Interview: Director Mariano Baino talks Lovecraftian horror film Dark Waters


Sorry to be blunt, but want to see something really f*cked up? If so, you'd be wise to check out Mariano Baino's bizarre, nightmarish "nunsploitation" flick DARK WATERS, which was originally released in 1994 but has just recently received a stellar Blu-ray restoration courtesy of Severin Films. This movie has it all: crazed nuns, Lovecraftian monsters, rituals held by candlelight, blood and gore galore. You name it. It's hard to categorize what exactly this film is, but that's what makes it so gruesomely alluring: you can't quite understand what you're seeing, but you know it's intensely unnerving.

The film's official synopsis: When a young Englishwoman attempts to discover her mysterious connection to a remote island convent, she will unlock an unholy communion of torment, blasphemy and graphic demonic depravity.

I recently had the opportunity to talk to Mr. Baino who, in direct contrast to the spirit of DARK WATERS, is a cheerful, incredibly affable guy. In the interview below, he talks about the new Blu-ray, the unbelievable challenges he faced making the feature, the influence Lovecraft has had on his work, and more!

Talk about the process of restoring DARK WATERS for this excellent Blu-ray release.

Severin Films are a great company, run by people who release films because they love them. They treated me and my film with the utmost respect, and wanted to make sure their Blu-Ray release of DARK WATERS was as special as possible. We were helped in the process by Michele De Angelis, who with his former company NoShame Films released the splendid DVD Special Edition of Dark Waters in 2016. Michele generously allowed us to use all the exceptional materials he had prepared for that edition and then Severin Films added another 3 completely new featurettes, a marvelous Dark Amulet Pin, and truly great cover artwork. The master was taken from the original negative at LVR Laboratories in Rome, Italy.

What's it like knowing there's still interest in your film, which is still so surreal and bizarre?

I am truly overjoyed by the interest in DARK WATERS, and by its astounding longevity. It's an incredible privilege to know that your work connects with people, and to know that it's still connecting, being discovered, and generating interest so many years after its initial release, as well as being rediscovered by the film's long-standing fans, makes me very happy.

Dark Waters Mariano Baino interview Severin nunsploitation

Talk a little about the influence HP Lovecraft has on your work, DARK WATERS specifically.

I discovered Lovecraft when I was 14 years old and his literature had a profound influence on me wanting to make a certain type of film. There isn't anything in Dark Waters that was, consciously, directly inspired by Lovecraft, but his influence permeates the film. There are so many elements which one would define as Lovecraftian: the weirdness of the place, the isolation, the atmosphere of constant dread, finding oneself in a world that seems to operate on a completely different set of rules from the ones we are used to in our own dimension, and, of course, the half-glimpsed demon who threatens to precipitate the apocalypse.

There were even more Lovecraftian elements in an earlier draft of the screenplay, and some which were still present in our shooting script we also had to cut for budgetary reasons, once we arrived in the Ukraine and realized that finishing the film was going to be a more arduous task than we first envisioned.

Dark Waters Mariano Baino interview Severin nunsploitation

It's well known that you had quite a few issues with the making of the film. What are some of your most vivid memories in terms of the many obstacles you ran into?

I have tons of vivid memories which would fill many books! We made the movie in the Ukraine, shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and it truly was an unforgettable experience. Everyone who watches the extras or/and listens to the commentary on the Blu-Ray release of Dark Waters will know exactly what I mean.

Our film stock was regularly sold on the black market by our own production manager, forcing our producer to send one of his people to Moscow to buy more film stock on the black market. The same production manager double booked our studio space and forced us to move to a completely new studio half-way through shooting. That cut our shooting schedule in half right off the bat. Without counting the fact that our cameras were stranded in a remote region of Siberia when we first arrived in Odessa and that made us start shooting two weeks later than anticipated. So we were two weeks behind schedule before we even started! Then, on the first day, the whole crew, which was supposed to arrive at our location by 9am, arrived at 1 pm and we didn't get our first shot in the can until 7pm. At 10pm, after only three hours of actual filming, the production manager switched the generators off, leaving everyone in the catacombs without lights, and forced everyone to stop shooting. And that was only our first day.

When I asked for a thousand candles, they could only scrape together a couple of hundred. So, to make sure we could cover the length of the tunnel, we had to cut each candle into three parts... which resulted in the candles having a very short lifespan and made us have to hurry up every time we lit them for a shot. And they didn't have anyone to help lighting the candles, so mostly it was me and lead actress Louise Salter running around the tunnels lighting all the candles just before a take!

Our prosthetics and creature had to be shipped from England and our creature got lost in transit. All of a sudden, a truck arrived at the film studios in Odessa, and when we opened it we discovered it was full of musical instruments which were supposed to be delivered to an orchestra in Moscow. Yes, you guessed it: the orchestra got our monster and we got their instruments!

When it came to using flaming crosses in the catacombs, they assured me it wouldn't be a problem. They then proceeded in tying together two pieces of wood, and wrap them in rags soaked in gasoline. Every time we lit the crosses, we were almost asphyxiated by the smoke and couldn't see anything. We could shoot for a minute at a time and then we had to wait for the smoke to clear to do another take.

When we were shooting on the beach, they insisted on everyone having lunch in a village that was 45 minutes bus ride from the location so every lunch break would turn into a four hour marathon. We would never have finished. Me, lead actress Louise Salter and the few people I had brought with me from London decided not to eat lunch and stay behind. So for a week, as soon as the rest of the crew broke for lunch, we would start shooting at breakneck pace by ourselves. We would do 12 set-ups while everyone else was eating. It was the only way we could ever have finished the film.

After doing most of the editing in London, I had to go back to Moscow to finish the film. And of course I went there just when Yeltsin decided to attack the parliament and I found myself right in the middle of a Russian mini-revolution, complete with tanks and cannonballs being fired at the Parliament!

Dark Waters Mariano Baino interview Severin nunsploitation

Have you ever thought about doing a sequel, or has there ever been an effort to make one?

I have thought about it a couple of times. I think there is still a lot to explore in those murky waters. I don't know if it will ever happen, but I wouldn't rule it out completely.

What is next for you? Are you launching another feature?

Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni and I are producing a feature film, ASTRID'S SAINTS, which we co-wrote. I am directing and Coralina will star as Astrid. The film is co-produced by Italian producer Gaetano Di Vaio and will be shot in Naples, Italy. We also just completed a short film, LADY M 5.1, which just had its world premiere at Mana Contemporary, accompanied by an experiential audio-visual installation that Coralina and I created especially for the occasion. Lately, I have had many wonderful opportunities to exhibit my mixed media drawings around the world ,so there will definitely be some more art exhibitions and multi-media installations in the near future.

Dark Waters Mariano Baino interview Severin nunsploitation

Extra Tidbit: Are you well-versed on the obscure "nunsploitation" genre?



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