The Arrow interviews Gary Sherman
Gary Sherman loves horror. He's directed non genre films such as "Wanted Dead Or Alive" (with Rutger Hauer) and Lisa (with Stacy Keenan). But the horror freaks know him as the guy that gave us the weird Dead And Buried and the tragic Poltergeist 3. The Arrow had the pleasure to speak with the man and this is how it went down.
1- What's your favorite horror movie?
That's a hard one! For one thing there are many. Then you have to define "horror movie". If I take the widest definition my list would start with PSYCHO (the original Hitchcock one) followed by ROSEMARY'S BABY and SIXTH SENSE (which I think is about the most brilliant scary "movie" made in a long time. I am also a big fan of the classic horror films with Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney. Then, I have to say that I enjoyed SCREAM. I'll add to that part of the list John Carpenter's original HALLOWEEN, Wes Craven's NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and Sean Cunningham's FRIDAY THE 13TH. The bottom line is that I like originality, good writing and good film-making. Shock value alone doesn't do it for me.
2- You haven't directed anything since Poltergeist- The Legacy (TV). What have you been up to? Any projects in the works? When will we get a new Gary Sherman flick?
Catching my breath mainly... and writing. I'd had a nearly ten year run of being in production constantly when MISSING PERSONS went off the air. I decided to take some time off. Wrote. Traveled. Then got involved with a number of other people's TV pilots and series on which I acted as Executive Producer, one of which was POLTERGEIST: THE LEGACY. After that I sold another series of my own, which, I won't bore you with the details, was ordered, we went into pre-production and then never went on the air because of a total management change at the network. A whole year up in smoke! Then I was asked to come in and help out on two different flailing series. In between all that I wrote two new screenplays and am getting some pilot ideas polished for the new season. For the first time in a long time I am thinking about movies again. After losing Heather during the making of POLTERGEIST III and then having the studio die while making LISA, I became more than a little disenchanted with the movie biz. It's been a lot more fun turning out 22 hours a year of TV instead of 2 hours every 3 years where you basically only get one weekend to prove yourself... but... maybe I'll give it another go soon.
3- You're responsible for the infamous "Dead And Buried". What comes to mind when you look back at that film?
"Dead And Buried"... That was a real director's horror story. It was originally written as a black comedy. We shot it and did the first cut for one company, that company was bought by another, who had a whole different take on the film, then in the middle of re-cutting for them a third entity came in and bought the company again. This third entity wanted as much of the comedy as possible out, and as much graphic horror as we could come up with put in. When their cut was finished, version #3 was screened for the distributor, Avco-Embassy, then run by Robert Rehme. Rehme, who had loved version #1 and liked version #2 absolutely hated version #3. A fight ensued with me caught in the middle. A compromise was reached which basically left everyone unhappy. Me especially. "Dead And Buried" was a very adventurous film.
For one thing, originally, the color red was never to be seen until the final scene. You might notice that there are no red props, set dressing or clothes. Even the tail-lights of cars were blued out, the fire engines were green and the police bubbles were blue. This was to add to the deadness of the town and to amplify the effect of seeing blood for the first time. Steve Poster's photography was immaculate and we did some unprecedented camera moves (many of which were eliminated by entity #3 because they felt it slowed down the pace... WRONG!). Here's a quote for you... The head of entity #3, after seeing version #1 looked at me and said, "Great film... but if I wanted an Ingmar Bergman film, I'd hire Bergman... I want a horror movie!" Bob Rehme felt so bad about what happened to the picture in the end, he called me to come see him. Spread a stack of scripts across his desk and said, "Pick one." That's how VICE SQUAD happened.
4- I discovered you thanks to Poltergeist 3. This has been killing me for years...was the ending re-shot? Cause we never see O'Rourke's face in the last frames. If so, what was the original ending?
The ending was not a re-shoot. The original ending was never shot. Heather died a week before we were scheduled to shoot the ending. There was no way we could (or even wanted to, for that matter) shoot the scenes without her. There's were some 17 pages left to shoot, most of which was to be the ending, a tear jerking scene in which Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein) offers herself as a sacrifice - that she would go over into the light in exchange for Scott (Kip Wentz), Bruce (Tom Skerritt) and Carol Anne (Heather) and everyone else. As Carol Anne and Tangina passed from one side to the other, they were to say "Good-bye" for the last time. It was to be not only to be the end of POLTERGEIST III, but the end of the Poltergeist Trilogy.
We weren't even going to finish the film at all, after Heather died. I was not interested, neither was Barry Bernardi or the studio heads, Alan Ladd, Jr. and Jay Kanter. None of us were. We got together and decided to shelve the project, at least for the time being. But the MGM board didn't see it that way. They basically said, "Look, either you finish this or we'll get somebody to finish it for you." Since we weren't about to let that happen, I half-heartedly wrote that pathetic ending where Bruce (Tom) and Patricia (Nancy) carry out a photo double, dressed as Carol Anne, at the end. People just weren't available anymore for it. We just didn't care about it. Scott (Kip Wentz) couldn't even show up. He was on the east coast, that's why he's mysteriously missing. But we just didn't care at the end of it all.
5- I thought Poltergeist 3 was a brave film. It's a total departure from the first two. What inspired you to set it in a building filled with mirrors?
Having a background in optics, I have always had a fascination with mirrors. Considering how often mirrors and reflections have been the subject of myths and fiction (i.e., Alice Through the Looking Glass, Dracula, etc.), I guess I'm not alone in that fascination. So, we actually did use "smoke and mirrors" to create the effects.
6- Was it your decision to film all the effects "live" on set? Why take that approach? It must of been a kicker to have "Dick Smith" there....
First of all, you have to remember that this was before CG had come into its own. Effects were done optically on film, which meant going several generations away from the original negative. Those post-production optics, which I knew inside and out, very simply just used lenses, mirrors and mattes to achieve their goal. So why not just do that in the first place. What I did was to turn a soundstage into a huge optical printer. It was mind-boggling. At first I was virtually the only one on the set who understood what we were doing, but after a few weeks everyone, including the cast, was really into it. We had a hell of a lot of fun. And seeing the effects at dailies, instead of months later, was amazing.
Working with Dick was not only a "kicker" it was an honor. He was brilliant. I have worked with Stan Winston, Rick Baker, Zoltan Elek and others who are incredible, but Dick Smith's genius was overwhelming. Aside from his talent and ingenuity, you couldn't have asked for a nicer person to have around.
7- If I may ask...how was it working with Heather O'Rourke? She came across as a sweetie...
Let me just put it this way, if I could have adopted her I would have. She was the best. There aren't enough superlative adjectives to describe her. Her death was a tragic loss to everyone who'd ever met her and to everyone who ever would have had that pleasure if she had not gone so early. Anything else I could say would just be redundant.
8- What was your inspiration for Lisa? It's an interesting premise...
My daughter was my inspiration. She always complained that I only made films she was too young to see. So I started thinking about doing a film aimed at early and pre-teen girls. The mother-daughter relationship, and how it changed at puberty, had interested me. There were a lot of ways to approach that subject but I decided, mainly because of what the studios expected from me, to wrap a thriller around it. A PG thriller. That's where it started. I also remembered my fears of serial killers from my own childhood. That whole "boogeeman" thing. But not the ghost stories we were told at summer camp, but the real "boogiemen" we read about in the newspapers. One of my most vivid childhood memories of growing up in Chicago was, when I was just a little boy, seeing a picture on the front page of the Sun-Times of the bodies of three other little boys who had been kidnapped and murdered. That photograph has never left me. I had nightmares about it for years and have never forgotten the feelings it raised in me.
9- Of all the work you've done, which one are you the most proud?
I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed in this answer because it wasn't one of my films. Yes, there are a lot of details in many of my movies that I am proud of. My early music films were well ahead of their time. There are even some of the commercials I've shot which were ground-breaking enough to brag about. DEATH LINE, my first film, won several awards. It was even honored in England last year, 28 years after being made. VICE SQUAD was a film about which I have been quoted as saying it was my favorite, but the fact that its violence has been taken the wrong way by so many has lessened my enthusiasm.
DEAD & BURIED and P3 don't even make the list. WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE? I think my direction of that film far outweighed the script and story matter. I'm being a little long-winded here, but you've asked a question that needed introspection. My answer is MISSING PERSONS. I'm very proud of the writing and the direction of the 2-hour pilot, as well as every episode of the series. It was about people. The characters were very real. It was completely character driven. It evoked real emotions. The letters I received from viewers made all the hard work worthwhile.
10- What's the last horror movie you saw...was it any good?
If you'll accept SIXTH SENSE as a horror movie, my answer is that it was great.
Thanks a lot Gary for a great interview. My Poltergeist 3 question is answered so now I could sleep at night.