Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS interview. This is the first of three interviews focusing on THEATRE BIZARRE, a horror anthology I reviewed here. First up, I had a chance to talk with director Richard Stanley, who burst onto the horror scene in the nineties with HARDWARE, a grungy horror/sci fi mash-up and one of the best of its kind. Stanley followed up HARDWARE with DUST DEVIL and then took the directing helm of the troubled THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU film, until leaving the project before filming. Stanley makes his return to directing in his chapter of THEATRE BIZARRE entitled MOTHER OF TOADS. Here’s what Mr. Stanley had to say about the film…
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): Hello, Mr. Stanley. It’s an honor to speak with you. I’m a big fan of your work.
RICHARD STANLEY (RS): Ah sweet, thank man.
RS: Where in Nice in the south of France at the moment in the middle of a blizzard.
BUG: Oh wow. Well I’m in Chicago right now and it’s just starting to feel like spring here, so I’ll try to send some warm weather over your way.
RS: Excellent, much appreciated.
BUG: Sure, so let’s get started with the interview here. We are talking about THEATRE BIZARRE today and I saw the film a couple of weeks ago and it really is a great anthology. What made you want to do this film in the first place?
RS: Well of course the main attraction is it’s a chance to make something with my friends. I’ve known a lot of those folks, Karim [Hussain] and Doug Buck, and others for years and years, so suddenly there was an opportunity to join forces. In fact, I was trying to make my short anyways and we had already written the script and were looking for a home for it.
BUG: So were there any requirements going into this film as far as what they wanted from you?
RS: Well we knew it was themed about the Grand Guignol, the old theater with the big puppets from the 19th century, so we wanted to keep a slightly French Grand Guignol feel I think, so we maybe took that a bit further than some of the other episodes which reacted against it, but beyond that there was not real creative stipulation. It had to be about 20 minutes and obviously there was constraint to the budget, which was around 20,000.
BUG: Okay and that’s considerably lower than what you’ve previously filmed with on some of your past projects. Were there any steps you took to adjust for that type of budget?
RS: I think the interesting thing about shooting on a budget, which is in fact equivalent to a medium sized music video back in the day, is that pretty much everyone ended up filming in their own backyards. So you get a very strong sense of everyone’s individual worlds they are living in. I know Tom Savini and seeing Tom’s house and in Buddy’s episode you’re seeing Buddy’s apartment and in our episode you’re seeing pretty much the view from the village where we are living.
BUG: So I did some research on you and I got this online, so I don’t know if this is true or not, but it sounds like you’ve had a lot of experience with magic or at least the study of magic in the past. Is that correct?
RS: Yeah, that sums it up.
BUG: Tell me, where did that start? You grew up in Africa, is that true?
RS: Yeah, I imagine you could blame it on my mother. She was writing a book on myths and legends of southern Africa, which is a big poem that she got published I guess in the early 80’s and throughout my early childhood she was busy researching it, so I was dragged around all over southern Africa and what’s now Namibia and Zimbabwe and Mozambique when I was growing up. I got to grow up around a lot of very strange people, a lot of tribal witch doctors, people they call “sangomas” out there, so when you’re hearing about very strange stuff with people turning into animals, spirits, etc… when you are four, five, and six years old it doesn’t come across as particularly strange. It’s only in later life when people start to tell you those things don’t exist, that you realize you’ve been growing under a rather altered state of circumstances.
BUG: So as far as MOTHER OF TOADS, did you draw upon any of that for that short film?
RS: MOTHER OF TOADS draws quite heavily on our local mythology here in the south of France. The valley where we were living was pretty much controlled by witches back in the old days and there’s a lot of spooky place names still around here. You’ve got the Forest of Toads, the Mountain of Fear, the Devil’s Lake, all of which goes back to the Christians being terrified of the place back in the dark ages.
BUG: That sounds fantastic.
RS: I wanted to work some of the local mythology into the short film. I wanted to marry it with other mythology as well, because obviously there’s the Lovecraft material in there and then there’s also references to the private cosmologies of Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento.
BUG: Sure, yeah I was going to ask about that, if Argento Three Mothers films factored in there as well.
RS: It’s a little homage to European filmmakers.
BUG: Definitely, how did you get the actors to work in the film there with you? Were they local actors?
RS: No, they came from all over. Shane [Woodward] was born in Texas and was living in Paris, so he was at least in the same country. Victoria Maurette is from Argentina. Catriona MacColl is actually living in the south of France. I hadn’t worked with her before, but it was obviously a big deal getting her for the rest of us. I’ve been a big fan of the Fulci movies for years and years and was always wondering what had happened to Catriona.
BUG: So as far as your background in music videos… You have done quite a few music videos as well. Did that help out with making this short film?
RS: It did feel a bit like a music video, but feature films are always feature films and had all the accoutrements of a big shoot just only for five or six days with quite a large crew.
BUG: I was wondering, is it okay to talk a little bit about some of your previous films as well?
RS: Yeah, go for it.
BUG: There’s not too many chances I get to talk to somebody about HARDWARE and it is definitely one of my favorite films. Looking back on that film, all the way back to 1990 how do you feel about the film? Have you revisited it since then?
RS: Yeah, the little beast stands up well. I actually reviewed it about a week ago when HARDWARE was playing and I’m pleasantly pleased that the thing still hasn’t dated too badly. The downside of that is that the world is still not a better place.
BUG: You got some really interesting stars in there with Iggy Pop and Lemmy. How did you get them in that film?
RS: This was largely from working in the music videos at the time, so everyone knew someone who knew someone and point of fact it was mostly very much left to the last minute. Lemmy stepped in to replace Sinead O’Connor who was originally going to be the taxi driver and it was pretty much the night before. There was a frantic rush to try and replace Sinead and we found out Lemmy was around and he pretty much did it for a bottle of Jack Daniels.
BUG: Hah! That’s great. Thinking about that, I don’t know if I can even picture Sinead O’Connor in that role.
RS: Yeah, she was going through her bald phase at the time.
BUG: Very cool. And as far as the other actors on there, have you spoken with them or revisited talking with them about working with them again?
RS: I talk to Stacey Travis quite a lot. I would have always liked to have done something else with Stacey. Obviously Dylan’s [McDermott] has gone on to all kinds of big things.
BUG: Sure, then after that you did DUST DEVIL which seems like it kind of drew upon your past for that one. DUST DEVIL seems to revisit the African roots, the more magical and supernatural roots there. Was that inspired by your youth and the time that you spent with magic and that sort of thing?
RS: Yeah, very much so. DUST DEVIL was actually the first feature film script that I wrote.
BUG: Very cool. And I’m a huge fan of that film as well. I haven’t seen it in ages though. Is it going to be coming out in any type of other format? Like a BluRay or anything like that sometime?
RS: I certainly hope so. We are talking at the moment about trying to get it out on BluRay hopefully this year. It’s long over due.
BUG: That would be fantastic. I would love to revisit that film as well. I wanted to touch on your brief take at ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU. Would you be interested in talking about that a little bit?
RS: I’m good. It’s a long, complicated story.
BUG: I’ve heard a lot of rumors and a lot of controversy and I would love to kind of hear what you’re take was on the whole thing. Apparently you were all set to direct the film and everything and from what I heard it sounded like it just didn’t work out from the get go. Is that true?
RS: Well there was a time when it was going extremely well, but basically what happened is that at one point Bruce Willis was staged to play the lead at which point we had Marlon Brando there playing Moreau. The moment we lost Bruce Willis we started getting friction on the project. Most of the sets were very large builds and it was difficult to justify the investment basically and to keep New Line in the frame, at which point enters Val Kilmer. We needed another star pretty fast and the problem was Val wanted a certain percent of a shooting raise. He could do the movie, but he couldn’t do the schedule we had. The only way to fix that was to bust that down into him playing the role of Moreau’s assistant. Then shortly into shooting Mr. Brando had some very obvious personal problems of his own regarding his family and suspicions arose as to whether Marlon would be able to show up on the day at which point we had gone from having a Bruce Willis movie with Marlon Brando to having a Val Kilmer movie, which couldn’t justify the budget we were asking for, so it started to fall apart.
BUG: So that’s when you left the film? Is that correct?
RS: Yeah, I left approximately four days into principal photography when we simply couldn’t shoot any more. That was a situation where we had a hurricane come over the location. The weather problems, the presence of Marlon Brando who wasn’t there yet. We tried shooting sequences, hurricane sequences, on the beach with Rob Morrow, who was playing the lead man at that point, but we reached the point where production was closed down. I mean Brando eventually did become available and did the shoot, but it wasn’t until several months afterwards. The other problem was we had lost time and the political traction. Everyone started redoing the script and at that point the movie had pretty much gone all the way down the line. Everyone realized that they couldn’t possibly do those “uncivilized inhumane things” on that kind of budget.
BUG: So have you seen the film since you left the film? Since it was released and everything?
RS: There was a contractual obligation screening. They didn’t want to show it to me. The obligation was I had to watch it once and sign off on it.
BUG: Was that a painful screening for you?
RS: Yeah, very strange. I was surprised that it actually held together, because remembering the shooting I was amazed that Frankenheimer had been able to even assemble a movie that resembled some kind of motion picture. That day to day shooting was so chaotic, that I was quite concerned the continuity problems were surmountable.
BUG: What amount of your film was remained in the final product?
RS: Well zero of the finished movie. The casting is retained; some of the cast members, but the script was totally thrown out along with the crew. So basically you get the sets and a rough outline of it, but it feels to me like they pretty much went back and remade it.
BUG: With all of this time away from that project, would you ever consider returning to that story and trying to tell it your way?
RS: Of course Dr. Moreau continues to haunt me. (Laughs) He’s very hard to shake off. He pops up over one shoulder and gives me advice I don’t want to hear.
BUG: So you never know.
RS: Yeah, and some part of me still wants to rescue the beast people.
BUG: That’d be great. There was a wild rumor that you had made your own costume and tried to sneak on to set. Is there any truth to that?
RS: Yeah, there is. I came back on as an extra in the Frankenheimer version, but as they had laid off the entire crew there was no one in common in my crew and the Frankenheimer crew and as I hadn’t been introduced to Frankenheimer he didn’t know who I was, so it was actually possible to come back on as an extra. So I was wearing a proper bulldog head and a proper costume. In fact I still have the dog head sitting on the shelf over here.
BUG: (Laughs) I just think that’s so cool.
RS: It’s kind of fallen apart a bit.
BUG: It’s so great to talk to you about that, just because I’ve heard so many things about it and I remember reading it in FANGORIA and everything, but it’s really interesting to hear it from you. Let’s talk a little bit more about THEATRE BIZARRE. Are you planning on doing more anthology style things? I see that you’ve done quite a few short films in the last couple of years, but not too many feature length films. Is there a reason for that?
RS: I’ve had extremely bad luck with producers mostly. Things tend to get pushed back a few years and then people realize the subject matter is too bizarre or extreme, but thanks to THEATRE BIZARRE we are doing a new feature.
BUG: Great. Can you talk about that?
RS: Yeah, we are doing it with David Gregory and Severin and we are looking at doing a feature film adaptation of… I won’t say the title, but one of the Lovecraft stories.
BUG: Fantastic. That will be great. Have you always had an interest in Lovecraft?
BUG: Is there a favorite story that you have? Not giving away what this is, but do you have a favorite story that you go to every time?
RS: Well I do love them all for their different strengths, but I’m particularly fond of the latter stuff. [He begins to cut out badly.]
BUG: Very cool. You cut out a little bit there; did you say THE WHISPER IN DARKNESS?
RS: Yeah, WHISPERER IN DARKNESS and THE SHADOW OUT OF TIME, the later Lovecraft stories where he really started grappling with time and physics.
BUG: That is really cool. And so THEATRE BIZARRE, now that it’s out on DVD what can you tell the fans of Ain’t It Cool News to expect from your installment from that?
RS: Well my installment is just a little creepy euro-gothic movie with some of the style in the area of Warren Comics from the 70’s. In some ways MOTHER OF TOADS is one of the more traditional segments of THEATER BIZARRE. It’s kind of an evil fairytale.
BUG: Do you have a favorite installment other than your own in THEATRE BIZARRE?
RS: Well I hate to pick favorites. The nice thing about THEATRE BIZARRE is all of the segments work so well in harmony and one seems to lead very seamlessly into the other. Some really blindside the audience. For me, when you reach Karim’s episode, VISION STAINS is really when the movie gives you a sucker punch.
BUG: Definitely. Well I really want to thank you for talking the time out to talk with me today. It really is an honor to talk with you. I’m a huge fan from way back from right when you first appeared back with HARDWARE. Every time I see your name on a project I’m always really interested in checking it out. Congratulations on the new film. I can’t wait to hear more about it.
RS: Yeah, I think David is going to announce it at Cannes, so I don’t want to jump the gun.
BUG: Fantastic. Sure, sure. Well hopefully we can talk again when that film comes out.
RS: Sweet man.
BUG: That’d be great. Well thanks so much for your time. You have a great day. Thank you so much.
RS: Thank you, sir.
BUG: Take care. Bye.
THEATRE BIZARRE is available on DVD and BluRay now!
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Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/reviewer/co-editor of AICN Comics for over ten years. He has written comics such as MUSCLES & FIGHTS, MUSCLES & FRIGHTS, VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, WONDERLAND ANNUAL 2010 & NANNY & HANK (soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND & has co-written their first ever comic book LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in October 2012 as an 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark has just announced his new comic book miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment to be released in March 2012.
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