Sunday, 14 May 2017

interview: Mark J Howard

I reviewed Mark J Howard's debut feature Lock In, a tale of corporate coulrophobia, in 2014. Three years later, the film was released on DVD on  both sides of the Atlantic as Clown Kill, so I took the opportunity to ask Mark for an interview and he provided these great, detailed answers.

What was the original inspiration for Lock In? How well do you think you achieved what you set out to do?
"We’d been renting a huge business suite in a modern office block at the foot of Pendle Hill (home of the infamous Pendle Witches in the 17th Century), to serve as production office and edit booths while we were working on a series of TV ads and other advertising films, and it was a bit creepy at night, to say the least. Pipes would expand and contract, floors creaked, dodgy electrics made the lights flicker and go out and the regular winds barrelling down Pendle Hill would howl around the corners of the building, which kind of puts you on edge when you’re in the building on your own. When you’ve been working at the office for 48 hours straight to meet a deadline, your mind doesn’t always  think straight. Then, on the way out, the lift got stuck, and I hate lifts, almost as much as I dislike clowns, so the seeds were already starting to grow.

"The story developed over the next few months as we workshopped ideas with the already-cast actors. I think we achieved our goal by introducing a creepy new clown, and I was happy with the comedic chemistry with the security guards, but we dropped a major bollock and didn’t notice until we were in the edit. In the original script the clown breaks the fourth wall as he regularly addresses the audience between kills, which makes more sense once you’ve seen the end scene and know where the character of Jenny is at, but in the edit it suddenly looked like we were trying to rip off Funny Man, and not doing it very well. So, at the last minute I brought in my long-term collaborator, actor and comedian Peter Slater, we sat down at the editor and chopped things away, reduced or removed all of Charlie Boy’s one-liners and pieces to camera, heavily toned down Jenny’s drunken pub attack scene, and added more security guards stuff for balance. The end result is one huge compromise.

"During filming one of the leads had serious personal issues going on, and she became difficult to nail down, so that brought a whole slew of new problems that had to be addressed during the shoot. We’d only budgeted for a 21 day shoot, and we managed to shoot it in exactly 21 days, but it was one nightmare after another. I’m happy with the finished film, but if luck and circumstance had been on our side on the day, it could have been so much better."

What aspect of the film do you think works best, and what aspect would you change if you could?
"The personality clashes between shop-steward Gobby Karen and John the Boss are my favourite performances in the film,  Rachel was an absolute revelation, her sense of timing is better than any comedian I’ve ever worked with. She hit every beat, delivered every time, and that’s something I’ve never encountered before. If I could change anything I’d have found a way to reinstate some of the excised clown footage, Roy’s amazing in the role, and some of my favourite scenes are the ones we had to cut out. That’s usually the way though."

How did you assemble your cast, and what effect has Jessica Cunningham’s subsequent reality TV career had on awareness of your film?
"Apart from Rachel (who plays Gobby Karen) and Holly (Sally), the script was written personally for the actual actors who starred in the film. Rachel and Holly were late additions to the repertory company I’ve been building over the last 20 years; so I knew who would be playing what character as  I wrote the script. We’d just come off a series of TV commercials with Jessica, and I’d had a big public row with her in a Costa, and I knew I’d found my feisty office worker that day.

"Two hours after Jessica was confirmed as an Apprentice contestant, my phone went absolutely crazy, as the press bombarded me with questions. All of the major tabloids had found out about her 'clown rape' past and wanted to know more. It was actually my very significant birthday that day and I was pissed up. My wife banned me from speaking to the press in case I got carried away or said something I might later regret, so I had to let Roy (Basnett) do the talking, and as a result we got some great sensationalist headlines in the national tabloids. I imagine some of her fans might be curious enough about the film to watch it, but other than that I doubt her rapid rise up the greasy celebrity pole would benefit the film.

"She’s been really busy these last few months with her fashion brand and new-found fame, so we haven’t managed to catch up on things, but before she hit the limelight we had a chat and she did agree to do the sequel. We had two huge fans of Jessica, who are also top-flight footballers from a famous northern club, make an offer to finance a sequel under the Enterprise Investment Scheme, but a week later the Inland Revenue started cracking down on footballers investing in fake films to offset their taxes, and they got cold feet. Got a great script out of it, though, featuring Charlie Boy’s Undead Army of Clowns. If this first film is well received, and if there’s a market there, the sequel might just happen."

What are your favourite slashers and/or clown horror movies?
"I was never a fan of the Halloween films (though I’m a big fan of the third one), but I loved the first couple of Friday the 13th’s. I abandoned that franchise when I went to see Part 3 in 3D on its initial release, and the projectionist got the lens assembly on wrong and completely ruined the presentation. Huge fan of European slashers, especially love Stage Fright and Amsterdamned, but don’t watch clown films. Like I say, clowns and lifts, not my bag. I don’t think I was abused by a clown as a child, but I think something must have happened to fuel my unease about them. The new adaptation of It looks fun, though, but Tim Curry’s a hard act to follow."

What have you been working on since finishing Lock In?
"Adverts and pop promos have been the bread and butter that keeps the wolf at bay, We’ve shot a big zombie film set in Liverpool, about a terrorist attack on Ellesmere Port petro-chemical plant, just at the moment they are destroying an experimental battlefield biological weapon developed by the Russians and seized in Syria. The resulting gas cloud threatens an extinction-level event as it slowly creeps across the UK in real time, turning the victims into blood-crazed zombies. The film is called Undead Air and will hopefully be ready by the end of the year. It’s quite heavy on visual fx, but I’ve a great team doing some amazing work.

"At the moment we’re  just prepping our new docu-drama American Psychopath – the Ripper of Whitechapel, which is a period piece bringing a post-modern, fresh perspective on the Jack the Ripper case. We’re shooting this in 4K and Super 16, with the murders being covered by raw and grainy Super 8 on my trusty old Beaulieu, filming begins second week of May for three weeks. Because we’re still having to work on promo films for clients, our more narrative films tend to take forever to complete, but we’ve a delivery deadline for the Ripper film so it’s all hands on deck. Both films will feature the same cast and crew, with a few additions, that made Lock In."

Finally, can you tell me a bit about the super 8 films you used to make with Tony Luke?
"I miss Tony so much, and it doesn’t feel like fifteen months since we lost him. We got to know each other in the very early '80s. We were the same age, both at secondary school, both making animated super 8 monster movies,  and we both contributed to Junior Filmworld, a magazine/newsletter for wannabe junior super 8 Spielbergs. Tony lived in the North East and I lived in Manchester, so hundreds of miles apart, but he used to ring regularly and we’d post our only prints of our latest films to evaluate each others work. We’d swap ideas, script notes, designs and special fx techniques we’d discovered, and generally encourage each other.

"He found a supplier in the States who could provide T rex latex skins, all ready for you to insert an armature into, and he was off. His films always had more pazzaz than mine, my always came back with the note 'Sorry, your splices didn’t go through the projector too well'. Tony was my first animation collaborator, albeit long-distance, and somewhere I’ve got a box of photos of his animation creations, including his first Satannus puppet. I need to find it and pass it on to his sister Fran for the archive.

"When we premiered Lock In I spoke to Tony, he asked me if I’d be interested in directing a project he had in mind. I was busy, I said if he could postpone a few months I’d be able to discuss it further and commit. It never happened. A few months later Tony started with his back and neck pain, and he had to focus on getting better. I was sure he’d beat it again, he was a real fighter. It’s a weird thing when someone you’ve known since you were kids dies, makes you put things into perspective. Facebook hasn’t been the same since he left."


Monday, 1 May 2017

Hunters of the Kahri

Director: Ali Paterson
Writer: Ali Paterson
Producers: Ali Paterson, Pip Hill
Cast: Marc Goodacre, Jon Bennett, Doug Booth
Country: UK
Year of release: 2006/2016
Reviewed from: YouTube

This is the first time I have ever reviewed a movie without watching the whole thing. This is not something I intend to make a habit of, but Hunters of the Kahri is literally unwatchable. I mean, I’ve watched plenty of films before which, for one reason or another, were effectively unwatchable. For most people. But I’ve stuck with them, for your sake. I provide a service here. I take pride in my work.

Hunters of the Kahri is 104 minutes long. I suffered through the first 44 minutes; the final hour can frankly go fuck itself. (I did skip through the rest of the film, just in case there was any evidence of a major change in direction or quality. There wasn’t.)

I had this film on my list of never released British horror pictures. It was shot in 2005, had a single cast and crew screening in June 2006, then disappeared. In April 2017 I spotted that Ali Paterson had posted the whole movie onto YouTube the previous October. So I gave it a spin. All I really got out of my viewing experience was confirmation that this isn’t a horror film. It’s a sub-sub-sub-Tolkien fantasy of swords and quests and suchlike but there are no demons or other elements that might make it borderline horror.

It is also – and let’s make no bones about this – a home movie. Not just an amateur film made by a group of friends (there are plenty of those reviewed on my site) but literally just something cobbled together in somebody’s garden.

Which runs for 104 minutes.

I think it’s set in a post-apocalyptic quasi-medieval fantasy world, rather than a historical quasi-medieval fantasy world, which just about excuses the fact that most costumes are obviously just muddied-up T-shirts and similar 21st century garments. What it doesn’t excuse is the neatly trimmed hedges, fishpond and patio. Bizarrely, some of the film is set in open countryside, so your guess is as good as mine why Paterson didn’t shoot everything away from suburbia. It really seems like he either didn’t care about, or possibly didn’t notice, anything that was in the background of his shots. In one shot, two bicycles are leaning against a tree. In another, a character who has just been killed is sitting up, apparently unaware that they are in view.

The story itself is impenetrable nonsense. Our central character seems to be Calum Narata (Marc Goodacre) who sports an eye-patch and has two teenage children, despite being clearly in his early twenties. He steals a sword from someone and gives it to someone else who is going on a quest and wants Calum to come along but Calum stays behind and sends his two kids instead. There’s a woman in a white boob tube and a bloke in a kimono and another guy dressed in a white bathrobe and a bedsheet. They have names like Kenzo Kasdan and Jengole Marguand and Tenzing Oz, and most of them carry samurai swords for some reason.

It’s all incredibly talkie, with just the occasional brief, dull swordfight. There is a woman narrating the film with lines like “After the slaughter of the Woodpeople, Xenos fled, leaving Narata to take on the rest of Tenzing’s horde.” After a bit she slips into the present tense so it’s like she’s just reading from the script descriptions of scenes that they couldn’t afford to film.

The whole thing has been shot for zero pence, without even the most basic concern for things like character, story, photography, sound or audience. It looks like no-one was expected to watch this who wasn’t also in it. Like I say: a home movie. But why make a home movie that’s 104 minutes long? Especially when that is 104 minutes of stuff that makes Stephen Donaldson novels look interesting and well-written. Why not make a 14-minute home movie, show it to your mates who made it with you, and then you’ve got an extra hour and a half to get drunk and come up with daft ideas for the next one. Or just one idea would be good, and would be a step in the right direction.

Of particular note is the sound, because one of the things that makes this unwatchable is that it is mostly inaudible. Paterson apparently got hold of some outdoor sound effects – basically birdsong – and added this to most scenes, over the top of the dialogue (which looks like it may have been looped). But because he either didn’t know what he was doing or didn’t care, he’s got the sound mix all to hell so that the dialogue is drowned out by the music which is in turn drowned out by these bloody birds. It’s like watching the film inside a particularly well-stocked aviary and means that only occasionally can we make out the terrible dialogue that the non-characters are statically spouting.

There really is no reason for anyone to ever watch this, and under normal circumstances I wouldn’t even have bothered with a review. But there is one aspect of this film which means that it is worth recording, so that it’s not just a title on a filmography, and so that people don’t get overly excited and think they’re missing something.

Most of the cast, as you might expect, have no other IMDB credits. One of them is called Christian Lloyd and the IMDB thinks that’s a British-born, Canadian actor who has numerous film and TV credits since 2001 including Jude Law-starring sci-fi feature Repo Men and Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars. No, I don’t think that’s the same guy. Perhaps he came over to the UK in 2006 to make a film in Ali Paterson’s back garden, but I have my doubts.

However, Calum Narata’s son Sagar Narata is played by 14-year-old ‘Doug Booth’ who, as Douglas Booth, has gone on to not just a genuine career but considerable critical acclaim. Being somewhat out of touch with popular culture I wasn't familiar with Mr Booth's work myself, but a look at his IMDB and Wikipedia pages indicates that he’s quite the hot young thesp. His first proper acting job was in Julian Fellowes’ ghostly fantasy From Time to Time, but his filmography starts with Hunters of the Kahri, which is consequently cited in various features about him. A good-looking, talented young lad like Booth undoubtedly has a small army of fangirls by now who may want to seek out this film. Ladies, if you come across this review, let me assure you that although the film is available to watch on YouTube, its only purpose is as somewhere to get screengrabs of Boothy-babe when he was a teenager.

Booth played the lead role in a 2010 BBC drama about Boy George, which brought him to the attention of critics, and also modelled for Burberry. He was Pip in the BBC’s Great Expectations, he was Romeo in a version of Romeo and Juliet scripted by Fellowes, and he was in Jupiter Ascending which, you know, it’s not his fault. Big sci-fi epic by the … siblings who made The Matrix. A young actor’s going to take that, isn’t he? Anyway, Sean Bean was in it and he really should have known better.

You can look up the rest of Douglas Booth’s credits for yourself. In a few months he’ll be seen as Dan Leno in Juan Carlos Medina’s The Limehouse Golem, which might be okay but the script has been written by the seriously over-rated Jane Goldman who made such a hash of The Woman in Black, so we’ll see. He has also recently wrapped a role as Percy Shelley in historical romance Mary Shelley (aka A Storm in the Stars). Plus he was in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. So borderline horrors with fancy frocks seems to be his genre of choice right now.

Everyone has to start somewhere, and here is where Douglas Booth started. In years to come, maybe when he’s picking up his third Oscar, people are going to be saying: "What’s this on his IMDB page? Hunters of the Kahri, starring lots of people who never made another movie? Must be the Inaccurate Movie Database up to its old tricks." But it’s not. Is there evidence of Booth's talent here? Well, he can clearly act, which many of the cast equally clearly can't, but frankly Kenneth Branagh couldn't make a script like this work, especially with these production values and the abundant non-direction.

As for Ali Paterson, he made a second feature, the snappily titled The Third Testament: The Antichrist and the Harlot. This is a biblical epic which looks like it might be horror and the appearance of Hunters of the Kahri on YouTube gives me hope that The Third Testament may finally appear one day too. Kevin Leslie, who starred in The Third Testament before going on to be 50% of Fall/Rise of the Krays, also starred in N-Day, a half-hour short that Paterson made with, by the looks of it, a budget. This is about four people trapped in a submarine while the world is hit by a nanobot virus (or something) and the cast also includes Jemima Shore herself, Patricia Hodge.

Since when Paterson seems to have concentrated on corporate stuff about finance. Which is where the money is, in more ways than one.

Hunters of the Kahri, according to Paterson’s page on Casting Call Pro, features “horses, CGI creatures, battles and choreographed fight sequences”. Just to be clear, there is one shot of someone (dressed in white so it might be bathrobe guy) riding a horse. There are indeed several choreographed sword fights. In at least one of these, the sounds of battle have been added to the soundtrack to try and give the impression of a larger conflict. (It doesn’t work, but at least those bloody songbirds shut up for a bit.)

There are however absolutely no CGI creatures, or CGI anything, or any sort of creatures. Apart from a fallow deer that wanders past the camera about 90 minutes in. If that’s CGI it’s bloody good.

Watching these things so you don’t have to. And thanks for sharing, Mr P. Genuinely appreciated, just so I can knock this off my list.

Oh. If you’re wondering, the Kahri is some sort of precious stone they’re all after. I think.

MJS rating: E-