What if Freddy Krueger wore white make-up over his hideously burnt face? What if he had a trio of pompoms on the front of his stripy jumper? Take that image, scars and all, and imagine that sinister-looking figure with the face and hair of British comedian Ross Noble, then place him in the scenario of the rather disastrous house party in the second A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET film, only with the goofy comic backbone of the latter sequels. If you've constructed and projected that mental image correctly, you'll have the poster and trailer (red-band, of course) for STITCHES playing in your mind.
Yes, Ross Noble has been plucked fresh from the stage and TV panel shows, and dropped into the role of an undead killer clown in an Irish feature film with a high body count and an extra high gore score.
I know how it sounds, and good it does not, but STITCHES is a film that defies expectations. It's exactly the kind of outrageously silly horror-comedy that hits the marks that so many fail to, and fall into hackneyed territory as a result. I saw it in the company of over 1,000 genre fans at Film4 FrightFest in London this past summer and it went down a storm. It's a real crowd-pleaser and a must-see with an energetic, enthusiastic audience.
Yesterday, I spoke on the phone with Conor McMahon, the writer/director of the film, about where the initial idea came from, the perhaps unusual casting of Ross Noble, and much more.
BRITGEEK: So from ZOMBIE BASHERS to what is essentially a zombie clown, where did the idea for STITCHES actually come from?
CONOR MCMAHON: I was trying to write horror-comedy. I knew I wanted to write a horror-comedy, but I had another idea that was based on a real life serial killer. Every time I wrote a draft people were saying it [didn't] really work, this serious kind of subject, trying to make it into a comedy. [I thought a] clown would be a better fit from just the very start of a horror-comedy, like it'd almost be perfect … you could kind of be scary and also then you could work in the comedy, and I guess also the clownish deaths as well were part of it. It just seemed like the perfect starting point for a horror-comedy.
BG: Yeah. What I like about it is that it's one of those films that truly subverts audience expectations. I always try and go into films with an open mind, but suddenly this plot gets thrown in your face where you have Ross Noble as this undead clown coming back to life to massacre these teenagers at a house party. It's somewhat difficult not to have certain expectations, but STITCHES, to me, was such a pleasant surprise. It really reminded me of one of the A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET sequels where the kills got that much more outrageous and fun, and the movies had become more comedic.
CM: Yeah. It's funny, that was definitely a reference point. It was almost like, okay, we're not making A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 1, but A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3 [laughs], that was almost my reference point. By number three, Freddy was not as scary as he was in number one, he'd almost become a bit more comic, and definitely that era of film was something that I wanted to do; almost make one of those films and not be too post-modern about it, but make it like you might have just rented it out from the '80s, if you know what I mean.
BG: Yeah, it's definitely got that real '80s slasher vibe to it and I think that's going to please a lot of genre fans. I was at the FrightFest screening, and certainly the reaction was pretty telling, and if you win over FrightFest you're pretty much set, I think. So were these the kinds of films that you grew up appreciating and was it a case of you wanting to recreate them?
CM: No, I was kind of the opposite because I wasn't allowed to look at anything when I was a kid, so I came to horror quite late, but it's probably because then I suddenly realised there was so much, and I massively OD'ed on it all. Definitely the film that had the most influence was THE EVIL DEAD 2. I started making these silly films with a video camera like a lot of people, and I saw THE EVIL DEAD 2 and I literally just started making films like that, these silly horror-comedies.
BG: And why was it a clown? Do you yourself have this particular fear, or did you just want to tap into this phobia that many people have and sort of give it this nice comedic twist?
CM: Every so often it just comes up. Why are clowns scary? Are they scary? Some people don't find them scary, other people do. It was a conversation I always had once a year with somebody, or an argument with somebody [who doesn't] find them scary, and other people would be freaked out by them, so there was definitely something interesting about it. I suppose IT is the classic one, but aside from that it hasn't really been touched a whole lot in a long while, so I kind of felt that there was room to do one as I haven't seen one in a while.
BG: I was trying to think myself of killer clowns and I couldn't think of that many, like you mention, IT-
CM: KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE is another one.
BG: Oh yeah [laughs]. So how did Ross Noble get involved in the project? It's inspired casting to say the least, but he's fantastic in the role.
CM: I think it's got to be his hair, you know? [laughs] I've seen his stand-up comedy [and] I needed somebody funny in the part rather than somebody trying to be funny, because I think if you have someone funny, you can almost play it straight and they'll somehow come across comedic. Seeing Ross on stage, I think it was the hair, there was something clownish about him and he was very physical on stage. He actually used to be a kids' entertainer, so it was kind of funny for him because he sometimes found it hard to create a bad clown. When I told him to juggle badly it was actually really hard for him because actually he could juggle really well [laughs].
BG: Did he do any ad-libbing or just stick to the script?
CM: I love improv and stuff, and I suppose almost the nature of that role is you don't have a huge amount of room to manoeuvre. I suppose it's like Freddy Krueger in that he pops up, says a couple of lines and disappears for a while. But in those limitations, there was room for ad-lib. I might have written a line one way and Ross would just sort of twist it into his own way of saying it, but even aside from just lines, dialogue-wise, each morning he'd come in and he'd go, “I've got an idea,” and he'd have some new trick up his sleeve, so he's very much into that thing.
BG: And with the teenagers in the film, they're quite a rowdy bunch on-screen, how was the process of casting them?
CM: What was tricky was it was a weird age group because normally I'd know a lot of actors or people in the older age group, but I wanted to keep the age low, I wanted them mostly to be seventeen and eighteen, so if you're doing that you're almost trying to find people from scratch, so it was quite hard. … It was tricky because you're trying to cast different people and make it like they're all friends and they have about a week to hang out together. The hard part actually was I needed to cast the older people to be able to cast the kids just so they'd all look somewhat similar, so that was sort of a tricky process because you wanted [people] who looked like the older kids but then who [were] also halfway decent.
BG: There are certainly some highly innovative and pretty nasty – but in a fun way – kills in the film. What was the writing process like with your co-writer in coming up with these deaths, and as well as that, were there any ideas that you didn't use that you really wanted to?
CM: Oh yeah, that's always the annoying part, like you're strapped for time. There were certainly things that were a bit longer with extra moments within the sequences but we just ran out of time, but for me the death scenes are almost the starting point and also the place I have the most fun with, so in a way that's how I test if it's worth writing the rest of the film, so when I came up with the clown idea, basically the starting point was trying to come up with elaborate death sequences, and there were definitely a few that I didn't get to do, but I guess with those you just keep them for the next one.
BG: Definitely. So what's next for you? Do you want to continue in horror, or do you have any projects lined up that are in other genres?
CM: Yeah, I mean I'm doing a bit of writing with Stephen Shields again just to see if the ZOMBIE BASHERS idea would sustain a feature length, so we're tinkering a bit with that, and then I've one or two other ideas, again they're all kind of in the horror-comedy genre. Nothing absolutely definite. I think when this film comes out, it'll almost be, “Okay, now I can start again.”
BG: Excellent. Well I wish you the best of luck with the release of STITCHES.
CM: Cool, thanks a million.
Many thanks to Conor for his time.
STITCHES is out now in UK cinemas from Kaleidoscope Entertainment.
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