Interview with Mickaël Abbate, one of the directors of the charming and suspenseful Phantasmagoria, a horror movie split into three separate parts: Diabolique (directed by Mickaël Abbate), My Gift to You (Tiziano Martella) and Il serpente dalla lingua d’acciaio (Domiziano Cristopharo). The segments are tied together with brief stop-motion animated sequences (handled by Paolo Gaudio).
Mickaël Abbate talks to us about his movie Diabolique, the first segment of Phantasmagoria, and about his future plans.
L: Hello Mickaël, thank you for taking the time to talk with us! Tell us something about yourself.
M: Hello Barbara. It is a pleasure to be interviewed on DarkVeins. I’m Mickael Abbate, a young French filmmaker who just screened at Fantafestival in Rome his first film Phantasmagoria, the reviews are mostly positive!
L: You’re the “Samain du Cinéma Fantastique” Festival director. Can you talk to us about this experience?
M: That’s right, I am also the Festival Director since 2012. I co-founded this festival in Nice with Hélène Mayet in 2010. The city of Nice felt the need to expand its cinema program, we responded quickly for this job. This is a great opportunity that was offered to us.
L: What do you love about this Festival?
M: The public, master-classes and conviviality. We have our own regular spectators, mostly students… Our festival also opens in Italy… Last year, there were many Italian fans in our movie theaters.
L: How did you get into filmmaking and more specifically, what draws you to the horror genre?
M: I grew up with horror cinema. When I was a little boy, I used to watch all the VHS tapes which presented itself to me without restriction from my parents… Sometimes it was quite a shock for me. I still have the bitter taste of “Cannibal Holocaust” and the “Face of Death” (ahahah).
I studied communication, then followed a training in the art of voice dubbing. For a while, I really liked this job but I could not develop myself in this business. I directed short films since I was 14 years old with a VHS-C camcorder. I love cinema but I’m fan of the thriller and slasher genre. I love the suspense in cinema.
M: It is a common idea of me and Domiziano Cristopharo. Domiziano wanted to work with me for several years on this project… First, I was his festivals agent on his first films. I love his universe, he is a crazy dude and very talented. In 2012, he told me about an idea with ghosts… this idea trotted for a long time my mind… and then I thought about all those Italian movies… we all watched on VHS which had a strong atmosphere, spellbound music and a beautiful poster. I thought it would be really cool to revive the Italian horror cinema with a movie retro look, with rich and powerful stories that will haunt viewers. Phantasmagoria is a gateway to the world of imaginary. It is an illusion where the world of the dead and the living can communicate with each other and also each one of us. I love the idea of developing the interpretations of fear on our deepest fears. Regarding the film posters, it was fundamental for me to have a poster that haunts the viewer… a film can be forgotten in a few hours, but a poster can live for a while if it is done very well… I’m happy to have worked with Federico Bebber and Malleus on the posters. Malleus has a monstruous talent, I’m really happy to have worked with these two great Italian figures of illustration and drawing.
L: What got you excited about this project?
M: To make something different (ahaha). When the funds were brought together, and after finding new co-producers (Extreme Video from Eaters, Zombie Massacre), we had a clean line for all 3 film sketches to follow. To work fast and efficiently but also to respect our elders filmmakers. I decided then to film a movie that will evoke Roman Polanksi’s movies or Pupi Avati’s films. Our rules were simple: suggestiveness, a date (october 31st) and to give a definition of fear.
L: The film just had its premiere at the Fantafestival. Can you describe this experience?
M: It was fun… I liked the proximity to the public. I met future producers. I would also like to thank the festival organizers who do their best to complete this 34th edition. I hope to return in the future with a new film.
L: How would you describe your segment Diabolique? Where did you come up with the idea of an isolated and haunted house in the story?
M: Diabolique is a haunted movie like Phantasmagoria, we experienced disruptions during filming, the post-production and even during the screening at Fantafestival (ahahah). Like a ghost behind us… As it turns out it isnt only on “Poltergeist” or “The Omen” where inexplicable & mysterious things occurred (ahahah).
Diabolique is a preamble to the festivities delivered by Tiziano Martella and Domiziano Cristopharo. I wanted to play the card of suggestiveness, mystery and frustration. I wanted to awake the imagination of the viewer, to take them along with Marilyn, Manson, Michel and Mia (yes, many names with the letter “M”, bizarre isn’it?) to this mansion up there to the hills… So, I threw myself into writing a very simple story with a group of students who will gradually disconnect from reality… until someone feeds their unconscious with a new rumor, an urban legend…
L: What’s your favorite moment in your movie?
M: It’s hard to answer. I know it by heart. I worked hard on the sound editing. I would say my favorite part is the beach scene. There is a kind of innocence, strangeness embodied by Maya Dolan in the way she plays her scene that I loved and that I still love. Maya Dolan is pure, fragile. She embodies a true beauty, she is the prey trapped in a spider’s web. I love the character of “Madame” played by Sophie Pâris. I loved to write it, polish up the character and the rehearsals with Sophie, these are moments that will remain long in my memory.
M: I met Maya Dolan at a party. She is a great girl, she responded very quickly to my proposal. I knew Dee Dee Barksdale for a little while since I loved eating her cookies. She works in an excellent coffee shop in the south of France… I was there many times during the process of writing. One day, she started to speak in English to her customers… I frankly asked her if she would be interested to come at the audition. She did it very well. The characters of Michel and Mia were found during a casting call.
Sophie Pâris came to me quite by cheek just 10 days before the shoot, she came all the way from Dubai for the role… She’s as crazy as her character in the film. It was the first cinema experience for all of them, we worked very hard on the characters to be credible, to have a perfect phonetics and solid performances.
In parallel, I deeply believe music is fundamental to a film.To be quite honest, there is not just one film titlted “Diabolique” but actually two films. The first is the one one I filmed in image, second movie is all in the audio. It was important for me to install a strange climax, which grabs the audience and offers them a different show from what they are accustomed to. I had the chance to meet a great team. I liked working with my Sound mixer and Sound designer Robin Bensiri, Music composer Antoine Bensa, Mike Theis from Gyrls, my editor Akseli Plane and my DOP Stefan Hofmann. I discovered Gyrls and Chela through my Music composer. I’m happy about the positive reactions since the first screening at Fantafestival. I hope to work again with all these talents on an upcoming film.
L: What do you think about the other two segments of Phantasmagoria, My Gift to You and A Snake with a Steel Tongue?
M: Having worked on supervising the post-production, I would say that I love them. Our segments are complementary while being diametrically opposite. “Diabolique” is a story about mystery and the fear associated with the unknown. In the second part “My Gift to You” directed by Tiziano Martella, the story introduces the frustration, the fears do not restrain our own emotions. For the last one, “Il Serpente Dalla Lingua D’Acciaio” directed by Domiziano Cristopharo, I like its story, it is dramatic, macabre and poetic. The story introduces the fear associated with losing someone you love, it is always very hard.
M: It was pretty cool. I am a fairly demanding, Domiziano Cristopharo too. He knows the difficulties related to this type of production with the “POE” saga. I liked working with other technicians in the shadow, as Paolo Gaudio and Alessandro Redaelli.
L: What are your cinematic influences?
M: I like William Friedkin, Greg Araki, Roman Polanksi. I’m pretty open minded, I love indie films.
L: What’s your favorite horror movies of all time and why?
M: The Exorcist. I also like The Burning, Bloody Bird (Stage Fright), Mysterious Skin, The Craft, Urban Legend (my favorite vice), Long Weekend, The Changeling, Misery, Rosemary’s Baby, The Beyond, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie… I can watch these movie to infinity… Lately, I liked two French films “Stranger by a Lake” and “You and The Night”.
L: What are you currently working on? Can you give us any details?
M: Sadly, I can’t say much. Because the few projects I want to tackle are really at an early stage. I’m writing a script with a Scandinavian production. The title is “Aphrodite”, it will be a drama with a lot of erotic scene and an influence of Giallo. I am also working on a new horror movie that is called for now “It Gives Me The Creeps”. It will be FUN and creepy! If you like dolls, you will like it a lot. Chucky, Annabelle (The Conjuring) and co. will have little sisters… (ahahah). I can not say who will participate on it but it will be fun to create a new kind of boogeyman and even develop hopefully a franchise with this title. We will see. I hope to take with me on this project Gyrls and Malleus.
L: What are your future plans?
M: To Support “Phantasmagoria”, our creepy baby. This is a weird movie, retro. It has its very own charm and style to attract its own audience.
L: Leave a message for the DarkVeins community!
M: Thank you for taking the time to read me. I hope you can quickly see Phantasmagoria somewhere near you. Stay determined in what you do, we will win! Thank you for your support DarkVeins. See ya!
L: Thanks for talking with us Mickaël! I wish you the best of luck!