Tag Archives: Gremlins

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IMG_0503Shiver me timbers, it was pirate week all last week at nursery. Iz decided to be all post-modern and don a The Goonies t-shirt, if only I’d had time to buy a Baby Ruth chocolate bar to ‘complete’ the outfit. Although she does do a mean ‘One-Eyed Willie’ impression.

We spied the t-shirt in Next, from our crows nest naturally, the week before. They are doing some great 80s  retro t-shirts for kids at the mo (well for parents who still are kids to buy for them).

They’ve also got a Gremlins, Ghostbusters and er, Robocop one. Interesting choice that one. Mummy what’s a prime directive? Daddy why did that man have his arm blasted off?

Thankfully they only went for the poster design and not, say, the guy in the petrol station. I wonder if they’ll do Porky’s and Predator in their next wave?

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The Goat of Christmas Present

Some people go to Blackpool to see the lights, we ventured to Summerhill Garden centre near Basildon, Essex.

Being Essex, as you can imagine there was plenty of Christmas bling, including an upside down Christmas tree of all things! With it being a merry blingmas of sorts that also meant the yuletide nod to The Only Way Is Essex with, I rubbed my eyes in disbelief, TOWIE ‘inspired’ baubles with the words reem, vajazzle and wellgel inscribed on them.

There was also in indoor water fountain section which just reminded of the end of Gremlins, so I guess with that being set at Christmas it just made it all the more festive in my filmic eyes.

We also encountered a menagerie of wire frame, illuminated and sparkling figures (sounds like TOWIE again doesn’t it) from Father Christmas, a snowman and Christmas deer – insert your own joke about it getting more expensive every year here.

Isabelle loved the white deer, especially as there were baby ones as well, so she didn’t need any persuading to gently pet and stroke them…the only problem was that she thought they were goats.

The caused much merriment with the surrounding public as Iz was stood pointing at the ‘Christmas goats’ and shouting goats at the top of her lungs.

 

Pat Higgins: There Will Be Blood

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

TrashHouse (2005)

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!

Hellbride (2007)

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.

Gremlins

To describe Gremlins as a kid’s film would be like describing the Bates Motel as a swell place to stay.

Cutesy in a typical Spielbergian world at the very beginning, sure, but it is soon revealed that we, the audience, and indeed the Peltzer family are sorely mistaken and have somewhat misread the situation in the ultimate ‘always heed the instructions’ moment in cinematic history

An animal is for life, not just for Christmas, such is the number one life lesson that we can all learn from the Spielberg Executive Produced, Joe Dante Directed, Gremlins. Rounding out this trio of talent is then scriptwriter – later Harry Potter Director, Chris Columbus – who was on something of a roll after penning scripts for both The Goonies and Young Sherlock Holmes around the same period. This ‘E.T. with teeth’ captivated and entertained and still stands tall as a comedy horror Christmas classic, and you don’t get many of those.

Originally a spec script by the young Columbus the feature was set to be a very different ‘beast’ with the Gremlins being even more dark and twisted, with the irresistibly cute Gizmo turning into Stripe, Barney the dog getting hung and Billy’s mum’s head rolling down the stairs!

Being a Joe Dante film it is a veritable reference of film and cartoon delights, from a cameo by the legendary animator Chuck Jones to a blink and you’ll miss it Steven Spielberg disappearing in a Time Machine

It’s a deliciously wicked and rich film, even until this day and has an almost timeless charm about it like that other 8o’s classic Back to the Future, which also shared the Universal backlot as its main set that created the town, Kingston Falls, and it does so spectacularly.

We get suckered into the cute, furry routine just like the Peltzers. It’s a family movie alright, but more about a families survival than in the traditional sense of the word. As such it caused such shockwaves Stateside and was one of two films that year, 1984, that helped create the PG 13 rating in America, the other film being Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

For all the Gremlins’ attacking from a Christmas tree, driving a bulldozer into the Futterman house, causing mayhem in the streets it’s a very low key scene that lingers in the memory and proves to be the most distressing, that classic monologue by Phoebe Cates on why she hates Christmas, a chilling story of them finding her dead dad stuck up the chimney dressed as Santa Clause. Inspired and perhaps only pipped by the SS Indianapolis story speech by Quint in Jaws for its powerfulness and evococativeness.

The set pieces and the imagery, their swirling lights of the swimming pool when Stripes throws himself in at the deep end, the tension of the death of the college tutor scene played against the rapidly beating heart on the projector, on par with anything in The Howling. Not to mention the discovery of the pods and the classic kitchen scene.

It’s a shame that Dante went for out and out comedy in the sequel as it would have been an interesting study in terror to see them go really, really dark. Of course, a remake or reimagining has been mentioned but it really does remain to be seen whether the Gremlins would hold the same appeal us knowing that they were merely pixels. The Gremlin creations by Chris Wallas are pretty much pitch perfect in design, that other unsung hero of the film is also Jerry Goldsmith and his blistering score that manages to be both comical and scary in equal measure.

It really is a nasty piece of work, and is all the more beloved and beautiful for it. Full of great energy, Dante clearly has great fun letting the Gremlins run riot in the usual Spielberg-like world, albeit one full of B-movie horror high jinks, and it all works wonderfully thanks to the film’s humour and the charm of its young leads. It maybe a special effects lead film but it’s the story that drives it, just like Back to the Future again in many respects, remember when that happened?

Alien is often mooted as the monster sci-fi movie of reference but for me it will always be Gremlins, for me it will always be a great big little monster movie.

From Secret Agents to Superman: remembering Tom Mankiewicz

He may have lived long in his father’s shadow, Joseph L Mankiewicz, the writer of All About Eve and Cleopatra, but his screenwriting son, Tom Mankiewicz, who has died aged 68, will be forever known to a generation as the man who helped ensure the success of Bond and Superman in the 1970s, not to mention being responsible for bringing Hart to Hart to our screens.

Tom lent his name and talents to three Bond films in total, Diamonds are Forever, the last official entry with Sean Connery, and Roger Moore’s first two stints in the role in both Live and Let Die and The Man With The Golden Gun, all in his late 20s!

He was also billed as Creative Consultant on the original Superman and worked extremely closely with Director Richard Donner (the pair give a brilliant dual commentary on both the original film’s DVD and the Director’s cut of Superman 2) on making the mighty tome written by official screenwriter, The Godfather scribe Mario Puzo, into something lighter and filmable. As such he often found himself in high demand as one of those shadowy folk known as script fixers, working miracles, often on set and was an unsung hero on everything from The Spy Who Loved Me, Superman 2 to War Games,  Gremlins and Batman, impressive by anyone’s standards and several hundred million dollars in box office receipts to boot!

Mankiewicz brought a lighter, more comedic edge to his scripts, something which makes perfect sense as you look at his long writing and directing achievements on The Bob Hope Show.  Talking of comedy, his debut as big screen Director was the rather odd ball yet oddly likable film version of Dragnet with Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks, but it will always be writing that Mankiewicz shall forever be associated with and his vision of both Bond and The Man of Steel are still ingrained in the psyche so resolutely that for a whole generation Roger Moore was James Bond and Christopher Reeve was Superman. They may have acted the roles but Mankiewicz fleshed them out in his writing and made them quotable to this day.

Pat’s Labyrinth: Horror auteur ‘exorcises’ his horror demons in Essex

Hollywood had Universal and London had Hammer, and now Essex is having a ‘stab’ at horror thanks to Jinx Media, founded by husband and wife team, Pat and Pippa Higgins.

Higgins in horror mode

With an output of five movies, TrashHouse (2005), HellBride (2007), KillerKiller (2007), The Devil’s Music (2008) and Bordello Death Tales (2009), in as many years Jinx Media is proving to be anything but jinxed, with it being as productive as the likes of those studios that unleashed Lon Chaney and Christopher Lee into our nightmares. Dean Newman caught up with Director, Producer, Writer and Editor, Pat Higgins, and found out what influenced his frankly warped and deprived mind.

Pat’s most recent release, The Devil’s Music, has just premiered on DVD in America, but us lucky folk in the UK, however can catch the horror mockumentary, described as ‘This Is Spinal Tap’ meets The Omen’, for free on http://www.indiemoviesonline.com/watch-movies/the-devils-music, uncut, no adverts, no horrible software to install. It is something which Pat sees as a really pioneering website and a great outlet for film fans and filmmakers alike.

DN: Who are your influences?

PH: It’s mainly filmmakers that went out and just did it regardless of any obstacles that may have been in their path, so very much people like Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson, Robert Rodriquez, and Kevin Smith. People who had no money and little professional experience but just decided right I’m going to put together a screenplay, put together the best package that I can and just go out and actually make it.

In terms of tone I’d definitely also add Joe Dante to that list, if there is anyone I owe a huge debt to with comedy horror hybrids then it his him in particular. I vividly remember seeing Gremlins when I was about 11 and it just had this huge impact on me. And not forgetting Fred Dekker as well, with Night of the Creeps and The Monster Squad, again very 80s but it’s just a nice fusion of comedy and horror. 

DN: What horror movies do you hold in high regard?

PH: I’ve got a lot of love for The Shining, which I think is perhaps the greatest horror movie ever made, the original Robert Wise version of The Haunting and The Exorcist. I think The Shining is pretty much the perfect horror movie as its just got images that drill into your head and just stay there.

Stephen King was not a huge fan and called it a beautiful car without an engine, but I don’t actually think he is right, there is an engine there and is revving really fast but it is so beautifully made that you can’t hear the engine, it doesn’t leave the traces you might usually get.

The Exorcist is smart, is not afraid of its subject matter in a way that a lot of movies dealing with that sort of thing might be and is willing to credit its audience with some intelligence. And The Haunting is just a beautiful, crisp, perfect movie. I love it, a lot, but do have a huge amount of hatred for the remake. Although I think the greatest scare shot of all time for me has to be in the much butchered The Exorcist III.

DN: The likes of The Exorcist have become an established horror franchise, have you ever been tempted to do a sequel to one of your own films?

PH: I’d love to, I’ve got ideas for all of them but I get side-tracked by new ideas that bubble up. I’m a bit like a dog chasing a car as I’ve just got to go after stuff, but I’ve certainly got treatments and in some cases whole screenplays for follow ups to what we’ve already produced.

 
 

 

Cranks the fear up to 11

DN: Getting the right mix of horror and humour is notoriously hard to get right, what do you see as the secret to success in balancing those two areas in film?

 

PH: I think you have to love your characters and love your script. If it’s not breaking your heart to kill one of your characters, which is someone you’ve lived with for months and years in the back of your head, on the page and finally in front of the camera, you can’t expect anyone else to remotely give a shit about them.

I think that particularly with horror comedies people think they can back away from the script and think we can set this up and then this up, the wacky best friend dies at this point, so on and so forth and I think that people can get very dispassionate about it and more often than not it really shows. You end up with characters as just cannon-fodder that nobody cares about, including the people who have written and made the movie.

In terms of the gags I think it is a matter of approaching it in a smart way and ensuring that the script is as tight and as entertaining as it can possibly be, because the writing process is the only one where low budget directors can get a leap on Hollywood.

If you are going crossbreed horror and comedy then you have to do it with loving care.

DN: A lot of horror comedy is played straight as well, such as An American Werewolf in London and Shaun of the Dead, isn’t it?

PH: Absolutely, Shaun of the Dead is a movie that really loves its characters, the way that the mother’s death (Penelope Wilton) is handled is just heartbreaking. And I think that is what marks that film out over less successful scripts as it is written by someone that cares.

Pat is clearly someone who cares a great deal about horror and next time, in Pat’s Labyrinth II: The pitfalls and the pendulums of producing low budget horror in the UK, Dean will be catching up with him to talk about the trials and tribulations of making low budget horror.