The UHF of the film world.
Latest news

rochefort [Celluloid 09.27.14] scifi horror documentary

Straight out of Austin where Fantastic Fest 2014 is winding down, our very own Rochefort met up with legendary cult director Richard Stanley (Hardware, Dust Devil) to discuss the new documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's Island of Dr. Moreau which chronicles the director's big chance at a big Hollywood movie before it was stolen from him and given to John Frankenheimer.

In the interview, Stanley speaks candidly about everything from the limitations of the documentary, Val Kilmer's diva personality to the genesis of Hardware.

Here we go!


The story told in “Lost Soul” is one already known to a lot of geeks and film buffs, but now that the doc is out a potentially much wider audience will have reason to reconsider “The Island of Dr. Moreau” in a very different light. As a major fan of “Hardware” and “Dust Devil”, I personally think “Lost Soul” is a long-overdue vindication of you and what you could have done with the material. Do you agree, and why or why not?

RICHARD STANLEY: Well, I guess I’m too close to the material to be able to tell whether David’s documentary is a vindication or not. I mean, I hope it is, but to some extent it’s still not quite the full truth. So many of the different people in the film are slightly lying or covering their asses in different ways. It’s certainly, yeah, more of the truth. Obviously the New Line folk are all looking for whatever damn excuse they can to justify their position.

But I think we all know that. Their segments… it’s not that they come off as disingenuous, but we take them with the most grains of salt.

RS: Yeah, it’s because the film’s quite lightweight, so it works well as a comedy. Indeed, you could even take those circumstances and make great comedy out of it, because it is absolutely ridiculous what’s going on. But in the course of that, it kind of glosses over some of the darker and more tragic underpinnings of it. No mention is made of the murder in Mulholland Drive, of Christian Brando shooting Cheyenne’s boyfriend, for instance. Christian went to jail and then died of pneumonia. The last thing Cheyenne said to me before she dropped me off at the hotel, this is my second time at Brando’s house, I remember as I was getting out of the car she looked at me and said ‘Are you afraid?’ And I was very young and green and said ‘Of what? What do you mean?’, and went back to my hotel. And then I heard she’d committed suicide a few weeks later.

There was a darkness kind of brooding around the edges of the thing, which I think David’s film can’t really capture. We also feel the same when we’re looking at crazy Brando doing all these crazy things, that we forget that his daughter’s just committed suicide and that his life is totally falling apart. I’m sure with Val, as well; he was in the middle of a divorce. So there were some pretty dark and twisted things which were going on off camera.

Do you think it’s worth the trade-off? I mean, because what we have with “Lost Soul” is an official documentation of the myth that we’ve been hearing about for twenty years now.
RS: It does establish some basic things, like the story about me going back on set as a dog. At least it’s good that those things are now on record. That dog makeup was inspired by Tobe Hooper’s ‘Funhouse’. It was a bulldog with a cleft palate. I’ve always liked that cleft palate design.

You looked good, you looked really good.

RS: It worked out okay.

Are there any aspects of the Frankenheimer version you actually like?

I’ve never really watched the full movie the whole way through. I can’t say I like it, but it’s, and I think I said this when I was introducing the film, it’s all the difference between a lucid dream and a nightmare.

In a lucid dream you’re in control of what’s going on, whereas a nightmare is made out of pieces of your life, and it’s all happening in an order which is out of control and terrifying. This is how it was. There were many things I recognized, including my then-girlfriend, many of my friends, the house that I’d designed, most of the props that I’d placed in the house, the books on the bookshelves, the paintings hanging on the walls, etc. So many of the things are familiar, but they’re all in the wrong order and having terrible things happen to them, they’re getting abused or destroyed in different ways. The Hyena-Swine casually machine-guns a lot of my girlfriend’s artwork. Temuera Morrison hangs Fairuza Balk, etc. So it’s sort of with things that I recognize. Some things still work.

Most of the make-ups are a fucking disaster. I presume that’s because nobody bothered directing the makeup fx team, because they’re very, very talented guys. But I suspect that after I exited the production, probably, I doubt Frankenheimer or anyone else ever sat down with Stan Winston’s guys and told them what to do, or gave them any direction at all. So I suspect that the costumes and makeups all just evolved in different ways, with people trying things on and just doing whatever they thought was a good idea, without any kind of uniform sense of design. I still like the look of the Hyena-Swine’s head and face. The Hyena-Swine looks nice in close-up.

That’s my favorite design in the movie. I also like his walk.

RS: Yeah, the Hyena-Swine still carries some of his power. I still feel a bit sorry for him. It’s like he’s a monster in search of a better movie. I’m not wild about Lo Mai’s makeup; again, it moved quite a long way from where we originally hoped it would be, but I like Mark (Dacascos) a lot, and I’m sorry the movie worked out so badly for him. The Baboon Man, Assassimon, is the only other makeup which I think kind of resembles something that might have been in the movie all along.

Frankenheimer had his hands full with Brando and Kilmer, and it’s a fight he obviously lost. How would you have handled them?

RS: Well, I think it would have been very different had Brando been there from the beginning, because obviously Val was the big fish in a small pond without Brando. Really, I don’t think I would have had any chance, given the Line Producer and 1st A.D. I think that from the moment that Kilmer realized that New Line would agree to anything he wanted, he realized he was in complete charge of the situation, and that he just had to say ‘get rid of the director’, ‘change this’, and they would do what he wanted.

I think we would have needed a stronger production. Basically, from very early on, there’s that issue of, like, ‘it has to be Val Kilmer, if Val goes then the whole production goes down, we can’t do it without Val’, and that was a huge problem. Obviously, on ‘Apocalypse Now’, where the politics were different, where Coppola had come off ‘Godfather I and II’ rather than coming off ‘Dust Devil’, and had several million of his own money invested in the movie, he was able to get rid of Harvey Keitel after a couple of weeks of shooting and replace him with Martin Sheen. I was not in that situation where I was able to replace my lead man. It was obvious, again and again, that it was either we didn’t have the movie or we had to have Val, and the problem was that Val knew that. And from the moment that Val knew that he was irreplaceable, indispensable, and that they were just going to obey whatever his commands were, they essentially created a monster. They would have needed a much stronger leash to control that guy.

It was coming at a very, very bad time. He was just off the publicity and the press for ‘Batman Forever’, so he really was at the height of his power. To basically agree to everything he wanted at that point in time was opening the door to misfortune. It would have been very difficult, if they’d been prepared to back me, to try and make a stand against the guy. The crucial argument that took me off the production, which happened after the freighter day and the hurricane, was when Val decided he wanted his character to live in a treehouse, and decided that his character should be sleeping with the Cat Lady, the Fairuza Balk character, rather than the castaway. I was in a bad mood, having just been trying to salvage the animals and the equipment off the freighter, and basically said ‘No, we’re not building a treehouse. That’s not part of the script’. Montgomery was sleeping with the Pig Lady, not the Cat Lady. That was the deal he took when he changed parts. That cost me my job.

Hollywood seems to have a love/hate relationship with outsiders. They love your creativity and seem to hate everything else. Do you think “Island” would have gone differently for you if you’d modified your personanilty, and would you have wanted to make the movie under those circumstances anyway?

RS: Well, I’d still like to make some big movies. I don’t think I can really properly change my personality at this point, because I think that I am what I am. I mean, I did try very hard for them. That’s probably the only time in my life I’ve worn white consistently, and worn suits consistently, cut my hair. It was only after the production broke down that I finally got stoned (laughs).

So for the record, you met them halfway (laughs).

RS: Yeah, I did. And it wasn’t enough. They still weren’t going to notice that I was putting three sugars in the coffee in the morning; they’re going to exaggerate, and think maybe it was four lumps. The issue of not driving a car just made me into an alien from the very beginning. And it was all too much for New Line.

When “Hardware” came out, I was a punk rocker, and my punk friends and I responded pretty strongly to what we perceived as perhaps the first punk rock sci-fi picture, not just in terms of content but in execution, and I personally really liked the homages to Dario Argento. When you were developing the film, what sorts of records were you listening to, what sorts of books and movies were you taking inspiration from?

RS: Well, as you know, music video-wise, I’d been doing a lot of stuff for Fields of the Nephilim, and so that was clearly there. The actual moment of ‘Hardware’’s inception as such came down to, I’d made a long super-8 movie (‘Incidents in an Expanding Universe’) set in the future, and I’d been trying to get various dystopian future screenplays produced, with no effect whatsoever.

There was one in particular I kept trying to get out there, which was set in space, and it was maybe a little bit closer to ‘Gravity’ than ‘Hardware’, and it was all set in an orbital space platform. But I was just getting nowhere with it. Shade’s character from ‘Hardware’ was originally created for this other screenplay set it space.

It’s the speech in the first act where he’s talking about ‘fizzing out in space’.

RS: That’s right. We couldn’t afford to go into space for the movie, so we set it on earth, but we retained one of the astronaut characters from the original script and made him into the next door neighbor and thought, ‘okay, maybe this is where the character lives when he’s back home.

The problem being that everyone rejected the initial screenplays. And I was told again and again, that if I could hand in a screenplay which was a bit more like ‘Terminator’ or ‘Alien”, whereas my influences then were more like ‘Soylent Green’ and Harry Harrison and Roger Zelazny and the kinds of books I was reading. After multiple folk telling me to try and make it a bit more like ‘Terminator’ or a bit more like ‘Alien’, there was no monster originally in the super-8 movie, I thought ‘okay, I’ll do what they ask’. I will take the script and I will rewrite it and I will put a killer fucking cyborg into it, which will then massacre all these characters. When this happened I went home and sat down and played Iron Maiden. Particularly ‘Flash of the Blade’ sticks in my mind and I remember playing Iron Maiden and Goblin again and again and again for about a week.

It took about a week to write the first draft of the script and unleash the droid and simply massacre all of the characters and blow apart Jill’s apartment. I remember that my girlfriend walked out on me, but it worked pretty good. The movie itself didn’t get greenlit for about another year after that, but yeah, I recall Iron Maiden being a definite part of that crazy week when the first draft was created.

In “Hardware”, governments initiate a pretty aggressive eugenics program, the street scenes with all their squalor look quite a lot like skid row in L.A., and the MARK-13 is a progenitor of modern drone warfare.

RS: I’m afraid so, yeah.

Some cautionary tales are uncomfortably accurate, but we need them nonetheless. You’ve got to already know that there’s a big audience for your work. Will “Hardware: Ground Zero” or “Vacation”, both of which seem to reflect certain modern fears, existential or otherwise, ever get made? And if not, what can we expect from you in the future?

RS: I wish, I wish. I really like the ‘Hardware 2’ script, it’s been one of my favorite scripts since forever. It’s unfortunate that the ‘Hardware’ universe is so totally controlled by Miramax, Buena Vista and MGM, who were all rights holders of the original movie. Trying to get anywhere near that fictional universe again is very, very difficult. But I would so love to go in there, mostly because I would like to demonstrate how the droid will work once it’s fully functional, and properly deployed, which is the part of ‘Ground Zero’ I find the most interesting. We get to meet the software designer and we get to meet the people who operate the droid. We get to see how the droids function when they’re out there, and initially they’re going to be patrolling perimeters like in the beginning of ‘Ground Zero’, set on the Rio Grande. And I imagine the same will happen possibly in Israel, and Gaza is another place where you’ll see droids, because again there’s a place where’s there’s a huge, long containment wall that goes for hundreds of kilometers, reasons for people to want to dig tunnels or get through them.

Droids, the initial generation, they’re going to be quite stupid, but they’re going to be pretty good mechanical guard dogs for patrolling walls, containment areas; they’re heat-seeking, they have motion detectors, and I think that’s a logical place that we’ll see them turning up. And then the next logical place, as in the latter part of the script, they’re going to be in those Waco, siege-type situations where no one wants to send in uniformed soldiers, and you want to send in remote soldiers, essentially. They’ll be slaved to operators at a distance, who will be able to see through their CCTV camera eyes, as DARPA is promising. They’re going to be fully battlefield-responsive, and they’re going to be able to act on their own intuition, but you can also override them. So you’re going to have kids presumably trained up on MARK-13 software or MARK-13 simulators or video games, who are then going to be drafted into operating them. I love the idea that the war criminals of tomorrow are going to be like my nephews (laughs).

They commit crimes against humanity from their armchairs.

RS: I love that. I love in the script that the character’s more interested in trying to buy a teddy bear on Ebay or something for his kid’s birthday while he’s simultaneously monitoring the battle on the other screen, and he’s also probably going to be checking his Facebook mails or whatever, that we’re going to be committing war crimes under such bizarre circumstances. So that side of the ‘Hardware 2’ script I’ve been in love with for ages, because I’ve got an eerie sensation that it’s very close to probably what’s going to happen.

Just change the name, man. Make the movie and change the name!

RS: Yeah, I’ve thought about calling it ‘Hard.Dot.Ware’ (laughs).

We need the movie! We absolutely need it. And is the Ben Wheatley version of ‘High Rise’ integrating the script that you did with Natali?

RS: No. It’s a completely different project. Unfortunately Vincenzo basically ran into a lot of trouble on ‘Splice’. I’m a big fan of Vincenzo’s work. I’ve got a particular project which I keep trying to get sorted out, and every twenty years I almost get my hand into the cookie jar, and then something, in this case ‘Splice’, comes along and slaps my wrist really hard and I have to wait another twenty years to try it on, which is the official ‘Stalker’ remake, and I keep trying to get back into the zone. We have to still hope that the time will come.

What else?

RS: Well right now I’m hoping for the H.P. Lovecraft movie ‘The Colour Ouf of Space’. I would like to tackle Lovecraft. I think Lovecraft deserves a serious adaptation. I love Stuart Gordon’s work, ‘Re-Animator’, ‘Dagon’, and his ‘Dreams in the Witchhouse’ for the first season of ‘Masters of Horror’, but he takes a very black comedic approach, which is perfect for his style and highly enjoyable, but Lovecraft himself says that in all his work he strives for an atmosphere of cosmic horror, of man’s frightful position in the universe, and I’d like to see that approach taken.

I’d like to see a Lovecraft film which intends to terrify the audience and take no prisoners. Maybe a couple of smiles, but essentially not at all funny.

Do you realize how bad we want a Richard Stanley Lovecraft movie?

RS: Yeah, I want it, too. I just want to do it for H.P.L. I’ve got my soft Cthulhu back home that I cuddle up with at night. At the same time I want to reposition it and take it away from something which is too safe and turn it back into something which is just mind-wrenching and fucking appalling. That’s my great desire right now.

Oh please do it.

RS: I just need the right backer. Thus far we haven’t been offered quite enough money. There are so many micro-budget films around that I don’t want to do this one as a complete cut-rate micro-budget production. One can handle actors and story that way round, but to give us the creature effects and some kind of pure vision of the Lovecraftian universe at the end, I’d like a little bit more, so I’m praying for like, one million or one point five, whereas we’re getting offers like six hundred grand, seven hundred grand. We’re not quite getting to the budgetary level that I’d like, the bare minimum in order to achieve the effects work in a way that’s completely convincing. Keeping my fingers crossed.

We’ve got some very creative people on the team. Thanks to the Moreau thing now, we’ve managed to reassemble most of Stan Winston’s Creature Shop, which has been neat, because they’ve all turned out to be very friendly and up for the idea of doing Lovecraft stuff, designing like crazy, and we have a good sense of how we want to do the main effects, but we just need the wherewithal to execute them.

Thank you so much for your time.

RS: Pleasure.

You might also like


projectcyclops (7 years ago) Reply

Fascinating interview, thanks for this. Really looking forward to seeing Lost Soul (and hopefully more from RS).


bob (7 years ago) Reply

thanks for the interview
really looking forward to "the colour out of space"!!!!

Leave a comment