Richard Stanley's Morbid Vacation
by Nicanor Loreti
(Originally appeared in Fangoria Online, 2007)
The first question that pops into one's mind when talking to Richard Stanley today is, "Why did it take so long for you to get back into shooting fiction?"
"We took a vacation," he says. "Besides, I was in movie jail and had to throw a triple six to get out. I was scapegoated in the Island of Dr. Moreau affair, and exiled to the Phantom Zone - but we've been having a blast anyway, collecting happy endings. Y'know, when the leads ride off into the sunset, embrace as the set burns or draw down the sleeping-car blinds as the train races into a convenient tunnel. Putting some mileage into the experience bank."
It has been 15 years since Stanley's ill-fated last venture into the horror filmmaking world. In the early 1990s, his Hardware and Dust Devil left horror fans wanting more - and then, after his forced departure from the infamously troubled Marlon Brando-Val Kilmer version of Island of Dr. Moreau, nothing... Now, with renewed energy and plenty of projects in the works, the filmmaker is back with a vengeance. He co-wrote Nacho (Aftermath) Cerdà's first feature film The Abandoned, arriving on Lionsgate DVD June 19, and he recently released the short film The Sea of Perdition, starring and co-written by his girlfriend Maggie Moor, on-line (see it here). And he has a new full-length directing gig, Vacation, set for this year as well.
"Vacation is a low-budget sci-fi/horror epic that looks set to be the first feature project to come my way since Dust Devil," Stanley says. "We're still trying to scare up the remaining funds, but the budget is so ludicrously small that we can guarantee the backers a return on their investment regardless of the actual content. It's small enough to fly under the radar, basically."
The director hopes that this project, in which Fango fave actor Bruce Campbell has committed to star, will get his career back to where it was right after he finished Dust Devil. "Hopefully, it'll be the one that breaks the logjam and get my career back on track - but if not, I'll at least go down swinging my fists," he jokes. "It's based on an original screenplay written by myself and Ms. Moor during our time in the Middle East, and will probably put a few noses out of joint. The British Film Council claimed it was the single most offensive screenplay they had ever laid eyes on, and believe me, those guys read a lot! With Bruce in the frame, it's now set to go before the cameras in October, and should be pretty much in the can by Halloween."
Moor agrees that the film requires such a limited budget, it will have no trouble achieving the financing. "We are asking so little to make the film, it's astounding," she says. "But no one reads scripts anymore; they all need pictures to look at, so we're still shopping around. I know Richard can pull off a low-budget film like this and still make it a hit, because that's what Richard does, and he does it well. It's a very rare quality in a filmmaker. He works day and night with no complaints, has fresh and brilliant ideas and actually knows how to make them work."
Vacation has all the right elements to surprise both Stanley and Campbell's fans, and its Middle East setting is one the director knows very, very well. "Like all the best tales, it's a love story; at least, that's how myself and Ms. Moor see the beast-a sadly contemporary love story," Stanley says. "Bruce is Bryce, a failing East Coast banker with a coke habit who books himself and his significantly younger lap-dancer 'girlfriend', Carly, into a seedy Middle Eastern tourist resort. He's hoping for a spot of late-season sun and surf, a last, desperate stab at romance and the happiness that has always eluded him. They are so caught up in their own petty problems that neither of them realize at first that the end is truly nigh-quite literally the end of the world and human life as we know it."
Sound apocalyptic enough? Keep reading, because that's not all... "As the sun changes its cycle, freak solar storms take western civilization off-line forever, leaving Bryce and Carly marooned without credit cards in a hostile year-zero society that despises everything they represent," Stanley continues. "Faced with harsh existential choices and their own imminent extinction, they inadvertently find themselves, and happiness of a sort, albeit at a price. It's an intimate holocaust for two-a bitchy, bloodsoaked farce with a runaway body count played out against the backdrop of a wider calamity: the coming apocalypse of mankind. It's closely based on life, I might add, as play-tested by myself and the delectable Ms. Moor. The war on terror writ small or I Spit on Your Grave in patriotic Lycra. Coming soon to a cinema near you, provided planet Earth sticks around long enough for us to cut some sort of distribution deal."
For Stanley, working with Moor as an actress and co-screenwriter has been a real discovery. "Hey, Godard said all you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun. I already had the guns, but needed a star. Maggie's the bona fide article, shining so bright she needs a bigger screen than YouTube to contain her. Of course, she's an incredibly intuitive actor-you'd have to be, working inside a spacesuit at subzero temperatures for The Sea of Perdition - and absolutely fearless, my match blow for blow and line for line, the first collaborator I've been able to actually collaborate with as an equal since [screenwriters] Michael Herr and Walon Green on Moreau. Writing is an incredibly lonely, often painful business that I never believed could be shared in this way, but a movie is more than just a script. To be able to bounce off each other and play through the material is invaluable - to produce a document that is dramatically cogent, a blueprint for action rather than a static work of literature."
Moor's background in theater helped to make the screenplay more character-based, whereas Stanley's imagination tends toward the cinematic - "inherently visual, totally involved in color, movement and ambience," in his own words. "Superficially, we're complete opposites - she's beautiful and I'm kinda scary - but underneath the candyfloss, we're both survivors, and that same steel runs through us like tinfoil through chocolate," Stanley adds. "I believe we recognized a common cause, an area of mutual sympathy, and got something out of each other that neither of us could express alone, drawing on our inner demons to bare the werewolf's snarling fangs beneath that healthy, all-American smile. After Dust Devil, I knew the next film would have to reflect on contemporary American culture, and Maggie is the mirror that has allowed me to do that. She also happens to be one helluva dancer and shoots a mean game of pool."
With The Abandoned, The Sea of Perdition now visible and Vacation on the verge of being a reality, it seems we'll be hearing a lot more from Stanley this year. One thing's for sure: It's good to have him back.
Richard Stanley rolls the Bones
by Nicanor Loreti
(Originally appeared in Fangoria Online, 2007)
While telling Fango all about his upcoming Bruce Campbell-starrer Vacation, director Richard (Dust Devil) Stanley also revealed another project to Fango: a big-scale chiller called The Bones of the Earth. "Bones is an epic, all right - the finest screenplay I've ever worked on, and it may well end up being the one that finally puts me in my grave and then kicks the dirt in after me," Stanley tells us. "I mean, it's a monster! A great white whale of a movie, as big as The Island of Dr. Moreau and twice as dangerous. It hasn't even gone into production yet, and it's already trailing a body count. It began with a treatment written by Donald [Demon Seed] Cammell - the last thing he worked on before he shot himself. One of my associates is Nicolas Roeg's son Luc, and I literally came across the draft lying on a shelf in his office. Donald's name and the dateline drew me in at once, and it has been keeping me on my toes ever since."
Describing the potential film as "the single most apocalyptic, out-of-order, just plain vicious British action thriller ever made," Stanley explains that its moniker "refers to a ring of standing stones in western Scotland associated with the Queen of Winter, the folkloric Dark Lady, grandmother of the clans and guardian of the wild herd. No hunter may slay a stag without her warrant, and an offering or libation is made each year on the 11th of September - coincidentally the first day of the Scottish hunting season, a mass slaughter that has come to be known as the Highland Cull. The plot concerns a professional stalker on the verge of retirement who clashes with a ragtag band of hunt saboteurs, only to find himself drawn into a deeper, more deadly conflict when one of their number turns out to be a psychotic veteran of the war in Afghanistan, a brain-damaged master survivalist determined to exact a terrible revenge on the stalker's millionaire clients, whom he holds responsible for both his and the world's pain."
The director sees parallels between Bones and his ill-fated Dr. Moreau, explaining that "the film deals with our place in the feeding chain, with the civilized world and the atavistic, pagan impulses that chafe against it, the raw and the cooked, man and beast and the beast in man. Like it or not, a killer can be so much closer to the Earth, closer to nature, than a pacifist or a vegetarian simply because his soul is closer to an animal soul, and his bonding with the beasts he hunts is the stronger for it. I've lived in Britain for many years and wanted to address their culture, the death of the countryside and the passing of a certain way of life, lost honor and the sentimental illusion that it ever existed in the first place. It's the kind of thing Sam Peckinpah was driving at in his later years, but never found the project to fully express. Think Straw Dogs meets First Blood. Think precision rifles, dogs, helicopters and fuel air weapons. Think of the royal family, the American president, the Highland Ball at Balmoral Castle and 20,000 tons of flesh-melting nerve gas!"
Clearly the finances required for Bones will be far greater than those necessary for Vacation, which was deliberately written to be done inexpensively. Stanley reveals, however, that he almost got the project going a year or so ago. "I initially tried to set it up with Richard Harris, who I really believed could win an Oscar for the damn thing - at least he might have, if he hadn't popped his clogs after playing Dumbledore in Harry Potter instead. After Richard's demise, the project went into turnaround as we tried to fill his king-sized Gaelic shoes. It looks like it's finally moving, although I can't give you any names yet, subject to contract. Owing to the sheer, stupid size of the beast and the inordinate technical challenges it represents, I can't see it going before next year. I only hope I stay alive to see it through, but even in a worst-case scenario, it's moving with sufficient momentum to survive without me."