After enjoying a great run on Shudder the last few months, Emilio Portes’ Belzebuth is headed to Blu-ray, DVD, and VOD this week, courtesy of RLJE Films. The story is centered around a mysterious string of grisly murders in Mexico which have left Detective Ritter (Joaquín Cosio) utterly baffled as to what is going on. But when an operative of the Vatican shows up (played by Tobin Bell), it’s clear that the ultimate battle of good versus evil is afoot, with Ritter, and his family, squarely in the middle of everything.
Daily Dead recently had the opportunity to speak with genre favorite Tobin Bell about his experiences working on Belzebuth, and he discussed the film’s messaging, the extensive body tattoos he had to don in order to become his character, his experiences working in Mexico on the film, and more.
Great to speak with you today, Tobin. I really enjoyed this movie a lot.
Tobin Bell: Oh good, I’m delighted to hear that.
I loved the hook, and especially how dark it was, thematically.
Tobin Bell: What was the hook for you?
Watching the ultimate evil doing these horrible things and how the light of humanity could prevail. It was so different than so many other exorcism films, and I thought that the approach to everything was really interesting.
Tobin Bell: There’s also this whole idea about the people in power that aren’t listening in this movie. Like Canetti, the character I play, Vasilio Canetti, he discovers that the messiah is alive and there are evil forces who want to find this kid and he goes to the cardinals and tells them. The guy I play is a former Vatican priest and he goes to the cardinals to tell them and they don’t listen to him. They just ignore him and when you look at people like Greta Thunberg, they don’t listen to her, either. So that’s definitely a commentary on the world that we’re living in.
And then, the marriage between demonology and more conventional catholic religion, which is so much a part of the ancient Mexican culture, it’s fascinating. So I love that about the film. It was a real journey, a dive into ancient culture and I loved that. I’m interested in history, archeology, and anthropology. I was in Mexico City for three weeks and we were in other locations as well, but Mexico City was so interesting. I got to go to the anthropological museum there, which pays respect to Aztec and Mayan cultures. Emilio Portes, who directed the film, has a very strong visual sense and that’s why the film looks as good as it does, because he doesn’t compromise when it comes to the look he’s after. That’s one reason I did the film.
He was very committed to the way that Vasilio Canetti was going to look, and he sent a makeup artist to Los Angeles to sit with me and she designed that look. Well, initially Emilio designed it, and she brought it to fruition. But he did all the storyboards for the film and he’s really an artistic guy. He could be a painter because his visual sense is so strong.
What’s interesting about Vasilio is that he’s almost like a modern day Father Merrin, where he has certain context to what’s driving him, but there’s something bigger than him at play and because of that, there is a weight that he carries with him. How did you approach this character and find a way to give him this weight and depth then?
Tobin Bell: He’s very smart. First of all, I mentioned demonology, and basically the most interesting part of demonology is that it has a lot to do with possession of innocent people. Because half the time with demonology, the person that you’re seeing in front of you is somebody you know, but is no longer the person that you know. Nor is the person that you’re seeing anything but an occupied spirit. So, when Vasilio Canetti realizes that these demons are after this child, he, in order to find the child, because of his commitment, he sacrifices himself and he tattoos himself to impress upon the demons that he is a comrade of theirs so that he can get information from them about where they’re looking, where they're seeking this child, so that he might, in fact, find this child before they do.
And that’s amazing. If you look at the arrangement of tattoos on him on his body, it speaks volumes to the level of his commitment, and I love that. Whenever you see a character that is as powerful as he is and as committed as he is, and it’s not just committed internally, but it’s externally with him, it’s all over him and I won’t say whether he’s successful or not, but the people who are streaming the film can discover that.
Look at the way he looks, Heather, it’s amazing. Working with this little five-year-old guy, his name is Liam Villa, who plays the messiah in it, he was amazing. Joaquín Cosio, who plays Ritter, he’s basically Frank Sinatra in Mexico [laughs]. He’s so well known there. I was also working with Yunuen Pardo, who plays the other of the mother of the messiah, and she’s a very talented young woman who has worked five years at the Goodman in Chicago. She’s multinational and she was incredibly smart and marvelous to work with.
You know, you don’t often get a chance to go to a foreign country and experience the craftsmanship of filmmakers from other countries. Mexico has a rich filmmaking tradition that a lot of U.S. people don’t know about. They think of Hollywood, that’s the place, but Mexico has been deeply involved in filmmaking all the way back to the 1930s. Churubusco Studios, we worked there, and it’s a historic soundstage. So I got an opportunity there, to visit all these places and to sample all the people that make the magic and the craftsmanship in Mexico, and it was amazing. So, I was a lucky guy, and I got paid, too [laughs].