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(Part 1 of 2)

Eric Red is a name that meant a lot to me as I was growing up. "The Hitcher" and "Near Dark" are two movies that I cherish and the man's always been (and still is) an inspiration. I recently had the pleasure of conducting a phone interview with him and just didn't want to ever hang up, since I loved talking to him so much, and wound up with an extra-long interview. So instead of going crazy with the editing scissors and putting it all together in one shot, I decided to put this one out in two parts. You can read Part 2 next week. Dig in guys!

A: When you started off in the business, did you want to be a screenwriter, an actor, a director? What was your main goal?

ER: My goal was to direct features. I got in as a writer. I sold my first script "The Hitcher" and I attached myself to direct one of my next two scripts and that was "Cohen And Tate". At the time that was the simplest route.



A: What was the inspiration for "The Hitcher" screenplay?

ER: The Doors song “Rider from the Storms”.

A: Oh yeah?!

ER: I knew the song when I was living in New York; I thought it was a good opening for a movie. When I left New York and went to Texas, I drove from the city to Austin and had a lot of time on my hands just driving through the Texas Badlands. I sort of started with that song as an opening and just kind of went through the sequence of events in my head. When I got to Texas, I wrote the script in about a month.

A: Too bad they never used the song in the movie.

ER: I don’t think we needed too. The whole opening of the film right down to the rain storm and the character…you can see the analogy.

A: That's true. To me, the character of John Rider is very ambiguous. Everybody has their own take on who he is, what he’s about. When you wrote him, what did he mean to you?

ER: It was a definite decision in the script to never give him a back-story. Certain characters, if you don’t tell where they’re from or what chain of events led them to be who they are, take on a more mythical characteristic and that was very intentional in that picture. Mostly he’s forging the kid in the film. Ryder wants to die but he’s putting him through a series of horrific incidents that the kid will have to prevail against and therefore strengthen in the process. In Rider’s twisted mind and perspective, he’s passing on some form of strength to the kid.

A: Some people were talking at some point about “homosexual undertones”. Was that intentional? The scene with the spit comes to mind when the kid spits in Rider’s face and he proceeds to lick it off.

ER: That was actually something that Rutger came up with. There’s maybe a type of sexual charge between The Hitcher and the kid but it certainly wasn’t intended to be some kind of homoerotic allegory.

A: How much involvement did you have during the shoot?

ER: I was on the set for about two weeks. My fundamental involvement was getting the script in shape. Once the script was ready, we really didn’t change it much while we were shooting. There really wasn’t much for me to do.

A: Are you happy with the way the film turned out?

ER: Yes.

A: I just have to say this: your Hitcher script is probably one of the best scripts I have ever read.

ER: Oh, thank you.

A: I always admired the way that you filled the movie with action and at the same time never sacrificed character development in the process. The action actually strengthens the characters. Not anybody could’ve pulled that off.

ER: One of the things in the script that gives it its pace is that there’s no subplot. It's basically the main linear story, there’s no back-story, no digression from the point of view of the main character and what he’s going through. That’s part of where the pace of the picture comes from.

A: Was Rutger Hauer the first choice of casting?

ER: I wasn’t particularly involved in the casting of the picture. We talked about a lot of people. Sam Elliott actually came in and gave an excellent audition for the picture. He also would’ve been quite good.  When I heard Rutger was going to be in the picture, I thought just like everyone else that we really nailed it. I don’t think he had done lots of American films at that point.

A: He had done "Blade Runner" before…

ER: Yeah, but that was about it.

A: Actually his Blade Runner part and The Hitcher are probably the best two roles he’s had in his whole career.

ER: I agree with you.

A: Rumor has it that there might be a Hitcher sequel. Care to clear that up?

ER: There’s been an attempt to get a sequel to "The Hitcher" going but the rights to the projects have gone back and forth between Charlie Meeker, who was one of the producers on the original, Steve White and I think Fred Heber for quite some time. But virtually over ten years it’s been a subject of lawsuits and the project has not developed in any kind of organized fashion. I think they might have gotten a script done.

A: You didn’t write it?

ER: No, as a matter of fact I was never approached.

A: What???

ER: I had the contractual rights of first refusal on the script and for whatever reason back in 1993, I relinquished those rights. I was doing other projects and really didn’t want to cover the same ground again. I didn’t think a sequel would be as good as the first one and I still don’t. But in retrospect, I should’ve maintained those rights so I would’ve been able to assert some control over the development of the sequel. The process has proceeded in such a disorganized fashion and so much time has gone by, I don’t think it’s in the best interest to make a franchise out of it.

A: That sucks. If there’s ever going to be a sequel, you should definitely write it ..that’s it, that’s all! I hope it doesn’t happen.

NEAR DARK (1987)

A: Let's move on to "Near Dark". You had a partnership with Kathryn Bigelow for a while.

ER: We wrote three scripts back in the mid-eighties. "Undertow" first, "Near Dark" second and "Blue Steel" third.

A:  The partnership is over?

ER: We’ve had no dealings for  years as it often happens in the industry.

A: So you co-wrote "Near Dark" with Kathryn Bigelow.

ER: Yeah, and I co-produced it…

A: I didn’t know that.

ER: Yeah, because of my relationship with Ed Feldman and Charlie Meeker on "The Hitcher", I helped put the financing together for the film.

A: I personally love the movie but I heard you weren’t fully satisfied with how it turned out.

ER: I’m perfectly satisfied with the execution of the picture. I had some casting reservations.

A: Care to expand on that?

ER: Well, they were two fold. I was not too pleased with using the cast of "Aliens" in the picture, not that they weren’t good. Henriksen, Paxton and Jeannette Goldstein were great, particularly Paxton. But I felt at the time, and still do, that it made the film look a little bit like a knockoff of another picture and it wasn’t. It was very original and unique. But they were good. My ultimate reservation about the casting: I didn’t like the casting of Adrian Pascar.

A: Oh no?

ER: I don’t know the sequence of events that led to them not being cast but at the time Johnny Depp and D.B. Sweeney tested for the role. And I think they could’ve been more likeable and better choices for the hero. In seeing the film to me, it's very vampire-heavy; the bad guys are more interesting than the protagonist and there isn't the necessary rooting interest in the Caleb character. I think if we would’ve cast that role better, it would’ve improved the picture somewhat. But as far as the rest of the film; I’m delighted about it.

A: How come you didn’t direct it?

ER: At the time, I owned "Undertow" and Kathryn owned "Near Dark". I would direct one and she would direct the other. That was our deal and that’s how we proceeded.


A: You directed your first film "Cohen and Tate" at the age of 26.

ER: I was 24 when I wrote "The Hitcher".

A: Shit, I feel like schmuck (I’m 25)! I saw Cohen and Tate and enjoyed it but always felt there was something missing. It felt incomplete to me. I heard you had some problems with the studio…what happened?

ER: The film in term of scripts, editing, performances reflected the movie I wanted to make. The picture works for some people and it doesn’t work for others. It's a pretty hard edge “film noir”, I’m actually reasonably happy with it. There were political problems with the picture. Not so much in terms of creative studio interference but one of the producers on the picture at the time was fired, so there was a lack of studio support. That happens when that sort of thing occurs. It was a somewhat fictive picture to make but I think my only reservation with that picture has to do with the car shots in the film.

A: How’s that?

ER: You learn something on every picture you do. What I learned on that picture was to never compromise technically on a film. On set, they had a company hack named Victor Kemper (cameraman). He suggested to the producers that we could save money on the car shots if he would shot them on a stage. We did some tests with a poor man’s process, I took a look at the dailies and it looked awful. It's not so bad if you watch the film on video but if you see it on the big screen, all the sequences in the car look stage bound, the ones that were shot that way. I agreed to do it because it was cost effective but I think technically it compromised the picture to some degree. I loved the performances though; Scheider’s great, Baldwin’s great, they’re both very believable as psychotic hit men.

A: Even the kid came through, I forgot his name, he was in "The Fly 2".

ER: Harley Cross.

A: Yeah…how was it working with a kid?

ER: I worked with two. I worked with Harley on "Cohen and Tate" and then with Mason Gamble on "Bad Moon". Harley was in every single scene, he was very young and it was a somewhat tense picture to make. His concentration span was very restrictive and that was a challenge to deal with. We had to roll a lot of film and use certain tricks to get the performance out of him but also try to not do anything that was going to…

A: Traumatize the kid…

ER: Yeah. You can use tricks with older professional actors sometimes and do certain mind games. You put certain pressures on them to get a moment out, but you can’t do that with kids because you've got to remember that you’re still dealing with a child.

A: Did you have any trouble with the rating boards for "Cohen and Tate"?

ER: I’ve had problems with the ratings board on every picture I’ve directed except for "Undertow". I got an X rating for "Cohen and Tate" not specifically for the gore in the film, although my initial cut of the film was much gorier than the film that was released.

A: Yeah, I heard that it was somewhat dried up before its release.

ER: Not totally dried up. For example the scene at the beginning of the film, Tate kicks the door down and shoots one of the FBI agents and in my original cut of the picture he pumped 5 shotgun blasts into him to knock him back to the widow, put the shotgun against his chest, pulled the trigger and blew him out of the window. How it is now, he kicks the door in, fires the shotgun, hits the FBI guy and he flies out the window; that kind of thing. But yeah…I think it had more to with the fact that there was a child involved in the picture. The ratings board in my experience is not so much about specific graphic gore scenes, it's about subject matter and in this film because it was a child in jeopardy, it probably made it a little more restrictive in terms of blood and guts.

A: The film must be very close to your heart, since it was your first.

ER: Yeah, I love it. I did things on that picture that I wouldn’t do now. In retrospect, I like that it wasn’t at all a "safe film" to do for a first picture, it's very film noir. For me, the film is a lot like a Don Siegel picture. It has a really hard edge and a realistic film noir feel to it.

A: Is it out on DVD yet?

ER: It was out on laser and it just got re-released on video.

A: Is it the same R version…

ER: There’s never been an extended version. There have never been any alternate cuts of the pictures that I have directed that have been as of yet released on DVD or laser disc.

Click here to read PART TWO of this interview


There's the first part! Hope you enjoyed it! Come back next week when I'll be covering Eric Red in the 90's and beyond! Red talks about "Blue Steel", "Body Parts", "Bad Moon" and more. Be there or be dead.

Read Arrow's Hitcher review here

Read Arrow's Near Dark review here


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