Malleus Maleficarum (Short-2014) + Interview with Torin Langen

MMposterIn a short film, every moment needs to be meaningful. Thanks to its unique story, original score, methodical filming, and exceptional editing, Malleus Maleficarum does just that. Filmmaker Torin Langen takes a distinctive approach to horror without using spoken dialogue in his short films. This gives a depth of seriousness that can easily be lost with distracting or subpar acting.

Malleus Maleficarum tells the story of a modern day witch hunt sparked with real tension and effective and realistic violence, again thanks to fine editing. Instead of it feeling like a short film, it feels more like a piece of a feature film…a feature film that I would definitely want to see. Luckily this seems like a reality as revealed in the interview ahead.

FONDUEpressposter2013I’d also like to mention Fondue (2013), another short film by Torin Langen. This film takes a darker approach to horror and feels like a dark and atmospheric precursor to Malleus Maleficarum. It is very moody and stylistic with no gimmicks. Just real scares that makes your skin crawl.

It is a lucky privilege for a blogger like myself to view these films since they are not yet released to the public. Langen knows how to leave his viewers wanting more. I am already a fan and dare I say that Langen feels like an offspring of Gus Van Sant (specifically Elephant coming to mind). Langen’s films are made with heart… and guts.

Read my exclusive interview below.

What is your background/training/etc. in writing and film-making?

I’ve been a film fan for as long as I can remember. When I was younger I loved The Wizard of Oz and Aardman’s Wallace and Gromit shorts. I got into filmmaking through a sort of strange avenue though; I saw The Nightmare Before Christmas at school in the 2nd grade, and it traumatized me. To combat my fears, my dad taught me how stop motion animation worked to prove there was nothing to be afraid of, and I started making my own short animated films and clips. When I got to middle school, I started shooting live action comedy skits which gradually evolved into horror films. Things just kind of snowballed from there, but most everything I’ve learned has been self-taught. I made a (terrible) feature-length zombie film when I was in my early teens that served as an indispensable crash course in all aspects of filmmaking. I directed, edited, wrote, scored, shot and created all the makeup effects for that project, and although the final piece is laughably bad, I wouldn’t be the filmmaker I am today had it not been for the lessons that experience ingrained in me. It was hell at times, but it sure as hell beats shelling out thousands in film school tuition.

Where do you get your inspiration from? What films/directors/writers inspire you the most?

Ted V Mikels was the filmmaker that got me into horror to begin with. I saw his movie Astro Zombies when I was 13 and was instantly hooked. Ted still makes movies today and his determination is beyond inspiring. Michael Todd Schneider is another huge inspiration; his psychedelic filmography, shock tactics and use of colour and camerawork have left a permanent impact on me. His work ethic and desire to create art on his own terms with distinct style are traits that I work towards in everything I do, making him one of the most influential artists I know. Jan Svankmajer is also a personal favourite; he was my gateway into surrealist filmmaking, and the frequent lack of dialogue in his films has left a lasting mark on my work.

What does the title Malleus Maleficarum mean?

The Malleus Maleficarum is a 14th century book detailing the steps one must take in prosecuting and destroying a witch. Though my film is not a period piece, it takes place in a modern-day religious society with a belief system rooted in the dark ages. On Halloween, the accused are sold like fireworks for the public to dispose of, as a method of purging evil from society on the day it is considered most powerful. Though clearly fictitious, extremist Christian groups exist today that could give my characters a run for their money.

The locations for your films are so atmospheric. Are these filmed in your hometown?

Malleus was shot on the outskirts Kitchener/Waterloo, Ontario, where I’ve lived my entire life. It’s a pretty bustling community due to the tech sector’s expansion, but easy enough to escape from and is surrounded by smaller towns. I love the rural town atmosphere but couldn’t live in one myself, so KW is pretty convenient for my filmmaking.

I love your unique point of view with no dialogue. What made you decide to take this approach?

With Malleus and my prior short, Fondue, I found that I could convey everything I needed to with pantomime. There were a couple moments I initially thought would need dialogue, but then realized would feel unbalanced with the rest of the film left silent. Personally, I find this to be much more ominous, and gesture is universally understood. I never need to have my work dubbed or subtitled (minus some on-screen signage), and it makes worldwide festival submission a lot easier as a result. Not to mention that I personally love non-dialogue cinema, so it’s a tribute to some of my heroes.

Your actors do a great job of conveying emotions without words. Are the actors friends of yours or did you find them elsewhere?

We held auditions for a couple key roles, but the cast was ultimately built of actor friends of mine. For the type of production this was, it made a lot of sense. We were working long hours, scheduling pickup shoots at the last minute, and shot sporadically over the course of October-December. Had we been hiring talent from out of town, they may not have been as flexible as us, or as understanding of the DIY aesthetic the project embodied. I have nothing but great things to say about our cast, I’m very proud of everything they put into the film.

Have you ever thought about acting in your own work?

I do a little acting here and there but don’t consider myself an actor. I did a short film a few years ago called Trash, where I tried to do everything myself as an experiment. I acted in that out of necessity but haven’t put myself in anything since, though I recently starred in a short called Killing Art that should be released soon. I’m much more comfortable behind the camera!

These films aren’t available for public consumption yet unfortunately. What festivals have your films been circulating through?

Fondue‘s festival run really surprised me. The film was originally made with the intent of an online release, but as of now has played over 20 venues with more scheduled in the coming months, and has taken home several awards. Malleus is just taking its first steps into the festival circuit, but has already played Mascara & Popcorn in Montreal (where it won a Jury Mention for Best Director), the Southampton International Film Festival in England, and the Housecore Horror Film Festival in Texas. The local premiere is happening on the 28th of this month at the Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival in Toronto, with a second screening on the 29th. It’s going to be the biggest audience I’ve seen the film with thus far, so I’m both excited and scared!

So I hear you are planning a feature-length anthology of silent horror films including Fondue and Malleus Maleficarum. How many more shorts are you planning to shoot? Can you give us any hints for what is to come?

I’m aiming at a 75 minute runtime, including 4 shorts plus a wraparound. I’m in production on the third one now called Stash, about a trio of homeless youth hoarding Halloween candy with gruesome consequences. I don’t have anything solid for the final segment mapped out just yet, but it’ll take place mid-November. Fondue was on Devil’s Night, Malleus takes place on the 31st, and Stash is on November 1st. So although they all exist in different worlds, they follow some sort of timeline.

What timeline are we looking at for the release of your anthology?

If all goes well, I’m hoping for mid-spring of 2015. Tough to say though, since Malleus took almost 10 months, Fondue took 3 months, and the premiere for Stash is actually already locked for some time in December (it’s been produced as part of a KW filmmakers’ initiative called 12 Angry Filmmakers and we have a showcase next month). So a lot of this is dependent on the final segment, but fingers crossed we hit that goal! The plus side is that the anthology is being produced entirely independently, so I don’t have anyone breathing down my neck to hit a release date.

Last but not least, what is your favorite scary movie?

This is always tough, but I’m going to have to say Deranged since it still freaks me out, it’s Canadian, and its simplicity is hauntingly effective. Check it out if you haven’t already!

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