A farm is home to mind-twisting horror in The Suffering, coming out on VOD and DVD on August 2nd from Breaking Glass Pictures, and for our latest Q&A feature, we caught up with co-writer/director Robert Hamilton to discuss the making of his ’70s-style haunted house movie.
Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for us, Robert. How and when did you come up with the story for your new film, The Suffering?
Robert Hamilton: We came up with the concept in the winter of 2013. I had been reading a classic story around Christmas of 2012 (it would be a spoiler to mention which story) and realized it would be the perfect inspiration for a horror film. I pitched [co-writer] Marco [V. Scola] the idea of taking this classic text and loosely adapting it into a modern horror film and he was immediately on board.
Where did filming take place and what did that environment add aesthetically and atmospherically to the movie?
Robert Hamilton: The location added everything to the film. It is as large a character as any actor onscreen. It's an old farm in Baltimore,Maryland with over a century of history behind it. With a very limited budget we knew we needed a place that could provide its own production design and this place certainly fit the bill. 99% of what you see onscreen was already there, and we wrote the story around it. Also some of the stories told in the film, the history behind the madhouse for example, is pulled directly from real life. We joke that The Suffering is the first-ever narrative, semi-biographical, adapted psychological horror fiction film of all-time.
What was the most challenging scene to shoot?
Robert Hamilton: When doing a low-budget independent film, every scene presents some form of a challenge. There's never enough time in the day or enough money, but somehow you get it done. I'd have to say the most challenging (and also most rewarding) scene in the film is when Henry explores the old horse stable during a thunderstorm. It was shot entirely in one 16-hour day. Not only were there a ton of setups, heavy makeup FX, and some very intricate lighting, but we were shooting in what was once a real horse stable that had more recently become a den for a vast variety of critters. Some living, some dead. The dead provided an unforgettable aroma that I'm sure none of the cast or crew will ever forget. The dead fox in the film is not a prop, by the way. It was found mummified in the stable during pre-production and incorporated into the script.
What was your shooting schedule like on this film?
Robert Hamilton: Principal photography was 18 intense days in September and October of 2013. Once we had a full assembly of the film edited, we went back to Baltimore in the spring of 2014 and did a week of pick-up shots to complete the project.
When you look back at your time on set, is there a particularly funny or memorable moment that stands out?
Robert Hamilton: There's one moment that absolutely stands out. It was on the same stable day I mentioned before. Of course those types of days are stressful and tiring as hell and you're always looking for some form of levity to get you through. One of our terrific actors, Carl Stevens, provided just that. Our FX team did an amazing job transforming Carl into this hideous creature of a man. Really a horror to look at. In the scene, this creature has just killed a wild bird and is attempting to rip it open before consuming its innards. After a certain take, there was a lighting change that was needed, so I yelled "cut" and Dave (our DP) went to make the changes.
At this point, it's 3:00am and no one is functioning at anything higher than 60%. We all desperately wanted the day to end, but knew there was a lot more work that needed to be done. Suddenly Marco (my co-writer and producer) taps me on the shoulder and points to Carl. I look over and find Carl doing the waltz with the mangled bird as his dance partner. It was priceless—this hideous creature dancing around an awful smelling stable while humming to his prop bird partner. The best part of the story is that our first AC [camera assistant] was aware enough to roll the camera, so we have Carl's brilliance on tape.
Are there any horror films that influenced or inspired you while making The Suffering?
Robert Hamilton: We set out to make a ’70s-era haunted house film that infused as much of a feeling of dread as it did horror. That era produced films that put as much attention into character and story as they did shock and awe, and that's something we were really striving for. I think one of the best examples of this is Kubrick's The Shining, which was definitely an inspiration. After the first 20 minutes of that film, there's never a moment where the audience feels 100% comfortable watching it, and that's something we wanted to accomplish as well.
Is this a world you would be willing to return to in a potential sequel?
Robert Hamilton: That's a good question. The film stands on it own and doesn't necessarily call for a sequel. But with that said, it does provide a great opportunity for one. I guess the honest answer would be yes, as long as the story is right and deserves to be told.
With The Suffering coming out on VOD and DVD on August 2nd from Breaking Glass Pictures, what projects do you have on deck that you can tease, and where can our readers find you online?
Robert Hamilton: Readers can find my personal website at www.rbhamiltoniv.com and at the soon-to-be-released website for my new production company, Captureglass Pictures at www.captureglass.com. Regarding future projects, I recently finished the script to what will most likely be my next film, Earworm. It's a more contemporary and faster-paced horror film than The Suffering, but still relies on well-developed characters and story. Here's the logline:
"Confined with her invalid father for the weekend, a college student listens to an antique vinyl record and unwittingly unleashes a vengeful spirit hellbent on driving her to madness."