind tells about a woman who discovers she is pregnant and doesn't have enough time to give birth to her child. It's a human story inside a nightmarish world where mass homicide has become a demographic control measure. Where are some of the locations your films have been shot?

Ivan Zuccon
: All of my movies were shot here in Italy.

.com: Do you have any specific actors you like to work with (such as, Stuart Gordon's teaming up with Jeffrey Combs)? Do you have any actors that you hope to work with in the future?

Ivan Zuccon: I like working with the same actors, trying them, shooting more than one movie with them. But I understand it's also important finding and working with new actors, people who can help me grow professionally. In the future I hope I'll always be able to work with talented actors. How are films funded in Italy? Does the government help with the funding of feature films?

Ivan Zuccon: It's a tilt at windmills! Horror doesn't sell much here... well, Italian horror doesn't, actually. This situation brought our directors to turn to other genres.And Italian distributors don't trust Italian horror. They want to be safe, I mean completely safe. They want stars in the cast and idiot-proof stories, so there's very little to understand. They audience are accustomed to this logic and this is how things work now. If I had a star in my films (Asia Argento, to name one), I wouldn't have had problems at all finding distribution. We don't give up, though. We're knocking at all doors, and sooner or later someone will open and listen to us. Your films seem to be hard to find in America. Where can fans go to find them?

Ivan Zuccon: Things should change fast, and fans will be able to find my movies easily! The Shunned House had quite a success among the distributors and so will be sold most everywhere in the States. It'll be released next July by Brain Damage Films, through Blockbuster and Hollywood Entertaiment, both on DVD and VHS. I have good news about Unknown Beyond too, since its release in USA is finally announced by LeoFilms for next March 18th (also DVD and VHS). In Europe The Shunned House will be released next June in the UK, and in Spain and France by Summer. Unknown Beyond is to be released in Germany very soon. Have your films made the film festival circuit? If so, what festivals screened them?

Ivan Zuccon
: Both Beyond films were showed and appreciated at several international festivals, such as the Festival of Fantastic Films in Manchester (UK) in 2001, the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland (OR, USA) in 2000 and 2001 and the LA ScreamFest in 2002. How well is Lovecraft known in Italy, and what is the popular opinion of his work?

Ivan Zuccon: HPL is very and broadly known in Italy. Gothic literature's fans scan bookstores for anything written by the Master. Once disregarded as a genre author, it's now possible to find very interesting and valuable editions containing Lovecraft's letters, biographies, and stories he revised or wrote in collaboration with other writers. Are you familiar with any of the American made indie productions of Lovecraft's stories, such as Cool Air, Return to Innsmouth, and Nyarlathotep?

Ivan Zuccon: I heard a lot about them and I recently watched Christian Matzke's Nyarlathotep. I think they are very interesting productions and demonstrate how Lovecraft's inheritance is alive and well after all these years. What is your personal favorite Lovecraft story, and do you think it would translate well to the film medium?

Ivan Zuccon: That's a difficult question! I love many HPL's stories, and used some of them already in my movies. I'll probably use more in the future, but there are some I know I'll never shoot since they are impossible to shoot. I really love The Shadow over Innsmouth, which I prefer to The Dunwich Horror. But to tell the truth I love all Lovecraft's stories. I love his letters too! His biography, the transcript of his dreams and nightmares. What is your favorite Lovecraft film adaptation, and which do you think best translates his work to the screen?

Ivan Zuccon: I really enjoyed Dan O'Bannon's The Resurrected, based on The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. I saw this movie many years ago during a festival. I don't remember it perfectly, but it had a great impact on me. The title is impossible to find in Italy, since distributors don't take the genre very seriously. In spite of its not being inspired to any particular Lovecraft's tale, I loved Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness. It's evidently Lovecraft-inspired and a very peculiar movie. It tells a lot about the workings of fear and has a powerful and original structure. When can we expect to see the third film in the Beyond trilogy, The Lost Beyond?

Ivan Zuccon: We're working on it. We've got a plot, ideas don't lack. Our problem is, as always, budget. Actually, some production companies seems to be interested in co-producing with us this third chapter of the Beyond saga, but we're all waiting to see how Unknown Beyond and The Shunned House will do on the US market, before applying ourselves completely to the project.

I would like to thank you again for your time. I eagerly await your next film, and hope you have a long and successful career.

A great deal of thanks goes to Ivan Zuccon for agreeing to do this interview. Special thanks as well to Aaron Vanek and Christian Matzke for help with the questions, and thanks to Enrico Saletti for help with the translation.

all content © 2011 Ivan Zuccon and Craig Mullins unless otherwise noted