By MICHAEL HELMS
PURGATORY ROAD is the latest feature from fiercely independent Australian filmmaker Mark Savage, who has been U.S.-based for the best part of the last two decades. After a year of playing festivals around the globe, PURGATORY ROAD hits disc next month, and Savage gave RUE MORGUE some exclusive words and pics; we’ve got the trailer as well.
PURGATORY ROAD will be unleashed on Blu-ray and DVD (with Savage’s commentary and behind-the-scenes material) February 12 by Unearthed Films. Alongside the film, a CD of Glen Gabriel’s seriously haunting, almost ecclesiastical soundtrack will be issued; coming later this year is a novelization written by Savage that will provide deep-dish character backgrounding and enhance the film, not just simply regurgitate its story. Mainstream moviemakers barely touch this medium anymore, and rarely if ever use it to advance further interest in the product they’re pushing. The PURGATORY ROAD book will do just that—and in fact, the act of writing novels is integral to the film’s twisted narrative.
PURGATORY ROAD focuses on two serial killers who meet on Mississippi back roads, where one is absolving certain sins in a unique manner when the other senses an opportunity to feed her fetish for warm blood. During a trip home to prepare a future production and present PURGATORY ROAD at its Australian premiere at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival, Savage tells us, “It’s the story of two brothers, but principally a little boy who, at a very young age, witnesses a thief robbing his house. The thief confronts him, and the boy, being intimidated, lets him run off with a lot of money.
“We then cut to them as adults, and that boy has grown up to be a priest,” Savage continues. “He’s on the road with his brother in a mobile confessional, and the one sin he is not forgiving of is theft. When he comes across someone who appears unrepentant about having stolen something, he visits upon them his own form of salvation—by killing them. That is what he truly believes will allow them to get to heaven; he’s not doing it in a malicious way, but he has been so impacted upon by what happened to him as a kid that he has a form of paralysis. He has pretty much spent his entire life feeling guilt, so the movie is really all about someone living with something in the past that they’ve never been able to reconcile. The older he gets, the more he feels he has to get the money back, but there’s a lot of conflict because the brother is supportive of him, but starting to think that what they’re doing isn’t right. Into that situation steps another person.”
The priest, Father Vincent, is played by Gary Cairns (THE NIGHT VISITOR, MALIGNANT), and Luke Albright (DEVIL’S PASS) is his brother Michael. The woman who enters their lives is Mary Francis (Trista Robinson of ECHOES OF FEAR and THE HUMAN RACE), “who is probably even crazier than Vincent,” Savage says. “She does them a little favor, which is how she insinuates herself into their world, but she also has her own agenda. That comes to a head in the last third of the movie, where nobody turns out to be who we thought they were.”
Not surprisingly, the concept for PURGATORY ROAD came to Savage during a long drive. “I went on a road trip with co-writer and producer Tom Parnell, with whom I’d previously made STRESSED TO KILL and POND SCUM [the latter up for release in 2019]. We had decided that we wanted to make films together over an extended period. We were driving to Northern California, because I wanted to show him Mendocino, where DEAD AND BURIED was shot. While we were on Highway 1 in an area called Big Sur, which is spectacular, we had this van in front of us that was blocking our way. I said to Tom, ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting if we made a film in this area, and maybe that van could be a confessional?’ I think the reason I was always interested in the idea of a moving confessional, or a moving world within a vehicle, came from the Fellini film LA STRADA. I always loved Anthony Quinn and Giulietta Masina driving from place to place, and they’d stop and she’d put on a show. That idea fascinated me, from a personal viewpoint of owning a van. It’s an Australian thing, too—just getting in a van and traveling.
“From there, we started talking about who might be in the confessional with the priest, which led to, ‘Well, it would be someone who’d be loyal to him through thick and thin, and that would be his brother.’ Initially, they were driving from town to town, and they didn’t have a base. In the final movie, they do have one—a house—but they do go out to several places where they set up shop, and the local people come to them for confession.”
Writing the screenplay then commenced, and continued in different stages, as Savage explains: “Initially, we wrote it from a scenario. Then we divided up tasks within the script. Tom said, ‘Why don’t I write these scenes while you do the others? Then once we’ve done that, we’ll get together and go through every single line, every single word and do the rewrite.’ After that, we’d separate, since Tom’s from Florida and I live in California. Then we’d do the same thing again. It went through about 17 rewrites.”
What you can expect from PURGATORY ROAD is a unique dramatic horror film loaded with fast, brutal violence that’s often as sudden and surprising as Savage’s ability to put sex into the same frame. Just when you think you’ve figured it all out, the movie takes you down into the basement and really messes with you. It would be a sin if you failed to check it out as soon as it becomes available.