by Steven Wandling
Scott Philip Goergens’ film 29 Needles is bold, nihilistic, beautiful and devastating. It is a psycho sexual horror film that is part character study and part body horror that sees main character Francis dive deep into the world of BDSM. I was lucky enough to have a quick chat about the film and get a better idea of what went into making it. 29 Needles is an award winning film which is one of the strongest offerings in genre cinema in recent memory. Expertly shot acted, and directed, the film can be hard to watch but even harder to look away from.
Steve: There’s a lot in 29 Needles that struck a chord with me. A lot of the subtext seems to be about addiction to me, but then again I am an addict. There’s a line in the film that talks about a character trying to push his demons away, but after a while he doesn’t know why he does what he does anymore at all. It’s just habit. That especially spoke loudly to me about self-destruction and the idea of spiraling downward. Did you make this film with any of that in mind at all? Were you trying to say something explicitly about addiction?
Scott: I feel like the movie certainly has many layers to it and I intended it that way. I intended it to be very subtle in its layers where some people might just take it at face value and not see a lot of it. I’m fine with that. There’s a lot going on it though, and that’s one of those things. It is an element. I have not had to deal with that, but I’ve had friends and family that have. I know that’s a part of it and I know that addiction is just something that drags you to a direction, whether it’s good or bad. It was something I was conscious of while making it.
Steve: 29 Needles is definitely a bold artistic statement. It does have many layers and I think if you love cinema it will unfold for you more each time you view it. It has for me. I get that there is an audience that wouldn’t get past the harder aspects of the film, but I feel if they did they’d find a lot of different cinematic and artistic influences. There was a lot of Clive Barker in there to me. I saw it to be somewhat of a body horror film.
Scott: The two directors who influenced me the most would be Cronenberg, so the body horror is certainly an element. It’s a strong element. That is a very important element in my storytelling. I don’t know why, but I appreciate it. I feel like that is a voice that I want to be heard in regards to my filmmaking. The other, maybe less obvious, is Ingmar Bergman. I’m a huge fan of Bergman’s work and perhaps in the pace of my storytelling it might be more aware. Perhpas not. Neither has to be aware at all. It’s just that’s where it comes from for me. So, the body horror is certainly an element, but there’s something about the character studies in Bergman’s work that’s really important to me.
Steve: 29 Needles feels, at its core, to be a character study about a man’s slow descent into madness. In that regard, it reminded me a lot of Repulsion. You get to kind of see the main character disintegrate in real time.
Scott: That’s another great film! I feel like I drew from elements that I felt were actual things that were coping mechanisms. I combined elements of serial killers, addicts. There’s an element where sometimes sometimes the noise is so loud that you have to drown it out with a different type of noise. That’s where that was coming from. Sometimes it isn’t a noise that’s loud. It’s coming from another level or another factor. It comes from dreams, the electric wires, and alcohol. There’s tons of people who use alcohol as a source to suppress the thoughts that are going on and the issues that they’re dealing with. I drew some parallels and I took some license, but I also felt like I was creating a character with these things. I was making very specific statements with those elements.
Steve: It also can’t be a coincidence that the main character’s name is Francis Bacon.
Scott: No, it’s no mistake. Every character that has a name is named after a surrealist artist. There’s even the character in the dream sequence that’s named Dali, as opposed to Dolly. They’re all surrealist artists and I don’t think I’ve mentioned that to anybody who has talked about this in an interviewing context.
Steve: 29 Needles is a very sexual film, but not necessarily what comes to mind when someone hears those two words together. It centers more on the rougher side of BDMS in a sense. This is some really hardcore stuff that is more about, without sounding too simplistic, pain is pleasure and vice versa. Why did you need to tell this story through that lens?
Scott: I purchased my own camera equipment and I’m thinking I needed to make something. There’s this movie I had in my head and I just thought I needed to make it whether I had the funding or not. The movie I made is not it. What would be simple to make? I thought, okay, I can just make a horror porn movie. I thought early on that would be fun and easy and no one else was really doing that. It didn’t take a couple of days to realize I didn’t really want to do that. That sparked another idea. I just couldn’t. I needed it to be another form of art. I always really had kinda been intrigued by what drives people to do the horrible things that they do. Being gay and a part of that community, I”m not a part of the BDSM community, but I have friends that are. So, I combined that with the first idea and started to think about where this serial killer element could be incorporated. Then, I created a character that might have some type of foot in all these doors and where that might be. My mind opened up and I created a story around this character and this idea. In studying serial killers, I came across one named Albert Fish, who was America’s first serial killer. That’s where the title 29 Needles came from. He did horrible things and all of them he regretted. He did them for a variety of different reasons. I thought what would it be like if somebody was almost connected to that in a way. That’s where this whole story developed.
Steve: I had just learned that a lot of these people, including the lead, were not professional actors. I’m curious as to how you worked on set with them and developed such rich characters because it seemed like the exact opposite, that these were professional actors.
Scott: Hans was a friend and that character was not intended to be cast as a friend of mine. Jamie (Hans) was willing to do it. I was trying to find someone for that role for a while, but I wasn’t able to find someone to commit based upon my very long and arduous film work. (Laughs) It was non-traditional, completely. I jut decided to go with Jamie. Ryoko (Dorothea) was Brooke’s (Francis) girlfriend at the time. She was easy. She came along with the territory and she worked well for the role. I was able to pull these scenes out of her. Brooke answered the call as an extra. He had a very punk rock mentality. He was really up for anything. Quickly, I realized there was a lot to Brooke. I wanted Brooke for Hans. By the next day I had decided I wanted Brooke for the lead. It didn’t take too much time. Those are the major roles. There’s another one, Eve. That was a person that I found through a mutual friend who has some performance experience. Not acting, so much, but performance. There is some acting in performance art. All of them were working for free and they were willing to do whatever I asked them to do. I compensated them as much as I could with camera work because I was the cinematographer too. (Laughs)
Steve: Well, it was shot very well well. A lot really came together in this film and it reminds me a lot of Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer actually.
Scott: That movie is beautiful. I feel like Brooke’s character is very much similar to Henry. You are just watching this character study of this character who is just tormented with themselves. I’ve loved that movie and John McNaughton did such a wonderful job with it.
Steve: One of the visually arresting elements to 29 Needles is the demons in his head that manifest themselves physically as the film moves forward. Of course, there’s the big penis monster as well.
Scott: I call it the worm, but a lot of people call it something else.
Steve: The worm! That works. I thought there was somewhat of a Robin Hardy Wicker Man vibe what with the creatures or demons materializing in the masks.
Scott: I can say that I had an idea of the effects, the way that I wanted them to be. I’m not disappointed, but I did want them to be somewhere where they weren’t. Part of that happened because my effects team had to be politely back away from the project before it got to the end. A lot of that worm stuff happened a lot later. It was actually supposed to go further. There was supposed to be a hand puppet that had a lot of details for the closeups. I personally did the makeup for the worm at the end because it was a blank slate when I got it. I was so proud of the effects team. They did an amazing job. I didn’t even task them with this, but there would have been legs on that thing. It would have been monstrous. Honestly, the main character was supposed to go through some physical transformations which I ditched. There were a lot of things that I had to ditch because of time that it took to film and what I could do with effects. I shot a little bit of footage of his early transformation, but he was going to become not human. Although I showed a lot of graphic content, I also wanted to hold back and keep a lot to mystery.
Steve: Right, the film is almost, initially, like an assault on your senses. Then it’s like okay, I’ve assaulted you. I’ve scrambled your brain. Now, I really want to talk about some shit.
Scott: That was my intention. I really wanted to throw out some stuff early on that was going to be like just strap yourself in.
Steve: When it comes to Francis, i really couldn’t help but to root for the character’s journey. I get really bored really easily with extremely morally sound characters. I much prefer someone more complicated to root for, someone that has flaws. I wanted him to be okay, but it really felt like a slowly moving train wreck that I knew was going to end very badly.
Scott: That’s what I was trying to create. That’s the tragedy in all this. You know that what he wants is the absolute worst for himself.
Thanks so much for reading. Keep a look out for Scott Philip Goergens’ award-winning film 29 Needles. Check it out and share this interview with your horror loving friends! Follow creepylovely on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. If you would like to write for us just shoot us a private message or DM on social media. Stay lovely! Stay creepy!