Petr Jakl has come a long way from his roots in Prague, Czechoslovakia. He started out with roles in foreign films in the late 1990s and early 2000s and quickly found a spot in Hollywood playing supporting characters in movies like xXx and AVP: Alien vs. Predator. Not content to stay in front of the camera, Jakl has now written and directed two of his own projects. The latest one, Ghoul, is hitting select theaters on March 20th.
I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Jakl while he was busy promoting the film. We talked about the rich history, superstitions, the supernatural leanings of the Ukrainian people, and more about the background of the movie “Ghoul.” Read on to climb inside the head of this up and coming director, writer, producer, and actor.
How did you get involved in Ghoul?
My first movie was a thriller called Kajinek, inspired by the true story of the most famous Czech prisoner. It was number one at the Box Office for seven weeks with the highest opening weekend of a Czech movie in the history of the Czech Republic. The success of the movie was also because it was a politically driven story about corruption in Czech and people were afraid to talk about it before. So the movie was a reason to start.
A month after the premiere in 2010 we went with Kajinek to the Ukraine to a festival. I had a chance to speak to some villagers and all of them mentioned famine in 1932 and the cannibal Chikatilo. It was very interesting because they spoke about cannibalism like it was something that was part of their life. I started to investigate more about it and I found more connection between the famine and Chikatilo. I also like the Ukrainian habits and how they believe in psychics, they are superstitious, and a lot of the people there also believe in supernatural forces. I decided to use those as much as possible and blur the lines between reality and fiction. Nobody will be sure what is real and what is not. That’s why I bought the real footage of the cannibal Chikatilo. That´s why I shot a real documentary with survivors of the famine that is used in the movie. I also shot the movie on the real locations where these horrible things happened and where Chikatilo was born.
Give us a brief synopsis of Ghoul.
Ghoul is a supernatural horror and also partly a thriller film involving the real life story of the Soviet Union’s most violent serial killer and cannibal. Andrei Chikatilo killed more than fifty people. Three Americans travel to the Ukraine to film a documentary about the cannibalism epidemic that swept through the country during the famine of 1932. They have chosen an area from which many more people are disappearing for no apparent reason. After being lured deep into the Ukraine forest for an interview with one of the last known famine survivors, they quickly find themselves trapped in a supernatural hunting ground.
Tell us a little bit about your experience making Ghoul.
I wanted to find actors who were not well known, but they had to be great. That´s why I did the casting in seven countries for almost six months. I had one actress from London, two actors from LA, and the others were Ukrainians. When the actors from California got to Kiev, they were pretty scared right from the beginning because they knew that we were going to shoot in real locations where people were killed. We had to go to the frontier zone between Russia and the Ukraine every day. Border police told us not to go alone to a forest because there are wolves and bears and that we should avoid speaking to strangers there and such. We had mostly night shoots in the forest. Some situations were really scary during the shooting because we thought that somebody was watching and we could not get rid of that feeling. I think it also helped to build a real atmosphere for the movie and it was a part of my plan.
What sort of message (if any) do you think Ghoul is trying to deliver to audiences?
I have to mention that we started to shoot Ghoul in 2011 before the Ukrainian Revolution and before “the conflict” between Russians and the Ukrainians began. There was no political reason to show a Ukrainian cannibal eating people and his connection with the famine caused by Soviet Union leader Josef Stalin. I just wanted to make the movie so real that people would feel like they are in the Ukraine in danger. That’s also why I interviewed real people and let them say what happened. Their stories about cannibalism are extremely horrifying because they are true.
If you were in line at the movies and someone was trying to choose between Ghoul and the other movies playing, how would you convince them to see yours?
I would say, “Would you be scared if you were in a cottage in the middle of a forest far from any civilization and Charles Manson or Jeffrey Dahmer would be outside watching you?” That’s how you will feel when you watch “Ghoul.” The two of them together are not as brutal and dangerous as Ukrainian cannibal Chikatilo. He killed and mutilated more than fifty people and he ate their parts. He was extremely brutal so people nicknamed him the Red Ripper. When you watch the movie you will be surprised who is really out there waiting to get you!
Ghoul haunts select theaters throughout the U.S. beginning on March 20th.