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by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor [June 11, 2013]
[HollywoodInvestigator.com] Every mad scientist has a pet theory. Dr. Bartholomeu Bava (Leandro Daniel Colombo) thinks that by stimulating a certain nerve in the brain, he can heighten a person's creativity -- with immortality as a side effect. Odd, that he cares more for creativity than immortality, but that's how mad scientists are. Monomaniacal, they have room for only one passion. Bava's is creativity.
That's also a passion of Bava's ex-girlfriend, best-selling novelist Bruna Bloch (Guenia Lemos), who hopes that Bava's cranial nerve stimulation device will help her write even bigger bestsellers. But first, Bava needs a guinea pig for his experiments. Bruna obliges by helping Bava kidnap Cristi Costa (Uyara Torrente), a naive farm girl.
Nervo Craniano Zero's (aka Cranial Nerve Zero) is a Brazilian horror film that evokes Andy Warhol's Frankenstein and Bloodsucking Freaks (with borrowings from Re-Animator), both in its darkly comedic, over-the-top, mondo gonzo sensibility, and in its retro music and fashions. Dr. Bava plays 1983's Total Eclipse of the Heart during a gory brain surgery. Bloch's chic fashion sense and heavy makeup are straight out of the 1960s (much as in The Preening Swan, another recent horror film inspired by 1960s fashion and makeup).
Do Brazilian women really dress so chic today? Are they the last holdouts in this modern world of pierced, tattooed, and "casually" dressed women?
"One of the rules here is anachronism," said Nervo Craniano Zero's writer/director, Paulo Biscaia Filho, to the Hollywood Investigator. "That is why the film starts with the words 'Once upon a time in a past future'. All those weird, futuristic ideas those movies brought in the '60s, '70s and '80s are back with a vengeance. Nervo is supposed to look like it was made in the '80s.
"And no, Brazilian women do not dress like that today. Ha!"
In addition to its retro fashions, Nervo features over-the-top dialog, acting, and situations. "Yes, it is dated," admits Filho. "Yes, it is ridiculous. That's the face Dr. Bava makes when Bonnie Tyler starts playing. His eyes say 'Oh my! This is really inappropriate.' while Bruna's eyes say 'This is SO appropriate.'
"The film is not straightforward. Over-the-top was a big rule for the Nervo universe. I directed the actors to play it over-the-top, to remind us of melodramas, and maybe some Brazilian telenovelas, from that period. Bruna says, 'I don't know if people talk like that because they're influenced by soap operas, or maybe soap operas are actually showing a realistic portrait of people.' That line sets the film's tone. I wanted people to say: 'Is this for real? Is this supposed to be serious or am I allowed to laugh at it?'
"I also played the role of a director over-the-top. I had to say goodbye to every fear of doing it in a seriously silly manner. To do it in the same anachronistic way that we relate today with '80s horror films."
Nervo Craniano Zero is also theatrical. Its first 15 minutes are a highly cinematic prologue, with lots of cross-cutting and camera moves. But after that setup, the film turns stagy. Some scenes extend for 15 to 20 minutes on the same set, with long dialog exchanges and scant action. Nervo becomes more of a play than a film."
"Nervo is my second feature," said FIlho. "Like my first one, Morgue Story, this an adaptation from a stage production I directed with my company, Vigor Mortis. We are dedicated to exploring horror on stage. With Morgue Story and Nervo Craniano Zero we expanded our work from stage to screen.
"On stage we experiment with acting and directing choices." This helps Filho develop the story by studying audience reactions, which helps to "eternalize the story on film. Morgue Story was a literal adaptation -- almost every aspect of the stage version was kept on screen. Nervo was different. I changed cast, visuals, part of the story. Of course, some elements of theatre remain. For my next film I intend to do an original story for the screen."
Happily, as in any good play, Nervo's dialog is sharp, witty, and observant. Its actors are proficient in delivering their repartee, which is supported by their exaggerated, rubbery facial expressions. It's a three-person play -- something of a love triangle. Bava still lusts for Bruna even as he hates her, yet has a growing love for the naive and sensitive Cristi. Thus Bava aches to defend his own victim from the sophisticated and uber-bitchy Bruna, who pours contempt on Cristi.
Nervo Craniano Zero was shot on a Sony X1 camera, and edited on Final Cut X. Its production budget was 180,000 Brazilian Reais. "That's shy under 90,000 U.S. dollars. The money was raised from a Curitiba City Hall Cultural Fund. That's my city -- a capital in southern Brazil. We applied for a grant and got the money.
"It wasn't easy. One of the judges told me later that her colleagues said, "No, this is not culturally relevant." She replied, "Culturally relevant? What does that mean? And who are we to say what is relevant or not? Why will you deny it justifying your choice on such abstract terms?" Thank god she talked them out of that."
Nervo Craniano Zero is racking up awards on the festival circuit in both North and South America. "It won for Best FX at Thriller! Chiller! in Grand Rapids, Michigan; Best Director at New Orleans Horror Film Festival; Best Picture and Best Actress (Uyara Torrente) at Montevideo Fantastico (Uruguay), and Best Foreign Feature at the Another Hole in the Head in San Francisco, CA." It was an official selection at many other festivals
"I devised some guerrilla screenings here in Curitiba. We did a screening called Blood-O-Rama, when we sprayed the audience with fake blood, synched with the movie's bloody moments. Very William Castle. This film was made to look like it was made in the '80s, and back then the film experience was an event. It wasn't just another night at the shopping mall. It was something to remember until the day we die. That's what I wanted to rescue. That kind of unique experience."
Filho studied theater at Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Paraná, and obtained an M.A. in drama and theater from the Royal Holloway University of London. "During my M.A. I developed a study on the Grand Guignol theatre, which became the basis for Vigor Mortis. I currently work as a professor for the drama and film courses at Faculdade de Artes do Paraná."
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