When I was a teenager, I remember going to the local cinema to see “Ghost Story” with my mother, an avid book reader, and fan of Peter Straub’s novel. The film adaptation featured an A-list cast that included Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and John Houseman, which also drew my mother to the film, however, it was the performance by newcomer Alice Krige as the mysterious Alma-Eva that haunted us over the years, just recently we found ourselves reminiscing about the chilling film.

The following year Krige gained more recognition from American audiences after appearing in the British historical drama “Chariots of Fire” which took home the Oscar for Best Picture. She has appeared in lighter fare such as the Netflix original “A Christmas Story”, the romantic comedy “See You in the Morning” opposite Jeff Bridges, and she played Patsy Cline in the made-for-television movie “Baja Oklahoma” which was shot in Fort Worth and stars Lesley Ann Warren as an aspiring Country singer (look for cameos by Willie Nelson and Julia Roberts). But Krige is best known for playing characters that exist in cinema’s darker realm such as the shape-shifting mother in Stephen King’s “Sleepwalkers,” the Borg Queen in “Star Trek: First Contact,” and the evil witch in “Gretel & Hansel.”

You may be surprised to find out that Krige doesn’t actively seek out horror, fantasy, and sci-fi roles, yet for some reason as if cosmic forces are at play, they gravitate towards her. Earlier this year Krige returned to the genre that has shown her so much love, starring in David Blue Garcia’s “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” sequel which takes place 50 years after the 1973 horror classic directed by Tobe Hooper.

In her latest film, the critically acclaimed psychological thriller “She Will” which marks the filmmaking debut of artist Charlotte Colbert, Krige plays aging Hollywood starlet Veronica Ghent who, after receiving a double mastectomy, heads to a healing retreat in rural Scotland accompanied by her caregiver, a young nurse named Desi (Kota Eberhardt).

While recuperating from surgery, Veronica confronts her past traumas including one inflicted by a former co-star played by Malcolm McDowell. Supernatural forces come into play as nightmares haunt Veronica, “I’m having dark thoughts” she remarks, but the soil is reportedly rich in healing properties from the women accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake there centuries ago. The film, while skirting the horror genre, is first and foremost about trauma and healing, both spiritually and physically.

Recently I spoke with Alice Krige about “She Will”, her experience working with veteran actor Malcolm McDowell for the first time, and Italian filmmaker Dario Argento who was so impressed by Colbert’s debut that he attached his name to the project and is listed as Executive Producer, it’s easy to see why. There are several Giallo elements prevalent in Colbert’s psychological thriller that pay tribute to Argento, the Master of Horror.

When I was a young child, my mother took me to see “The Exorcist” and “The Omen” and later as a teenager, we went to see “Ghost Story”. There weren’t very many Disney outings. We both loved scary movies. I was drawn to the film’s horror angle and she was excited by the A-list cast that included Astaire, Douglas, and Houseman, but it was your performance as Alma that really stood out for both of us.

Well, I’m glad to hear that, I haven’t seen “Ghost Story” since it was released. You know it was not very successful. It was considered a bit of a bomb by critics. To my great delight, it has become a cult classic which this remarkable cast of actors deserves, John Houseman, Fred Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Melvyn Douglas, and Patricia Neal. I’m still in touch with both the director John Irvin and one of the producers and I’m very happy for them. They have been vindicated by its longevity. Interestingly I’ve been to a couple of horror conventions this year for the very first time.

Was that because of your role in the latest “Texas Chainsaw Massacre?”

I guess so. But all these movies like “Sleepwalkers, and “Ghost Story” have arrived at a critical mass. It’s interesting to me how many mums or parents, like your mother, allowed their children to see these rather challenging movies when they were quite young. But if you recall, children were read “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” as their nightly bedtime stories and in a way, horror movies are the equivalent of that. “Gretel & Hansel” is a retelling of a Grimm fairy tale, it’s our equivalent.

If you think about it, Disney exposed children to themes of death in films that included “Bambi” and “Old Yeller”.

My mother read us that and we all sat on the bed and cried!

You see how a lot of these movies aimed at kids dealt with death in some sort of way. I think it’s a very valuable thing to learn at an early age.

Absolutely. But interestingly, “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” don’t sugar coat it the way Disney does. “Hansel & Gretel” is quite terrifying. And if you think about it, “Red Riding Hood” as well with a fox masquerading as your grandma. They are actually quite horrifying.

You played the witch in “Gretel & Hansel” and while you’ve played a variety of characters over the years in various genres, you seem to be drawn to darker roles. Is that true? And if so, why is that?

No, I’m not drawn to them. Alarmingly, I get cast in them [we both laugh]. Now if you spoke to my husband (filmmaker Paul Schoolman) he would say that was typecasting. But I think that’s a bit harsh, I have played lots of lovely people.

You have [laugh].

The ones that stick in people’s imagination are the terrifying roles. I thought Holda (“Gretel & Hansel”) was terrifying but also heartbreaking because writer-director Oz Perkins told me really early on, “She’s an addict.” There’s this insatiable need and terrible grief and guilt combined that make up this character. That was so helpful to me. I had enormous empathy and sympathy for the character, and I just thought the way the story was interpreted was wonderful because for me it was all about how you choose to use your power in this world. Gretel is left on that cusp of choice. I thought it was a beautifully created piece of art. Every element told the story.

Your latest film “She Will” is also like a piece of art. I thought it was a remarkable debut by Charlotte Colbert.

She’s a very accomplished fine artist. She has a fabulous creative sensibility. Her art addresses aspects of what emerges in “She Will.” She obviously had training in film, but she principally works as an artist and this was her first feature. She’s done, I think, three shorts but this is her feature debut and that sensibility was without question brought to bear on the film. She kind of introduces the language of her art into visual storytelling.

The cinematography is visually stunning.

Jamie Ramsay the cinematographer was key to translating that into a physical reality for the screen. He actually was in many ways immensely helpful in the film because he not only lit it but operated the camera and we shot it very fast. I think I was there for only five weeks. We were shooting in the most extreme circumstances up in the canyons either frozen or ankle-deep in mud. A lot of the time we were on a hillside with a single-track access road where you could go either go up or down, with no two-way traffic so it was a very logistical challenge.

There’s a scene in the film where you create art with mud while in a trance and for the longest time you are just holding the slimy dirt. I was waiting for you to unleash your masterpiece on the canvas.

[laughs] And then it goes! Yeah.

Have you created any art yourself? Maybe a hidden talent. Are you an artist?

No. I’m just an actor.

Well, if this whole acting thing doesn’t work out, you should seriously consider becoming a mud artist.

Okay. Thank you very much but what you see in the film is as good as it gets. [laughs]. I’ll keep that in mind though.

Let’s talk about Dario Argento who is listed as an Executive Producer.

Yes, I think he is a master of filmmaking. I’m reluctant to squeeze him into a horror category, but I think the genre is in a process of mutation or expansion because it seems to be enabling sub-genres. Charlotte Colbert would describe “She Will” as a folk fairy tale which to me is very interesting because it has elements of horror. My character Veronica is going through post-traumatic stress about an incident that happened to her on a film set in the past. It was under the carpet, bottled, and shut away. Trauma has an element of profound horror. I think people who have come back from combat in war or victims of rape experience a psychic horror and that’s as valid as a typical horror in films such as “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

And it’s also more frightening because trauma is real and experienced by so many people.

Yes, no one ever looks at the aftermath or trauma of something like “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. What really happens to the one who gets away? That’s another story. But to get back to Dario Argento, I think he transcends mere labeling.

How did he get involved with the project?

Dario came on board after the film was finished. At the first public screening of “She Will” at the 75th Locarno Film Festival, where it won the Golden Leopard for Best First Film, Dario saw the film and fell in love with it. He met with Charlotte, expressed his love for the film, and offered to help in any way he could which resulted in him attaching his name to the film as “Dario Argento presents.” And it has brought a lot of attention to “She Will.”

I noticed a few elements in “She Will” which seem like they are straight out of an Argento film, from the lighting and camera angles to the use of color.

Charlotte is a great admirer of his and so obviously there are echoes and references and homages to Argento. She clearly had all those references in her mind and I’m sure so did Jamie Ramsay.

You play aging starlet Veronica Ghent, a complex character with many layers. She’s recovering from breast cancer and past trauma that resurfaces. How do you feel about the role and playing such a layered character?

It was a gift of a role to be given and it happened so fast that I really didn’t have time to think, I just had to be there in the moment. But I was enormously helped by Charlotte and by Jamie who after each scene would let me know what the next take needed to be. I was also helped by two women who went through breast cancer including a very dear childhood friend named Jenny who I thought would be able to talk to me about it very easily. When I asked she said, “Hell yeah!” and laid out for me everything she went through. At the end of this very long conversation, she advised me that I had to “Rise like a Phoenix from the ashes” not knowing it was a recurring motif in the film.

What a great coincidence.

So, I immediately called Charlotte and told her about my conversation with a beloved friend and it became a sort of mantra for the film.

Like so many other projects, “She Will” was delayed by the pandemic. How did that affect the film?

The whole process of finishing the film was severely delayed. I think in many ways it worked in the film’s favor. Charlotte had a really long time to sit with the footage that she had. Usually, you have boom-boom three months for the final cut and then you move on to the dub and sound and release but that wasn’t going to happen, not for the foreseeable future. She had a lot of time to look at the imagery that she had captured which was wonderful.

She took a negative and turned it into a positive. Most filmmakers don’t have that kind of time to be able to work on a project.

What a lovely way to look at it. I’ll quote you on that Joe.

Please do.

The other woman that greatly helped me was my fellow actress Kota Eberhardt as Desi. She gave the most nuanced and delicate performance. My character Veronica is so bitter that she builds this impenetrable wall around herself. She’s hurt and incredibly angry and sharp and holds everyone at the greatest distance. Desi, her nurse, who also suffered trauma becomes her strength.

Yes, both characters are dealing with trauma, different kinds but relatable. I like how they are strong for each other but not necessarily for themselves. It’s off each other’s strength that the two of them get through the healing process, together.

Exactly. What was wonderful for me, was that it is the young woman’s generosity of spirit in spite of the hurt she’s suffered and her patience and her empathy that finally brings Veronica to the place where she can trust another human being. She can then be strong for this human being. It’s not often that you see two generations with such a big age gap offering each other redemption which is what it is. She offers her the opportunity to love again. I was so moved by that. Kota delivers a beautiful performance.

The chemistry between both of you feels genuine. Also, the age difference between the two characters never once crossed my mind partly because they are so much alike. It’s a cliché but age truly is just a number. We all have one soul and we’re all human.

That’s wonderful and it is a testament to the fact that it’s about the state of mind and the state of spirit. What I loved about “Gretel & Hansel” and ”She Will” is that film is a medium that has the most extraordinary potential that isn’t always utilized to tell stories about the human experience. Very often I think the industry is frightened of going too far or too deep but sometimes it’s necessary. And people respond when they see something that rings true.

Which is what I love about independent film. The storytelling and the human element. If you took all the supernatural elements out of “She Will” it would still make a compelling story about two women overcoming trauma.

Yes, that’s true.

Viewers may not relate to the circumstances these characters have experienced but we all can relate to some degree of trauma or level of difficulty getting through life.

Yes, if you go back to the ancient Greeks the whole purpose of drama was catharsis so that you would recognize yourself in the human experience. There would be some kind of epiphany and illuminated understanding. If you get offered a part in a film that has the potential of that happening, what a privilege.

I was surprised that this was the first time that you and Malcolm McDowell worked together. You only share one scene together but it’s wonderful to see you two act off each other.

I am so grateful that we finally worked together because Malcolm is fabulous. He is a joy to be with on the set and the quintessential storyteller. He tells these fabulous and hilarious stories. It took me a year and a half to realize that Malcolm has the ability to say things without sounding offensive. He makes you laugh until tears come out of your eyes. It suddenly dawned on me that Malcolm has a genuine innocence as a human being, childlike in the sweetest way possible. He can say things that seem enchanting, yet if anyone else said it would be appalling.

“She Will” is now streaming on Shudder and will be available on Blu-ray and DVD on November 8, 2022

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Joe Friar head and shoulders

Joe Friar

Member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Latino Entertainment Journalists Association (LEJA), the Houston Film Critics Society, and a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.