Wednesday, 20 February 2013

SLICE AND DICE IS HERE!


That nerve wracking but exciting moment when your first full length documentary is about to become available to anyone who wants to see it. 88 Films will be releasing it at the end of April (date tbc) on DVD UK wide. It will be region free:


SYNOPSIS

The Complete History of Mad Maniac Movies!

Ever since Alfred Hitchcock created Psycho in 1960 the story of a weapon-wielding madman - stalking and slaughtering helpless victims - has become a fixture of fear flicks and bludgeoned blockbuster box office.

Slice and Dice: The Slasher Film Forever is an unashamed salutation to the arterial-spraying excellence of Norman Bates, Leatherface, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, Chucky and their many plasma-packed protégés.

Featuring commentary from some of the form's most celebrated faces including Corey Feldman (Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter), Mick Garris (Masters of Horror), Adam Green (Hatchet), Tom Holland (Child's Play), Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre), Patrick Lussier (My Bloody Valentine 3D), Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp), Jeffrey Reddick (creator of Final Destination), Scott Spiegel (Intruder) and numerous others.

Slice and Dice: The Slasher Film Forever is a splatter-packed documentary which delivers enough creepy carnage, and insider information, to appease fright-fans of all generations!


DISC 1:

Feature Film

Special Features:

*Audio commentary with director/ producer Calum Waddell moderated by Justin Kerswell, author of Teenage Wasteland: The Slasher Movie Uncut

*Additional 'outtake' interviews featuring Corey Feldman, Felissa Rose, J.S. Cardone, Kevin Tenney and more.

*Post-screening audience Question and Answer session from the Glasgow Film Theatre featuring Slice and Dice interviewees James Moran and Norman J. Warren

*Footage from the Sitges Film Festival World Premiere

*Footage from the USA premiere at San Francisco's Another Hole in the Head Festival

*Footage from the Scottish premiere at the Glasgow Film Theatre

*All Kinds of Twisted (Theme from Slice and Dice: The Slasher Film Forever) music video

*Full Moon trailer park including trailers for slasher greats Tourist Trap, Puppet Master and Intruder.

DISC 2:

Trailer Park of Legendary Slasher Titles
*Optional audio commentary with Calum Waddell and Justin Kerswell

Peeping Tom (1960)
Slaughter Hotel (1971)
Black Christmas (1974)
Eaten Alive (Tobe Hooper, 1977)
The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
Halloween (1978)
He Knows You're Alone (1980)
Don't Answer the Phone (1980)
Fade to Black (1980)
Terror Train (1980)
Prom Night (1980)
The Unseen (1980)
Final Exam (1981)
Hell Night (1981)
Alone in the Dark (1982)
Last Horror Film (1982)
Sleepaway Camp (1983)
The Hills Have Eyes Part II (1984)
Splatter University (1984)
Mountaintop Motel Massacre (1986)
Stagefright (1987)


Reversible sleeve:





Wednesday, 13 February 2013

The Genius of Joffe

ON A MISSION WITH BRITISH CINEMA'S ONCE GREAT HOPE...

 By Calum Waddell

I conducted this interview at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival. It has never been seen before. oland Joffe was in town to promote You and I, a film which stars Mischa Barton and the girl-pop group t.A.T.u. The film was finally released a year ago and has been seen by practically no one. It is a shame that Joffe ended up directing a movie based upon the years-after-the-sell-by-date appeal of one-hit-wonder pseudo-lesbian chart moppets t.A.T.u (whose 'one hit' was, to be fair, actually really good) given that he was once hailed as the future of the British film industry. Acclaimed after his first two movies, 1984’s The Killing Fields and 1986’s The Mission, as the darling of our national cinema, the filmmaker nevertheless saw his career hit hard times. For instance, 1992’s follow-up drama - City of Joy, failed to set the box office on fire and met with a lukewarm critical reception, whilst 1993’s disastrous video game adaptation Super Mario Bros. is rightly forgotten about. 1995’s Demi Moore vehicle The Scarlet Letter was an attempt to return to artier material, but proved dead on arrival, whilst 2000’s black comedy Vital met with similar commercial silence. His entry into the 'torture porn' horror genre with 2007's occasionally stylish Captivity saw Joffe back in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. His film was slammed for its misogynistic advertising campaign and, even worse, the Elisha Cuthbert-starring slasher picture failed to illicit even the sleazy shocks that its marketing promised.

It is a curious story but, unlike most of the bored press hacks I came across ("Just doing this to meet t.A.T.u really") I was fascinated by the prospect of speaking to Joffe. For a start, he made one of the greatest, and most important, films of all time in The Killing Fields. Ask yourself how many filmmakers make even one great feature. Very few. But Joffe has. Moreover, anyone who has read my blog on Hamburger Hill will know that the Vietnam War is a personal interest of mine - and there is no discussing that torrid period in US foreign policy without speaking about Cambodia and its fall to the Khmer Rouge.

The Killing Fields remains the best [fictonal] feature to date about Pol Pot's attempt to create "year zero" and its star, the actual genocide survivor Haing Ngor, who wrote the essential book "Survival in the Killing Fields", won an Oscar for his role in Joffe's production. Unfortunately, Ngor - whose wife and unborn child lost their lives under the Khmer Rouge - would be shot on the streets of Los Angeles in 1996. A tragic end to a tragic life.

Naturally, I spoke to Joffe about Ngor - and I am happy to finally have these words available. For anyone who has not seen The Killing Fields: shame on you. It comes highly recommended, along with The Mission - evidence of an artist at the prime of his power and someone who, by rights, should have gone on to form a legacy of provocative and thought provoking productions...



What was it that attracted you to your new movie, You and I?

There are a couple of things that drew me to this film and I am unsure which was the most attractive. However, first of all there was the idea of making a film in modern day Moscow. If someone asked me what Moscow looked like before I actually went there then I could describe the Kremlin and a couple of other things, but it really lives in your head in the way that other cities do not. You see, life is so frenetic in modern Moscow, and so brutally different for different groups of people, that you are not quite the same person when you leave. So the more time you spend in modern Moscow the more you see a city in total change. I think that the Russians are trying to work out who they are right now and they are going through an incredible crisis over this and what part they have in the world. I believe that part of this is also related to their relationship to capitalism. Does capitalism mean that you only make money and that is the most important thing? You know, the more money you make the more powerful you are? Or does capitalism mean that you give everyone the chance to makes some money? Or does capitalism mean that you turn everyone into a consumer so that those who have the money hold the power and everyone else is stuck like flies to flypaper just being consumers? Perhaps that is a hell of a lot smarter than trying to hold fixed elections as a communist country. All of these things are being debated right now by people in Moscow and that was one part of the story which I really loved. But I when I was doing The Killing Fields it was, primarily, a story of friendship because you can only understand war if you understand friendship. As long as you understand that then you can understand the price of war – otherwise it is just “bang, bang, you’re dead.”



Yeah, I want to touch upon The Killing Fields. Can you talk about your memories of the late Haing Ngor?

Haing was a very exceptional man because of the life that he had led. He never thought that he was a very nice person. He was a bit of a playboy when he was young and he felt dreadful about what happened to his own wife. I think that Haing could never expiate this terrible conundrum that life had given him but he never shrank from it.

He had never acted when you put him in The Killing Fields...

One of the reasons I wanted him to be in The Killing Fields was because he was telling me all about his own ordeal one day and I thought “I cannot put an actor in this film.” I turned to him and said, “Haing, why don’t you tell me that story again? But act it.” He said “Oh no, I can’t act.” So I told him to go and stand at the window and to tell me about when the Khmer Rouge came and he began to act. At a certain point he turned to me and he said “you have to leave now!” He began crying after that. I said to him, “Haing, I am sorry about this but I have to blackmail you – for the sake of your country you need to play this part because no one else can do it better.” He didn’t speak any English, really, mainly French – so I had to lie to Warner Bros. and then, during the filming, run around the floor underneath the camera and say all kinds of terrible director things to get his emotions going. But I loved him very much. He had tremendous grace and was very, very giving. When he died they found his Oscar in his room. All the gold had been wiped off it because he treasured it so much. And that was a big thing.


At the time Cambodia was operating under Pol Pot, Noam Chomsky, perhaps surprisingly, expressed considerable denial about the genocide that was taking place under the regime. He would later blame the Khmer Rouge's rise to power on the Vietnam War and America's bombing of Cambodia and infiltration of her borders - something that I would largely agree with. That said, this in no way justifies slamming the press reports, of the time, which rightly indicated the Khmer Rouge was murdering hundreds of thousands of people. I am surprised that Chomsky has not been more vocal in apologising for his, let's say, soft-handed approach towards a form of government that was as cruel as the National Socialists... (For a solid report on this see: Chomsky and the Khmer Rouge)

Yes, I was offended by him. It comes back to something I feel about belief. Noam Chomsky reminded me of it actually. When I agreed to do The Killing Fields I got a visit from two members of the WRP (note: Worker’s Revolutionary Party) who told me I should not do the movie because I would be attacking a young socialist state that was only trying to find its feet. I said “Well yes, but can you see the shortcomings of this argument?” they told me they could not. I said “You want me to gloss over what happened in order to do what?” And they told me “to protect socialism.” I said, “I am sure socialism is strong enough to take the criticism.” I then said, “I don’t think I am betraying socialism at all, but if I am then I will live with it.” Chomsky had the same problem.

Right, I also fail to see why criticising the gross inhumanity of the Khmer Rouge - which owed little to the ideals of Marx and Engels anyway - is attacking any sort of left-wing order. Chomsky is a great mind, but he really should have known better...

Chomsky is a very, very bright man but you have to ask, “Why did he go blind in that area?” Well he went blind in the area that we all go blind in and that is why I have never tried to make a movie about a specific political point of view. Belief and personality is so interwoven that we are often deformed by them. They become us. So Noam Chomsky, who could be so observant about language, could not bring himself to see what had happened in Cambodia. He could only read it as propaganda. I don’t think he was bad – but his comments did make me think, “If Noam Chomsky is that smart and he can’t get out of that trap then why would you believe you could?” That is why I have not tried to make my career as a movie director attached to politics. Rather it has been as a movie director attached to people.

You mentioned there that you do not make movies with a specific point of view but, judging from what you said earlier about You and I, you seem to be a little taken aback by Russia’s open armed acceptance of free market capitalism. Is that a fair statement?

Well if you can take this from a very ignorant human being… If we accept that capitalism is just a system in the same way that our bodies are just a system and the movie industry is just a system… For me, if we lay aside any criticism of it and look at how the system operates – no system operates without checks and balances. The body checks that your liver doesn’t turn into your spleen for example… So capitalism, of itself, is not necessarily bad, but it is designed to make profits and we need to ask what the profits should be. You see, of itself it won’t stop – it is like cancer, it wants to keep growing, but when cancer grows it eventually kills the body. Capitalism is exactly the same – it will just keep growing.

I agree. I think we can see by the exhaustion of our natural resources, global warming and the life opportunities afforded to those in developing nations - illustrated by sweatshop labour and so forth - that unregulated market capitalism is of benefit to only a small minority of people who have little interest in the morality of how they are making their millions or billions.

I think that Milton Friedman’s idea of an unregulated market was totally banal and utterly, utterly immoral and disgraceful. Yet the Victorians, who we criticise, at least had the balls and the guts to know that was a mistake and Teddy Roosevelt, who was a Republican, at least understood that if you don’t put checks and balances on those train and coal barons the country would fall apart. But here we are 70 years later running around thinking that free market trading is the answer to everything and it can’t be, because if you allow capitalism to run wild it becomes a cancer in its own right. Human beings love to trade and to banter and capitalism is based on trading and banter. Human being also like power – we like it because it makes us feel safe but too much power is a nightmare. Russia is totally dedicated to power and committed to using capitalism for that means in a way that no one in the West has dared to do since the days of the old train and coal barons. It is a throwback to the way capitalism was and that is very scary… They think they are ahead of the curve and they are not.

According to the excellent book My Indecision Is Final: The Spectacular Rise and Fall of Goldcrest Films you were told during the making of The Mission that if your movie failed to make a profit Goldcrest would go under. What kind of pressure did that put you under? (Note: The Mission failed to go into profit during its initial release and Goldcrest folded)

It was very strange in a way (laughs). I recall being told, in the middle of shooting, “we need to cut $5 million out of the budget and the movie still has to work,” and everyone at Goldcrest was very distressed. I said to them, “Right now Jeremy Irons and Robert DeNiro don’t like each other, I am working with a waterfall which does what it wants, not what I want, and I am responsible for group of Indians - who I have flown over 235 miles across Colombia - and who have a rat infestation in their village. And now I have to add Goldcrest to the list?” I thought to myself, “Well if it really comes down to it, I have to protect the Indians first, DeNiro and Jeremy second and Goldcrest third.” It had to be in that order. I just had to get on with making the movie and you never know if a film is going to work. It is an exercise in faith and trust.


Why didn’t DeNiro and Irons get along?

They came from very, very different acting areas. Bobby is very interior – he finds his way outside by going in and Jeremy finds his way inside by having been out. He wants to know what his costume is, what his clothes are, where he is going to do and what he has done. But Bobby doesn’t want to know anything. He wants to find his interior. So I had to be the bridge between them both. But that is what I am paid to do.

You shot the movie in Colombia, in the rain forest, what were the conditions like?

The conditions varied. We also shot it in the middle of an area used for coke trafficking, which led to some problems because we were in their way. I remember we had to leave the set one weekend for that reason. However, because I am not a sadist, and I didn’t want the crew to have a bad time we all stayed in hotels. In truth, when I was scouting the movie and I went down the river by boat and lived in an Indian village for two weeks, it was pretty fascinating to me but also tough in its own way. I tried to locate the set somewhere that we could reconstruct all of that, but also be near a hotel so that we could always go back and relax at night. If you really, really look at the end battle scene you can see, under camouflage netting, the main Transamerica highway with things going backwards and forwards on it. That was also the highway where the coke trafficking was going on.


How did you feel about the accusations of misogyny that greeted Captivity

(Sighs) Whatever people say about you, you have to live with it but if it is not true then it should not worry you. Captivity is not a misogynistic film at all but I had a different end to it. At the end of my version of the movie you see a vigilante killing and it turns out that the character played by Elisha Cuthbert had actually done this before she was kidnapped. So in my version of the movie the message was “if you treat women with violence then they will become violent back.” Personally I was furious that they changed the end. I just could not come out and say anything at the time but I can now. So the misogyny in that film was not my fault. I don’t believe it is a misogynistic movie but, on the other hand, you cannot fault the press for coming to something with an attitude. You hope that some journalist will say it is not misogynistic – and some did – but if you adopt any kind of public persona then you have to take the knocks. I spent a lot of my life with people saying I was a moralist and I was too emotional so it was quite funny to be labelled as something else entirely.

The marketing for Captivity also came under scrutiny because it highlighted a series of very visceral advertisements with women being tortured…

Again, it all got sucked it into some kind of marketing system that I had no control over. I said to them “if you show this movie to women with my ending then they will say that it does raise some serious issues.” If a woman is raped is she not entitled to be angry? A lot of women have written that when they were raped, people were angry at them for being angry. They would say “I want to kill this man and castrate him” and they were told that they could not have those feelings. That argument kind of fell on deaf ears - although I made it to the press as much as I could and as often as I could… Eventually, however, I had to shut up because I didn’t feel like I should sabotage the movie. I didn’t realise that they had changed the end, which I thought would justify everything, but what can you do?



Sunday, 10 February 2013



Basically Addictive

 (NOTE: This is another one from my archives - this comes from a 2005 report that I did from the Cannes Film Festival at a Press Conference for Basic Instinct 2. It was published in DVD WORLD magazine a couple of months later. At the time the sequel was known as Basic Instinct 2: Risk Addiction and pretty much everyone there knew it was going to be awful. Anyway, this makes for quite a good laugh - I think - and sums up the hysteria of the world's biggest movie bash!)

Sharon Stone is about to flash her bits all over again in Basic Instinct 2: Risk Addiction – her attempt at a screen resurrection after a few misguided flops. Calum Waddell and Shazza came together in Cannes… but was it a marriage made in heaven or hell?

By Calum Waddell
                                                                                                           
It is impossible to be pleasant about press junkets. Especially press junkets that involve megastar divas – because, in such cases, it usually means a free for all in getting up close and personal and having your voice heard above the hustle and bustle of every other hack journalist in the room. No one cares if they trample over you en route to a space at the front, or if their camera equipment might be nudging into your legs. Moreover, everyone thinks they are more important than the person to their left or their right. 

Pandemonium. Total pandemonium.



Not that this has stopped yours truly from nabbing himself a ringside view for Sharon Stone’s appearance – in a lofty nightclub that sits to the right side of the luxurious Carlton Hotel – to talk about Basic Instinct 2: Risk Addiction. On the opening night of the 2005 Cannes Film Festival, Sharon Stone suddenly announced that she was going to do this – and your humble writer just so happened to be in the relevant press office when the date and time was made public knowledge. Right place, right time in other words – and thank goodness I booked early, because a whole shower of people are being turned away at the entrances. 

Brilliant isn’t it? 

Well, yes and no. Stone is running about 90 minutes late and the press are packed like sardines into a minimal section of the room that is currently accommodating television cameras, scribes and photographers. Stretch your legs and you are in danger of knocking something – or someone – over. Thankfully, therefore, at least the bar is free - the only problem being that no one can get to it. So, with Shazza running ridiculously late we are kept happy by beautiful blonde waitresses in low cut white t-shirts traipsing around and serving us champagne. 

Sexism? At a press conference for a Basic Instinct sequel? No way.

Finally, though, she walks in – the star of such hits as Casino (for which she was Oscar nominated), Sliver and The Specialist and, following such disasters as 2002’s Cold Creek Manor and last year’s Catwoman, a Hollywood icon badly in need of a career resurrection. 



Okay, look, sorry for being cynical but Basic Instinct 2 is obviously being done because Stone is guaranteed a big pay day and a newfound injection of notoriety. The fact that she is the sole returning main player from the original (no Joe Eszterhas on scriptwriting duties, no Paul Verhoeven behind the camera, no Michael Douglas as the male co-star) speaks volumes; and it is common knowledge that sequels which are done solely for the purpose of inflating someone’s bank balance invariably disappoint. 

How many people rate The Godfather Part 3 up there with the previous two? Then there is Hannibal – another film audiences waited patiently to see happen only to collectively groan when the final result was unleashed. Alien 3, Staying Alive, The Two Jakes, Terminator 3 and these Godawful Star Wars prequels… the list goes on and on. Why should Basic Instinct 2 be any different? Certainly the mutterings of almost  every press person here is of the, “I’m here to do a job – this film will inevitably blow” kind. 




Anyway... Basic Instinct 2 will be released in 2006, and veteran producer Mario Kassar – the man behind such monsters as the Rambo and Terminator franchises and, ahem, Showgirls – has an announcement to make. He wants to tell us why Basic Instinct 2 (and God knows, hopefully they’ll drop that hideous Risk Addiction part of the title) took so long to get made.

“First the rights were at Carolco and then they ended up at MGM and then I went to work at Paramount for about a year and a half and we tried to do it there and it wasn’t possible,” he explains. “After that we tried it at MGM and it wasn’t possible there either - and then we tried again and it was almost possible and then, for whatever reasons, it was not. So now we are back in it and it is happening… we are shooting in London and everyone is happy.” 

Right – so that is that straightened out.

Then Sharon Stone enters the room and everyone is flabbergasted. Why? Well, because the near-50 year old Stone looks sexier than most women who are half of her age! If she is going to disrobe for Basic Instinct 2 then every guy in this room has just been sold a ticket. Amusingly, some hack frantically asks around his fellow reporters to confirm if she has had plastic surgery. No one cares (or perhaps dares) to reply.



“There are a few surprising elements in Basic Instinct 2,” smiles Stone. “We have a fantastic script, a really beautiful script, which was written by Leora Barish and Henry Bean who are a brilliant couple from New York and who I think are just great.” Okay – so let’s get this straight: Joe Eszterhas, the trash movie maestro who penned such schlock blockbusters as Jagged Edge, the original Basic Instinct and Sliver, has been replaced by… who exactly? A bit of research reveals that Leora Barish was responsible for penning Madonna’s multi Oscar winning masterpiece Desperately Seeking Susan and Henry Bean’s claim to fame is with 1990’s Internal Affairs and 2001’s The Believer

Next you’ll be telling us that Paul Verhoeven has been swapped with the fellow who gave us Doc Hollywood and Rob Roy

What’s that? Oh shit.

“Michael Caton Jones is a director, just of an extraordinary degree of skill and kindness,” says Stone of the fellow who gave us Doc Hollywood and Rob Roy. “He has a sense of humour that is just fantastic and an exacting nature that leaves me very confident.” As for her onscreen partner, Stone is similarly full of praise – “We have a fantastic co-star in David Morrissey – very handsome – and I’m sure if you have seen his work you know he is an exquisite actor,” she states. “I am really enjoying working with him because he is so funny and smart and obviously quite sexy. We have David Thewlis, who is a fantastic actor, to play our antagonist and I don’t know if you have heard but we have my idol Charlotte Rampling in the film, which is – for me – a lifelong dream to work with her. We also have an international group of people, including our cinematographer Gyula Pados.” 



Stone then decides to, bafflingly, confirm that, “As you know I have worked with all the great cinematographers,” (uh… to be fair, I had no idea). Some names that she mentions include Vilmos Zsigmond (on Intersection) and Dante Spinotti (on The Quick and the Dead). “And this cinematographer (on Basic Instinct 2) is really as fine a cinematographer as I have ever seen. We have the best costume designers, the best set decorators, we have talent from all over the world that is just amazing and I think this opportunity to work in London allows us a kind of European freedom. I mean, I’ve always flourished when I get to work with a European director and – for me – I think I feel more at home in Europe. So to have the freedom to make the sequel to this picture is, I think, more comfortable for me. Like the character (Catherine Tramell) I have a little bit more life experience now so this film is at once more freeing, and a little bit more scary.”

So what happened to Michael Douglas then, Sharon? 

“He dies,” is about all the plot information that the vixen is giving away. Well, cheers for that – but at least the actress is more open when it comes to discussing her return to the role of the seductive, bi-sexual, no-knickers, ice-pick slasher Catherine Tramell. 

“I think that what is interesting about the character – is that she is an ambiguous person,” informs Stone. “So, what is interesting, generally, is that when you play a character you greatly research her back story. With a character like this it is just the opposite, you have to try and avoid her back story and instead attempt to stay in her present story and remain there with a very alive, intense and passionate grip every single second of her happening. That didn’t change with the sequel, but she has a lot more life experience - like we all do since last we met - and I think that is what makes her interesting and different.”



Sitting beside Stone, and remaining very quiet whilst his co-star dominates the limelight, is the impeccably well groomed David Morrissey, who plays Doctor Andrew Glass in the sequel. Morrissey is not in the same superstar league of Michael Douglas, certainly, and this – effectively – makes Basic Instinct 2 a one-woman show, but the Captain Corelli’s Mandolin star is happy to pipe up and tell us a little bit about the film when Stone encourages him to do so. 

“I play someone who helps Sharon get through a situation that she has found herself in, while she is staying in London,” says the actor – showing some evidence of nerves in front of snapping paparazzi. “It is a pleasure and it is a challenge (to do this movie), in the sense that the scenes are a challenge because the script is so demanding and so wonderful,” he continues. “It has been a really easy thing to do – it’s been in my home town – London - the town where I live, so it’s been great because I don’t have to be away from my family. It has been really fun and easy so far – and the challenge has been in the work, in the scenes where we have to be together.”



Of course, this is a junket for Sharon Stone to talk about Basic Instinct 2, but in the coming days she will host a gala party at Cannes in support of AIDS research. This is something she does annually and kudos to her for her efforts. In addition, our fine femme is currently on the front cover of Hello because of her new adopted son Laird… and what is a superstar diva to do but talk about all of this? 

“You know it is certainly challenging to work, have two kids and to do the job that I do,” she mentions – obviously unaware of the many single mothers that slog their guts out every day behind a supermarket till, in some soul destroying office environment or worse for minimum wage. “But I feel that all of it is important and I think that it is important to my children that they know you can work and be a parent too. I think that it is important to them as well that I continue the work I do with AIDS so they know that I care about them and the future of the world. I think that it is important to stand up and show who you are in the world so your children know who they are – and it is hard, but I think that just falling apart is stupid. I think that it is important to be able to say to your family when you need help and I think that it is important to be a good friend so that your friends can help you when you need them. I’ve found that you can do it, that a single woman can do it all and I would encourage all single women to stand up and show that you can do deep things in the world.”



At this Ms Stone exits the party – after a whopping 15 minutes in front of us all (she was originally scheduled for a full hour). No one is happy, and the general consensus is that she kept everyone waiting in order to plug her movie as quickly and as painlessly as possible. Naturally, we all decide to do the sensible thing and take advantage of the free bar before we are all hoofed out of this incredibly upmarket surrounding. Then, spotted in the corner, is none other than Mario Kassar himself – sitting alone and sipping on a beverage. This is the man who, Joe Eszterhas claims in his book Hollywood Animal, considered putting a price on someone’s head. That said, yours truly decides to say hello anyway. 

Kassar proves pleasant enough - gives us details of who to call for later coverage on the film - and is confident in his movie’s success. With the bar now running low, yours truly turns and exits this wondrous little club and almost bumps straight into George Lucas – who is dressed in his tux in anticipation of the Star Wars Episode 3 premiere later that night. He gives me a bemused look and a smile: showing more humanity in a simple glance than Stone managed in her icy cold press appearance.


The moral of this story, then, is: 1) When exiting a press junket in Cannes, always keep an eye on where you are going and 2) Sharon Stone has a lousy sense of timekeeping but looks great. 

That said, our own basic instinct tells us that this long-delayed follow-up has 'flop' written all over it...

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Looking Back at A Nightmare on Elm Street

(Note: this was originally published in Dreamwatch magazine, issue 146, from 2006. I figure that offering some oldies from my archives at least preserves them online. Plus, A Nightmare on Elm Street is one of my favourite films of all time!)

Calum Waddell gets dreamy-eyed over the fright-film which gave a generation of teens sleepless nights and developed into the horror genre’s most reliable franchise…

One, two – Freddy’s coming for you… Three, four – better lock your door… Five, six – grab your crucifix…

Back in 1984 horror director Wes Craven had yet to break into the mainstream. Dismissed by no less than Stephen King (in his book Danse Macabre) as a purveyor of “porno-violence”, Craven’s reputation lay entrenched with a couple of down and dirty, but nonetheless profitable, exploitation films – 1972’s Last House on the Left and 1977’s The Hills Have Eyes. After these two infamously nasty cheapies, the filmmaker had tried to enter the mainstream with his comic-book adaptation of DC Comics’ super-vegetable Swamp Thing (1982), but the resultant freak flick was a box office dud.

Even worse, every studio in town was turning its back on a script that was dear to Craven’s heart – A Nightmare on Elm Street. “The studios kind of psychologically distance themselves from the genre,” recalls Craven, adding, “although they love the fact that they can make a lot of money from it. After you make one or two horror films your name is kind of known with that genre but there’s also a personal thing where you want to go into areas that are dark and hard to imagine.”

Thankfully, a lowbrow independent outfit called New Line Cinema, headed by Robert Shaye, finally agreed to finance Craven’s latest terror offering and, as a result, the most important scary movie of the 1980s was gorily birthed. Released to a then-stellar $26 million gross in the US, A Nightmare on Elm Street spawned numerous imitators, put New Line on the path to becoming the Hollywood player it is today and made star Robert Englund the true heir to the throne of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff.



“I would do anything for Wes Craven,” laughs Englund, who is understandably grateful to the filmmaker for giving him such a prominent and profitable, role. “I would sign up with him on anything because he is such a gentleman and so easy to work for.”

Englund maintains that, over 20 years since the release of the first film, it continues to attract new admirers. “It’s really becoming a certifiable classic now,” maintains the actor. “I remember being a little boy in the mid-50s and when television happened we discovered the golden age of horror from the 1930s. We would sit at home and watch Dracula, Frankenstein and The Black Cat and even as young kids we would love them. I think that is what has happened with A Nightmare on Elm Street. Some films stand the test of time and because of the great hook – the bad dream, which is universal – we keep catching new generations.”

Craven agrees with his leading man, mentioning that Freddy Krueger had a far more worldly appeal than his previous screen baddies – namely the cannibalistic mountain dwellers of The Hills Have Eyes and David Hess’s Krug Stillo from Last House on the Left. “Everyone can relate to having bad dreams," states the director. "Plus, a film really lives or dies by its actors [and] Robert Englund is wonderful.”

Craven also admits his own affection towards working in horror, which, arguably, hit its peak with A Nightmare on Elm Street. “I think that it’s a tremendously flexible and very vital form for the audience,” he begins, “It’s kind of cathartic – there’s a certain amount of affection, there’s a lot of intelligence and a bit of suspicion of the establishment when you’re dealing with dreams and nightmares.”

Seven, Eight – Better Stay Up Late…

A Nightmare on Elm Street introduced audiences to Freddy Krueger and his nemesis Nancy Thompson (played by newcomer Heather Langenkamp). Thompson is revealed as the daughter of two parents who took part in the group slaying of a local child murderer after he walked free from court on a technicality. After being burned to death by the irate parents of Elm Street, Freddy returns years later to stalk and kill their children inside their dreams whilst they sleep. Also starring a pre-stardom Johnny Depp and Enter the Dragon’s John Saxon, the original flick kept Englund’s burned bogeyman hidden away in the shadows, although his trademark comical wisecracks are still present.



“I think one of the problems is that when you get too relentless with a horror movie there is too much tension built up and eventually you kind of emotionally short out,” states the actor. “However, if you use humour to relieve that pressure eventually you can set the audience up for a scare again.” Craven himself states that behind the scenes there were a few laughs too. “It’s strange because when you’re shooting a horror film you tend to be laughing a lot,” concedes the filmmaker. “Part of it is because you’re dealing with these horrific subjects but where you have some control over them.”

Reflecting on the shoot of the first Elm Street, Englund admits that – after playing Freddy in no less than eight films and a TV series – his recollections of each feature have started to blur into one. “It’s so long ago my memories get clouded with the other movies,” he laughs. “Sometimes I start to mention something that I did in part one but it turns out it was part three. However, I do recall Johnny Depp telling me a few stories about his beginnings and there was a big fiasco when we did the exploding blood bed for his death scene; that took a while to work properly [laughs]. I also remember Sean Cunningham doing some second unit work with us.”

Indeed, Cunningham – who had produced Craven’s Last House on the Left and directed 1980’s Friday the 13th – was given a “special thanks” on the end credits of A Nightmare on Elm Street. However, as Dreamwatch discovers, his involvement went a lot further than that. “I shot a whole bunch of stuff over two or three days,” mentions Cunningham, who remains close friends with Craven. “I shot one dialogue scene with Johnny Depp and Heather and part of the alley scene with Robert chasing the girl. I just did whatever Wes told me to do. What Wes had done was he had mortgaged his soul to Bob Shaye to make it and Shaye was the only person who believed in it as much as Wes. We were right behind schedule and we were running out of budget. So, you know, Wes just wanted whatever help he could get and I was fortunate to be in a position where I could come in and help, walk around and tell people what to do for a couple of days [laughs].”



Nine, Ten – Never Sleep Again… 

For Englund, his success in the Freddy role was bittersweet – largely due to the complex prosthetics that needed to be glued to his face every morning. “Usually, the hell of Freddy is getting the make-up put on every morning for four-and-a-half-hours,” he sighs. “But I don’t want anyone else to do him because I feel proprietary towards the old guy.”

Of course, that might yet happen – especially given the rate at which Hollywood is remaking classic horror flicks. “Yeah, I agree,” replies the actor, “Although there is also talk about having John McNaughton, the director of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, come in and do a prequel – which will be shot in a documentary style. I think that could be very interesting. I don’t know if I’m too old now or not, but I would love to be involved with that. When I first began doing Freddy I was in my early 30s but I was playing him older – I was playing him at about 48. So, currently, I feel like I’m the right age.”



As for the legacy of A Nightmare on Elm Street, Englund believes that even the worst of the sequels has something to offer. “Of course the first one is great and scary, but three and four are terrific as well,” he says. “I also think that there is a lot of good stuff in part five. I adore Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and obviously everyone loves Freddy Vs Jason. So out of eight movies I would say that six of them are great and there is even some good stuff in the other two. I think Freddy – me and my silhouette and the glove and the posture and the hat – stands up as a logo for the experience of all of these movies, which are currently sitting on someone’s desk in a DVD box set. They all hold up and always will.”

(NOTE: obviously this was written before the awful remake. Unfortunately, the prequel never did see the light of the day. Shame eh?)


Saturday, 2 February 2013

THE FIRST BRITISH PEOPLE TO WALK UP HAMBURGER HILL IN VIETNAM


Well that was what we were told anyway.

Last year I fulfilled one of my bucket list ambitions by backpacking from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) to Hanoi in Vietnam - accompanied by my girlfriend Naomi Holwill. I have long been interested in the 20th century history of Vietnam - from the rise of Ho Chi Minh after the post-war Japanese retreat from the country and the return of French rule to the gradual American involvement in Indochina politics and, of course, the outbreak (unofficially) of fullscale war.

After the 1973 Paris Peace Accords, America left their self-created puppet state of South Vietnam. Inevitably - despite President Ford's failed last ditch attempt to gain financing for the re-introduction of American military - Saigon fell to the North on April 30th 1975. Even today, visiting Reunification Palace in Saigon is a moving experience - a site of liberation and the conclusion of a conflict which should never have been and, ultimately, achieved nothing outside of mass devastation, a body count (on both sides) which totalled seven figures and the relentless bombing of Laos and Cambodia. The latter of these may, depending on which history book you care to engage with, have led to the rise of the Khmer Rouge.

The below picture has become iconic and the helicopter pad remains on Reunification Palace: a reminder of a time when Vietnam was at the centre of world attention and the combat seemed neverending.


In visiting Vietnam there were certain sites that I wanted to get to - no matter how tricky they proved. I was determined to see My Lai, where Sargeant William Calley (now, despicably, a free man living in Atlanta and running a jewelery business) infamously ordered his soldiers to fire upon an unarmed village, rape the women and massacre the children. This may sound like 'dark tourism' and perhaps it is - I am not about to philosophise about what drives so many us to see places of genocide, from Auschwitz to Choeung Ek and so forth. All I can say is that I wanted to develop a greater image of what My Lai looks like and, although the recreated village that has been propped up in the area is surprisingly tacky, I have no regrets about going (well, except when some high school children came rushing in and thought the museum of bloody pictures was a laugh riot - the sole black spot of my entire Vietnam experience).

As an aside, cameras should be banned from these places.

The amount of tourists who think nothing of posing, with big 'holiday' grins, in front of areas where people were slaughtered is embarassing. It is bad enough when men in shorts and women in short skirts think this is suitable apparel for visiting Buddhist temples (or, in Malaysia, mosques) but pictures of your foreign mug in massacre sites is just ridiculous. I took one snap at My Lai - of the monument which was erected to honour the dead. I've posted it below. Exactly why some visitors feel the need to stand in front of this with a smile on their face is puzzling - what exactly are you celebrating with such an image?

For those who wish to visit the site the best place to be based is Hoi-An - a gorgeous town with nary a corporate logo in sight. Sheer heaven on earth. Tours can be organised via Viet Vision (http://www.vietvisiontravel.com/) and take about three hours there and back by car (with a sidetrip to the temples of Mỹ Sơn).



Anyway, moving on - I was also interested in visitng Hamburger Hill.

Put aside the rather rubbish movie of the same name from 1987 because the Battle of Hamburger Hill was so much more than this: it was a turning point in the war. The Tet Offensive of January 1968 had disorientated the US - even when, at the end of a raging fight with the North, Uncle Sam had still come out on top (the Tet Offensive, incidentally, is the fight which is documented in the latter half of Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket). Nevertheless, due to the clear evidence that the North was not about to back down, it was the beginning of the end for the US involvement in Vietnam and led to a number of quick-fix mini-battles which were designed to claim a large count of enemy bodies in the name of 'victory'. One such instance was Hamburger Hill (real title: Ap Bia Mountain) - so called because the mass amount of dead bodies looked like meat strewn across the muddy landscape.

The Battle for Hamburger Hill raged between May 10th - 20th 1969. The Americans actually succeeded in capturing the hill from the North Vietnamese army - but at the cost of 72 brave infantrymen and over 350 wounded. On the Viet Cong side, an equally brave 675 (reported) were killed.

And for what?

Only 16 days later the hill was abandoned because it was considered of such little importance. A grand waste of lives on both sides - and an indication to the American public, and the world, that this was a war being fought with a wayward sense of longterm achievement.

Hamburger Hill is located near the Loation border. A part of the country which is still thick with landmines. To get there seemed unlikely until I finally discovered a young history scholar online called Mr. Vu who specialises in trips to the former DMZ and areas of interest across central Vietnam (his web site is here: Mr. Vu Tours). Despite the fact myself and Naomi were travelling across Vietnam during their New Year celebrations (which caused no problems at all despite some online forums stating that everything would be closed!), Mr. Vu agreed to pick us up and take us to Hamburger Hill.

The place to be for this trip is the Emperial City of Huế: the site of the Tet Offensive and still a place which shows evidence of the conflict which once made it one of the most dangerous places in the world (see below):



That said, Huế (pronounced "Whay") is every bit as safe as any other part of Vietnam (i.e. very safe) and - as with everywhere else we visited - English is widely spoken, making you feel all the while like a dumb foreigner. Although not as picturesque as Saigon, Hoi-An or the utterly stunning city of Hanoi - there are still some fantastic things to see in Huế, including the Purple Forbidden City (below):


Three days, however, is probably plenty - and so I strongly advise taking one or more of Mr. Vue's tours - especially since he informed us that, yes, we were the first British people to ask for a tour of Hamburger Hill (I know we're Scottish and he knew this too - but I wanted to make sure that we were not just the first Scots but Brits as well!). He mentioned that very few people at all bother with this tour - it seems that many young people who visit Vietnam today do so as a sidetrip from the party hub/ beach resorts of Thailand or as part of a wider jog around Southeast Asia. Very few, we were told, engage with the immediate history of the nation - and this is an enormous shame because, even if your knowledge of the Vietnam War is minimal, the drive to the Laotian border and Hamburger Hill is absolutely stunning:





With beautiful countryside and mountains, this is one of the most spectacular trips I have ever taken. With a time of about two hours from Huế, Hamburger Hill itself is not an especially gruelling car ride. Moreover, the hill was paved in 2009 which means that, as long as you are in fit shape, it is an easy jaunt to the top. That said, below is a small selection of just some of the stairs you will be expected to hike up (Mr. Vue is at the top) - so make sure you know just what your limitations are!


On the way up a reminder of the hill's past is evident in the impact wraught by bombs:




Hamburger Hill proved to be a peaceful hike - and upon reaching the top a new plaque has been erected. Mr. Vue explained that this was because returning American infantrymen, who survived the battle, have began to return to Vietnam and revisit the location. He told of one story where three ex-army men wanted to spend the night at the top of the hill: something that was unfortunately not possible because of the sensistive location near the Laotian border. I have included a picture of the plaque below:





On the way down, Mr. Vue and one of his colleagues - who was the gent that erected the new steps himself and also joined us on the trek - told me about a cave which was used by the Viet Cong. I was asked if I wanted to visit and I agreed: although none of us could have expected to find yet another remnant of the war past - a small piece of material from a Viet Cong outfit. Of course, this was put back where we found it.







Hamburger Hill is an incredible place to visit. The wildlife has never recovered from this area so it is remarkably quiet - moreso than any large woodland should be. In itself this lends a haunting atmosphere to somewhere that is already ominous. The scenery is, as expected, amazing - especially from the top. Furthermore, Mr. Vu is a well educated historian himself and he can provide you with answers to any questions you may have. I was honoured when he praised my knowledge of the war - and I would love to, one day, return to Vietnam and see even more of the country. Aside from being full of friendly, hospitable people - it is also a progressive and industrious nation, moving forward but rightly proud of their fierce independence: something that we should never forget how hard they fought for.

In closing, here are some more pictures - which rounds off my first ever piece of travel writing!