INT: Julian Richards

The Arrow interviews Julian RIchards

Writer and Director Julian Richards has dabbled in the genre before via DARKLANDS and SILENT CRY but to be honest I did not know of his work until word came out on his more recent and critically acclaimed effort THE LAST HORROR MOVIE (to be released on DVD December 7 2004). I had the chance to exchange knife stabs with Mr. Richards and here's what he carved into my forehead.

What's your favorite horror movie?

When asked this question I always try to pick obscure titles to bring them to the attention of the public, so here we go; THE TELEPHONE BOX which is a Spanish short with a twist in the tale about a guy who gets stuck inside a telephone box. I also liked an Australian film called LONG WEEKEND which is also a twist in the tale about a bickering couple on a remote camping holiday haunted by the ghost of a beached whale.

My third choice would be a British 70's film called PSYCHOMANIA about a motorcycle gang who use witchcraft to return from the dead after committing suicide in a series of spectacular crashes. But obscure titles aside, my all time favourite horror movie has to be Tobe Hooper's THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE which is still the most deranged, inventive and relentlessly brutal cinematic experience that I have ever had.

What was the ember that lit up the idea for 'The Last Horror Movie' in your head?

I read Stephen King's horror bible DANCE MACABRE and was struck by two notions; the first was the power of realism in horror as demonstrated by Orson Welles radio broadcast of WAR OF THE WORLDS and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE which was presented as a reconstruction of a true life event.

The second was the idea of using horror fiction to help people explore their anxieties about difficult issues, like violence, death and mass murder. The latter is a sort of left-ish notion about 'embracing the mutant' and this idea sits at the core of THE LAST HORROR MOVIE in the sense that it's a video diary made by a serial killer in an attempt to justify his crimes to the world.

It had been my ambition to produce a low budget horror film for sometime, but I could never raise the budget required to shoot on 16 or 35mm. The advent of digital video changed all this and films like THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT gave me the confidence to use this new technology to finally achieve my ambition. I was working for the BBC at the time, producing SHOWBOYS: THE NAKED TRUTH (a video diary about my cousin who is a male stripper) and I was struck by the access and intimacy that this format of documentary film making achieved and thought...

a) - this is an affordable way to make a feature film.
b) - what if a serial killer made the same kind of video diary.

The idea of the twist at the beginning where the killer records his video diary over an existing horror rental takes a swipe at the Scream-esque horror-lite teen slashers of the 1990's, whilst the twist at the end pushes the envelope on realism in the genre further than any film has done before.

I haven't seen the picture yet (soon) but many have told me that it was a mix of American Psycho and Blair Witch Project. Were those films an inspiration to you in regards to 'The Last Horror movie'?

I have not seen or read AMERICAN PSYCHO but I suppose the comparisons have been drawn because we chose to portray our serial killer as an everyday middle class guy, as opposed to a working class social misfit like HENRY or a super-human like HANNIBAL. The fact that our actor (KEVIN HOWARTH) looks a little like Christian Bale also draws people to make this comparison, but the fact is that we took our inspiration for our serial killer (MAX PARRY) more from Bruno in Alfred Hitchcock's, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN.In order to achieve a convincing video diary style I used SHOWBOYS: THE NAKED TRUTH as a template, but I also studied films like BLAIR WITCH, MAN BITES DOG, HENRY PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER and SERIES 7 THE CONTENDERS.

How many actors did you go through before settling on Kevin Howarth?

I auditioned about thirty actors for the part of the serial killer. All ages, sizes and looks. I had a good idea what I was looking for but I always like to bracket things just in case there is a better idea around the corner, or a possibility that I have not yet considered. When Kevin Howarth walked into the room he auditioned well, but I didn't realise how good he was until I replayed the audition tape at the end of the week. I believe that a film is only as good as its worst performance and in the case of THE LAST HORROR MOVIE it would have been pointless making it without finding an actor that could deliver a bullet proof performance.

What was it about Kevin Howarth that made him the ideal choice to play Max?

The decision to cast Kevin Howarth came about as a result of a difference of opinion between myself and the writer (James Handel) about what sort of person the killer should be. James wanted to go completely against the grain and cast a foppish, public school boy type, whilst I wanted to play him more blue collar and physically intimidating.

When I auditioned the actor that I had in mind I soon realised that James's dialogue did not fit that type of character at all, but when I auditioned James's suggestions I realised that the degree of arrogance and smugness inherent in the dialogue combined with an actor from a privileged background would alienate the majority of our audience.

When I auditioned Kevin Howarth, he not only presented a neutral, classless alternative, but also a smooth, good looking, mischievous charisma that would would help strike the sort of uncomfortable love/hate relationship with the audience that I was looking to achieve.

How would you describe the shoot? Was it smooth sailing or a tough process?

This project was tailor made for a low budget and tight schedule; the crew was documentary size, we shot hand held using available light and every scene was choreographed to work in one shot without any cuts. We did have multiple locations involving a lot of travel and the choreography involved with making a three minute scene work in one long developing shot also burned up a lot of our limited schedule (each scene was shot shot around 25 times before I was happy with my choice of alternative takes), but the biggest problems were caused by the prosthetic make-up effects, which also had to work real time whilst remaining hidden from the camera. On the whole THE LAST HORROR MOVIE was the smoothest, most enjoyable shoot that I have worked on since my school days making horror movies on Super 8.

Was there a lot of improvisation on set from you as a Director and from your actors when it came to their roles? Or did everybody stick to the screenplay.

We stuck to the screenplay and the improvised feel that we achieved is testament to a solid script and cast. As a director I believe that 70% of my job is in developing the screenplay and choosing the right cast. I think its very dangerous to go into production without a solid foundation upon which to build a movie and whilst improvisation can help loosen things up and make performances feel more natural, it shouldn't be relied on to resolve problems that were already in the script before the start of principal photography.

How graphically violent would you say the film is?

I'd say that it's as graphically violent as THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. We don't cut in for the 'gross out' close up when a victim gets killed, instead we stay back and casually observe. But everything that you see happen, happens real time and it's the power of actuality that is the most disturbing ingredient in the film.

How did your joyride at the Rating Boards go? Was it a tough fight?

The offending issues were a combination of sadism and voyeurism, but what do you expect from a video diary made by a serial killer? The MPAA wanted to reduce the amount of time that we dwelt on the victims after they had been attacked, but with long developing shots and the 'real time' experience that we were going for, we just couldn't make any cuts. In think this harmed our theatrical release in the US but I know that the DVD and Video are coming out in two versions; the MPAA 'R' rated version and the 'UNRATED' directors cut.

I know that Fangoria is distributing the film in the States; do you have all of your territories locked worldwide?

So far we have North America, Mexico, Central America, the UK, Scandinavia and possibly Germany. We are holding off selling any more territories until the UK theatrical release in early 2005 when the true market value of the film will be measured.

'The Last Horror Movie Part 2'. Is the idea feasible? Would you do it?
THLM 2 has been discussed and it could go either of two ways. We could keep to the video diary format and bring Max to the USA or we could do a more conventional slasher movie, a sort of CANDYMAN meets THE RING about a bunch of kids who rent THE LAST HORROR MOVIE and discover that Max Parry really does exist.

What's next on your plate directing wise?

Right now I have my fingers in many different pies. I've been developing a political conspiracy thriller called THE BROTHERHOOD for Crystal Sky. I've been talking to Lou Arkoff about shooting a film in Serbia and I'm attached to SNOWMAN, a supernatural horror written by the Drews. But my main focus right now is on LONG DARK HOURS, a psycho killer thriller with Kevin Howarth which I hope to shoot in Wales or Canada in the fall of 2005.

What kind of movies does Julian Richards watch when he's not in the mood for a genre film?

Observational comedy like Doug Liman's SWINGERS and ROGER THE DODGER (I've written one myself called LOVE BITES which I'm looking to shoot next year). I'm also a fan of SPIKE LEE, OLIVER STONE and CAMERON CROWE


I'd like to thank Julian for the insightful interview and for the fine film that was THE LAST HORROR MOVIE. I finally got to see the picture and totally loved it! I recommend you hit up Max for a little one on one, you won't regret it.




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