Jacqueline Castel Is the Psychedelic Horror Director We Need Right Now

For a woman who prefers to dress almost exclusively in black, filmmaker and artist Jacqueline Castel has a most colorful mind.

Not just visually, although if you’re familiar with any of her video work with Sacred Bones or her repertoire of short films, you can be sure that the visuals will include the lurid neons of a 1970s psychedelica movie. No, Jacqueline Castel is creative, imaginative, eloquent and self reflective.

While sipping Bloody Marys at 7 p.m., only a week or two before Halloween, we spoke about individual empowerment, breaking and entering, and why it’s always important to do the things that scare you, because that is the time when you feel most alive.

Do you believe in the supernatural? Have you ever had a supernatural experience yourself?

I’m always searching for otherworldly experiences and seeking out other realms. I’ve never personally come across it but I have had a few events in my life that make me question the nature of reality. Nothing concrete but strange things have happened me, it’s hard to describe. There’s always something under the surface and I think that’s the attraction. I don’t know if anyone can claim that something does or does not exist, it’s just based on what you have personally experienced in your life.

So why do you think this is something that you have been drawn to in your work?

I think most of the time it’s experiences you have when you are younger that make you call into question what you can physically see or hear. A lot of the time what I say to people is that it can be as simple as being a migraine sufferer when I was younger, so there were all of these psychedelic experiences that I had. There are studies that have been done where there are all of these artists throughout history who have suffered from migraines and have drawn parallels to it being similar to an LSD experience. When you put that into the context of being 11 years old with no warning, it changes your perspective from a young age and you realize that things aren’t as they seem. if you can see things, hear things that aren’t really there it can be jarring and remove you completely from reality. That was definitely something that made me question things.

Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Well, it affected my speech for one thing. I would speak in a language that wasn’t English because of the effects this was having on my brain. When you are experiencing something like that where you cant talk and your vision is changing everything around you and you are having something of a hallucinogenic experience matched with pain it is an unsettling experience. At one point I got so frustrated that I just started laughing and my parents thought I was insane. I had no idea what was happening for so long and that is the kind of thing that marks you from a young age. It can make you very paranoid too and that has become a theme in my work. That paranoia and that sense of surrealness.

What is one thing you have discovered during the research process for your films that really sticks with you?

The ones that really stick out with me are in development so I can’t really discuss it. I find that regardless of the topic or project, when you hit a certain frequency you start to notice things lining up in a certain way and that’s when I know I am on the right trajectory. When I’m following my intuition that’s when I find things that are the most interesting.

Are there any other directors who you are particularly inspired by?

That’s a hard one. I’m such a cinephile. It’s hard to pinpoint a singular influence. One filmmaker that I always reference because I have always been in love with his work is Roman Polanski. There is a similar perspective in terms of the themes and the sense of paranoia in his films. But in general there are a lot of directors and a lot of films that I am inspired by. And a lot of times it isn’t only directors or films that inspire me, a lot of times it’s music. A piece of music will inspire an entire scene for me. It won’t be “I watched this scene and I want to make something like that”, it’s more like I will listen to a song or go to a place while I’m doing something else and that will conjure up this image for me.  I just try to always seek things out and learn new things. I like to be uncomfortable and explore. I hate being in my comfort zone, I don’t want everything to always be easy. That’s the kind of thing that inspires me.

I’m shooting my first narrative feature right now in Tokyo so I have been watching a lot of erotica movies. I’ll binge on a certain type of thing where it’s all I want to talk about but that doesn’t make it my favorite movie it’s just what I’m into right now.

What’s an example of a place you have gone where you weren’t supposed to be?

You know, it’s being young and breaking into abandoned buildings to take photos or going and visiting a porno theatre in another city. When you are placed in a situation where there is a sense that there might be something bad that could happen, you experience more of a sensation of being alive. When you find yourself in a difficult situation you have to be engaging with the people around you at all times, you feel in the moment. Those experiences are inspiring. There is still this underground porno theatre in New York City where they wouldn’t even let us in so we went in through the back and it was just this long hallway and there are all these shadowy, red booths. You feel like a camera moving through a film and it’s uncomfortable and upsetting and to me that is interesting. I like to seek out things that are hidden.

There are so few female horror directors, have you ever experienced any difficulties because of that?

I have had situations where I felt like there was unnecessary aggression because of my gender but even if I have had bad situations, I don’t want to point fingers. I have so many horror stories and it has been difficult but it taught me to be self sufficient and to bring it even harder. When I was young, my mother would tell me I had to work harder than any man so this has been bred into me. The tension can cause you to rise above and better yourself. It’s not a positive thing but you can’t control other people, you can just be in control of yourself and actively change the things you don’t like. If I want to see more women in tech, I put them on my crew. I have had people say to me that they have never seen an entire crew of women. I don’t feel like I need to talk about my bad experiences, I’ll just change it. There is more attention now than there ever has been which is great, but ultimately if you care about what you are doing, just keep doing it and don’t look to anyone else for approval.

What project of yours are you most proud of?

I’m most excited about feature film work because it allows me to explore my themes more thoroughly. Mostly what I am most excited about is upcoming work but I am proud of everything I’ve done. I tend to always look forward to the next thing instead of reflecting back. I just don’t have time for it.

You’ve done a lot of work with music videos, what has been the difference between that and film work?

With videos, I bring my own specific slant to another artist’s work. I try to be in harmony with it and not railroad my vision on another artist. It’s really collaborative. With videos, the music inspires me and the visuals come to me. I always work with artists who are interested in the same things as me; it would be hard to collaborate with someone completely different. Music is always inspiring for me.

Last words?

Trust yourself. Know yourself. Know what you want and stick to it no matter what. It’s cliché but it’s true. The only thing that matters is yourself. If you put the  work into what you love, everything will fall into place.

You can donate now on Kickstarter to fund Jacqueline Castel and Unclean Pictures’ upcoming A Message From The Temple.

Still photo from Jacqueline’s music video for “Clay Bodies” by Zola Jesus.

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