Archive for the ‘The Devil’s Music’ Category

Between them, they killed the release of our film The Devil’s Music.

It’s a good film that people like, and they killed it.

The Devil's Music

I was worried this would happen when the BBFC introduced changes to their exemption criteria as a result of a DCMS consultation. I hoped that calmer heads would prevail, and the misguided legislation wouldn’t go through.

It did.

The way the BBFC implemented the DCMS changes within their fee structure took our movie from being ready for release in autumn 2014 to being financially non-viable on UK DVD. The additional charges levied against special features meant that the upfront fees to get it through the BBFC went from being a manageable risk to being potentially suicidal from an investment point of view. You can read all about this in an article I wrote for the Huffington Post back at the time. Back when I hoped it might not happen after all.

Back when the DVD was listed as a pre-order on Amazon.

Two years later it’s still listed as a pre-order, but it’s unlikely to ever be fulfilled. The disc had been put together already by the wonderful people at Cine du Monde, but the disc as created would now cost £2000 or more to put through the BBFC. Given that the DVD market is shrinking almost by the week, that kind of an upfront investment in addition to replication costs and so on rendered the disc non-viable. It’s a real shame. It’s a beautiful disc. I’ve got a test pressing of it.

So what? I hear you cry. The future isn’t DVD anyway. Damn the man, skip the BBFC and just go direct digital distribution!

That was my instinct, too, until I began to try and unpick the additional legislative nightmare that is VATmoss – forcing digital distributors to deal with absolutely impossible requirements for tiny companies. It was apparently created to stop massive companies using loopholes, which it doesn’t really do. What it DOES do quite spectacularly, though, is to close all of the options for direct digital distribution for the little guys by creating such an astonishing amount of legal difficulties and paperwork that nobody could ever properly unpick and administer it all without investing thousands.

So, between the BBFC and the insanity of VATmoss, The Devil’s Music was killed dead. The UK DVD release never happened and the intended direct digital release was binned. Here at Jinx, we’ve been concentrating on House on the Witchpit together with our various screenwriting classes and festival shows. Our most critically acclaimed movie has been hanging in limbo; an unfulfilled pre-order and an unreplicated master copy.

Back in 2014, AintItCoolNews reviewed the intended release, saying “The buildup of tension and horror that takes place in here is outstanding and Higgins makes the entire thing feel like the real thing“.

Just last month, WhatCulture listed it as one of the great modern horror films shot for next to nothing.

I hope we’ll find a new way forward. It strikes me as pretty heartbreaking that the release of a movie we worked so hard on, and that so many people seem to really connect with, got strangled by two pieces of ridiculous and ill thought-out legislation.

I’m aware that many of you guys have been waiting patiently for the Director’s Cut DVD of The Devil’s Music, which has been listed on Amazon for several months but seems to have been subject to a bit of a floating release date.

All I can do is apologise for this one. There have been some issues outside of our control which have resulted in the release date getting bumped a couple of times. This isn’t our fault, or that of our brilliant distributors Cine du Monde, it’s an outside issue which has knocked the schedule over a bit.

I keep waiting for confirmation of a new date, which I very much hope will be sooner rather than later. As you’re hopefully aware, the flick enjoyed a real resurgence of interest last year when the Director’s Cut was reviewed extremely favourably on AintItCool News and was later listed as ‘Worth Noting’ in their countdown of the best horror movies of 2014. Alongside new interviews with Pat about the movie and some other great reviews, it was a good year for the movie.

As soon as we have a concrete new release date, we’ll let you know. Once again, sorry.

In the meantime, here’s the new introduction to the film from the DVD, just to whet your appetite.

This next thing follows this previous thing. Read the previous thing first.

I’m not a guy who tends to approach the big subjects in life. I’m a guy who makes horror films. I have no background in investigative journalism, beyond that my uncle used to do restaurant reviews for the local paper. I didn’t set out with any sort of agenda or gameplan. I didn’t even necessarily set out to make a documentary, let alone go on to write a book about it. This wasn’t the way that I expected 2008 and 2009 to pan out. In fact, in the summer of 2008 I was meant to be directing a fun little b-movie called [TITLE REDACTED] and instead I found myself coping with the fallout of having spent the previous year digging around the story of Erika Spawn. I’ve fended off everyone from fanboys to religious fanatics, all of whom have been convinced that I’ve been doing something very very wrong, even if they’ve had wildly differing ideas as to exactly what.

Erika Spawn - Goat Shoot

 

When the final phase of Erika’s story broke, in late summer 2007, I was dealing with making the delivery list for KillerKiller. When an independent film gets picked up by a distributor, that distributor sends you a delivery list, detailing all the weird and wonderful things that you’ll have to supply them with along with the master of the movie that they’ve just bought from you. KillerKiller’s delivery list to York Entertainment over in the US was fairly straightforward, and thankfully devoid of items such as the dreaded ‘Aeroplane Version’, where the producer has to deliver a cut of the movie that has no nudity, sex, violence or bad language yet somehow has the same running time, presumably via extended cutaways of bunnies hopping through fields. The job of making the delivery list had been made rather easier because Pip had joined the company full time a few weeks previously. Oh, and I should probably point out at this stage that Pip = Pippa Higgins, who not only produces all my flicks nowadays but is also my wife. She rocks my world on a daily basis, and also stops me doing incredibly stupid things without really thinking them through. She’s amazingly funny, astonishingly well organised and the most fundamentally interesting and brilliant person I’ve ever met. But when I say things like ‘I should phone Eddie Meachum’ when I’ve only got two days left before the deadline on a delivery list, she tends to call me on it.

‘You mean Erika Spawn’s manager? Why do you want to call him?’

‘To see how he’s doing.’

‘You’ve never given a shit how he was doing before. Why do you suddenly care now?’

‘He was a nice guy. Now he’s all over the papers and they’re tearing him to bits.’

‘You should delete the number. You don’t even know him.’

‘I liked him.’

‘Are we going to have to have another number deleting session?’

I winced. I didn’t like number-deleting sessions.

I have a habit of accruing numbers in my phone at a fairly rapid rate, often of people that I’m only very tenuously associated with. Years before I got into the movie-making business, I was involved with stand-up comedy. Involved in the sense that I ran a monthly comedy night over a pub, and I performed it fairly badly as a hobby. As a result, an awful lot of comedian’s numbers found their way into my phone and, over the years, some of them became famous. Funnily enough, when they became famous I didn’t want to delete their numbers ‘in case I needed them one day’. As a result, my phone was cluttered with numbers for people like Russell Brand and Alex Zane, most of which had probably stopped working years ago and I never actually intended to phone anyway, but somehow having them in my phone made me feel slightly higher up the ladder than I actually was. Once in a while, Pip would grab my phone and ruthlessly cull numbers. Allegedly this was to save space on the phone, but I think there was a very useful side effect of keeping me vaguely tethered to reality.

‘Even if we have a number-deleting session, his one stays. Because I want to phone him. Maybe I’ll wait till all this blows over, though.’

‘What’s this got to do with the delivery list?’

And then, without even really thinking about it, I blurted out;

‘We need a new project.’

‘We’ve already talked about this. There’s not enough cash in the company account to shoot another feature.’

This was true. The previous summer we’d shot KillerKiller back-to-back with another straight to DVD flick called Hellbride. Both were now complete, but at this stage we hadn’t seen a penny back from either of them. The cupboards were very much bare as far as funding a narrative feature went.

‘Maybe not a narrative, no’ I said, still not really thinking about what I was saying and really just looking for an excuse to ring the guy who was all over the papers and whose number I had in my phone. ‘But what about a documentary? Maybe just an interview or something?’

I hadn’t thought it through even slightly, but I was warming to my theme even as I spoke. Pip looked like she was biting her tongue, but appeared to be hearing me out.

‘Look, the Erika Spawn story is the hottest news story in the country right now. We’ve got an office full of HD filming equipment and a phone full of numbers of people connected to the story. If we can’t find a way to turn this into something financially rewarding we don’t deserve to be called filmmakers’

Pip thought long and hard before responding.

‘What do you mean a phone full of numbers?’

‘We’ve got Eddie’s’

‘We’ve got Eddie’s from two years ago. And that’s it? That’s not exactly a phone full of numbers. That’s one number. That almost definitely won’t work.’

‘Course it’ll work. I’ve had the same mobile number for 12 years.’

‘That’s because you’re not all over the papers. He’ll have changed it.’

‘Bet he hasn’t.’

‘Look, I don’t even want to talk about this. Have you burnt that DVD of photos yet, or do I have to..’

‘It’s ringing.’

Pip shot me a look and exhaled very slowly and carefully. I sat and watched the little readout on my phone, with the animated full stops after ‘Calling Eddie Meachum…’ dancing their path across the screen. It rang, and rang, and went to voicemail.

‘He’s screening. Hang it up,’ Pip said.

The voicemail message sounded incongruously upbeat, considering that the man in question was being called ‘The Shadowy Figure behind Evil Erika’ by the tabloids.

‘Hiya, this is Eddie. I’m out and about at the moment, but I’ll get back to you. Cheers.’

I cleared my throat, unsure as to what I was going to say. Pip made a ‘put the phone down right now’ gesture, and without getting the okay from my brain, my mouth apparently started speaking.

‘Hi, uh, Eddie? I don’t know if you remember me. My name’s Pat Higgins, I directed Erika’s video for Needles. I imagine that everything’s pretty insane at the moment, but I wanted to say that if you want to have a chat it’d be good to speak to you. Y’know, maybe if you wanted to give your side of the story or whatever. Give me a call, anyway. Cheers.’

There was a silence in the room as I hung up. My conscience had kicked in.

‘Did that sound a bit ambulance-chasey?’ I asked Pip.

‘Of course not’ she said, irritated. ‘You just phoned up a guy who’s all over the tabloids and offered to let him tell “his side of the story”. Just like every media outlet in the world is probably doing right now. Difference is, they can all offer him vast amounts of money. What can you offer him? A bit part in [TITLE REDACTED]? It makes us look unprofessional.’

I looked around our office. Just to shatter the illusions of anyone out there who thinks that making straight-to-DVD splatter movies is glamorous and well-paying, I’ll describe the office to you. It’s the room next to our bedroom in our semi-detached suburban house. It has one wall painted vivid green so that we can shoot green screen pick-up shots of zombies or whatever without having to hire studio space. It contains two computers; a massively out-of-date PC, on which I cut TrashHouse back in 2005, and a massively overpowered Mac which I use for everything nowadays. There’s a framed poster of Gremlins on the back wall and there are usually coffee cups everywhere. Prior to February 2005 the entire room was full of overflowing ashtrays which I could never be bothered to empty, nowadays it’s just covered in empty wrappers from sweets or gum. Pip tries her hardest to keep it clean, but I can be a one man mess-machine when I put my mind to it.

God forbid we should ever look unprofessional.

‘Doesn’t matter. We gave it a shot.’

‘Did you really mean that about shooting a documentary?’ she asked.

I grinned sheepishly.

‘Not really my area. I was just looking for excuses not to blat the number.’

And then the phone starting ringing, the vibrate function making it dance and clatter on the plastic IKEA stool where I’d absent-mindedly dumped it. I looked at the readout.

Eddie Meachum.

‘He’s phoning back,’ I said to Pip, eyes probably showing a slight edge of panic. ‘Do you want to answer it?’
Her look told me no. Really rather definitely no.

I answered it.

‘Hi Eddie.’

‘Hey Pat. Sorry I missed your call. I was having a shit. Got a fucking headache like you wouldn’t believe. Haven’t heard the voicemail, just thought I’d phone straight back. You’re the guy from Warners, yeah?’

‘Ah, no. I’m Pat Higgins. We shot a music video for Needles with you a couple of years back.’

‘It came up Pat on the phone. I’m sure that’s the name of the guy from Warners.’

‘Different Pat?’

‘Yeah, must be. So, how can I help you Pat?’

‘I’ve been reading the papers.’

‘Yeah, hasn’t everyone,’ he said, ending the sentence as a statement rather than a question. Suddenly, he brightened. ‘You’re the tall guy, right? Dice earring? We shot that video chopping up that blonde chick on the hospital trolley?’

Thank fuck. He remembered.

‘That’s me.’

‘Sorry about my manners. Been a hell of a week.’

‘I guess so,’ I said. I decided to go for broke. ‘Look, if you want to talk about it..’

I heard him take a deep breath on the other end of the line. I imagined that he was massaging his eyes with his fingers, willing his headache to fade. He spoke carefully but firmly.

‘Ah, look Pat. I’m just gonna sit tight and wait for Erika to turn up. Don’t really want to talk to anyone. This’ll all blow over. Thanks for phoning and everything, though.’

And he hung up.

I relayed the conversation to Pip. She chewed a pen thoughtfully, and ventured;

‘He’d have been happy to talk to Warners, though, wouldn’t he?’

I had to concede that it sounded rather like he would.

The first time I met Erika Spawn on the hottest day of the year in the summer of 2005. We were scheduled to shoot a video for her track Needles, which was third single from her second album, in a tiny green screen studio in the shittiest part of West London. Granted, Erika wasn’t a star by then, but I was still somewhat stunned that her label wouldn’t spring for a more expensive studio or, to be frank, a higher profile director than me. Over the next few years, I’d go on to make a handful of cult movies which would at least establish me as a safe pair of hands. At this point, however, all I’d shot was my debut flick, Trashhouse, and that hadn’t even been released on DVD yet. When I was offered the gig for the Needles shoot, I was just told that Erika had seen the TrashHouse trailer online and had thought it was funny. I wasn’t going to turn down any paying gig whatsoever at that point, so I didn’t ask any questions. I just showed up.

Well, at least, I just tried to. The studio was the hardest place to fucking find that I’ve ever been late getting to in my life. Pip was behind the wheel, turning corner after corner cursing my navigational skills as I led her from dead end road to one-way street. By the time we finally got there we were both frazzled and spent, convince that we’d walk in to find a pissed-off production team and an Erika at the end of her tether. We thought we’d probably get fired. We made our way across the baking forecourt, the sun bleaching our hair and reddening our skin with every second that we exposed ourselves to it. As it turned out, we were the first ones there.

Erika finally turned up four hours later. In a full length fur coat.

The shoot’s nominal producer was Eddie Meachum, Erika’s manager. Quite how he considered that being her manager meant that he was going to be a competent producer for a music video shoot I have absolutely no idea. Pip (who was officially only there as my ‘assistant’ on this case) ended up pulling so much of Eddie’s slack that when she actually came to produce a music video herself a couple of years later (the Rocky-themed video for Jim Bob’s Battling the Bottle) she’d already had all the practice that she needed and could probably have done the whole thing with her eyes shut. That’s no offence to Eddie there; he’d tell you the same thing himself. I liked the guy then, and still do actually. There aren’t all that many people that I met in the course of this story that I’d actively choose to stay in touch with, but Eddie’s one of them. Doesn’t change the fact that the guy couldn’t produce worth shit, and I was a first time director as far as music videos were concerned. So neither of us were particularly able to rein Erika in. She’s very much the unstoppable force, and neither of us were an immovable object.

The video ended up more unpleasant than it was intended to be, which made things even more difficult when it came to getting it played. I was going to stick an embed of it on here, but it looks like they’ve all been blitzed off the ‘net, so you’ll have to content yourselves with a fan-made Dying Bride video up at the top of the page. If you’re still massively curious about the Needles video, there’s an extract from it in the final cut of The Devil’s Music. Oh, and here is the only photo in existence (as far as I know) of me and Erika Spawn in the same room. Snapped on the very day I’ve been talking about.

Pat Higgins and Erika Spawn

We’d always planned the rubber lingerie and the surgeon tools, but the original concept was for the whole video to be POV from the patient’s viewpoint. Here’s the rough breakdown from the storyboards I’d been emailed.

1. POV from patient’s perspective strapped to trolley. Empty room.
2. POV of Erika entering room. She’s wearing a rubber outfit with stockings and suspenders and a spiked collar.
3. POV as Erika sings to patient (ie. Straight to camera)
4. POV as Erika produces tray of vicious-looking surgical equipment.
5. POV surgery – Erika pulls entrails and organs out of the unseen patient.
6. POV slow, slow fade to black.

The idea was that the video would feel horrible, but that we wouldn’t actually need to show any of the graphic stuff (scalpels cutting flesh, and so on) by sticking firmly to the POV, so we’d get away with post-watershed on the only music channels that would actually be interested in showing us anyway. By the time Erika arrived, got done with hair and makeup and turned up on our tiny little stage in her rubber outfit, it would ordinarily have been about time to break for lunch. Pip made murmurs in this direction, which Erika firmly cast aside with an ‘I already ate. Let’s shoot this thing’.

So, we shot. For about an hour. After which time, Erika was starting to get into it. She was stalking around the stage, growling the lyrics straight into the camera in time to the guide track which was booming around the little studio. I was just about to call for another take when she brightly asked;

‘So, where’s the chick?’
‘What chick?’
‘The chick I’m cutting?’
‘Oh, we’re sticking to the Point of View shot, so you’re never gonna need to see them.’
‘No, no, no. I mean, the chick I’m cutting up.’
‘I thought we were going to..’

She smiled abruptly and turned to Eddie.

‘Eddie, get us a girl down here. This guy hasn’t got us someone for me to cut. Not Carol, someone different, maybe a blonde. You know the score.’

Eddie gave a quick salute, and within an hour we had a wriggling glamour model strapped to the operating table. I filmed her in decidedly non-POV shots, as Erika prodded at her with a rubber scalpel and the fake blood flowed. As you’ll know if you’ve seen the video, the POV stuff kind of goes out the window after the first minute. It’s cheerfully horrible, but not exactly psychological horror.

Erika Spawn - Needles

And that was pretty much it as far as drama went. It was a cheap, two day shoot that ended up rather bloodier than expected. It was a fun little side project which was barely seen by anybody until two years later, when anything remotely connected to Erika immediately became hot property. The YouTube hits for it are pushing three million now. Erika and I didn’t argue, didn’t have some blow-up. I was a rookie director who needed the money, why the hell would I argue with the star of the show?

The last time I met Erika Spawn was at the first showing of the completed video, which took place in a small room in the offices of her record label about six weeks later. We watched the completed video, gave each other a hug and promised to work again together in the future. Standard Operational Bullshit, obviously never see each other again.

I should probably mention Erika’s accent. As you probably know from footage that you may have seen of her, it ping-pongs around all over the place. People’s take on this seems to differ depending on how benignly they look upon Erika. Fans claim that she’d lived in so many places throughout her life that she’d picked up different inflections on the road, and that her accent was a kind of cultural gumbo reflecting a varied upbringing. Her critics claimed that the thing was an affectation that she never quite mastered, like she was shooting for a broad New York accent but fucked up and always had to live with her mistake when in public or be exposed as a fraud. Personally, I believe that Erika spent her whole life pretending to be different things to different people. In researching her life, I found that she did indeed spend time in a fair few places growing up, but I don’t believe that she picked up those inflections naturally. I think she’d fake it wherever she was. In London, she’d fake RP. If she was in Australia, she’d affect an Aussie drawl. And the whole lot just bled together. I’m not sure there was ever actually an accent that was hers to begin with, just the residue of a whole bunch of different fake voices that she’d put on. So many different fake voices that the genuine voice never had a chance to properly develop.

Erika loved fake stuff, and I think she would have genuinely regarded that as a triumph rather than a tragedy. Fake voices, fake nails, but, above all, fake bloodshed. Even in the two days that I spent in her company, it was obvious that Erika had not only a deep love of, but also a borderline compulsion towards, any kind of make-believe horror or gore. This was matched only by a mirroring sense of revulsion towards any kind of real-life brutality. She would be repelled by images of war or violence in the papers, yet would think nothing of pretending to gut and dissect a struggling glamour model in one of her music videos. It was pantomime, and she loved it for that reason.

This is why, when the violence and the bloodshed turned very, very real in the summer of 2007, I simply couldn’t get Erika Spawn out of my head. I couldn’t reconcile the images that the papers were reprinting day after day with the woman I’d seen recoiling from a tabloid because it contained a photo of an old lady bruised from a mugging. I simply couldn’t understand how Erika could get from the messy Grand-Guignol ridiculousness of the Needles promo to that notorious eight minutes of shaky video referred to by baying red-tops as ‘The Torture Footage’ in just two years.

The Erika Spawn phenomenon went from being a fun little goth metal band with some killer tunes and gross-out stage show, to being one of the darkest news stories of the decade with a genuine body count.

And I decided, rather foolishly, that I was going to find out why.

PS. I might continue telling this tale. I might not. It’s not something I talk about much, and the only reason that it’s back on my mind is because I’ve been asked to look back at The Devil’s Music ahead of the upcoming re-release via Cine du Monde. It’s weird thinking about it all again. For more information about my movies, why not check out the live show “Werewolves, Cheerleaders & Chainsaws” embedded at the bottom of this blog entry? It hasn’t got much about Erika, but it’s got blood, boobs and bad language so I’m sure she’d approve. Wherever she is.