06th Dec2017

Horror-on-Sea 2018 Interview: MJ Dixon on ‘Mask of Thorn’

by Philip Rogers

Mask of Thorn is a throwback to the classic 80 slashers from writer and director MJ Dixon, which has been selected to play at the Horror-on-Sea Film Festival on Friday 19th January. I got chance to ask MJ a few questions about the continuing legacy of Thorn, his influences in horror and what else is coming in the ever expanding Mycho horror universe.

mask-thorn-poster

What can we expect from the film?

I guess it’s hard to say without giving too much away, but we usually try to take the classic slasher formula that the Mychoverse is built on and then turn it upside down and at least approach it from a very different angle. We’re not really interested in making the same film again and again, so it was important find a fresh way to tell the next part of the story. 

I guess the influences for the film were mainly Terminator (1984), Mad Max (1979) and Sixteen Candles (1984), which sounds like an odd mix, but for some reason it really worked for the story we wanted to tell, of course there are our usual homages to horror movies across the board, especially Halloween (1978), Friday 13th (19810) and even the Charles Band/Renny Harlin classic Prison (1987). It’s a real mishmash of things I love about that era in horror and hopefully that shines through.

What were your original inspirations for creating the character Thorn?

Thorn was born early on in my creative career, I really loved classic slasher movies growing up and I really wanted to make my mark on the genre. Thorn kind of came from that, I wanted him to be a homage to the cinematic killers that I grew up loving whilst bringing something new to the table. 

From there I read all kinds of different things about Nordic runes, Native American legends and Mayan culture and started to piece together a huge mythology for him, it’s a mythology that we’re still adding to today, in a lot of ways we’re still creating Thorn, he’s developed overtime through his filmic appearances and we’re continuing to develop him as we go, which is a lot of fun.

Why did you decide to film Mask of Thorn as a prequel to Legacy of Thorn?

We’d originally teased a sequel in the credits of Legacy and I kind of like to mess with people’s expectations, it seemed like the right thing to do for both the story and creatively. 

In terms of story, whilst we were making Legacy, I wrote a diary (the one Jess finds at the end) and it wasn’t just a throw away prop, it was detailed, with entries for every day. Within that I released that I had written a great set up for Bethany’s (Jess’s mother) story and that it would be a real shame to let that story go untold.

In terms of creativity, I just wanted to do something a little different, I was really interested in taking the overblown elements of Legacy and strip it back down into something simple and letting the characters really carry it. I was also really interested in doing an 80’s set movie, which is my favourite decade of movies.

Mask of Thorn replicates an 80’s style slasher film and was filmed using 8mm cameras. Why did you decide to film it this way and did it cause you any issues during filming?

Well the original plans to shoot on 8mm video, to try and make it authentic, but they never came to fruition in the end, the idea originally was to make the film a little more throw away, small scale, shot in a few days and put together fairly quickly. However, as we worked on the script and started casting it became apparent that we’d be doing the film a disservice shooting it on an out of date format. Our cast was too strong and talking to potential distributors they agreed that not could hinder the film’s release. Of course, you want the film to have the best possible chance. 

By the time we came to production, we’d spent more than we originally planned and so we made the choice to shoot it in HD, but with vintage style cine lens (the kind you’d find on a 16mm Bolex back in the day). We also really focused on shooting it authentically, I studied how my favourite movies from that era were shot leading up to the film and that really helped achieve the look we wanted.

There have been several actors playing the role of Thorn, who is your favourite actor to play the role?

I’ve liked all our Thorn’s, in different ways, I think that each one has brought a different flavour to each appearance. He’s evolved as a character and so it been cool to watch his look and style evolve too since his first proper appearance in 2009. It’s a tough role to take on as the costume is a literal nightmare to wear and we tend to film in the height of summer, making its really warm to wear on top of that. 

Of course, I have to say, that Atticus Machiavellian who took over for Mask of Thorn is my favourite so far, there was a lot for him to draw on from the characters past iterations, but he also added so much to the character, in terms of personality and psychically. Not only that but he brought a huge amount to the team overall, he was never just there as a performer, he joined as a one of the gang and fit in straight away, I’m not sure we could have made the film without him. 

I often think it’s like Jason, it took a while, and they all were good, but eventually they settled on Jason number 5 Kane Hodder (I don’t count the Part 5 one) and Atticus is our 5th Thorn and he definitely feels like our Kane Hodder.

Are there any elements in the finished film which you had to change from the original script during filming?

Locations are usually the reason for any big changes, but I think for the most part we didn’t have to lose anything, some scenes were altered a little to make the scene work in the location we had, but overall, we had to compromise very little. 

In fact, in Legacy of Thorn (2016) we did have to change one of my favourite scenes, that was a big set piece in a School theatre, the school we were shooting in didn’t have one and, so we had to work out something else. I reworked the sequence and added it to the new draft of Mask of Thorn instead and we finally got to realise it there which was pretty awesome.

What was one of your favourite scenes in the film?

The theatre scene, as I mentioned, has a special place in my heart, I was really sad that we had to lose that sequence from the first film and so having the opportunity to bring it back here was great. It was also really interesting from a Directors stand point, as they scene involves two characters communicating without dialogue whilst trying to evade Thorn and it felt really tense just shooting it. 

Another big favourite was the scene where the teens break into the school, it was a real testament to our actors that we shot the master shot and they nailed the movement and performances so much that we decided not to shoot anymore coverage and it really added a lot of energy to the scene just watching these guys go through it all in one shot. We couldn’t have done that had the cast and crew not been so good.

Do you have any new projects which you are working on?

Outside of Mask of Thorn, we’ve just release Slasher House 2 (2016) on limited release at http://mycho.co.uk and we’re currently working on a wider release for that in the US.

As far as future projects are concerned, our next ‘big’, project, if you can call movies made on a few K big, is a sequel to our 2016 release Cleaver: Killer Clown which starts shooting in the summer and is kind of a Killer Clown Road Movie. 

We’re also working on a project currently titled Bannister Doll House which expands on yet another one of monsters introduced in Slasher House 2 (I’ll let you guess which one) which is a much smaller scale project inspired by 70’s classics like The Exorcist (1973) and The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane (1976). 

After that we’ll be working on getting Slasher House 3 together I think, with the idea of making it our biggest production yet.

In the meantime, we’re also making short form stuff via our Patreon at http://patreon.com/mycho and we’re looking expand that out into filmmaking videos and WebSeries as the year goes on. As well as that we’re also introducing new issues of the Mycho Comic book and, with a bit of luck, early next year Mycho Figurines might be on the way.

If someone is looking to direct their first film, what advice would you give them?

That’s always a tough one, my first feature film was a hell of an experience and it still hasn’t been released, but I did learn a lot. I guess my best advice is to remember that you are just making movies, you’re not curing cancer or performing lifesaving surgery. Just relax, try and enjoy the experience and be grateful, even to the people who don’t deserve it, I see a lot of egos tear films apart and its meant to be fun, right?

 You only get to direct your first movie once and there no point taking it too seriously as you’ll most likely ruin the film and your whole experience in process as well as losing all your friends.

Also, follow your gut, if you feel like someone is gonna ruin your movie, get rid of them asap, you’ll save yourself a lot of headaches in the long run.

Mask of Thorn will be playing at the Horror-on-Sea Festival on Friday 19th January at 8 pm.
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For more information on the event and to purchase tickets for the Horror-on-Sea please see the website for details:  https://www.horror-on-sea.com

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