Giving Canberra a spin on the ‘circuit of horror’

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Director Tony D’Aquino  with cast member Linda Ngo.

WRITER-director Tony D’Aquino is lucky to be back in Australia in one piece – he’s just been on what’s called the “circuit of horror” as he prepares for the general release of his R-rated, Canberra-made feature, “The Furies”.

When we catch up with D’Aquino, he’s in Trondheim, Norway, famous as the home of those sinister creatures, the trolls, and about to head for the nearby Ramaskrik Oppdal Horror Film Festival, one of the many on the Méliès International Festivals Federation circuit. 

He’s also been to the Brussels Fantastic Film Festival and the Sitges, the Spanish festival specialising in fantasy and horror films, and is talking up Australia’s own Monster Fest. 

While the film’s UK premiere was in the “straight” Edinburgh International Film Festival, its spiritual home is at events such as FrightFest London, the Frightening Ass Film Festival in Chattanooga, Horror Film Fest in Turin and the International Fantastic Film Fest in Bucheon, South Korea.

“It seems to work with audiences around the world,” he says.

 A graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts, School of Film and Television, D’Aquino has directed music videos, television commercials, short films such as “Alpha Male” and the 30-minute TV series “Two Twisted”.

Now he’s making his feature film debut with a modern take on the 1980s slasher film genre.

This is very much a Canberra enterprise with, as “CityNews” has already reported, a scary soundtrack by Kirsten Axelholm and Kenneth Lampl, production by Christian Doran and significant input from Monica Penders at Screen Canberra and Andy Marriott at Silversun Pictures.

Briefly, “The Furies” centres on two mutinous teenagers, Kayla (Airlie Dodds) and Maddie (Ebony Vagulans) who are abducted by who-knows-what! Kayla wakes up in a box in the middle of a forest and encounters masked men who are stalking young women in the woods. Heroically, she tries to save as many girls as she can but when they turn on each other, her latent killer instinct is unleashed.

This is a low-budget genre film with good international selling potential, one D’Aquino is happy to call “an emotional popcorn movie that isn’t ashamed to revel in over-the-top kills and full-tilt horror”.

And aficionado of film noir, sci-fi and horror (“I’m not a straight drama person”) he counts himself lucky. 

“You make films because you don’t know what else to do, it’s not for the money it’s for the love,” he says, but in 2015 he got into Screen Canberra’s “Accelerator POD”, which involved weekend intensive masterclasses during which the 10 participants pitched possible films to a panel, overseen by Michael Favelle from media company Odin’s Eye Entertainment.

The idea was to choose a $1.5 million maximum-budget film that could be set anywhere but has the capacity to be shot in and around Canberra.

“They picked the 10 best, we went on to write the first draft and mine was the first chosen,” D’Aquino says. 

“I looked for locations in the bush and was given information about the old gold mining town of Bywong, surrounded by amazing ghost gums… I rewrote the script a bit to use that location.” 

Lake George also played a part.

Airlie Dodds as Kayla… “She went beyond the acting – it became her life and she brought Kayla to life.”

He, with cinematographer Garry Richards and special effects/make-up expert Larry Van Duynhoven, knew they were giving a nod to the horror movies of the ’70s and ’80s and went as far as they could. 

But, D’Aquino proudly boasts: “There is no CGI [computer-generated imagery] in the film, we have all practical effects… I think doing effects in a practical way acts on the viewer subconsciously.”

And then there were the actors. 

“I like actors and I think they’re incredible, but I wanted unknown actors, I didn’t want stars, because in a horror film anyone should be able to die at any one moment… all my actors in film brought something special to the work,” he says.

D’Aquino has a special shout-out for the star Airlie Dodds, who is in almost every scene of the film’s gruelling shots.

“She went beyond the acting – it became her life and she brought Kayla to life,” he says. 

Right now D’Aquino is still doing the horror round at film festivals but with one eye on the future, he’s looking at a book to option. But first, he says: “I’ll see what happens all around the world and how audiences react.”

“The Furies” is in general release in Australian cinemas from November 7.

 

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