Friday, 30 May 2014

Vampire Diary

Directors: Mark James, Phil O’Shea
Writer: Phil O’Shea
Producer: Michael Riley
Cast: Morven Macbeth, Anna Walton, Keith-Lee Castle
Country: UK
Year of release: 2007
Reviewed from: screener disc

Lesbian vampires - it’s a surprisingly extensive but unsurprisingly disreputable cinematic subgenre. It all dates back to J Sheridan LeFanu’s classic tale ‘Carmilla’ of course; then you have Hammer’s ‘Karnstein trilogy’, all loosely based on ‘Carmilla’. You have pretty much everything Jean Rollin has ever done and a number of Jess Franco films and Daughters of Darkness and Vampyres and the list goes ever on, eventually disappearing into a murky mass of ultra-low budget crap starring Misty Mundae and chums.

It’s a sort of lowest common denominator movie which simply can’t lose. You get two or three reasonably attractive young women, strip ‘em naked, give ‘em some plastic fangs bought from the local joke-shop and then film them licking and stroking each other. Edit it together into about an hour of softcore footage, tag on ten minutes of opening and closing credits so that it just reaches that magical, Blockbuster-friendly seventy minutes - and hey presto. There is someone, somewhere who will buy that crap. Over and over again.

Vampire Diary, while it is admittedly shot on video and is indeed about two lesbians, one of whom happens to be a vampire, is about as far from the typical ‘lesbian vampire film’ as it is possible to get.

Holly (Morven Macbeth) is a (straight, non-goth) video maker shooting a documentary about ‘weekend vampires’, four friends who are part of the goth/fetish scene and who actually like to pretend they are vampires, with little fake fangs and everything. It’s mostly all in fun, a bit of dress-up that goes just a little further than the normal leather, latex, eyeliner and mascara, although some of the ‘weekend vampires take it a little further still by ‘exchanging’ - cutting themselves for others to drink their blood. Weirdos, the lot of them.

The contrast between ‘vampire’ sub-culture - all Anne Rice novels and Sandman tattoos - and real vampires has been explored before in Jake West’s Razor Blade Smile and in ‘Vampirology’, the best-remembered episode of horror anthology Urban Gothic. As it happens, the lead character in ‘Vampirology’ was played by Keith-Lee Castle who is also Eddie, one of the weekend vampires in this movie. He must have a thing for such roles because he plays Count Dracula, the main character’s father, in BBC kidcom Young Dracula. And he was in a vampire-themed episode of bonkers Canadian-German SF series Lexx, although he only got to play Renfield in that one.

Eddie is a DJ and a bit of a poser, the others are jack-the-lad Brad (Justin McDonald, who was in an episode of Torchwood), sensitive Adam (Jamie King: The River King) and vivacious, voracious Haze (Kate Sissons). One night, when they’re having a little party at Holly’s flat, they are joined by a girl name Vicki (Anna Walton: The Mutant Chronicles, Hellboy 2). Not quite as goth as the others, she seems to have arrived with Eddie but is actually new to the area, as Holly discovers when she reluctantly allows Vicki to crash over.

Over time, Holly’s defences break down. After Eddie is found murdered, she shrugs off Vicki’s hand-on-shoulder with, “Are you trying to console me or fuck me?” - but not long afterwards the two become lovers.

There is a sex scene, actually I think there are two in the film, but they’re very tasteful and while the sight of two young ladies making love cannot help but be arousing, if you’re looking for a lesbo movie to get your rocks off, this ain’t it. The sex scene is also where one of the movie’s conventions breaks down somewhat, which is that everything is seen through the eye of a video camera.

Holly carries her camcorder around with her wherever she goes and there are lots of elements that try to make this look like ‘real footage’: blurred or badly framed shots, wobbly shots that end with the camera being placed on a table, crazy movement as Holly runs. Vicki, for reasons which are never explained, also carries a camcorder and there are some conversations between the two when they stand facing each other, camcorder in hand, and we cut between them like a lesbian horror version of Peep Show.

Although this post-Blair Witch conceit is maintained for the bulk of the film, there are some sequences when we just have to let it go and the sex scene is one. A single, locked-off, left-the-camera-running shot would not have worked so we get a montage of angles and close-ups and just have to accept that it’s what it would have looked like if the ladies had been nimble enough to control several cameras and a live edit suite while they were enjoying the delights of sapphos.

Holly wonders where Vicki goes, late at night - and when Brad goes missing, she starts to suspect. What surprised me was that the revelation of Vicki’s vampiric heritage is not the climax of the film but merely a development about halfway through.

Vicki, we learn, is a real vampire. She has no fangs - they were removed at the age of nine and she casts a reflection and can walk in daylight. Vampires are biological entities, not supernatural beings. They live on the fringes of society, feeding on the lonely and dispossessed. And they need human blood to survive.

In a particularly clever twist, Vicki’s preferred method of despatching her chosen victim is a bolt-gun of the sort used to kill animals in slaughterhouses. I like that idea: it’s a quick, clean kill which allows her to then feed at leisure rather than trying to fight someone, and it requires no ammunition.

Because Holly is now in love with Vicki, she seeks to help her rather than hand her over to the cops and gradually the two begin a downward spiral of destruction with further developments only making their life harder. The relationship and situation are both beautifully observed and we completely accept Vicki’s story - because we’re watching a vampire film. It’s only near the end that the prospect is raised: has Holly - have we the audience - been suckered into believing vampires are real by the charismatic lies of a simple psycho with a taste for blood?

Vampire Diary (shot under the title Vampire Video Diary) is a moving, thought-provoking, occasionally gruesome horror film. That it has a gay relationship at its centre is almost incidental. This would work (although not as well, I suspect) if it was just a Thelma and Louise-style friendship. To be honest, you would need to be an extreme homophobe to not enjoy this is you’re a fan of gritty British horror.

While many films have a director who shares writing credit, this one has a writer who shares directing credit. It’s not clear how Mark James and Phil O’Shea shared out the helming chores but only O’Shea (who wrote Spirit Trap and episodes of Ivanhoe: Dark Knight) gets a writing credit. James’ previous credits seem to all be documentaries, including one about Vincent Van Gogh. Executive producer Margaret Matheson has overseen everything from Sid and Nancy to Space Island One; the other ex.prods are Robert Bevan and Keith Hayley who both worked with Julian Richards on Summer Scars.

Robbie Drake, whose credits include Max Headroom and Nightbreed, provides the prosthetic effects while all the goth hair and make-up was designed by Janine Murphy Franklin. The small amount of CGI blood and stuff was provided by Nick Forshaw (Captain Eager, Jeb's Jobs). Also in the cast are Rupert Baker (London’s Burning) and none other than Hardware/Dust Devil director Richard Stanley who appears in a flashback. (I thought that might be the IMDB up to its old tricks but the producer of Vampire Diary assured me it's the guy.)

The movie premiered in March 2007 at the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival and has been released in the UK by Peccadillo Pictures who specialise (albeit not exclusively) in gay-themed films including an obvious companion piece to this one, gay werewolf chiller The Wolves of Kromer.

MJS rating: B+

Review originally posted 4th June 2007

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

interview: Eileen Daly (1997)

This interview with the always effusive Eileen Daly was conducted on the set of Elisar Cabrera's feature Witchcraft X: Mistress of the Craft, in 1997.
  • Other Eileen Daly interviews: 1998
"What was that other thing we met on? I know I played Miki."

Archangel Thunderbird.
"That was it!"

You don't even know what they're called!
"Yeah, yeah, yeah! I just about have time to look at the script, let alone know what they're called! It was a little while ago and I've done so much since."

Didn't Elisar discover you as an actress?
"He says that. I don't think he did. As a feature film actress, yes he did. He put me in his first feature film. As an actress, no, because I'd already done quite a lot. I'd done a lot of theatre and I'd also done adverts and corporate videos for companies. But my first feature film was Demonsoul. Actually I met Elisar when I was doing a student film and I had to do a nude scene with this dreamboy character. Elisar was on the pay- roll, doing the boom or something, and came up afterwards and said, 'Eileen, I've got a project...' It was about a year and a half, two years after, but we kept in contact because I like him, he's a nice man, and then I did Demonsoul. So it was quite a while from when I first met him to when I actually did Demonsoul."

You're becoming almost a regular on the low-budget horror scene.
"I think it's great, I really do, I love it. I love low-budget. I've never done a big budget really, so I don't know what it's like doing one. Obviously I've done bit parts on big film productions, but I've never had a main lead or a supporting lead. So I don't know what it would be like, but I'm sure it would be brilliant!"

Tell me about your character in this.
"Ah, Raven. Raven is looking for Hyde. Hyde is the warlock. Hyde has been captured and Raven captures him back to do this Spell of Mashenka. She needs this spell to make her all-powerful - she wants to conquer the whole world and then get rid of Hyde. But Hyde's got other plans. He wants to do the spell - but I've got the book - and he wants to then get rid of me and conquer the whole world. But we've just got one little bad penny, and that's Celeste, the good witch, who's trying to stop us both from using the spell to take over the planet. I get killed in the end. Celeste actually kills me, she rips my heart out. Hyde betrays me. It's all fun and games really.

"I got the script about two weeks ago. Read it, liked it. Even if I didn't like it, really, I like working. With Elisar and with a lot of young directors you can always put your two-pence-worth in and say, 'Well, I don't think this works quite well. Could I actually possibly say it this way?' or do something in another way. They're a lot more easy going, so it's more of a family atmosphere that everyone can contribute a little bit if it's going towards making a better film. Whereas I'm sure in a big budget movie, you just get your lines and just do it. There's no question of anything:. 'Excuse me, sir, do you think I should...?' 'No, just do it that way.' Of course there's a lot more money involved. As you know, I do a lot for Redemption..."

Are you still doing the video covers for them?
"Yes, still doing the covers. Actually Redemption's going to make a movie, a Redemption movie, so the character actually comes to life. Nigel's working on it at the moment."

You did those little intros for Bravo.
"Yes, but that's nothing to do with it, that's for Bravo. Now Nigel's working on the movie which is a similar character but it's obviously going to be different costumes. Something you can walk around in! And he's going to mix it in with the millenium. So that should be good. The Bravo things are coming up in November again. Other than that, I've got this and Pervirella and Razor Blade Smile. Razor Blade Smile hasn't been finished yet - it will be finished in Spring next year. Manga's taken it up, and they've invested a lot of money.

"And, I heard through the grapevine - actually through Jake West over the telephone! - that they might put up the money for a sequel. Because Lilith Silver carries on. That was great to work on. And this is great to work on. Much better than Demonsoul because it's more professional and there's been more money put into it. Everyone's been fantastic; we've got some wonderful actors - and Hyde is just a real cheesy one! He's a very kind man and I love working with him."

Have you got any fight scenes with him?
"Actually, no. I've got a love scene with him. I don't actually fight him. He's kind of a big man to fight, so I'd have to have super-super-human strength to pin him down. Because he's a wrestler in real life! But I don't know when this is going to come out. Forbidden Planet have asked me to do some signings near Christmas, so that should be really good. I'll be signing T-shirts, posters, anything really!"

You're becoming Britain's home-grown scream queen now.
"Oh how exciting! I'd love that! I'd like to go on doing this as long as I can. It's just entertainment and I love it."

Would you like to work in America or are you happy here?
"I think both. I'm happy here, I love it, this is my home. But if they invite me over there to do one, of course I'd fly over there because it would be new, it would be different. I'd be meeting new people, working in a different way on different scripts. I'd learn a lot and still entertain. Actually, it's quite interesting really because when I met Hyde and we were sitting there chatting, he's bringing out his new skin-care range. Did he tell you that? And he said he would like me to fly over there and do a video for him. Skin care for vamps! Everything is great. For about three years I didn't work as an actress at all. I was just getting tiny little bit parts. BBC wouldn't touch me with a bargepole. My agent would send my CV in, and my showreel, but I was too glam. Then there was a loophole. Actually I think I developed my own loophole. I worked so hard in trying to get things and I don't know what I did but it came together and created a gap."

Have you got any ambitions to become a serious actress?
"Oh yes, I'd love to."

Do you think the horror work might be holding you back on that?
"Of course not. I don't think so. I am a serious actress. I did Shakespeare last year; I played Lady Anne for Richard III, which was a film. So I do do serious stuff. I do anything, you know! I won't touch pornography and I won't do anything that would ruin what I've built up. But I'll do anything - just give me a script! So yes, I'd love to be a serious actress, I'd love to over to America, but I'll never be a Michelle Pfeiffer and I'll never be a Cher or anything like that. I'm happy to plod along if I never make it and carry on doing this. I don't want to end up, though, as one of those old scream queens. I'd be so sad! I would say 'Shoot me'!

"Do you know what? I was in the post office the other day and I saw Christopher Lee in the queue. I noticed him straight away, but it didn't register. I thought, 'What a good-looking chap that man is.' Then as I looked, I thought, 'Oh my God, that's Christopher Lee! Oh my God!' I was blushing! What a handsome-looking man, and how old is he? Seventy?"

He's so dignified and powerful.
"Yes. As he walked past, he looked - well, most probably he just looked because I've got big tits! - but I smiled. But what a nice-looking man he is. So I'd grow old gracefully and still do films. I love horror, though. I love sci-fi and horror. I'd love to be in Star Trek! I wish we'd make an English one - and I'd be Captain!"

I spoke with Alice Krige about playing the Borg Queen and she said she loved doing it. And she said they tested all the make-up to see if she was allergic to any of it.
"I bet she did. She looked fantastic in that - beautiful! She came down on wires. But that's what a big budget does. They can do that. On little low-budget ones, they put something on your face and you can come up in a rash but you still have to work through it. They haven't got the budget. They've got about 120 quid to spend! Or they use somebody as an extra who they just met in a pub and they're using the same lip-brush, so if that guy or that girl's got herpes on their lips... That is where low-budget and big features are different."

I met Sherilyn Fenn a couple of weeks ago and she had brought her own make-up person with her.
"So she'd know the contours of her face and know exactly what make her look good."

She started off in low-budget things like Zombie High.
"Well maybe this will be a stepping stone to something bigger. I'm terribly terribly proud of everything I've done, it's all close to my heart. The only thing I'm not really proud of - is Demonsoul. Every time I watch it I go... - not that I put it on every night! When people say they've seen it, I go, 'Oh, you poor sod.' But you've got to learn your trade, because you can't learn it in school. You can go to acting school till you're blue in the face. You've got to come out and actually be able to do it. You've got to have screen presence, there's loads of bits. It's all got to go like a big cake and gell in. If it doesn't gell in, you could be the most fantastic actress in the world, but you don't work on screen."

How did you get involved in Tony Luke's project?
"I was doing - what was I doing? - it was - you're going to say, 'Oh Eileen, you do rabbit!' Oh, I know! I was sitting there saying 'Ten Saturns' for the Sci-Fi Channel: 'Ten Saturns I give that film.' And that's how I met Steve. I reviewed a couple of feature films. And Tony went to him with this idea. He said, 'I'm really looking for Miki', so he said, 'Why don't you get Eileen Daly in? She'll be a good Miki for you.'"

'She'll do any old rubbish'. Or rather: 'she's a diverse actress'.
"Of many talents. So Tony got in touch with me and said, 'Do you want to do it?' 'Yeah!' It was quite good, because I met Doug Bradley. He's a nice bloke. I often thought of him as quite gothic, but he's just a normal man, isn't he?"


Wednesday, 21 May 2014

interview: Jake West (2009)

My longest, most detailed interview with Jake West to date was done in May 2009, shortly before the release of Doghouse. A very heavily edited version of this was published in the late, lamented DeathRay magazine.
Let’s pick up where we left off. You made Pumpkinhead 3: a bigger budget than you had before but with the constraints of the Sci-Fi Channel format.
"Which tied my hands in many ways, because it was a made-for-cable project. The Sci-Fi Channel have a lot of strange rules which you have to get familiar with when you do a project for them. You can’t have any real swearing, well, any swearing, because of Middle America and the Bible Belt. You can’t have any drug use."

All the things we look for in one of your films!
"Exactly. So that took a lot of the ‘Jake West stuff' out."

Was it a positive experience for you, working on that film?
"It was a positive experience. Any film you get to make is a pleasure, in terms of learning, from the point of view of the director. You don’t get good at making films by not making them, you get good at them by making them. Certainly, making a Sci-Fi Channel film is very hard work. We’re shooting in Romania with a crew that don’t speak English. We shoot for 19 days and we don’t have the creature shoot ready until the eleventh day. All these things that tend to make you think quite practically about how you’re going to get thing made. So from that point of view, the pleasure was that I got to work with Lance Henriksen and Doug Bradley. You met the guys doing the creature effects, Gary Tunnicliffe’s guys. They were fantastic. There was lots of positives and also there was lots of difficult stuff."

Were Sci-Fi Channel happy with the film?
"Sci-Fi Channel as far as I know were very happy with it. It got reasonable ratings and it’s a film that they can keep on screening every Halloween. Certainly the feedback we got was good and the lady from the Sci-Fi Channel said to me if I wanted to make more stuff for them she could get me some work. To be hired as a film-maker is a great way to make a living and anyone who moans about it, there’s something wrong with them. But obviously as a film-maker, my ambitions are beyond work-for-hire projects - and that’s why something like Doghouse is such a breath of fresh air.

“Working on the script with Dan Schaffer, we developed that over a year and it had the kind of love and attention that you want these kind of films to have. Pumpkinhead had to be done very quickly on a budget. It was more money than I’d had but you’re paying for a full crew, you’re shooting in a foreign country. It was only $650,000 or something like that so it wasn’t a huge budget. It just felt a lot for me. Because we had, like, film cameras! You came out to the set and I think you saw that we were enjoying it."

Absolutely. I had a good time.
"For me, one of the most disappointing aspects was the very shoddy CGI. I shot all of those plates assuming that the creature that was going to be put in was actually going to be quite reasonable. Now I know Sci-Fi Channel sometimes have cheap CGI but the stuff in Pumpkinhead was like Playstation 2. I was very, very disappointed with that work - which I had no opportunity to do anything about, unfortunately. It was all added in after the edit was finished. It was just dropped in and it was just soul-destroying to see that, because obviously a lot of people commented. And quite rightly so because it wasn’t good enough. So that very much turned me off CGI. That’s why, with Doghouse it’s pretty much all make-up and character effects."

So what were your career options after Pumpkinhead was finished?
"Well, what Pumpkinhead did, because I got paid for it, rather than a film like Evil Aliens or Razor Blade Smile where I had to invest my own time and effort and hope I might get something back one day. Which is not a way of making films and making a living and that’s why I do all the Nucleus work as well, because it generates some cash, and I hire myself out as a freelance editor. Whatever way I can earn money between projects is a way of being able to develop the next project. What Pumpkinhead really did is it afforded me enough money to spend some time developing a project without needing to go off and find other work.

“That’s where Doghouse obviously benefited. It meant I wasn’t distracted in trying to develop Doghouse and having to do a lot of other things at the same time. And working with Dan Schaffer was an absolute pleasure because we just click and are on the same level. It was a pleasure for me not to have to write. I’ve always had to get involved with writing my stuff because I couldn’t afford to hire a writer. I love structuring stuff but the actual writing process isn’t my naturally favourite part. I’m not saying that I won’t write again but certainly working with Dan was such a pleasure for me because he’s such a good writer in my opinion. That’s why, when we sent the script out, it got picked up before we’d even shot a frame. For an independent film, that’s virtually unheard of, certainly in the UK."

How did you and Dan Schaffer get together?
"Basically it was just by pure luck. I did an interview about Evil Aliens for a magazine called Alternative London, which you may be aware of or not."

I can’t say it’s made it up to Leicester.
"It was available in Camden Market and other places. The journalist on that was a goth girl called Secky - Secretia - and she was just great. We hit it off when we were just chatting. We did the interview and then had a couple of glasses of wine and carried on talking about stuff because we had a lot in common. She said, ‘Have you ever read Dogwitch?’ I said, ‘No, what’s Dogwitch? That sounds cool.’ She said, ‘You’ll absolutely fucking love it, it’s the most hilarious amazing thing!’ When she told me that one of the reviewers who had read Dogwitch had likened it to Evil Dead II, I thought hold on, I’m in.

“So she said, ‘Look, I’m friends with Dan Schaffer, the guy who writes it. I think he really loves Evil Aliens as well but I’ll check and I’ll get you one of his comics to read.’ Naturally she just thought that we would click and her perception was correct. I said, ‘If you can get me a copy that would be fantastic, if that’s cool.’ And I thought maybe I’ll never hear from her again, maybe it’s the wine talking and that’s the end of it. But literally the next week, she said, ‘I’m in Camden, are you home?’ And she dropped off the first two volumes of the Dogwitch graphic novels. And I read it and immediately got back to her.

“I thought it was absolutely fantastic, some of the best and funniest stuff I had read in a comic book for ages. And I loved Dan’s artwork as well. He’s a great visualist and a great writer which gives him a big advantage I think. Because I loved it, I got in contact independently with Dan Schaffer and said, ‘I think your book’s brilliant, I’m friends with Secretia, if you’re around let’s have a drink.’ And we hooked up, just on that chance meeting. So it was a bit like meeting you and you recommending a bit of work and then meeting the creator of that work. So it was one of those very, very fortunate situations. If that hadn’t happened, we wouldn’t have Doghouse."

Whose idea was it?
"Dan came up with the initial idea when his girlfriend had a really bad cold or really bad flu - and he thought she looked a bit like a zombie! Then we were just throwing some ideas about. I can’t remember this a hundred per cent clearly but I remember us saying what if a bloke had a really bad cold: it would be man-flu. Then that introduced the whole gender thing because Dan is very interested in gender politics and a lot of his work has dealt with that. I think the idea of something we could then genderise and have a battle of the sexes subtext in, seemed a hilarious idea for a horror film. Certainly for a zombie film, it seemed a very fresh way of doing the zombie idea in a way that we haven’t seen done before.

“Then you say hold on, has it not been done before? Let’s just check. Literally, it was something we felt had not been done before. Subsequently I found out, from reading things on the internet, that some people think Doghouse is ripping off Jack Ketchum’s Ladies Night. Ladies Night is a project that Stuart Gordon was developing for some time. I met Stuart, ironically; I was on the jury with him at the Fantastic’Arts Gerardmer international film festival in 2008. We were both jury members. I was telling him about Doghouse and he said, ‘Oh, I developed this thing called Ladies Night.’

“But I didn’t know it was a Jack Ketchum novel and things like that. So on the internet I’ve been reading some people saying it’s a rip-off of that but it isn’t, it’s an original idea by Dan Schaffer. Jack Ketchum’s stuff is very, very violent, visceral, super-nasty. But Doghouse was developed very much as a horror-comedy idea with a real sense of Britishness about it. So I hope that it’s not like Ladies Night. It’s always weird when you’re doing something you think is original and then other people starting saying you’re ripping something else off. That’s certainly the case here."

What is curious that you’ve got ‘lads go away into the countryside and face off against female zombies’; Lesbian Vampire Killers has ‘lads go away and face off against female vampires’; and the film I saw after I met you the other week, The Scar Crow, has a bunch of lads in the countryside against female ghosts. There’s a microgenre developing there!

"That’s interesting. It’s kind of weird because obviously all horror films to some extent have virtually the same set-up: a bunch of people go somewhere and they get trapped and something happens to them. That’s virtually every horror film. Sometimes it’s weird that you might get a cycle of films. But The Scar Crow is a very independent film so obviously most people aren’t going to be aware of that. Not that it doesn’t deserve attention but it’s not going to be in the public eye.

“Whereas something like Lesbian Vampire Killers is obviously something which had a huge marketing budget and had a massive presence because it had Horne and Corden, popular comedians. Unfortunately for that film I think the Corden-Horne bubble had burst. It seemed that their TV series didn’t live up to expectations. As I said to you, I really enjoyed Lesbian Vampire Killers on the level of it being just a comedy but I didn’t think it was a horror film particularly. It didn’t have much horror content in it. Doghouse is genuinely a horror-comedy whereas I would say that Lesbian Vampire Killers is a comedy with some... vampires in it!"

Is the horror-comedy balance in Doghouse about the same as you had in Evil Aliens?
"I think the horror-comedy balance in Doghouse is probably better than it was in Evil Aliens, in a sense, because the capability of the performers in Doghouse allows them to create much more realistic characters who are believable as this group of guys. Whereas I think Evil Aliens was much more a deliberate splatstick. We didn’t have any really accomplished actors, it was just for the glee and gore and fun. Evil Aliens was my homage, my love letter to all the movies that I loved as a kid. And obviously people who got that really got on board with it and loved it and people who hated it criticised it for not being original enough and for being too influenced by things, I can understand where they’re coming from with that but the spirit of Evil Aliens was just to have a good time.

“I think with Doghouse what we’ve got is a better storyline and better actors that will bring out subtext - and the subtext is in many ways what will bring out the humour. The humour of the situation comes from the fact that you’re finding these believable guys caught up in this fantastical situation which kicks off. Because they respond to it in a more believable way, I think the humour is funnier. It’s the opposite of the humour in Evil Aliens, in a sense, which was just through the splatstick nature of the thing and the absolute over-the-topnesss of everything.

“Certainly with something like Lesbian Vampire Killers, every scene felt comedic. None of it was played for being real. They were treating things as a joke so therefore the whole film was a joke and it did feel more jokey. I don’t think Doghouse has that flavour. I’m very reticent to compare Doghouse to something like Shaun of the Dead because it’s the obvious example that everyone always quotes, because it‘s the most successful British film of the last x years or whatever in the genre. It’s a tired comparison really but what I do feel is that tonally Doghouse is much more on a level of Shaun of the Dead. Because Shaun of the Dead had beautifully observed performances. You can see how comedy can work at a higher level when performances are that good.

“You’ve had a little glimpse, a little taster of Doghouse and hopefully you’ve got a sense of where that’s going to go. Like I say, I feel that when you see the whole film, you’ll hopefully understand that, although Evil Aliens and Doghouse are two sides of the same coin, they’re definitely different sides of the same coin. How you can do something with more money and better actors and a better storyline. I think Doghouse is a better film. Not that I dislike Evil Aliens, I just think Doghouse has a better chance to cross over more to the mainstream and connect with people who certainly wouldn’t see a film like Evil Aliens. By having our cast - Danny Dyer, Noel Clarke, Stephen Graham - we can reach that mainstream audience.

“Also I think the female audience will enjoy it. At the moment, with the way the film’s being marketed, that’s perhaps not clear to the female audience. But what the women will get out of it - and a lot of girls who’ve seen the film love it - is that you get to see these blokey blokes terrorised by these women. There’s this feeling. We’re on the edge of this gender politics thing. There has to be an edge to it. Yes, Danny Dyer’s character is a jack-the-lad, he is a misogynistic character, but he suffers because of his views. We do discuss the gender politics in it and it does have a brain in it as well - disguised as a funny, gory horror-comedy. You know, the better horror-comedies work when there’s a little bit more beneath the surface. And there’s not really that many examples. The best ones I can think of are American Werewolf in London and Shaun of the Dead. I think Severance was on the way as well."

I have always maintained that an effective horror-comedy is one where, if you take the comedy element out, you still have a decent horror movie.
"I agree with you there, Mike. Certainly when you’re watching Doghouse you’ll know you’re watching a horror film, because it is very much ‘in genre’ still. Where I will liken it to Evil Aliens is that I make my films with a love of the genre and that’s definitely there. And it’s proud to be in that genre. I think where some films go wrong is that they’re a bit embarrassed about being in the genre. If you look at Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, those guys love the genre, they know their references. They have respect for the genre, despite doing it as a comedy. Whereas I think Lesbian Vampire Killers felt more like it was a spoof and I think that’s always a danger.

“When I saw Lesbian Vampire Killers, it was a fun movie but it felt more like a Carry On film than it did like a Hammer film. Although the production design was very good and I enjoyed lots of different bits of it. But it was just a comedy at the end of the day. It didn’t feel like it had a big horror influence. I met Phil Claydon who’s a terrific bloke and I don’t want to say a bad word about the film because a lot of people just slagged it off. I know how difficult it was for him to get the film off the ground and make it, and all the things that people don’t appreciate.

“Obviously that film has become a bit of a target, which may cause us some problems because everyone’s going to want to compare this to LVK, which would be a bad comparison. But you just know that a lot of lazy journalists who don’t like the genre will tar it with that brush, probably in a negative way just because they want to. Which does piss me off a bit because of obviously the amount of work that you have to put into a film to get it to this level. But hopefully Doghouse will reach a wider audience because of who’s in it and the fact that it’s having a lot of support and a wide release. We’ll see.”

Moving back a bit, what happened after you and Dan Schaffer had written the Doghouse script?
"We’d finished writing the script and we’d done a couple of drafts of it before we were ready to show it to people. Just by pure chance I got invited to a photo shoot for a magazine about UK rising film talent. Somehow I got recommended by somebody! I don’t normally get put on those kind of things. Ironically, I think the magazine went bust before they did the article. But on that shoot I met Terry Stone who was one of the executive producers of Rise of the Footsoldier. He had done that with Carnaby Films and he was looking for some other projects.

“He knew that I’d done Evil Aliens and he knew I had a bit of a following with the horror audience and he was interested in any kind of horror stuff that I had. And I said your timing is pretty good because I’ve just finished developing this with Dan Schaffer and told him about Dan and what we had done. He said, ‘That sounds fantastic,’ and I said, ‘I’ll tell you what, I’ll give you first look at it and you can decide yourself whether you like it and whether you want to get involved.’ Because he was saying that he felt he may be able to get some money together. Because he had a company called Hanover Films that raised money for stuff.

“Basically, he read the script and the next day he got back to me, which once again is very unusual in the film industry. Normally when someone says they’re going to get back to you, you never hear from them again. And he absolutely loved it and he said, ‘Look, my company Hanover can put some money in towards the budget of this. And I’d like to take this into Carnaby because they raise money through EI schemes.’ He did that and it became a Carnaby/Hanover production because the guys at Carnaby loved it and they fast-tracked it. Then they started raising money. When I say ‘fast-tracked’, obviously it took them about a year to raise the money but that just meant we could develop the script even more. So after that I didn’t need to ship it to anyone else because it got attention straight away.

“When Carnaby came on board and they raised money for the production, they sent the script away to Sony who came on board as distributors straight away before we’d even shot a frame. Normally you don’t do any deal on your distribution for an indie film until you’ve shot it, and then you take it to festivals or you have special screenings. You know what it’s like and how hard it is for indie films to get distribution on board."

At what point did the film get cast?
"The film got cast, in essence, once we had finished the fund-raising with Carnaby, which took a bit longer than we had hoped. Because there was no point going out and casting until we knew we had all the money in place. The casting process started quite early because I really wanted to cast the net and try to get as good a cast as possible. So we spent a couple of months casting it. But obviously landing a name was really key to getting people excited about it. Interestingly enough, the first person we actually got on board for the film was Jimi Mistry from The Guru and East is East. He was the first biggish name we had on board because he loved the role of Graham. He was on board and then a few other actors started hearing about it.

“We worked with casting director Jane Frisby and that started creating a little wave of fun and people started reading it and realised it was really good. Then Danny Dyer came on board and once Danny was on board it all started rolling from there. We saw a lot of people and when Noel came in I was very surprised that he was interested because he hadn’t done anything like this. He’d done Doctor Who obviously but he hadn’t done anything in the horror genre.

“He came in just for a meeting to discuss what part he might be interested in and I was thinking I don’t know if he’ll really dig it. But he came in and he absolutely loved it. He was so enthused about the project, it was fantastic. Because he had just directed Adulthood which was very different and obviously had done very well at the UK box office. So he came in and he just loved it, then we got him back to do a reading with Stephen Graham and Danny Dyer, to see how the chemistry would work. So he was great and from there we had our bigger names in.

“The hardest part to cast was Vince because in many ways that’s the hardest role in the film. He’s the one who’s depressed because he’s getting divorced. That character has to play all very ‘in’ so we needed an actor who could handle that but it wasn’t a showy role. There was a big development, a big character arc on Vince. So we wanted someone really solid for that and it was only finally the week before shooting that we finally managed to do the deal with Stephen Graham. Stephen came in at the eleventh hour really because we were talking to people who had other commitments.

“By which point we then lost Jimi Mistry because Roland Emmerich was shooting his movie in Vancouver and offered him silly money to go out and do that but that interfered with our shooting dates. So we then had to recast the role of Graham and Jimi had kindly recommended Emil Marwa who was also in East is East with him. So he came in and did a fantastic reading so we got Emil involved. But I think two of the real finds for the film were Keith-Lee Castle and Lee Ingleby. Obviously they’ve done stuff before but they’re not names and they’re both fantastic actors. I’ve seen Keith in Seed of Chucky and his Urban Gothic thing."

He does vampires all the time. He’s the dad in Young Dracula.
"That’s right. Young Dracula I wasn’t familiar with because it’s a kids’ thing but I found out about it later and watched it and thought it was really funny."

He’s in Vampire Diary too.
"That’s right. I hadn’t seen Vampire Diary. So we got him in and he brought this unusual energy to this part. He plays this role absolutely beautifully, he’s like an ex-goth guy who’s had a job in the city and he’s actually in the middle of his own breakdown, trying to cure himself with self-help tapes. Because all of the lads are so focussed on trying to cheer up Vince, they don’t notice that he’s really slipped away. He does a fantastic performance in the film, really brilliant, and he was a smashing actor to work with, a really lovely guy. Then Lee Ingleby, he’s a rising star that guy. A really amazing performance; he knows how to bring a lot of humanity into stuff and make it seem very real, and how to play the comedy. Just one of the best actors I’ve worked with in his natural instincts."

What about casting Emily Booth, was that something you wanted to do anyway?
"Having worked with her on Evil Aliens, working with Emily’s great because she’s fun to have around. Also she loves horror and she knows horror. I was telling her about the film as I was developing it. When I was speaking with Dan, because he liked her in Evil Aliens, we were thinking well let’s get her in as one of the zombird characters. She loves horror. Let’s give her a character where there’s not loads of dialogue because that’s not her strength. She’s not really an actress-actress, she’s somebody who’s got into acting through her other work. Rather than give her more dialogue stuff, play to her strengths and give her a really memorable horror character.

“So we actually designed the character of the Snipper based on her. If you look at the concept drawings, he had pictures of Emily. The character was made for her really. And because she’s got a great fanbase in the horror community and she does lots of stuff for Zone Horror and for Frightfest, it just seemed a brilliant way of working with her again and getting somebody involved who loves horror films. Certainly none of the guys on the set were complaining with Emily there, she’s a laugh to have around."

Who did you get to do all your make-up effects?
"The make-up effects were done by Karl Derrick. I’m sure you’re aware of his work. He was make-up supervisor on Terry Gilliam’s The Brothers Grimm, he worked on some of the Harry Potter films, he did 1408 with John Cusack. The guy’s done a lot of work and he was very, very good. We needed a make-up artist who could do stuff as good as you could get it. Obviously with zombie make-up we’re all used to seeing a certain level of zombie make-up. But this had to be stuff that had character design in it as well. You saw a lot of the concept drawings, Mike. We did all those concepts, which were incredibly helpful when we were taking the work out to tender to the make-up companies because they could see exactly what we were trying to achieve: this is pretty much where we want it to go. Obviously the budget will affect what can and can’t be done, but let’s talk about it and how would you do it?

“Karl had wanted to work with me on Pumpkinhead originally and had put a pitch in on that but he just couldn’t compete with the cost that Gary Tunnicliffe could do. Gary had an outfit that had done a lot of films in Romania and had an infrastructure there so he could do that for a lot less than somebody coming over from the UK. Basically, Karl just couldn’t afford to do that, the building of the full creature and all the rest of it, on the budget that they had. In the end I don’t think Gary made any money on Pumpkinhead, I think he just did it because he fancied the idea of doing the new Pumpkinhead. He didn’t really make a profit out of it as far as I can tell. So anyway, I knew Karl and was enthusiastic to work with him. He was the only guy who came in and basically showed how he could structure it. We had a lot of performers who needed a lot of make-up. He needed a lot of make-up artists who were going to be doing the applications and the sculpts. It was a huge job.

“Carnaby had never done a horror film before so they didn’t really understand the process. We needed to start all that make-up work ages before we started shooting. We needed twelve weeks’ prep time as well but they’re not used to that sort of thing. They’re used to doing a few weeks’ pre-production on their other films. This needed about twelve weeks’ pre-production on the make-up and about six weeks’ normal pre-production. But also the village of Moodley was another thing because that took two months to build. So this film was logistically far bigger than anything they had ever done. It wasn’t the biggest budget of anything they’d ever done because there was The Last Drop. But this was by far the biggest logistical film that they had ever done.

“And it needed more forethought, so therefore we needed the right heads of department for this. That’s why getting Karl involved, and his level of experience, became invaluable. And having Matt Button, the production designer, who had worked with Carnaby before. We went on numerous location reccies, trying to find Moodley, with Matt and he’s the one who eventually found the hospital for us. He was doing another shoot for a Sky job and he found this place. No-one had ever shot on it before until he arrived there and he went, ‘Right, we could turn this place into a village,’ because we’ve been looking all over the place. We had been inspecting disused airfields.

“Just trying to get permission for what we wanted to do would have been impossible in any normal town or village. They don’t want you blowing stuff up at night, a huge amount of noise, zombirds screaming and attacking. It became a practical thing to try and build a real village. It was really nice and quite magical to see this place being built before you. That was a really great thing but that took a long time to sort out as well. It meant that we could do things properly and we could think about them and plan it so it would work for the shoot, which was really nice. Unlike Pumpkinhead where you turn up in Romania, all the Romanians tell you you can do things and then you turn up on the day and they go no you can’t do that. Which isn’t a very nice way to work. This way, we could plan it and be certain about what we could achieve."

In terms of logistics, from your point of view as the director, was it a lot bigger than you had done before?
"Oh yes, absolutely. It’s always difficult when you’re doing something with a big ensemble cast anyway, which I’d learnt on Evil Aliens. Because in Evil Aliens we had several main characters and the way I wrote it was so that they got split up fairly quickly. Because I knew how much hassle it is directing large groups of people all the time. If you’re doing a dialogue scene with seven or eight people in it, it actually is quite complicated because of all the eye-lines. It’s the kind of thing that when you’re watching it you obviously don’t really think about but when you’re shooting, it becomes important. When you’re working with good actors, you’ve got to make sure that each of them gets their coverage. Just stuff like that.

“So Doghouse was a logistical challenge from the point of view that we had a large amount of characters who stayed together for quite a while. When you see the film (and this is a spoiler) none of the guys get killed until the third act. Because we were trying to really make people like these characters before anything happens to them. So they get away from narrow escapes and you get some other kills but not them. So it was designed to work slightly differently. So yes, logistically it was tricky to film. Plus with all the make-up times involved. Sometimes we would have a lot of zombirds in their make-up and they would all need three or four-hour make-up application time. So it just means that the production has to be very. very well organised.

“The advantage of having money is obviously you can then afford to have the right amount of people applying the make-up. We had a good line producer who was Gerry Toomey, who’s incredibly experienced, who made sure that all that stuff ran like clockwork. So that’s working with experienced people and having a bit of money. If you can’t do that on a low budget, what tends to happen is people say they can’t do it or they turn up late or whatever. On low-budget films it’s actually a lot harder. But on Doghouse we had two million pounds. Even though that’s still a low-budget film, we had the budget to pay people and we had the right people there. That meant that you can be the captain of the ship and not have to do lots of other jobs at the same time. Whereas on Evil Aliens I was bloody unloading the van. That is an appreciable difference which is great because it means you can concentrate more on your job. Which is how you want to work as a director."

Was there anything that you wanted to get in the film but which, for whatever reason, you couldn’t get in there?
"There was a scene that we really, really wanted to shoot but we had to drop just because we literally didn’t have enough time. The thing that fucked us most when we were shooting Doghouse, and it was an incredibly successful shoot. By being on that hospital complex, which we effectively turned into a studio, everyone was staying up there as well as filming there. We had our own village! It was amazing, it was like shooting a film in Pinewood but you’re living there as well. So when you get up in the morning you’re on set, which is incredible. You don’t have any travelling time or anything. What did fuck us was that we had really, really terrible weather last summer.

“It was raining virtually all the time. Which meant that we kept on getting behind schedule because we couldn’t fucking shoot because we were waiting for the rain to stop. We were doing night shoots and obviously at that time of year you don’t get super-long nights. We were shooting August-September so the night would only last a certain amount of time and then as soon as it gets light you can’t shoot. If it’s raining at a certain heavy density you just can’t shoot because it starts reading. We had already come up with the idea, we did a wet-down every day on the town because we knew that it might rain. In England you can pretty much assume it will at some point. So we established the look fo the wet-down which is really good for the lights anyway because it brings everything to life a lot more.

“But we had a lot more rain than we thought so we got a bit behind schedule. And there’s a sequence that Dan really loved which involved a fire extinguisher. It had a bit of an elaborate gag where they jump down some stairwells using this fire extinguisher and they’re going to use it to hose back the zombirds in the church. It gets turned on and it’s a metaphor, another one of Dan’s metaphorical things. All this elaborate thing kicks off and they get it into position. They turn it on and only a tiny drip of water comes out. It’s like the males showing that their virility isn’t what they think it is. It ends up with: ‘Look Vince, you’re firing blanks, mate - let’s get out of here!’ It was a nice little scene, it was only about a page and a half, but it was actually quite elaborate to film so it kept on getting bumped on the schedule so that was something that had to get dropped.

“Obviously there were other things in there that did get dropped, when you go to your pre-production meetings and you start going through the script. There’s another sequence where we had a fight out on some roadworks in the middle of the road. But we would have had to create this huge area of roadworks. There would have been a big hole in the ground, and stuff like that logistically was just going to be too expensive for us to do. So it got dropped a bit earlier. But Dan was on hand all the time so whenever we encountered a problem we were rewriting the script with him there. Because he was there as we were shooting and he never stopped writing, so if there were any problems it just meant that we could work our way around it and still have the right people making those decisions. So it was very organic in the way that we developed the film.

“Whereas normally you can’t do that. On a film like Evil Aliens, if something goes wrong, you haven’t got any time to rewrite, you’ve got to figure a way of either making it work or just dropping it. With this, we managed to keep all of our core ideas in and not lose anything really important. There were a couple of night scenes that got dropped but that’s just the reality of any project. Once again, there’s a finite amount of money you’ve got for something. Of course you want it to be as big and as good as it can but you’ve got to be realistic about what you’ve got to achieve and the time you’ve got to do it. We had six week to shoot Doghouse which is quite a lot more than the 19 days I had for Pumpkinhead. So that was nice and that helped the shoot. Shooting is what really eats up the budget because you’ve got to pay your crew and your actors for the time you’re shooting, and it’s amazing how quickly that money goes when you’ve got a full crew down there."

You are an editor - so is the post on a film like this as much a part of the process as the actual shooting?
"Absolutely. I think that really, in fact, in any film that you do, the true art of film really comes into it in the editing room a lot of the time. That’s where you make the final decisions on things. That’s where you give it its shape and its timing. That’s the soul of a film, the editing. I think it’s one of the most important processes and a process that’s unique to film: the manipulation of time and space in vision and sound. It’s what make films unique and I think to ignore the power of that is foolish.

“I love that process, I absolutely love editing. I couldn’t wait to actually get into the editing room. Also, as a director, it’s a pleasure because all of a sudden you’re in a room and the film is yours again. For that period, the film is yours and you can play around with it. You can do that and it’s great when it comes together in a way that you really want to see it come together. From what you’ve shot, seeing it evolve like that. That’s one of the big pleasures of film-making, I think."

I understand you shot this film on the Red camera.
"It was shot on the Red, yes."

What advantage did that give you?
"On Pumpkinhead we shot on 35mm and obviously I loved the aesthetic of it but it does mean that you’re always worried about not being able to shoot so much, especially when you’ve got a limited budget. It gets to the point where you have enough money that it makes no difference but on a two million pound budget it can make a difference. On a horror film where you have a lot of characters and you need to get a certain amount of coverage. Shooting film, we were looking at the costs of it and it was getting a bit too expensive. And it would have meant that we could only have shot with one camera as well.

“The advantage of shooting with the Red - we were one of the first films to shoot with the Red because it was just becoming popular at that point; not a lot of people had used it. The producers were quite concerned about that because they hadn’t shot Red before so they were saying, ‘Are you sure we should be testing it?’ Because it was still in one of its beta builds when we were using it. What inspired my confidence in it was when we found Jeff Brown who was our Red guy. He was the guy we had on set who was going to be there if we had any problems. He’s an owner-operator, he had the kit but he’s one of the few people in the UK who’d been speaking with Red from the very beginning. He had one of the first cameras and he’d been updating it. Basically the guy’s a complete geek who knows everything about Red, so when something did go wrong it could instantly get addressed.

“Whereas some producers who had had difficulties with the camera just didn’t have that person on set. They thought that they could solve things themselves if they had trouble - and you can’t, you need somebody who’s a real tech-head. So we had no problems with the Red camera at all because we had the right person there so if there were any potential issues it was just solved straight away. We had him there all the time and he was the guy doing all the data transfer at the end of the day. He set up a system where we had our room with computers and hard drives in it in arrays. We would shoot drives and he would be uploading footage during the day, everything was being checked. Which was brilliant because it means that as soon as you’ve finished your day’s shooting you can go and watch your rushes - at full spec!

“Which is fantastic, it gives you a lot of confidence in what you’re shooting. The advantage of shooting onto hard drives means you can keep the cameras rolling and shoot as much as you want. The other advantage was it meant we could afford to have two cameras all the time on set, so I could shoot two cameras rather than one camera. Which once again gives you an advantage because when you get to the editing room you’ve got all that extra footage. I was reading an interview with John Woo the other day. A lot of people say, ‘Oh, John Woo’s style is amazing.’ He said: ‘I shoot with as many cameras as possible because I don’t know how I want to cut it until I go into the editing room. I’ll shoot with different cameras, all shooting at different speeds, and later on I’ll decide how I want to do it.’

“So he doesn’t actually plan his edit because he doesn’t like storyboarding. And John Woo shoots with up to 17 cameras! Now, it’s interesting when you start hearing stuff like that. I really plan my stuff, plan it to be shot in a certain way. I’ve never had the privilege of thinking: what would happen if I shot with 17 cameras? Obviously his films are incredibly well edited and John Woo is a visionary director, I’m not taking that away from him. But to me, to shoot with two cameras was great! That meant we could shoot with two cameras all the time. We didn’t always use the second camera; sometimes when you’re shooting the intimate dialogue scenes you only need one person. But when we were shooting any action we shot with two cameras which was great.

“We shot the zombirds with high-speed lenses and we shot in 2.35:1 cinemascope. So we were shooting with exactly the same lenses we would have shot with if we were using 35mm film. The lenses were just beautiful. And shooting in the 2.35:1 ratio, I’ve always wanted to shoot in that ratio and Doghouse was perfect for it because we’ve got six or seven guys so you’ve got frames to fill with a lot of characters. You get these lovely shots of them all in frame at the same time. It’s really lovely to shoot in that aspect ratio."

What sort of push is Sony putting behind this? There’s about a month to go and there’s not been a lot about it so far.
"Well, obviously Sony made the decision to release it at the head of summer rather than waiting for an autumn slot because their opinion is that it will do better if it comes out quick. The downside of that is then, obviously I only finished the film on Friday. That means with the print deadlines and stuff, there’s no way they’re going to get that sorted. Because, as you know, print deadlines are two to three months ahead. That means they’re taking a risk on it. You’re not going to get the kind of coverage that you would like. I feel a bit disappointed in that sense but they have committed to a £600,000-£700,000 P&A spend which means there will be a big print campaign and a big television campaign."

Is it going on the sides of buses?
"I don’t know. I’m waiting to find out what their campaign is. We’re having a screening of the film tomorrow and I think they’re going to talk about what that media campaign is then. I haven’t been really very involved in it because I’ve been doing the film! Literally we mixed the trailer last week as well, while we were doing the film, because that was running behind time as well. So trailers are now out in cinemas I believe. There’s been about 600 trailers gone out to cinemas around the country. I’m told it’s a 200-screen release, a proper nationwide release with a substantial TV and print campaign.

“They are spending money on it so I’m assuming that people will know about the film. But obviously the internet and websites is the primary way of getting the word out. How effective that is in the time span we’ve got remains to be seen. Obviously I want to do everything I can to ensure that people hear about the film but obviously they do have their own PR team. Sony are using Vertigo to release the film independently in the UK because they handle a lot of their own independent releases. So Vertigo and Sony are the ones guiding that hand. I’m always worried about these things because I don’t like it when things feel as if they’re being rushed. To me, the film is finished and I’m very happy with the final result of the film."

Do you think it’s something that might do okay in the cinema and then pick up more on DVD?
"With these kinds of films, to a certain extent the DVD is always going to be the market where it’s expected to do better. If it does well at the cinema then that’s unusual because, as you know, most British films don’t do very well at the cinema. But because they’re going out on 200 screens and because of the cast we’ve got, there is a chance that we could make some money at the box office. But it would be very foolish of me to make any prediction on that because it could make no money at the box office and I’ll just end up looking like an idiot for making that prediction. Whatever I say won’t be correct. But if things go well then maybe it could do some business because of our cast.

“Obviously, people have got to know that it’s there but once people start seeing the TV ads and things like that, all of a sudden people are going to start saying, ‘Hey, I saw your film on TV.’ A bit like when Noel Clarke spoke about it last year at Christmas. So I’m assuming that hopefully people are going to be interested in it because of our cast. Much more so than because of me. I’ll do as much as I can but I would imagine it’s Danny and Noel and Stephen who will catch people’s attention more than me because my fanbase is quite obvious. If you look on the web, it’s all over the horror websites, the horror guys all know about it. They’re not the ones we need to get the word out to, it’s getting it out to the mainstream which is important.

“However, you could argue that perhaps sometimes with a campaign like Lesbian Vampire Killers, maybe they did too much and it actually pissed people off. Everyone knew about it months and months beforehand so when it finally came out they were fed up with it. At least with Doghouse they’ll go, ‘Oh, it’s a surprise, it’s a sleeper, it’s come from nowhere.’ Certainly it won’t give people time to get fed up with it. But I don’t know whether that’ going to work in our favour or not, mate!"

Have you left it open at the end so that if this is a big hit there could be a Doghouse 2?
"Indeed there could be. When we were writing the script, it was very much discussed between myself and Dan. There is so much mileage in this idea that absolutely there could be. We designed it and we have sketched out how it could be. But it works as a stand-alone film which is very important because we’re not banking on the fact that we’re ever going to make another Doghouse film. But the actual overarching idea behind it lends itself to being extended and also it lends itself to putting the boot on the other foot with the next film where things will mutate and the virus will start affecting men.

“So you get to see the other side of the sexual politics played out as well. Which is something we thought would be a lot of fun if we wanted to do it. Obviously we need to see how Doghouse does because there’s no point otherwise. We’ve got the ideas for how we’d like to do it but that’s only ever going to see the light of day if Doghouse does well. I don’t want to get involved in developing a sequel to something that people don’t want to see. And I’m really hoping that they do! It would be great if people want to see more of it, but we’ll see."

Are you taking it to Cannes?
"No. I’m going to Cannes because I’ve got duties with my Nucleus Films label, as you know, with Marc Morris, and we need to find a few more acquisitions. Also I could do with a bit of a break and I want to have a few meetings about some potential future projects that we’ve got. I’ve got two more with Dan Schaffer, a couple of scripts that are finished, They’re nothing to do with Doghouse. One is a satirical horror film, like American Psycho meets Clockwork Orange, called The Killdarlings which is very mad and fun. We’ve also got a film called Rollover which is what I call a revisionist action film. A very funny, quirky action movie but with the Jake West stylings in there. Those two projects we’ve got finished scripts on so we’d like to see if we can get them off the ground.

“So I’m hoping to see how that will go but obviously we won’t quite know the lay of the land until we see how Doghouse does. Because people are only going to want to give me more money if Doghouse is a success. If it’s not, then I’ll go back to the drawing board. So I’m very excited about doing some more projects together with Dan Schaffer because we worked so well together on this film. We really clicked, we have a real simpatico thing going on. So it would be delightful if this would be the first of many, but like with all film projects, you never know what’s going to happen!

“You’ve asked me about this in the past: what’s your next project. It never ends up being the one that I told you about! Therefore I don’t want to promise anyone. But these are things which we’re interested in doing and we do have a couple of finished scripts to go on. So if there is some heat off the back of Doghouse, we want to try and press one into production if we can."

Last question. With this, a decently budgeted, named cast film going out widely in cinemas, 2.35:1 and all that... are you finally at the place where you want to be in terms of your career?
"Ironically, it’s quite interesting: from that point of view, when you say it like that, it makes me realise that this will be regarded as my first proper film. So it’s almost like my debut movie. To the wider world, that is. Because obviously the only people who know about my films are people who are into strange cult movies. The rest of the world doesn’t know I’m a film-maker. So in a sense, this is what most people go through with their first film: a two-million pound film with some rising actors and an interesting concept. So in a sense, to the wider world, this is my debut!

“But yes, absolutely. I feel very happy about this because I’m very happy with the script and with the development process and what we’ve got. I’m genuinely satisfied with the film. Obviously, with any movie you always want more time and more money and there’s still things that I could improve and do better on. Because, being realistic as a film-maker, you know that’s true. I think that with Doghouse, it’s a piece of work that I’m very, very proud of and I’m anxious to see how it goes down with the public. It may be that it connects with them and people really enjoy it or it could go the other way. You just can’t tell - but that’s part of the magic, isn’t it?

“For some reason, films sometimes spark the public consciousness and people really get into it. If that was the case, that would be really wonderful. But I’ve never been in that position and I don’t know what that’s like. If not, it will just become another cult film so I’ll be back in the same place. But I do think I’ve made a better film and I hope that it does well financially and it means we can get a bit more money to do another interesting project. Because we are trying to do stuff which is original and different to what other people out there are doing. I think that’s what the film world needs, I think it needs some people who are going to do some stuff which maybe nobody else will do! And we’re your guys!”

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

interview: Gary J Tunnicliffe

Legendary effects bloke Gary Tunnicliffe created the monster suit for the brace of Pumpkinhead sequels which were filmed in Romania in 2006. Although he didn’t visit Bucharest himself (leaving that to Mike Regan and co) I was able to interview Gary by phone a few weeks later in June 2006. (Picture shows Gary (centre) with two of the on-set Pumpkinhead team, Blake Bolger and Mike Regan.)

Are you in LA at the moment?
"Yes, back in Los Angeles. It’s kind of crazy. We’ve been doing reshoots on Pulse. It’s been a manic couple of weeks. We’ve just moved to a bigger and better workshop so everything’s been kind of manic but hopefully it’ll calm down in the next few weeks and I can get my breath again. On top of which, Pumpkinhead was probably one of the most nightmare-ish pre-productions I’ve ever had. I went in with my eyes wide open and knew what was going on."

How were you approached about this?
"Actually I was first mentioned through Alwyn Kushner who is Donald Kushner’s daughter. I’ve done a lot of work with Alwyn over the years and she recommended me. I get a call from Karri O’Reilly and obviously I already had a relationship with Donald Kushner so I was asked if I was interested in being on Pumpkinhead. Obviously the design factor was already there but the budget was very tight and also the pre-production schedule was nightmare-ish due to the shooting schedule. They had to shoot in the first week of March and I got the call at the end of February. The actual production time we had - including the nightmare of trying to get things to Romania which is at least a ten-day add-on - basically gave us four weeks to make Pumpkinhead."

Given that the basic design already existed, how long would you have liked to have to create the suit?
"It would have been nice to have two months. The reason that I took the job is it was a no-profit project. I had just finished on some work as it was and we were kind of winding down, we were just moving workshops. The last thing I needed to do was to get involved in a pretty intensive creature suit. But both of the directors were awesome and also it was a chance to get my fingers into a design that everybody loves.

“Stan Winston released a full foam version of the suit; it would have been the easiest thing in the world to get one of those, mould it and run the pieces out of that. But I really wasn’t interested in doing that. I really wanted to try and basically take the 1988, brilliantly executed design - but obviously things have got better now, sculpting has got better over the years - and really try and push some of the form to it. Add a bit of Tunnicliffism to it, if you like. At a cost to myself, really. We made sure that we hired some really awesome sculptors and I managed to get the bits into it I wanted. Jake West wanted to change the design a bit, he wanted to lose the big bones on the shoulders and he didn’t want any teeth on the exterior of the mouth. He had actually done a design himself which was very Alien and I was frightened that it was getting very bony, very spiny and it wouldn’t feel like the original Pumpkinhead. Whereas my design interest was to make something a bit leaner which had a bit more musculature.

“I wanted to go back in and really refine some of the form on it. If you look at Stan’s original it’s a bit lumpy and bumpy in places. It’s brilliant, it’s wonderful but the body is a bit lumpy and bumpy. I wanted to do that and I really wanted to refine the hands and show the bone structure of the hand. And that’s what I think we were able to do. We kept the essence of Pumpkinhead. You saw it; hopefully when you saw it you didn’t go, ‘What the hell’s that?’ I think in retrospect I would have liked to make it a bit wider, a bit bigger in places but we were working on the form of our puppeteer. If you get too big it tends to wrinkle and buckle in a very weird way so we tried to make it more lean, more sleek."

Was it daunting to work on something that’s not only popular but sufficiently old that everyone thinks they know about it?
"Yes, it was daunting without a doubt. As I said to the producer at the time: I know the first film was a low-budget movie but it had the full weight of Stan Winston Productions behind it. Here was a Stan Winston production making Stan’s creature. So I knew that at the very least I was on a slippery slope straight away. I was damned if I do, damned if I don’t to be honest. The best thing I could ever hope for was for people to look at it and go, ‘Oh yes, that looks like Pumpkinhead.’ My mantra was always that if Stan Winston saw it he would go, ‘That looks pretty cool.’, not ‘Oh my God, what have they done to it?’ or ‘Eugh, what a mess.’ Jake West wanted to make Pumpkinhead very dark and I pulled him back a bit and said, ‘Look, you’re going to be shooting at night. You still need that light colour.’ But I didn’t want to go with a yellow Pumpkinhead, that kind of dead flesh colour, so we warmed him up a bit and made him more earth tan."

Did Mike Hurst have any input?
"I think Mike was very understanding of where we were at and how cramped we were. He was very trusting because he said, ‘Whatever you can give me, I know that you guys are under the gun as it is. I’ll be happy. I trust you - go for it.’ And Karri O’Reilly and the producers were great because they said, ‘We know for a fact that anything we can get beyond Pumpkinhead is a gift so whatever you can do in the way of blood and gore and death and horror it’s purely a bonus.’ They were wonderful to work with. It’s hard enough when you’re on a low budget production if you’re being treated badly or you’re waiting for payments. Everybody seemed to know that we were struggling and didn’t have any time to waste. We were treated very, very kindly by everybody. It was wonderful, one of the best productions I’ve ever had for that."

How do you design something which already exists? Did you make a maquette?
"It was great actually because, very luckily, there’s been lots of maquettes done over the years. There have been so many wonderful model kits and the one that was used as the basis for ours was one which I thought had a great pose and a great form to it. It elongated some of the form for the original. I looked at the original maquette Stan had done which was released by Sideshow and again I thought it looked a bit lumpy in places. I wanted to try and streamline it a little bit so I found this other kit and put it into Photoshop, did some additions on that and showed those to Jake West. He said yes but by that point, because we were on such a time constraint, by the time I was showing designs to Jake we were already sculpting!

“It wasn’t like: here’s the design, what do you think, what would you do differently, let’s get your input. It was: here’s the design and just to let you know it’s being moulded tomorrow. This is it, this is what you’re going to get. It was like a menu of ‘spam and eggs, spam and eggs, spam and eggs, spam and eggs’: I hope you like spam and eggs because that’s what we’re cooking right now. ‘Yes, we want spam and eggs.’ Well, it’s a good job! Luckily, everyone liked spam and eggs. The menu special was what everyone wanted."

What is the suit made from?
"It’s all traditional, good old-fashioned foam latex. In reality, it’s probably almost identical to what Stan had done for the first film. It’s a foam latex suit. The only thing we did differently on the head was, instead of standard one-lid eye blink we did a double-lid blink. So both lids came up to meet each other. It was a nightmare for Mike Regan who was doing the mechs because I said to him very early on, ‘I don’t want it to be a standard blink.’ He looked at me and was like, ‘We don’t have time,’ and I was like, ‘I know, but I don’t want a standard blink.’ ‘Yes, but we don’t have time.’ ‘I know, I understand that we don’t have time. But we are going to do a double blink.’ ‘Oh, okay.’ I did a little design and he was like, ‘Yes, I guess so.’ It meant a few extra late nights for him but I think it makes a difference when you see the creature blinking.

“Luckily the design is such that it allows things which require a lot of mechanisms. Because Pumpkinhead has got white eyes he just has to look around so that negated the mechs in the eyes. So we just went with a very traditional jaw, lip snarls, brow and then we enhanced the blink a little bit. But it’s a foam latex suit, a foam latex skin head with a fibreglass underskull and all those good old-fashioned techniques that work so well. We didn’t have the luxury of trying to reinvent the wheel. Nor would I want to. It worked perfectly well for what it was. Silicone skins weren’t needed for this, we just needed it to last the duration."

Did you make two suits?
"You always say that you make a hero and a stunt but what really happens, the truth is they’re both hero suits. When one gets the shit beaten out of it, it’s the stunt. I had the producers saying, ‘Well, Pumpkinhead only shoots for 19 days out of the 36,’ - and of course Pumpkinhead shot for virtually every day of the shoot. Full credit to Mike, Mitch and Blake and the Romanian crew, Ionel Popa and Daniel Parvalescu, who I know were basically every day having to repaint and patch and fill and all those nightmares of trying to keep the suit the best it could be. I’m sure at the end of the film there are going to be a few shots where it probably looks a little bit worn down. But luckily Pumpkinhead is a demon who has been born from the earth so a little bit of slime here, a little bit of blood there - and he looks as good as new!

“The thing for us was: as long as he looks good from the torso up - good chest, good head, good hands - I’m happy. I always know that, due to the design of the leg, in the first film whenever Pumpkinhead is seen in a wide shot, he’s on wires. They made it so that Tom who was wearing the suit in the first film was suspended so they could make the legs a lot sleeker. We had to make a stilt for our leg. You’ll always have a problem there because you have to deal with the shape of a human foot and the actor who was wearing the suit had big feet! I always look at him in wide shots and think he looks a bit off but that’s just the nature of the design unfortunately."

Were you responsible for Haggis’ make-up?
"Yes, we did Haggis’ make-up. That was insane. The turnaround on that make-up was absolutely insane. I think we turned around that make-up in three days and that was for a four- or five-piece make-up. We didn’t even have time to do a cowl. I think we did basically a large brow-piece that blended off and then a nose. Luckily Neill Gorton out of the UK did the live cast. They cast Lynne Verrall literally a few days before she was shooting. We got the life cast, I blocked it out and Mark Maitre worked overnight on it. I did blocking on the pieces, Mark took the pieces and worked on them through the night, brought them back in the morning and then we started the moulds. Then we ran out the pieces we needed so Mitch had something to apply. Mitch took the first three sets of appliances with him on as excess baggage.

“I really wanted it to look like the first Haggis but it just wasn’t possible. The girl who wore the first make-up was very long and had a huge neck. They had done a full cowl and we just hadn’t the time or the resources to do that. So what we basically had to create was a hag make-up, a witch bitch make-up. The only thing I was amazed by, nothing to do with the make-up, was when I heard Lynn’s voice. I’ve never heard such an incredible recreation of the original character in my life. It was fantastic, she sounded just like her. When I saw the trailer I thought she’d been dubbed. I thought they’d taken lines from the first film. I was just blown away. Blake and Mike and Mitch said no, Lynn was really dedicated to try and recapture that and listened to the first film over and over and over again. She was wonderful and Mitch had a good rapport with her. The great thing about that is: prosthetic make-up is only ten per cent of the character, it doesn’t work if it’s on somebody who isn’t into it or is no good. It’s like Pinhead - so much of that is Doug Bradley. I think we were able to pull off something very, very fast and luckily Lynn’s dedication to the character brought it to life so a total tip of the hat to her. After that of course, we had to do a whole bunch of transformation stuff."

On Lance Henriksen?
"Yes, that was basically me. Over a weekend I made a whole bunch of mechanisms. We did a change around which was great because we were able to basically use the technique from An American Werewolf in London but use silicone which is much more stretchy and more realistic. So I made one of those and I made a chest section which would suck in and I made a face plate with a change-over mech underneath it. They were literally all done over a weekend; it was a crazy, crazy weekend. I even drew boards for that and spoke to Jake about it. I said, ‘Look, as long as you keep cutting away to flames flickering and shadows on the wall, I’ll give you a couple of elements.’

“We made a bladder. It was literally a case of any chance we got to make anything else: ‘You’ve got five minutes, make me some bladders.’ ‘You’ve got five minutes, start making some latex sheets and I’ll wrap a skeleton inside them to make the Lance Henriksen husk.’ The body I made on the table one day by taking a skeleton and binding it in latex. All those years of doing Dracula 2000 and things like that prepare you well for making corpses. I had a wonderful, wonderful crew. Everyone got involved. I was in the fortunate situation that I could throw jobs at crew members and everyone would get behind it. And people were keen to work on it too because it was Pumpkinhead. They were excited by working on Pumpkinhead. The first day we tested Pumpkinhead - got the actor on a table, dressed him in the suit and put the head on - it was great to see everyone’s eyes light up."

Did you find a real enthusiasm and excitement about Pumpkinhead because it’s something special, not just another monster?
"We were excited too, you know. Pumpkinhead is an awesome creature and it's a good, solid, little horror film. We went back and watched it again. I think everyone who watches it goes: ‘Wow, Stan Winston could have just gone off and had a nice little career as a horror movie director.’ I think at the heart of it is a very cool creature. If there’s a credit missing from this film, whether it’s Stan or some of his guys, it’s whoever did that original design. That’s where a good creature can endure. Then I think you’ve got a couple of directors who understand action and pacing. Certainly from the trailer I saw, I was very excited."

Do you know Stan Winston? Does he know about these films?
"I have no idea at all. I don’t know Stan well enough to give him a call and say, ‘Stan! We’ve got your creature!’ I’m sure if it was a film I’d directed I’d be curious to see what someone else had done with it. Obviously it’s more of a sequel than the second film, this follows on from the events of the first film. I’m sure there’ll be some nitpicking from the guys when they see my bastardised version of their wonderful creature but I hope that they’ll look at it and realise the budget restraints and say, ‘That’s a pretty good job, actually.’ It’s a different Pumpkinhead but at the same time it’s got the core of it.

“Luckily I had some great sculptors, people like Dave Grasso and Tully Sumners who had just worked on Silent Hill. Richard Addison-Wood, the WETA workshop supervisor on Lord of the Rings and King Kong, did the eyes for me in New Zealand. Because he is a Pumpkinhead fan so I wanted to get him involved. I tried to pull in a few favours from people. One of the painters from Spider-Man 3 came over and helped me for a few days. It was great to be able to call people and say, ‘Hey, do you want to come and work a few days on Pumpkinhead?’ Instantly people were, ‘Yeah, that would be cool!’ They would come in and see the head and go, ‘That looks really cool!’ Even after all the crazy hours - and it was crazy hours, every day was a very, very long day and no weekends for that four-week blast that we had. But the first day that we were able to get the suit on, a couple of the producers came over. We turned off the lights in the shop and we made some cookies and we lit him from underneath and we brought him to life. Everybody, myself included, was: ‘Wow, look - it’s Pumpkinhead!’"

Who's that handsome devil?
If these do okay and they make V and VI, would you be up for those?
"God, yes. I’m up for anything. I’m a horror film whore I am, I don’t care. I’m up for Pumpkinhead XXVIII! It would be good if we got a few more dollars. I’m sure the producers would be: ‘Well, you’ve got the moulds.’ Yes, absolutely. Certainly if it was the same production team as before. They were so courteous and so wonderful to work with. You can only dream of having that kind of support. And the same from Jake West and Mike Hurst. To get phone calls from your director from another country the day after Pumpkinhead shot to just say, ‘Thank you so much. It looks amazing. We’re just blown away that there’s a creature here I can film.’ To get e-mails after the show saying, ‘Thank you again. It looks awesome. We’re just jazzed with the creature and your guys were awesome.’ I know that Mike and Blake and Mitch were put through the wringer and were having to come up with a lot of stuff on the spot so credit to them for backing me up. Unfortunately I couldn’t get out to Romania. I had to send them because I was dealing with Pulse reshoots and stuff like that. But I was getting phone calls nightly from Karri O’Reilly and from Mitch and Mike, post-being drenched in blood or post-being rained on."

There was some pretty unpleasant stuff out there.
"I know. That’s why I sent them! We keeping hope for that horror film, a Caribbean zombie movie or Caribbean werewolf movie where the visitors to a beautiful Caribbean resort are terrorised by one zombie. I invite any writer out there to write that because I would happily do that. Scuba divers who get terrorised by a zombie, that would be great because I could dive all day.”