Keeping it spooky
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Keeping it spooky

French Frights: The Making of Livid

For their second movie, Bustillo and Maury tried to pay homage to fantasy.

When Bustillo and Maury decided to make Livide, they intended to pay homage to Suspiria and Malataverne (A French book in which three young people plan to rob an old woman in post World War II France). The tandem had grown tired of the French Frayeurs only sticking to grim reality. They wanted to make a fiction which did not resemble an episode of Unsolved Murders.

Which makes it all the more ironic that a ripper broke a jar of formaldehyde on the laboratory set, turning the production into a real-life remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Said jar contained a carcass whose putrid stench amplified by the lights and the lack of ventilation ( the set had been built in an underground kitchen) had the whole team wearing masks ten years prior to the CoVid pandemic.

Those were the first three days of the production. Mainly action sequences and practical SFX heavy scenes. That’s one way to create team spirit among your crew.

In retrospect, we now know that the duo would end up directing a sequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The eighth one, the second one titled Leatherface. Yup, the chronology of Tobe Hooper’s saga is all screwed up.

A fact rendered even more interesting when you know that in the four years that divide the release of Inside and the making of Livide, Bustillo and Maury had been at the helm of a sequel to Rob Zombie’s Halloween. Their movie would have taken the same pattern as Zombie’s, dealing with Michael Myers’ fifteen years of therapy in the first half before developing into a full-on slasher towards the end. This was before the rock star decided to kick ass and take names with the fan of the franchise — who went as far as protesting in front of the studio of his remake — and shoot his own sequel.

Since they were acquainted with Dimension Films — although Romero had told us never to deal with the Weinsteins — the duo was soon announced to be working on a new Hellraiser movie. But this project also fell through. Seems like the production company didn’t want a middle-age actress as the heroine, so when the script was rewritten and Clive Barker took his distance with it, Bustillo and Maury also left ship. To this day, it is hard not to think of their story that would’ve talked about Pinhead origins in the form of the Hellbound Heart. With Franck and Pinhead being one and only person, a fetishist drama that would’ve turned into a full-on Hellboy movie seeing the crowning of Pinhead as Pope of Hell in its latter half.

Might be around this time that the two friends developed their mentality of “Okay, if there’s too much money on the line, we cannot make the movies we want, better try and make more simpler flicks that we’re really in control of.”

Livide was first intended to be a US production. One Elijah Wood was attached to. But it seems investors wanted a few changes. A nicer ending, abandon the whole difficult to understand house in the void scenes. Production would’ve taken place in Ireland for a budget of 8,5 millions dollars. It seems Robert Rodriguez was involved. When this all went down, Bustillo and Maury came back home. Believe it or not, Elijah Wood was still adamant to be in the movie.

In the end, the filmmakers had to abandon the idea, feeling like they were forcing an English speaking character in a script they were now turning into a really French feature. This also meant that the budget shrunk, you might find this astonishing but Livide was shot for the same amount as Inside. Approximatively two millions euros.

But the duo had grown, learned this lesson every aspiring filmmaker has to break their teeth upon: Production design matters!

The room is red and full of hidden clues. Right now, the three robbers are searching for a key to get out of the house.

All around them is exposition through decoration. Pure cinematography storytelling. It is Bustillo’s favorite set design in the whole movie. There’s little doubt that for such a budget, with a production schedule of only five weeks, the production designer has surpassed all their expectations.

The side-quest of the looters trying to find the keys in order to get out stemmed from the idea that the house was alive. Hence why the window through which they came in closed by itself. An idea the duo would re-use twelve years later in the Deep House.

Bustillo and Maury are paying homage to videogames, to survival horror to be precise. They devised this idea of their characters trying to find a key as an organic way to explore the house. The robbers arrive through the bowels and have to make their way up to the heart and then the brain before they can really get up. Sort of an ode to Innerspace, are they joking in the DVD commentary. I’ve never seen either of them reference Cronos, but seeing how their movie mixes vampirism and mechanics, it’s hard to believe it didn’t play a part in its inception.

What they don’t know yet is that this search for a key will never make it through editing. The duo stated that if it wasn’t for their editor, Livide probably would have been two hours long.

The red room Bustillo loves so much will never make it. Nonetheless this will not prevent Livide from gathering an award for best artistic direction in Sitges.

Production took place through November to December 2010. Most exteriors would be shot in Brittany while all the interiors were shot in an abandoned mansion north of Paris. In the commentary, the filmmakers often joke about how marching through the gates the actors are really traveling a few hundred miles away

Still, it wasn’t easy to find the cast. Chloe Coulloud for instance had to replace the main actress in a heartbeat. Just like the MC’s father part had to be played by the executive producer when the original actor had to be hospitalized.

Add to that the lead actress punching both the ballerina and the vampire old woman in the face way too hard and you get a pretty physical production.

For their vampire lead, Bustillo and Maury searched for a longtime. As for Hellraiser they wanted a middle-aged woman who had physicality which proved difficult in France. That’s before they stumbled upon Marie-Claude Pietragalla’s theater play and decided to hire the dancer. Luckily she agreed?

This didn’t prevent her from growing an allergy to her latex mask. If, like younger me, you ever wondered why there’s a witch in the laboratory that switches the soul of theroin and the ballerina, it’s because this is Pietragalla’s double that’s supposed to be playing Pietragalla’s part.

Stuff like this is bound to happen, and on a tiny budget you just gotta swallow your pride and keep rolling till you make it through. And it’s humbling to hear Bustillo in some interviews assert that neither of them are geniuses like Del Toro or Spielberg, that they’re just filmmakers trying to have fun and tell good stories and get better.

Even more sad when you realize that because of a distribution imbroglio the film only made it to a handful of screens in France and was never released in the US. That’s until march 2022. Eleven years later.

But if you’re here, there’s a fair chance it’s because of this release thanks to Shudder. So tell me, according to you, was Livide worth the wait?

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Basile Lebret

Basile Lebret

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I write about the history of artmaking, I don’t do reviews.