Sunday 25 November 2012

THE RECKONER (2012) short film

Stephen Oxborrow’s The Reckoner is in many ways as ruthlessly efficient in its execution as the film’s titled protagonist(s). 

With a negligible budget it delivers a serrated knife-edged 12 minutes. Ambitiously photographed in scope format, The Reckoner‘s taunt editing slices through its tale of fatal kidnapping. Geoffrey Robe is (worryingly) convincing as ‘Matt Gore’, the lead captor ultimately charged with carrying through on the threat to kill hostage Claire (Mel Hayward) and thereby ensuring her rich daddy will be “coming up one Father’s Day card short.”

Director Oxborrow has stated that the film is intended as an ‘extended trailer’ for a feature-length version, and the dénouement certainly opens up the possibility of expanding the concept. Given the prominent (and effective) deployment of iPhones during key scenes, perhaps Apple would consider a product placement deal? Then again, given the amount of surprisingly convincing on-screen violence, perhaps not. Indeed there is one particular sequence where – whilst the action is understandable in the context of the film’s overall context – the method of dispatch seems to display an unmerited degree of sadism.

But overall The Reckoner is a strikingly bold 12 minute calling-card. It will be fascinating to see what these clearly very talented filmmakers go on to produce next given (hopefully) a bigger budget (or indeed any budget for that matter).

(The Reckoner was a very close runner-up in the first Misty Moon International Film Festival).

Paul Worts

Sunday 18 November 2012

FOR, WORDS (2011) – A short film

“And I’m old, I’m older than you, but I still find the time to be stupid and crude”

Winner of the First International Misty Moon Film festival, this short (4mins 47secs) film is either: a glossily poetic depiction of dementia; the most artistic commercial for life insurance ever made; or a genuinely affecting and succinct evocation of a life-long love with a nod to the opening from Pixar’s ‘UP’.  All in all I think I’ll choose the latter interpretation.

Written, produced and directed by Julia Lowe and David Hayes, For, Words is a film which gently waltzes in perfect harmony to the Keston Cobblers’ Club song of the same name.
The film opens with two music-box figurines dancing entwined. We are then introduced to an elderly couple – the lady sits at a table with her back to the camera whilst her (presumed) husband shuffles towards her with a slightly tottering tea-tray. We are not shown either of the couple’s faces, although there is a framed black and white photograph on the table of a school-age boy and girl. As the tea is poured we see a small note by the cup with the name ‘Charles’ handwritten in feint pencil. So far so cosy.

But preconceived expectations are then literally dismantled before our eyes. The photograph is torn down the middle – parting the monochrome young couple. A wall-framed ‘Home Sweet Home’ embroidered motto is taken down off the wall; a telephone is unplugged and a toilet cover is unscrewed. Scissors cut through tartan cloth and cricketing paraphernalia is strewn across a garden fence. A montage of carefully crafted shots of mundane minutiae being disassembled and reused to build some kind of abstract outdoor structure build in tantalising glimpses. Just as the ‘reveal’ appears imminent we cut to a flashback sequence where we see the origins of the note when it is passed to ‘Charles’ behind teachers back in class. Images of the schoolgirl and boy featured in the photo show our young explorers trying out rudimentary space helmets fashioned from colanders and spoons on a summer lawn before they turn and pose for the aforementioned photo.
As the content of the note is revealed, so is the finished construction. Young dreams realised, our explorers dance against a backdrop of a bric-a-brac space rocket and a smoking fuse of rope and matches.             

For, Words is a perfect fusion of song and images, an evocative visual carousel which lingers long in the mind and reaps rewards with repeated viewings.  

Paul Worts

Wednesday 14 November 2012

An Interview with Michelle Shields

At the 1st Misty Moon International Film Festival, the short film Dark Worlds: Slasher and and the feature-length Frankenstein: Day of the Beast were both shortlisted for competition. Dark Worlds: Slasher went on to win the judges vote on the first night and made it through to the final. Both of these films featured stand-out performances by a young actress by the name of Michelle Shields. In an exclusive interview for Fleapits and Picture Palaces, Michelle opened up to me about subjects ranging from corsets to cosplay costumes; from comic books to conventions; from comedy to Cagney and much, much more...     

I began by exploring her early childhood influences...

From as early as I can remember I’ve always known that I wanted to be an actress and I’ve always wanted to entertain people. There’s a home video of me, I’m maybe 2 or 3 and I’m spinning in a circle saying: “one, two, three, action!” I’ve always had a love for it.

That would be a nice extra for a DVD release one day! At school you received many awards for your singing and acting ability. Is there any particular role / song stand out as a memory for you?

I always loved to do Italian songs, but in terms of favourite roles at school I’d have to say ‘Marty Maraschino’ from Grease. She’s kind of like supposed to be the sexy one in the group. Now, I really wanted to be into the character, so I told my teacher I wanted to wear a nightie on stage for the slumber party. And I remember her giving me this look like ‘are you sure; this is a high school play?’ I said I was going to wear shorts underneath it and stuff, but my character would do this! In the end she said if you want to do it then go for it! I remember being into the character was what I really liked to do: and that’s something that’s never changed for me.

What was the first film you saw which really made an impression on you? [Mine was ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and in particular the Wicked Witch who gave me nightmares]

That’s a tough one! When I try to think back to the earliest films that I’ve seen, I was one of those kids that wasn’t really sheltered from the blood and gore – and I think I turned out fine!

I remember watching Abbot and Costello Meets Frankenstein, and I used to watch it over and over. I think what I loved so much about it was that it had that kind of suspenseful horror aspect to it, but it was also so funny - it had comedy – my two favourite things wrapped up into one. Growing up I was always more into the Marx Brothers, The Three Stooges and I’m also a big Jerry Lewis fan. So growing up I was more into comedy but I still had a real love for horror, and Abbot and Costello Meets Frankenstein was the first film I remember really bringing those two aspects together. I thought this is what I want to do; I want to make people laugh and scare them at the same time.

So my nightmares as a youngster involved The Wicked Witch, what was the worst nightmare you can remember having as a child?

I honestly think that because I was exposed to horror films from such an early age I was never one of those kids who would watch A Nightmare on Elm Street and not be able to go to sleep afterwards because I knew it was just a movie. But I do have to say that especially when I was really little I was actually really religious. I don’t think this is something I’ve ever really said in an interview before but when I was little I really wanted to be a nun.  

How young were you?

I’m talking about first, second, third grades: six, seven, eight years old. I was really into it, I used to wear black all the time and the kids at school would call me the devil – ok well that’s ironic! But I remember having dreams when I was really little, it was always a recurring dream of me fighting the devil.


In hell.


I’m sure that is a normal thing for a child that age to be dreaming about right? I always remembered in my dreams never being necessarily afraid or scared of the devil, it was more like: ‘I have to get you before you get the people I love’ type of thing. It was never a nightmare where I woke up scared for my life, it was more like a nightmare where I’d wake up and run downstairs or next door and see if my grandparents were ok or my dad was ok type of thing.

Blimey that’s intense, thank you for sharing that with me.

Yeah, well that’s what happens when people ask me different questions!

Ok, so you obviously felt a calling to be a nun at an early age; how does a young novice nun celebrate Halloween?

Halloween is one of my favourite holidays, even up to present day. I make all my costumes and I’m a real stickler for making sure things are accurate. I couldn’t just go and buy one off the peg. Honestly I was just doing some finishing tweaks for next year’s costume!

Now that is an attention to detail! So what was your costume this year?

I was ‘Poison Ivy’, which was one I was working on a few years ago but I got frustrated and threw it in the back of the closet because I had to sew every single leaf onto this costume so it took a lot of hours and a couple of years ago I wasn’t as patient... But this year I thought I’m going to do that. And I helped my boyfriend make a ‘Scarecrow’ costume for him because we’re both big ‘Batman’ fans. But I can remember being like this all my life – I remember being in third grade and I really loved ‘Elvira’. So, I got one of those kiddie Elvira costumes and I put it on and thought this doesn’t feel right at all and I remember going to my parents and saying I need balloons...


And they kinda laughed at me and I said trust me it’s gonna help. I remember we had a parade around the school for the parents...and there I was in an ‘Elvira’ costume and two big balloons on my chest!

They would never have allowed you in the convent you realise that don’t you?

I know! I had mixed feelings as a child!

So, can we have a world exclusive – can you reveal what your costume is going to be for next Halloween...?

Well...I’m working on a couple of different ideas. I will tell you what I’m going to do for Comic Con. I do like to cosplay a lot. I’m currently working on a group costume. We’re doing characters from the video game Batman: Arkham City and I’m going to be doing ‘Harley Quinn’ in mourning.

You do like ‘Batman’!

Honestly I make a lot of different costumes but I would say the majority of them are different Batman characters. And I’m always doing villains, I should probably do a good character soon, but the villains are just more interesting.

How did your ‘big break’ come about at 16 with the film ‘Timeserver’?

My dad was looking through the paper and he found a little clip saying there were auditions in the town next to us...

Had you gone to any auditions before that?

No, it was the first audition that I ever went to that was not school-affiliated or anything like that. I didn’t necessarily know a lot of the tips about going to auditions that I know now - so I was sixteen, and I went to this audition wearing my normal clothes. These included: red and black leopard fur pants; fishnet t-shirt; and I had chains for suspenders that were hanging all the way down to my ankles. I was dressed kind of odd and probably not wearing what you should wear to an audition [!] I remember getting weird looks from the director and assistant director and I auditioned and I thought: ok I did my best and we’ll see what happens... I got a call about two weeks later from the assistant director and she said we thought you were too young for the role you auditioned for but we really liked the way you dressed and we’ve decided to add a character where you can dress like that in the movie.

Hey, that’s not a bad start, you’re first film and they wrote a part just for you!

Yeah it was pretty cool. They made a punk frat girl called ‘Dot’ and in the movie I had Liberty spikes that I got my friend to do for me so I was pretty excited!

You then went on to formally study acting – what’s the most useful piece of advice / training you were given – and the least?

That’s a tough one...Probably the most helpful thing that stuck out for me was how important it was to stay consistent with things, for example, reproducing the same mannerisms on take after take for continuity. And the least: I had one eccentric teacher who used to start class by having us all go up on stage and say pick an animal and be that animal for the next 10 minutes. I understand where it was coming from, but being on stage with 20 other people barking like a dog for 10 minutes – I don’t think it was really necessary.

Well that answers my next question which was going to be which animal did you usually choose?

Actually I was usually a tiger. I’m a fan of tigers, but sometimes I’d try to switch it up.

So how did the biggest ‘Batman’ fan ever get a role in ‘The Dark Knight’?

Just luck! That for me was more of a fan geek thing than an actress point of view honestly. I got to be on set for a couple of weeks; I got to meet Heath Ledger (as the Joker because he was really in character the whole time) and Gary Oldman; and Christopher Nolan picked me out of the crowd. I was in Chicago, which I’m very familiar with – and there are Gotham City taxis – in the bank scene the ATMs said ‘Gotham City Bank’ on their screens. Such an attention to detail.

Now let’s talk about one of the films shortlisted for the Misty Moon International Film Festival: ‘Frankenstein: Day of the Beast’. I understand you were originally being considered for a support role before you were cast as ‘Elizabeth’ the lead?

Yes, I was being considered for the role of ‘Agatha’ (which was played by Tricia Martyr in the film). She did a great job by the way and she helped out with special effects; she was on set everyday and she was a life-saver she helped me with my corset everyday – I absolutely love her! Anyways, I emailed the director and said I really appreciate being considered for the role of ‘Agatha’ but I’d love to audition for the role of ‘Elizabeth’. He agreed and I guess it just kinda clicked for both of us. I was at the audition for most of the day and I read for all the Victors too. (Quite a few; a good half-day worth). I remember Adam [Adam Stephenson – ‘Victor Frankenstein’] being one of them and I remember Ricardo [Ricardo Islas – director] saying to me: “Wow, he kinda looks like Peter Cushing!” So hearing that I hoped the guy would do a good job – he certainly looked the part – and he did a really good job: he’s amazing in the movie too.

It’s a traditional historically set film. Which do you prefer: modern or period (I presume the corsets are quite restricting!).

Well I do have to say the corset was something I pushed for because I wanted to make it as accurate as possible. It helped with posture and everything. But actually the corset went down so far that especially in the tunnel scenes when I was hunched over for a long period of time, I got a lot of bruises on my thighs from the corset. I had a lot of breathing trouble with it as well but I said I need to do this because it’s a period piece and it needs to be accurate darn it!

And the other film we saw you in – which made it through to the final, was the short film ‘Dark Worlds: Slasher’, a nice twist on the familiar stalking serial killer premise. Presumably a chance to ‘turn the tables’ with the role of ‘Allison Smith’ was something that particularly appealed?

Yes I really love it when twists and turns can be put on things.

Given a project with a short running time, does your preparation differ in terms of portraying your character from say a full-length feature film where you have a lot more time to build a character on screen?

Surprisingly for me there isn’t a whole lot of difference. I use a lot of my schooling that I’m doing now in the field of psychology. In preparation for a role I sit down and try to create a back story for my character; try to look at why they are the way they are – what could’ve happened in their lives. Sometimes I’ll try to go as far as finding out what their zodiac sign is and what kind of influence that could have on their personality. Once I get all that it’s usually pretty easy for me to go in and out of the character. I will say it’s easier when you’re doing a long film because you’re constantly in that mindset. ‘Slasher’ I filmed in just one weekend. The filming went pretty quick, but the book by Zack Daggy helped a lot with the back story.

Inevitably your roles in the horror genre have given rise to you being described as a “Scream Queen” title. You’ve been quoted as saying however that you don’t really consider yourself to be one, but rather that you are an actress that portrays one.

Well I think being a ‘scream Queen’ is really just type-casting. While it’s a respectable title and a lot of people wear it with pride and that’s fine, I feel that once you’re a ‘scream queen’ it’s very hard for you to do anything else in any other kind of genre. It’s hard for a ‘scream queen’ to do a drama or a comedy without the audience saying: ‘Ok, when’s the guy with the axe coming out?’ I do have a lot of respect for ‘scream queens’. Linnea Quigley is one of my idols and good friends and she is one of the best ‘scream queens’ in my opinion.

Personally I’d really like to do more comedies but it’s really kind of hard to find people who want to do comedies in independent film.

Speaking of comedies, one of your most recent roles was in ‘Divorced Dudes’. Sounds like an opportunity for comedy there?

I do a cameo in ‘Divorced Dudes’. Tim Krueger (who played The Monster in ‘Frankenstein: Day of the Beast’) is one of the leads in it - actually there’s quite a lot of ‘Frankenstein’ people in it and it was nice to get to work with them again. I play one of the women that one of the divorced guys is trying to go out on a date with. I had some free-range with the character so I decided to make her...

Let me guess, it’s either a punk or a nun?

A punk character with fire-engine red hair.

Now of course with your love of comic books – Comic Book Divas must be another dream project for you?

Yeah it really was. Just like I grew up watching the Universal horror films like ‘Frankenstein’ and then when I got to play ‘Elizabeth’ it was a dream come true for me, ‘Comic Book Divas’ was along the same lines. They wanted to use my likeness in comic books for different characters and I was like this is the coolest thing I’ve ever heard of! So getting hold of a comic book and looking through it and seeing me as a vampire or a superhero it’s just really brings out that child-like nature in me and it’s just wow this is neat! You know, you can never really meet ‘Bruce Wayne’ but you can meet Michelle Shields!

And of course one of the ways fans can meet you is at conventions. Do you enjoy them and are there any stand-out funny moments with fans that you can recall?

I absolutely love going to conventions and my absolute favourite part is talking to people and meeting my fans. I know at conventions you’re supposed to get yourself ‘out there’ and ‘network’, but for some reason I’m never more myself than at conventions. When people come to my table and they say ‘Oh what are you about?’ and I say ‘Oh I make movies and comic books but tell me more about you – are you enjoying the convention?’ There’s usually always people at my table because I just sit and talk to them for hours! At the last convention I did in California I talked to a bunch of people at my table about horror movies and Batman for about an hour and a half. I really love asking other people why they love things.

This is your psychology fascination isn’t it?

It probably is. I spent quite a lot of years in retail too and I feel that really helped me with talking to people one-on-one. And you know whether people buy something from my table or not I always try to be the one person to put a smile on their face for the rest of the day.

And I’m convinced you do just that. Do you get nervous meeting other actors at conventions?

You know I’ve never really been like that. It’ really cool what they do but they’re just people and I’m sure they would just like someone to talk to them as a person.

If you could go back in time and ‘bag’ any role either in the horror genre or not, what would it be and why?

That’s a hard question to answer, but if I could go back in time and do any kind of role I would really like to be in a movie with James Cagney and do a song and dance. I love musicals and I think James Cagney is one of the most talented people ever to have walked on this earth and if I could be in a movie like Yankee Doodle Dandy with him that would be just awesome!

So what’s next for Michelle Shields, and do you have a clear / structured career path or do you just go with the flow?

I don’t do everything that I’m offered; I pick my roles carefully. I don’t do anything with nudity. I don’t like doing stuff that’s mundane and been done before like the bimbo running up the stairs. I really try to find things that are different. I really love doing the crazy off-the-wall characters - someone I can make a cool costume for and maybe have a weird accent or some kind of limp or something!

One movie I’m going to be working on soon is called: Hells Little Angels. I’ve always been a fan of grindhouse films like Faster, Pussycat! Kill Kill! and I really like the idea of a sweet innocent woman being anything but and you realise she’s actually a deranged killer! I really like this twist on things. So I’m going to be one of three girls who have, well let’s just say they have some ‘interesting’ hobbies...

You've sold it to me!

Also, a re-visioning [not a remake] of the original ‘Night of the Living Dead’ which takes place on the same night but in a different part of the town. It tells different stories about that night which I thought was really cool. And the original ‘Barbara’ is going to be in it as well which is also cool.

Talking to Michelle Shields was a really ‘cool’ experience – and something tells me she is destined for even ‘cooler’ and greater things in the future. 

Interview by Paul Worts


Tuesday 30 October 2012

An Interview with SHIVER producer Robert D. Weinbach

“There’s a lot of obstacles in the way of making a movie; it’s like fighting a small war.”

Shiver producer and screenplay writer Rober D. Weinbach began his film career in Spain as producer of Platero & I (based on the Nobel Prize winning book by Juan Ramon Jimenez). Subsequently, he produced and co-authored two other films in Spain. One, Hallucination Generation starred George Montgomery and a young actor by the name of ‘Danny Stone’, aka Danny Steinmann, the director of Friday the 13th part V: A New Beginning.  The other film, Cauldron of Blood (aka Blind Man’s Bluff) starred the legendary Boris Karloff. Amongst his many other projects Mr. Weinbach co-authored and produced The Mutations (aka The Freakmaker) starring Donald Pleasence and Tom Baker, and directed by Academy Award and New York Film Critics winner, Jack Cardiff (The Red Shoes, African Queen and Sons and Lovers).  Today he lives in Los Angeles and is a Directors Guild and Writers Guild member. Shortly after the screening of Shiver at the Raindance Film festival in London I caught up with the films’ remarkable producer and screenplay writer.

How did your involvement with Shiver come about?

I had a slate of other films that I was developing and someone gave me a copy of the novel ‘Shiver’ by Brian Harper as a kind of recreational read. I read the book through the night, turned off all the phones [high praise indeed coming from a film producer], and read it through the next day – all 420 pages! It’s truly the most compelling, nail biting suspense woman-in-jeopardy piece that I have ever come across. It’s beautifully written in a cinematic style. I pursued getting the rights to the book, which I got.  

And what’s been the reaction from Brian to the film version of his novel?

He’s thrilled with the execution of the film because very often when books are made into movies often times a director or an author will eviscerate the material, but with Shiver my job as a screenplay author was to take a 420 page book and put it into a 94 page screenplay format whilst maintaining the integrity and veracity of the book.

Any problems translating a novel set in 1992, a pre-digital world before mobile phones were common place?

Not really. The story is the thing. It’s no big deal, cars are cars are cars; know what I mean?

I believe at one point or other there were various high-profile directors attached to the project. How did eventual director Julian Richards come on board and what were some of the issues you faced in getting ‘Shiver’ made?

There’s a lot of obstacles in the way of making a movie; it’s like fighting a small war. I’ve been involved in this business for a long long time. We went through many different permutations... It was an interesting odyssey to go through.  Maybe it required someone like myself who has Cancerian tenacity to eventually get the film made! I’m from St Louis Missouri, and I wanted to do the film there. We looked at Detroit, then Iowa, then Canada. I don’t know whether we were directed by God, or destiny – but we finally got it made in Portland Oregon  and it was a joy to work there, those people were hard-working and we had great locations and background.

Have you ever considered directing?

Yes I have. I’m very much a ‘hands on person’. Yes I would love to direct, but I’m only really interested in directing a project I’ve written, so it remains to be seen. But I love the idea of collaboration...

That’s very interesting because during the director’s Q&A at the Raindance Film festival, Julian Richards was asked whether he saw ‘Shiver’ as being a Julian Richards’ film and he answered no, he saw it as a Robert D. Weinbach film...

It was collaboration between Julian and myself and you want to support the director. Julian made a tremendous contribution to this film. He directed this movie; he set up every single shot. I’m the one who picked the cast on this movie frankly, I picked the cast and I said to Julian you can talk to all these people do you want them in the movie? We met Casper together. And I wanted to have his approval. This was not some chopped liver kind of movie for me. It’s something that is my baby and every single ingredient in the picture is something that was chosen by me. For example, I take full responsibility for bringing in Richard Band (composer).  But when I work with a director you turn the picture over to the director in terms of shooting the picture.
We would have loved to have had much more location preparation, but with Julian sitting there in London I had to go up to Portland and pick out a lot of locations in advance. I had a feeling that Julian would be more than happy because I think I have a great aesthetic eye for these things and it wasn’t done haphazardly.  [The scenes with Valerie Harper were shot in Robert’s house].
An old friend of mine suggested an academy award winning guy who did prosthetics. You should have seen my dear wife going over to this place!  There were incredibly realistic mangled bodies and severed limbs everywhere. I said we’re making a low budget movie and asked what sort of deal could we do to get four severed heads. Well we got them, but we then ended up having to take them in a box through the x-ray machine at the airport and the security people are looking at 4 severed women’s heads in the box and they were probably thinking ‘do we arrest these people?”.
There was so much contribution that I did make to the film. I shot second unit footage (because Julian didn’t have a second unit).  Julian was here working on the editing of the film for 3 months and then he had to go back to the UK and I had to finalise all the final editing on the film as well as putting the music in and doing the colour correction with the cinematographer. At the end of the day the audience doesn’t give a fuck about who directed the movie or not the audience cares about what they’re seeing on screen and whether the picture is going to be engaging  to them.

And how happy are you with the finished film?

Well, you’re never totally happy, but given the limited resources and the obstacles and hurdles we had to overcome I think we ended up making a picture that looks pretty good. I just thank my lucky stars we did the movie and that I got the experience of how to make movies in today’s digital age.  I met some wonderful people and I give Julian tremendous credit for having shot the movie in 18 days when we really should have had 25-30.

Your star in ‘Shiver’, Danielle Harris, has been gathering awards and plaudits across the globe for her performance.

I tell you that girl; she is a ball of fire. I really take my hat off to her because she’s not only a terrific actress but she spends a third of her life promoting her projects and she’s got a good fan base the world over.

Now I’d like to ask you about ‘The Mutations’ (aka The Freakmaker) which you shot in London – including Battersea Park Fun Fair.
Another of my pet projects.  And it allowed me the great pleasure of spending almost one year in London. It was a homage to Tod Browning’s Freaks [one of my all-time favourite films] which I’d first seen when I was 12. 
Robert, how on earth did you persuade the legendary cinematographer Jack Cardiff to direct it?

I don’t know. When I was 10 years old I crawled under the tents to go to the freak show when the carnival came to town. And I remembered them vividly. I wish there’d been video cameras at the time. I said to Jack, “I’m going to be bringing over these real human anomalies from the US”. I met them at Heathrow airport: ‘The Alligator Skin Woman’; ‘Popeye’; ‘Pretzel Man’; ‘Frog Boy’.  Such memories! The Alligator Skin Woman’s husband was playing cards one day and he shouted to his wife: “If you don’t shut up Esther we’re going to make a set of luggage out of you!” I was walking down the street in London with Popeye (who actually does pop his eyes out – he would pop one out when he saw a good looking chick walking past).

And of course there was also Donald Pleasance; Tom Baker and Brad Harris [associate producer on ‘Shiver’].

Donald Pleasance was a total trip, he was absolutely great. When Donald was being ingested by the half-human half-plant, he was making this ungodly sound and I’m standing there laughing my ass off and I said “Donald where did you get that from?” He said, “What do you mean Robert that was some of best work!" I was looking for an actress to play the role of the prostitute that Tom Baker visits, and one agent calls me up and said “Mr Weinbach, would you consider Glenda Jackson for this role?” I almost fucking fell off my chair! I said, “Are you serious? What are you talking about; this is a 3 minute part!” The mere fact the guy recommended Glenda Jackson totally blew my mind! That would never happen in Hollywood!
And before ‘The Mutations’ you cast Boris Karloff in ‘Cauldron of Blood’ (aka ‘Blind Man’s Bluff’). 
Well, let me tell you, before I got to Boris Karloff I had dinner with Claude Rains. As a boy I was not afraid of Dracula or Frankenstein, but Claude Rains’ version of Phantom of the Opera scared the shit out of me – so it was a big deal for me! Then I talked to Basil Rathbone. I also had conversations with Edward G Robinson about the role. And I even had a conversation with Jimmy Cagney believe it or not! But here’s the interesting thing, if I’d had any other of those actors playing that role we would never have finished the movie because they all died while the movie was being made. And Boris Karloff was the oldest one!
His agent was a total asshole. (I was 26 years old at the time) He said, “Boris will never do this movie for the amount of money you have to offer him”. I managed to get his London phone number from the doorman at his apartment in the US, I called him up and he invited me over. So I took my $148 bucks out of the bank, charged my credit card and flew to London the next day. I went to his apartment; his lovely elderly beautiful wife opened the door. Boris and I sat down and talked for about two and a half hours. He was on oxygen; he had a brace on one leg; and he looked at me finally and he said: “Robert, fuck my agent I’m doing the picture!” 
He asked for three things: a wheelchair for when he got off the plane in Spain; an oxygen tank (he only had one lung), and he wanted a double to do the fight scene at the end of the picture. I said of course. Well, he did not use the wheelchair when he got off the plane, he walked off. He only used the oxygen tank a little bit, and he refused to have a double and did the fight scene himself (he was in his 80’s). It was the second to last movie he did. God bless him.
But the kicker on this story, I’d had The Freakmaker script for some time. – Whilst I was making Cauldron of Blood in Spain, Vincent Price was also making a movie in Spain. Vincent was from my home town St. Louis Missouri, so I invited him over to my apartment for dinner and he loved the script. He wanted to play the role played eventually played by Donald Pleasance. But he had the same agent (the asshole) as Boris Karloff and the guy called me up and said: “Ha! Ha! Ha! Vincent will never do your movie because of what you did with Boris Karloff!” (What I said – give him a job?) Unbelievable – that’s an American agent for you!

So what’s your next project?

Well, I’m a huge fan of Afro-Cuban and Latin Jazz – and I’m also fascinated with voodoo.  A few years ago I put together a film called “Voodoo Suite”. It was a supernatural picture with Raul Julia being possessed by a drum demon. Nicolas Roeg was going to direct it. All the posters were printed and we were at the Cannes Film Festival. Four months before we were ready to shoot the picture Raul Julia came down with stomach cancer and died very shortly thereafter. So, now my desire is to resurrect that project with the right director and actor. It’s a dear project to me.

Robert, I wish you every success, and when you next come to London let’s go for a walk through Battersea Park...

And have a pint together!  

Danielle Harris won a third Best Actress Award for SHIVER at CineBraga in Portugal recently and Robert won the Best Screenplay Award and a Special Honor Producer Award at Braga.

Interviewed by Paul Worts

Thursday 25 October 2012

An Interview with SHIVER director Julian Richards

Julian Richards with Paul Worts at the Raindance Film Festival
Invited as an Official Selection for the 20th Annual Raindance Film festival, ‘Shiver’, directed by multi film festival award winner Julian Richards, was recently screened at the Apollo Cinema in London. Featuring an award winning tour-de-force performance by horror genre favourite Danielle Harris (Halloween, Hatchet 2, Stake Land) and a cast including John Jarratt (Wolf Creek, Rogue); Casper Van Dien (Starship Troopers, Sleepy Hollow); Rae Dawn Chong (Commando, Tales from the Darkside: The Movie) and a soundtrack by ‘Re-Animator’ composer Richard Band, there were more than enough reasons for Fleapits and Picture Palaces to be there. Following the film’s screening and the director’s on stage Q&A, Paul talked exclusively to Julian.

Born in Newport Wales, Julian Richards, a graduate from The National Film School, began directing professionally for BBC Wales when he was still only a first year student. Since then he’s gone on to tackle subjects as far reaching as genocide in Rwanda; a dozen episodes of TV soap Brookside; and urban paganism in Port Talbot in his 1996 debut feature, Darklands. In 2003, his serial killer shockumentary The Last Horror Movie won 14 awards, and in 2007 his coming-of-age thriller Summer Scars won two British Academy Awards. In 2008 he almost drowned Derek Jacobi on a boat on The Thames whilst directing a feature length documentary about the life of Charles Dickens – more on that later. But firstly, Shiver...   
Danielle Harris gives a stunning performance as Wendy Alden, the young secretary who becomes the target for psychotic killer Franklin Rood. She’s already won two “Best Actress” awards at international film festivals. 
What was it like working with Danielle?
She was superb. She was probably the most focused actress that I’ve worked with.  With all the problems that I had to deal with on the shoot – the tight schedule [3 weeks]; the tight budget [$1.6m]; the rain (because in Portland Oregon it never stops raining) and in general all the problems the eccentricity of the production brought on to it – Danielle was my rock. She was able to help me see it through because she’d get it in one take. That scene where she grabs Rood at the end by the throat; I think we shot it in half an hour. It was at the end of the day and she just did it and we got it.
Have you read the original source novel?

Yes. I read the screenplay first and then I thought well I’ve got to read the novel just to see if the novel has similar sort of problems. And when I read the novel I actually realised that the screenplay and the novel are exactly the same – there’s no difference. And that was probably one of my biggest challenges because naturally when you write dialogue for a novel you’re using that dialogue for the characters to reveal what they’re thinking, whereas you can’t do that in film.

Going back to the cast, we’ve talked about Danielle, how about Casper Van Dien?
I had a good time with Casper and I’d certainly work with him again. He’s not what I expected actually, he’s a bit of a Jim Carrey, he’s like a set clown. He’s full of energy, full of ideas and is a little dynamo. We originally had Luke Goss attached [Blade II, Hellboy II: The Golden Army], and when it didn’t work out in Canada we left the casting of Detective Delgado right to the very end and that’s when Casper came in and it just seemed the right fit.

Have the cast seen the finished film?

Um...I’m not sure, I don’t think they have – well, I know they’ve seen my cut...

I see...

What were your feelings about the film having just seen it fresh?

Overall I liked it, but you could almost tell there was more than one pair of hands at work on it. There were some fairly implausible moments along the way, and some rather dodgy digital blood splat effects. But to balance that, there are some genuinely shocking and disturbing sequences and Danielle’s performance is outstanding – she sells the film for me. Now, can I get back to asking the questions again please?

I was at the National Film Theatre for the first screening of your first feature film ‘Darklands’ back in 1996.  Obviously ‘The Wicker Man’ was a big inspiration for the film, but you’ve also been quoted as saying ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ as well...

Both. Part of my agenda with ‘Darklands’ – which actually is being released on DVD for the first time in the US on 20th November -   

Even though at one point the legendary Roger Corman was interested in it I understand?

Yes, he came up to me at a festival in Korea and of course he’d handled ‘The Wicker Man’ in the US.

We’ve got him to thank for the ‘directors cut’ of the film seeing the light of day...
Yes. With Darklands I think he saw the similarity with The Wicker Man and thought: great; I can do it again! But unfortunately we couldn’t do the deal with him, which was very frustrating, and then the film was never released in the US because the sales agent went bust and the production company was sold so nobody actually knew who controlled the rights. The film would sit in a basement for 10 years – but now it’s out – and I’m going to do a UK release as well.

So what’s the next project for you?
At the moment I’m focused on a project called ‘Suicide Solution’, which isn’t too far off the tone of Shiver, maybe perhaps more psychological.

A US project?
Yes, I’m exploring different means and ways of financing it. Ultimately, the decision as to where we shoot it will be based on the finance. But I’m even considering taking it to Portland again and using some of the same locations and cast.

And finally, I must just ask you about the Dickens documentary you made and in particular the scene where the narrator Derek Jacobi is trying to deliver his lines on a tug boat. It’s bouncing up and down on the River Thames in waves the like of which I’ve never seen on the river before. I thought surely the crew must’ve all have been throwing up?  
I was going to put ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ over that!
You should have!
I was on the boat and I didn’t know how funny that was going to look until I saw the footage. Derek, who was actually very scared about being on the water, at the front of that boat and you almost expected him to fall in at any moment...
Interview by Paul Worts

Wednesday 24 October 2012


Adapted from Brian Harper’s 1992 novel by producer Robert D. Weinbach, Shiver is a psychological thriller starring Danielle Harris who once again finds herself being stalked by a seemingly unstoppable serial killer. 

This time her tormentor doesn’t wear a mask; nor does he bear the scars of a hatchet; but instead wears a mask of normality: at least at first glance. We first meet ‘Franklin Rood’ (played by John Jarratt) in a diner and witness his awkward and unsuccessful attempt to invite Kathy, a beautiful waitress (Nikita Esco) out to the movies. Unsurprisingly rejected, something inside Rood snaps and whilst initially appearing to leave the diner, he is in fact waiting in his car for darkness to fall and for Nikita to finish her shift. Rood brutally beats Kathy to death in the car park, and with his until now latent bloodlust fully ignited, ‘The Griffon’s’ trail of slaughter begins.

12 years later and Rood has set his sights on ‘Wendy’ (Danielle Harris), a legal secretary who lacks the self-belief to ask her boss for a well-deserved pay rise; has a platonic relationship with nice-guy ‘Jeffrey’, and an incredibly unsupportive mother played by Valerie Harper. As Rood closes in on Wendy, and bodies begin to pile-up all around her, Detectives ‘Sebastian Delgado’ (Casper Van Dien) and ‘Mavis Burdine’ (Rae Dawn Chong) are left to deliver some fairly clunky dialogue whilst playing catch-up with ‘Rood’ using pre-digital 1990’s methods of investigation.

We’ve been here many times before of course, but director Julian   Richards (Darklands, The Last Horror Movie) just about manages to navigate a path through generic thriller clichés whilst pulling off some genuinely unsettling and disturbing moments. Veteran Australian actor John Jarratt (terrifying in Wolf Creek) here gives a more restrained - if at times uneven - performance as Rood, with sudden outbursts of violence punctuating more quieter subtle moments of suppressed threat.  But the film is carried head and shoulders on the intense performance of Danielle Harris. Having faced-off against the likes of ‘Michael Myers’ (four times in total, including twice as a child), and having beaten deformed swamp-monster ‘Victor Crowley’ (Hatchet II & III) into a bloodied pulp, it’s hard to be in any doubt that ‘Wendy’ will eventually find the strength and courage within to fight-back and overcome her tormentor. It is a testament to Danielle Harris’ award winning performance that the journey her character is forced to undertake is made more riveting than either the script or her onscreen nemesis fully warrants.

Filmed largely in rain-drenched Portland Oregon, director Richards makes the most of some visually arresting locations; gives us several powerfully visceral set-pieces and a deliciously macabre unveiling when killer ‘Rood’ treats ‘Wendy’ to his little ‘light-show’. Some ropey digital blood effects lessen the impact of a key shoot-out scene; law-enforcement officers seem to practically queue up to be dispatched by ‘Rood’, and naming a detective ‘Mavis’ really doesn’t work on a dramatic level. But Shiver is Danielle Harris’ film, and her performance alone is worth the price of admission.    

***(out of 5*)

Paul Worts

See also: interviews with Shiver director Julian Richards, and producer / screenplay writer Robert D. Weinbach

Thursday 4 October 2012

An Interview with Mark Patton

Shortly before Mark Patton arrived in London to appear at the Entertainment Media Show and to host a very special evening at The Misty Moon Gallery, I caught up with the world’s first male ‘Scream Queen’ and star of Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge.

Mark Patton is a fully paid up subscriber to the notion of serendipity. “I’m a firm believer that if one door closes it’s so another can open”. At the tender age of 11 Mark was offered a recording contract: “I could’ve gone onto become the first openly gay Country & Western singer!” (He had to turn it down due to his father’s objection to him singing in bars at such a young age). In 2011 Mark was scheduled to appear at a signing event in the UK for the first time but injured his back shortly before he was due to fly over which forced him to cancel. Oh yes, and in-between these two events 33 years apart, he would audition for a role in a low-budget horror film to be directed by Wes Craven. The part of Glen in Nightmare on Elm Street eventually went to a then unknown actor by the name of Johnny Depp... “You know at the time I was a bigger name then Johnny Depp. That was his first film. I’d already made Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean directed by Robert Altman, having previously performed the stage play on Broadway and Anna to the Infinite Power and Johnny Depp was just Johnny Depp. Nobody knew who he was.” [Johnny’s door certainly opened on Elm Street – even if he seems to have since forgotten this].  

Monday 27 August 2012

The rise (and fall) of Jason Voorhees - FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980) / FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 (1981)

Technology tended to arrive late in our household. In the early 1980’s, by some quirk of technological geography, some of my friends had an early form of home cable TV. They would often regale me with tantalisingly lurid descriptions of the juicy horror films they’d viewed. And then came the home video revolution where once again my appetite was stoked by my friends’ gruesome summaries. But amongst all this vivid video viscera there was one title which, above all the others, stood out as being the one I most wanted to watch: Friday the 13th. 
I can still recall my pal Adrian detailing every murderous set piece with Grand Guignol glee. Crucially though, when describing the classic shock moment finale, he neglected to mention one aspect of the scene which actually made my first viewing of the film just that little bit more special...
As detailed in a previous posting (The Afternoon HE Came Home) the first horror film I saw in the cinema was Halloween 2, but the most significant experience of that wonderful year (1982) was the double bill of: Friday the 13th & Friday the 13th Part 2. The venue was my old beloved ABC Edgware Road of course, and my companion that day was Adrian (who hadn’t seen Part 2). We’d arrived far too early (probably due to my eagerness) and had to wait outside the cinema in the rain. I stared transfixed up at the poster which was posing the ominous question: “How many times can death strike in one night...Now double it.” As the rain pelted down forming puddles at our feet I made a pact with Adrian that we would sit as far apart in the cinema as possible so as not to dilute the terror on the screen with nervous whisperings and shared sniggering.  And so it was that I took my seat about five rows from the screen in studio 1 on that early afternoon at Edgware Road and waited for the lights to go out...

‘Camp Crystal Lake 1958’ read the title card as the camera reveals a lake, boathouse and a group of camp counsellors singing around the fire. Harry Manfredini’s “Ki ki ki, ma ma ma” echoed around the auditorium (even though the film was only recorded in mono it seemed to be whispering directly into my ears). An unseen prowler is moving amongst the cabins whilst the children sleep in their bunks...

I have no recollection whatsoever of the interval – that brief pause before the lights dimmed to reveal a child reciting a nursery rhyme whilst walking through the rain puddles on a suburban street. Summoned by a mother’s call, the child stomps their feet in disappointment before complying. The puddle briefly settles before rather more ominous footsteps appear on the sidewalk, moving in calculated measure toward a house where a young woman is racked with nightmares from her horrific night at Camp Blood...

Wait for it... (Adrienne King - 'Alice')
Those three hours were the most riveting, suspenseful, terrifying and exhilarating hours I’ve ever spent in a cinema auditorium. I emerged into the foyer visibly shaking with excitement. Jason’s sudden emergence from Crystal Lake - dragging sole survivor Alice (Adrienne King) from the canoe - was a magnificent jump-scare. Even though Adrian had outlined this moment to me previously I’d somehow envisioned the scene taking place at night; not in broad daylight; not with a falsely lulling watery theme playing on the soundtrack: and not with state troopers clearly visible on the shore calling to her. In today’s jaded times, the jump-scare denouement is a tired perfunctory cliché of horror cinema, an obligatory hook to leave the door open for franchising potential. But back in 1982, on that wet afternoon at the ABC Edgware Road, I was still a relatively fresh canvas upon which fright filmmakers could leave their mark with jumps and ‘stingers’. Director Sean S. Cunningham got me good that afternoon with that one, and after the intermission, Steve Miner (Part 2’s director), took over the scare-raising reins, consistently springing cloth-sacked Jason at me. By the time the (un-bagged) deformed monster burst through the window grabbing the resourceful Ginny (Amy Steel) I was so twitchy I must’ve resembled a marionette whose strings were being constantly plucked by an unseen puppeteer. 
Behind you! (Amy Steel- 'Ginny')

I went back and re-watched this particular double-bill twice more during its limited run. On the third outing I was sat in screen 2 or 3 – both of which featured sloped seating plans down toward the screen. As Alice’s canoe floated gently across the still reflective surface of Crystal Lake I settled  back in knowing anticipation of the jump moment approaching: unlike the lady several rows in front of me.  She stood up and edged herself out into the aisle – clearly satisfied the film was concluded and the end credits were imminent. Young Jason Voorhees suddenly lunged up out of the water and in perfect synchronicity the lady in the aisle lost her balance and slid down the steps gently colliding with the balcony wall. Happy days...