Interview: Director and cast of The Deep Ones talk HP Lovecraft
Ian Winterton | On 09, Oct 2020
HP Lovecraft’s The Deep Ones is streaming online as part of Grimmfest 2020. For the full festival line-up and how it works, click here
Hot off his 2019 cult hit Exorcism at 60,000 Feet, veteran writer-director Chad Ferris returns to the horror festival circuit with his take on the Cthulhu mythos of HP Lovecraft. Updating the material to the modern day, The Deep Ones is a B-movie romp full of gore, eccentric half-humans, deep-sea denizens and tentacles – lots of tentacles.
In advance of The Deep Ones appearing at the Grimmfest digital festival in October, Ian Winterton spoke to Chad along with his stars Robert Miano, Silvia Spross and, a well-known name to horror fans, Kelli “Night of the Comet” Maroney.
Lovecraft inspires many horror and sci-fi movies but is rarely tackled directly – what was the spark that drew you to adapting Shadows over Innsmouth?
Chad Ferrin: To be honest, it was when a friend of mine said, “Hey, I’ve got this beach house you could use if you want to make a cheap slasher movie there for a couple of months”. So, I had this location but I didn’t want to make a cheap slasher film. I’d seen the photos of the house, the beautiful beachfront views, right next to the ocean, and that spurred the idea of tackling Lovecraft. I immersed myself in his stories – Shadows over Innsmouth, Call of Cthulhu, The Dunwich Horror – because I hadn’t read them since I was a kid and it really sparked my imagination. I got cranking down on the script and it got investors interested and suddenly, bada bing bada boom, we were shooting in Ventura.
So this was a rediscovery, for you, of Lovecraft’s writing?
CF: Yeah. And I was a little afraid to tackle Lovecraft in a way. Everyone knows his name, even if they’ve never read any of his work, so I was afraid people wouldn’t approve, but at the same time I was so excited to be tackling his material. We dropped direct quotes from his work into the script and when the actors said those lines you’d just be on the floor with your jaw open at how beautiful it sounded in the mouth of a well versed actor. That, for me, made this project special, and hopefully that’ll transfer to the audience too. Lovecraft’s writing is phenomenal.
The original story is set in the 1930s – were there many challenges in adapting it to the modern day?
CF: No, it just kind of happened naturally. Shadow over Innsmouth was the main inspiration so that was a fish-out-of-water story, this couple come to a strange isolated ocean-side town, and our protagonist getting immersed with all these strange characters. Rosemary’s Baby which was also another inspiration. It was just melding those elements together. Everything kinda just fell into place. Even writing it was very easy. Any time there was a hang-up on a scene or whatever I’d just go back to Lovecraft’s stories and that would give me the answer as to what to try out. And then it was just a case of getting feedback from Robert, Silvia and Kelli and the other producers and getting it to the point where it felt right and we could all say, “Right – let’s go shoot it.”
It was a fast shoot – just 12 days?
CF: Yeah, but that’s how I like to work. I’ve shot so many films on a tight budget that if it’s more than 12 days I think something’s going wrong. Knowing those constraints means you work in a certain way – you work with the actors to find the scene as quickly as possible. You don’t get to do one line over 52 takes. For me filmmaking’s more organic, about energy – if you’ve got this team with you, you can all come up with the best results in a short amount of time.
Kelli, Silvia and Robert, you’ve all worked with Chad before, so was there a shorthand that helped?
Kelli Maroney: When Chad sent me the script I was just, “Yeah, I want to do this.” I always wanted to do a Lovecraft, and I didn’t know they were doing this so I was stunned when I got the email – it just landed in my lap. I loved it. But, yes, there’s an energy between us that worked straight away. You mesh with someone quickly or you don’t and, fortunately, in this case we did. I love Chad. I’m used to the special effects and the physical side of horror movies.
Silvia, you have some pretty challenging scenes, special effects-wise…
Silvia Spross: I loved it! It was crazy. I don’t know how much I’m allowed to say really but some of the special effects included glowing eyes. If you do that actually practically rather than CGI, then it kind of blinds you. So you can’t see and you’ve got tentacles coming out of you and you’re giving birth and there’s blood and you’ve got to make sure you’re facing the right direction… But it was cool – I’d never done anything like that before.
Did you get to that part of the script and think “I have to do WHAT?!”
SS: [Laughs] Yeah, but I also fell I love with the script and when it came to the day to shoot that scene I was ready. And I enjoyed it!
Robert, you were outstanding in the movie – charming but creepy
Robert Miano: That’s what I was going for.
You nurtured this project from the beginning too?
RM: Yes I did. Chad sent me the script and I had never really gotten into Lovecraft and when I started to read him I realised what a fascinating writer he was. It was fascinating to me how he tapped into all that ancient stuff… because Dagon was worshipped in biblical times, by the Philistines and others, so I learned a lot about Lovecraft and his mythology and how deep and detailed it is.
SS: It’s a cult and we’re all in it now.
RM: Yes we are. It was inspiring to get to play the role of Russell, who’s this cult leader, in the Deep Ones. It was a challenge, finding that line between the charm and the dark side. Russell is a champagne villain and those are the roles I love to play. These good/bad guys – they have a sense of irony, a sense of humour and they’re very charming. And Chad wrote this role with all that in mind so it worked very well for me. I just went into it thinking how would it be in real life, given these circumstances, given who Russell is and what his ultimate goal is.
<3>The effects bring to mind The Creature From the Black Lagoon…
RM: Exactly that.
CF: That was Jim Ojala who I’ve worked with a lot in the past, in my Troma days… He and his team did a phenomenal job. Even on a shoestring budget we were able to get what we wanted on screen. Like the monster, the tentacles, or the glowing eyes on Sylvia. Tiny budget, but he and his team pulled it off in spades. Working with an effects guy like him who’s been around the block is great. He knows it’s got to get done in the time available, and within the constraints of the budget. That’s what he does and that’s what he did for us. We got it done with time to spare sometimes.
Kelly, you’ve been in a lot of cult horror classics – do you always get drawn back into the scene?
KM: Gladly. Those are my people. They say you don’t choose horror, horror chooses you. The stories are the best and the people are the best and I just always gravitate back.
Your film is just going out into the world as HBO’s Lovecraft Country has put Lovecraft’s writing back into the mainstream. Have you guys seen it?
RM: Yeah, I’ve seen the first two episodes and I don’t quite know what to think about it.
SS: It’s out there.
RM: It’s out there. Yeah, that’s a good way to put it!
KM: It’s stunning, I think. The production values are amazing, for a start, and I think it’s important because it’s tackling all of Lovecraft’s racist prejudices, while still celebrating his creative output. It’s the sort of show you have to watch with your absolute full attention – you can’t just have it on in the corner of the room. You have to watch every frame of the show.
We’ve also got BBC radio drama putting out a Lovecraft adaptation – The Whisperer in Darkness, it’s called, by Julian Simpson. Actually, the new series is going to be a version of Shadows Over Innsmouth.
CF: That sounds intriguing. I think anything that brings Lovecraft to a wider audience has got to be a good thing. But the thing with Lovecraft is his brand of cosmic horror, whether you’re reading it or listening to it on audio drama or watching a movie like ours, it works because the real horror is inside your head, in your imagination.
HP Lovecraft’s The Deep Ones streams at 4pm on Friday 9th October. Click here to book a ticket.