Neil Marshall is, I think , the most interesting director of the so called ‘Splat Pack’, the group of film makers grouped together because of their low budget/high gore ethos. He’s certainly had the most varied career. While some like Greg Maclean have disappeared, others have had success with a one note approach like Leigh Whannel (Another film about jump scare ghosts? Tremendous.) and yet others are Rob Zombie, Marshall has shown more ambition and variation. Sometimes possibly too much ambition but his self written work is never boring.
The short film he made for his degree Brain Death is unavailable but his next short Combat is great fun.
A British night out soundtracked by Saving Private Ryan it’s funny and brilliantly edited. Pairing a ‘tailspin’ sound effect with a guy figuratively crashing and burning is a nice touch. It’s telling that his use of sound is one of his strengths. When somebody gets hurt in his work the sound makes sure you FEEL it.
Neil Marshall took the dumpee from that film with him to his feature debut Dog Soldiers. It’s a film from someone who loves cinema. You can tell this is a guy who worships Spielberg. From the opening scene where a couple slowly realise that the zip noise is coming from the tent they’re in as well as her trousers to the Quint-esque speech from a never better Sean Pertwee. It feels more like Marshall is a British Tarantino than a British Wes Craven or John Carpenter. It’s a magpie of a film but he stitches the homages and styles into something that is very much it’s own film.
It’s very British as well. Very, very Geordie as well.
His next film, The Descent is still his most successful and his best. (Unless you saw it in a US cinema where they slapped on a different ending for reasons unknown) It covers most of the common fears, the dark, enclosed space, heights at one point….and being eaten alive by troglodyte monsters.
It’s a masterclass in taking your time with a horror film. We get to know the protagonists. We get to like them, they’re funny and they have great chemistry with each other. So, when it all goes Pete Tong you’re invested in their survival unlike , well, 95% of horror films where character description stretches to ‘Blonde girl, Hot guy, Nerd’
The Descent was Marshall’s big break. It made ten times it’s budget and gained the aforementioned US release. It meant he had a bigger budget to play with on his next film Doomsday. he could afford to be ambitious and he may have overstretched a tad. The film is pretty good but tonally it’s all over the place. At times a taut action film, at others it’s a lunatic blend of Mad Max, Judge Dredd and Escape From New York
Doomsday’s reception was mixed and it didn’t fare very well at the box office, making it’s budget back but only just.
In 2010 Marshall continued his theme of “ If you go to Scotland you will be killed and possibly eaten” with Centurion.
It’s based on the legend of the Ninth Legion, a Roman legion who reportedly vanished without trace in Scotland. The cast is great with Michael Fassbinder, Dominic West and the Hot at the time Olga Kurylenko. It’s kind of an oddity in that you aren’t given a real team to root for. Fassbinder is the nominal protagonist but he is Roman and it’s made clear the Picts were battering the Romans for a good reason. The reviews were pretty uniform in saying “ The action is great, the plot not so much”
The battle scenes are very, very good. Particularly as, in the words of Marshall “The opening battle in Gladiator took six weeks to shoot. We had seven weeks for the whole film.”
The experience stood him in good stead for his next job. The ‘Blackwater’ episode of Game Of Thrones. It was the 9th episode of season two, the 9th ep being GoT’s “Shit gets real” time.
That secured his reputation as a guy who gets it done and done well. Since then he’s done another GoT 9th ep (The Watchers On The Wall) and the pilots for Black Sails, Timeless and Constantine
I’m still waiting for his next Movie run out though. I think his remake of Troll Hunter could have been great but that’s fallen through. Hopefully The Last Voyage Of The Demeter (ie the ship that brought Dracula to England) doesn’t go the same way.
I’ll leave you with the link to Tales Of Halloween as the whole thing is up on youtube. Marshall directed the ‘Killer Pumpkins’ story.
(I feel any piece that can end with ‘Killer Pumpkins Story is on to a winner)