It’s a while since I last crossed paths with Essex’s most prolific horror film maker, Pat Higgins. Since I last interviewed him he has become a first time dad and been back behind his word processor and the lens of a camera. Pat’s back and this time it’s personal. There will be terror, there will be death and you can be sure that…there will be blood!
It is the year 1981 and little Pat Higgins was getting his first taste of media exposure on local radio talking about horror. The film the six year old was talking about was David Cronenberg’s Scanners, the poster to be precise and the fact that it scared the bejesus out of him. It kind of reminded me of the phone in flashbacks to a young Norman Bates in Psycho IV: The Beginning, thus forever melding those words Higgins and horror as one.
Higgins has since made his peace with the head-exploding classic as that very same poster design now sits in his house, almost trophy like, although it’s more that it has captured him and his imagination than the other way round.
In some ways you could describe Pat as one part Wes Craven meets one part Quentin Tarantino. The 38 year old from Leigh, like Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream horrormeister Craven, is a college lecturer by day and , like Tarantino, used to work in a video shop, Blockbuster in Westcliff-on-Sea no less.
What screams may come then as rather than renting video nasties to the public, he is now making them and over his seven years helming and writing horror films he has built up quite the body of work (and number of bodies) that has seen him win numerous awards and also attend the Cannes Film Festival.
His latest feature, Nazi Zombie Death Tales, is a horror anthology, like Bordello Death Tales in features segments from the horror holy trinity of Higgins, Jim Eaves and Alan Ronald, and was released on DVD recently and is now available from the likes of Amazon, HMV and Asda.
For him this latest project, WW2 practically a horror sub-genre in itself these days, has been a fantastic experience for Pat. He said: “As both a horror fan and filmmaker, I’m massively proud of it and sees it as a really strong, commercial piece of work.”
Like most filmmakers he’s involved in several projects at various stages, both new and old, which also includes going back into the editing suite and delivering director cuts of two of his earlier efforts, Killer Killer, and The Devil’s Music.
Higgins first broke onto the horror scene with TrashHouse, which won him both rave reviews and the Best Screenplay Award at the Troma Fling in Edinburgh as well as Runner Up in Best UK Film, back in 2005, and with each passing film he has grown as a director, so what has he taken from each new project.
Pat said: “Really I’ve managed to pull one big lesson from each film I have written or directed. Hopefully this hones what I do better and to a degree it’s been me growing as a filmmaker in public and discovering what worked and didn’t work. TrashHouse is a movie with an awful lot of things that I would do differently today but I wouldn’t know how to do them differently if I hadn’t had made TrashHouse. You can’t look back with too much regret as long as you can take something away from it and learn from it.”
Higgins had TrashHouse bubbling in his head for a while before he decided to step behind the camera for the first time at the age of 29, sneaking it in before his 30th and ticking that item off his bucket list, which perhaps would be more appropriate if it were a bucket of blood list.
Keen to find out what influences we would find if we sliced open Pat’s brain open and it spilled out, his answers came thick and fast.
“Rubber monsters of a Gremlin’s ilk, huge giant squid knocking about in my brain from 20,000 leagues under the sea, always prominent and if they were cheaper to realise I would have probably made about four killer squid movie s by now.
The work of Fred Dekker, apart from Robocop 3. I just love Night of the Creeps and Monster Squad to pieces. Night of the Creeps is the closest blueprint to some of the stuff knocking around in my head at any one time. Also, Hitchcock from a narrative point of view and the suspense element is something always there in the mix.”
Asked whether he thought he has changed as a writer or director since becoming a dad, or see things from a different perspective, Higgins’ answer was clear.
“Absolutely, in terms of what you watch as well. You certainly react differently to different stimulus and the things that worried you when you were a teenager are probably very different things that worry you as an adult and then again as a parent. I’ve had conversations with much younger people who can’t understand why the Exorcist is a scary film.
I always say to them come back to me in 20 years time when you’ve got a child and then you’ll see why. The Exorcist doesn’t prey on the fears of teenagers it preys on the fears of parents, whereas something like Scream or Halloween I don’t put my self in the shoes of a baby sitter in peril. Screw and Die movies, for want of a better word, they don’t resonate with my own concerns as a parent. Those things do change and the horror movies you react to change.
Just because it is no longer the stuff that doesn’t keep me awake at the end of the night it doesn’t mean I still can’t tap into it. I can hopefully still empathise with that section of the audience still scared by the monster under the bed and the bogeyman and that kind of level of slasher horror. I might do slightly more when my daughter is a teenager.
Charlie Brooker recently said in an interview that becoming a parent is like being totally being reprogrammed in a second and I think that is true and if I were to pretend that it doesn’t impact the way you write something I’d be lyng.”
We already know what scared a five year Pat but what scares Pat Higgins on film and real life today? For Hitchcock it was famously the law and the police but according to IMDB for Higgins it is chainsaws, or is it?
Higgins puts the records straight, saying: “Weirdly enough that was written by an actor – I won’t name him – and he said I needed to have something interesting about me on IMDB and before I knew it that was there. Ten years later I nearly get asked it in every interview – its not true but I do get asked it an awful lot, even though I’m cheek to cheek with a chainsaw on my Twitter profile pic.
I think the sudden loss of the rules that you think are established for reality those crumbling are the things that bother me more than anything, that moment where the killer can walk through walls or is people around you conspiring against you. For me there is something in that reveal, something in the heart of that where the scare lies.”
For Higgins those scares begin at the writing stage, for him it is the most exciting stage of the journey. He concluded: “I love the writing and sadly I don’t get as much time to do it as I would like to. There should always be time for writing as it’s the seed from which all else springs.”
Somewhere, there is a five year old who has seen a Pat Higgins poster and is currently phoning up a radio station to complain about it…
Pat’s Entertainment! Those Pat Higgins films in full
Simply put, five strangers take up a winner takes all challenge to test an experimental implant that grants their wildest wishes in a virtual world. One lives out his greatest sexual fantasies, another conjures a technological environment and sets about curing cancer, one can’t think of anything more interesting to do than sit in a chair and have money flutter about around him. Soon, dreams are shattered and the stuff of nightmares are unleashed in the form of monsters and zombies. Those who are dead are the lucky ones!
Everything is working out for Nicole Meadows. She has a great job. She has an adoring boyfriend who has just proposed. She has a doting father who is preparing the wedding. She also has a dark secret and a cursed engagement ring (as you do). Come the wedding day, there will be bloodshed, but at least there will be cake, too. Here comes the Hellbride…just don’t hold your breath for the honeymoon!
Killer Killer (2007)
In the middle of nowhere, sits a secure facility housing only serial killers. One morning the doors are open and the guards have vanished, but a strange freezing mist surrounds the building, preventing the inmates from leaving. Then, one by one, they are murdered. It’s time for the victims to take their vengeance…you’ll never look at a cheerleader in the same way again!
The Devil’s Music (2008)
The first film to document the strange story of notorious shock-rocker Erika Spawn. Spawn was briefly the most infamous woman in the world after her music had been linked to a series of real life murders. It’s Spinal Tap meets Blair Witch as we see ever before seen footage showing us what became of Erika and how her final tour had a bloody end.
Bordello Death Tales (2009)
A unique, sexy and terrifying anthology movie in the tradition of Creepshow. This trilogy of terror delivers blood and boobs in buckets, welcome the macabre tales of The Ripper, Stitchgirl and Vice Day and discover, if you dare, how each tale is linked to the mysterious Madam Raven
Strippers Vs Werewolves (2012)
The title says it all really as werewolves have their eyes on the wrong bunch of women, these wolves have picked the wrong company. A screenplay credit here for Pat that sees his name on then credits but not necessarily his vision on screen. The cast does boast Robert Englund, Steven Berkoff, Lucy Pinder in her big screen debut and Martin Kemp.
Zombie Nazi Death Tales (2012)
War is truly hell with these three interlocking stories from the dark days of World War 2. A soldier on a suicide mission. A troubled family with a monster in their bomb shelter. A supernatural investigator on her most dangerous assignment yet. The war of horror has never been so real.