Whaddya' mean?!? Women can't direct real horror movies! At least, not without throwing some kinda Jane Austen, kissy-face, girly-girl flowery crap in there!
Wrong...Susan Devine, director of the challenging and relatively audacious indie horror chiller Incident at Blood Gorge, can...and does...freak you out with the "big boys". Her carefully measured direction, nack for shadows, and consciousness of the "lurking evil" that is the root of so many classic horror films make Blood Gorge a joy to watch, and make Susan Devine an up-and-coming indie genre director to watch. I recently had the opportunity to chat with Susan about her film, and about horror in general.
Thanks for joining us, Susan! After watching INCIDENT
AT BLOOD GORGE, I'm struck by how your film takes its
influences (THE THING, BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, etc.) and
does new things with them. Could you tell me a bit
about how the film came into being? What were some of
your other influences?
Thanks for inviting me Matt! So many fortunate events
brought Blood Gorge to life. The first was an article
in the LA Times about Kashmir and how the Siachen
glacier between India and Pakistan is the world's
highest battlefield. I was fascinated by the concept
that there was a piece of land being fought over where
more soldiers die from the cold than in battle. It
seemed like the ideal setting for my first horror
film. What if something evil was out there on that
desolate glacier - in the cold? Something that began
with an ancient battle...
My goal with this film was to make it more than just a
gorefest. I wanted to challenge myself to create a
psychological horror - where the suspense and what
you don't see is what counts. I love Hitchcock and
horror films from the 70s like Rosemary's Baby, The
Exorcist and The Omen. I wanted the story to be
compelling along with the horror.
Tell me about the shoot of INCIDENT AT BLOOD GORGE.
How long did it take?
How many people did you have on your crew?
There were so many great things that
happened in making this film. One of the most amazing
was finding the location which was an abandoned
military academy. The school had been shut down for 5
years, but it looked more like 20. One frozen winter
day, three of us had to go into the dark building and
down into the basement where the electricity was and
our set would be. The wind was howling through the
broken windows, water that had dripped into the
building had frozen into an ice slick making it tough
to walk, and doors on the upper floors would slam
breaking the bone chilling silence. Since we were
completely terrified, we knew this was the place. Oh
- and did I mention the attack pigeons nesting on the
second floor...it's true.! I now really believe the
reality of The Birds!
Anyway...the shoot took 3 weeks plus one week
rehearsal. Of course there were months of prep time
before that. The crew, which was about 10-12 people,
and cast were an incredibly dedicated group who gave
their all to make this a terrific experience and a
great film. Another bonus for the production was the
PAs. When they contacted me about working on the set,
I didn't think they could get out of school, but they
were from a charter school where the students are
learning about production and were able to be on the
set every day of the shoot. We were lucky!
The set really provided the creepy and cold (we had no
heat) atmosphere we needed for the shoot. We shot
chronologically, so as people died, the cast members
really felt the isolation of being alone in this cold
and lonely place.
In many circles, unforunately, horror entertainment is looked upon as a "boys only club"...with all the elitism and prejudices that come with that territory. Did you experience anything along those lines? Did being a woman create any difficulties for you during the conceptualization and/or production of INCIDENT AT BLOOD GORGE?
I was fortunate and didn't experience any of the
prejudice that we all hear about. The cast and crew
were very respectful of my role. Occasionally someone
outside the production would assume I was one of the
actresses and would be surprised when I said I was the
director. I think that it surprises people to hear
that a woman directed a horror film. I kind of
enjoyed shocking them actually. I like to defy
Speaking of defying expectations, INCIDENT AT BLOOD GORGE does something that most other low-budget indie films don't have the balls to do; to never show the "real" monster. Was this purely intentional, from an "artistic decision" point of view, or was it more a product of necessity?
It was definitely intentional. I believe that the
imagination can go into darker and more horrifying
places than film ever can and definitely wanted to
challenge the audience to create the monster in their
I also wouldn't say that financial necessity played a
role here because I have seen major Hollywood films
spend a fortune creating a monster that I didn't find
the least bit frightening. I think showing too much
or even some of the monster can often make it less
horrifying. For me, it was a fun challenge to find a
way create a creepiness and sense of dread about the
monster that hopefully the audience took to the next
level in their imaginations.
Your use of security cameras as storytelling device in INCIDENT AT BLOOD
GORGE is quite interesting. It effectively gives your setting a sense of
"place", and allows action to take place in more than one place at a time.
Did you build that into the script? How much of that stuff was
formulated "preproduction", and how much of it was winged?
The third camera was definitely in the script. The goal was to create a third eye
(the handheld video camera and the interrogation camera being the other two) and
this idea that someone or something greater was watching. I wanted the sense that
these people were really trapped and powerless, and watching them from above creates
I worked in production before becoming a director and know the value of
preparation. I storyboarded and planned as much as possible. Of course things
would change when we were filming, but this prep really helped when I had to make
decisions under intense pressure on the set. A few those "winged" moments turned
out to be some of my favorite shots.
Tell me about your cast. They all seem to work well within established character archetypes (the hell-hardened commanding officer, the suburbanites in search of thrills, the creepy and sniveling sub-officers, etcetera). How intensive was your casting process? Did you write any roles with specific performers in mind?
First let me say the cast was a great group of people who were dedicated and gave their all in tough conditions. (The film was shot in the winter in an abandoned school which was falling apart and lacked heat, so we were all really freezing and terrified on the set!)
One ad was run in Backstage from which we got close to 2,000 headshots. After many long days of auditions and callbacks, the cast was chosen from all New York actors. The only part that was written for someone was Ed which the writer wrote for himself to play. Other than that I wanted unknowns to create a sense of realism. The actors had to fit within certain archetypes but I didn't want them to be predictable. Each actor had to bring something unique and interesting into the role.
Regardless of how serious a film is, or how somber the tone on-set might be, there is always an element of fun during the production of an independent film. Tell me about the funniest thing that happened during the shoot.
When we were scouting the place as a location, I was
walking down the hallway of the top floor where most
of the windows had been broken and seagulls and other
birds were roosting. I think someone made a joke
about one of the gulls seeming a little angry when
they looked into one of the rooms, but none of us
thought much of it. One or two of the gulls even came
into the hall to see what we were up to. I thought,
Suddenly the person who showed us the building called
from the first floor. I couldn't hear what she was
saying at first but as I got closer to the stairs, I
could make out the words "watch out" and "birds". As
a big Hitchcock fan, I didn't wait for any more
details and started to sprint down the stairs. It
wasn't a moment too soon - more of the birds had come
out of the rooms into the hall and they didn't seem
happy. Luckily for us they didn't follow us down the
stairs and never came into the basement on the set.
It was frightening in the moment, but it is hard to
tell people about the attack birds on the location
without laughing - it just seemed too unbelieveable to
That's pretty funny stuff. Look out! "The Birds" is coming! Speaking of Hitchcock, there really haven't been enough truly frightening, engaging, and mind-bending genre films in the last few decades. What do you think of the state of the genre, such as it is, and where do you think it's headed?
I think that people see there is money to be made in
horror and are putting out films without really
appreciating the genre. These films end up doing well
in boxoffice in the opening weekends, so the cycle
continues... I think something will change when
someone does it differently and has financial success.
This is why I am really excited about independent
horror film because I think these filmmakers are
taking the chances that Hollywood won't. It's a
revolution in horror.
So, what's on the horizon for Susan Devine? More genre films? Care to give Atrocities Cinema.com some exclusive news? Based on INCIDENT AT BLOOD GORGE, I'm quite excited to see what comes next for you.
Thanks Matt! I really love horror and my plans for
now are to keep working in the genre and practicing my
craft. I am currently working on a script for another
feature length film and also plan to do a few short
films while in development on the longer project.
It's something that draws on my own experiences and
takes it a step further into the dark places of my
imagination. I don't want to say any more at the
moment, but I'll keep you posted when I finish!
Well, it's good to hear that you're planning on staying with the genre you love. All of us here wish you the best of luck with your future endeavors, and hope that you make good on your pledge to keep us up to date on your coming projects. It's been a pleasure!
Thanks Matt! It's been a pleasure talking with you as
well! I really appreciated your questions...they got
me thinking about all the little moments during the
shoot that I cherish. Filmmaking is definitely a
challenge, but it is also one of the most amazing
experiences I have ever had. It is a magical and
exciting process and I hope to do it until the day I
You can learn more about Incident at Blood Gorge, including how and when to see it, cast and crew information, and more, by visiting www.bloodgorge.com