The Arrow interviews Christian James
If you hit this site, it's no secret that I recently fell in love with a little UK horror comedy called "Freak Out". The flick didn't pull any punches when it came to its slew of horror references and politically incorrect humor and that warmed my muffins up, just the right way. I had the chance to play verbal ping-pong with all-around swell chap and director of said flick, Christian James, and here's what our little match resulted in.
NOTE: Since I'm a firm believer in all that 'full disclosure' crap, it should be said that I have a voice-over in the film as the "Looney Doll". Do with that bit of info, what you will.
ARROW: What’s your favourite horror movie and why?
CHRISTIAN: OK! Well, I’m not sure. There’s stuff that fucked me up, but a lot of that borders on monkey spunk in the quality department. Like: Salem’s Lot. I was about 9 years old. After doing the washing up I decided to smash a plate full of soapsuds over my sisters face. It cut her to shreds!!! I thought: If I ran to Mum n Dad in a fit of tears first, I may get off lightly. It worked like a charm. I got to stay up late whilst Mum tended to my sisters gaping wound…. (Please! Not that gaping wound! Sick bastards! It was my MUM for crying out loud). With Ma’ in the next room and Dad fast asleep on the sofa, there was no one around to shield the innocent peepers of little Christian James from those freaky, reverse motion vampires!!! I’m now 27 and still shit myself when closing the curtains. I’ve seen it since and was a little let down. Trouble is the image I’ve worked up over the years is 100 times worse. It’s a so-so flick, but Pet Sematary ruins me!! I find 90% of it an out and out snooze-fest, but when Zelda pops up, for the love of god, someone help me!!
I suppose Texas Chainsaw (original) would be in there. I watched it for the 1st time about 5 years ago. It really got under my skin. It’s the best horror I’ve seen where you can easily project yourself into that scenario. Those kinda films just bang around my empty head for days afterward. I can’t get the ‘What would I do?’ out of my head. All the usual suspects would have to be there: Exorcist, Elm Street 1, Halloween, Dawn Of The Dead (shouldn’t admit this, but I’m really looking forward to the remake!) I love Jaws, could debate endlessly whether it’s a horror or not, but it sure fucked me up 1st couple of viewings, so in my book it’s a horror. Poltergeist! That’s rather good. Not so keen on the stuff with the tree, but the rest creeps me out! Best Jerry Goldsmith score, EVER! Mmmm maybe Gremlins..or The Burbs! Mmmmmmmm...
ARROW: You collaborated on the “Freak Out” screenplay with lunatic and bum feeler Dan Palmer. How did you two go about sharing the writing duties?
CHRISTIAN: Yes, I came up with all the good stuff and would stroll around the PC, dressed like a Beefeater whilst Palmer frantically typed. If he made a mistake I would stub out my big fat cigar on his ass! (That’s not a metaphor) I’d say we got the brunt of the script done in roughly 6 months. We could never decide on a last act. Whatever we did always felt a bit anticlimactic (oooh look! A car blows up! - That’ll break the box office). For ages we had the last third hand written ‘cause we couldn’t find anything we’d want to commit to. The film constantly builds, very difficult to top yourself in the final act with no money. What could we do? Have even more dialogue? Make characters talk three times as fast? We felt the need to have Merv do something cool before giving Looney his kiss off. Around this time Dan and myself had the misfortune to catch Dracula 2000 (or 2001 as it was re-titled in the UK).
About 20 minutes into the flick Angelina Jolie’s ex-husband finds out that he can be a vampire hunter! Oooh!!! Conveniently he’s an Olympic ace when it comes to firing crossbows, WHY!!!? He’s never felt the need to do this before!!!! If you gave me breast implants it wouldn’t make me chow down like Jill Kelly!!!!! Would it? So we felt we’d alter the end a tad to accommodate the fact that Merv is an under-achieving twat. That’s pretty much how things worked. We had what we felt at the time was a solid enough frame. When it takes 3 years to shoot a flick you have plenty of time to revise your ideas, often re-jigging scenes (for the better) a couple of nights before committing them to celluloid. We were cconstantly spinning ideas, and then often putting spins on top of those. I think sometimes we had lived with, and read the same gags so many times that we would get bored of them and end up modifying them beyond recognition. Keeps the viewers on their toes though.
ARROW: Be honest, was some of "Freak Out" written “under the influence”? You guys came up with some pretty “out there” stuff!
CHRISTIAN: Yes, a large part of the script was written under the influence...of: NO SECRETS! Yes, that Peter Cushing, Oliver Reed cinematic shit splat happened to be on whilst myself and Dan ‘took five’ after a heavy session…of writing, not anal lovemaking. Whatever we wrote it couldn’t turn out as bad as that. If you haven’t seen it I urge you to track it down. It’s the best BAD film I’ve ever seen. It’s a good confidence boost to know that shit like that still stinks out late night TV stations around the world, 20 years after it was aborted onto celluloid. Dan was living with his parents at the time. I would hike my crappy Amstrad PC over to his place and we would type away in his lounge throughout the night. It’s a very creepy, quaint old cottage (We used it as the exterior of Merv’s house). Anyhoo, it always creeped the shit outa me, I think that may have filtered into the writing a bit. Certainly in the earlier drafts where we saw it as a ‘Woody Allen’ film set in ‘Camp Crystal Lake’.
We imagined the flick as more horror than comedy. Alas in the arduous process of fund raising (you know, the usual: snatching old ladies handbags and making guide dogs for the blind fight it out in a snake pit for cash) we found that ‘Scream’ had kick started the wheezing genre back into the mainstream. We had to change focus of the script and steer it away from the now standard wink, wink, nudge, nudge horror genre. I absolutely loved Scream and had a kind of so, so appreciation of the imitators and sequels. The real influence for me at that time however was The Frighteners. By no means perfect. I think myself and Dan really dug the look and feel of it. I loved Peter Jackson’s/Andrew Lesnie’s handheld yet slick feel to the flick. I think that no matter how low your budget you should aim high. I think I was kinda hoping it would come out looking a little like that.
ARROW: How was "Freak Out" financed? I’m sure you have horror stories to share about that!
CHRISTIAN: Much like Robert Rodriguez sold his body to medical science. FREAK OUT co-producer Yazzan Fetto sold his A-hole to local perverts. Thanks buddy, we owe you one! From local press and radio we gathered our Executive Producers. Other than that we managed to wrangle a couple of local arts grants. I think we’re gonna go to hell for some of the stuff we did! We made a ‘making of’ to go with one of our applications. We pulled a few cheap tricks like sitting James Heathcote in a wheelchair for his interview. We never said he was disabled!!!! Just let the viewer make that assumption. We wouldn’t let Yazzan on camera for his interview. Although he’s half Arab, he sounds more British than Dan and I!! So instead we shot some ‘behind the scenes’ footage and dubbed him in the most stereotypical voice. Fisher Stevens can eat our dust!
ARROW: How would you describe the casting process and which was the hardest part to cast?
CHRISTIAN: Hmmm. Ask me this one when everyone has seen FREAK OUT. My answer has great snooze potential, especially if you haven’t a clue as to the character I’m referring to. But just for the record, it was Jeremiah Gibble: the Jim Carrey quoting twat. Quick tip: try not cast people who can’t get through a scene without joint! Or become an expert in writing characters seamlessly out of the plot.
ARROW: What would you say were the more prominent obstacles during the shoot?
CHRISTIAN: The Wayans brothers.
ARROW: You were obviously influenced by Sam Raimi (loved the Evil Dead references in the film), how would you describe your own style as a director?
CHRISTIAN: It’s early days yet. I think style is something that may become apparent after 3 or 4 movies. FREAK OUT is my first flick, I was basically trying stuff out. By its nature, it’s constantly making subtle visual references to guys like DePalma, Raimi and Dante. I was kinda nodding their early stuff (not Phantom of the Paradise). So as yet I don’t know what I’ve taken away from it. I think maybe there is a certain cutting style to FREAK OUT. That’s something unique to this low budget flick. I tried to cut it fast. I was un-believably strict with my shots. I would always cut up shots I loved ‘cause the staple of any first timer seems to be ‘linger on the money shots’. At least I hope I didn’t do that too much!! I loved doing the shower scene in FREAK OUT. Whenever you do a shower scene of course you are gonna draw Psycho comparisms. We tried really hard to steer it more toward a DePalma-esque, erotique shower scene like in Dressed to Kill. However, when you’re in that arena and it’s your first flick, its near enough impossible not to homage Hitchcock in some way or another. You’ve seen all this stuff for so many years. You just wanna try on their shoes for ten minutes, see how they fit.
ARROW: Where is the film at in terms of distribution?
CHRISTIAN: We had UK screenings for Industry types. Most of them sent their teenage dogsbodies to report back. To give you an example of the ludicrous state of play in the UK ‘industry’: (I use the term loosely) I spoke to 3 young guys from a big distribution company after a packed screening. They were going NUTS about FREAK OUT. Loved it. The next day, I rang their Hugh Grant impersonating superior, he told me that it sounded fantastic! But he was really on the lookout for Scandinavian films aimed and your mid 30’s age group. Riiiiight! They’re really the kind of cinema-going demographic you would want to bet your house on. Good luck! We had countless unbelievable responses along those lines.
Problem is you can’t counter act by saying “what about; Bad Taste, Clerks, El Mariachi, Slacker, The Evil Dead..etc etc” They either don’t remember or haven’t seen them. Very frustrating. We have had offers, but the guys behind them don’t seem to understand what they are dealing with, or how to put it out there. However, the U.S response has been fantastic. You guys seem to really get it! We are actively pursuing many genre and Independent film festivals in the US. At the moment, it’s a question of sending it off and keeping our fingers crossed. Our main aim is to make sure as many people see it as possible on the festival circuit. We want to get as much feedback from the genre fans as possible and take it from there. We’d really like to get FREAK OUT under the noses of say an Eli Roth or Sam Raimi. Get their feedback and maybe a point in the right direction.
ARROW: What’s next for you as a director? What type of projects do you plan on tackling next?
CHRISTIAN: I plan to film a documentary about Dan Palmer following in the footsteps of his idol: Stephen Geoffreys. Also, Uwe Boll has cornered the video game adaptation market. So instead I’m going to make classic board games…..badly! Or maybe adapt bad Uwe Boll movies into star spangling, Broadway musicals!
ARROW: Choose one: a pair of titties in your face, going to a gay club or drinking a full bottle of Jack Daniels. Which one would you like to do RIGHT NOW!
CHRISTIAN: I would swipe the JD and down the bottle. Smash it over the head of the stripper with her titties in my face. Then use the shards of glass to cut off her tits and wear them down to the gay bar! Wanna come?
Freak Out gang "trashed" after the premiere of the film
I'd like to thank Christian James for his time and for the laugh jamboree that was "Freak Out". I also urge all of you to seek, acquire and experience the gem that is "Freak Out" with booze, friends, chicks and a machete in tow. It's a hoot!