Tag Archives: David Cronenberg

Mind At War: Nate’s Top Ten Films on Mental Illness

The subject of mental illness is one that’s close and important to me as I myself am one of the afflicted, and it’s impossible to ignore that the treatment of it by Hollywood, particularly in formative years, hasn’t been so apt. Don’t get me wrong, I love stuff like Me, Myself & Irene or Split as entertainment but in terms of accurately representing the conditions that beset human beings, they haven’t been so hot. There are those films and filmmakers out there that strive to educate and enlighten or even just to craft an effective thriller or comedy and still stay true to real life, doing important work for the collective awareness and making terrific art/entertainment in one shot. Here are my personal top ten favourites!

10. Geoffrey Sax’s Frankie & Alice

Multiple personality disorders are popular in Hollywood but there’s a tendency to mock, sensationalize or tell a ‘real life’ story that’s later proved as fraud. This one showcases Halle Berry in a galvanizing dual performance as a go-go dancer afflicted by two very different internal identities and finding her life in splinters as a result. When a kind, compassionate psychiatrist (Stellan Skarsgard) makes it his mission to help her get back on track it becomes apparent just how challenging and horrific it must be to endure such a thing.

9. Dito Montiel’s Man Down

I heard this one sold one single theatrical ticket in the UK and didn’t fare much better here, getting squeaked into a quiet streaming release. It’s too bad because it is one haunting drama about PTSD featuring an implosive, incredibly intense performance from Shia LaBeouf as an ex marine who can’t psychologically reconcile his experience and is lost amongst his own trauma. Terrific work from Kate Mara as his wife and Gary Oldman as an army counsellor too.

8. James Mangold’s Girl Interrupted

Likely the most accessible and mainstream story on this list, Mangold’s look at a mental care facility for girls in the 60’s gets a superficial rep in some circles but I find it to be every bit the rewarding drama, ensemble piece and explorative journey that those who champion it say. Winona Ryder plays a wayward girl whose self destructive behaviour lands her there but it’s Angelina Jolie as a fellow patient diagnosed with borderline personality disorder that both anchors the film and provides it with a wildly unpredictable streak.

7. Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island

This is of course a big old elaborate mystery film with a gigantic cast, many red herrings, tons of subplots and all kinds of stylistic fanfare. But if you look past all that there’s a harrowing and very realistic portrait of minds irreparably damaged, between Leo Dicaprio’s PTSD afflicted ex soldier and Michelle Williams in a haunting turn as his deeply sick wife. The film overall is a tantalizing guessing game and broadly covers the thriller board but the final act brings it right down to earth for a grounded, grim finale showcasing the brutal honesty of these illnesses and the heart wrenching tragedy they beget.

6. Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King

Robin Williams gives one of his best performances as Parry, a once successful professor of medieval history who lost his mind following the death of his wife and now wanders the streets of NYC, homeless. Jeff Bridges is the radio DJ who befriends and tries to understand him and their relationship carries the film. So to does Gilliam’s knack for surreal visual storytelling, letting these fantastical creations run wild and giving us a glimpse into Parry’s damaged but fascinating mind.

5. Brad Anderson’s The Machinist

Christian Bale’s Trevor Reznik hasn’t slept in a year. Guilt, extreme weight loss and delusions are just the start of his problems. This is billed as and feels like a thriller but I think that’s deliberate on director Anderson’s part to put us in the hot seat next to Trevor, to make us feel the same paranoia and delusions of persecution he does. The atmosphere here is almost suffocating, the score a muted tangle of busted nerves and Bale’s performance something just this side of unearthly. When it all comes together and we see why he is the way he is it’s deeply sad but makes a kind of terrible sense and gives the film a final stab of emotional weight.

4. Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace

PTSD is only vaguely hinted at in this beautiful father daughter drama but it’s there in every frame, in every mannerism of Ben Fosters masterful performance. Him and newcomer Thomasin Mackenzie achingly display a family dynamic that has been set off balance by his illness, and the wedge it has driven both between them and between him and ever living a normal life again. This is a restrained yet heartbreaking film that gently unpacks its themes with kindness and compassion, letting a devastating final scene bring the whole point home heavily but somehow lightly in the same note.

3. David Cronenberg’s Spider

Ralph Fiennes give a focused, intense turn as the titular individual, a man released from a mental care facility and relegated to a London halfway house where all the scrambled and tumultuous memories of his past come tumbling down through the scattered web of his broken mind and into the present. Recollections of his parents (Gabriel Byrne and Miranda Richardson) are somehow shrouded from himself, by himself and as he tirelessly works to regain his sanity, he slips further away from it. Cronenberg uses shadows, dimly lit alleys and creaky, barren rooms to show how this character has been cast away from his own perception and wanders about like a lost soul.

2. Bill Pohlad’s Love & Mercy

The life and times of Beach Boys pioneer Brian Wilson are explored here, namely at two important junctures in his life. Paul Dano plays him younger, at the height of fame and success but poised on the cusp of a psychotic breakdown after stress and an unhealthy relationship with his abusive father (Bill Camp) reach a fever pitch. Decades later John Cusack embodies a much older Wilson, stuck under the tyrannical yoke of an evil, manipulative psychiatrist (Paul Giamatti) until he meets the love of his life (Elizabeth Banks) and a chance at a fresh start along with her. The scene of Dano putting recording headphones over his ears and closing his eyes in horror as he hears voices is one of the most brutally honest and realistic depictions of auditory hallucinations you can find in film. Wilson had a rough life and the film makes that very clear but it’s never ever sensationalist or exploitive and overall has a message about love, light and working endlessly to overcome any demons or struggles thrown into your path.

1. Kasi Lemmons’ The Caveman’s Valentine

Samuel L. Jackson gives a career best as schizophrenic former musician Romulus, a man afflicted by terrible hallucinations and delusions to the point that when he discovers a genuine murder conspiracy no one, including his police officer daughter (Aunjanue Ellis) believes him. This film is driven by a fascinating mystery narrative that takes Romulus from his cave in Central Park into the pretentious New York art world and beyond to find a killer. At heart though director Lemmons let’s it m be a serious minded exploration of what it must be like to live like that, to be constantly sabotaged by your own mind. Jackson’s brilliant performance and Lemmons effective use of surreal, mesmerizing imagery give us a compassionate, dynamic window into this man’s mind and in turn a unique, thought provoking piece of cinema.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more content!

-Nate Hill

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“I never touched a legend before.” : Remembering Nightbreed with Nicholas Vince by Kent Hill

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Seems to me NIGHTBREED had been out for a while before I made a point of sitting down to watch it. I’d seen the trailer a bunch of times, been curious, but it wasn’t until I read the illustrated screenplay that I admit to really becoming hell bent on checking it out.1411764498435

It is at once a phantasmagoria, a dark fantasy, a love story – a rich, self-contained world that seemed on the verge. But, as I would discover, the powers that be didn’t receive from Clive Barker what they were hoping for. He had produced for them two Hellraiser pictures, thus they made the mistake of assuming they were set to receive yet another study in fear. Especially with a title like, Nightbreed. Hence you have the reason for the fractured state of the movie and all the subsequent releases and restorations – the producers attempting to fashion the movie into something it was never meant to be.

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What you ultimately take away from Barker’s monster-piece is the feeling of wanting more – and not just a re-cut of the existing elements. I suppose that’s why the idea of a Nightbreed series, I feel, would work better than another motion picture. There is so much to mine, so many characters – along with my favorite, Kinski (played by my guest Nicholas Vince), that I would love to see make a return.

So, kick back and enjoy our discussion on all things concerned with the tribes of the moon. God’s an Astronaut. Oz is Over the Rainbow, and Midian is where the monsters live.”

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SBIFF: Viggo Mortensen on David Cronenberg, Green Book, and putting Coca-Cola in The Road.

Vladimir Putin was an inspiration for his character in Easter Promises, he owned his two horses from the Lord of the Rings, and then T.J. from Hidalgo, and he thinks it is total bullshit that David Cronenberg has never been nominated for best director. Viggo Mortensen is an accidental movie star who is fluent in seven languages, has his own publishing house, and never tires of people walking up to him on the street to talk to him about Aragorn. The 34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s American Riviera Award was presented to Mortensen by his two-time co-star and one-time director, Ed Harris, which was preceded by a delightful two-hour Q&A with Deadline’s Peter Hammond.

Mortensen is currently making the rounds for his third Academy Award nomination for one of the year’s best films, The Green Book, knowing full well that he’s going to be three and out but continues to champion a film that he truly loves and believes in. He and Harris were about an hour late to the event, a serve storm prolonged their trip up from LA, diverting to take a private plane to a local airport and eventually hitting the red carpet and taking his time along the way promoting his latest feature.

“Coke doesn’t do R rated films, and then I asked if I could call the guy,” Mortensen continued, “I can’t remember his name, but I called the rep from Coca Cola and asked him if he had read The Road. He had not but his wife or someone he knew had. I told him to read pages, I don’t know, eighty-six through eighty-seven. And then to speak to his kids or his wife or whoever, and then in a few days he called back, and we could use Coke.”

His first on-screen appearance was in Peter Weir’s Witness, which came right off the heels of his scenes being cut from Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo. He was in his very early twenties when he decided to become an actor, there was not a specific film or an actor who inspired him, but the theatre experience was an emotional enlightenment that was woven with curiosity about how film could evoke reactions from laughter to tears.

The Lord of the Rings series is a part of his life that remains incredibly special to him. Not only did he love making the films, but he also speaks to what that afforded him to achieve not only professionally, but also personally. He started Percival Press, a publishing house that produces works of poets, musicians, and photographers as well as his own music, poetry, art, and photo books.

The Extended Cut of The Fellowship of the Ring is his favorite of the trilogy, reasoning that it was the film with the most human to human interaction. As the films went on, there was more CGI, more green screens, creating less and less interaction with other people. That was not a slight towards the other films, he warned because he has stated the same prior and he has been taken out of context.

Mortensen has a flip phone and has gotten better at emailing since he launched his website, but he’s just not all that interested in modern technology and frankly doesn’t find an interest in it. He is more interested in bringing stories to the screen that would not otherwise have a voice. He finds unique narratives and uses his movie star cache as a vehicle to shine a light on compelling characters and writer-directors whose visions would not be told.

Green Book is a special film to Mortensen, he loves it and the character of Tony Lip. He is very aware of the campaign against the film, especially how some are citing that the real Tony and Dr. Shirley were not friends and the film is a false representation of factual events. Firstly, Mortensen noted that Green Book is a movie, and only covers a span of two weeks and that Tony Lip went on to drive Dr. Shirley for another two years, and moderator Peter Hammond noted that Deadline has published audio tapes of Dr. Shirley speaking of his friendship with Tony and how the two remained friends for the rest of their lives.

He spoke very highly of the cast of Captain Fantastic and especially Mahershalla Ali, and how Ali was the greatest acting partner he’s had. He made not of Ali’s reactionary acting to him, and how so much of Ali’s performance is store within his reactions and economy of movement. He also spoke of his fondness for Ed Harris, who was there to present Mortensen with the award.

Dressed in cowboy boots and a red vest that looks like something William Holden would have worn in a genre-pushing western, Harris gave a rather straight forward yet emotional tribute to Mortensen, conveying that their friendship was built on a foundation of loyalty. Mortensen thanked Harris, SBIFF, and executive director Roger Durling for an award that he was not just a nominee for, but the outright winner. Mortensen is the strong silent type who is fiercely intelligent, and a man made up for passion and raw talent that elevates every single project that he touches.

David Cronenberg’s The Fly

It’s taken me years to finally get around to David Cronenberg’s The Fly, but I’m glad I did as it’s a terrifically slimy gore-palooza boasting practical effects that are on par with classics like John Carpenter’s The Thing and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead. Cronenberg is known as the prince of body horror, and has carved out a now legendary swath of schlock-tacular horror films (many of which I’m unfortunately not caught up on), but his nightmarish visions almost always have a brain in their heads or something to say about media, psychology, biology or the way things work. In The Fly he takes a look at the universal human fear of disease and decay, a collective primordial disgust that Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis fuel their performances with. Goldblum is Seth Brundle, a brilliant but terminally awkward scientist who has developed a functioning teleportation device. Well almost, as he has trouble sending anything alive through it, and it has a habit of turning monkeys inside out. One night he drunkenly sends himself through, unaware that a tiny little stowaway has come for the ride. The computer gets confused, combines their DNA at a molecular level and, viola! Jeff Goldblum starts literally turning into a giant fly, and trust me when Cronenberg is at the helm of such a premise, no expense is spared on gallons of vile corrosive goo and repulsive glistening prosthetics, so don’t order in Pizza Hut if you have this one on in the living room. Geena Davis is effective as the journalist that falls in love with him and has to bear witness to the grotesque transformation, but unfortunately the film isn’t long enough to work as a romance, choosing instead to put the horror front and centre, which is where it’s strongest aspect lies. Goldblum is great as the twitchy doctor, and uses his physicality brilliantly once the metamorphosis begins, giving his lanky frame a staccato, animalistic rhythm that suits the character well. The effects are dazzling, if retro gore is your thing, a whole party bag of slime, pus and deformity that stands as a showcase for the FX team. I like Cronenberg’s horrors, or at least the ones I’ve seen, because no matter how schlocky they get, he never veers it totally into the sandbox and forgets his themes, he always seems in complete control of the nuttiness, following a specific recipe that doesn’t derail anything and that probably why he has become such a pedigree name in the genre. The film could have been a tad longer and a bit more fleshed out in places, but still serves as a slick, well drawn shocker that has not surprisingly stood the test of time.

-Nate Hill

“CHEESEBURGERS, NO BONES!” : An Interview with Mick Garris by Kent Hill

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It took a while to get a hold of Mighty Mick – but I’m glad I had the patience. See Mick Garris is one helluva talented man. His passage through the movies is a veritable plethora of Amazing Stories – apart from the show-of-the-same-name where he achieved career lift off.

Since those early days he has gone on to become a prolific writer, director, producer, author, podcaster – the list goes on. He made me laugh with Critters 2, he was the writer of The Fly 2, which was one of the only times a film has forced me bring up my lunch, and he has conducted wonderful and insightful interviews with fellow filmmakers – some, sadly, that are no longer with us.

Through it all Mick remains the soft-spoken gentleman with a passion for his work and cinema in total. He has had a long successful run of adapting the works of Stephen King for the screen. I have vivid memories of sitting through, night after night, his extraordinary adaption of The Stand. This he beautifully followed up with further adaptions of Bag of Bones and The Shining, in which King adapted his own book, and which Mick credits as one of the best screenplays he’s ever read.

He was instrumental in bringing together the Masters of Horror as he was composing the elements which formed great movies either under his pen, or benefiting from his exquisite direction. Follow this link ( https://www.mickgarrisinterviews.com/  ) to Mick’s site and check out the bona fide feast of delights for cineastes he has on offer. As I said to the man himself, “You have a lot of fingers in a lot of pies, and I can’t wait to cut me a slice of whatever you serve up next.”

So, without further ado,  it is my privilege to present to you . . . the one, the only . . . Mick Garris.

David Cronenberg’s Spider 


David Cronenberg’s Spider is a prickly, unsettling plunge into the frays of mental illness with all the subtleties of a bad dream whose source is hard to pin down. As a disoriented, emotionally shellshocked Ralph Fiennes shambles into a residency at a halfway house in London, he’s reminded of the past, and begins to brush away layers of cobwebs that hide more than a few nasty secrets from his upbringing. Raised by his wayward father (Gabriel Byrne) and haughty mother (Miranda Richardson, also showing up in a dual role), Spider, as she nicknamed him, began to lose his grip on reality at a very young age, resulting in an eerie tragedy. Or did it? That’s the key to Cronenberg’s vision here, the kind of blood chilling uncertainty that one sees a mentally ill person struggle through. Spider’s grip on the past, and his own present coherency is as tenuous as the lingering webs that gild both his memory, as well as the shrouded nooks and crannies of the desolate borough of London he aimlessly shuffles through, the empty rooms and lived-in corridors of his childhood home practically mirroring those of his mind. Fiennes is scarily good in the role, abandoning any researched mimicry to full on effortlessly sink into the psyche of this poor disturbed man, organic and believable. Byrne is solemn and somber as ever, just as complicated as his progeny yet burdened with the also torturous yoke of sanity, while Richardson is electric in both her roles. Stage stalwart John Neville babbles his way through a turn as a fellow resident of the halfway house, while Lynn Redgrave plays it’s stern matron. Dank, destitute and lost is the tone they’ve gone for here, with no Hollywood safety net to rescue both viewer and protagonist from the scintillating curves of a narrative that has no light at the end of it’s tunnel, a brave choice by Cronenberg, and stunning work from everyone who brings the tale to life, such as it is. Be ready to put on a Disney flick after sitting through the nail biting gloom of this one. 

-Nate Hill

Fantastic Beasts and the Man who made them: An Interview with Chris Walas by Kent Hill

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When I think of the work of Chris Walas, a few things pop into my head.

The first is how much I loved Dragonslayer when I saw it at the cinema as a kid. It like The Black Hole was a dark, different Disney movie. This was the era when Disney was trying to be more like a studio and not purely focused on the animation that had garnered it so much love.  I remember waiting for the moment when the dragon would finally be revealed and I was not disappointed. I was becoming aware of how movies were made at that time, so the prospect of any giant creature on screen, knowing that it was actually there, that it had to be built was incredible.

The second is Enemy Mine. A movie for the longest time I had only seen the last twenty minutes of. During the heyday of video piracy, it was not uncommon to borrow a tape from friends or family and find the tail ends of stuff that had been taped over. Ironically I can’t remember the film that was taped over it, but those final scenes from Enemy had me intrigued. I think it was one of my cousins who I borrowed the tape from, so I asked him about the clip at the end. “Oh I taped over that ‘cause it was kinda boring. Some dude and an alien have a baby together.” Yes folks, I have some really classy relatives, and that was how he pitched Enemy Mine to me. Still, undaunted, I sought it out and it is a whole lot more than that; indeed another great film from Wolfgang Petersen who had blown my mind prior with The Neverending Story.

Finally I reflect on The Fly 2. One of two films I have literally lost my lunch watching. And, let me be clear, up to that point, I had seen gruesome stuff before so it wasn’t so much the imagery as it was the visceral qualities of the imagery. As the years go by, and because I haven’t seen it in a long time, so it’s sketchy at best, but one thing that I recall was Daphne Zuniga wiping away Eric Stoltz’s slimy coating from this one scene and giving him a kiss. I remember that or something like that, like I said, it’s been a long time between drinks, but that scene and a few others helped my lunch get its own sequel that day.

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But enough about me, let’s talk about Chris.

Chris Walas has worked on a handful of truly iconic films. You can see is work in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Return of the Jedi, Gremlins. He is an Academy Award winner – that Oscar being for The Fly and part of a terrific association with David Cronenberg who he would go on to work with on other films like Scanners and Naked Lunch.

He has sat in the director’s chair on (of course) The Fly 2, The Vagrant and “Til Death”, an episode of Tales from the Crypt. He was part of the Roger Corman stable; he worked on Airplane!, Galaxina, Caveman and Virtuosity – he is a very talented man who has had a hand in the truly grand cinematic experiences of my youth and it was an utter delight to interview him, and subsequently, to present said interview to you. Ladies and Gentlemen . . . I give you . . . Chris Walas

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KH: Sir, it is truly an honour to make your acquaintance. You have the distinction of being the first Oscar winner I have interviewed for podcastingthemsoftly.com

CW: That’s hard to believe with all the Oscar winners out there these days, but I’m happy to be here.

KH: Before we get into the meat of things, I was wondering if working in the picture business has be a lifelong pursuit, and if so, what were the films that lit the fire, so to speak?

CW: You know, it’s interesting because so many interviewers ask “What was the film that made you want to do what you do?”  I don’t think it’s a simple as that. It’s like asking painter what painting made them want to be a painter. It’s not about a single event; it’s about an artform that creates the magic in the imagination. I was a movie fan as far back as I can remember. I loved all films. I loved what the medium could do. I didn’t understand any of it, but I loved “Citizen Kane” as a little kid. It was riveting to me. I grew up on the old Universal Horror Classics and still love them. The Sci Fi films of the 50’s hold a special place in my heart for sure. But I can definitively say that the single film that made me DECIDE that movies were where I wanted to be was Ray Harryhausen’s , “Jason and the Argonauts”. It was the first film I ever saw in a theatre and I was transfixed by the experience. I knew at that moment (even though I understood nothing about it) that that was what I needed to be a part of in my life.

KH: You have worked on some truly iconic movies, many of which are my personal favourites. But, how did you get into the business after your schooling ended?

CW: I wanted to get into films somehow. At that time I was on the East Coast and the film business was pretty dead just then. So I left for Hollywood with a couple hundred bucks in my wallet and a sublime ignorance of the realities of LA.  I was lucky enough to get a job shipping film for Disney, which was magical for a naive kid from New Jersey. Discount tickets to Disneyland, and I could spend all my lunch hours on the back lot talking to the original animators of Snow White or the wire rigger for the Squid tentacles from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. They all brought their lunches and sat out in the backlot relaxing or practicing their watercolours. And they loved to talk. It was my introduction to the world of movies. Wonderful. I then took filmmaking classes for a year until my money ran out and I took a job at Don Post Studios, a company that made high quality Halloween masks and occasionally did some film and TV work. I was there a year and started out painting a gross of masks a day on the cheap line to being a member of the lab crew, developing new product and working on the occasional outside project. It was an education I would have paid for. I learned more in that year than in four years of college. But I was antsy and impatient, and one of the other Lab guys (Bob Short) and I left and started a little partnership doing odd projects. We both started to get good reputations, but each doing different things, so we split up and went our separate ways. And it just grew from there.

KH: Tell us, if you will, about working on some of your early credits like Island of the Fishmen (Screamers), Humanoids from the Deep and Piranha?

CW: Piranha was my first on set film experience. Jon Berg, who was in charge of the effects on the film, had been to Don Post to see about them running some of the rubber piranhas. That didn’t work out, but the connection had been made and when the FX shoot needed more people, Bob Short got pulled on board and then through Bob, I got pulled in. That was my entry into the crazy world of Roger Corman films. It was wild and desperate filmmaking in those days; no money, no time. The only good part was that IF you could actually make something to get in front of the camera within the meagre time and budget, you were a hero. It was a process that very quickly filtered out those who could from those who couldn’t. But it was exhilarating and magic at the same time. Isle of the Fishmen was a bit of a mess. The original Italian production had been purchased by some fly by night LA outfit and they wanted to “beef it up” for the American audience. We had almost nothing as far as a budget, but it was with some people that I felt comfortable with.  Miller Drake and (unofficially) Joe Dante. It was a small and relatively close group in those days at New World Pictures. We shot out at the beach in the middle of the night in January and nearly froze to death soaking wet in the Fishman costume. Other inserts were shot in Joe’s garage; it was that kind of filmmaking.  But Humanoids was a different story. New World had asked me to do it, but I was busy on GALAXINA and a couple of other films at the time, so I suggested Rob Bottin. But the schedule was a tough one on that show and Rob asked me to come in and do a bunch of the sculpting and running on the Humanoid costumes. As well as those absurdly huge arm extensions! It was an extremely intense time for me as there was way too much work and not enough people in town to do it all.

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KH: I know you probably get a lot of “Fly” questions and I think that if people really want a good insight into the making of that film they should watch the comprehensive Fear the Flesh. But, you worked on a few movies with Cronenberg (The Fly, Scanners and Naked Lunch). What was making pictures with David like?

CW: This is a great question, if for no other reason than it lets me applaud one of my very favourite directors I’ve had the honour to work with.  David Cronenberg is an amazing filmmaker. He’s not just a director. His films truly belong to him. They are his vision. He’s an astonishing writer. When I was first approached for The FLY, I turned it down. I didn’t want to do a remake, etc. Stuart Cornfeld, the producer, said, ” I know,  I agree. Just read the script”. I read the script and it was superb. David had redone the original script and made it his own. I couldn’t say no to that script.  And David is an astonishing director because he really understands the process that everyone is going through. A lot of directors are absolutists; it has to be a certain way. David understands that production is about compromises and that a good director only makes compromises that don’t hurt the film. He was demanding and understanding at the same time. Very unique qualities in a film director and I feel very fortunate to have worked with him.

KH: I have vivid memories of The Fly 2. I remember watching it on video with some cousins and felt my lunch coming back on me a couple of times during that flick. How was it to finally sit in the director’s chair on Fly 2 and the other films you directed?

CW: Somehow, we hold the director’s chair as some ethereal pinnacle in filmmaking. And in some ways it is. It is the ultimate decisive position, historically. But I had already been directing teams of dozens of artists at my company, coordinating large operations and such, so I don’t think I was as intimidated as a lot of first time directors. I was quite comfortable directing, especially as I had such a wonderful crew of true talents on the FLY II. I never actually wanted to be an effects person. It was just the easiest way for me to get into the business.  Besides, it’s ALL filmmaking. All of it. From craft service to timing final prints. Directing is just the most focused, exhausting position. But I loved it.

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KH: I interviewed William Sachs recently, director of Galaxina. Can you tell us about your work on that film?

CW: I’ve only lost money on two films. GALAXINA was the first one. At that time there were a lot of productions trying to cash in on the STAR WARS phenomenon. So there were a lot of over-ambitious, under-funded films being made. GALAXINA was right smack in the middle of those. Bill (Sachs) had his hands full on that film. He really did. And for me, it was a really, really tough show as there was a lot of stuff and very little money. We had to make a couple of the alien costumes overnight; the schedule kept changing wildly. I don’t know how Bill dealt with it all, honestly. It was furious alien making, to be sure. We had Angelo Rossito as the little alien creature. Little Angie, as he had been known, was a dwarf who had worked on countless films. The schedule changed dramatically and the three weeks we had scheduled to make his suit turned into 18 hours. But he was a total pro. He showed up with some of his old clothes for us to use as the base for the suit! We built the suit right on him and he never had a word of complaint at all. Total pro. Everything we did for Galaxina was done scraping the bottom of the barrel because there was so much work.

 

KH: I have a great fondness for both Dragonslayer and Enemy Mine, they speak to my youth. Tell us about working on those pictures; especially Enemy Mine, it’s one of my all-time favourites?

CW: Phil Tippet brought me up to ILM to work on the team for Dragonslayer. And that was a wonderful experience working with some of the absolute top talent in the field. Every day was an education for me. I was strictly on the in-house FX team and didn’t go over to England for the shoot. I made most of the molds for the dragons and baby dragons as well as running most of the rubber pieces.  I rigged the puppets for the baby dragons and built a few odds and ends pieces for individual shots; smaller scale grabbing legs, a bit of wing, etc. The biggest thing I was involved with was the close up Vermithrax puppet. It wasn’t part of the original plan, but they just couldn’t get the footage they wanted out of the full size head and neck that Disney had done, so I designed and built, and operated an animatronic puppet head. That was exhausting because the puppet had to be dripping water all the time, so the puppet became supersaturated and just kept getting heavier and heavier. But I think it worked in the end and helped the picture.

Enemy Mine was basically problem after problem. I started out working with the first director, Richard Loncraine, who I really liked and admired. We shot for six weeks on lava fields in Iceland before 20th Century Fox closed the picture down and hired Wolfgang Peterson to direct. We were supposed to be closed down for two weeks for the restart, but it was a full six months before we got going again.  I think, for us, the production got bogged down in a lot of committee decision making, which slowed everything down.  But in the end I was happy with the designs. We had an opportunity to do quite a lot of different effects for the film between the Dracs and all the odd creatures. The newborn Zammis puppet was one of my favourite rigs on that show.

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KH: You worked with Joe Dante on Gremlins which was produced by Steve Spielberg whom you worked with on Raiders which was produced by George who brought us Return of the Jedi which you are also credited as having worked on. In retrospect, what was it like working on these milestones of cinema?

CW: Every once in a while you get lucky. Gremlins was a true milestone for me in both my life and my career. It was the first time I was in charge of running such a big crew on a studio picture. It was truly an insane experience for me as the picture just kept changing and growing, with new gags being developed for the Gremlins almost daily.  I don’t think I’ve ever been worn out so completely on any other film. But at the same time it was great fun, like a bunch of grown up kids playing. We had no idea we were working on a film that would be so successful and impacting.

Working on Raiders of the Lost Ark was great. Challenging. But it was at ILM, which was then the absolute pinnacle of FX houses in the entire world. I really wasn’t used to being able to say, “I sure could use one of these…” and then having someone order it right up or just get it from another department. So I had options available to me that I hadn’t really had up to that time.  Richard Edlund was in charge of the FX on the show and he was great about making sure that I had what I needed for the melting head and the other shots. I didn’t get to see the film until just before it opened and I was blown away. It’s such an amazing film. I feel so lucky to have been a small part of it.

For Jedi, I really only did design maquettes for some of the alien races in the film. I set up the creature shop for ILM, but then I left to pursue other projects. It was very nice to be included in the credits on that one!

 

KH: You have a number of diverse entries among your credits like Deep Star Six, Arachnophobia, Hot Shots and Virtuosity. Were these genres you sought after or were the film’s concepts interesting or was it simply the want to be constantly working that brought you to these projects?

CW: After Gremlins, I had set up a genuine facility with a great crew who knew what they were doing and so I had to take what projects I could to keep the shop going. But some of the projects were favours; Deep Star Six was for Jim Isaac, who was striking out on his own after being on my crew for a number of years. House II was for Ethan Wiley, who had also been a member of my crew on Gremlins and others. Some films were projects I really wanted to do; ANYTHING David Cronenberg was doing. Anything for Amblin, Spielberg’s company. But in between those projects it was a matter of trying to choose what projects seemed like they might be good films as well as keeping the shop going as long as possible.

KH: You’ve been a writer, director and producer having a film you co-wrote come out in 2016. Did you ever want to make more of your own pictures and do you, like so many people in the industry, have dream projects that might have come close but never saw the flickering light of the silver screen?

CW: I would have loved to have done more directing.  But it just wasn’t in the cards. I have a number of projects I would love to see resurrected someday. One of my favourites is a project called “Dathulgon”, which is a steampunk combination of characters and plot lines from Jules Verne and other early steampunk writers mixed with the cosmic horror of H.P. Lovecraft. That project was humming along nicely when the big market crash ruined a lot of financing for films.  I have a whole list of projects I would still like to see happen!

KH: Well sir, as a long-time fan this has been a very large pleasure, and though we were not able to conduct this interview via recording I care not, for as I said I am honoured to have met you and am humbled that you have taken this time to be interviewed for podcastingthemsoftly?

CW: It’s been a pleasure. It’s fun to reminisce and I really appreciate knowing that there are people out there who look back fondly and remember the work kindly. Thanks!

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So there you have it. Chris Walas folks. Applause is totally necessary for this talented man and his amazing career.

 

I’ll just take a moment to let you know some other interviews I have coming up. I’ll be bring you chats with Mike Marvin (director of The Wraith), Chris Olen Ray (Two & Three-Headed Shark Attack), The Outlaw film critic VERN, Scott Rosenberg (creator of Cowboys and Aliens). Prior to the release of SHARKNADO 5 (because that’s the kind of nerd I am) I’ll be presenting a double feature that week prior to August 6th of my interviews with Steve Alten (we discuss the long cinematic gestation of Meg) and the man himself Anthony C. Ferrante (director of the SHARKNADO series). So as ever, thank you for checking out podcastingthemsoftly.com, and watch this space…

Cheers

Kent