The Man Who Killed Hitler & Then The Bigfoot director on his bizarre, wistful horror debut
The Man Who Killed Hitler And Then The Bigfoot director Robert D. Krzykowski on the year’s strangest indie horror adventure...
The Man Who Killed Hitler And Then The Bigfoot is one of the most unique and alluring films we’ve seen in a long while. Despite the pulp thrills promised by that title, it is in fact a quiet meditation on grief, loss and the hollowness of a life defined by violence.
That said, it really does follow through on the promise of its title. There is Hitler. There is a Bigfoot. Both are killed by Calvin Barr (played as a young man by Aidan Turner, and in later life by Sam Elliott) in scenes that bookend a bittersweet romance with Caitlin FitzGerald’s Maxine.
We sat down with Robert “Bob” Krzykowski after the film’s FrightFest premiere last year. This interview goes in depth into several spoilerific aspects of the film – though it should be noted that the two biggest plot points are right there in the title!
This is your first movie. What’s it like getting to make a feature film?
It was really intimidating at first. I felt an enormous responsibility to the cast and crew. I had produced things before, but I hadn’t directed anything of this length, so I tried to come to it as prepared as possible. I was really fortunate to have such an excellent team with me.
It’s a pretty unusual film – very much not the b-movie the title suggests. Ultimately, what would you say the film is about?
I think that, at its core, the film is about a man rediscovering his connection to humanity through these acts of violence that he committed that took his happiness, took his connection to people and stole his joy. It uses these two fantastical elements to illustrate that, but it’s also a character study about a man trying to reconcile his past in the service of others.
Arguably the film’s greatest triumph is the casting of the two actors who play Barr. How did Aidan and Sam get involved?
Sam, we reached out to through casting director Kellie Roy. That was around Thanksgiving 2016. Sam called me the day before thanksgiving and we had this long conversation where he explained all of the reasons why he wanted to do this film and why it was emotionally important to him. He felt like the character embodied something that he is still striving for. Having met Sam, he’s somebody that very obviously embodies Calvin’s decency.
Aidan was one of our first choices and I had a very strong feeling we’d get him. I know Sam’s movies and his mannerisms, and while I was watching Poldark – just for entertainment – I kept noticing these little flashes of connection between the two. They don’t look exactly alike, but they have these mannerisms that connect them. And they both have this unpretentious cool. There’s a growth between the two portrayals where they’re connected but not the same.
How about Caitlin? Maxine isn’t in the movie as much as the two Calvins, but she’s at the very heart of the piece. Yeah. There were hundreds of auditions for that role – probably the widest search for any of the characters. Caitlin’s audition was just beautiful and felt kind and real. We spoke on the phone and it became clear that this story felt personal and important to her and her reps were very enthusiastic about getting her involved with the film.
You realise very early on in the film that the relationship between Maxine and Calvin ends prematurely, but you never quite discover how. Did you ever consider revealing that?
Yes, I won’t say what it is, but we actually shot a sequence and did some visual effects, but when we looked at it we felt it was really stealing something from the movie. It wasn’t a case of being ambiguous for the sake of being ambiguous, but it was putting an emotional vacuum in the movie and a pain that felt misplaced. It felt like the pain in the film should only belong to Barr and if he’s not thinking about it, then we’re not going to experience it. It was just a choice to leave it out. It just seemed to steal something from the film.
You don’t need to know – it’s so obvious from the way that it’s written all over Sam’s face that he’s carrying this grief with him.
Exactly. Aidan and Sam both play it so beautifully. It’s so raw. To give the audience that answer seemed to hijack a lot of the subtlety that they were bringing. And it isn’t written in the script – we decided to shoot something and keep it in our back pocket just in case, but in the end we realised that leaving it out made the movie feel more whole.
Where were you shooting?
Every single scene in the film is shot within 10 minutes of my front door in Massachusetts! The only thing we ventured out was for Hitler’s castle, which was actually the house from Cider House Rules – Ventfort Hall in Lenox.
It’s a film that feels very indebted to cinema… What movies were in the back of your mind when you were coming up with this strange story?
I was thinking about Being There – I love that movie. I was thinking about The Conversation and Raiders Of The Lost Ark. And Unforgiven – the greatest American Western ever made. The great thing about Indiana Jones is when he gets beaten up, he gets bruised and scarred. That’s Spielberg and Lucas knowing that a weakened hero is more relatable, that that’s what we want in heroes, to see their flaws and to see that they can be knocked down, so that we can fight for them to rise up again. There’s an incredible amount of joy in that film – it’s my favourite movie. And The Conversation is very, very different, but it’s stuck with me forever.
How did Douglas Trumbell get involved? He’s a giant of special effects…
Doug saw a short film that I’d done, which was a live action, full-sized puppet short in black and white. It had some old school visual effects in it. We’d met once before and he invited me to his facility and talk about effects. We became friends and I shared the film with him and he felt really strongly about the material and wanted to see this thing happen. He pulled together an amazing team of VFX people to do the movie. There’s a bunch of effects throughout that aren’t flashy but just help to tell the story.
The actual bigfoot is a beautiful effect…
That’s down to Spectral Motion, who did [the original] Hellboy and a million other creature features. We very much wanted it to be a performer in a fur suit. Oddly, it ended up looking like one of the apes from 2001, but that was a complete accident.
How did Sam deal with the vomit scene?
He was game for it! We talked about what that moment would be like and why it was in the movie. It was there as a cathartic release for the audience who have been so patient sitting there through this slow burn character study. We felt like we had to reward them with a real, throw down, Sam Raimi-style action sequence. And what better way to end that than with an actual purging? Not just with the bile and vomit from the Bigfoot, but a purging of so many things that are happening within Barr at the same time. It’s symbolic, but it’s also really gross and silly. The team that made the vomit used orange juice and pea soup that, at the end of the day, Sam said it might as well have been real vomit it tasted so disgusting.
How did you get into filmmaking in the first place?
When I was 5 or 6 years old my mom found, in a bargain store, a bin full of Raiders Of The Lost Ark illustrated screenplays, this book of storyboards accompanying the script of the film. So as a little kid I was studying a screenplay and learning about storyboards. I was obssessed with that book, read it over and over. It was a dream to make movies one day, but then reality sets it… You live in Massachusetts and you’re not close to anywhere where movies are made, so I went to UMass to study journalism and my goal was very much to become a journalist. While I was there I started making a comic for the newspaper called Elsie Hooper. It got discovered by some guys in Hollywood that wanted to make a movie of it. That never happened, but I kept working on the comic and I kept meeting people who were making movies and, piece by piece over time I built a group of friends and relationships that all spawned from that little black and white newspaper comic. It’s still going – I still draw it when I get the chance. It was the seed for all of this.
This is your debut feature – do you have any advice for other new filmmakers?
The more prepared you are, the more that you’ve considered what could go wrong and how you can pivot to a creative alternative in those situations, then the more successful you will be in achieving your vision. Hire people that you love and trust. If you can hire someone that you admire, it will give you something to strive for. And ultimately there’s no such thing as failure until the day you give up, so even though you’ll have stretches of time that feel like failure, they’re not. I’ve had years of that.
OK, the big question. What’s in the box that Calvin keeps under his bed? Is it Gwyneth Paltrow’s head?
Yes, it’s Gwyneth Paltrow’s head!
I remember listening to the commentary track to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Nicholas Meyer talks about Khan’s hand that has a glove on it. He said he did that just for a bit of ambiguity because he knew that the audience would want to know what had happened to him between Space Seed and Wrath Of Khan. He said that people would come up to him with all sorts of wild theories about it. The box for me was an opportunity to let the audience have something that was just all for them. If you’ve been watching the movie and you’ve had an emotional connection to it, I think that it’s very easy to put something meaningful into that box. I have my own thing, but I don’t think it’s that interesting – I really seriously believe that some of the things that people have told me that they think are in there are more meaningful than what I think is in there.
At the end of the shoot the art department gifted me the box with a key and it was locked. I opened it up and there were over 100 pieces of paper in there and the entire crew had written their theories. That was beautiful and would never have happened if we’d answered the question.
The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot is out now on VOD. It’s out on DVD and Blu-ray on 6 May.