Brian May has a new film out for Halloween. At six minutes and 66 seconds long One Night In Hell takes its lead from May’s 2013 book Diableries: Stereoscopic Adventures In Hell, which collected a set of ‘stereoscopic’ cards published in France from the early 1860s that feature visions of the underworld. One Night In Hell is the latest attempt from the astrophysicist, keeper of the Queen flame and friend of the badgers to bring the devils, demons and skeletons featured in those cards to life.
Tell us about this new adventure, then.
This new devilment. Well, it’s come around very quickly. I only met [producer] Paul Laikin [who approached May after reading his Diableries book] a year ago, and he was really inspired to make the idea come to life. And now we have our short film. It’s 6 minutes 66 seconds long, for reasons that may be obvious. And I think it may also be a stepping-stone. We’re all thinking in terms of a feature film next, because the reaction has been so good. The media we’re plundering is so rich in imagery, the imagination easily runs wild. It’s a wonderful piece of art to build on.
Is One Night In Hell based on specific cards from Diableries?
It’s based on some of the stories in the cards. There are a lot of stories in the cards. Basically, it’s based on eight of the A-series, linked up together. It’s a bit hard to explain. The through-line is there’s one particular skeleton who arrives in hell with a strange-shaped suitcase, and it’s his journey through various parts of hell to the final room, where he performs.
And there’s a nod to Queen: he performs a bit of ‘We Will Rock You’
And Tchaikovsky. Tchaikovsky and Queen.
The good stuff. Was it an enormous amount of work to animate and put together, Wallace and Gromit-style?
Well, Paul didn’t stop-frame it. He recreated the clay models in a virtual state, and then animated the CGI. I’m astonished at how quickly it happened. He quickly came up with some demos in the first meeting, and we were blown away. He really put an enormous amount of work into it. It’s a beautiful piece of work, I think.
There’s something unnerving – in a good way – about seeing the skeletons dance about. It’s reminiscent of Ray Harryhausen’s work on The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad
That’s right. You’ll certainly think of him. I also think it’s very true to the original spirit of the cards. Almost like it could have been created in the 1860s but it has a modern slant, obviously.
And you’re taking it to film festivals?
It is going to film festivals. And it’s premiering on Halloween night, primetime on Sky Premium and Sky Arts.
Will we need our 3D glasses?
There’s various ways you can watch it. You will also be able to watch on my website using 3D glasses as well, and you’ll be able to buy the app, which is an augmented reality escapade. There’s lots of stuff going on.
What reaction are we supposed to have to it. Hiding behind the sofa?
I think it’ll make you smile. Some of the time.
You seem to get carried off by a winged beastie at the end. Or at least someone in an extravagant hat playing a guitar gets carried off…
I don’t think it’s me. It’s a mythical character… who just happens to play guitar.
So it could be the start of a whole series of films, then?
It could be. There’s a wealth of strange goings-on in the original book, as you know. There’s all kind of stories there. The possibilities are really limitless. And you’re drawing on a piece of art which is already very rich in imagery, so we’re finding it fascinating. You’re channeling a piece of art which is already great into a new piece of art which we hope is great as well.
Are you a fan of Halloween?
Yes, I like Halloween. It wasn’t a big deal in my childhood, I must say. We never really did much at all. Except we had maybe a couple of drawings of skeletons. But it has become a big deal. I think the film E.T. made a huge difference, because it transferred the view that American kids have into the English sensibility [In E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial the titular alien is smuggled out of the house as part of a trick-or-treat procession, so he can phone home] That’s the way I see it.
I remember things changing after E.T. and people starting coming up trick or treating in this country. It has become a big deal. And I enjoy it. I think in a way it’s healthy, a bit like the Mexican celebration of The Day Of The Dead. It’s a healthy thing to look at our mortality and be aware of the skeleton within us – looking at life and death. Because we still tend to charge through life rather blinkered, thinking that we’re immortal.
Who’s your favourite Halloween character? The skeleton?
I don’t think it’s the scariest. We’ve had all sorts of very scary films, recently, that wouldn’t have even gotten to the screen when I was a kid. There’s some very scary stuff for Halloween. I don’t see any necessity to scare people. I think it should be taken with a pinch of salt. But there is a good side of it. I think the underlying thing is very similar to the way diableries were born – a kind of affirmation on the Church’s view of hell, and what happens to you. But I think they ended up being something rather comforting to the Victorians, because it meant they could look at death and some kind of life after death with a little bit of a sense of humour and a better feeling, a more adjusted feeling. I think Halloween is good for that.
I guess there’s also a moral tale, as well. The diableries are telling you how to behave
I think so, yeah. The diableries themselves have a lot of different levels to them. Religious in the beginning, but not for very long – they were also a rather heavy pastiche and satire on the regimes of the day – Napoleon I’s regime, which was very repressive. So all those levels are in there. We’re taking the personalities, most of all, into what we’re doing – this feeling that, actually, these kinds of things [skeletons] represent us after death, they still have their personalities.
There’s a slight air of lightness, because no matter what happens to them, they’re dead already so they can’t really get hurt. Diableries can never die, because they’re dead already, but they’re having fun wherever they are. That’s the kind of ethos behind it.
They really bash each other about, don’t they?
Yeah, their heads come off, they get holes drilled in them, but it’s all in a good cause. There’s nothing really upsetting about it, because as I say, they can’t die. They can’t really feel pain.
Do you get trick-or-treaters round your house?
Yes, and I do respond. I like to interact with that whole thing. When my kids were growing up, they loved it. I have grandchildren now, who like the same things, so yes, I try. The problem is if you’re not there, and often I’m busy and can’t be there, you can’t get into it, which is a bit of a shame. But I tend to leave lots of sweets out and hope that kids enjoy it.
You’re a treater rather than a tricker.
Yeah. No, I wouldn’t trick them.
Well good luck with the film.
Great, yeah. I think people will enjoy it. And I’ll be so interested to see how they react and the feedback we get. This is the beginning of a new journey, I think.
A journey to hell.
One Night in Hell, will premiere on Sky 3D & Sky Arts on 31st October, 7.40pm and will be available from iTunes early November, £1.99. The film’s soundtrack, composed by Brian May is now available on iTunes, £79p. A related app, Diableries, is now available from the App Store, £1.99.