The stunning and gorgeous Eileen Daly was the heartthrob of many adolescent British boys during the ’90s. She captured imaginations with her ravishing and scintillating glamour photography, which eventually led to a transition into horror cinema. Her most notable role was the deliciously vampiric lead in the independent horror film Razor Blade Smile, directed by the venerable indie horror icon Jake West.
Like most young men of that era, I was fortunate enough to benefit from the generous provision of an Eileen Daly-patented pacemaker by the British National Health Service. This was essential for surviving the tumultuous pangs of adolescent hormonal angst that this talented femme fatale of indie horror and music could so easily provoke. In fact, there’s a kid from school I know, called Eric, who must still walk on crutches, twenty years on from his first encounter with this devilish fair maiden!
Apart from being an accomplished model and actor, Eileen also directs and produces her own independent horror films. These include Witches Can Be Bitches, currently in post-production, and previous efforts such as First Bite is the Deepest and Hollywood Betrayed. It could be safely assumed that Eileen Daly’s expertise with horror and eroticism might have led her to cast me in those films too. However, her deep understanding of the female psyche made her all too aware that my own majestic male prowess might prove overwhelming to the delicate sensibilities of the fairer sex. So, instead, I’m typing this introduction while eating biscuits. It’s just safer that way.
While most known for her leather-clad vampire, Lilith Silver, in Razor Blade Smile, Daly will be taking on the role of a vampire once more, playing the character Elizabeth in the upcoming horror Dracula: Rise of the Vampire, directed by Dean Meadows.
Sometimes a renaissance woman drinking blood from her victims and at other times a renaissance woman of many talents, Eileen Daly is also a filmmaking entrepreneur and boutique distributor. She set up her own horror production company, Redemption Films, with Nigel Wingrove, notable for being perhaps the only British filmmaker to have a film banned on grounds of blasphemy. That film was… “Forest Gump” (probably).
In addition to her cinematic accomplishments, Daly has also made her mark in music, forming the band Jezebel. She describes their sound as ‘an eclectic mix of rock, Goth, and perverse fairy tales’ – an accolade that would suitably befit my personal web history as well. Not to mention, her triumph in making it to boot camp in the music talent contest “X-Factor,” where she managed to resist beheading Simon Cowell against all odds!
I am thrilled to delve into the film industry’s depths with Eileen Daly through ten tantalising questions. Her perspectives are as delightful and arousing as her performances. For those enchanted by that seductive magic, you can follow Eileen Daly on social media on Twitter and Instagram!
Can you share your journey into the world of indie filmmaking, specifically within the British horror genre? What inspired you to pursue this path?
From a very young age, I was quite the headstrong and willful character, determined about what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go, and who I wanted to be. As a result, the adults around me often found me challenging. My brother Dominic and I grew up in a modest two-bedroom house in a one-parent household, with not much money coming in. We lived in what could be described as a village – Hampton Hill, Middlesex, not far from Hampton Court Palace and the River Thames. Looking back, I realize it was a beautiful place to grow up.
I’ve had a passion for dance, singing, design, and clothes since a very early age; ‘gypsy’ was my favourite style. My mother enrolled me in ballet school when I was six, but it quickly became apparent that dancing was not my forte—I was more like a pig in a leotard. So, I switched to judo, which brought much laughter.
By 15, I started modelling and getting paid for it, which was fantastic; I felt like the girl with all the sweets. Then, at the age of 16, while in a pub in Richmond, I met a tall, skinny guy who must have been 6 foot three. He bought me a drink and invited me to a party on his barge under Richmond Bridge. That marked the beginning of a significant romance with Tim Pope, who was then just a tea boy at a TV station, long before he became the ‘video man to the stars’. This was the era when music videos were just starting to gain popularity, and through Tim, I met Gordon Lewis, a producer who supported Tim’s career from the start, working with Soft Cell, The Cure, Queen, Iggy Pop, David Bowie, and many others. The ’80s were an amazing time for us; I found my place not only in front of the camera but behind it as well. This experience helped me discover my true calling and what I wanted to do with my life. Meeting such incredible talent at such a young age was truly amazing.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in the indie film industry, particularly in the horror genre? How did you overcome these obstacles?
I would say the biggest obstacles for a director, writer, producer, and ‘dogsbody’ in micro-budget indie filmmaking—be it horror, comedy, horror-comedy, or just a plain old love story—stem from not having enough money to bring to life what was visualized while writing the script or daydreaming about the project. It all boils down to the finances needed for paying people, feeding people on set, keeping everyone warm, and just securing the basic crew.
Most crew members have other jobs, and you have to schedule filming around their lives because what you’re paying is barely enough to be considered a wage; it’s all done for the love of filmmaking. One more thing to add: the challenge of finding locations. I’ve just finished my fifth feature film, ‘She’s A Bitch,’ which cost me £2000 for seven days. That’s supposed to be inexpensive for indie filmmaking, and indeed it is, considering indie filmmakers usually don’t have big investors. It all comes down to saving your pennies and making your movies.
In the realm of indie filmmaking, some individuals focus on a single discipline while others juggle multiple roles such as writing, directing, acting, or producing. Could you describe your approach in this regard? How do you balance your responsibilities, and what unique challenges does your chosen path present?
In the realm of indie filmmaking, some individuals focus on a single discipline while others juggle multiple roles such as writing, directing, acting, or producing. This question genuinely makes me belly laugh. How does one manage to juggle roles like writing, directing, acting, producing, making tea, and acting as a taxi to ferry your actors around to different locations? You’ve got to pick them up at the train station, drop them off at the train station, and in the midst of directing, someone says they’re hungry and all the actors are on set, so there’s no one to make any sandwiches. Thus, you have to halt the entire film at that particular time to start making cups of tea and sandwiches for everyone.
I now have made five movies, feature films, loads of proper videos, half an hour TV shows all completely off the wall, with great entertainment value all by myself… I act, direct, edit, produce, and grade. My boyfriend Ben Thirkettle scores all the movies as he is a music producer, lucky me! And Jason Impey and Lindsey Studholme are my camera crew.
I also work with the same actors usually all the time; sometimes I deviate, but I know what I’m going to get with the people I know and the performances. So when I write the script, I keep that in mind, unless one actor can’t do that film. Then I bring in some other motherfucking crazy actor, and cross my fingers and toes they don’t ask me for salmon sandwiches and a tipple of champagne.
If a film takes me two weeks to make, I end up wearing all of those hats at some point during filming. I don’t mind; it keeps me on my toes and makes it fresh.
How has the landscape of the British horror genre evolved in recent years, and how has this impacted your work and approach?
Oh, my, question four is indeed a big one. When I started making independent indie movies back in the 80s, there was just a handful of directors and actors doing this kind of thing. In the late 80s, Nigel Wingrove and I started up a film company/distribution called Redemption Films. It began from our love for Jess Franco, Mario Bava, John Roland, my love of ‘Driller Killer’, and all the horror ‘under the counter’ feature films by young indie filmmakers—American, Italian, French. Nigel and I had a passion for them. I even went to dinner with Dario Argento, as I was literally dying to be in one of his feature films. But sadly, I wasn’t cast.
Forming Redemption Films as a distribution company was amazing, enabling us to distribute films that people with normal tastes could watch and love. So, in a way, I do think in our little Soho office in London, we brought the ‘under the counter’ indie horror films to the mainstream in our own little way. Then the 90s hit, and we were in full bloom—video nasties, mainstream delicacies. Nigel and I were riding a wave of horror videos, horror comedies, and just the plain bizarre. You wanted it, we had it! We were in HMV, Tower Records, Woolworths, Tesco’s, and every major video shop in the country. Riding high, unstoppable, until videos were last week’s entertainment—out of date, perishable. Betamax machines were being taken down to the dump. The new thing was in Blu-ray, DVDs, and of course, CDs.
Now, everyone wants to make a horror film. The 90s was the evolution—’let’s make a horror film’. Vampires, zombies, ghosts, time travel—it had never been so easy for the indie filmmaker. Final Cut, Adobe was introduced; there was no stopping the filmmaker predator, everyone was going horror, even mainstream.
It was wonderful. As an actress, I made loads of films, promos, Cradle of Filth, Poison, Razor Blade Smile. I loved it, having a wonderful man, Nigel Wingrove, a great company, Redemption Films. Life was smiling.
How do you navigate the financial constraints typical of independent filmmaking? What impact does this have on your creative process?
Well, firstly, when I’m writing my scripts for a new movie, I would never add speedboat chases, helicopters colliding, stately homes, and overpaid actors whom everyone says, “Oh, you have to have them in there; they’re well-known, and people will pick up your film because you’ve got a star in there.”
I strongly disagree. I don’t need stars in my film that cost the Earth. I just need bloody good actors—easy-going, well-balanced, in tune with the project, and who don’t mind mucking in when they’re not on set, perhaps going into the kitchen and making some sandwiches for the rest of the people who are on set.
I pick my actors very carefully. I will not put up with prima donnas. Life is too short, and if I’ve only got two weeks to shoot a movie, I really do not want the headache of one bad apple in my team. Financial constraints don’t limit the entertainment value of my movies because I write to order, meaning I use what I’ve got, rather than wishing I had a lot more, if you know what I mean.
One thing I do insist on when filming a movie is that everyone has a bloody good time and doesn’t stop laughing. Because that’s what it’s all about: enjoying yourself while working and getting the best performance in the can.
Balancing creative freedom with commercial viability can be challenging. Have you faced any significant compromises in this regard?
I am laughing now. Commercial viability? I’ve never had any commercial success with any of my movies. They are, of course, on Redemption TV streaming; they’re not on Amazon; they’re not on Netflix. I must admit, at the moment, I haven’t really pushed anything as I’m still editing my vampire film ‘First Bite’.
But the feature films that I have actually finished are ‘Mr Crispin’ mad man, ‘Witches Brew’ witches movie, ‘Hollywood Betrayed’ ghost love story, plus ‘Dark Dates’ TV show, ‘Open Mic’ TV Show, and loads of pop videos.
And just finished filming ‘She’s A Bitch’, a werewolf movie… I have had no commercial success at all as I haven’t really pushed them yet. They’ve done film festivals. I use film festivals to look at my work on the big cinema screen. I sit there with a notepad and note all the things that I think could be done a lot tighter in the edit. I take it back home and sort it out.
I’m excited to bring out all of them as a box set. If you would like to see the three that are ready on Redemption TV streaming, please be my guest. You will definitely be entertained one way or another.
What advice would you offer to aspiring filmmakers looking to break into indie filmmaking, especially in the horror genre?
It’s a wild, wacky world where anything goes; nothing is bad. You just keep on doing what you’re doing, learn as much as you can, and get your friends involved. I always find the editing is the hardest bit, but to me, it’s the most important bit. Grading, sound, music, sound quality is really important; foley is really important. You can always edit out a bad actor, but you must get good sound on set. If I had to do it all again, I would, and I wouldn’t do anything different. It’s the learning process. I’ve been learning since I was 16 years old, and I’m still learning at 60, and the parts have never stopped. I am still playing vampires, maybe not nude vampires, but vampires, and always the head vampire. I have never lost my crown as an actor in other people’s movies; they’ve always cast me as the evil one, the haunted one, the one that has the most power, and I still smoke the screen.
I’ve never made any big money on this, and a lot of indie filmmakers won’t. If you go into it thinking you’re going to be the biggest thing in Hollywood, I really don’t think indie filmmaking is for you.
You’ve got to start off small, don’t be afraid to make your mistakes, as we’ve all made them. Carry on and enjoy the people you’re working with. It really does show in your project if everybody is having a good time making your movie. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Be bold and proud, and learn the craft.
What personal or professional sacrifices have you made in your career, and how have they shaped your journey in the film industry?
I can think of one big thing: I’ve always been broke and saving up for my next big glossy blockbuster! But to be fair, I’ve always worked and saved. I haven’t got big fancy cars, houses in the Caribbean. I live a simple life with my dogs, Rosie and Piglet, and my boyfriend, Ben Thirkettle. He’s a music producer for the movies and other projects that he does for other people’s movies, and the guitarist in our band, ‘The Chelsea Vampires’, a combination of gypsy glam punk with neoclassical influences. As long as I’ve got a bottle of champagne in the fridge every night with some champagne truffles on the side, life is good.
What changes or developments do you hope to see in the British indie horror scene in the coming years?
Oh, I see a lot coming this way in 2024. The launch of AI filmmaking will be so much more spectacular for us indie filmmakers because we don’t have to hire a tiger, we don’t have to hire a mountain—we can create it and learn the software from our living room, our studio, or our bedroom. We will have it at our fingertips; we will never lose our actors, our ground soldiers. It will just make it easier for us, poor artists and creators, to get our paws on what the big studios have had for all these years and make our own.
Everyone in this industry is frightened by the AI, but I, Eileen Daly, will give it a big hug if it enhances my movies. We’ve gone from video DVDs to streaming online, computers, the Internet—it’s just travelling down the same road in creativity. Don’t be afraid; embrace it.
Could you share a particularly rewarding experience or project in your career that reflects the unique challenges and triumphs of working in indie horror filmmaking?
Number 10, the last question in sharing a little bit of my life with you. It’s funny, really; nothing really springs to mind because I would say the whole experience of filmmaking, doing my bands, my Goth album Jezebel (the album is called Forbidden Fruit), working with amazing, talented, fun, generous people with their personalities, and some of them not even professional actors, has been fabulous in my films. I would say that there are a lot of actors out there who are true to stereotype; they want to be stars, horror stars, but they’ve only got one face, if you know what I mean. I want to have a vampire woman in my movie, so I cast 10 girls, and every single one of those girls will turn up dressed in black, long black hair.
And they think that’s it, and they say, “Why didn’t you cast me? I’ve got big silicone tits, I’ve had my lips done, I’ve got long black hair and pale skin; what more do you want?” And I will say, “Honey, I need an actor, someone who can do comedy, someone who could horrifically make me scared, not some cardboard cut-out that’s only got one face.” When I’m casting my movies, I’m looking deeper. I want the unusual. I’m looking for that kid who sits in the back of the classroom, thinking he or she is dense because I know inside that kid is a world of fantasy. All he or she needs is the opportunity because I was that kid.