Quantcast ICONS Interview with Eric Red - THE HITCHER, NEAR DARK, BODY PARTS, BAD MOON, 100 FEET

Eric Red!

On Saturday April 26th, 2008, ICONS staffer Kevin Klemm arranged for an interview with screenwriter/director Eric Red, who was responsible for some of our favorite genre pictures, including THE (original) HITCHER, NEAR DARK, BODY PARTS, BLUE STEEL, BAD MOON and COHEN & TATE. Eric spoke to us prior to his panel at the LA FANGORIA Weekend Of Horrors for his latest film 100 FEET. ICONS own Robg., John Torrani and Bryan Norton joined in for this rare chat and here are the results!- By Kevin Klemm, Robg., John Torrani, Bryan Norton - 6/08

Robg.: First and foremost, what are your earliest recollections of the horror genre? What films do you remember introducing you to the genre as a kid?

Films as a kid? PSYCHO. My mother and grandmother took me to see the film, when I was about 9 years old and still today, its one of the 2 movies that scared me into that particular adrenalin level that you just never forget. When my mother wonders where this all came from, I can always point back to the fact that she introduced me to the genre itself. But yeah, that film had an extraordinary effect.

Bryan Norton: You said one of two movies. What was the other one?

THE EXORCIST. Those 2 films.

Kevin Klemm: Well, one of the things I was wondering – you and I are about the same age. Do you grow up on things like FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND…

Sure did.

Kevin Klemm: …and things like “Creature Feature” and “Chiller Theater”…

Chiller Theater with the 6 fingered hand? New York?

Kevin Klemm: Yes!

And in Philadelphia, Doctor Shock. Yeah, and they had films like CARNIVAL OF SOULS and all sorts of really interesting films. The “Hammer” films would be shown on that. I used to go to Comic-con’s in New York when I was about 9 or 10.
Kevin Klemm: Did you ever hit the drive-in’s or the “grindhouse” theaters when you were a teenager? I kind of lived at the drive-in and that’s how I got my love of all the exploitation films and kung-fu movies.

Yeah, it’s a shame with the drive-ins. They had them up all until recently and it’s really one of the great forms to go see a film. You’d go sit in the car and watch one film after another with a group. I think I was introduced to THE WILD BUNCH and THE GREEN BERETS there. I used to tease Roy Scheider on COHEN AND TATE because he was in a film called CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE, which was one of his first movies.

Bryan Norton: Yeah! By Del Tenney!

Yeah. I managed to catch it in a drive-in. He liked to forget that one! Roy did his own stunts with the quicksand scene.
Kevin Klemm: Yeah, I was thinking that one of the things that kind of shape’s a person as a writer and a filmmaker is their upbringing in cinema. So, I’m always curious to ask someone what they’re upbringing in cinema was like.

Probably even more then drive-ins, (for me) it was seeing movies in the old Times Square, New York, not the current Times Square, which is like Disneyland. Because people would talk to the movies! When you went to see a film with a proper audience, they would talk back or react and that’s still what a movie should do.

Kevin Klemm: I remember many movies where it’d be quiet and then you’d hear “Don’t open that door! You know what’s in there!” Thing like that were always great. But… with the writing process for you, how do you start the creative process? Do you sit down with an idea and make an outline? Or do you do characters and let everything write itself? How do you go about it?

Well, first I try to make sure it’ll hold up as a script. I start with an idea. Or with what they call a “high concept”. Which actually is fairly good, it’s one of the few things in the Hollywood development process that actually makes sense. You start with a central idea, and that idea stimulates and when you think about it, or tell it to other people, it stimulates all sorts of possibilities. And then I’ll do usually a one page outline, see if it holds up there with a beginning, middle and end. If that works, I’ll go into a treatment. And then I’ll do the script. Once in a blue moon I’ll go from an outline to a screenplay. Having the idea is the first part, but then you have to be sure it fleshes out. The characters come out of the idea. I don’t start with characters, I usually start with a concept and the characters evolve from that.
Kevin Klemm: So, once you have the story and start writing the characters, the characters sort of write themselves? Is that what you’re saying?

Yeah. I mean, on my latest film 100 FEET, the concept is a woman is under house arrest for the self defense murder of her husband and she’s haunted by his ghost. She has to wear an ankle bracelet, which only allows her to go 100 feet. The original thought was going to be that it was a man who killed his wife who was haunted by her. But then I thought, a woman would be a more involving and interesting and ultimately a sympathetic character. So, it started with the idea of this person who was under house arrest and who was haunted by a specter, and it’d take place in a very contained environment. The challenge of course is making that work. You had to have enough complications to keep that going. But, ya know when you say to an audience, you’re basically going to have one person, a house and a ghost, you amplify the tension, because now you have to deliver.
Robg.: Let’s talk a little bit about your latest film 100 FEET. I saw the trailer and thought it looked fantastic. Famke Janssen is the lead in it and I believe she’s New York based?

Certainly is!

Robg.: How’d she become a part of this film? What was it about her as an actress that fit this story?
Well… presence. And intelligence. And also, she’s a very good actress. A beautiful one, but also someone who had a certain genre profile. It was just kind of an instinct. We sent her the script and she loved it, we met with her. We met with her for about 2 hours, and her orientation in our first discussion towards the character was really thorough. And also, she absolutely embraced the flaws of the character. She didn’t want to play a goodie-too-shoes heroine. This character is a flawed character.
She killed her husband in self-defense, but she probably could’ve found other ways to deal with the situation. She has to go back and be under house arrest and be haunted by him. She surprised me when we first met, for someone whom I’d seen in films like X-MEN.

Robg.: She’s had an interesting career as an actress. Everything from X-MEN to Jon Favreau’s MADE to HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL.
She’s super smart, super well educated and super intelligent. And her stamina during the filming – the tough thing about this movie was that the actress was going to be in every single scene and almost every single shot. And for an actor to carry a film like that is very, very rare. She’s a one or two take actress, literally. She delivered every single day. Her energy, her stamina, her preparation was really wonderful to work with.

Robg.: Looking back, what was the filmmaking experience like on 100 FEET as opposed to your previous films?

Well, it was more contained then any other film I did except for a picture I did called UNDERTOW, which I did in Lithuania, which was also set in a house. The film is 95 percent set inside this brownstone in Brooklyn. I insisted on shooting exteriors in New York in Brooklyn, for the outside of the house and all the shots through the windows. And then we built the place in a breakaway set in Budapest. So, it was very contained and very claustrophobic. That type of tension just added to the intensity of making the movie.

Kevin Klemm: I wanted to ask about NIGHTLIFE. What’s the status of that?

We have a script and we’re in very early pre-production.

Kevin Klemm: Can you tell us at all what it’s about? Is it a vampire story?

It’s a contemporary vampire story. It’s set in San Francisco. It’s a bit of a contemporary “Hammer film” type of picture, in that it’s very graphic, and it’s very different from 100 FEET in that regard. It’s very graphic in terms of violence and sexuality. It’s about a girl who comes to San Francisco looking for her missing sister. She received a letter from her and she’s come to find her. And she meets this guy who’s very handsome and charismatic and successful who was friends with her sister, and he wants to help her find her. And this guy, of course is a vampire. And her sister got away from him. But he turned the sister into a vampire, and she’s now trying to find a way (since he never told her how to kill vampires), she’s trying to find a way to learn how to kill vampires so she can kill him.

Kevin Klemm: So she can get her revenge.

Yeah. So you have one sister going together with this guy to try to find her missing sister. And then the other sister learning how to kill vampires so she can get this guy and they’re all headed on a collision course.

Kevin Klemm: Do you have a love of vampire pictures? Because I tell everybody that my favorite vampire film of all time is NEAR DARK. And I grew up on the Hammer films. I love vampire films, but NEAR DARK was just the most bad-ass vampire film, and as far as I’m concerned, nobody’s been able to duplicate that.


Kevin Klemm: Was NEAR DARK your first collaboration with (director) Kathryn Bigelow?

It was actually our second. The first was UNDERTOW and then we wrote this one right after it in a couple of months.

Kevin Klemm: How was that working together on those scripts?
It was fun, it was fast! We’d write 5 pages a day. I’d write 5 and she’d write 5. We’d sit by the typewriter and toss idea back and forth. It was very efficient and a lot of fun. The fun with NEAR DARK was imagining what vampires would be like if they existed. It just automatically led - … the vampire Western aspect was the concept at the beginning. You know, once you’re in the mid-West, the idea of the sun coming up and going down when there’s nowhere to go and no where to hide immediately lent itself. In thinking about vampires, if they were to be in contemporary society, they’d keep a pretty damn low profile because they’re very vulnerable, as well as being very powerful. All that stuff with the American outlaw on the run kind of came out of that.

Kevin Klemm: It had a lot of WILD BUNCH elements with the shoot out in the hotel…


Kevin Klemm: I love that whole sequence. Them running to the van and the blankets catching on fire! I just think the collaboration between you two was always so brilliant. I’ve always loved her sense of style with directing. I always say that she’s a woman with balls when it comes to her directing!

You don’t have a horror movie until you have a couple of unique actions scenes. That’s the thing you try to come up with when you do these things. When we had that scene where the bullets coming through the hotel walls and didn’t hurt them, but the shafts of light did, that gave it something unique. Until you have one or two really good “rippers”, you don’t really have your movie set.
Kevin Klemm: It was all great with Homer, the little kid! With the fallen bike and him laying there in the middle of the street. His character was kind of like a spider, letting the pray come to him! You had such great actors involved in that too.
Well, they’re a clan! They’re a family. The vampires actually – I think there’s a few flaws in NEAR DARK actually, that had to do mostly with casting Adrian Pasdar at the beginning, because I think the film wound up becoming vampire heavy. Because the vampires as bad guys will often steal the movie, and they absolutely did. They were a family and a clan, and I don’t think we ever quite rooted enough for the kid, which through the movie a little bit off balance. Jenny Wright was fantastic, she was perfect.
John Torrani: You were saying how the bad guys steal the movie. NEAR DARK is also my favorite vampire film. I own a huge Italian poster of it, I just bought a German poster of it today. I love that film. I like it because you root for the bad guys! I love rooting for bad guys, so having Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Janette Goldstein – you have such a great group of bad guys, that’s why I love the film. I’m ok with not rooting for the guy from HEROES.

Bryan Norton: Yes, but I can understand what Eric’s saying. He wrote him to be more sympathetic.
You can’t help but root… It’s like gangster movies. A great gangster movie is always about good bad guys or bad good guys. Flawed characters are always much more interesting. A flawed character will involve the audience on a much more fundamental level then a good guy will, because we can relate to them. It’s what Hitchcock did so well. I still think at the end of the day, you need to take a moral point of view. You want to feel for the bad guys, but you still want the good guys to beat them. Although, in horror movies, sometimes your monster is your star.
John Torrani: Yeah, yeah. But basically what I’m saying is, don’t feel bad about that! (Laughs) It’s not a failure on your part. And my thing with the film is I feel you have so many great things coming together. The score, I love the Tangerine Dream score.

John Torrani: I love the nighttime photography. I had a professor in college show that film as an example of nighttime photography and I was the only person in the class who had actually seen the film. So, you have so many great things, plus the performances, plus your script, plus Kathryn Bigelow that you end up with a great movie.

Well, that bar scene, the thing about the vampires in that movie is that they love being vampires. Paxton in particular. His character Severen had all the best lines in the script and his audition by the way was perfect. He was from the first audition to what you saw in the movie, that was precisely it. But, you know that scene in the bar where they go in, they love killing people, and vampires would! The vampires in that, especially the lead loves being a vampire. He’s a pure predator and killer.
Bryan Norton: That came across I think the way you intended it for me, because it’s like Joe Pesci in GOODFELLAS. Sometimes, he was just really scary. You know they’ll get them back eventually, but when they kill that waitress in there, I was like “How’s Adrian going to get out of this one?!” (Laughs) I don’t want to be in there with them! I wasn’t rooting for the vampires, they scared me!

Also, American outlaws. Jesse James, Bonnie & Clyde, all those guys are killers, but there’s a huge fascination with audiences for those kind of characters in movies.

Kevin Klemm: I wanted to go even further back in your career to THE HITCHER, because that was your first big gig in Hollywood, wasn’t it? I remember going to see that in the theater and it just blew me away.

Bryan Norton: I saw it in the theaters too. Some guy threw up in the theater when I saw it. (Laughs)

But you know, it’s not a movie that has a lot of blood in it. And didn’t even then.

Bryan Norton: It hit all the right notes though.

Kevin Klemm: Tell us the backstory if you can? Wasn’t the story that you were traveling across country and you had picked up this sort of creepy hitchhiker and that provided the source material?

No, I don’t know how that story got around. The truth was I always loved THE DOORS song “Riders In The Storm”, which I thought would make a great opening for a movie. And I was driving across country through Texas. I had all this time on the road and I sort of said “Well, what if you started with this.”
I tried to think what I wouldn’t think would happen next and that was how I did the whole story. I kept it with that whole confrontation, that kind of Hitchcockian confrontation. It’s always a great thing when you have somebody who’s innocent, and who is terrorized or put into a position by someone that’s manipulating him. BLUE STEEL is actually, really THE HITCHER with a chick. Almost exactly.

Kevin Klemm: I was watching BLUE STEEL again the other night and I had it in my DVD collection, and I hadn’t really watched it in a while. I forgot how much I loved that movie!

(Jamie Lee Curtis) She’s awesome. She’s one of the best actresses still in the world. So, that kind of character, that kid who gets framed by this hitchhiker, this killer and then blamed for it – that’s a character that the audience gets into because you relate to him. It’s like “how do you get out of this?”

Bryan Norton: Henry Fonda in THE WRONG MAN.

Yeah. 39 STEPS.

Bryan Norton: Did you have any involvement in THE HITCHER remake?


Robg.: They credited you as a screenwriter on that!

Total reluctant involvement. No, I had none whatsoever, nor did I want to have any involvement in it. But come the time that they went to the writer’s guild for arbitration, they sent me a copy of the script and it was literally scene by scene, beat by beat, action scene by action scene, the same script as the first one. Except they changed some of the dialogue. Although, even that not as much. And then they made the kid two characters, which of course takes away all the jeopardy. The script was terrible, and I never saw the final film. But I wrote back to the writer’s guild and said, “Guys. Basically, this is just my script done a little bit differently”, so they gave me lead writing credit on it. I was reluctant, but given the choice, I felt that if you’re going to take as many elements as they did from the original film, then may as well get the credit. Give the credit where it’s due. But I disown the picture.
Bryan Norton: They do kind of turn it into some silly “You go girl,” “trick or treat, motherfucker” moment, when she’s going to blow him away.

You would’ve thought that 20 years later, particularly because people saw the film, you wouldn’t have just done the best scene at the end? Ya know, it also is interesting. The way you don’t show it in horror films. It’s like the scene in PSYCHO. You think you see all this shit with the knife, but you don’t. It was so much scarier not showing the character get torn apart then it was showing it.
I mean, I heard when they showed this thing (in the remake) that people applauded in the theater. Well, nobody applauded to that scene in the first film. People were like “Oh my fucking God!” Because nobody thinks you’re going to do it. They never think you’re going to kill a main character.
Bryan Norton: The minute the boyfriend shows up in this movie, you know there’s going to be the final girl and you know there’s no surprise and he’s going to get killed. So…

Kevin Klemm: Rutger Hauer is so awesome in that part too… that as much as I like Sean Bean as an actor, I thought he was no Rutger Hauer…

Robg.: Yeah, cool casting, but I just couldn’t bring myself to watch it, and I probably never will.

Sean Bean’s a good actor. But Rutger Hauer had that sort of ephemeral physicality. There was just something so bigger than life on screen. And also, Rutger had an incredible feel for bad guys. He would steal the movie. Like BLADE RUNNER. He just steals that movie right from under Harrison Ford. That was his instinct. He wanted to play good guys, but it just simply wasn’t his feel as a person, as a performer. His feel was for making bad guys – he had that incredible sexual menace.
Bryan Norton: Rutger did it without playing it like a bad guy. Sean Bean, in the remake plays it creepy. I think, Rutger is just kind of creepy by accident!
Well that was something in the remake script that they completely lost was any sense of psychologically motivation, which the character in (my) HITCHER has. He has a twisted logic, but it is a logic. I didn’t see any of that (in the remake) at least from the script. Again, I didn’t see the movie.
Bryan Norton: Can I ask about a picture of yours that I’ve heard you don’t like to talk about, BAD MOON?

Why wouldn’t I like to talk about BAD MOON?

Bryan Norton: I heard somewhere that you weren’t a fan of it because it was a troubled production, but I think it’s a very underrated werewolf picture, and it’s very well shot and the production values are great and why the hell did it go right to video?!

No, it didn’t go right to video!

Bryan Norton: It didn’t? It’s so beautiful in widescreen.

I like BAD MOON a lot!

Bryan Norton: Ok! I take it back then! I’ve read the book!

I tried to do a different kind of werewolf movie with BAD MOON and it came from the book. The idea of a family dog – and a family member moves in and the dog loves this guy, but senses that he’s another dog. The book is all told from the dog’s point of view! Wayne Smith’s book THOR, he may never write another book, but he never really has to. In that one, he so caught the character of that dog. I knew that in a movie, even though we couldn’t really tell it from the dog’s point of view, it still would be the audience’s point of view, because the audience and the dog have the same information. So, that would still work. I mean, if I had it to do over again, I still would’ve made the film. I don’t know if I would’ve cast Mariel Hemingway. Um, I think Michael Pare was superb in the picture and that’s where we first met. I think he played the hell out of it. The CGI scene was terrible…
Bryan Norton: It was very early CGI, so it was still kind of cool when they did it, but you’re right.

I’ll tell you, when I did the syndicated TV cut, I literally cut all of that out and just showed the foot bursting through the shoe and it worked much better. But, I think it’s a horror film with heart. That’s a film about unconditional love. It has a great sense of confrontation. I think the stuff with the dog and Pare all came together.
Bryan Norton: The German Shepard grand finale, you ruined that house!

It was a set.

Bryan Norton: Well, in the movie.

That was a very fun scene to shoot too. I storyboarded the shit out of it and it was planned for months. We used everything from the real dog to - actually, we imported him from Russia, a border-Shepard. There’s one shot where the dog tears across the room and hits the stuntman, we actually build a werewolf suit that was one inch thick leather because of that one shot. He just totaled this guy. He took him clean across the room. We had dummies, we had everything. It was great fun to shoot and put together.

Kevin Klemm: Was that an independent or studio film?
It was a Morgan Creek film and actually, we opened in 900 theaters, but Morgan Creek so completely screwed up. I mean, they put $100,000 dollars in PNA money in the film, let alone there were no TV buys. So, there weren’t ads in the paper beforehand, so it never had a shot. But, it’s found its audience. It’s funny, over the years, with cable and DVD it’s found an audience. It’s different, it’s not like other werewolf movies and I’m still glad I made it. You try to do things that are different than the average horror movie, ya know?

Kevin Klemm
: Do you have any other pet projects in the back of your head that you’d like to do at some point? You’ve done the vampire genre, you’ve done the werewolf genre…
Well, I did a graphic novel called CONTAINMENT, which is the zombies in space story I did for IDW. It was published about 2 years ago, and it’s definitely a film I’d like to make one day, hopefully in the coming years. It’s all set in a space ship where there’s a malfunctioning in the hypersleep cabinets. Half the crew is filled with cryogenic fluid and they turn into basically mindless zombies on the ship. But the trouble is, on Earth if you’re in a shopping mall and a zombie puts his hand through the wall, you go into the next room. In space, if they put their hand through an airlock, you’re screwed. It’s a very fragile life support system. It’s a very old-school, hardnose sort of picture.

Robg.: Is there any one of your films that stands out for you or that you personally hold a great affection for? One that you’d consider a favorite? Or are they all your “babies”?
They’re different. I think 100 FEET is probably my best picture, since I’ve been doing (films) for a little while now. I think in terms of performance and photography, best modulated pace through out. Plus, what I love about this film it that there’s only one kill in the whole movie. It was very interesting to do because it was a woman in the house with a ghost and it was all about the mechanics of suspense. But I can tell you just from showing it, the audience is on the edge of their seats from beginning to end. Now, the current state of movies are so splatter and gore, that it was really fun to go back and do something that was totally kind of non-traditional. Probably that and BODY PARTS are my two favorites. BODY PARTS was the most fun I had on a picture.

Bryan Norton: How was Jeff Fahey?
Fahey was a lot of fun to work with. The whole cast was. Lindsay Duncan, Brad Dourif. It was a pretty big movie. It had all these locations, and effects and action scenes. There were a lot of toys to play with for that movie. Yeah, Jeff is a very individualist guy. He’s has a huge family. Something like 13 brothers and sisters, and they’re all grips, they run a grip service. He’s definitely his own guy, but in person he has a warmth and humanity, which I really pulled out in BODY PARTS, but you don’t see enough of in his movies. Although I thought in PLANET TERROR, you could see it. Jeff is a very charming guy in person. At least for most people. (Laughs)
John Torrani: BLUE STEEL. Coincidently, I watched it recently. And while I’m watching Ron Silver, I’m thinking he’s got to be making up a lot of this stuff as he goes along. Now, is he? Or did you write all those lines for his character?

No, his character pretty much stayed close to the script.

John Torrani: Even that part where he’s digging through Central Park? I think at one point, he starts putting stuff in his mouth? I could just be remembering it wrong?

Ya know… I should probably see it again. (Laughs) You’re talking about a script I wrote 20 years ago. (Laughs)

- At this point, Michael Pare comes over to introduce himself to the ICONS crew. Michael and Eric leave to prepare for their 100 FEET panel later in the day for the LA FANGO 2008 show. -

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