Uptight film critics and die-hard horror lovers don’t always see eye to eye, but there’s one aspect of genre filmmaking to which both sides would readily attest: There’s not enough originality in horror. The most popular complaint, of course, rails against Hollywood’s insistence on remaking older, beloved movies, whether it’s an undeniable classic (A Nightmare On Elm Street) or something more obscure (The Crazies), but even when filmmakers whip up fresh stories, the scares and beats are often infuriatingly familiar.
Give Argentinean writer-director Adrian Garcia Bogliano credit, then, for conceptualizing a fright film based around a truly unique device: old men who lure women to their home, conduct heinous experiments on them, and smear the not-so-fruitful ladies’ bodies with deadly nitroglycerin. That’s the premise behind Cold Sweat, Bogliano’s deliriously paced and highly entertaining new horror flick, which made its stateside debut via Dark Sky Films’ DVD release this past Tuesday.
As innovative and gleefully over-the-top as Cold Sweat is, it’s the script’s fascinating basis in Argentina’s tragic history that gives the film its depth. Highlighted in the film’s opening credits sequence, through newsreel footage and documentary clips, Argentina fell under the violent reign of a military dictatorship from 1976 through 1983, a period known as the Dirty War; during that time, anyone whose views outspokenly challenged the country’s government were abducted, tortured, and eventually killed.
In Cold Sweat, the villains—a pair of elderly men living in plain sight—are former officers who can’t stop employing the dictatorship’s horrific methods behind closed doors. Lest one think that the flick is another humorlessly devastating Apt Pupil, though, Cold Sweat is unapologetically raucous: the camera closes in on the supermodel-looking female victims’ liquid-drenched bodies, the gore flows recklessly, and one character seeks help by posting a Facebook status update from his cellular phone.
It’s that kind of wildness that makes Cold Sweat one of the crazier genre efforts in recent months. Complex recently spoke with Bogliano about the film, his desire to teach youngsters about his country’s past without pretension and the correct approach to blending horror with comedy.
Interview by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
On one end, Cold Sweat is this insane, fast-paced horror movie, but there’s also the heavy amount of historical and political influences that went into the script for you. How did you approach the balancing of those two extremes?
To me, the idea was to make a very entertaining movie. Neither of the three writers, neither of us was really into having a lot of logic and making a lot of sense; it was more about making some sort of rollercoaster. We were going off of some things we’ve read about the writing of the Indiana Jones films—we wanted to make a film like that, that’s a lot of fun. But we always like to have elements that are very specific of our culture and our society. We thought this was a great opportunity to do that.
We didn’t write the film thinking that it was going to be produced by the people who finally financed it. Lucky for us, we had the support of the Argentinean Film Institute, and one of the biggest production companies in Argentina, one that’s associated with Buena Vista in Argentina. We didn’t know that when we wrote it, but we wanted to make a very commercial film, something that was very catchy, but at the same time having this subject about the dictatorship. It’s something that’s sort of taboo in the general films; you are supposed to talk about it only in dramas and documentaries, but you’re not supposed to talk about it in a horror film.
We thought it’d be interesting to put that subject in a horror film, because a horror film like this is for a very young audience, and that young audience is exactly the kind of people who don’t want to see documentaries, or hear these recollections of what happened back then. It was really a very terrible thing that happened in Argentina in the ’70s. I really wanted to communicate that to that generation, and I thought the best way to do it was in a very fun film where you don’t feel like you’re being lectured about anything.
Which makes the bonus feature on the DVD where you’re giving historical facts about that particular time period a nice little history lesson for anyone who feels compelled to explore the back-story once the movie’s over.
Right, I wanted to explain a little bit of that to people outside of Argentina. But even in Argentina, there are a lot of people my age and younger who don’t want to know what happened there. To me, it’s interesting to make that generation aware of the fact that many of those older men they see at the grocery or whatever, on the streets, they participated in those terrible things. It’s tragic. The high-ranked officers have been on trial over the last few years, but the lower-ranked officers, the people who actually executed those terrible things, they’re actually still on the streets. It seemed interesting to put that into the minds of the younger generation.
That’s a smart move. For you, where does the fascination with your homeland’s dictatorship era come from?
I’ve always had it, because, actually, I got my name from one of my uncles who was kidnapped, tortured, and killed during the dictatorship, so, basically, my name and my second last name… Basically, a lot of people just call me Adrian Bogliano, and that was exactly the name of my uncle, so I’ve always felt something strange about it. I never got to meet him, of course, but I’ve been told that he was a very loving, gentle person, and everybody loved him. He was one of the members of my family who were killed, and actually my parents had to leave Argentina and go to Spain, where I was born. They had to escape from Argentina.
So it was always a subject that I’ve felt very close to, even though I didn’t live it personally. It’s really strange, because when I started to go to school in Argentina, all of the kids there didn’t know anything about it. They were from the middle class and didn’t want to know anything, and they grew up on films and documentaries that were so dramatic about this subject, which is logical, of course. All the kids of my age and younger, they didn’t want to know about it—it’s too terrible, too terrifying. Politically, we’ve never been so able to do this like we are right now, with these people being on trial and being very old and dying. It’s a different historical moment now, so I thought it was a cool opportunity.
Did you base the two older men in Cold Sweat, the film’s villains, on any real-life former officers that you’ve seen or met, or are they totally fabricated?
They’re actually based on different sides of what happened in the ’70s—one of them was an ultra right, and the other one was an ultra left. I based the names on real characters, but, yeah, the characters are based more on things that I’ve heard existed. There was one guy who was very obsessed with words, for instance, and committed a lot of tortures through that obsession. The characters are centered around what people think these guys look like and act like, but I wanted to add some interesting things. You can hate them, but I wanted to put in a couple of interesting elements that could make you become intrigued by them, too.
The powers that be are going to do with you whatever they want if you don’t know how to express yourself and your ideas, so that’s why you see the one scene where the girl is killed for not being able to express herself. I thought it was interesting to put that idea into these characters.
Was it difficult to make the older men intimidating and scary when, on the surface, they look like helpless, elderly men? One of them even has a walker.
Yeah, there were two things that I wanted to work with. One, you see a lot of these old men, and it’s happened to me a few times… You see an old men, he looks really nice, and you think, “Poor old man, I’m gonna help him cross the street,” but then you talk to him and he says something that makes you think, “What the hell—who is this guy?” Some political idea, he might say, and you start to look at him very suspiciously.
I wanted to work with that, and on the other hand we wanted to work with elements that aren’t the typical elements of a horror film. I didn’t want a very strong guy carrying an ax or a knife. I wanted to work with completely the opposite: two old men who look completely fragile and they don’t kill with knives or anything like that. They use this liquid, and at the beginning you don’t know what the hell it is. I wanted to create suspense with that. It was basically the idea of working with the opposite of what you usually have in a horror film.
We never cared a lot about making a lot of sense, but I also think that if you see these old men who look fragile torturing people, blowing a girl’s head off, and carrying nitroglycerin, I think that you would be scared of them in real life. [Laughs.] A lot of people ask me, “Hey, why doesn’t the guy in the movie try to hit them or anything? They’re old and weak.” And I say, “I don’t know what I would do in that case. Maybe I’d try to save the girls and leave there without being seen, and then call the police.” We’re used to something different; we’re used to the hero who’s going to confront the big guy with the mask. So it seemed cool to go the opposite way.
The use of lathering nitroglycerin all over a girl’s body, turning the liquid into a murder weapon, is really interesting and original. Where’d you get the inspiration for that?
That was one of the basic ideas of the film: I wanted to make a big homage to a film I love, Sorcerer, from the 1970s, directed by William Friedkin—it’s a remake of Wages Of Fear. I love that film, I think it’s really underrated; to me, it’s probably the best suspense film I’ve ever seen. I wanted to make something like that, but instead of the big road movie that Sorcerer is, putting the suspense inside of a house. Changing the scale of the film, and making this big journey from the basement of the house to the roof. I wanted to Sorcerer on a very small scale.
That’s when I started to think, “Who could have these dynamite boxes and the nitroglycerin?” it was obvious that it should be… Argentina is not such a violent country that you’d think that anyone could have nitroglycerin and explosives, so I started to think and I thought it was interesting that somebody involved with the old dictatorship could still have some explosives from the ’70s.
Alongside the explosives in the basement, you’ve also got a small army of freakish, zombie-like women, called “specimens,” which brings to mind Wes Craven’s underrated film The People Under The Stairs.
One of our basic influences was People Under The Stairs, yeah; we love that film. But I thought that it was interesting to think what would happen if these experiments that they’ve been operating for 30 years—did they kill all of them, or have they kept them alive in some terrible way? We wanted to have this ending where these victims who are completely mutilated, and have become beasts, can have their revenge. They can give the old men some payback in the end. A film that impressed us a lot when we were kids is one called Evil That Men Do, a film with Charles Bronson in the ’80s; it’s so violent, and the end is basically the same, where the guy who committed the tortures is killed by his experiments.
In the last few years, I believe more in the system of justice in Argentina—it’s been better in recent years. But sometimes you feel like all these guys who raped, tortured, killed, and kidnapped babies, it was would be nice to have them being killed in these ways. It’s some sort of poetic justice. [Laughs.] In Argentinean films, you don’t see those types of things often. I think that’s one of the parts that people don’t feel satisfied about when seeing films that deal with this subject, but they are so realistic that often the end has the man who killed and tortured and raped, he just gets away with murder. But not in our film.
It brought to mind the old Charles Laughton film The Island Of Lost Souls, where he plays a mad doctor who gets killed by all of his half-man/half-beast experiments in the end.
Sure, absolutely. That’s another really great film.
Keeping the People Under The Stairs influence in mind, there’s a really sharp sense of humor throughout Cold Sweat. Was the intention from day one to make a horror-comedy? Cold Sweat doesn’t feel like a full-on horror-comedy, but it’s definitely there.
I like films that keep the horror really horrifying and violent, and sometimes I like to work comedy into that. It depends on the film. You don’t always have to have comedy elements in a horror film. But when you do have horror and comedy working together, the horror has to be really terrible. So it works better to have comedy in something that’s otherwise really shocking.
There’s one scene in particular that had me laughing, and I thought was a really clever use of dark humor: It’s the chase scene where the old man using his walker stalks after the girl who’s crawling on her back and covered in nitroglycerin. It’s the slowest chase imaginable, but you cut it in ways that makes it seem like an intense foot race. It’s quite effective.
Yeah, that was one of our favorite scenes to write, actually. We wanted to make this horror film with the opposite elements of what you’d expect in a horror film, so it’s an old man with liquid instead of the flashier murder weapons. We wanted to make, also, a climax where you have two people running in slow motion, some sort of cartoon moment, like something from Looney Tunes. [Laughs.]
Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time in the shooting schedule to stretch that scene out even further. I think the people who actually realize that joke, like you, it’s because of the way we cut it, but I feel like not everyone gets the time to realize the joke. It could be so much longer. But that was one of the first things we thought about when writing the film, actually. It’s a fun way to keep the film entertaining.