Saturday, April 19, 2014

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Hillbilly Horror Show





Had a fun chat with some of the folks involved in this show yesterday. The skits are wrapped around some cool, festival-winning horror films. More info's on their website here.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Fear on Demand Interview Excerpt: Patrick Re-Make Director Mark Hartley

I recently got to see Patrick Evil Awakens and chat briefly by phone with the director, Mark Hartley. Mark is also the director of Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation, a documentary about Australian horror and thrillers from the '70s and '80s, and he'll soon deliver what he says is his last documentary. That's a look at Cannon Films which delivered many Charles Bronson and Chuck Norris films in the eighties.

Hear the audio version on the Fear on Demand Podcast.

Sid: I watched Patrick last night, and I thought it was really good and visually creepy. I’m glad to talk to you today.

Mark Hartley: A pleasure. I’m glad you thought it was creepy.

Sid: I’m guessing the decision to do a remake grew out of your documentary Not Quite Hollywood, but tell us how everything came about. Why Patrick Evil Awakens? Why a remake?

Mark Hartley: When we were doing Not Quite Hollywood, Justin King, who was the researcher on Not Quite Hollywood, and I were sitting around. It was at the time when I think every single film that had played on one screen in America in the last hundred years was getting remade. We said, “If you got to choose any film in Not Quite Hollywood to be remade, what would it be?” One of the main ones was Patrick just because we both thought the central premise was so timeless. A guy with unlimited powers but very, very limited ambitions and all he wants to do is focus his powers on making this nurse fall in love with him. We thought that was such a great idea. We thought if we could do something different from the original, make it a lot more atmospheric and make it even more of a throwback to an old style Gothic chiller it would open up a lot of possibilities to make a pretty interesting horror slash suspense film. Tony, the producer, really liked the idea and thankfully he found some money to do it.

Sid: You mentioned giving a lot of attention to the atmosphere, the visual style. I’ve read that you had some thoughts about Hammer Films influence. What was the creative process like in planning the look of the film and the feel, the atmosphere?

Mark Hartley: I think the Hammer sensibility kind of came by accident. Gary Richards, the cinematographer and I wanted this film to seem like it was a Gothic chiller made by Hitchcock protégés. We wanted to reference Argento and De Palma and we also loved the sensibilities of the Spanish horror films like The Orphanage and Julia’s Eyes. They were kind of the blueprints for the feel of the film, and I think things just grew from there. Since we were making an old style horror movie, obviously there are certain tropes that go along with that that just lend themselves to being a lot like Hammer. I think the difference between Hammer and this film—obviously the colors are really intense in a Hammer Film, the reds, the blues. Our color palate is a lot more subdued than that.

Sid: True, true. 

Mark Hartley: We certainly wanted to evoke films from the sixties and the seventies.

Sidney: Kind of the Gothic feel. There’s really a richer feel than the original had, I think.

Mark Hartley: Yeah, in the original, the lack of atmosphere is the biggest thing about the original. It’s a city clinic in broad daylight, and we certainly didn’t want that. We wanted our set well away from prying eyes, down the coast in a fog-bound kind of atmosphere. As soon as you do that, you’ve got atmosphere to burn.

Sid: Absolutely. It looked wonderful as I mentioned. You also had a wonderful cast, Sharni Vinson, Charles Dance, Rachel Griffiths. I read that you really, at the script stage, worked to make it a project that would attract a great cast. You were working with Justin King, the screenwriter. What went into the script to make it really draw that talent?

Mark Hartley: The script was incredibly overwritten. It was verbose. We wanted to somehow attract a prestige cast. We thought if we just went out with an ordinary horror film, it would just seem like a dumb movie. We wanted the script to read like a smart dumb movie. We really overwrote it. Happily that appealed to Charles and it appealed to Rachel, and we were very, very lucky to get both of them. They both worked together a decade earlier on a film called Hillary and Jackie. That got Rachel an Oscar nomination, so I think that was part of the appeal. Charles and Rachel to get to work together again. Charles obviously got to come to Australia during our summer and escape the English winter. Rachel had loved the original Patrick when she was a kid. I think that was part of the appeal as well, to re-imagine Julia Blake’s role from the original.

Sidney: I thought Charles Dance was just great as the doctor, really, really wonderful. He can be so villainous. You were on a really tight shoot schedule…

Mark Hartley: We were. We shot it in 25 days. There’s a lot of setups in that film, and we didn’t have a lot of time for rehearsals or takes. Thankfully they just got it. Charles was great. He has to be sort of vaguely inspirational at the start of the film. Then he can just switch to … insane, it’s amazing. I said to him one day, he said, “Have you got any notes?” I said: “I’m just delighted to hear you bring this dialogue to life.” It was a wonderful experience watching those two work.

Sid: It was absolutely great to watch. You have a couple of cameos or at least one cameo from the original film?

Mark Hartley: Yeah, there are nods to the original, and obviously there are key scenes that are taken from the original. We had Rod Mullinar and Maria Mercedes turn up from the original. There’s original props. There’s original costumes. There’s original locations. If you’re a crazed fan of the original, there’s certainly lots you’ll notice in the remake that harkens back to it. … Films like this, I don’t think they’re made that often with this sensibility. We were lucky enough to get Pino Donaggio, famed Italian composer, who did things like Don’t Look Now, Dressed to Kill and Carrie to do the score. I know that his score certainly evokes and announces the film’s sensibility from the first frame. If people are willing to go along with that and buckle up for an old school ride, they’ll enjoy it.

My review of Patrick is here.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Review: Patrick Evil Awakens

Back in the days of perusing the VHS shelves, I was never enthusiastic about Patrick (1978). The cover art depicted a guy in a hospital bed with glowing eyes. A male variation on Carrie, I thought. Never grabbed me.

When I learned of a re-make, I thought: Why?

Now I see it's because a nicely moody and atmospheric horror thriller was waiting to be born.

The film grew out of director Mark Hartley's Not Quite Hollywood, a documentary about Australian exploitation films. Asked which ozploitation film he'd like to remake, Patrick came to mind.

After the carefully executed shock of the film's opening moments, the new version, Patrick Evil Awakens, establishes a wonderfully grim, near Gothic style.

Events are  set in a creepy seaside facility for coma patients that offers plenty of dark corners. Even the gray and almost anachronistic uniforms for the nurses help established the feel and the chills.

Once that mood is established, Hartley exploits the central idea deftly.

Patrick (Jackson Gallagher) is a non-responsive patient possessing fierce psychic abilities. He's unresponsive but not unaware, and he falls deeply and possessively in love with his  new nurse, Kathy (Sharni Vinson).

Kathy's compassion for the patient invites his influence into her life outside the institute. A suitor begins to exhibit strange behavior, and an ex-lover who's still in pursuit becomes a target.

Danger and darkness escalate as Kathy clashes with the institute's director, Doctor Roget, who's played with devilish verve by Charles Dance.

Conscious of his own aging, Roget's driven to complete research he sees as his life's work. He's not above unethical measures to hurry things along, even when they are physically harmful to patients.

He's backed in his endeavors by the institute's matron nurse, a grim and sterile Rachel Griffiths of Six Feet Under.

A few incidents strain character credibility, but those are forgotten, especially as Patrick's power is unleashed in a fast paced and violent third act.

Patrick's opening in some markets March 14 and due on Blu-Ray shortly. It's worth a look for horror and thriller fans.




Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Visual Writing Prompts: A Board of Moody Inspiration

The allure of Pinterist was lost on me at first. Christine embraced it for decorating and cooking ideas long before I decided to log on.

Lately I've found it a bit more addictive.

I've been building a board of moody images, offering inspiration for horror storytelling .

I've tried to choose carefully, not offering tales with obvious directions or answers, just a certain mood and mystery.

I'm working on a crime and mystery board as well, but it's still growing.

Drop by here for the horror.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

The Big Thrill Interview - Karen Rose

I'm serving for a while as a contributing editor on The International Thriller Writers newsletter, The Big Thrill.

My interview with Karen Rose about her new book Watch Your Back appears in the February issue.

It has an intriguing premise. A Baltimore cop learns her husband's death in a convenience story robbery wasn't just a coincidence, and when she seeks to learn more, she becomes the target of a psychopath who wants the past to stay buried.

It's part of an interconnected series of stand-alone-novels from Ms. Rose. Her books tie together as you can see on her website.

You can take a look at the interview here.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Watch Instantly Watch: Wait Until You're Blindsided aka Penthouse North

Something's hidden in the apartment of a young blind woman, and dark criminal types turn up to look for it and glean any knowledge from her they can.

That's the plot of Wait Until Dark (1967)of course, based on the stage play of the same name by Frederick Knott who also penned the play that became Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder.

The premise gets an updating in both pace and timeframe in Blindsided aka Penthouse North, now streaming on Netflix with some airings on Lifetime as well. It's penned by David Loughery and directed by Joseph Ruben (Sleeping With the Enemy.)

In Wait Until Dark, the heroine is Audrey Hepburn, the MacGuffin a doll filled with heroin. Thugs led by Alan Arkin attempt a con game to finesse details such as the combination of a safe where the doll might be stored. Things progress to brutality. 

The brutality comes sooner in Blindsided. Michelle Monaghan is a photojournalist who's lost her sight to a suicide bomber while in Afghanistan. Three years after the incident, she's living happily with a significant other in an expensive Manhattan penthouse. 

It's more like the film I thought Wait Until Dark was going to be when I was a kid, before I saw it the first time. 

The original film is a slow burn. Arkin, Richard Crenna and Jack Weston trick Hepburn's husband into leaving then try to convince her he's involved in an affair and murder with the doll he brought home from a trip. It's the item that can time him to the whole matter, so she's urged to produce it, even though she doesn't know where it is.

Things turn brutal much quicker in Blindsided. Monaghan's Sara comes home from picking up the final touches for New Year's Eve to find her boyfriend dead. The thug that knifed him's still on the premises, and he's joined after a few twists by his boss, Michael Keaton, who's back in Pacific Heights territory. He seems like the more gentle of the two, but of course…

There's no con game, just an escalating effort to terrorize Sara until she reveals what she knows about money on the premises and more. Even a little water boardings worth a try.

It's a Wait Until Dark for our era, I suppose, with a punches contemporary audiences will appreciate, clocking in just under 90 minutes. 

There are still twists and turns, and a little does-she-know? or doesn't-she? mind play, with one moment of: "If she knew, why would she let that happen?" 

It's also interesting, if you're familiar with original, to see how Keaton and Company deal differently with issues Arkin's band tackled years ago. They're a little more heavy handed today.

Keaton's good , always love Keaton, but I think Arkin's twisted psychopath is still a little more chilling. 

Check both for yourself and see what you think. It might make for an interesting double bill on an evening at home.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

The Maze - 1953 Atmospheric Horror


Trailer

A friend's post on Facebook recently pointed me to the 1953 film The Maze, an atmospheric thriller with a Lovecraftian feel.

The story is based on the novel of the same name by surrealist Maurice Sandoz and was directed by William Cameron Menzies. 

I liked it. There's plenty for a contemporary viewer to take exception to, but if you're in the right mindset, it's a moody and interesting little ride, originally offered in 3D.

The story focuses on Kitty Murrary played by Veronica Hurst. She and her aunt are hanging out on the Riviera with her fiancé Gerald (It Came from Outer Space's Richard Carlson). They're obviously beautiful people of the day, those people Tom Ripley would love to hang out with.

Gerald's unfortunately called home to the old family castle when his uncle dies just weeks before he wedding date. 

In one of the obvious 3D moments, a bellman thrusts a cable at Kitty a short time later. Gerald writes that he can't marry her, though he promises to always be faithful to her. Have a nice life.

Kitty's not one to let a fiancé off that easily, so with her aunt in tow, they head to the cable's return address to find Gerald greying at the temples, a sure sign he's been under a good deal of stress.

He's not particularly welcoming, but Kitty offers enough excuses for an overnight stay, then connives to get a letter out inviting friends including a physician to come for a few days. The mysterious male servants lock people into their rooms at night, but otherwise it's an interesting spot for a few days' stay.

Oh, and the castle overlooks the maze of the title, a network of hedges where at least one female servant's perished under mysterious circumstances.

Without spoiling too much the plot points toward the payoff in the third act, so the journey is in the buildup. Your enjoyment of the film will be affected by your ability to accept that style of storytelling as well as your ability to tolerate classic Doctor Who-style special effects.

If you can reset just enough, the shocks are kind of fun and creepy, and, well, again if you're in the right viewing mode, kind of shocking.

If you like atmospheric horror and you have a little patience, check it out.

Aside with mild spoilers

The novel upon which the film is based is apparently inspired by the legend of The Monster of Glamis, also inspiration for Joseph Payne Brennan's "The Horror at Chilton Castle."


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