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Updated: Apr 2

Interview by Michael Mahyar Hojjatie

🎶”This is what you want, this is what you get!

     This is what you want, this is what you get!

     This is what you want, this is what you get!

     This is what you want, this is what you get!...🎵

Enter Richard Stanley, a South African filmmaker who has directed some highly revered cult hits on the edge of fringe cinema. Never one to follow conventions or tropes, several of Stanley’s films seem to have suffered a large scale of unfortunate circumstances and studio interloping. Nonetheless, he has persevered and overcame incredible odds to make a name for himself to where any film with his name attached to it immediately gets recognition from a niche worldwide fanbase. All I did was reach out to him via Facebook asking if he would be so kind to do an interview for ViaOmega and either expected to have my message not even be read or read and simply ignored. You can probably imagine my delight at having such an awesome opportunity before me.

ViaOmega - As far as the foolproof and always reliable internet says, you have been working on films in one production capacity or another since the early 1980s. Now since then world maps have changed, communism became a relic of the past (and we shall not  discuss the modern take on that system for this is not the place) and filmmaking  technology has changed faster than one can blink. Tell us about your thoughts  regarding this rapidly evolving landscape of film materiel with now even smartphones being used to shoot and edit both film and music versus an entire fleet of small (or large!) trucks full of equipment needed to make a film as it was back in that era.

Richard Stanley - You can definitely turn around faster now and shooting digitally allows you to get a lot more coverage which is always a blessing. You can shoot in lower light conditions, exposing for moonlight or starlight which is helpful when it comes to capturing a mood of supernatural or cosmic horror and the advent of drone technology means we don’t have to risk our necks in helicopters any more trying to capture impossible  angles. Of course some craft is inevitably lost in transition but I think the gains outweigh the negatives.

VO: What was it like working in South Africa at that time when it had a completely  different and highly controversial political landscape?

RS - I got to find out first hand what it was like to make movies in a police state and saw how social injustice, authoritarianism and cancel culture conspire to stifle art and imagination. At first I wasn’t trying to make political films. I was more interested in science fiction, fantasy and the supernatural but the amount of official opposition I encountered politicised me. They banned ‘THE EXORCIST’, ‘FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH’, ‘SCANNERS’ and Joe Dante’s ‘THE HOWLING’. They even banned ‘HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP’. People went to jail for owning VHS copies of ‘THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW’ and the ‘HEAVY METAL’  movie. All too often folk fear and try to destroy what they don’t understand and the apartheid era authorities clearly didn’t understand art. I mean, who does? The fact that I had long(ish) hair, a loud t-shirt and a camera and was trying to photograph imitation cavemen or folk in mutant make-up worried the cops to no end. My record for being  arrested, forced to pull my set up so I could be taken in for questioning and then released without charge was seven times in one day. It was a rolling nightmare. It was  insane. It couldn’t go on.

VO - You have had the honor of creating films based on lore from the minds of two of horror and science fiction’s most inspirational authors ever, H.G. Wells and H.P.  Lovecraft, with a fair amount of both success and heartache. Were these dream projects of your own that you actively pursued or did the studios pick you out of a  lineup of several directors they felt would do the projects the best justice?

RS - ‘THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU’ and ‘COLOR OUT OF SPACE’ were both long standing dream projects, although ‘MOREAU’ ultimately became more of a nightmare. I was an avid reader of both authors as a child and longed to see better screen adaptations of their work. I made my first attempt at writing scripts based on

both ‘COLOR’ and ‘MOREAU’ when I was thirteen years old. My consistent, some would say obsessive, interest in the material eventually helped bring the projects into  production. Both authors deal with themes of cosmicism, deep time and humanity’s existential isolation in the face of infinity. To some extent I feel these themes lie at the core of the gothic tradition and I remain keen to explore and illuminate them in my work.

VO: 70mm, 35mm, 16mm, 8mm… have all become relics now to where if you even mention them to the youngest living adult generation at the moment they may have no  clue whatsoever as to what you allude to. Do you miss working with these film formats at all, and if so why?

RS - The discipline of 35mm forced film makers to be a lot more precise in their planning and there is a subtlety, grain, and magic to the old stocks that digital can

never fully match. You don’t have to wait a day or two to view your rushes anymore but by the same token the odd random element that came with the processing has been  removed. Sometimes you need accidents to create art, to achieve that chaotic, organic quality that allows the material to breathe. I achieved some of my best early results on home-processed Super 8, something I could never hope to reproduce with artificial grain or digital colour timing. Another drawback is you really can’t hide anything from the guys in suits anymore. The new technology has given the studios and streamers an unprecedented degree of vertical control over the medium. The whole pyramid of producers and financiers are looking over your shoulder every time you set a frame which really limits one’s scope for improvisation. The moment you go “off book” you can feel shockwaves rippling through the whole feeding chain. The moment something happens or someone says something unscripted you can feel the vibration of production office doors slamming off set and if you keep going, within a  few minutes someone will contact the Third Assistant Director, laboriously passing down the message that you need to get back “on book” or else. O tempora, o mores!

VO: I couldn’t help but notice that on your Internet Movie Database page there is a mention that you will tackle The Island of Dr. Moreau once again. If this is indeed true what would you say you could do different and better this time around?

RS - I’d really like to see someone do Wells’s work justice. As far as I’m concerned, this  classic story still awaits a definitive adaptation. The “‘beast folk” deserve to have their day and modern motion capture technology makes that possible in a way we were only just learning about in the mid-nineties, moreover the moral and ecological themes sadly remain more cogent than ever. Human/animal hybridisation is now a scientific reality,  nor can something be easily un-invented once it exists, opening up a Pandora’s box of possibilities. It’s a relatively easy thing to give a larynx to a dog or a cat but imagine what will happen when they do? Back in the mid-nineties my corporate sponsors thought the idea of dogs carrying machine guns was some sort of mondo-weirdo “art movie” satire destined for a niche audience. Since then I believe the raccoon in  ‘GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY’ has proven them wrong. As far as what I would do differently this time, I would make sure to bring a couple of bodyguards and have an efficient legal team in place before setting foot on set.

VO - With much respect in saying this, your take on ‘COLOR OUT OF SPACE’ felt to me as if it very much fit into the same cinematic universe of Stuart Gordan and Brian Yuzna’s worlds of Lovercraft that they created with their films. Were you in some sort  of way aspiring to this or am I just crazy?

SR - I’ve always been a huge fan of Stuart Gordon’s work. In fact, I actually hung out  on set when ‘DAGON’ was shooting in Spain and ended up appearing as one of the fish people. I guess you could count that as a kind of crossover... To some extent I share Stewart’s penchant for dark comedy harnessed to a genuine respect for the mythos. I believe portraying the human condition as a grim comedy is in keeping with Lovecraft’s vision of the “essential weirdness” of American culture. There is nothing funny however about Cthulhu, the “color” or Lovecraft’s Old Ones any more than cancer, radiation or the cosmic forces that act upon our world are particularly

comedic. In the face of infinity it is humanity that appears tragically absurd - at least  this is the tone I aspire towards. I admire Tobe Hooper and Don Coscarelli’s work for the same reasons.

VO : Regarding Hardware, also known as M.A.R.K-13 in some regions, you put plenty  of nods to nonconventional music styles within it, from Public Image Limited to  Ministry playing over concert footage of Gwar and even a brief cameo by none other than Lemmy himself. Being a preteen at the time when I first saw it I was in awe by  how much the music also complemented the stunning and engrossing visuals. Do you feel that these types of not-so-subtle homage, if you will, actually add to the story and help move it along or do you simply see it as a type of fan service of your own to what appeals to you as far as music?

RS - ‘HARDWARE’ is a deliberate patchwork of influences, bolted together from the raw scrap of the late eighties in much the same way the flag-faced droid reassembles itself from the detritus in Jill’s lounge. You can call it “fan service” but I really wanted to make not only a science fiction fable but a film that was an encapsulation or extrusion of that particular cultural moment - the death of punk and the dawn of cyberpunk and  the industrial movement. In your question you forget to mention Iggy Pop, Carl McCoy, Psychic TV, the Mutoid Waste Company, Mark Pauline and Survival Research, even Luciano Pavarotti who all make notable and often uncredited contributions. I was heavily influenced by Italian cinema, particularly Sergio Leone and  Dario Argento and wanted to front load the soundtrack so it would function organically with the visuals.

VO - And then how would you say that the many different styles of heavy metal and rock have influenced you as far as filmmaking goes? Do you think that what the  public conscious deems the more “extreme” styles of music go hand in hand with  genre and fringe filmmaking?

RS - What you call the more “extreme” styles of music are always going to be at the cutting edge when it comes to pushing the perceptual envelope. I wrote ‘HARDWARE’  back in 1988 listening to Iron Maiden and Motörhead. Folk wanted to pigeon-hole me as a jumped-up music video director so I deliberately banned metal from my next movie ‘DUST DEVIL’, choosing to go country with a score by Simon Boswell that draws on Morricone, whale song and Mongolian mouth music. ‘COLOR OUT OF

SPACE’ once again finds me pushing into”illegal” areas on the sound mix, utilising ultrasound and infrasound which is one of the best reasons for seeing the beast in a  decent auditorium. If you listen closely you can also hear contributions from Burzum, Mayhem, Wormwitch and Ultimate Spinach.

VO - Nicolas Cage seems to now be very self-aware that he is basically a living, breathing human meme and in his last batch of films he seems to be playing the exact  same character over and over again. Not that this is anything unusual in cinema, it’s  just that he’s been active for so long that it’s rather ironic that this far in his career he is picking the eerily similar roles that he has been over and over again. Was he your first choice Color Out of Space and seriously if so, why?

RS - ‘COLOR’ underwent a number of dramatic changes in the transition from page to screen. In the first draft I conceived the Gardners to be a British family who had  recently relocated to a farm in France. I basically wrote it so it could be shot near my own home in the French Pyrenees. In this initial iteration my first choice for the  doomed patriarch would probably have been Hugh Grant. I should love to have seen him slowly but progressively losing his shit. By the time the film had been set up and the action moved back to America, the Gardners had become New Yorkers and for all kinds of reasons Nic seemed the logical choice. I would disagree that Nic has been playing similar roles lately, although he does specialise in characters at the outer limits of their sanity. In COLOR his character is very much a family man and I think  this is the first time in many years we have seen Nic paired with a partner his same age, moreover he exhibits a frailty and vulnerability rare in recent performances. The look of genuine fear on his face as he forces himself to enter the barn and face down the mutation is a moment where we get to see a human being truly pushed beyond their limits. Nic shares my enthusiasm for macabre physical comedy and I believe the  two of us were an ideal match.

VO - Oh I’m sure this question has recurred many times over for you by now… Alpacas,  why?

RS - I wanted to update and revitalise the material so it was clear to me the Gardner farm would have moved with the times. Like so many families that relocate to the country to realise a lifelong dream, I wanted that dream to be a little impractical like making your own wine, keeping mohair goats and selling mohair sweaters or raising  ostriches. I was keen to use an animal that would never normally be seen in a sci-fi horror movie. Alpacas are clean and easy to work with and gave the mutation a more  darkly comical aspect - besides after ‘THE CURSE’ (1987), I didn’t think folk would  pay to see another exploding cow.

VO - Bringing Lovecraft to the screen appears to be a nightmare in one way or another, having seen many different directors of varying pedigree attempt to bring The Master of The Macabre to cinema only to run into this and that roadblock. Having actually completed a film based on his lore that received quite a bit of fanfare, why do you think that it becomes such a headache to interpret his works into film, and most of what we have gotten to this day incorporates a fair amount of camp along with it,  essentially contradicting his storytelling style?

RS - Lovecraft is an exceptionally difficult author to adapt for screen, dealing in unmentionable and indescribable creatures and colours that exist outside the human  spectrum. I took it as a challenge to try and express some unexpressed essence of his work. I think most folk are frightened by the sheer nihilism of his themes and tend to shy away from looking too deeply into the void, belittling Lovecraft’s concepts, mocking them or otherwise reducing them to humanly acceptable terms. His key works, the so-called “great texts” do not lend themselves to cinematic adaptation. They have nothing resembling a traditional three-act structure, recognisable human characters or dialogue. Some folk say “all stories are love stories” but not Lovecraft’s -  he’s the antithesis of every Hollywood rule. His characters habitually die or lose their  minds, usually both. Children and animals die. The dog dies. Everyone dies. Planets and universes die and are reborn as something entirely new. As for the dark comedy, I think a close examination of the man’s work will bear out that Lovecraft himself was not above a certain amount of knowing camp. The key is hitting the right balance to ensure the audience is laughing with you rather than at you. Looking extinction down the barrel, laughter may be our only defense, our last recourse to humanity.

VO - We have seen directors such as Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson and we could even say even George Lucas and James Cameron come from VERY humble beginnings  that seem worthy of heckling to making some of the biggest blockbusters in history for over a generation now. I am a major American studio and I am offering you a  budget of $150,000,000 to make your dream project. What would it be?

RS - ‘THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD’ - a three part medieval tragedy charting the rise, glory and apocalyptic fall of the castle of Montségur, the last stand of the so-called  ‘heretics’ who were crushed by the patriarchal Holy Roman church in the early 13th century. Although known for science fiction, I have a secret sword and sorcery epic  lurking in my heart - it’s also a story that needs to be told. Fewer than 300 warriors held an army of close to ten thousand battle hardened dogs of war at bay for close to  ten months in one of the most extraordinary battles in European history with a motley alliance of pagans, Christian “heretical”, Jews, Muslims, outlaws and aristocrats  making common cause in a final stand against The Crusader Army, climaxing in inevitable defeat and the largest mass burning of witches and “heretics” in European history on March 16th 1244 - an event that effectively changed the course of Civilisation. In particular I should like to tell the story of the castle’s final chatelaine NaEsclarmonda, whose name in the old tongue means “light of the world”.. Like all (or most) great stories, it is a love story. I’m a pagan at heart and there’s a great deal of hidden history I wish I could illuminate for modern audiences.

I also owe the world a HARDWARE sequel because I believe I still have things to say about the M.A.R.K. 13 drone soldier that needs to be said before they become a reality. I have a sequel in mind but I don’t think it would cost quite so much.

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