When David Blyth’s latest feature Wound premiered at the Auckland Film Festival last July, it was met with a vociferous chorus calling for it to be banned because of its sporadic, extreme violence. But the surreal horror was not only greeted enthusiastically by the Civic Theatre audience, it has since played two soldout sessions at London’s prestigious FrightFest horror film festival. It’s also secured screenings at Belgium’s Razor Reel Fantastic, Switzerland’s Lausanne Underground and Malaga, Spain’s Fancine horror-heavy film festivals. On top of that, distribution deals are being done for other countries and Vendetta Films will be releasing the flick on DVD here.
It’s a substantial achievement for a film that received zero support from the Film Commission.
“Some young journalist called up Family Values and they got all wound up because [the journo] told them over the phone that there was a scene of a pregnant woman being whacked,” explains Blyth when I meet him at the Soho patisserie where he used to meet the late British auteur Derek Jarman in the late ‘80s. “They immediately did the knee-jerk reaction, but it ended up going down well and the fuss ultimately dissipated because there was no taxpayer money involved.”
The 54-year-old’s 1978 debut Angel Mine was the first-ever movie to be supported by the Film Commission. “I walked into their interim meeting … with ten minutes of footage, which largely consisted of Jennifer Redford sitting naked on a white toilet at North Piha beach, and they thought it was art. I walked out with a $19,000 cheque and that’s been the way that I’ve made films ever since. No one ever believes in the material; I have to shoot it first because they don’t have any imagination.”
“ Hollywood is a sausage machine but after a while it all starts to taste like cardboard. On ‘Wound’, there weren’t any suits telling me that their wife didn’t like the costumes ”
At 16, Blyth set his sights on becoming a director after seeing Spanish surrealist Louis Bunuel’s 1972 masterpiece The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeois at the Lido in Epsom. “I came out and I was a filmmaker, and I’ve been a monk with it ever since,” he laughs ruefully. “It made me realise that cinema is the most powerful form of expression there is and it was the way that I wanted to express myself. But being over 50 now, I’ve realised in the last few years that I might have made a terrible decision with this addiction to cinema, because I’ve hardly been able to get a meeting with the Film Commission since [Angel Mine], so Wound is quite an angry response to that.”
His 1984 cult horror Death Warmed Up sank without trace locally, but was an international cult success. “It was because it was original,” says Blyth. “In New Zealand, it was an affront to authority, as was Angel Mine.”
Wound is the final bookend in a loosely linked thematic trilogy that also includes Angel Mine and Death Warmed Up. “It sits uncomfortably between exploitation gore and art-house films like Lars Von Trier’s Anti-Christ, but unfortunately I’m not as famous as he is,” says Blyth, who believes the David Lynch-inspired Wound stood out amongst the formulaic slasher flicks that dominated Frightfest. “It’s not just about a bunch of guys with machetes chasing blondes. I’m sick of all that stuff! I wanted to make a statement about living in New Zealand. It’s also about my frustrations with the Film Commission and how cinema has been colonised by Hollywood. Even though I’ve got an American eye, because I did a whole lot of films there, I have a European soul.”
Blyth was based in Los Angeles for most of the ’90s, helming journeyman productions like Red Blooded American Girl and House 3. “Hollywood is a sausage machine but after a while it all starts to taste like cardboard,” he says. “On Wound, there weren’t any suits telling me that their wife didn’t like the costumes, which I had happen on American films.”
He is full of praise for Wound’s lead actress Kate O’Rourke, whose previous experience includes small parts in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and 30 Days of Night. She gives a searing performance as the deeply disturbed Susan, who is haunted not only by the memory of her abusive father but by Tanya, the ghost of her abortive child. “She was a fantastic revelation because she’s hardly done anything before,” says Blyth, who cast his former South Seas Film and Television School student Te Kaea Berry as Tanya.
Having rediscovered his passion for the medium, Blyth is currently working on ideas for three new movies. Incredibly Strange Film Festival programmer Ant Timpson “put it best when he described me as having been reborn fully formed,” Blyth declares. “I feel like I’ve returned to form and I’m now at the absolute top of my game. I’ve got my memory intact, and it’s not like I’m a refugee from alcohol or drugs. It’s like someone’s switched the computer back on.”