Corpse Pride

Karl Derrick, SFX Magazine, September 2007

We always thought of this movie as 'The Vertical Shining'. It's a Stephen King Story, set in a hotel, about a guy facing adversity. As in most Stephen King stories, the guy will win eventually, but at a cost. John Cusack plays Mike Enslin, this really desolate, washed-out character, investigating paranormals hoaxes and frauds. But this is the real thing...

You go through the whole experience with Enslin. It's not a stalk and slash, it's not a bloodfest. There's hardly any gore in it at all, really. It's a much more low-key, cerebral sort of horror. It creeps up on you. The room is another character. You'll be amazed at what happens in this room. It's completely surreal...

I'd never have the creative freedom I had in this film. I had complete carte blanche. I've worked on a lot of big budget films where the art department say 'Don't divert from the model' - it's almost like working for a factory. Mikael Håfström, the director, said 'Well you know what's scary - go for it. Show me something that's cool.' I had a great crew on this and we tried to break some ground, tried to make Kevin O'Malley more than a run-of-the-mill corpse...

Kevin O'Malley, the rooms first victim, killed himself in the room in around 1912. He was a sewing machine needle salesman who cut his own throat and then tried to sew it back together, hence the stitches in his throat. We did a cut-throat on him, which is a foam latex appliance that does from under his ear, all the way under his jawline, round to under his other ear and down to under his shirt. We really cut his throat badly!

The room brings him back to torment Enslin. He's an 80-year-old corpse that's just been drying out in the ventilation shaft. In the original script he was bloated and blue, and I said, 'We can't do this, have a bloated blue fat guy in the ventilation shaft - people are just going to laugh.' We remembered some photographs of the mummies at Palermo in Italy, where they have a natural seam of silica running around the town, and they take people down and put them in these caves and these cellars, and the corpses just desiccate, they don't decay. They thought there was some great religious significance in this because there was no corruption of the body. We really liked the idea of this dried-out thing. He's the beef jerky man!

He's played so well by Paul Kasey. Paul's a well known creature performer, he does a lot of Doctor Who and Torchwood. And he's a great physical actor. O'Malley on his own is nothing without Paul's performance. The way he moves is truly terrifying. I was standing next to Mikael Håfström during the first take. He had seen O'Malley crawling through the set and he just looked at him and went 'Oh my god, that's sick...' He just moves like this horrible dried-up snake. It's a very visceral performance. Paul was really having a ball, chasing John Cusack through the ventilation shaft.

The make-up is a long application, it's full head and both hands. It took around three and a half hours to put it on. We started off with a standard life-cast of Paul. I wanted to do something where you would get no brow folding, no facial expressions, so we made a rigid helmet, which is O'Malleys skull on the outside of Paul's head. There's a rigid jaw piece as well. And then we had silicone rubber appliances that glued down over the top of that. We laid hair on it and then eventually we dusted the whole thing in to make it look really old and cracked. When you normally see corpses in a movie, they frown and then the skull bends, they've got too much movement. If the skin had dried back on to the shrinking muscle, you wouldn't have a frown. So I said to Paul, 'You're not going to be able to use your face'. So he uses the angle of his head. It's fantastic. He looks like one of those blind cave snakes, looking for rats... And that really sells O'Malley.