The Devourer of Movies: An Interview With Antonio Trashorras.
Antonio Trashorras (Madrid, 1969) is a self-confessed film buff. But he’s not just your garden variety film fan who obsessively watches movies; instead, he’s someone who devours them whole and is always hungry for more. What people in Spain call a cinéfago.
With influences ranging from genre filmmakers like Mario Bava and John Carpenter, to more elite auteurs such as Michelangelo Antonioni and Ingmar Bergman, Trashorras is a true movie lover. One who regards horror directors with the same reverence he has for higher-minded, artistic filmmakers. This has served him well in a career as a film critic and screenwriter. among his credits is Eugenio Mira’s 2010 thriller Agnosia, a cross between a period piece, romantic drama, and espionage yarn. He co-wrote Guillermo del Toro’s period ghost story The Devil’s Backbone, one of the many reasons to regard the Mexican director as one of the most original voices in current genre cinema.
Now, Trashorras takes his first crack at the director’s chair with Blind Alley, a minimalist horror movie taking place over one night in a rundown laundromat. Fresh-faced aspiring dancer Rosa (played by up-and-coming scream queen and your instant crush, Ana de Armas) arrives to wash some clothes, and ends up playing mind games with a charming, lethal psycho (Colombian actor Diego Cadavid).
It’s a simple premise which takes some wild turns, and one where Trashorras’ love of various genres and film types definitely shines through. Particularly his taste for Italian horror films from the 70s, the ones with elaborate, poetic titles which don’t always make perfect sense.
In interviews, you’ve said that Blind Alley is heavily influenced by Italian giallos.
A lot of the movies that have made an impact on me are Italian; films from Dario Argento, Sergio Martino, and of course, Mario Bava. I’m a huge fan of Italian cinema, particularly genre films. I’m also big on auteurs such as Fellini, Dino Risi, and Italian comedies. Italian genre films are a huge part of Blind Alley.
It doesn’t stop at giallos, though; the opening credits are styled like a 60s music video, complete with psychedelic backdrops and go-go dancing. After that, it becomes a psychological thriller and then a creature feature, and it even has a bit of Gothic stylings mixed in straight out of an Anne Rice book. This is the kind of movie where part of the fun is spotting all the references and influences.
Was it your intention to include all these stylistic changes? Do you enjoy mixing styles like that?
Absolutely, yes. The movie is the result of being a film buff and devouring movies. There’s four, even five, different styles. Five different references to certain types of movies. There’s a bit of social realism at the beginning as well, being about a girl who works in a hotel, who hates her life and is having boyfriend problems.
And who’s also an immigrant.
That’s right. The movie changes as it goes along, we move through different stages and styles from film history. I think it’s consistent on an aesthetic and visual level, since it uses the same colours and sounds, but I tried to evoke certain types of films I really like.
True to its director, the casting for Blind Alley was also a mix, with talent hailing from different corners of the globe. With the movie being a co-production with Colombia, Antonio brought local actor Diego Cadavid along for the ride, while Ana de Armas is originally from Cuba, even though most of her career has been in Spanish productions. The starring trio is rounded out by Chilean-born Leonor Varela, who has Blade II and a short stint on Arrested Development among her many credits.
What can you tell me about the casting process? How did actors from such different places wind up in your movie?
Partly because it was written into the script. The lead character was from a Spanish-speaking country, maybe Venezuela, Colombia or Peru. In an earlier draft the two villains were French, but when Colombia came on board to co-produce, we wanted to include a Colombian actor. The other actress was hard to find. I wanted Leonor Varela, I admire her as an actress and she has a really strong presence. She’s from Chile, but she knows a lot of languages and accents. With her, it became a trio of non-Spaniards. It’s a strange mix, but since I enjoy mixing things, I wanted to mix genres, countries, and nationalities.
Horror films today have become all about putting the viewer in the moment. Found footage movies have become the norm, giving you an in-the-moment feeling which can frequently be accompanied by seizures and nausea due to the abuse of the much-maligned shaky cam. Blind Alley, however, defies conventions by being a throwback, not only to the 70s, but also to the 80s, with its use of practical effects; there’s a bit of gooey gore for those that miss the days of latex and karo syrup.
Antonio’s main interest is in dreams and genre films which effectively whisk people away from reality for a couple of hours. This was his stated goal with Blind Alley, and he credits a lot of the results to filming on built sets rather than on actual locations.
“If you watch 80s movies such as Robocop or Total Recall today, they’re largely shot on sets. A lot of action sequences take place on built streets. We used artificial lighting and the results are more dreamlike and unnatural. I’m not into naturalism and I don’t like realism. Movies are lies, they’re supposed to be fake. That’s why I like horror and fantasy films. I tried to make a realistic movie, with a girl washing clothes at a laundromat in an alleyway, as artificial and unreal as I could. That comes from shooting on a soundstage. If I had used exterior locations, on a real street, in a real laundromat, it would have been more realistic.”
This affinity for fantasy puts Antonio in good company with Guillermo del Toro. The two not only have a working relationship which Trashorras likens to the one between mentor and student, but also a long-standing friendship. Trashorras not only co-wrote the script to Backbone, but also helped del Toro to get a handle on how the Spanish language is spoken in Spain, which is wildly different from the one used in Mexico.
Has working with Guillermo influenced you in any way?
I don’t know about influence, but he taught me most of what I know. I met Guillermo after he made his first movie. By the time we started working on Backbone, he had done two, Cronos and Mimic. He hasn’t influenced me as a filmmaker; I’ve been influenced by filmmakers who were already established at the time. Guillermo was a teacher to me, and that’s different. I was with him all throughout shooting Backbone; I learned how to direct a film from spending days with him. All I know about technique, how a director behaves on a set, how to get the best from your team and little directorial tricks, I learned just from standing next to him.
Now a director in his own right, Antonio has let his imagination run wild with Blind Alley. Since genre filmmaking in Spain doesn’t demand high budgets or a persistent need to reach the widest audience possible the way Hollywood movies do, it has given him full creative freedom to make the movie he wanted to make: a fun, and unpredictable mix of genres which can only come from someone who loves movies dearly and who clearly doesn’t like to pigeonhole his work.
You can pick Blind Alley up from the 18th of September from JB HI-FI and all good retailers.