Doctor Mabuse: Wunderkind Filmmaker Ansel Faraj Inspired by Dark Shadows

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"I ran home from school to watch Dark Shadows" is the mantra of millions of baby boomers who came of age during the 1960s and 70s. Dark Shadows was a daytime serial like no other: the show told traditional soap opera tales of love lost and found in a most non-traditional way: it's characters were a menagerie of vampires, werewolves, witches and ghosts. For kids in those pre-TIVO days, Dark Shadows was mandatory viewing, as were the monster movies, which aired on Creature Features every Saturday night. It was the "monster kid" era, as it was called by the late Forrest J. Ackerman, longtime editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine.

The monster kids grew up, and had kids of their own. Many of them passed their love of the genre on to the next generation.

Ansel Faraj, 21, discovered Dark Shadows when his mom, a longtime fan, purchased the series on VHS. (The show has since been issued on DVD and can also be viewed at Hulu.) The young man was mesmerized by what he saw, and now counts the series as one of his film-making influences. Growing up in Hollywood, Faraj was surrounded by the city's rich cinema history, which further fed his fertile imagination.

"I was born in Los Angeles. In LA, movies are part of the city. They are present in the traffic, the smog, the beach and the mountains. I grew up on the old Universal monster movies, Roger Corman's Edgar Allan Poe films with Vincent Price, so those have a strong influence on my work,” Faraj told SFGN. “I have a holy trinity of directors that I always look to: Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick, Federico Fellini. My patron saints are Robert Altman, Chris Nolan, Michael Powell, Martin Scorsese, Ken Russell, Peter Jackson. Fritz Lang is in there too, I LOVED Lang's Metropolis when I saw it when I was 8, and I still do. It's an amazing film from all aspects: the story, the effects, the design, absolutely amazing for 1927. These filmmakers are masters of the medium, they take film and cinema and just do amazing things with it. They make you want to live in the worlds they create."

Fall 2013 will see the release of Doctor Mabuse, Faraj's no budget film noir supernatural thriller. A wholly original work, Doctor Mabuse is inspired by the same named character created by Norbert Jacques in 1921. Mabuse was the subject of several novels by Jacques and a few highly regarded Fritz Lang films. "Don't let him into your mind," warns the poster art for Faraj's film. Mabuse is a super-villain who can control people, and objects, with his mind.

Many of Faraj's influences found their way into Doctor Mabuse. The time and place is never specified. It could be anywhere from the 1920s through the 1950s. It might be the USA, or it might be Europe. The only thing Faraj will say is that his tale is set in the same "universe" as the Universal Studios Monster movies (Dracula, Frankenstein, etc). The director filmed his screenplay in a garage, his cast performing before a blue screen. He added the expressionistic backdrops later, via computer. The effect is hypnotic and dreamlike.

"I'm a comic book geek," Faraj said. "To me, the Mabuse character is the first truly great super-villain. He's a master of disguise, a master of hypnosis, a super-genius, an illusionist. Those ideas intrigued me. He wanted to destroy everything, he wanted to 'rule the ashes.’ What kind of villain wants to do that? That's very strange, and that's what attracted me. Why does he want that? And the answer is chilling. It's because he can do it. That's very disturbing to me."

Faraj scored quite a coup when he was casting Doctor Mabuse. Three original cast members from Dark Shadows signed on for major roles. Jerry Lacy, who played Shadows' fanatical witch hunter Reverend Trask, agreed to play Doctor Mabuse himself. Kathryn Leigh Scott and Lara Parker, who sparred as rivals on the TV series, now play a pair of mysterious sisters who may or may not be helping Doctor Mabuse. These seasoned character actors, who've played dozens of roles on TV and in film, had nothing but praise for their youthful director.

"After seeing the finished project, I am deeply impressed by Ansel's abilities," Jerry Lacy said. "Not only as a writer and director, but also as an editor. I cannot even imagine the number of hours that he must have put into editing the final version of his movie. But I am most impressed by his vision." Lacy, who has walked in some very tall grass, should know. The actor received much acclaim for his portrayal of Humphrey Bogart in the stage and screen versions of Woody Allen's Play It Again Sam.

Faraj spoke of having to separate himself from being a fan and viewing his stars as colleagues. "But you do," he said. "You get over it, and you get on with the job. When the first day rolled around, it's not 'oh my gosh, oh my gosh,’ it's 'Jerry, you're going to walk over there and say the line, and when you say it, you give him the dirtiest look you can.' You do the work, you be a director, and later on you can be a fan, because they're there to act and to be directed. But they were really, really great. Everyone pitched in and became this ensemble cast."

It's without question a mutual admiration society. Actress Lara Parker, who played the Satanic, lovesick witch Angelique on Dark Shadows, and who appeared in films with actors like Jack Lemmon and Peter Fonda, summed it up nicely. "I want to be able to say, someday, that I was in Ansel Faraj's first big movie," she said to SFGN. "I want to brag about that someday. This kid is going places."

Look for Doctor Mabuse on DVD in mid-late Fall, 2013. Exact date TBA.

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