Horror-on-Sea interview with Book of Monsters director Stewart Sparke

Book of Monsters (2018)

Director: Stewart Sparke

Writer:  Paul Butler

Stars: Lyndsey Craine, Michaela Longden, Lizzie Aaryn-Stanton, Anna Dawson, Rose Muirhead

Sophie’s 18th birthday party becomes a bloodbath when six terrifying monsters descend upon her house, intent on devouring the party guests and killing anyone who tries to leave. As her school friends are torn apart and eaten, Sophie must rally a band of misfits and take up arms to send their party crashers back to hell. To survive the night, Sophie will face her destiny; monsters are real – and she’s the only one who can stop them

Date & Venue: Friday 11th January 22:00

Park Inn by Radisson Palace, Southend, Church Rd, Southend-on-Sea SS1 2AL, UK.

Q. Book of Monsters has been selected to play at the Horror-on-Sea Film Festival, what can people expect from the film?

In Book of Monsters, six girls must fight off a horde of terrifying monsters at an eighteenth birthday party in a movie that brings 80’s inspired practical monster effects and buckets of gore! If you like strong women kicking ass and sawing monsters in half with chainsaws, then this is the movie for you!

Q. You are collaborated again with writer Paul Butler who wrote the script for the film, how did the concept for the film Book of Monsters come about?

Lyndsey Craine has a killer 18th Birthday as Sophie

Paul and I really wanted to do something completely different in tone to our first feature The Creature Below (2016) which was quite a serious and slow-paced movie. We’ve always had a thing for the fun, popcorn creature features of the 80s & 90s like Gremlins (1984), Tremors (1990) and Deep Rising (1998), so we wanted to do something that paid homage to that era. Book of Monsters started life as a short film idea with a young girl having to fight off a monster at her eighteenth birthday party, it was just a fun opportunity for us to play with creatures again and have some fun gags in there about coming of age stories. It wasn’t until after our first film that we looked at the concept again and realised that it would make a great feature length movie with even more monsters in!

Q. You had a unique Kickstarter campaign which gave backers an opportunity to vote on how some of the events in the film will play out. Did you have a script written for each scenario or was the script written based on the choices selected?

When we we’re developing the Kickstarter campaign (which I must say was probably as much work as planning the film itself!) we were very keen to engage backers in a way which we had not seen before. I’d always talked to Paul about my love for choose your own adventure stories I had read as a kid and we found a great way to incorporate that into the campaign by letting people choose six main elements of the film including the monsters themselves. Of course, the script had to be very carefully crafted with this in mind so that the choices could essentially ‘slot’ into the existing story. Paul already had the overall structure of the script in place before the campaign and then when our audience made their choices, we had only two weeks to modify the script before shooting which was quite a challenge!

Q. Did you ever consider filming all the different variations of the scenes, so the viewer could choose how the film played out for a home release? It would make a brilliant interactive menu.  

We did discuss making a full blown choose your own adventure film in the early stages of the film’s conception. It certainly wouldn’t have been possible on the budget we had, as we really squeezed every penny on screen for Book of Monsters. However, Paul and I haven’t abandoned the idea entirely and may even be working on something as we speak! Watch this space!

Q. What were your inspirations for the look and style of the film?

When people watch the film, everyone likens it to a different inspiration which I think is great. I’ve had some people say it reminded them of Peter Jackson’s Braindead (1992) whilst others have said it was pure Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1996 – 2003). Whilst there is a clear 80’s influence on the film’s style and tone, Paul and I drew inspiration from countless horror movies and director’s that we love. You’ll see shades of John Carpenter, David Cronenberg and even Spielberg in there which help to build a familiar and nostalgic feel to the movie that people seem to really respond to. Our Director of Photography Hamish Saks did an amazing job lighting and shooting the movie to reflect those inspirations and that’s all elevated by the superb soundtrack by Kyoto Dragon that draws influence from many classic horror themes.

Q. Why did you decide to use prosthetic effects oppose to CGI for the film?

We knew as soon as we settled on the idea for Book of Monsters that we had to realise the creatures entirely with practical effects. The film is drenched in so much 80’s nostalgia that it was important we brought the monsters to life in the same way our favourite films to the era did and this gives the whole thing a true retro feel. I grew up watching Aliens (1986) and Braindead so I wanted to recapture the excitement of seeing those real, tangible monsters on screen, actually interacting with the actors.

Q. What makes Book of Monsters stand out in the horror genre?

I think right now were in a fantastic period of 80s inspired horror that just shows how highly regarded that era was for horror fans. We wanted to honour that era but also update its sensibilities for a more modern time. I believe Book of Monsters stands out because the audience can see themselves in at least one of the film’s characters. Even when there is blood and guts flying across the screen and rubber monsters running about, the characters ground the film in reality and make it easy for viewers, even those who aren’t die hard horror fans, enjoy the ride.

Director Stewart Sparke watches a scene

Q. The film brings together a great cast Including Nicholas Vince, who is probably best remember for Hellraiser. How did he become involved in the film?

We first met Nicholas via the web on his show ‘Chattering with Nicholas Vince’ where he interviews a different horror filmmaker every week live via YouTube. Paul and myself were lucky enough to be invited on the show in the run up to The Creature Below premiere at Frightfest. We had such a great time chatting to him and invited Nicholas along to the premiere and following Frightfest we told him about our idea for Book of Monsters and how we were very interested in having him play a character that is a far cry from the Chatterer. Nick plays Jonas, Sophie’s dad in Book of Monsters and he is a key player in the emotional heart of the movie. He has some incredibly emotional scenes with Lyndsey Craine (Sophie) that required a lot of subtlety to pull off and I’m very pleased to say that he did an amazing job. I can’t wait for people to see Nick’s performance in the film and I think they will find it unlike anything he has done in a horror film before!

Q. Did you change any elements of the original script during filming?

The script changed many times during filming but all for the better I hope! With such a great and enthusiastic cast, we encountered so many moments of improvisation that had to go in the movie. Arron Dennis (Carl) and Julian Alexander (Brice) we’re incredibly funny to have on set and would always be coming up with great character moments that we had to put in the movie. Also, with the practical effects being so interactive and tangible, we could come up with some really fun, gory moments that we otherwise wouldn’t have thought of until they were in our hands.

Q. What was one of your favourite moments during filming?

The whole film was a joy to shoot but one of the stand out sequences was the moment the first monster crashes the party. We have six really gory and extreme deaths in that one sequence which were actually voted on by our Kickstarter backers and we spent two days shooting it. We have decapitations, people torn in half and even one unfortunate party goer who gets squished. That last one was described as “being squeezed out the top like a tube of toothpaste” so as you can imagine we had a lot of fun filming that!

Writer & Producer Paul Butler watches a scene

Q. Do you have any other projects which you are currently working on?

Paul and I are always busy developing future films and Dark Rift Film’s motto is “we make monster movies” so you can expect lots more practical effects driven horror flicks in the future! I hope that we will see everyone at Horror-on-Sea again very soon with our next film and we will certainly be aiming to surpass Book of Monsters in every way when we return!

On a side note, Horror-on-Sea was the very first film festival where we premiered our first short film ‘Rats!’ back in 2014! Five years later we’re returning where it all began with Book of Monsters so we’re excited to come back! We filmed a featurette on the festival which you can check out here:

You can find out more about Book of Monsters on the Facebook page here

Philip Rogers

Philip Rogers

Published in various websites, Philip is a reviewer who is best known for his interviews and media coverage of independent projects including; films, books, theatre and live events. Always on the lookout for something different to cover!