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.