Patrick Lussier first gained attention as Wes Craven’s editor of choice on such classics as New Nightmare and Scream, before moving up to the director’s chair with a string of popular sequels. But 2009 saw his greatest success with the 3D slasher My Bloody Valentine. Retro Slashers finds out what it was like to create a new dimension in fear…
How did your time as Wes Craven’s editor prepare you for your own career as a director and are there any specific techniques which you learnt from him which you have adopted in your work?
“I’ve been very lucky to work so closely with Wes from 1991 through to the present. Wes has such a keen sense of story and horror from a character-related perspective. That point of view has been invaluable as I’ve gone off to direct my own films. That and the basics: ‘where comfortable shoes’ ‘have a plan’ and ‘don’t be afraid to stick to your guns’. Wes’ never-ending diligence has also been inspiring. To see how he tackles story and filmmaking. I take the lessons I’ve learned from him to set everyday.”
Having already made several straight-to-video sequels as well as White Noise 2: The Light, how did My Bloody Valentine come about and had there been any other directors previously attached to the project?
“There were never any other directors attached to MBV that I know of. I walked into the room the day Lionsgate locked down the remake rights. At the time I was helping them on a problematic film, one thing led to another and Mike Pasoernek and John Sacchi asked me if I’d be interested in tackling MBV. At the time the 3D part hadn’t been decided on. But I looked back at the original film and immediately saw the potential of it. Mike P had been an executive on the original film back in 1980 through ’81 during the photography and release. I believe he’d always wanted to revisit the character of the Miner and let him loose once again. I was honoured that he entrusted that second coming to me.”
How did you approach updating the concept for a modern audience and at what point during pre-production was the 3D aspect decided?
“For all of us involved, we knew we wanted to keep the mining town, the love triangle and the killer. Beyond that, a lot of it was fair game. I would spend time looking at the feedback on the original to see what moments were sacred, what people loved and maybe didn’t. What we should attempt to pay homage to and what we might want to do differently. The 3D came along as a real component during the writer’s strike at the end of 2007 to the beginning of 2008. I think we couldn’t work on the script so we worked on everything else we could. And 3D seemed to be a way for the film to be reintroduced to audiences, especially because the original was more of a cult fave, having birthed no sequels or franchise.”
Was Todd Farmer already involved when you came on board and how did his version of the story differ to the one previously written by Zane Smith?
“Zane did the first two drafts prior to the strike. His first draft had a few very smart key moments that ran through every version including the final film – the town of Harmony, Axel as the Sheriff married to Sarah, and Tom as the prodigal. The first draft had replaced the mine with a pulp mill and Harry Warden was a volunteer fireman instead of a miner. Very quickly we all knew that it was The Miner’s story we wanted to tell and couldn’t do that without the mine. The killer in that draft was also identical to the killer of the original film. Something that all of us wrestled with and, when Todd came on board, decided to change.
Todd and I have been friends forever. As Lionsgate was closing its deal with the WGA near the end of the strike, a few weeks before everyone else did, I suggested Todd come on board to tackled the rewrite. I knew Todd would immediately get both the level of humour and horror that we were going for. Todd nailed it very quickly, added so many great character beats and simplified the story flow to be more cinematic. Together, Todd and I reworked all the kills to play more tense and to play more for the 3D. Gary Tunnicliffe, our special effects make-up artist, was also vital in that process. Gary created this ‘document of death’ which was a smorgasbord of how to kill someone with a pick-axe. So the three of us with Mike P and John Sacchi tackled each new opportunity for horror and then with Brian Pearson, our Director of Photography, worked out the dimensionality opportunities.”
What kind of challenges did you face during pre-production and were you hesitant due to the track record of 3D movies, with the majority of them being nothing more than a gimmick?
“Biggest challenge was wondering if we’d have the 3D rigs in time. Paradise FX, who furnished our 3D, did such an amazing job, but had to literally redesign all their 3D rigs because of our specific needs. We didn’t get to test our A-camera until the day before the first day of photography. Thankfully, it worked beautifully. Other than that, it was a compressed schedule, so everyday was about maximizing our time. How we could best tell the story with the time and money allotted.
Regarding other films… well you’re making a 3D movie and a 3D horror movie called ‘My Bloody Valentine‘. You’re not making ‘My Subtle Valentine‘ — still, in spite of what some say about the film, we don’t overplay the ‘comin’ at ya’ gimmick. We chose the crescendos where we would come out of the screen very carefully and used them to our dramatic advantage. In the beginning the studio asked us to make every single shot a ‘Dr Tongue’s 3D House of Pancakes‘ shot… but we resisted. Instead, we opted out of that and they agreed that a rollercoaster without out peaks and valleys wasn’t going to be satisfying. Hopefully, we found the happy medium of intriguing depth and in your face mayhem.”
Were you a fan of the original My Bloody Valentine and did you have any reservations about jumping on the remake bandwagon?
“I grew up in Canada and had worked in a video store during the slasher craze. I remember the original MBV well. It stood out because of its setting, the age of its characters and its great villain. Regarding remakes, I had no reservations of jumping on that band wagon. There’s some films I wouldn’t tackle remaking, personal favourites. But three of my favourite horror films are already remakes: John Carpenter’s The Thing, Phillip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Cronenberg’s The Fly. I think, in remaking MBV we wanted to be respectful of the original and attempt to not only capture its spirit but the spirit of those fun Friday night slasher films of the early ’80s. Using the new 3D technology allowed us to give audiences an even bigger thrill ride while doing so.”
What kind of pressure were you under from the studio and how much creative control were you allowed?
“The pressure from the studio was to make the best film we could for the money. We would occasionally have some healthy debate about story and about how far to push the 3D. But we always, always, always had the same goal in mind: to make a great slasher film that would be fun. Within that, Lionsgate‘s Mike P. and John Sacchi were wonderfully collaborative. They were great cheerleaders and fought along side us to make the best film. They went to bat for us with the studio every-time we needed them to and were the absolute perfect partners to make the film with.”
The movie boasts an impressive cast of recognizable faces, most notably Tom Atkins and Kevin Tighe, as well as newcomers such as Jensen Ackles. Were any of the characters written with a specific actor in mind and how did you go about casting?
“All the characters tweaked once each actor was cast. But the retired Sheriff Burke was pretty broadly enhanced once Tom Atkins came on board. We were thrilled to have such an incredible legend as Tom “Thrill Me” Atkins. Burke originally didn’t survive the opening, but once we had Tom, we knew we wanted to save his grisly demise for much later in the picture.
Other than that, each actor brought so much to their characters. Todd and I did a lot of work tweaking and tailoring the roles to the actors as they brought their interpretations to light. Jaime, Jensen, Kerr and Kevin all were so passionate about the film and their roles within it. Each of them would feed off the other and would come up with new touches for their characters that constantly made the film better and better. We really couldn’t have been luckier to have the cast we had.”
The film has a substantial amount of CGI during the more gruesome moments. Whilst this looks impressive in 3D were you conscious how bad it could look otherwise?
“There’s actually very little CGI, or full CGI in the film. The jaw is a real jaw prosthetic matted in, the blood is Gary’s secret blood recipe shot against green. The only full CGI element is the pick-axe flying at camera and the bullet. Not even the tree is full CG. Asylum and XY & Z, our VFX companies, did an excellent job marrying Gary’s prosthetic work with the actors whenever it was necessary. We really went out of our way to use as many real elements as we could. Comping in full CGI can look cartoony and have no ‘weight’. But compositing real elements into real action makes everything feel more horrific. The only reason the pick at the lens was all CG was because we couldn’t actually do that gag without destroying the camera.”
The 3D used was extremely impressive and marked a fundemental leap for the technology. How did this differ to what filmmakers had used before?
“That’s a really long, complicated question. But given the digital capture and the post technology to make each shot’s 3D perfect, fixing vertical alignment issues, adjusting depth not just for the shot but dynamically during the shot, allows filmmakers to give the audience a pain-free, exhilarating 3D experience. The older technology was a lot less refined. You sort of got what you got and hoped it didn’t rip people’s heads in half too badly.”
The film had originally been scheduled to be released over the Valentine’s weekend, yet eventually it was moved forward a month. Was this due to the release of Friday the 13th and were you aware of the competition the movie faced?
“I’m sure that had something to do with it, but the primary reason was to take advantage of as many 3D screens as we could. We new Coraline was opening the first week of February and that Jonas Brothers was opening three weeks after that. The decision to open when we did was about giving us a full 3 weeks with the maximum number of 3D screens possible.”
How did you feel about My Bloody Valentine when you saw the finished result and is there likely to ever be a sequel? If so, would you and Todd Farmer take part?
“I’m thrilled with the final of MBV. The cast and crew did an amazing job and Lionsgate backed the film 100%. I felt incredibly lucky to have been chosen by Mike P to make the film. Will there be a sequel? Were initially told ‘no’… now it’s ‘don’t say never’… so, to be honest, we don’t know. The door may be closed for now but it’s not locked. If there were to be a sequel, I know Todd and I would love to come back for it. We have a great story about what happens next that involves all of the survivors of the first film. Within the first five minutes there wouldn’t just be a killing, but a massacre… and not the off-screen massacre of the first film. This one, you would be part of. But… that’s something we’ll have to save for down the road should we be so lucky.”
Most recently, it was announced that you and Todd Farmer will be collaborating once again, this time on an update of I Saw What You Did. Were you familiar with the two previous versions and what new aspects do you intend to bring to the premise?
“Todd and I were both familiar with the original and the ’88 remake. We’re in the process right now, so can’t really say anything about it. Todd and I are, however, partnering on several other projects, just waiting to see which one gets into the starting gate first.”