Archive for the ‘Memories’ Category

And here’s where it all started.

Back in the first few weeks of 2004, we rented a warehouse in Shoeburyness and shot an insanely ambitious locked-house horror movie on cheaply built sets that still had the paint drying on them. It was an insane learning curve, back from the days when digital filmmaking was fraught with difficulties and precious few routes through which to get assistance. We laughed, we cried, we made a load of mistakes and got a certain number of things right.

The result was TrashHouse, a cheerfully odd midnight movie which a certain section of the cult movie audience still hold in a lot of affection. A bunch more people absolutely hated it, of course, but if it was designed for a mass audience it would scarcely be a cult movie, would it?

When I wrote the first few lines of the script, I was working in a branch of Blockbuster Video (remember them?) in Westcliff. The day the movie came out on DVD, (on a surprisingly wide release for such a small movie), I walked back into that branch and saw a copy on the shelf. If I get ten days that good in my life, I’ll have done alright.

It’s got jokes. It’s got (somewhat rubbish) zombies. It’s got chainsaws. It’s got a weird monologue about a man who thinks he’s a dolphin. It’s got three seconds of gratuitous nudity. It’s got Gary Delaney, who’s now one of the UK’s best comics and is on Mock the Week all the time. It’s got a sequence in black and white, with a laugh track. It’s got the amazing Amber Moelter. It’s got some appalling CGI that looked iffy even in 2004. It’s got practical blood splashing up the walls.

It’s got a whole load of love and good intentions bubbling in its crazy soul.

It’s on Amazon Prime, free for subscribers, right now. So please go and watch it if it sounds like something you’d enjoy.

Oh, and it’s got this kick-ass new artwork from the mighty Paul Cousins.

trashhouse_2016

My name is Pat Higgins.

I made TrashHouse, and my conscience is clear.

 

I’m not a believer in the supernatural.

I’m a rational kind of guy. I love writing about ghosts, demons and the possibilities of experiences beyond what we comprehend, but the blunt truth is that I don’t believe in any of it. I’m not a guy to get rattled by dark corridors or abandoned buildings.

With that in mind, I want to tell you a few things about our 2006 shoot for the movie KillerKiller.

We shot in the then long-disused building then known as Warley Hospital. Nowadays, the site is a posh housing development known as The Galleries.

Before it was Warley Hospital, it was known as Brentwood Mental Hospital. Before that, back in 1853 when the building first opened its doors, it was known as Essex County Lunatic Asylum.

Attitudes towards mental illness in 1853 weren’t, of course, quite as enlightened as we’d like to think they are nowadays. “Treatments” included lobotomies and electro-convulsive therapy. Not only that, but ideas of who actually constituted a ‘mentally ill’ person were flexible enough to include an awful lot of people that society would rather just keep out of sight; everyone from unwed mothers to soldiers suffering from PTSD.

So places like Warley ended up having some fairly horrible things happen in them. Over a century and a half, even the recorded incidents make for grim reading. God knows how many worse things went on that nobody will ever know about. If ever there’s going to be a building to store up bad vibes, it’s going to be a place like that.

This wasn’t really something I thought about when I locked down the location, I’m ashamed to say. I was far more concerned about budget; the fee for shooting in the building was pretty huge for a film shooting on such a tiny budget. I was worried about how we were going to afford the location for long enough to get a huge amount of footage in the can. In the end, we did this with a mixture of good planning and dumb luck; we shot with available light rather than lighting set-ups, and the building was so cinematic anyway that the footage ended up looking pretty great now matter how quickly it was shot. We shifted complex ‘kill’ sequences to non-Warley locations where we could take our time a little more and somehow got everything we wanted in the can over a mere three days of filming at the former hospital.

By the end of those three days, however, all those things that I’d never even considered were beginning to get under my skin.

By the end of those three days, quite frankly, I was more than happy to wave Warley goodbye.

Our wonderful photographer Debbie Attwell discovered dozens of torn-off butterfly wings inserted between the bricks in the chapel. We would regularly find scrawled messages or carefully folded pieces of paper with troubling pictures on them tucked away behind radiators or whatever. The phrase ‘I Am Not Alone’ gouged into one of the walls (which can be seen in the first montage of the hospital in the finished film) wasn’t added by an enterprising member of our production crew: it was already there.

And then there was the incident with the footsteps.

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Like I said, not a superstitious guy, so I’ll stick to the facts.

We were about to call action on a scene, when we heard footsteps in the next corridor over. These were loud enough that all of the crew heard them, and loud enough for our sound recordist to shake his head as a ‘no go’. They got louder until they stopped abruptly on the other side of the door from the room in which we were filming. Irritated, I probably called out something like “You might as well come through now” and we waited.

My lovely DoP Al Ronald went to investigate when nobody came through. As I’m sure you can guess, there was nobody there.

It sounds so Scooby Doo and hokey. It sounds ridiculous. But that’s what happened.

KillerKiller – A Look Back Behind the Scenes from jinxmedia on Vimeo.

I also became increasingly convinced that I could hear whispering voices in the corridors of the building. This was probably an auditory trick caused by the wind whistling through the cracks, but, goddammit, once I thought I heard panting about a foot away from my ear. Enough to make me spin around like I’d been stung.

I’m not even sure what these are examples of. Weird acoustics in an old building? An over-active imagination triggered by the fact that we were shooting a gory horror movie in a location that had seen an awful lot of unhappiness?

Soon after the film came out, a few enthusiastic souls started suggesting that they could see ‘orbs’ in the final film (specifically in the scene starting 31:43 on the special edition, for those interested), which made me chuckle a little because I’m pretty goddamn sure that those floating orbs are dust kicked up by the chair that gets thrown against the wall in that scene. On the other hand, since I’m the dude swearing blind that I heard footsteps with no source that vanished into nowhere, who the hell am I to judge what others perceive?

After three days I was unreasonably happy to be leaving the most cinematic location I’ve ever filmed in. I still don’t believe in ghosts. I still believe in science over superstition, logic over legend.

But if I never hear a panting sound a foot away from my ear again for as long as I live, that’ll be just fine.

– Pat Higgins

 

KillerKiller: The Special Edition is available NOW to rent and purchase on VOD. Click through the trailer below.

KillerKiller – The Special Edition (2014) from jinxmedia on Vimeo.

Retro Novelisation Covers!

Posted: January 21, 2015 in artwork, Memories
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Here at Jinx, we deeply love imagery that harks back to the horror that influenced us growing up. The final chapter of Nazi Zombie Death Tales is pretty much my love letter to rubber puppet horror movies like Ghoulies and Gremlins, and the office is covered in framed uk quad posters of genre movies of decades past.

The pulp horror novels and anthologies of the 70s and 80s hold a special place in my heart. They represent not only my own awakening to the genre, in many ways, (as an adolescent, I was permitted to read Herbert and King long before I was aloud to watch films with forbidden ratings) but also a family connection. My late uncle Tim Stout was a contributor to the Pan Book of Horror and author of a novel called The Raging; although he didn’t care for the pulpy cover the novel was given, I flat-out loved it as a kid.

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With these influences in mind, I am absolutely delighted to present a series of novelisation covers for three of our movies, designed by the brilliant Random Elements. Please go and visit their Facebook page for even more brilliant artwork. Without further ado, here they are.

Oh, who am I kidding? You already scrolled down and peeked, didn’t you?

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I was born in 1974. Movies were always my love and passion, ever since seeing Star Wars on the big screen on opening night at the Southend Odeon. It was December 1977, and I was three years old. In that same year, my amazing mum also took me to see the rerelease of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which I talked about in this blog entry over here. We also went to see Bambi, because, hey, she was a dutiful mum and that’s the drill. It was the sci-fi stuff and the rubber monsters that stuck with me, though.

From that point, I knew I wanted to make movies. I think I was muddled about the process for a few years; early on, I thought I wanted to act but this was because I believed films were made in real time. I knew it was all fake, but I think I thought that Sam J Jones would receive the Flash Gordon script, memorise it and then turn up at the studio. He’d spend 90 minutes running away from explosions, snogging Melody Anderson and wearing a t-shirt with his own name on it, and then he’d just bask in the glory when the flick got released.

As soon as I realised this wasn’t the case, I knew I wanted to be a film director.

Life gets in the way, of course. After university I ended up in a variety of jobs, from cinema usher through to video shop assistant and then through to being a customer services trainer in an internet company. I punched the clock, but I knew these weren’t the things I wanted to do. I never stopped thinking about directing movies.

Somewhere along the way, I started doing stand-up comedy. Because this was the late nineties to early noughties we’re talking about, no clips of this phenomenon exist online. If the Kickstarter project hits its total, I’ll post one. Anyway, the stand-up part of my life collided with the internet company part of my life, and I set up Jinx Media in 2003 as a company dedicated to delivering short stand-up clips to mobile phones.

The window during which this was a viable idea was incredibly short. One day, it seemed like delivering video to phones was just too hard from a technical point of view. The blink of an eye later, phones could get onto the web and a custom delivery system (let alone one that charged) looked utterly pointless. The idea missed its window, and I was left with a company with no purpose.

And we had a few grand in the bank.

Suddenly, it looked like the time had come to make the movie I’d dreamed of for so long.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, I’m telling you by way of context because of the video that awaits you at the end of this blog entry.

The short version: in 2004, (as you probably know if you’re reading this), I made a movie.

We had a small budget, very little practical experience and no connections. I advertised for cast and crew on the internet. I hired a warehouse, we built sets out of wood and I filmed a ludicrously ambitious script on a mini DV camcorder.

The movie was called Trashhouse.

TrashHouse_DVD

It ended up getting a wide DVD release in the UK. I had the joy of walking into the branch of Blockbuster that I had once worked in, and seeing multiple copies on the shelf.

Kim Newman in Empire magazine said it had ‘Clever ideas but dodgy tech credits’.

While we went about our insane quest, we let filmmaker Mike Borland film everything we did. A cut-down version of Mike’s documentary ended up on the DVD.

What follows, for the first time, is the full uncensored version of that behind-the-scenes documentary.

It’s filmmaking 2004 style; no DSLRs, no video blogs because such things just didn’t exist. No YouTube, no Facebook. Editing footage at home was only just becoming possible. I cut the whole goddamn film on a PC with a 20 Gig hard drive.

There’s a lot of love going on here. For better or worse, this was where it started.

Love,
Pat
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Pat’s movies are fun.

This does not surprise me in the least, because Pat is fun. Pat and I go way back, back to a time when I had short hair. A time when we would stand around the playground discussing the previous night’s Moonlighting or Max Headroom episode. When we would watch cheesy movies (often starring Judge Reinhold) and play 64k computer games to review in our own photocopied magazine that we sold to our classmates.

When, one afternoon in our preteens, we made a movie.

Spookin’ 2 – written / produced / directed by Patch Higgins (as he was known then) – remains my one and only screen credit. It has never appeared on my CV, never been seen by anyone beyond its stars (all three of us) and our immediate family. But, man, was it fun.

If there was a Spookin’ Part 1, I never saw it, but Spookin’ 2 was filmed on a big old handheld camcorder – I don’t even recall if it held full size video cassettes, or fancy-shmancy minis. The plot is a thing long since lost to drinking, dancing and age. Something about one of us being a ghost trying to scare the others out of the house.

But what I do remember, quite vividly, is the free and easy way we shot what we laughingly called the special effects. There was to be no post production, no editing, just whatever Pat captured behind the camera. In my adult head I hear him yelling “Perfect!” after every take, but I’m sure that didn’t actually happen. When he wanted to film me “phasing” through a wall, this is how it went.

Pat had me run full speed at the wall.. He hit PAUSE on the camera, then waved me out of shot. Then he hit RECORD again. We’d move into the next room where he would shoot the blank wall, press PAUSE again, wave me back into shot and I’d run away from the wall when he yelled “Action”.

The final product looked exactly as good as you imagine it would, but the thing anyone could see was how much fun we were having.

Pat has (somewhat) bigger budgets these days and (waaaaay) better equipment at his disposal. He’s also learned more than a little about his craft. With each passing movie he makes, the plots become tighter, the effects more impressive, with everything in service to the great god “storytelling”.

Not to mention that the quality of performers at his disposal are light years beyond whatever I could conjure up for the camera, even when I could remember the one liners.

What is undeniably the same however, what is visible on the screen that has not changed, is how much fun his actors are having.

I want to see more actors having fun with Pat’s words, his ideas, his sensibilities. Take a look at the recently launched Kickstarter for his new movie, Evil Apps. Throw a couple of pounds, dollars, euros at it if you agree it looks like fun. If it’s not your thing, please share it with those you think might appreciate it.

I don’t want to see another big budget, 3D, IMAX blockbuster in the movie theaters.

I want to see something fun.

—–

Avri Klemer is a published boardgame designer, an unpublished novelist, a singer and a nice guy.
His new blog is an exploration of “1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die.”
He and Pat have been bouncing pop culture off of each other since 1985.

—–

PS. Pat here again. We’ve never had a guest blogger before, and I’d like to thank Avri for writing for us. I’m so grateful that I’m not even going to mention that he was actually in Spookin’ 1 as well, even if he can’t remember it. I tried to find a copy to pull screengrabs, but haven’t had any luck yet. I’ll keep looking.

 

I’m reeling a little.

This morning, I was lecturing about screenwriting in general (and pleasing your audience in particular) and I mentioned the 1986 version of Little Shop of Horrors. I spoke about that notorious test screening where the “Would you recommend to a friend?” cards allegedly came back with only 13% of affirmatives, dictating that the original “Everybody Dies” ending got the chop and a new, cheerier ending was added to the flick. I spoke about the pros and cons of tailoring your product to the whims of your audience. I spoke about whether a black comedy needs to end like a black comedy, or whether it can give the audience a happy ending without compromising its moral integrity.

I spoke about all of these things with mixed feelings, because I’m a massive Little Shop of Horrors fan who is also a deleted scenes obsessive and yet my feelings about that original ending are decidedly muddled.

Frank Oz has spoken quite eloquently about the problem with the original ending, in terms of the way that theatre and film pack very different kinds of punches. The power of the close-up, man; we see Audrey’s eyes welling up as she pictures Somewhere That’s Green and, Goddammit, we want that character to get her happy ending. Audrey and Seymour dying in the version that has now been released as the Director’s Cut is still a serious bummer, and following it up with what feels like *endless* footage of the planet getting destroyed means that the ending feels drawn-out and kind of mean spirited. What plays as an upbeat black joke in the theatre feels downbeat when stretched out so far. Having been delighted to get hold of this ‘Director’s Cut’ initially, I’ve now watched it a bunch of times (sometimes with groups of students) and the chill that apparently fell upon that Orange County test screening nearly three decades back still falls across people watching it for the first time. I don’t think it’s the content, I think it’s the execution; I’d reached the conclusion that after the novelty of the bleak ending wears off I’ll probably end up going back to the theatrical. That, for all its tonal inconsistency, the upbeat ending somehow still works better.

After the lecture, something weird happened. I googled the test screening to check I’d got a couple of my facts right and chanced upon the LSOH Wikipedia page. In amongst all the things I already knew, there was a mention of the ‘lost’ full version of Meek Shall Inherit.

Ok, here’s where my deleted scenes obsession kicks in. I was not only aware of the full version, (which even Frank Oz seemed to have forgotten about, judging by a couple of comments he made a few years back), but I had a handful of stills that were in this book. Also on my hit-list as far as deleted scenes went was an alternate version of the feeding sequence involving Orin’s severed head, which I’d seen a still from in Cinefex magazine back in ’86 and I’d always wondered how it would play tonally. Neither of these scenes were in the deleted scenes compilation on the Blu Ray, and I’d become convinced I’d never seen them.
Then I noticed a recent amendment to the Wikipedia page, which said that the Meek Shall Inherit full version (including a dream sequence where Seymour turns into a plant) had appeared online. Less than a minute later I found it (thanks to the miracles of Google). I’d barely recovered from watching it when I clicked the text beneath the clip and found links through to two more videos of deleted scenes from a mysterious workprint.

To me, these were the holy grail. We had the plant-dream, we had the severed head feeding.

Little Shop of Horrors: Orin's Head

Amazingly, we had a much shorter version of the ‘Everybody Dies’ ending, as it screened at that ill-fated showing.

Jesus Christ. I watched them all, back to back, *directly* after watching the Director’s Cut (and then the theatrical ending on its own for good measure) so I had the nuances of the released versions pretty locked down in my mind.

See, there’s an incredible lesson for editors lying in the rubble of this wonderful treasure-trove of deleted scenes. I love the theatrical. I’m fascinated with the director’s cut, but it comes off disjointed and mean-spirited in the way everything is so drawn out.

Yet here, in this unseen version that’s more violent than the DC, we can learn the power of tiny changes in the edit. When Seymour feeds the baby-bird-in-a-tin version of Audrey II for the first time, the workprint edit choices stress something that both the Theatrical and the DC shy away from; blood.

We see a horrible shot of the blood gathering at the end of Seymour’s finger as he squeezes and squeezes, which is kind of yuck.

We see blood splashing over the plant’s adorable baby-bird ‘face’, and it’s a pretty horrible juxtaposition.

Bloody Audrey II

Prior to the feeding, we see Seymour laying out all that newspaper to soak up the gore. During the feeding itself, as previously mentioned, we see him feed the head to the plant, like a grim punchline to the sequence before we zoom into the plant’s maw to hear the laughter.

By not shying away from these tiny but unpleasant details, the workprint footage could *only* be leading towards the grim ending. And then, wonderfully, when the grim ending turns up at the end of the compilation it plays like a goddamn dream. Where it was long, drawn out, cumbersome and repetitive on the ‘Director’s Cut’, here it plays like a big bang of giddy, over-the-top monster movie. It’s short enough to pack a wallop, and the ‘punch’ images are actually synched with the ‘punch’ bits of the song. It’s bloody great.

Suddenly, in these few minutes of grainy footage, I can see my favourite version of Little Shop of Horrors. One that works tonally right the way through, going blacker than either of the others but never feeling mean about it. It’s a goddamn morality play, after all.

The last bits of my personal Little Shop of Horrors jigsaw fell into place today, and I love the movie even more than ever. Seems a shame to have to lobby for a new Blu Ray a mere three months after the last one came out, but sod it.

The queue starts here.

PS. I talk a bit about screenwriting and editing in my hour-long show about horror filmmaking, which is embedded for free below. If you regularly read this blog, you’ll already know that and will be rolling your eyes at me embedding it again. If you’re not a regular reader, I hope you check it out. Please note that it has some gore, nudity and swearing and isn’t safe for work. Unless you work somewhere that really digs gore, nudity and swearing, of course.

Gremlins came out when I was 10.

My parents were Daily M*il readers (it’s okay, they’ve stopped now. They probably got sick of me complaining endlessly about it from the age of about 15 onwards) and so the first time I ever heard about the flick was from a manufactured moral outrage piece in the summer of ’84, full of details based entirely on a very bloody early draft (which you can find on the ‘net if you look around enough) and bearing little relationship to the finished film.

Gremlins UK Quad

It sounded horrible. The M*il editorial rolled out a list of atrocities (including Mum’s head getting cut off and the dog getting killed) which I couldn’t reconcile with the fluffy picture of Gizmo sitting beside the article. The easily horrified 10 year-old me contented himself with being a bit horrified, and then forgot all about it.

Autumn rolled around, and something odd started happening. Merchandise for the movie began turning up in the shops, and didn’t seem to fit the content that I’d read about in the ‘newspaper’ over the summer. The toys were clearly pitched at my age-group. I thought they looked interesting and fun, but the bleak horrors detailed in that first Daily Mail article also gave them a whiff of darkness, of forbidden fruit. I thought, in other words, that they looked awesome.

Various tie-in books appeared on the shelves at the same time, and I read all of them. From the ‘storybook’ aimed at 8 year-olds through to the George Gipe novelisation clearly pitched at adults, I picked up each one and read every word. I bought every gum card. I knew absolutely everything about Gremlins, every plot twist and every special effects technique, by the time it got slapped with a 15 certificate by the BBFC. Fascinatingly, they have recently released the documents leading up to this decision at this link here.

I taped Film ’84 the night that Barry Norman reviewed the film, and the two short clips that he screened that night were my only window into the movie for the best part of a year. I watched those clips again and again (“Come on Barney, be a good dog”) until the tape was stretched and warbling, but couldn’t see any more as the BBFC had decided that it needed to be kept from me.

It was nearly a year before Gremlins was released on VHS, as was the custom in those days. By the time I finally got to see it, I had reached the dizzying age of 11. A mere few months later, my parents bought me an ex-rental VHS of the movie for my 12th birthday, on the basis that I’d been renting it nearly every weekend and the steep tag of £55 for the ex-rental tape would actually work out cheaper in the long run.

It is, of course, the movie that defines me more than any other. You seen my chapter of Nazi Zombie Death Tales? Well, yeah, the Gremlins influences run deep in that one. The mix of horror and comedy is a constant in everything that I do.

Devil Spider

The BBFC downgraded Gremlins to a 12a last month, meaning that if it were released at the cinema today a 10 year-old could see it accompanied by a parent. 29 years after the flick hit the cinemas, of course, I have a different perspective on it. I’m a parent myself, and I can easily imagine the shitstorm that would have hit the BBFC if they’d graded it PG in ’84 (the only other option realistically available, as it was still 5 years before even the mandatory 12 would be introduced). It’s not just the violence, needless to say, but some of the other wonderfully dark shit too; I wouldn’t want to be the parent who had to comfort a crying 6 year-old after discovering the truth about Santa via the less-than-comforting medium of Kate’s gloriously horrible speech.

Regardless, I’m certainly glad I got to see the flick at 11. If I’d been kept away from it until actually turning 15, I think the impact would have been slightly dulled. There are certain flicks that you need to see at certain ages for maximum impact. In fact, I was discussing this on Twitter the other day with Danbo12, who asked whether Poltergeist would live up to his expectations (he’d never seen it). I was about to answer an enthusiastic ‘yes’ when I paused; all of my experiences of Poltergeist are filtered through having first seen it in my early teens. Poltergeist taps into the fears of a child rather beautifully; it sums up the fears of the thing under the bed or the scary shadow outside the window better than any other flick I can think of. Approaching it for the very first time as an adult, having left those kind of fears behind and moved onto more tangible concerns, I suspect that it might underwhelm.

The same thing works in reverse for The Exorcist. I know that the last time it was re-released at cinemas, there were certainly a considerable number of teens and yound adults guffawing at the screen and generally screwing up the experience for everyone. It would be tempting to write this off as whistling past the graveyard; as the behaviour of young people very enthusiastically showing off how scared they weren’t in order to look tough. There’s probably a bit of that, true, but I think there’s something else too. For a teenager, The Exorcist simply isn’t a particularly scary movie. The horrors of the movie are pitched squarely at the fears of the parent not the child, and as those under 25 are notoriously bad at empathy (for various interesting biological and evolutionary reasons that I won’t go into here) they’re likely to come out of it pretty unscathed. Show the flick to a 40 year old with a kid approaching puberty, however, and I think you’d fairly quickly kill the idea that the flick has lost all its power over the years.

It’s all interesting stuff. The film we’ll be shooting later in the year, Evil Apps, has two 19 year-old protagonists. It’s a film about technology, social networking and the way we communicate. Having leads much out of their teens would have made no sense whatsoever. You can see me talking about Evil Apps towards the end of the live show embedded below.

I have worried about it, though. If I bring the sensibilities of the things that scare me now and apply it to a film with two teen leads, am I going to be able to make those things translate? Teenagers and 20-somethings are generally a hell of a lot less concerned about where the social networking yellow brick road is leading us than those who grew up in a pre-internet age are, so am failing to target the concerns my own target audience? Will the young leads put off the audience with whom the concerns of the script might otherwise resonate?

I hope not. I hope that the script will tap a common sense of unease for both age groups, and even if it doesn’t there’s a beauty of an exploding head in it.

Right, I’m off to complete my collection of Gremlins bubblegum cards. Tooth decay has no age limit.