Tribeca: Director of 'The Canal' on Six of His Horror Film Inspirations
"I don't think anyone could quite picture it," director Ivan Kavanagh says of his vision behind the psychological horror film The Canal. Picked up by distribution company The Orchard after its debut at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival, The Canal stars Rupert Evans (Hellboy) as David, a film archivist who unearths historical footage revealing his home to be the location of a horrific, turn-of-the-century murder. The revelation coincides with a series of ghastly events in his own life, prompting David to wonder if otherworldly forces could be at work.
"When I have a nightmare, it's not censored," the director says of finding the inspiration for his kaleidoscopic vision. "You have nightmares where you wake up and say, 'How did that image get in my head?' That's the feeling I wanted."
Sitting down with THR at the festival, Kavanagh showed off his cinephilia, revealing a few of the horror classics that inspired The Canal:
Rosemary's Baby (1968)
"That changed my life. I remember I was seven or eight, and I got up in the middle of the night and my mother and father were in the living room watching the end of Rosemary's Baby. It was the scene where she looks into the crib and says, 'What have you done to his eyes?' and that amazing Krzysztof Komeda music comes on. And it just terrified me and stayed in my memory for 15 years until I watched it again. [For The Canal], I wanted to create a psychological horror film where every scene is from one person's point of view, a nightmare atmosphere where the nightmare increases as the film goes along, as the protagonist becomes maybe more psychotic."
Don't Look Now (1973), Bad Timing (1980)
"As a teenager I was obsessed with [Nicolas Roeg], who was a big influence on this film. Those big splashes of red. The encroaching dread. And experimental-type editing, elliptical edits. We have moments of that in The Canal. We experimented with one-frame edits throughout the film, subliminal shots in it. Which tell the real story of what's going on. I'm probably the only one who ever noticed. I love the way Nicolas Roeg edits his films. Anything is possible. It was rapid and taut. I've edited all my own films except for this one. [My editor] Robin Hill did Kill List. I was very careful about choosing -- I wanted someone who wanted to experiment and someone I could learn from. I wanted to push the edit to a breaking point."
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
"When I was 18 I went to see The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It was banned for a long time. I was expecting an exploitation film, which it's still sold as. I came out there and it was like a waking nightmare. They did it through this visceral sound design. It changed the way I thought about sound in film. Another was Fire Walk with Me, the David Lynch film. It's not realistic sound at all, but it seems to fit the mood of each scene. That's what I tried to do with this film. Especially the more fantastical sequences -- they're not realistic but it feels right based on what's happening in his mind. Also, the juxtaposition of very quiet sequences with suddenly loud, jarringly loud sequences. "
"I grew up in the ’80s and in the U.K. and Ireland we had 'Video Nasty.' All these banned films. Thriller Killer, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Evil Dead, Zombie Flesh Eaters. But you could get underground bootleg copies, passed around at school. We didn't have a video recorder, we had one quite late. But I used to stare through the windows of video stores and dream about what these films [were]. One that stayed with me was Videodrome. I used to dream of what it was like. The actual film was nothing like what I dreamed of -- it was better."
Cries and Whispers (1972)
"My favorite filmmaker is Ingmar Bergman. Cries and Whispers terrified me as a child. I can't believe my parents let me watch that as a child. There's one scene in the film, after the sister dies a horrible, harrowing death, there's a scene where the two remaining sisters have individual dream sequences. Really experimental. But there's one Liv Ullmann has of her sister talking to her while lying dead. I had nightmares about that for week. The idea that a person that's dead could be talking! I watch Bergman every time I feel down about cinema, I watch Cries and Whispers or Persona or Winter Light. It would be great if someone writes to me in 20 years and says, 'I saw The Canal when I was seven and I shouldn't have been watching it but it changed my life for the better.'"