By Staci Layne Wilson
I wasn't familiar with T.S. Faull's work before seeing the cannibalistic creep-out movie Grimm Love, but as I was watching it I was especially impressed by the dialogue and characterizations. Why hadn't I heard the name T.S. Faull before? Well, it could be because Grimm Love is his first feature. (However, he script for Living Dead Girl — apparently not based on the Jean Rollin 80s cult classic, nor the White Zombie song — is now in the works.)
Grimm Love is similar to the book Cannibal (by Lois Jones), which I reviewed a few years back. I’ve read a lot of true crime, and while Cannibal may not be quite on par with Ronald Markman’s Alone with the Devil for sheer, shocking terror at man’s inhumanity to man, it comes a close second. f you ever read it, the gruesome, unbelievable story will stick to your ribs for a long time — and what makes it all the more appalling is that the victim was such a willing participant. He begged to be butchered alive, starting with his penis (of which he ate some, sitting bleeding in Armin’s kitchen before he expired).
The book mostly covers love-starved Armin’s search for a willing victim (there are hundreds of websites and chat rooms that cater to cannibals and “meat”), goes into great detail about the two men’s fateful meeting and how the crime was carried out — on videotape (later, police officers who viewed the tape had to go into counseling) — and the trial that followed. While the film doesn't go into legalities at all, it definitely won't disappoint readers of the book.
The movie, as any really good one does, raised several thought-provoking questions in my mind; even though I still remembered the details of the case, and even though the subject matter really does not appeal to me (sorry, Leatherface), there was something about the way Grimm Love was told which piqued my curiosity. So, I asked T.S. (stands for… Twisted Sister? Table salt? Um… Thomas Stearns? That's the one question I didn't ask. Dammit!) if he'd do an interview, and here's the result:
Staci Layne Wilson / Horror.com: I remember reading the Lois Jones book on the true crime, and finding it absolutely revolting and yet so compelling from a psychological standpoint — would you say the relationship of Armin Meiwes and Bernd Jürgen Brandes was the ultimate exploration of S&M?
T.S. Faull: I don't think it's S&M, but I get the association. I think Brandes was masochistic. What he did was a kind of suicide. But Meiwes - I hesitate to call him purely sadistic. I do think he got a sexual charge out of slaughtering, carving up, and devouring Brandes, but there was more to it than that. From my research, I have the impression that although there was a sexual component to his crime, there was also a lot of loneliness, a desire to connect with another person, albeit in a twisted way.
Q: What were some of the stranger legalities in regards to the case — I mean, he was convicted of manslaughter (that's almost too good to be true; I'd cue the rim-shot if this weren't such a serious subject), and yet he's in prison for life?
A: He was originally convicted of manslaughter. When I wrote GRIMM LOVE, he'd been sentenced to 8 1/2 years in prison; in the movie, Oliver is in prison and a neighbor mentions that he'll be released in a few years. But regarding the real-life case, there was a public outcry and Meiwes was retried. This time he was charged with murder and he got a life sentence.
Q: Grimm Love was brought to you to write — so, since it's not a subject that was close to your heart or a story you just had to tell, please explain what the writing journey was like for you? (Were actors already cast? Filmmakers in place? Did you meet anyone, or was it basically, "I write the script, and you guys run with it.")
A: If I choose to write something, it does become close to my heart. I was compelled to tell this story and was - and am - deeply invested. But you're right in that it was an assignment, not a spec.
My manager at the time told me that a production company was making a movie about this case. They had Martin Weisz attached, they had financing, they even had a start date - but they needed a script. This is the opposite of how things normally work! I went in to meet with them and pitched my take on the material, which involved the Katie character and some vivid Brothers Grimm imagery. Luckily, Martin and the producers chose me and I started work. Keri Russell and Thomas Kretschmann committed after they read my script, which was a dream come true for me.
Q: I heard that Meiwes actually halted the theatrical release of Grimm Love in Germany. How could he have the right to do that, considering the notorious case was already basically in the public domain?
A: Well, the laws in Germany are different. Essentially, Meiwes charged that even though we fictionalized the story, we did not have a right to make a movie based on his life, even though all of the information was in the public domain. The court agreed and banned the movie. He was also on trial (the retrial) at the time and was concerned the movie could influence the verdict. The case went to the highest court in Germany, and they reversed the ban last year. This movie was a big cause celebre in Germany, where it was titled ROHTENBURG.
Q: Do you know if he's seen the film?
A: It's my understanding that he has not seen the film, but I'm not sure - that might have changed. The film is incredibly sympathetic to him - he's not made into a bloodthirsty monster. I didn't want to shy away from the crime, but I also didn't want to exploit it and dwell on the gore. I wanted to ground the act in the men's motives: Oliver (the Meiwes character) wants an eternal companion and believes he can achieve that by eating someone; and Simon (the Brandes character) erroneously blames himself for his mother's suicide - he thinks he's setting things right by essentially killing himself. That was more important to me than showing
gore. I wanted to respect the men and help people understand them and focus on their humanity.
Q: How and why was the title Grimm Love chosen for this movie? (Sounds like Rumpelstiltskin is gonna pop out at any moment.)
A: I didn't choose the title, but I can tell you how it came about. Both men were fascinated by the Hansel and Gretel story, so my script featured a good amount of Grimm imagery.
In the screenplay, young Oliver and young Simon fantasize about that story - there was forest imagery and a witchy cottage; those visuals later carried over into their adult lives. When Oliver carries Simon down the hallway to the slaughter room, I had trees sprouting from the walls. The slaughter room door transformed into the door to the witchy cottage. By carrying out this cannibalistic act, they were bringing their childhood fantasies to fruition. This imagery wasn't included in the finished film. The current cut does still feature a few Grimm references.
Q: I thought Jonathan Sela's cinematography was amazing! He's always done gorgeous jobs on John Moore's movies, and I was actually lucky enough to see him at work when he was shooting Midnight Meat Train — but I had a few issues with the visual choices made in the flashbacks… was this "home movie" look dictated by the script, or was that the call of director Martin Weitz? (It's very similar to the opening of The Hills Have Eyes 2… a movie I didn't much care for.)
A: Martin said he wanted the childhood scenes to look like old, faded Polaroids. He was very specific about what he wanted, so I included that "look" in the script. There's a lot of jumping around in time, so I understood the need to differentiate those scenes visually. I'm a big Jonathan Sela fan. He won Best Cinematography for this film at Sitges and I think his 'Scope work here is elegant and beautiful.
Q: Are there any scenes you would have written, but couldn't? How close is the final product to your script? (Was the Keri Russell character really in there from the git-go, or did some studio executive say, "We need a pretty girl!"?)
A: The producers gave me free reign. No scene was off-limits, though they did have notes throughout the process, which is normal.
The Keri Russell character was my idea, was part of my pitch, and was part of why I was hired. I felt this movie needed some female energy, so that was a creative choice on my part. I can guarantee you it had nothing to do with needing a pretty girl. I'm more about hot guys. The producers never pressured me in a negative way about the gay content. They wanted to tell this story.
With Katie, I wanted to have a character who could lead us into the story of the men, and I wanted her to be as compelling as the two men. I think the producers wanted her to serve as a sort of tour guide and an oasis from the darkness, and I do think that works. For me, I wanted Katie's story to be just as unnerving and disturbing as the men's story.
In the script, she's very self-destructive. She has a boyfriend who was played by Nikolai Kinski, Klaus' son. I was going in the direction of REPULSION, with Katie losing her grip on reality as she became obsessed with the case at the expense of her healthy relationships.
So much of what's happening with these characters is internal, so I sought ways to externalize their inner state. In the movie, we see Katie swimming in a pool. The pool was meant to parallel the bloody bath tub where Simon bleeds out. There was a scene in the script where Katie takes a figurative plunge by posting on the cannibal message board; the next scene showed her plunging into the pool. When she surfaces, she notices that the water has turned to blood. It was meant to be a poetic moment that reflected her inner state.
There was also a scene in the script where Katie is shopping in a grocery store. She's in the meat section, and begins to notice that the meat is human - arms, hands, legs, and finally she discovers a head and sees that it's her own head. This was meant to parallel Simon's fate (he's decapitated) and foreshadow danger for Katie. I believe that scene was shot but didn't make it into the final cut.
In the movie, she searches for the notorious videotape of the crime on cannibal message boards; in the script, I explored that a bit more. Her cannibal contact on the board became obsessed with her, knew where she lived, and was watching her. There was a chilling hint at the end that even though she let go of her dark obsession, it was too late; she'd never be able to completely escape it - this man wouldn't let her. That was cut from the script in preproduction.
Beyond the cut Katie scenes, the final movie is very close to my script. The Oliver/Simon storyline follows the script almost to the letter. The voice-over was added in post-production.
As a film fanatic, I'd love for the director's cut to get a DVD release one day. If there's enough interest, maybe that will happen. But that's the film geek in me talking. I'm really proud of the movie in its current form. It's won awards and Martin won Best Director at Sitges and PiFan and I'm excited for audiences to see the movie.
Q: Please tell me a little bit about how Thomas Kretschmann and Thomas Huber got on board… I mean, did you hear anything on whether these rather squirm-inducing roles difficult to cast? What would you say each actor brought to their roles that you did not expect, when you first saw their portrayals on the screen?
A: I wasn't involved in the casting process [but] I was thrilled when Keri Russell signed on. She's a constant presence in the movie and I think she's fantastic. I was equally ecstatic when Thomas Kretschmann was cast. I loved him in The Pianist and I'm a Dario Argento fan, so I also knew him from The Stendhal Syndrome. He brings a real vulnerability to the role, even when he's holding a knife. And Thomas Huber's performance is very brave. He goes so far and takes such risks as an actor, and his choices really pay off. The guys won Best Actor awards at Sitges and PiFan and they deserved the accolades.
Q: So… how's, er, word of mouth on the Grimm Love DVD?
A: The film has received positive reviews from Bloody-Disgusting, the Austin Chronicle, Papermag, and other critics. The DVD comes out as a Blockbuster exclusive on August 6th; it will be available everywhere else September 28th. As for the extras, I'm not sure. I hear there's director's commentary. There are also deleted scenes, but I'm not sure which scenes or how many.
Q: What is the Fangoria FrightFest? Seems like they're sort of saved a lot of good movies that were in limbo (like Dark House, which I saw at the Shriekfest last year and loved; and Pig Hunt, which I've been hearing about for ages…). Is that the purpose?
A: It's not easy out there for indie companies and indie movies right now, so I'm happy we're getting distribution. Eight horror films are being released as part of Fangoria Fright Fest and GRIMM LOVE is one of those titles. At fangoriafrightfest.com, people can watch and vote on the trailers for the Fangoria Fright Fest movies. The movie with the highest-rated trailer will get a limited theatrical release in late July.
Q: So, how exactly can fans and the curious-to-see-it people vote on Grimm Love winning a theatrical release?
A: Go to www.fangoriafrightfest.com and rate GRIMM LOVE 5 skulls. Voting ends July 19th. The movie is very atmospheric, intense, creepy, elegant, and gorgeous to look at, so my fingers are crossed audiences will get a chance to experience it in a dark theater.
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