It was six or seven years ago that Austrian filmmaker James Quinn was first diagnosed with schizophrenia. What followed were five years of unimaginable horror the likes of which we genre fans will probably never experience.
Two years of just trying to get the right medication and dosing plus an additional three years where life seemed to throw every kind of hell imaginable at him. There were suicide attempts and the loss of friends as he began to open up about his mental illness and they simply couldn’t handle what was happening.
In a moment of pure desperation, he decided to make a film that would, if successful, show the world some of what he’d been through. That short film was called The Law of Sodom. He wrote scenes when his mind was in a manic state and at one pivotal moment, even filmed himself in the midst of a manic episode in a scene that is visceral and terrifying in ways that must be seen to be believed.
In an equally bold move, he sent that short film to the first ever Nightmares Film Festival in Columbus, Ohio and it was chosen to screen at midnight. To his further astonishment, he won an award for his efforts.
It was that win that began to turn Quinn’s life around. He began his next projects immediately and formed Sodom and Chimera Productions. Soon, he was making Flesh of the Void which was screened at this year’s Nightmares Film Festival.
Flesh of the Void‘s official synopsis on IMDb is as follows:
Flesh of the Void is a terribly disturbing experimental horror film about what it could feel like if death truly were the most horrible thing one could ever experience. It is intended as a trip through the deepest fears of human beings, exploring its subject in a highly grotesque, violent and extreme manner.
“I was pretty sure I wanted to actually shoot on film,” Quinn explained to me as we chatted via Skype a few days after the festival ended. “I didn’t have the resources or the experience to do it when I shot The Law of Sodom, but I knew I needed to do that for this project.”
It began with a couple of rolls of Kodachrome, one of the earliest forms of film. In fact, the film was so old that the chemicals needed to develop them actually no longer exist. Not to be outdone, however, Quinn began experimenting with his own chemical process to develop the film.
“Some of the rolls wouldn’t develop at all, or they came out completely black. The ones that did were the most grainy and disgusting things I’ve ever seen!” Quinn enthused. “I even took the negatives and slapped them on the ground after developing to add to the scratches and graininess. It all added to the overall look.”
In step with the rest of his process, writing and shooting and filming all took place seemingly out of order. He would search out locations and then return home to write out his surreal scenes then return to the places he found to shoot. Ultimately, he broke the film into three acts with a different type of film used for each. Act One was Kodachrome; Act Two was modern Super 8, and the final act was filmed using 16mm.
“It’s a continuous increase in quality in terms of sharpness and grain,” he says. “By the third act, I think there is a lot of beauty. I tried to make and show the beauty in creepy and disgusting things.”
The process seems to have worked. It was a moment no one who attended Nightmares Film Festival 2017 will forget as Quinn was awarded Best Overall Feature, and we watched a young man overcome with emotion as he explained that the festival had saved his life and that he would return every year whether he had a film in the festival or not because it meant so much to him.
“It changed my life,” he told me. “I’ve always enjoyed solitude my entire life, but I realized that I actually enjoyed being a part of a community I have a family here.”
As our interview ended, I couldn’t help feeling that I’d spent a half hour talking to perhaps the most sensitive filmmaker I’d ever met…a man who has walked through a personal hell that would have crushed other people, and found a way to create from that destruction. He’s a face that will change the landscape of experimental horror. In fact, he already has.
For more information about Flesh of the Void, you can follow the film on Facebook. And keep your eyes peeled. We’ve not heard the last of James Quinn.