Martin Scorsese Talks Horror Elements of ‘Shutter Island’

Arriving in theaters February 19 from DreamWorks Studios is Martin Scorsese’s highly anticipated thriller Shutter Island, which tells the story of two U.S. marshals, Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), who are summoned to a remote and barren island off the coast of Massachusetts to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a murderess from the island’s fortress-like hospital for the criminally insane. This past weekend Bloody Disgusting’s John Marrone attended a press conference in New York where Scorsese talked about the horror aspects of the pic.
Martin ScorseseWhenever you use color – there is always that Mario Bava sort of singularity – that use of very powerful colors,” says Scorsese giving more praise to the legendary Italian director. “He was a wonderful cinematographer, and I always loved the thriller/horror films that he made in the late 50′s, early 60′s. BLACK SUNDAY (1960), and the trilogy – BLACK SABBATH, they call it – some remarkable stuff, there’s no doubt about that. Bava’s use of less being more – the use of a little bit of mist, in a way – a twisted branch, that sort of thing.

Scorsese explains how this all correlates with SHUTTER ISLAND, and adds more to his list of inspirations.

That’s something I use for inspiration in a way. The Lewton films are really the key films – this is not on that level, it’s a different kind of picture – but there’s no doubt. Particularly in certain scenes in the mansion. Val Lewton’s films had terrible titles, we all know. THE CAT PEOPLE (1944) and I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943) – those two being directed by Jacques Tourneur – are beautiful works of poetry. OUT OF THE PAST (1947) is the other one. That’s not a Val Lewton film, but it’s directed by Tourneur. OUT OF THE PAST with Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer. All three films, to me, are very modest, but have to do with memory and time, and I don’t know when I look at these films – and I look at them repeatedly – I don’t know whats the beginning, the middle, or the end. I can’t tell you what scene it is. It’s like a piece of music, I keep listening to it or looking at it, and its kind of new every time. This has a lot to do with the pictoralism of Tourneur. CAT PEOPLE is a beautiful film. You can take it on a supernatural level or you can take it on the level of suggestion. It’s all about suggestion. OUT OF THE PAST, it’s the web – it’s the net that’s cast for this poor guy, who does say at one point, “Build my gallows high, baby.” He knows he’s doomed from the beginning, and we watch Mitchum go through it. And I never know – is it Kirk Douglas’ character, is it really Jane Greer who is doing all this – I never quite know. He seems to be doing it to himself in a way. But it’s about memory, and so is SHUTTER ISLAND to a certain extent. I can’t reach that level of Tourneur, he was remarkable – but these were inspirations.

Scorsese also talks about guiding what he needed out of the actors by uncovering layers about the plot that they hadn’t realized were there until they started shooting.

We had read the script and worked in rehearsal, in the hotel – in the office room. But I think it all started to hit me the first day of rehearsal, in the office. When we all arrived in the office. When the two detectives – the Marshals – came to speak to you (Scorcese says, turning to Ben Kingsley, referring to his character in the film). Then suddenly, it all changed. I’m not quite sure why and how. But normally that does anyway, I mean, you have your characters, your actors, you’re all ready, and they’re in the set – the actual place, the accommodation or location of the set – but there’s something about the behavior,” Scorsese rambles.

He continues, with my only thoughts being “please let this make sense after I see the movie.”

It’s all about the behavior. I remember I shot that scene (in the office when the characters first meet) over a long period of time. Two or three days, if I remember. There’s a certain level you want to reach. A certain… uh… Light touches, in a way. Or references, with a glance, or the use of a pipe in a certain way – the amount of smoke coming out the pipe, even – I don’t know. Whether he moved around the desk because he said a certain line, or not. They’re behavior. That’s why I screened LAURA for everyone, just to get a reference to the nature of the detective – the detective’s body language, lets say in LAURA 1944 I think, and Dana Andrews’ character. War weary – having gone through the war – when he goes and he asks, or people are talking to him – when the characters are talking to him – he doesn’t look at anybody. So that was an element for Leo and Mark. For Ben, it was something else entirely. Looking at the pictures on the wall, the way their faces are in the frame together. Leo’s hand, and then Ben’s profile. This was something discovered on the set. And as we start to get through that scene and also a set dressing.

He continues, “All of a sudden we were just dressing the set and there was something else entirely different here. And I began to realize, we’re getting in deeper. It became something where I was excited about getting deeper with the story, but at the same time, a slight… I can’t say – this didn’t really happen until the weather started to treat us really badly – but, a slight panic as to would we hit all the levels. Would we have the time to do it. For the first six or seven weeks it was pretty good. We were indoors, and we were able to explore all these different things. By the time we got outdoors, add to the emotional levels that they had to get to – that Leo had to get to – you add to that this rain and wind just hitting the actors to the level that its almost impossible to move in the frame. This was a brutalizing experience for them – for everybody. But this is the way films are made.

Shutter Island arrives in theaters February 19.

Martin Scorsese