Cat Sick Blues: Interview with director Dave Jackson

An interesting chat with Dave Jackson, the australian director of Cat Sick Blues (2015).
Cat Sick Blues is an extreme horror film that follows the murderous activities of Ted (magnificently played by producer Matthew C. Vaughan) who becomes known "Cat Man" after his death's cat. His story is connected with that of Claire (Shian Denovan), the owner of the most popular cat on the Internet.
Cat Sick Blues mixes the love for animals with tons of brutality. Check out the interview with him to know more about his disturbing first feature!

Cat Sick Blues: how was the idea of such a revolutionary film born?
D.J.: I don’t think I would say it’s revolutionary in the slightest... haha! The initial simple idea of a killer dressed as a cat came from a few different places. It began with watching Jean Rollin’s La Vampire Nue. It has this incredibly creepy scene at the start with these people wearing animal masks. It really disturbed me.
Around the same time, I watched a movie called Strays (a horror film about stray cats) and rewatched Argento’s Inferno. Strays and the scene in Inferno (where Daria Nicolodi is getting pelted with cats) got me thinking about cats in horror films and how difficult it is to make them scary. I guess that idea and the image of the animal masks in Rollin’s film blurred into one concept.
With story... the film is thematically (obviously) inspired by pet grief. We poke fun of that in the film, but I’ve had a lot of pets in my life and genuinely found it traumatic when they passed away. Taking those feelings and running it through the horror genre seemed like an insane and exciting idea for me. Andrew Gallacher, the co-writer of the film, then took the very basic idea I had and fleshed it out into something really interesting. Pretty much everything that people talk about from Cat Sick Blues —the cat dildo, the uncomfortable humour, the internet cat video stuff— all came from him.

How many actors did the audition for Ted's role? Why did you choose Matthew C. Vaughan?
D.J.: We actually didn’t have auditions for Ted’s role. I had wanted a guy for the role who was really interested at first but when he read the script he was really upset by it and didn’t want to be in the film. At this stage, Matt was a producer on the film, not an actor. We were discussing the role and he said something like “You need someone naturally awkward and strange... someone like me”. And I knew then that he absolutely had to play the role.
Matt isn’t an actor, but he was perfect for Ted. It’s a difficult character to play because he is disgusting and despicable but the movie needs him to be sympathetic. I think Matt has a natural charm and ability to generate sympathy that really comes across in the film. I’m really proud of him and what he brought to the role. The film would not exist without him.

Watching "Cat Sick Blues", the viewer can see the influence of many world famous horror directors. My question is: is there a greater figure of inspiration above all?
D.J.: Hmmm. It’s difficult to say, because most of my influences are unconscious ones. In terms of tone, the most direct influence was Takashi Miike’s Gozu. The way Miike creates a film that is simultaneously terrifying and funny blew my mind and I wanted to create something that evoked a similar feeling.

Inconvenient question: in what extent can piracy damage underground cinema?
D.J.: Honestly, I’ve never made any money off anything I’ve made and I don’t think piracy makes much of a difference. I’m more bothered by the fact that the pirated version of Cat Sick Blues that’s floating around is the wrong cut (it’s the longer non-director’s cut that’s usually found on pirate sites). I also HATE it when people put the film up on YouTube because the footage is manipulated to bypass copyright and it looks terrible. Please don’t watch my film on YouTube. If you’re not going to buy the DVD or blu-ray, at least download a good copy of it. Haha.

Gacha Gacha: tell us all that you can about this last work of yours! And reveal us where/how a poor and mistrated italian viewer can find it.
D.J.: Gacha Gacha is the first short film I’ve made since moving to Osaka. It’s all in Japanese with a Japanese cast. It’s about two women who are obsessed with collecting these things called Gachapon (they’re capsule toys that you buy in machines). It features stop-frame animation and a tanuki with giant testicles. It’s only very freshly finished so it’s currently being sent out to festivals. At the moment only Kickstarter supporters have seen the film. You can follow us on Phantasmes Video for screening dates. You can check out the trailer here:

I'm your n. 1 fan, so... are you going to direct a feature film soon??
D.J.: I’d like to, but it’s hard. I really want to make another feature while I’m living in Japan. I’m writing one at the moment that I’m really excited about, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to afford to make it sadly.

In these last years, Australia is working very well about underground cinema and in the indipendent panorama. It seems that australian people have a very open mind about this kind of products, while in other countries (also Italy) this kind of interest is very hard to find. Is it right to say that australian people are more receptive about innovation and strangeness?
D.J.: I would say the total opposite is true. The Australian film industry is tiny and mostly focused on small kitchen sink dramas. It’s rare that we get a good genre film. That said, there’s been some decent films recently. Hounds of Love was amazing.

Who are the australian directors who you would advise to keep an eye on?
D.J.: Yeah, I would say keep an eye on Ben Young who directed Hounds of Love, and I recommend checking out Stuart Simpson who made a great little film called Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla. Also, a guy that worked on Cat Sick Blues, JaxMcMullin Condo, is a young director worth watching out for. He made a short film called Man Dog Man which stars Matthew C. Vaughan.

There is an incredible violence in CSB but the ways in which it's expressed (from torture porn to snuff, from splatter to gore, but also thriller) should not shock us if we just think about your first feature film "Cannibal Suburbia". is there a message of criticism towards our society and the way in which it convey this violence? Or maybe you're just having fun in this way?
D.J.: Sort of. I wanted to make some death scenes really gloriously over the top and operatic (like the hostel murder sequence), then follow it up with a really grim horrible scene (Sylvia’s death scene) to make people feel guilty about enjoying the violence. I’m not really making a point, only just being a bit cheeky.

Most of italian people are interested in international products, so often we don't know about film and directors who made the history of cinema... and they are/were italian (Argento, Bava, Fulci, Lenzi, Deodato...)! Is there one of these italian artists that you appreciate more than others?
D.J.: Yes, I grew up watching Italian horror and LOVE all the directors you mentioned. But Lucio Fulci is definitely my guy. He was so, so brilliant and was often unfairly derided when compared to Argento. I’m a big Argento fan too, but I honestly think Fulci made a better giallo with Don't Torture a Duckling than any that Argento made. I love the way Fulci hopped from genre to genre making crazy Westerns (I quattro dell'apocalisse is so great), trippy fantasy nightmares (Conquest), gangster films (Luca il contrabbandiere is masterful) and ridiculous comedies (All'onorevole piacciono le donne is really funny). No matter what genre he was in, you could also see that it was a Fulci movie. He was a total madman and there will never ever be another filmmaker like him. It’s hard to pick a favourite of his, but Don't Torture a Duckling, The Beyond, Beatrice Cenci, The New York Ripper and The Psychic are all perfect.

I think that your choice about Vaughan as main character is ingenious: his interpretation keeps the whole story always full of there any famous actor who you'd like to work with?
D.J.: I would love to remake Cat Sick Blues with Tilda Swinton in the lead role. Really. She is great.

You are watching a movie. It ends and you think "oh, I'd love to be the director of this film!" Which movie were you looking at?
D.J.: I don’t think I’ve ever thought that before. But I often watch films and wish I could have the same kind of skill or restraint as the director. For example, I love Joe Swanberg movies and I wish I could make films in the same kind of subtle, free flowing way that he does. I just don’t have it in me to do something so quiet.

Free question: say hello to somebody, give yourself a question and answer it, promote someone/something or send us to hell!!
D.J.: Andrew Gallacher, co-writer of Cat Sick Blues, recently wrote a new book. Check it out here!

Erica Salvatore and Gioele Rizzo
Celluloid Nightmares - Extreme, Horror and much more