Tag Archives: The Exorcist

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.

The Exorcist to hit the small screen: The power of TV compels you

What with the success of such horror fare as The Walking Dead and American Horror Story in our living rooms it’s perhaps not unsurprising to hear the announcement that The Exorcist is to make the leap to the small screen in the form of a 10-part series.

Other horror franchises have hit the small screen in the past but these have just been in name only and effectively being loose reworkings of The Twilight Zone, step forward Freddy’s Nightmares, Friday the 13th (Voorhees free) and Poltergeist: The Legacy.

We of course hear lots about TV programmes being turned into films, some are good, such as The Fugitive ,The Naked Gun and Mission Impossible, some are bad, step up Wild Wild West and I Spy, whilst others are just plain ugly, Car 54, Where Are You? but less like this The Exorcist move.

Let’s have a flick through the TV Guide of yesteryear to celebrate and shake our heads at some of those franchises that made the leap, or in some case fatal stumbles, from our cinemas to the small screen.

Blue Thunder

I’ve always been a big fan of the Roy Scheider film on which this was based. I never realised it until yesterday but the main character, here played by James Farentino, isn’t even the same character as Scheider, he just has an equally big pair of shades. Daniel Stern couldn’t return due to him getting killed in the film (or really that doesn’t mean a thing, see what I mean later) so we had a similar sidekick in the form of Dana Carvey (yes, Garth from a future Wayne’s World) with support from two American Football legends, the fantastically named Dick Butkus and Bubba Smith, that’s right Hightower from Police Academy (and here I was under the impression he worked in a florists). Turns out that the sky wasn’t big enough for two helicopters and Airwolf – with its funkier titles, theme tune and flying machine) metaphorically shot it out of the sky after only 13 episodes. Still love Blue Thunder the movie though.

Alien Nation

Ah, the late 80s.After the success of Lethal Weapon we pretty much exhausted every mis-matched cop variation that we could (cop and dog – K(, American cop and Russian cop – Red Heat, cop and kid – Cop and a Half, cop and zombie ex partner – Dead Heat and cop and alien partner – Alien Nation.

The film starred James Caan and Mandy Patinkin and explored issues of race regarding a new alien species who were facing the same struggles that say black people were facing 15-20 years earlier when it was released in 1988. The TV series explored that theme a lot deeper and TV was the perfect place for it to draw out such issues. Even when the series ended it returned for several TV movies.

Stargate SG-1

At the current time of writing this is the longest constantly running Sci-Fi show (no, Doctor Who doesn’t count due to his long break). Spinning off from the hit film of the same title we have Richard Dean Anderson – almost shugging off all previous memory of MacGyver – bet he could have made his own Stargate – instead of Kurt Russell in the same role and crucially acknowledges, respects and significantly builds upon that original film world and did so for 10 seasons, its own spin off TV movie and two of its own spin of series, making it the most successful  Sci-Fi property since Star Trek.

Ferris Bueller

It could have only been more bungled if Principal Rooney had tried to make this himself. Sometimes a property works because of the writer and the actors involved, this had neither so was more a case of Ferris Bueller Bog Off rather than his still never bettered Day Off. It always seemed like Parker Lewis Can’t Lose tone and had Charlie Schlatter (liked him in 18 Again, hope he fired his agent after Police Academy 7 replacing Matt McCoy replacing Steve Guttenberg and perhaps most widely known for Diagnosis Murder) and an early turn from Jennifer Aniston and her pre operation nose. Talking of John Hughes properties, somehow, somehow Uncle Buck also made it to a series.

Working Girl

The film was Oscar-nominated, had a career best performance from Melanie Griffith who turned into Sandra Bullock for the short-lived TV version.

Tremors

After four films (don’t worry only two of them made them into cinemas) the Syfy Channel thought they’d Graboid some extra green stuff from the franchise and spin it out as a TV series, featuring Michael Gross, who has been a mainstay of all of the films (and played Michael J Fox’s dad in Family Ties). The Channel mucked about with the order so it made no sense, which meant sloppy re-editing and an audience that nose-divided sending the Graboids back into hiding never to be seen again.

Madigan

Richard Widmark lasted for six 90 minutes episodes of this TV series named after the 1968 film of the same name, which to be honest was some going as he got shot dead at the end of the film. The original film was directed by Don Siegel who would go onto make Dirty Harry.  In the same year as directing Madigan, Siegel also directed Coogan’s Bluff with a fish out of water cop played by Clint Eastwood. This also turned up on TV, this time as McCloud with Dennis Weaver in the role.

Casablanca

When Humphrey Bogart said “Play it again, Sam” I don’t think he meant the whole scenario, well amazingly that is what happened and more amazingly still it was with David Soul in the Bogart role in 1983, which also featured an early Ray Liotta and Scatman ‘Hong Kong Phooey” Crothers. Was also made for TV in 1955, the latter only lasted two episodes with the former shutting up shop after 6.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

It’s often forgotten that Buffy started out as something of a so-so movie with a good idea with the lovely but oh so different to Gellar, Kristy Swanson in the role.

Robocop

Think it over creep. I really wish they had. One of those really odd things that happened (a similar think happened with a  Rambo kids cartoon) were an ultra violent film and is slowly eroded away over sequels (flying Robocop in part 3 folks), then a TV series – which still looked like that same world but just something of a cuddlier version and even a cartoon.

Case 39 AKA Bridget Jones and the edge of insanity

Renee, steady, go

Is it a question of case dismissed as dismal or file under ‘E’ for enjoyable for this Renee Zellweger horror? Dean Newman discusses his notes.

I’m pleased to report that this chiller delivers some quite fun and effective hebegeebes and is neither the disaster nor bore that I had feared. It may not be the most original horror thriller ever, taking various cues from the likes of The Exorcist, The Omen and even The Ring, but it certainly more than held the interest.

Zellweger stars as Social Worker, Emily Jenkins, who is handed the Case 39 of the title and discovers all is not well at the Sullivan household where 10 year old Lillith is being abused and threatened by her mum and dad. Things come to a head when a concerned Zellweger gatecrashes the Sullivan’s with cop friend, Mike Barron (Ian McShane) to see the 10 year old being placed in the families’ oven, in one of the film’s standout moments and perhaps cinema’s greatest fridge pummelling outside of Tom & Jerry.

Jenkins takes the child into care, but nothing is as it seems and playing temporary foster mum is far from child’s play (save for the Chucky variety) and events and deaths soon escalate, including an impressive insect set piece that does for hornets what The Amityville Horror did for flies.

The child prays and plays on people’s fears, adding a further dimension to the proceedings, but can Zellweger’s character face her fears and save herself, the people close to her and her own sanity?

Zellweger follows in the footsteps of the likes of Naomi Watts (The Ring), Jennifer Connelly (Dark Water), Sarah Michelle Gellar (The Return) and Julianne Moore (The Forgotten and the soon to be released Shelter) into the realm of Hollywood women headlining oh so creepy horror but thankfully this isn’t as painfully slow paced as the recent likes of The Unborn (shame on you David S Goyer) and The Return, both of which were painfully dull and slow. Note to horror writers and directors, just because The Ring was a slow burner and did good box office it doesn’t mean that slow equals worthy or watchable horror.

Sure, Case 39 is not without its faults and isn’t going to top anyone’s greatest horror movie list but it does have a couple of nice memorable set pieces, as mentioned above, some effective jumps and a fine supporting cast, namely in the form of Bradley (soon to be ‘Face Man’ in The A Team) Cooper and Ian McShane.

For me I found this piece of horror hokum as much fun as White Noise and other recent child horror fare, The Children and Orphan, the latter which also shares a thing or two with this Omen-esque relation. It’s certainly a fun frightfest and I found it far more interesting and engaging than how the ‘story’ in Paranormal Activity, which sound design aside was rather trite, unfolded.

3/5

Ghostwatch with mother

For those that tuned into BBC1 on the evening of Saturday 31st October 1992 things would never be the same, especially for those of a nervous disposition. The events that took place that evening caused such panic and fear that they have never been repeated again…ever, anywhere…but those who watched it have never forgotten.

Early 90s Saturday night TV could normally be counted on to be a jolly diet of Noel doing his usual from Crinkly Bottom, Cilla playing cupid and people falling off ladders in Casualty, but Halloween 17 years ago was to prove to be a very different affair.

Ghostwatch was an ambitious BBC project that pre-dated Most Haunted by years and saw some of the most respected TV people, okay so maybe not Mike Smith and Craig Charles, but we all liked Sarah Greene and Michael Parkinson lent the whole proceedings some gravitas, investigate Foxhill Drive, one of the most haunted houses in Britain and have it beamed live into our homes.

That was the premise, I say premise as despite the presence of Parkinson it was all a fake, a rouse, something to give the audience a fright and boy did it work in that department. Witten by Stephen Volk, who also latterly penned the also suitably creepy Afterlife, the drama took its central idea from an actual documented Poltergeist case, The Enfield Poltergeist.

Looking back at the BFI special edition DVD, its first appearance on any media, thus showing it to be a seminal piece of British television the like we will probably never see the like of again, some of the acting is a tad ropey but despite this it still drags you in and still unnerves as it did all those years ago.

Certainly for inducing panic and fear, it caused numerous complaints regarding sleepless nights and even allegedly caused a number of women to go into labour and even unconfirmed reports of the suicide of a young man, it deserves to be uttered in the same breath as Orson Welles’ radio presentation of War of the Worlds 1938, also broadcast on Halloween. And with that in mind you can certainly understand why it has never been repeated, something which almost makes it The Exorcist of the TV world.

We are of course back in traditional haunted house territory here but there are enough efficient twists and moments to make the hairs on the back of your neck to stand up, and if you are watching it on DVD, reach for your remote control in disbelief. Ghostwatch still has the ability to provoke significant chills with scratches appearing on a young girls face, tales of mutilated dogs and the building’s disturbing history and fleeting glimpses of ‘Pipes’, the evil spirit haunting the house. The climax still has the power to shock too with Sarah Greene being dragged into the cellar and the door slamming shut just as we lose contact with the house…

Modern audiences may scoff at it all and wonder what all the fuss is about but you can be sure that there are still those who still cower and freeze at the very mention of ‘Pipes’ in what is one of the most-fascinating pieces of British television history and its viewing is a firmly established Halloween ritual in my house…never too far from the light switch.

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.