Percival Schuttenbach: Zombies, Mermaids, Flesh-Eating Vixens… And Two Englishmen
A new music video by Polish folk metal band Percival Schuttenbach, is just about as twisted as it gets. The video for the song “Wodnik”, which features vocals from Arkona’s Masha “Scream” Arkhipova, tells the tale of a clueless hunter who gets dragged into subterranean realm of sex and cannibalism after saving a damsel in distress. In a bizarre fusion of Slavic mythology, Andrzej Sapkowski (The Witcher) and George A. Romero, the hero is kidnapped, plied with booze, molested and subsequently decapitated before his innards are fed to a group of shambling undead. It’s not your typical approach to a Slavic myth, but that’s because it comes from the mind of a fucked-up Englishman! Directed by Adam Orsborn, produced by Przemysław Kasprzak and Robin Cowley, “Wodnik” is an artistic collaboration between Percival Schuttenbach and Polish film group QFAT and was created on a budget of ZERO. Orsborn wrote, directed and edited the film – also handling makeup, costumes and special effects… the man’s not short of talent it seems! ZT scribe Alex de Moller talks to the director as the band are set to work on music for the third instalment of The Witcher videogame.
ZT: How did you collide with Percival Schuttenbach and what got this project rolling?
Adam Orsborn: It was one of the Video’s producers, Przemek Kasprzak, a friend of the band. He really pushed the lines of communication to get this made. But yeah, it was him and Robin who saw a good opportunity and convinced the rest of our film group ‘QFAT’ that this was something we should do. After that we had a meeting with the band prior to a gig in Warsaw where we just had to convince them we could make something worthwhile.
ZT: How would you describe their music? Is it to your liking?
It’s Folk-Metal. From what time I spent with the band on set, I got to know some of their tastes and influences. They love a wide range of music, from Cannibal Corpse to Clannad, from Dead Can Dance to Die Antwoord (I’m sure I heard Chrissy humming ‘I fink you’re freaky’ between shots) – and I think it all goes in the mix. But mainly it’s Slavic Folk music that’s influencing their Metal. But they also play pure folk at festivals and such, they can do both and they combine both well. Is it to my liking? Absolutely. They’re a band with a lot of talent and a ton of character. And I think their character projects fantastically through their music – they’re full of good humour and they don’t take themselves too seriously.
ZT: We hear another Englishman was involved… what about your Assistant-director Robin Cowley. How did the two of you come up with the ideas in this video?
When the possibility of making a video for Percival first arose, Robin was under the assumption that it’d be for their Folk incarnation (Named simply Percival) and wrote a whimsical tale centred around a Viking Wedding were the bride ran away with a squire. When he showed me the script, I, under the assumption that it was for their metal incarnation (‘Percival Shuttenbach’) said “Ok, it’s a Viking wedding, but lets make it a fake wedding where a cannibalistic family lure would-be suitors to their bloody ends in a bloodbath of gore and sex”. When he realised we were dealing with the Metal side of Percival, he conceded that my idea was more suitable – subject to many more re-writes by myself, hence me getting the writing credit.
ZT: What’s your background in film and how did you come out with something as weird as this?! (like I said) It’s seems like a mix of Romero and Sapkowski…maybe the lingering influence of Creepshow?
Adam: Is it weird? I didn’t even try and get that weird with it. Creepshow is a fucking incredible movie that I still watch at least 3 times a year – so the influence isn’t just ‘lingering’. It’s just as potent as ever! As for my film background, I’ve always been a complete film nut. I did a whole bunch of Extra work, mainly through being a member of the Jomsvikings Viking group. So after spending some time seeing the going ons on sets, I decided to go to Uni and learn how to make films. Sadly what I got was a really shitty Video Production degree which taught me absolutely nothing. That ended eight years ago and I’ve spent those eight years trying to figure out all the things that they failed to teach. Funny you mention Andrzej Sapkowski – As Percival Shuttenbach named themselves after one of the characters from the Witcher novels and also recently recorded the music for the upcoming Witcher 3 computer game. Was that question a coincidence or did you do your research?
ZT: Talk us through the storyboard of the video and tell us what the hell’s going on? It’s called “Mermaid”, but seems like Cannibal Holocaust with a twist on the sirens from Greek mythology…
Adam: Disable your Google translate! It’s called Wodnik, which can sometimes translate as Aquarius, but it’s not that either. Wodnik is a Slavic mythical creature – there are many different versions throughout eastern European countries, but although they’re all fairly similar, in some he’s good and in some he’s evil. I received information about which song we’d be making a video for after writing the initial ‘Cannibal Wedding’ script, so after spending a few nights doing a bit of research on Wodnik, I adapted the script. Wodnik is a trickster that lives in still waters – sometimes he’s merely mischievous, pulling people’s legs to frighten them. At other times he steals their souls, putting them into cups and making them his servants. In my script the servants of Wodnik lure a hunter to his death to steal his soul and feed his flesh to the other servants – but not before having a little fun with him. So, I took a small liberty with the myth, as I found no evidence that he ever had an army of undead servants, or ever watched beautiful women fucking on tables, but I guess that’s Creepshow’s influence. On the last day we did the shots of Christina being pulled into the water – it was fucking freezing, and since I couldn’t ask anyone else to do something I’m not prepared to do myself, I ended up having to be the Lost Soul in the water. After getting out, I noticed that about a third of my big toe was hanging off – I have no idea what I cut it on, but I like to think that Wodnik bit me as a sign of approval.
ZT: Was Masha “Scream” from Arkona involved in the shoot?
Adam: Sadly no. I had written a part for her. I wanted her to be conducting some kind of ritual at the beginning, ringing the bell that awakened the diseased-peasanty-ghoul-things and being a mad-witch type character – going mental around the lake as all the action happened under the water. But with Masha being in Russia, Percival in Legnica and QFAT in Warsaw, and everyone having their own gigs or projects elsewhere, the scheduling and logistics just made it impossible.
ZT: We figure you were probably in shits and giggles on set… y’know, having free reign to mix the zombie, period and softcore porn genres!
Adam: I wouldn’t say I had free reign as the band had final say in what I could and couldn’t do. Being a Romero purist, I don’t consider the ‘things’ as zombies – lets just call them Lost Souls. As for soft porn? I didn’t get to show anywhere near as much of Christina as I’d have liked! (Sorry guys, I did try). Discounting the long and arduous pre & post production, 5 days. 2 days shooting at Warownia Jomsborg for the interior, 2 days at a friend’s summer house, half a day in a studio and half a day in a pub. With a minimalistic crew of less than 6 at any time, there really wasn’t time for that much play, especially on the interior shoot – although when we were in the summer house, we had a bit more time as the shot-list wasn’t anywhere near as demanding, so the nights did turned into a total piss-up. I’d spent a week making a huge fish-head mask with lots of grotesque detail. However, when we put it on Robin and got him to creep around the woods, it looked like Kermit the Pedo. Casually leaning against a tree and with the fish head still on, Robin smoked a cigarette – and It was the most Monty Python moment of my life. I just can’t shake that image.
ZT: What do the band think of the video and will they treat Englishmen with caution in the future?
I honestly have no idea. The language barrier has meant that any communication between myself and the band that isn’t face to face goes through the Polish Members of QFAT. They’ve told me that Percival are happy with it, but I couldn’t tell you more than that. As for how they view Englishmen now, I’m not sure. One moment springs to mind though…when I wanted to get a real laugh from Joanna [one of the actresses] in the shot where she’s holding the bloody knife, so I stood in her eye-line, out of shot, impersonating a frenzied masturbating baboon. It worked, she did laugh. Although on the second take when I tried to find a place to put an imaginary banana, she yelled “Cut. That’s too far, Adam. Too far”.