Horror legend Brian Yuzna was in Manchester over the past weekend to introduce a Grimm Up North double bill. We had the honour to meet up with Brian and grab a few words with him about his illustrious career…
STARBURST: So, we’re here for a Lovecraft double bill as part of the Manchester Gothic Festival. Why is it that Gothicism continues to be such a prevalent theme, particularly in cinema?
Brian Yuzna: I think it continues to be a cultural thing and it could just be that the aesthetic is just too good to die. It really came to maturity under Poe; he played on this idea of loving the dead and loving the body after its dead and that dark sensibility has been rife since. I guess traditionally Gothic literature started with The Castle of Otranto (1764, Horace Walpole) and then of course you’ve got Frankenstein and Dracula but really Poe was that gothic romance, he played on the sense of loss like nobody else. In a way, I also see Gothicism as a reaction to pop culture. Everything is so bright and sugary.
Sometimes we just want to see some darkness don’t we? Life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows.
Absolutely, sometimes you need to go that other way. Freud said part of the human nature was a longing for death and there is always going to be a fascination with it. We need to express it. The Goth lifestyle you see today has almost come out of ‘70s punk sensibility and it’s interesting to see how important it still is today. The gothic is accepting the reality of life.
Tonight Grimm Up North are screening Re-Animator and From Beyond. What is it about these films that makes them continue to be such revered cult classics?
I think Re-Animator was sort of a very lucky event. It had a lot of first timers luck. The film benefitted a lot from a first time director (Stuart Gordon) who was a big horror fan, who also had 10 years of professional theatre directing under his belt. That isn’t something we see very often in low-budget or genre cinema, you have to go back to people like Billy Wilder to see this sense of story telling that you get from the direction in Re-Animator. It was lucky that on the movie, I spoke for all the money and there was nobody in charge but me. We didn’t have to hold back on anything and it was the ‘80s, we were in the video revolution. Re-Animator fit in with a certain style that was emerging with films like Return of the Living Dead and Evil Dead, it was a great time for genre. People want to hold on to good movies.
As a movie From Beyond isn’t as successful, it has some weaknesses that Re-Animator doesn’t, but it also has a great sense of ambition and people appreciate that. It was the first really Lovecraft type story we did - Re-Animator doesn’t touch on Lovecraft’s cosmic horror but From Beyond is born from a real Lovecraftian idea that reality is just a thin veil, behind which unspeakable horrors exist.
You and Stuart Gordon have collaborated on a number of fantastic projects throughout your careers and Re-Animator was the inception of this. How did your partnership come about and how did Re-Animator come to be?
I had gone to LA to get into the movie business and I was trying everything. I realised if I was going make a movie, I was going to have to do it myself. I started to raise the money and I was looking for a director - In fact, I took out an ad in variety that said “horror movie director wanted”. This is back when people could only contact you by mail! At this point I met a lot of people and Bob Greenberg was very involved in the movie business, he was from Chicago and he told me there was this theatre director there that you’ve got to meet, so I went and met Stuart in Chicago. We just got along great, I went to his house and we were drinking and smoking, sitting at his window in his apartment and he showed me a 50 page script for a Re-Animator TV show and I said, “I want to do that, but its got to be a feature”, and from there we developed it, doing things like adding the character of Dr. Hill. Then within a year we were in pre-production.
H.P Lovecraft has been a consistent presence in your work. What is it about his stories that you particularly appreciate?
Would you believe I wasn’t actually a big Lovecraft fan till after I’d done Re-Animator? When I was a teenager I’d read anything, any ghost or horror stories and I tried to read some of the classics. Of course I’d read Poe and seen the Corman Poe movies but there were things I felt I should read. I tried reading Frankenstein but it didn’t appeal to me at that time. It was the same with Lovecraft, his prose is very archaic and it can be difficult at times to engage with. So many stories today are written with movies in mind but when Lovecraft wrote stories were the supreme medium, they hadn’t yet been pervaded by the influence of cinema. After Re-Animator I took time to explore Lovecraft and from there films like From Beyond, which focus much more on Lovecraftian themes, came to be. Even in Bride of Re-Animator you can see more Lovecraft, we took everything we hadn’t used in the original Re-Animator and implemented it there. Lovecraft’s Dagon was also something I’d wanted to do for a long time, I’d asked Dennis Paoli to develop a script as far back as 1985 but it took so long to make. People in Hollywood were straight away put off by the idea of fish-people that they miss the tension and horror in Lovecraft’s stories. It’s these themes that always attracted me.
Throughout your career you’ve worked as a producer, a director, an actor and a writer. Is there a role you prefer?
All of the roles have their pros and cons but honestly I revel in being producer and director. Being in a position where you have total creative control over the work is the most rewarding. I directed the Dentist films but I hardly had my say on how they were made, I wasn’t granted the same freedom you get as a producer/director. Saying that, I do feel that Re-Animator is as much my film as it is Stuart’s because a producer is there longer than anyone else. You’re there in the initial development and you’re going to be there long after shooting has wrapped. A good producer is often along for the whole journey.
Can we talk a little about Society? It’s a glorious, gloopy, clever body horror that does so much. There has been talk of a sequel in development, will that ever come to fruition?
Society is something I’m really proud of and for so long it went unnoticed. I don’t think it was till this recent Arrow Blu-ray release that people got a chance to catch it. Now I’ve got people coming up to me and saying “I can’t believe I missed this!” There is a lot of interesting stuff in there that I felt was unique, the idea of ‘shunting’ hadn’t been done before, this visceral, surreal image of flesh melting together was great. The only other movies I’ve seen that touched on it was Slither, but I didn’t get any credit there (laughs). To be honest, I couldn’t believe we were getting away with doing it, but this was the ‘80s. Practical effects were defining horror movies in this period and I was lucky enough to have (Screaming Mad) George. We just let our imaginations go wild. In regards to going back to Society, I’ve actually got a treatment that I wrote with John Penny. It’s based on the idea of this poisonous exclusivity in Hollywood and hopefully we can do something with it. It’s all a matter of financing.
Are there any current projects you’re currently working on?
There are a few projects that I’m overseeing, we’ve got a Spanish film through Fantastic Films that I think will do well at festivals and I Walked With Zombies is in post. I always try to be involved with something, the industry is like that, but for a while we had difficulties. I recall around 2008 being a difficult time for horror as the advent of VOD and Netflix and such changed everything. It’s not like the video revolution in the ‘80s anymore.
Horror has always been something that can thrive on a low-budget though isn’t it?
I suppose that’s the beauty of it, and one of the reasons I’ve always gravitated towards the genre. So often an idea in this circuit will come to fruition because it’s driven by pure passion and not just money.SHARE YOUR COMMENTS BELOW OR ON TWITTER @STARBURST_MAG
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