Bela Kiss: Prologue is a supernatural thriller inspired by the real-life story of the Hungarian serial killer Bela Kiss, who murdered over twenty women in the early twentieth century and stored their bodies in barrels. The Australian actor Angus McGruther who stars in this German film suggests that viewers will “be thrilled, intrigued and maybe a little bit gruesomed-out”.
Bela Kiss: Prologue is not a true story itself, but it is based on and around true events. The film follows five friends who, after robbing a bank, hide out at a secluded hotel where terrible things start to happen. This contemporary narrative is interspersed with flashbacks to the imagined activities of Kiss, drawing from historical facts and taking them in a new direction. McGruther acknowledges that this creativity is possible as “the authorities never found Kiss – there were rumours around at the time that he had escaped, or that he’d fled to America and set a life up there, but no one knows the facts of what happened to him – they never caught him.” He explains that a lot of the appeal for him was the mystery behind the disappearance of Bela Kiss. “When I first read the story it was fascinating that someone can just disappear…Lucien [FЪrstner the writer and director] was fascinated by that as well – what are the possibilities about what could have happened?” Essentially, FЪrstner “took the story and created a fictional case of what could have been, and it’s got a supernatural twist to it”, says McGruther. “It’s a genre film, and you can see the way he’s made it more of a thriller, he’s injected those themes into the story”.
McGruther plays Peter, the larrikin of the group who provides the moments of levity familiar to many horror films. He reveals that “he doesn’t take it all so seriously, until things really become freaky…The audience has much more insight into what’s going on than my character does, to his detriment, I guess”. The story immediately brings to mind parallels with the Australian Bodies in Barrels case, and McGruther suggests that you might see some subtle connections between the two in the film. “There’s a scene where Peter and his girlfriend are out on the grounds of this hotel in the middle of the forest and she sees these barrels that have ‘Gasoline’ written on them – the caretaker of the hotel catches them and he’s this really creepy guy and there’s a moment when you think – what’s going to happen? You really think they’re about to discover something, and if you know the connection between the barrels, well…”
Although Bela Kiss: Prologue is a German production, McGruther explains that its producers wanted to use an international cast and have it set in English. As a result, the film has ties not only to Australia, but also America; for instance, Kristina Klebe who plays lead Julia is from New York but both her parents are German, and Rudolf Martin in the title role of Bela Kiss is recognisable from US series such as 24, Dexter and NCIS. While McGruther is fluent in German, he found the experience of working in two languages at once a difficult one. “While we were shooting the scenes in English, we were being directed in German… they might explain something to me in German and I’d just reply in English because I was so in my head as the character. It became too difficult to keep switching languages so I’d just stick to English”.
McGruther continues to divide his time between Sydney and Berlin, which he describes as “one of Europe’s creative hubs”. He admits his surprise that he could garner work in Germany as an Australian actor, claiming that “it wasn’t my intention to build an acting career there…it just gave me the space to focus on what I love to do.”
Bela Kiss: Prologue is out now on iTunes, Hulu and Amazon. DVD release date TBA.