‘Mark Macready & The Archangel Murders’
Written, produced and directed by award winning filmmakers Paul Feeney, Ryan McDermott, & Sean Candon, Mark Macready and the Archangel Murders is a high concept independent short film filled with numerous memorable characters, laugh out loud moments, original creature effects and a taste of true British comedy with a sprinkle of horror. Mark Macready and the Archangel Murders has been the recipient of the Special Commendation Award 2009 at the Festival of Fantastic Films. Already hailed as “a British Hellboy” by Joblo.com, a “triumph” by the Salford Star and “a balls out out, eyebrow cocking horror comedy romp” by Filmrant, this thirty minute horror/comedy is proving to be a cult smash amongst audiences at home in the UK and across the pond in the US.
I met up with Mark Macready himself, actor/producer Ryan Mcdermott, along with Paul Newberry and Nathan Head, in a busy Costa coffee in Manchester city centre.
GP: So what are you up to then, guys?
Ryan: So we’re taking the short, and putting it online which is going to hopefully lead into making the feature film version, just getting it out there. It is going to be a really interactive experience as well, we’re going to let everyone watch the short and once we start making the feature we’re going to be live tweeting from the set, live cam and stuff like that. We’re going to give loads of opportunities to people to get involved, in a really groundbreaking kind of way. And what we’re going to do while making the feature is put together ‘webisodes’ that are going to include the characters which lead up to the events in the feature film. It’s going to be a real online cross platform universe.
How are you funding the feature?
Ryan: Private investors. We’ve been quite lucky with the short playing in so many places, we’ve got two investors. So we’re just waiting on their decision to see what they want to do. I’m going to go to Cannes, the short is going to be on the Short Film Corner. It’s probably going to be around the next twelve months getting the money together, and anyone who has got money, just seeing if they will invest in it. I mean there are some people who let the fans fund, but we didn’t want to do that. We wanted to get the money ourselves and give back to the fans, who then give back to the project by supporting it. So funding is coming on well.
The short is getting quite a lot of attention, I see its won some awards, how did the short come about?
Ryan: I met Paul Feeney, the writer and creator in college, we were given one of these projects. You know, to shoot a thriller, or to shoot a horror and he asked me if I like David Duchovny from the X Files and I said “I do indeed” so he said he had the British X Files right here and would I be in it. I said “yeah sure” and we shot it. It was horrendous. It was so bad. But there was a little bit of something in it and then Sean Candon who directed the short saw the tape and asked us to develop it because there was something in there. So Paul went away and wrote the short film…and then the three of us got together and said that I would produce it and star, Sean would direct, and Feeney would write it. He ended up being in it, and Sean did too as its hard to get actors who fit the style. We were very lucky with Nathan and Paul, as they really got the style, that Garth Marenghi-type serious delivery of the ridiculous. It’s very hard to play that straight.
How did you find the roles?
Paul: It was good, it was hard. Because it’s a horror parody there is a delicate balance between straight and comedy. If you imagine Julie Hagerty in Airplane when she is doing those serious moments, its a bit more that style, a bit more on the serious side of parody. It was about getting into these niches and levels of the parody, and it was difficult to get that balance.
Nathan: I think because some of the dialogue you got, like in the first train station scene, wouldn’t have worked if you had done it silly…
Paul: It wouldn’t, you’re right.
Ryan: The line when Paul’s character comes on is “Fuck me sideways and call me a cunt, what the hell are you doing here?”
Paul: And talking about vaginas as well…
Ryan: That’s right, the monster in the short, the Archangel, does nasty things to ladies parts.
Paul: It wouldn’t sound right if you were saying it in a silly way.
Ryan: It had to be said deadly serious, even though what is being said is utterly ridiculous. It’s getting that balance which is very tough. We shot ten days originally, and when we got that footage back it was neither serious nor funny. It wasn’t anything really, just bland. Nobody really knew the style, and what happened then was we re-wrote a lot of it, shot it and eventually it started to come out in the re-shoots. The script got a lot better, from watching that ten days worth of footage we could say where the comedy worked and the performances were working but the dialogue wasn’t complimenting the performance which had to be reworked. We discovered during the re-shoots that Mac is an extremely fast character, he doesn’t wait around. In the earlier version, we had Mac sat around saying “Where’s my wife?”, and we realised that this guy would never just sit there. From the minute you meet him, he is go, go, go, go, and that was something we really needed to get across.
Manchester is an important city for me, how important was Manchester to the film?
Ryan: So, so important. It really annoys me in these English movies where they are all set in London, and there is nothing else that exists outside of London. We wanted to do that with Manchester, and make it a huge character for the film. The branch where they work is called the Greater Manchester Paranormal Investigations Department, the GMPID. What a mouthful. But it was really. I think it was a fresh take on it, I don’t think anyone has really done Manchester. 28 Days Later had a bit around here.
Living Dead At Manchester Morgue shot parts at a hospital in Salford, which has been gutted out from the inside now which is a shame.
Ryan: Was that 70s?
I think it was around ’74…
Paul: It was up Pennine way, wasn’t it?
They shot a little bit in Manchester, and then everything else was done elsewhere. The shots of the hospital are just incredible, it was really good to walk around in Salford and find it. See a part of classic Italian horror in our own city.
Paul: I need to find a copy of that.
Ryan: I’ll have to get hold of that. We’ve got a shot of driving up towards McDonald’s in Salford by all the 70s flats, with Mac in his car. Whenever anyone sees it, they always comment on that part. I wish we had done more of that, but we didn’t really have a lot of time. In the dialogue Mac talks about how the city is key for him. He puts the city before his wife and that’s what begins the story, his job protecting the city comes between him and his wife and then when she is taken, it really hits home.
So the feature will be set in Manchester too?
Are you going to take a bit more time to develop the city as a character in there?
Ryan: Already, in the treatment written by Paul Feeney and myself, it is kind of spanning every aspect. From suburban streets down to the docks, around Deansgate, and the forests and woods. Those really eerie parts of Manchester are a huge part of it. Also in the webisode series, it’s going to play a big role in there as well, in creating that world.
Paul: Manchester is definitely a huge part of it, the people too. That’s why Paul Feeney named it the GMPID, the Greater Manchester Paranormal Investigation Department. It’s just instantly recognisable.
Have you had any scary experiences in Manchester in general? I remember once I tried to walk to Salford Uni from Prestwich, I looked it up on Google Maps and it was a pretty straight route through the Albert and Peel Park. And I just got the most lost ever, I was walking around there for about three hours just not knowing where the hell I was and eventually I found a an old sewage plant and a road back to where I started. It was one of the scariest experiences of my life, I thought I was going to die!
Nathan: I get pretty scared when I’m under Piccadilly Station, under the bridge. You get used to walking under there, but it can be scary!
Paul: Once I was with my mum and it was that big football match, if you remember…
Ryan: Oh, with the riots! With Scotland?
Paul: Yes, and there was two cockneys, me and my mum, on the tram and it was full of football fans and they were jumping on the tram. It was really frightening. My mum was waving a red flag to try and pretend we were from Manchester.
Ryan: One thing that really scared me as a kid, which we were really to get into the movie, was the old train station in Swinton. I would go on the train to Manchester with my Grandmother, and it used to scare the hell out of me. It was so scary.
Nathan: They’ve modernised it now…
Ryan: Yeah, they’ve put in an electronic board. That won’t last the weekend… But, it was scary. It was always something that haunted me as a kid. We managed to do a big scene, a death scene, there which was something I really wanted to do.
Paul: And even shooting that, there was loads of drunks coming past the bridge all shouting over and it was scary.
Ryan: Really rough, yeah.
So the film has been to a lot of festivals, have you been going with it to gauge reactions and how has that been?
Ryan: That’s been probably the best thing about it, seeing the reactions. It’s really nice to get a review, but when you are in there and you see the actual reaction and feel it when you come out, people are looking at you. It feels a bit strange, but very nice.
Nathan: At Mayhem in Nottingham, they had this thing called An Experiment In Fear where they had this person strapped to a heart monitor while they were watching the film to see what the scariest moments were.
Ryan: That was really cool! We’ve been across Manchester, we’ve been to Nottingham, we’ve been down to London, Portsmouth. We flew to New York for a screening there. Every audience is very different. At Mayhem they were really primed for it, as it is a pure horror film festival. I think one of the most amazing reactions was where it was the last film on, and the films before it had all been very serious, very gory and realistic horror. Then this man with a silly eyebrow and a silly voice pops up, and they was like “ooh, what’s this?” I really miss it, and I can’t wait to hopefully get back out with the feature film.
Paul: It was all absolutely brilliant, I think one of the organisers of Mayhem is the director of Mum & Dad…
Paul: Absolutely brilliant guy. I had such a wonderful time. It was really funny because a lot of the audience were so used to just watching horror films, and you see them thinking “what the hell is this?” when it has just started but once the audience engaged with each other in the humour of it, that’s when it takes off.
Ryan: It takes that first five minutes to break the ice. In that first five minutes, it’s just Mac and his wife talking…
Nathan: At every festival we’ve been to, we have always sat at the back just in case…
Ryan: Just in case we have to get out quick…
Nathan: But it’s gone down really well everywhere.
Ryan: We’ve been very lucky, even in New York it went down well. That was a bizarre one because I’m sure they just thought “what the bloody hell is this?”, they were sat there just looking around. And then suddenly that first laugh came which broke it, by the end it got a really good reaction. For me, Paul and Sean, that was the most nerve-wracking one, because the American audience can be very difficult. Certain things that didn’t get big laughs here, got big laughs there. And certain things that got big laughs here, didn’t get big laughs there, very different sense of humour.
Nathan: One of the biggest laughs in America came when a character gets shot…
Ryan: A female cop gets shot and the Americans go wild…
They probably just saw the gun and got excited.
Ryan: Probably, probably… And it was a Texan who shot her.
British horror is going through a bit of a renaissance lately, what British horror flicks have influenced you guys?
Ryan: I like the Neil Marshall stuff. He updated it, he brought it back. I haven’t seen The Descent 2 yet, which I know he didn’t direct. He was just executive producer…
It was alright, not as good as the first…
Ryan: I need to check it out. I just really like what he has done, he is someone who has brought it back and in a cool way. It’s not just B movie stuff, although some of the plots are B movie, it’s good horror that looks big budget and I like that.
A lot of people were down on, uh, on, uh…
Doomsday, yeah! I loved it. It’s one of the best films to watch on the big screen.
Ryan: It was a great experience, and I don’t think it worked as well on DVD. I really liked the size and scope of it on the big screen, and I’ve seen it again on DVD. Seeing it on the big screen just made it. I really liked it. Neil Marshall is great.
What about you guys?
Paul: I really liked Mum & Dad, because Britain has this culture of things happening behind closed doors. It has that British Hostel feeling for me. I really liked that, and I loved the characterisation in it. It’s a great film.
Nathan: I know they technically aren’t British but the Hellraiser films. I know only the first two and a half are British but I love them!
Ryan: You’re a big Hellraiser fan, aren’t you?
Are you excited about the Nightbreed found footage?
Nathan: I’m looking forward to that! Apparently there is a scene in the cemetery with a giant stop motion cat with a women on its back walking around. I’ve seen the test shots in the studio, but I’m looking forward to seeing that. I don’t know if it’s going to get a DVD release, did they do a screening at the weekend?
I’m not sure, but I know a lot of people are lobbying for a DVD release of it. There is a lot of good being found lately, I don’t know where it’s hiding but it’s coming out slowly…
Ryan: Someone is digging into the archives aren’t they…Someone is going in and pulling the stuff out…
Getting back to Mac, was it a difficult shoot?
Ryan: It varied, those first ten days were very hard, very tricky. We were all learning so much. There were too many people, too many cooks.
Nathan: It seemed quite high pressure, it might have just been because it was massive production…
Ryan: Yeah, those first few weeks we different a bit too complex than it needed to be. Myself, Paul and Sean then sat down to talk about how we were going to do it differently. We decided it would just be the three of us, us holding the lights and doing everything. We got one person to do the make up, minimised everything so we could just work with the actors. That is when it became very fun, we really bonded at that point. We all knew each other reasonable well, but for me that was when I really got to meet Paul and Nathan and become friends with them. Which is what we have done really. I mean these guys are actors really, but they are sat here helping me push the movie which I really appreciate. Same goes with everyone, really, who worked on the second half of the film. We all stayed in touch and stayed really good friends, on the photographs from Mayhem we are all there together. We were lucky, it was a really good experience, the second half of it…
Nathan: I still enjoyed the first bit but I’ve got fonder memories of the re-shoots…
Paul: Especially the parts at the train station and the warehouse.
Ryan: I think out personalities came out, through the first half I was just Ryan, producer, not being an asshole… Well, I hope I wasn’t an asshole! I just couldn’t really engage with anyone or talk to anyone because my mind was in a million places. But the second time I got to get closely involved with everyone.
Paul: I was always happy with both sides of it. Obviously, it did relax. It was quite hard to come back and redo scenes, you get a bit paranoid. You think “what did I do wrong?” but actually they’d gone back and seen what was wrong and they knew how to make it right…
Ryan: You guys didn’t have a clue, did you?
Nathan: I could understand why things were re-shot, for lighting and things like that. I’m glad really because it was like a practice run, we better understood the characters during the re-shoots.
Ryan: We were lucky…
Did any of that initial shoot make it into the final cut?
Nathan: There is a bit in Korkinsky’s flat that’s part of the original shoot…
Ryan: Yeah. The raid on Korkinsky’s flat, that’s the original. The She-Snake sequence, and the train station sequence.
Nathan: Some of the actors were different, because they couldn’t come back.
Ryan: That was a shame, because we lost some great people. But we got, in a fate kind of way, people who are more suited to the faster paced version. Ashleigh Edwards Pitt now plays Friday, but originally she was played by a friend of ours called Lynsey Little. Lyndsey suited the very film noir version that we had, very calm, relaxed, femme fatale. But when we came back, we didn’t think Mac would interact with this kind of a character. I think it has to be a sexy demon, leather clad girl, when Lynsey couldn’t come back we then met Ashleigh who was perfect for that kind of approach. Ashleigh is a great example of what the re-shoots brought in. But mostly it was the pace of it, each scene had to end up with a punch, or with a gun. Each scene had to have a big moment.
Paul: I think there was a lot of good stuff in the first version. A lot of good ideas, and good creatures. But a lot just didn’t work for what we needed.
Nathan: I was quite disappointed that some of it didn’t make it to the final cut, like in the GMPID when you saw the other monsters. You just see a werewolf, in the final version, being interrogated, but there was a zombie prostitute and there was a mummy. I don’t know why that didn’t make it through, but I really like the zombie prostitute…
Paul: I liked her too…
Nathan: Her make up was really good, have you any of the photos?
At this point I’ve seen everything on the Facebook group page, I’ve seen the trailer and the make up is one of the things that really stands out…
Ryan: Thank you. We were very lucky with the girl that we had who did the make up, Lindsey Genter, who actually ended up playing Dr. Gish in the film just because we were out of actors. We were like “who the hell is left to play this role?” We were worried at one point that it might turn into a bit of a disaster project, like is this another Wolfman? Thankfully, it wasn’t. Lynsey stepped in to play Dr. Gish, she had never acted before, and she is a great talent. She saved our bacon on a lot of the stuff with the make up, and then we had a really great effects guy called Oliver Starkey come in. He enhanced all those effects, he gave it the look that it has… The grain, it was just shot on standard HD. If you see it without the grain, the colours aren’t as crisp because we didn’t have the money to light professionally.
Nathan: He added some really good effects on the swamp as well, didn’t he?
Ryan: He added all the wind, the lightening and the rain. CGI rain, it’s pouring and no one is getting wet…
So where do you guys stand on the CGI versus practical debate that’s obviously ongoing?
Nathan: I’m mixed, I like CGI if it’s not over the top. Sometimes you don’t even know when CGI has been used like when it is just used to touch something up… But when whole characters are CGI like Jar Jar Binks, I think it can cheapen it. If it’s done really well though, like in Jurassic Park, it can really work. I was worried about seeing Avatar because I was expecting it to be Jar Jar Binks: The Movie but it worked really well in that too.
Ryan: Coming from a producer point of view, it’s whatever is cheapest to do on the day. You have to go with it. But I love what Peter Jackson and [Guillermo] Del Toro do, how they integrate live action with that CG effect. Especially Blade 2, a great example of that, where they had the practical mouth opening and then had the CG. I love the puppetry side of it, we were talking about Gremlins earlier… I really want to own one of those gremlins. But I do like both, both have pros and cons. We had to go with a lot of CG to enhance stuff, but I think it works.
Nathan: It looks good.
Ryan: I just take issue with films that use it for blowing up heads and it’s really obvious.
That’s my biggest bone of contention at the moment, CGI blood. I don’t know how expensive corn syrup is… I watched a film recently with Dolph Lundgren called Command Performace. He plays a rock drummer who has to save the Russian Premier…
Ryan: He’s still working?
He is! But the blood in that is so obviously CGI, it’s almost like Roger Rabbit…
Ryan: It just looks animated…
Nathan: You don’t really need it, even if you can’t afford corn syrup just get some ketchup out of the cupboard. I know its the wrong colour, but you could do something…
Ryan: Spit Vimto out or something…
Nathan: It was chocolate sauce in Psycho!
Ryan: Was it?
Nathan: Chocolate sauce!
Ryan: I wish I worked on that movie. Nom nom nom nom.
Haha! So have you seen many other shorts on your festival rounds? Were there any you were into?
Nathan: I loved Treevenge!
Ryan: That’s has got to be the best short I’ve ever seen at a horror festival, I love it so much.
Nathan: I liked Dr. Psycho’s Chamber Of Sadism too.
Ryan: Have you seen that one?
I haven’t, I’ll have to check it out…
Ryan: It’s the shortest, most insane thing I have ever seen.
Nathan: It’s quite wacky, isn’t it?
Ryan: It’s very quirky. Lots of girls, lots of gratuitous nudity. It features a really cool up and comer, Eleanor James, who has that horror, B movie queen quality. She is getting a name for herself at the moment, I hope we can get involved with her.
Nathan: That would be good…
Just picking up on Horrorshow, the Neon Killer short… I really liked that one and the Trannibal trailer he also did…
Ryan: He did Trannibal and he did Slash Hive…
Nathan: I’ve seen the Slash Hive one, it’s like a trailer?
Ryan: It’s amazing… Slash Hive was done for the Grindhouse Trailer competition, just like Treevenge last year. Ben Robinson did both of those, great guy.
Paul: Was that with killer bees?
Ryan: It was killer wasps, but it’s madness.
Ben Robinson has this excellent way of shoot that just makes everything look so authentic…
Ryan: I think Ben has been ready for a long long time for something big, I think he was cinematographer on most of the shorts for Horrorshow. I just feel really fortunate to know him, I hope we can get him involved.
Is it out on DVD yet?
Ryan: It’s not.
Nathan: I need to see it again, I haven’t seen it since last year!
Ryan: So Horrorshow and Treevenge are the big ones for me.
Paul: I love Treevenge too, the bit at with the baby. You think there is no way they’re going to do that…
Ryan: And they do it. It’s ballsy. So good! I couldn’t look at our Christmas tree the same this year…
Nathan: Did it talk?
Ryan: Like an ewok.
Paul: Horrorshow is brilliant though.
Norman Warren is obviously an icon, have you met any icons at festivals who weren’t as friendly as you’d hope?
Nathan: I wouldn’t say anyway, I’d get done for slander.
I’m just trying to illicit a little scandal…
Ryan: We’ve been really lucky, everyone has been really nice. The good thing about the horror community is that everyone is so open, it just shows on Twitter, and interested in knowing each other. You feel like you’re in with a nice crowd, I don’t think you could do that with any other genre. I don’t think you can engage with a drama community, how would you find them?
There’s nothing like a drama community out there, really.
Ryan: Sitting round, talking about Keira [Knightley]…
Paul: It’s harder to market too…
Horror fans are generally a lot more forgiving too. They tend to see past the bad parts and focus on the good stuff…
Nathan: I know what you mean, if a film has good gore or death scenes it can still be good. The Saw films have gone downhill, each one is worse than the last but I still enjoy them because of the interesting deaths and the gore is quite good.
Ryan: I like stuff like Evil Dead and Bad Taste because they aren’t perfect but still so cool… We have had with a couple of reviews people saying that the acting is a bit wobbly but it’s a parody, we’re deliberately doing it. Some people really get that, some don’t.
Nathan: People who are fans of the Evil Dead films do understand… Some people seem to be expecting a mainstream blockbuster, and they’re expecting it to be polished with a really obvious story. Some people just don’t understand that underground horror thing.
Ryan: We’re just lucky enough that there is something in it that people see that we can develop. It’s a kind of a high concept thing, and we want to do it big.
Do you have plans for a franchise or a trilogy?
Nathan: I hope so!
Ryan: Well the idea is that we do three, Paul has written the ending. It was written a while ago, a certain aspect of it was actually written in college years ago and it’s one of those surprise endings…
Is it the butler?
Ryan: Damn! You got it! We’re going to make this one and make it as good as we can, then see where it goes. Everything has been a blessing, I am glad we even made it this far. The night before the première I watched it with my brothers, they really enjoyed it and I thought it was the biggest pile of shite I’d ever seen. I genuinely didn’t think anyone would enjoy it, and then when we put it on the reactions… I was very surprised by it all.
Nathan: The thing was, at that screening we had special offers on cocktails on the bar…
Ryan: Everyone was pissed, basically…
Well that seems like as good a place as any to wrap this up, any final words?
Ryan: Thanks for coming down, we really appreciate it. We’re really grateful for everything. I think if you work hard, if you live it morning, noon and night, it’ll happen.
Paul: Follow us on Twitter, @MarkMacready
Ryan kindly gave me a copy of Mark Macready and the Archangel Murders for my viewing pleasure, so here is a bonus review of their short.
Mark Macready is a no-nonsense tough guy, living in an all-nonsense world of monsters, shape-shifters and demonic killers. When faced with the guilt of his wife being kidnapped while he was off pandering to his other love; the city, he goes on a rampage to find her and destroy all those who get in his way.
Mac is your basic anti-hero, a heady mix of Snake Plissken, Ash and Hellboy with a uniquely British lilt, and is excellently mis-played by Ryan McDermott. In fact, the whole cast is wonderfully bad. If acting like you can’t act is an art, this lot are the new Expressionist movement! Brilliantly shot by Sean Candon, there are some of the same flourishes that marked early [Peter] Jackson or [Sam] Raimi outings. The script pops and crackles with ridiculous, OTT, and some genuinely witty, dialogue. This short had me laughing out loud and making mental notes of what to say if my wife gets taken by a murderer. Although some parts were a touch over-scripted, to the point where the plot had to grind to a halt to make sure everyone got their lines out. The characters are clear cut archetypes from many films that have come before but all are played straight, without any winking or gurning.
It isn’t all rosy though, it is certainly a film marred by its budget. Through all Mac’s arrogance there is a likeability that isn’t quite exploited to it’s fullest. Despite the fact that the make up is excellent for the most part, some of the CGI is ropey, even for a parody, and some of the smaller roles such as Dr. Gish, Stone, Korkinsky, and even Friday, are under-explored. Although I can forgive the maligning of smaller characters in such a short running time, I really hope they are explored more in the feature version. Also there isn’t enough focus on the Archangel, I would love to see his particular method of murder shown in some depth, just to prove what a formidable foe he really is.
I wasn’t entirely satisfied by the ending, the lack of resolution left me wanting. I’m sure it was done deliberately to get both fans and investors salivating over the prospect of a feature version.
Mark Macready and the Archangel Murders is a competently directed and well written, short, with some moments of genuine tension, some fairly moving stuff, and a whole heap of laughs. It all bodes well for the proposed feature version, and I am already positioning myself in the queue to see the further adventures of Mac and the rest of the GMPID.
I would give it a solid 7 skulls.