I saw Alien when I was at school, though I probably shouldn’t have done.
It left an indelible impression on me. I’m not sure which had a bigger impact; the monster or Sigourney Weaver’s underwear in that closet.
Obviously I went on to make Alien Vs Predator , which was a real treat to work on two of the greatest extra terrestrials.
I think Ridley’s approach to shooting a monster movie was really inspiring. I think his kind of less is more approach was a real kind of object lesson on how to shoot creatures for filmmakers.
He had a numerous set of disadvantages that he actually made work in his favour. Because it was really a guy in a rubber suit, who ultimately, if you let the camera linger on him, didn’t look that good.
It forced Ridley to show very little of the creature. And when he did he showed it very creatively and what it did was really built the myth of the alien and that’s why you can watch that movie now and it hasn’t really dated.
Whereas there are movies made more recently where you use cutting edge CG to show a lot of the creature and it’s not as scary cause you see so much of it.
Nothing dates faster than cutting edge CG, you’ll look at your movie three years later and go, ‘Oh God that looks terrible.’
I think he’s kind of less is more approach was really, an object lesson.
In Resident Evil Retribution for example we have monsters, these creatures called the lickers and they’re computer generated, that’s how you do monsters nowadays – but we’re framing them and shooting them as if they’re guys in suits.
Like Alien , and we’re constantly referring back to Alien , just because we have the ability to show the creature, full frame, sitting there picking its nose, having a cappuccino, you know you can do anything with a computer created creature, doesn’t necessarily mean you can do it, you should do it.
So my instructions to the animators is just kind of frame it like its Alien , frame it just over the Alien, just behind it, big close up of it, cut away from it fast, user strobe lights.
That kind of less is more approach. Hopefully, cutting edge CG, matched with this kind of ‘man in the suit’ approach will make a very, very powerful image in the cinema.
The Thing (1982)
The Thing is a total favourite of mine.
I’m talking about John Carpenter’s movie. I was very lucky enough to run into John Carpenter recently and have a very long chat with him; I just watched the remake of the The Thing, the version that came out last year, last night.
I say it’s a remake; it’s technically a prequel – but of course cause it shares so many scenes that are so similar that it feels very much like a reboot.
You look at Carpenter’s movie and it mainly relies on practical effects, a little bit of stop motion, but a lot of it is practical and holds up much better two decades after the fact, three decades nearly, than I think the prequel does immediately.
The prequel again, tons of CGI, it’s in your face, you get to see tons of the monster which I think, Carpenter, because of the limitations of what he could do practically is more fleeting impressions of The Thing.
It left a very, very powerful impression on me.
My favourite scene is probably is the bit where the head sprouts legs and scuttles across the floor and Kurt Russell looks at it ‘Are you fucking kidding me?’
It was perfect.
I’ve worked with Kurt before and he’s very good at thinking, ‘What would the audience be thinking at this moment?’ and that classic line where he basically articulates what the audience is thinking.
Godzilla On Monster Island (1972)
I love Godzilla. Not necessarily Roland’s movie, but the original Toho movies.
There’s that fantastic movie, Godzilla On Monster Island . It’s the greatest hits of every single Toho movie where they discover an island where all of the monsters have been sent.
Everybody lives there, Godzilla, Mothra, they’re all hanging out in the same resort. Kind of like a club-med, all drinks are comped so they’re all behaving rather badly.
I like it anytime Godzilla goes on a rampage and I have a soft spot for those puppets or guys in suits.
The Land That Time Forgot (1975)
One of my favourite movies as a kid was The Land That Time Forgot . Which, while Ray Harryhausen was doing rather sophisticated stop-motion, we in the British film industry, were doing kind of puppet dinosaurs.
That left a strong impression on me. It’s interesting to look at something like that, The Land That Time Forgot , and compare it to Jurassic Park , which had oodles more money, was much more sophisticated and had one of the best directors in the world, Steven Spielberg.
But it’s interesting that structurally these movies are almost shot in exactly the same way.
In Jurassic Park , the way they reveal the dinosaurs, it’s a shot that moves around Sam’s Neill’s reaction to something and then the camera moves around and you see the dinosaur.
You know whatever you’re going to see before you see it, is awesome, because of Neill’s excellent expression.
It’s exactly the same in The Land That Time Forgot , they don’t just cut straight to the dinosaurs, they very much just concentrate on Doug McClure and McClure is selling these puppet dinosaurs being real.
He does a really good job. As a kid, I believed them. I mean look at it now and obviously there are a load of technical flaws and it doesn’t look real. For the cinemagoer back then, the fact that Doug McClure believed, is what made you believe.
That is why you want good actors in these movies. That’s what I’ve said is always one of the strengths of the Resident Evil films.
You know Milla, a thousand per cent believes in that what she is fighting is the undead and she treats them as real and ultimately it’s guys with a bunch of prosthetics that can barely see where they are going, couldn’t eat you alive and can barely stand up let alone walk forward without tripping over because of the latex on their face.
It’s the actor that sells the creature for you, just as Milla does in Resident Evil and Sigourney Weaver does in the Alien franchise and Doug McClure in The Land That Time Forgot .
Jason And The Argonauts (1963)
Clash Of The Titans was never my favourite I just hated that owl, it really pissed me off so much.
I think because it was such a lame attempt to recreate R2-D2 from Star Wars and I never really – probably one of the few people who you’d talk to who actually enjoyed the remake of Clash of The Titans than the original - just because it didn’t have the owl in it. Well it did, but very fleeting.
That for me as a kid, that was my Jar-Jar Binks, I really disliked it.
Jason And The Argonauts was my favourite from Harryhausen.
For me the classic scene in that was always the skeletons coming out of the earth, it’s just a remarkably good scene.
Just incredibly choreographed when you think you’ve got your actors up there, pretty much dancing round with nothing to refer to.
Actors complain now about acting with green screens, imagine what it was like in the Harryhausen time. Where there were no pre-visualizations and you didn’t have a whole load of storyboards to show an actor.
It’s just kind of stare off there and imagine you’re fighting skeletons.
American Werewolf in London (1981)
By far above and beyond anything else, it’s the movie that has caused so many filmmakers to come to grief.
It’s that rare combination of horror and comedy that actually works, because that is a really difficult combination to pull off.
I look at that movie and I still can’t quite, I don’t know how Landis managed to do it. You see it time and time again; filmmakers try to combine horror and comedy and it just falls flat on its face. But American Werewolf is when lightning struck.
Shaun Of The Dead (2004)
I do love Shaun of the Dead . I like the fact that like American Werewolf, it does actually manage to be scary at times. Even though it’s alternating between big laughs it’s still scary.
The moment where Shaun goes down to his corner shop, he’s hung-over and he’s going to buy a drink.
You’re just waiting for something to leap at him and while you’re laughing at it you’re really tense at the same time.
I think that is incredibly skillful film making.
The Smurfs (2011)
The Smurfs are becoming monsters for me. I would probably put them in. I thought I was really lucky; Milla and I took our daughter to the premiere of The Smurfs .
It was the first time she had ever been to the cinema, first time she had ever wore 3D glasses. She sat without moving in her chair, enwrapped in the whole film. You know kids, they usually just take the 3D glasses off after 5 minutes and start running around.
She watched intently and which point, Milla and I thought we’re fucked here. She loves this and we’re going to watch this fifty times, but it’s not like a Pixar movie where, I could actually watch Wall-E over and over again.
I couldn’t watch The Smurfs again without serious sedation. At the end we think we’re just screwed, and at the end I ask her, ‘Did you like that?’ and she says ‘Yes it was very good, but I never, ever, need to see it again’.
So, ‘Haha, we’ve escaped the Smurfs, fantastic. It’s a one-off thing we won’t have to endure it fifty times.’
But then she fell in love with the TV show and now our house is full of animated Smurfs playing over and over.
I’m starting to really sympathise with Gargamel. I’m hoping that he is going to catch them and eat them at some point.
I like monsters like Jason and Leatherface. I think they are really good characters because they tap into a reality, that everyone can relate to.
Halloween for example, Michael Myers, its just such an ordinary plain, suburban neighbourhood and that is always terrifying, the idea that the killer is lurking in your bathroom or your kitchen, or hiding behind the refrigerator.
I think that’s really the power of those movies. Also there’s no hiding from them, you watch them late at night and you can switch the TV off and you can walk away from the TV but it only becomes worse because you are walking into some dark part of the house where these monsters lurk.
I loved the first Hellraiser . I think Pinhead wasn’t well served by becoming the star.
Clive Barker directed the original you got fleeting glimpses of these creatures but then when Pinhead took centre stage and you saw him endlessly, he became demystified.
It’s hard to choose a favourite moment from Hellraiser , but the first appearance of Pinhead definitely.
But also the guy who is being flayed alive underneath the floorboards and the blood is dripping down. Realising this horrible half-man is underneath the floorboards still breathing makes you feel a kind of claustrophobia.
Again, the Hellraiser movies became increasingly stylised, the second one was in Hell and then it was Hell on Earth. Then there was one that was on a spaceship.
They went away from what I thought made the original work; it was just in a house you were just in a house and you could imagine that these horrible things were lurking underneath your floorboards.
I think that’s the genius of those movies when they combine a mythic character with a totally relatable real world setting.
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