Erlingur Thoroddsen: Child Eater

Please tell us about the film.

Child Eater is an old-school type of horror film about Helen, a babysitter battling a bogeyman out in the woods after he abducts Lucas, the little kid she’s been watching. And this particular bogeyman likes to eat the eyes of children to keep himself from going blind. The idea was to make a fun – but also scary – movie that could appeal both to people who are big fans of the horror genre as well as people who maybe don’t watch horror movies that much. It’s really a love letter to the genre from a group of film-makers that are big horror nerds.

It started out as a short. Why did you decide to make it a feature film?

I started thinking about a feature version while we were doing post production on the short, but didn’t really start writing it until the short began to get some attention on the film festival circuit. People were asking if there was a feature version coming, and they seemed excited to see more. So that’s what eventually pushed me and also my producer, Perri Nemiroff, to start developing a longer version.

What was the process like?

The process wasn’t easy. It is a truly independent film in every sense of the word. Once Perri and I got the ball rolling, Luke Spears joined the team as a producer, and the three of us really got the whole thing made somehow. It seems a bit crazy in retrospect – we managed to shoot the whole thing in eighteen days, mostly during the night, in an abandoned zoo where there was no electricity. And we had a child actor on set who could only work half a day because of SAG (Screen Actors Guild) rules. Our schedule was a total nightmare, even scarier than the film. But somehow we finished!

You used Kickstarter to fund the film. What made you decide to use crowdfunding?

think Kickstarter can be great, but there are so many projects out there, so many people asking for money, so you start getting very picky about which projects to support.

If you can reach enough people and get enough interest in your Kickstarter campaign, it can be incredibly valuable. But at the same time, maintaining a campaign is very time-consuming. It’s pretty much a full-time job for however long your campaign lasts.

Thankfully, ours ended successfully, and that’s what matters the most. The support we got was invaluable, and we couldn’t have finished the film without those people who believed in us.

You shot this film in the USA. Why choose did you choose the USA over your native Iceland?

I went to film school at the Columbia University School of the Arts so I was already living in New York when the idea for the feature came about. The short film – which was a school project – was shot in Long Island, and most of the crew was from the United States. When we decided to do the feature, we wanted to bring back as many people from the short as we could. That included our Director of Photography, John Wakayama Carey, our production designer, Ramsey Scott, make-up artist Fiona Tyson, and our lead actress Cait Bliss.

I was also inspired by a particularly American type of horror film – the kind of small-town, semi-fantastical slasher film that has one foot in reality and the other in horror-fantasy. There were a bunch of films like that in the 80s and I was obsessed with them for a long time. It’s also a type of film that doesn’t take itself too seriously. So I always felt Child Eater should be an American film, at least on the surface. But at the same time, I think there’s definitely a whole lot of Icelandic blood that runs through its veins and gives it a unique spin.

Which horror films inspired you?

I’ve been a horror movie addict since I was a kid, so there were definitely a lot of inspirations, big and small, for Child Eater. I’d say that the two main ones were the John Carpenter’s Halloween and Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street. There’s a certain elegance and simplicity of concept in both of those films that I find very appealing. Plus, they are both really fantastic horror films. Elm Street still freaks me out today. I was also inspired by Icelandic mythology – we have Grýla, a child-eating troll woman, as a big part of our Christmas culture, so I feel like every Icelander has a certain appreciation for dark, twisted stories.

Is horror an easy genre to tackle?

ET: I think the hardest part of making a horror film – and also the most satisfyingly challenging part – is to think of fresh ways to scare an audience. By now, people have seen everything, so you want to do your best to be surprising and effective. A lot of what goes into building a scary moment is misdirection and playing with people’s expectations, and that can become difficult when you are by yourself either writing or editing. It might seem scary in your head, but you don’t really know until you show it to an audience. But it’s a challenge I am excited to tackle. I love trying to think of ways to scare people.

Where did you get the inspiration/idea for the monster?

The blind monster in Child Eater is based on a figure I’ve had in my head for years. I’m not sure where exactly the idea came from, but it had stayed with me for a long time before I wrote the script. For the look of the villain – Robert Bowery – I was definitely inspired by certain Francis Bacon paintings, as well as Judge Doom from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? That may sound like a weird inspiration, but Judge Doom scared the hell out of me when I was a kid! And if you filter him through a nightmarish Bacon painting, you can start to see where the look of Robert Bowery came from.

What brings the character fully together is the performance by Jason Martin. He brought a physicality to the role that felt really unique to me and definitely brought the character to life in a scary way.

Where can we find Child Eater?

The film will have it’s world premiere as the closing night film of the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, mid-October. After that, it begins its theatrical run in Reykjavík (my home town) on the 28th of October – right before Halloween, which I think is very appropriate! Then, in November, we will have our Scandinavian premiere at the Stockholm Film Festival.

In the US, the film will be released on physical and digital formats (DVD, Blu-Ray, VOD etc) in the first quarter of 2017, and hopefully European markets will follow soon after.

Emma Vestrheim

Emma Vestrheim is the editor-in-chief of Cinema Scandinavia. Originally from Australia, she is now based in Bergen, Norway, and attends major Nordic film festivals to conduct interviews and review new films.