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[Interview] Mariano Baino On His Debut Feature, ‘Dark Waters’, 23 Years Later

With Mariano Baino’s cult classic and love letter to Lovecraft seeing a fancy re-release, we chat with the ‘Dark Waters’ director about tone, the occult, and the fallacy of influence.

There seems to be a current fascination in horror with rekindling the magic that was present in the near-untouchable decade of the 1980s. Films like The Void, Carnage Park, or even The Witch are continuously aping the style of decades that came before them. While it’s not easy to replicate that atmosphere and feeling of ‘80s horror, someone that’s been churning out products that authentically capture that aura since his debut in the ‘90s is Mariano Baino. Baino’s strong voice hit the scene with the feature, Dark Waters, and instantly showed deep similarities in style to filmmakers like Dario Argento and John Carpenter, with a love for HP Lovecraft and a practical approach to horror also being very clear in his work. Baino might not be as household of a name as his contemporaries, but the work that’s come out of him is deeply impressionistic and unique to the genre.

Now is an appropriate time as ever to check in on Baino’s filmography and see what this cult filmmaker has to offer. If you’re a fan of ‘80s horror, the occult, or creatures from another dimension, it’s hard to not be in love with Baino’s pieces of work, whether feature length or short form. With Severin Films issuing out a Blu-Ray release of Baino’s cult classic that’s packed to the gills with special features, we got the chance to talk with Baino about what’s changed in the world of horror since he first made Dark Waters, the miracle of filmmaking, and his love of Ugly Betty.

 

CINEMA RUNNER: First of all, the Blu-Ray looks great. I was so happy to see that your short films are on there! There hasn’t been a decent quality version of them out there yet really, so that’s super exciting!

MARIANO BAINO: Well the ones on the NoShame DVD release were still brilliant. For a DVD, the sound and picture was the best that you could get. And then they also released some of the shorts as an anthology overseas called Trinity of Darkness. And they did a brilliant job with that, too. I’ve been really lucky with the releases that my films have seen. They’ve been released by people that truly love and are passionate about these movies. For me, everything is part of the same whole. For me, I’m there from the first word to the moment that the film dies forever, and in the case of something like Dark Waters I’ve been really lucky because that moment seems to have never come. It’s really the film that never dies. It’s brilliant for me and a great position to be in, because many films just come and go.

The reality here is that Severin has a real love for film. They have a real care what they do as well as a love for the filmmakers themselves. They pursue these projects for the right reasons. They’ve been a supporter since the beginning.

CINEMA RUNNER: On that note, you made Dark Waters over 20 years ago. What’s changed and what have you learned over that course of time? Do you think this film now connects with people in a way that it didn’t back in 1994?

MARIANO BAINO: Well interestingly, the way that this film connects with an audience is beyond my control. Everyone is going to see what they want to see in a film. It’s the same thing with influence. People always ask me, “What are your influences?” and it’s gotten to the point where my standard answer is always the same: influences are in the eye of the beholder. Everyone sees their own upbringing and their viewing habits in what they create or watch. When we first screened this film in Russia, everyone was linking it to Tarkovsky and this kind of Soviet cinema, which in a way I can see, but definitely wasn’t intended. But they didn’t know that. So they were linking the film to certain things and other people will project their own influences onto it.

I think a major thing that’s changed since twenty years ago though are the outlets for films like this. There was nothing back then. But also in some ways, I think what ends up working in Dark Waters’ favor—sort of a happy accident—was that it feels removed from a time period. There’s a lack of modernity throughout the entire voyage, which of course makes sense psychologically because we all wear a uniform—something that makes us who we are—and the moment that you take that away you become less human. It also makes sense aesthetically though and ends up making this timeless film. Even when it came out, it looked like it could have been made twenty years before or twenty years later. Now you look at it and it’s the same thing. Was it made in the ’70s? ’90s? Was it made now and trying to look like the past?

CINEMA RUNNER: Well weirdly enough, there’s been such an obsession lately with embracing the ‘80s and throwing back to that retro style of horror filmmaking, specifically in terms of names like Carpenter and Lovecraft. It almost feels like the film fits in better now by having so many modern contemporaries.

MARIANO BAINO: Absolutely. I really think the time is right to re-release Dark Waters. It’s perfect. I’ve also discovered though that there’s always a new generation of people that haven’t been exposed to these older touchstones. The film has always existed out there in a certain form, but it’s never been like readily available or on Netflix or anything. So there’s always people that never even knew that they film existed, so it’s brilliant that they can discover it now.

CINEMA RUNNER: What about recent filmmakers or films? What new stuff has gotten you really excited?

MARIANO BAINO: Look, I really have come to the conclusion that any film is a miracle. For me, anyone who completes a film—it doesn’t matter what I think of it—I will always applaud it in the end because when making a film, there are just so many things that can go wrong. All of the elements that need to come together to finish a film is astounding, especially when you think about the things that you can control and those that you can’t.

CINEMA RUNNER: Well you should know about that better than anyone. Dark Waters didn’t exactly see smooth waters while you were in production.

MARIANO BAINO: You’re telling me! But in reality, I’ve always been very omnivorous in my watching habits—my reading habits, too. In a way it all still feeds into the horror genre due to what you bring to the table. But as a viewer, I’ll watch anything. I love horror, but I also love Pixar films. I also used to watch Ugly Betty all the time. I love Ugly Betty. NYPD Blue, procedurals, all of that stuff. So in a way, it’s kind of wonderful that there is so much good content out there right now—especially with horror—but it’s also increasingly hard to stay on top of it. It’s impossible to see everything now! The opposite end of that is you look at the films that pop up on Netflix—all of those recommended movies that are right in front of you—and it’s very easy to go on thinking that those films are the only ones that exist because they’re all that you see. Unless you’re manually searching for something, you might never find it. That’s the difficulty of our current climate.

CINEMA RUNNER: A lot of your films deal with religious overtones and similar connections to the occult. Did you ever consider linking your films together in the same universe and having small connections to each other? Kind of like what Argento did in his “Three Mothers” Trilogy. Would you like to explore the mythos of Dark Waters again in some new context?

MARIANO BAINO: Of course! There are always moments when all of a sudden I’m like, “Yes! There is another story here!” I’m also now conscious of so many things that came out of the work that didn’t originally cross my mind. And in my opinion, that’s the way that a film should be made. It shouldn’t be this sort of thing where you’re like, “I want to make a film about religion,” and then you do it. But for me, I didn’t set out to make a film about nuns or what religion means, but all of those elements naturally come out of the film by default.

For instance, Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni and I have worked together for a while now, but the first time we watched Dark Waters together she said to me, “You realize that this film is about you running away from Naples, right?” And I was like, “Wait a second, what are you talking about?” But when I looked at my film again it is totally about that. I left Naples when I was young and in a way, I re-programmed my brain to an extent to escape all of that, whether I was aware of these things or not. It doesn’t matter if you move geographically, but the place where you were born is deep inside of you. And that’s what the films about. It’s about discovering who you really are and needing to face that. You can’t run away from it; you can only come to terms with it.

CINEMA RUNNER: What are you hoping to attack next? I know you’ve been trying to get films like Ritual and Astrid’s Saints done for a while now. Are they next on your plate, or is there other stuff?

MARIANO BAINO: Astrid’s Saints is the thing that we’ve been actively working on.

CINEMA RUNNER: So is that going to end up being your next film?

MARIANO BAINO: It definitely looks like it. We’ve set up production in Naples and we’re actually progressing along with things. We hope it works out. So that’s the next thing, but we also just finished a short, too. There’s a lot of exciting stuff in the pipeline.

 

The re-release of ‘Dark Waters’ is currently available on Blu-Ray courtesy of Severin Films

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