Mark Hartley made a huge splash with his brilliant Ozploitation documentary Not Quite Hollywood, and for his first narrative feature, he chose to remake the classic Australian horror Patrick.
The original cult classic tells the story of Kathy Jacquard, a nurse who starts working at a clinic for comatose patients where the doctor is conducting some sinister experiments. The most intriguing subject is Patrick, who we’re told feels and understands nothing, but evidently takes a keen interest in the new arrival, and has the ability to make his point without moving…
The remake stars You’re Next‘s Sharni Vinson in the lead, while Charles Dance and Rachel Griffiths offer support as the driven Dr Roget and his frosty daughter/matron. We talked to Hartley about why he chose Patrick, making his love for the original felt, and trying to make a classic Gothic chiller in midsummer Australia.
Obviously you covered a lot of classic films in Not Quite Hollywood; what was it about Patrick that made you want to make it your first narrative film?
The documentary kind of happened by accident, I never really wanted to be a documentary filmmaker at all and I’ve just finished what I promise will be my very last documentary, so Not Quite Hollywood just happened after I’d been trying to get into narrative features for a very long time. It was a strange kind of career path going from a documentary film into a narrative film. But it just happened that way. We were doing Not Quite Hollywood and Tony Ginnane, the producer of Patrick, was involved in that and one day Justin King (screenwriter) who had been a researcher on Not Quite Hollywood and I just were chatting to him and said “If we were going to remake anything from Not Quite Hollywood…” Because every film that even hit a cinema screen in the past is getting a remake, we thought we’d kind of narrowed it down.
Razorback and Patrick were the two that were just the best ideas that really hadn’t dated at all. That could be made now, that could not so much be improved on but certainly have a very different take and keep the same story intact. It turned out that Tony had been trying to get a remake for quite a while and wasn’t happy with any of the treatments that he’d been receiving. So we kind of pitched him our take on it which was to keep the central premise of here’s a guy with these powers that could control supercomputers if he wanted to but he had very limited ambitions with his powers, and that was to simply control the events in this nurse’ life to try to make her fall in love with him, which we thought was just such a great idea.
We wanted to do it as a Gothic chiller which I think was how we said we wanted to do it, we wanted to make it even more of an old-fashioned throwback than the original was. But up the ante with modern technology. That was our pitch and he liked the idea and we went away and found the money surprisingly. So there you go!
There’s definitely that great atmosphere of a Gothic, old dark house chiller.
Yeah, look, I said to Justin, “It’s hard to think nobody’s going to know what the film is about going into it but let’s pretend they don’t and let’s make the first half of the film play like an old-fashioned haunted house movie.” That’s what we tried to do, and another thing was I thought, “If we’re going to steal any kind of atmosphere and sensibility we kind of steal what we really enjoyed about The Orphanage.” That kind of throwback feel. So that was part of the design sense as well, and films of that era.
It’s interesting because the original film was made by a director called Richard Franklin who’d been a huge protégé of Hitchcock, he made Psycho II, he met Hitchcock while he was studying at USC and his career was always mentioned in passing next to Hitchcock’s which was a huge inspiration to me growing up as a young film fan but also as a friend as well. So we wanted to pay homage to the filmmakers that we’d liked and they all really had been people who’d been protégés of Hitchcock like Richard, and like De Palma and Argento, certainly we wanted to pay homage to those guys as well. We were incredibly incredibly fortunate to get Pino Donaggio to do the score which was probably the biggest moment of my career so far!
There are a lot of very specific nods to the original, was it important to you to make it as faithful as possible?
Well I’ve watched remakes where you just go, “Sorry why is this even remotely linked to the original because it doesn’t seem to have any affection for the original!” We certainly did have a lot of affection for the original and certainly didn’t want to tick off fans of the orginal because it’s a hard enough battle remaing the film let alone getting the people who love the original film onside!
So we recruited some of the same cast to appear in it, certainly some of the same props, some of the same wardrobe, one of the first exteriors is the same as the original Roget clinic in the first film and [original star] Susan Penhaligon even appears, or doesn’t appear, but she does a radio voice for us later on in the film, and every time Roget’s listening to his headphones it’s Brian May’s score, so we certainly wanted there to be things in there that people would hopefully pick up on if they’re crazed fans of the original.
No, I think it’s really funny, every time I’ve tried to make a feature prior to this, my career was in music videos, they said “We don’t understand how a guy who makes music videos can make the leap to making this feature film”, but surprisingly and stupidly it made a lot more sense that “A guy who made a documentary on these things, he must know about them, it makes sense for him to be doing this, maybe it’s safe in his hands as opposed to someone else’”. I’m not sure, look, the bottom line is Tony really liked our take on it and he was the one who was responsible for getting the finance. I really don’t know what kind of hurdles he overcame in terms of me being involved but certainly…first time narrative filmmaker, I brought along a D.O.P. who’d never shot a narrative film before, a screenwriter who’d never had a film produced so there were a lot of things working against us making this film but we were blessed with having a great cast and things went remarkably well all things considered.
The cast is fantastic. Had You’re Next come out when you cast Sharni Vinson?
Well I hadn’t seen You’re Next, it had happened, it had just played Toronto, and the huge buzz that had come out of Toronto basically led our sales agent to say “Cast Sharni Vinson.” So I went into the film not having seen You’re Next and only having seen Sharni in Step Up and Blue Crush 2. But from day one she really brought it and I certainly slept well the second night of the shoot!
And with Charles, we were just so lucky with Charles. He wasn’t our original choice and our original choice fell through when we had to rescheduled the film and his name suddenly appeared on a list and he was fantastic. It was really amazing working with Charles, he was such a lovely guy and I like to think he kind of channels Peter Cushing in the film in a way. Driven but charismatic.
Rachel [Griffiths], she’d never done a genre film and just threw herself into it. And basically went “OK, this could be my first Razzie” I think was what she said to me, but I gave her a stack of films to watch in terms of the character and she really, every time we did a take she’d say “I can do that spookier.” And she really embraced it, and she was great, she and Charles worke together before so it was good, they had an understanding of each other.
It’s interesting, when we first wrote the script the character of Cassidy was going to Roget’s lover. And when we cast Rachel it seemed to be better that she was this dysfunctional daughter who’d grown up in that place, and actually she suggested to have a backstory about a husband who you never quite knew what had happened to him and so forth. So she certainly brought a lot to the character when she signed on.
There’s some interesting choices with the special effects, could you talk about the look you were going for?
It was funny because a lot of the CG work has been criticised for not being realistic CG and that was the plan all along. I had so many meetings with visual effects companies and I kept saying “The aesthetic of this film is that everything looks film real as opposed to real real.” If we had been able to shoot back projection on people I would have shot back projection.
I really like that aesthetic when you are watching old films. So certainly the CG with Brian in his car, we wanted that to seem surreal rather than documentary and I like it. We shot it in the height of summer in Australia where it was 45 degrees each day so every single sky in that film has been replaced. There’s a lot of CG work actually that no one really realises is in it, it kind of helped us set the mood, but a lot of people for obvious reasons haven’t picked up on that aesthetic and just think that it’s like a bad videogame. I said from the start to Justin, that every atmospheric horror film I love is set down the coast so let’s set it down the coast.
And that’s the one thing I think about the original Patrick that hasn’t held up that well, is that it’s all shot without any sense of atmosphere because Richard was having constant battles with his DoP who kept on saying “What’s the reason for this shadow being here?” and Richard would say “It doesn’t need a reason, it’s a film about telekinesis.”
Yeah, I am actually in England to escape straight after we finished. It’s certainly very honest and irreverent and we interviewed 90 people for it so it certainly should be pretty definitive too. It’s a really interesting story and there’s a lot of people very anxiously waiting for that documentary so let’s hope it doesn’t disappoint.
Do you have any plans for your next narrative film?
I’m working with a couple of writers in Queensland who are writing a two-hander that I’ve been involved in which is kind of a Misery style, psychological thriller so we’ll see what happens there so honestly I haven’t. As soon as Patrick finished I jumped straight into Electric Boogaloo which was a really really huge undertaking and I’ve only really honestly come up for air two days ago. So I was kind of so deep in that bunker that I haven’t even returned emails. So if there is a script sitting in my email I’ll see it when I get back to Australia.
So no immediate plans for a Razorback remake?
I think it would be great, actually I don’t have any plans for a Razorback remake but Tony is talking to Justin and I about remaking Fair Game. Fair Game is the film in Not Quite Hollywood where Tarantino goes crazy about the girl getting strapped to a monster truck and driven around the outback, so that’s a film that Tony wants to remake, he’s got the rights to it and we’ve pitched it more as a feminist Straw Dogs in the outback meets Duel so we’ll see how we go. But that’s something Justin is working on at the moment.