Wellington classroom makes terrifying TV

SPOOKED: The cast of TV2's The Killian Curse.
SPOOKED: The cast of TV2's The Killian Curse.

Voodoo, vampires and villains are just some of the ingredients of a new series of The Killian Curse. Erin Parke talks to director Thomas Robins about the fun he's having concocting the show.

"This might get me in trouble," warns Thomas Robins. "But if you don't get a couple of parents complaining, maybe you're not doing it right?"

Robins is talking about making television, and in the case of his hit series The Killian Curse, making terrifying TV.

Director Thomas Robins
Director Thomas Robins

The show is a potent mix of curses, voodoo and teenage angst. Throw a psychotic bunny into the mix and you have the kind of viewing guaranteed to disturb some parents.

Robins, the show's director, seems rather gleeful about testing the boundaries of good taste. "I haven't heard of any complaints but I'm sure it's not for everyone."

The Killian Curse follows the adventures of the students of room 21 as they battle super-villain Charles Killian, the school's principal who died in a classroom fire in 1906. He is on a mission to reclaim the souls of 11 students, with the help of his posse of vampires, witches and warlocks.

SCARY HEAD: Super-villain Charles Killian, the school's principal who died in a classroom fire in 1906.
SCARY HEAD: Super-villain Charles Killian, the school's principal who died in a classroom fire in 1906.

The first series proved popular when it screened in 2006.

It is very dark but very funny - just don't mention Hogwarts.

"This ain't no Harry Potter - these kids are way cooler than the Hogwarts crew," Robins says. "They've got to be, because they're good Kiwi kids."

Robins is the kind of creative, slightly oddball character that Wellington does best. You know the sort - pops up as a hobbit in The Lord of the Rings, knows "Peter" (Jackson), is as comfortable propping up Cuba St coffee bars as he is negotiating TV contracts.

He stumbled into acting without training, beginning with a promising scene in Jackson's Heavenly Creatures. The scene was cut from the film, but things went rapidly uphill for Robins.

His resume encompasses some of the most sparkling stuff to be spawned on New Zealand telly - he directed four series of edgy satire Facelift, and starred as the effeminate Mr Morton in Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby.

But The Killian Curse seems particularly close to his heart. Its disturbing themes are made palatable by anarchic, goofy humour. The scene that really made Robins' mother shake her head with despair had a warlock sucking the fat from a student's limbs in the hope of flying - only to over-eat and burst, splattering fat far and wide.

"I really wanted this to be really scary," he says. "I'm not going to put anything too horrendous out there - I've got two young kids myself.

"But I really do think kids are tougher, stronger than we think. Maybe it's irresponsible to say when I'm making kids' TV, but I really think we need to go the other way - to push the limits with what they see."

The show was filmed in Wellington, and its 21 young stars are locals, too. Shooting was a lively affair, with St Patrick's College in Silverstream being converted into a gothic castle, complete with gargoyles and ivy.

"Oh, those guys aged me - it was like having 21 teenagers of my own. They are absolutely fantastic and a really talented bunch, but I did have to do a bit of growling.

"I'd be like, `Guys, you're making me feel like a crusty old schoolteacher when I just want to be the cool director'."

Robins says his background in acting helps him on set, helps him relate to nervous or confused young actors. He prefers to be behind the camera, and is modest about big-time roles that have taken him around the world.

Acting is a tough gig to make pay the bills, he says, though he's been very lucky to score the high-profile roles he has.

"I don't think I'm actually cut out for it as an actor - it's not where my skills lie. Directing is much more me."         

The role of Deagol in The Lord of the Rings launched him into the rather bizarre world of sci-fi/fantasy worship.

"From that one gig I was flown to Europe five times - they pay your way back and forward, just from that one role. It's hard to turn down. But I guess I don't want to wake up - as much as I love acting - I don't want to wake up in 10 years time and be defined by a role I did when I was 30."

Far better be remembered as the guy who introduced psychotic bunnies into New Zealand pop culture.

* The Killian Curse, 4pm Saturdays, TV2.