Writer and director Reg Traviss’s latest feature, Psychosis, starring Charisma Carpenter (Buffy, Angel), British model Paul Sculfor, Ricci Hartnett (28 Days Later, Dog Soldiers) and Justin Hawkins (The Darkness), was released on DVD in July 19th 2010 by Lionsgate Home Entertainment. Psychosis is set in an English mansion which newlyweds David and Susan (Sculfor and Carpenter) move into nearly two decades after a series of brutal murders in the nearby woods. It isn’t long before Susan, an American writer with a history of mental illness, begins to feel she is losing her mind; seeing ghosts and hearing strange noises.
Traviss’s first feature, the 2006 WWII/Cold War drama Joy Division starring Tom Schilling, Bernard Hill and Michelle Gayle was released to critical acclaim with the New York Times heralding it as “a sweeping, tumultuous historical epic”. We caught up with Reg earlier in the summer for a chat about Psychosis, working with Charisma Carpenter and his love for British horror films.
PATRICK: Psychosis, your second feature film, the first one being Joy Division and it’s quite a departure story-wise. Were you keen to make that distinction with your second film?
REG: Joy Division and Psychosis, they’re poles apart in many respects; Joy Division’s a war film or a war/spy film, there’s quite big budget and it was a wide story. It covers several different countries, there are lots of different characters, and it’s just a really big story. Psychosis on the other hand, the genre is different, it’s a thriller/horror, a psychological thriller and of course the story is…“contained” is probably the wrong word, but its certainly confined. I think for me the similarities are that both stories deal with one central individual going through a journey and that journey is full of issues. In Joy division this young guy lives through the Second World War, he’s orphaned, he’s formerly German so he’s part of the Nazi regime, he’s then taken by the Russians, he grows up in the Soviet regime. He goes to London during the Cold War. He’s faced with all these challenges and the main challenge really is who he is, his identity.
Psychosis has a kind of similar thing in that it’s a journey. The main character comes from one country to another. We learn that she’s rebuilding her life. Then she’s faced with this crisis, and then its not so much she’s questioning who she is but she’s questioning her sanity and so is everybody else. The similarities are that both stories deal with an individual in crisis.
The other thing is, I always wanted to do a horror. I’m a fan of horror, of British horror. So for me, it wasn’t so much a surprise as it may appear from the outside.
PATRICK: With the casting, we’ve got Paul Sculfor, Justin Hawkins and Alexander Ellis whom I immediately recognised from the Go Compare adverts!
REG: Yeah! He also does those beer commercials…W..Y…K…WKD, they call it WKD!
PATRICK: And Charisma Carpenter! Long time fan so it’s definitely great to see something homebred with her in it. Can you tell me a bit about the casting process for Charisma and Justin Hawkins as well?
REG: I really wanted the lead to be American. In the original story she wasn’t and I thought it was really important for her to be an outsider. I thought about her maybe being European, like from France or Germany, but it’s not so different to the culture here. I think she would have as much as a culture shock as an American may. Obviously some Americans don’t have a culture shock when they come here, but I just felt it was more appropriate if she was American because I felt…well, she doesn’t experience that much of culture shock in the film but its there as undercurrent.
PATRICK: Well if she’s used to California and then suddenly finds herself in the English countryside, there is a kind of culture difference.
REG: Exactly, she ends up in this rural farmland in some corner of England in this isolated old house, there is gonna be a culture shock. Also, the locals are possibly tormenting her or whatever, there’s this sort of thing going on. What I didn’t want to do was have a girl from another country like Italy, Germany or wherever and then have it construed as a kind of racial conflict. So I thought if she was American, there were far less ways of looking at it on ethnic grounds.
I also remember from a lot of, not necessarily the Hammer films, but the British horror films of that era there normally would be an American, they probably did it for commercial reasons but it just tuck with me as part of the genre; having an American as a fish out of water. The reason we ended up going with Charisma was that she, out of all of the other actresses, definitely understood the character the best. I was completely convinced on a creative level. There was just no two ways about it, she read the script back to front, she had about 70 questions for me, and she was suggesting things that even I hadn’t fully thought through. I was like “well actually, you’ve got a really good point there because that makes sense with this, that the other” so I thought she’s got it, she’s nailed it!
I liked the fact that she has a culty, American horror background, albeit Buffy and Angel. That just felt right for me because I wanted Psychosis to have a bit of a cult feel and I figured you can’t just force that kind of stuff. Whoever you cast, kind of brings something to it, and I’m not saying she brings the essence of Buffy and Angel because that would be wrong, but I feel what her face brings is that sort of feeling of pop-cult-horror which I quite liked and then having her alongside the likes of Ricci Hartnet. I could see them working really well together. I think the two of them worked fantastically well together in the film. It’s also a kind of face-off, bringing her in; she’s almost like the character, a fish out of water. She’s faced with this gruff, rough British actor and I was wondering if that would work and I think it did.
With Justin, I don’t know if you remember a film called Legacy, again it was one of those films like Hammer, a lot of it was set in an old house and Roger Daltry showed up and things like that always stuck in my mind! It feels very British and sort of Hemmer-esque, so there was this rock musician in the script and I wondered if we could get a real rock musician, not someone that was so over exposed that they ruin it, someone that fits in and Justin just seemed the best person to fit in. We spoke to him and he was really up for it and he quite likes horrors as well! Justin and Charisma compliment each other really in a lot of ways. I think there’s a connection between heavy metal music and shows like Buffy. On a subtextual level they all kind of connect. We did speak to a few other musicians as well and decided to go with Justin over them, looking back now I couldn’t imagine any of those other guys gelling with Charisma in that respect. It would have just felt out of place.
Psychosis is not only set in a haunted mansion. It was also filmed in a real-life haunted mansion! Stories from the cast and crew tell of a strange fire which broke out on the set, of equipment failure and even strange voices calling from apparently empty rooms. But paranormal activities aren’t the only things which take place in the film, other strange things occur and I was curious about how they made their way into the film.
PATRICK: How did you go about researching the hauntings, psychics and the seedy underworld that Paul Scuflor’s character is involved in?
REG: I’ve never been to a sex party but I often hear about them not because of anything I’m doing but you hear of stuff. So I know they exist, I know they go on and I just asked a few people what sort of stuff happens, what realisticly happens. There’s a couple of scenes, you wouldn’t have seen, they’re deleted scenes where there’s some real naughty stuff going on in that party but we cut it out because it took that strand of the story too far and it affected the main balance of the story, which was Charisma’s story.
With the hauntings a lot of it just comes from stuff that I’ve read over the years, just from being interested in paranormal activity so that was really the research side of it.
PATRICK: Originally, Psychosis was titled “Vivid”, but the name was later changed, what prompted this?
REG: Do you want the truth?
PATRICK: Um, yes!
REG: Ok I’ll tell the truth, um, there’s a porno company called Vivid and it was just getting in the way! So we thought we’ve just got to change the title because there were too many associations with this porno production company.
PATRICK: Oh well, um, thank you! Didn’t know about that one!
REG: But on a creative level I think Psychosis is a much better title and I think it better fits the film. We went through a few titles actually before it was shot. At one point it was Maniac, Dream House, what was the other one…there were a few other real slasher sounding names. I can’t remember now, bloody hell! But Maniac was one the ones for a while. Then the producer said “look, let’s just move away form all that slasher sounding stuff” which was absolutely right because some of these names did sound slasher, and of course its not kind of film. Then someone came up wuith the name Vivid and you know the rest.
PATRICK: I think Psychosis was a good choice. I started my review of the film with the definition of the word, and looking at it, it really sums up what Charisma’s goes through so it was spot on.
REG: It was called Psychopath for a while, for a few weeks! One of the executive producers suggested Psychosis really, really early on before all of the other titles came up. It’s funny, he felt it was best then, then all these other names came up. Yeah, you’re quite right, it does suit the character.
PATRICK: Charisma’s character Susan had previously suffered from a breakdown and this is something her husband David uses against her in the story. Do you see her as ultimately a victim or someone we could potentially see again in the future in terms of a sequel?
REG: I think there could be mileage in the character for a sequel but there are no plans for one. The thing is, she obviously survives everything in as much that she doesn’t get killed although she is committed. We don’t know the details of her sentencing or anything like that. We now know that she has the ability to see the future, so yeah, there’s definitely mileage in her character but there are no plans.
PATRICK: And finally, what advice would you offer to people thinking about buying a house in the English countryside?
REG: Definitely interview your gardener before you take him on!
Before Joy Division, Traviss worked on a number of commercials, mood-films and Idents for television. As the co-founder of Kingsway Films Limited (est. 2003), together with former Channel 4 producer and director Alex Harvey, Traviss has a number of films at various stages in development, including Screwed, a prison thriller written by bestselling author Ronnie Thompson, which he will be directing.
Psychosis is available to buy and rent on DVD from 19th July, courtesy of Lionsgate Home Entertainment.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .