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Castlevania creators explain Season 3's 'psychedelic horror' and building on the game
It's true that Castlevania writer/creator Warren Ellis has never played the game his Netflix show is named after, but that didn't stop him from digging deep into the Konami side-scroller's lore for its new season. After two seasons of Netflix's Castlevania, Vlad Tepes (aka Dracula) has been slain by his dhampir son Alucard, Sypha the Speaker, and, of course, vampire hunter extraordinaire Trevor Belmont. Dracula is dead but evil and death still hang over Wallachia in Season 3.
In the wake of Dracula's defeat, dark forces are building. Carmilla and a new band of Styrian Vampires plot to slaughter the humans, and Dracula's former forgemaster Issac returns for his own revenge. That's not to mention the "psychedelic horror" that Ellis teased via Twitter last week. Alucard, meanwhile, searches for peace in the empty halls of Dracula's castle, so it's up to Sypha and Trevor to face down a resurgence of demons and devils.
For Ellis, killing off his main villain presented a unique opportunity to flesh out the world of Castlevania in the wake of Season 2. This week, SYFY WIRE spoke with Ellis and executive producer/showrunner Kevin Kolde about all things Castlevania, violence, and what we can expect as Season 3 kicks off on March 5.
I wanted to start with the end of Season 2 because you left the heroes in very different places. Trevor and Sypha got the happy ending, but it was heartbreaking to see Alucard all alone in the castle after defeating Dracula. Could you talk a little bit about writing that ending?
Warren Ellis: When I was writing I didn't know that we were going to get a Season 3, so I wanted to land it on some kind of conclusion. There is a happy ending you know, but it's just not the actual ending, because I'm a terrible person. So, yes, Trevor and Sypha get their happy ending, but I didn't want to shortchange the emotional load of the season. There should be aftershocks and heavy weather after that kind of thing. So, the last scene is obviously a really miserable place.
I told James Callis [who voices Alucard] about this when I saw him in New York last year. I knew he was capable of crying on cue, of course, I'd seen Battlestar Galactica and they made the poor bastard cry for the last two seasons. So, I wrote the scene knowing James would be able to land that with some serious force in the voice recording session.
What I didn't know was that, as an actor to get that, he goes inside himself to produce that kind of emotional cue. But once he's there, it's not a thing where he just turns it off. I'm thinking of someone like Spencer Tracy crying on cue and laughing. It took him five minutes to pull himself together after doing the first take. Luckily it was a one-take. And, I felt awful.
I think the Battlestar Galactica producers should go to prison for making him go through two or three seasons of that. I'm never doing that to James again. I still feel terrible. So, Season 4 is all fun and games and all dancing and laughing, I promise you.
Just a couple of weeks ago you tweeted a little teaser for Season 3 with a picture of some notes that said "Season 3: The Psychedelic Horror season." Could you explain that a bit more?
Ellis: That can be hard to do without getting into spoilers. But I found some things in old Castlevania game canon that, to me, had serious psychedelic horror vibes. So I kind of cherry-picked those one or two things from the canon to bring into Season 3, so if you are an aficionado of the games, you are going to see all kinds of odd pieces from other games that you wouldn't expect to see, that you will.
Did you look at any games specifically?
Ellis: Well, this is where I run into trouble because I've never played any of them. As I've said, I've written an entire show using Wikipedia and fan pages. So, please don't ask me to summon the 177 tabs that I had open when I was writing. I couldn't do that if I tried.
Did that give you more creative freedom when you were approaching this series?
Ellis: I think so. The canon is extensive, but let's be honest, most of these games are 2D jumping games with sprites. The canon has breadth, but you don't have that very tight strength that you would have with other sources of IP because so much of the games' structures repeat. I felt free to cherry-pick across the canon of all the games.
What can you tell us about writing Season 3 and what you wanted to do?
Ellis: [I wanted to do] several storylines, because when Netflix said they wanted a third season, it was great news and we were all happy and delighted. But, as the writer, after all the happiness, there was this moment of "Oh s***." Because, of course, at the end of Season 2, Dracula is dead. But because I'd left so many of the areas of the story open, also through the performances of the actors, I suddenly realized I had this rich tapestry to draw on. So, I have several different storylines going through Season 3.
I've got Alucard at the castle at the hold, I've got Issac, I've got Hector, I've got Carmilla and Trevor and Sypha obviously. I've got a lot of things going on. It's much more of a novelistic structure progressing several different storylines at once.
What did you like about creating this season of Castlevania in particular? Any highlights? Reuniting with the old cast? Meeting new faces?
Kevin Kolde: It's great. The show has been a labor of love for a lot of people. From Warren on down to the amazing talented animation team. I don't think anybody was ready to be done. I think that Warren created animated characters throughout the first two seasons and to his point, their stories weren't necessarily done.
You want to know what happens to them, where they're going to go next, what they're going to do. They've all just come through this traumatic event. How is this going to shape their futures going forward? You also have the classic Castlevania thing that Dracula is never really dead. It was exciting. Great to bring the cast and team back and welcome in new cast members and characters. Meredith Layne is our casting and voice director and she's done a fantastic job of bringing amazing actors.
Ellis: I wanted to mention Meredith. Everyone on this show actually had a lot of fun and wanted to come back for this. Meredith is a huge part of that. She's got relationships with all these actors and she's been able to welcome the new actors in. She's a huge part of the reason those actors produce such fantastic performances for us.
It does feel like a full-blown movie when you're watching.
Ellis: The way we do it, is that we record all the voice acting before the animation fully starts. This allows Meredith and the actors — and I hang around in the background — to create complete performances without being constrained by any kind of finished animation. It's not like they're lip-syncing. Director Sam Deats is also on the sessions and he'd get to cue off those performances once they got the animations. So, those complete performances are what you're hearing.
Kolde: For me, there's a number of highlights. Whether it's the wonderful writing that Warren brings in, we have all these great characters or its amazing performances in the actors.
We have Sam Deats and his team at Powerhouse Animation innovating. It feels like a movie but it's hard to do, you have these great performances and the characters are realistic which is hard to draw. Sam and his team have to spend a lot of time making sure it all looks interesting and cinematic. The art direction is amazing too.
Everyone's contribution just makes it that much better. I'm a fan and I'm constantly amazed at the artistry everyone brings to the show.
Ellis: The weird thing to me was discovering how much I liked working with actors. That was very strange. I knew I would enjoy working with the composers.
Trevor Morris did a fantastic job and I threw a lot of weird stuff at him because we have shared musical interests. Particularly early music and German experimental music of the 1970s. Like early Tangerine Dream and what I get back is Trevor's take on early German experimental music of the '70s only with early music instrumentation and drums and yeah... Obviously I love it all with it. But even just being indulged a little bit in the music, really speaks to me.
Both Seasons 1 and 2 of Castlevania were incredibly brutal and had some great horror moments. Was there any pushback to making this series so graphic?
Ellis: That's a good question actually. For me, my way into this whole thing was reading about the game and realizing how weirdly similar it was to the Hammer horror films I grew up with. In a lot of ways, Castlevania is my Hammer horror movie. You know, for the time, they pushed the gore in some of those things.
That said, back then Christopher Lee was what is the quintessential horror movie moment. His take was a door that was a door that's slightly ajar and you don't know what's on the other side. So, I tried to work in a little bit of foreboding. But I think it's also valuable, when you're doing a violent piece of art, to be unflinching about it.
Kolde: I think that [the violence] makes it real. We never ever considered making this something that wasn't for adults, so if brutal things are happening, and you don't necessarily see the results of that brutality, it feels less real. It tends to feel more like a cartoon for lack of a better term.
Ellis: The show is obviously fantasy-inflected but we don't want it to be fairy tale.