Todd Farmer, the scribe behind Jason X, My Bloody Valentine, The Messengers and Drive Angry, talks about his career and hopes for the Hellraiser reboot…
You’ve previously mentioned that Jaws, Alien and Halloween have influenced your screenplays. What particular aspects from these do you most admire?
These films stay with you because they feel real. The characters are real. With Halloween I related to the teenagers, I related to the adults and this guy running around in a mask felt real to me and the same thing about Jaws. Even to this day who doesn’t go in the water without thinking about it! In Alien – they were a bunch of truck drivers in space so even though they were in space they came across as real. I’m from Kentucky where there are a lot of truck drivers and that’s what they felt like even though they were in this horrific situation.
How did you decide on the sci-fi concept for Jason X? After being marooned on earth for two decades was space the natural place for Jason to go?
The way it came about was we knew that New Line Cinema had no interest whatsoever in doing another Jason who hacks up young virgins at Crystal Lake. At the same time Freddy vs Jason was in development and I suggested something like Blade Runner – something different. And they said we’re never going to do Blade Runner but why not do Aliens with Jason on the spaceship. And that was natural for me as I love sci-fi.
Jason X was kind of both a send-up and celebration of slasher film formulas. Was this your original intention?
It wasn’t. The original intention was to tell a story that was taken realistically, where it would be dark, gritty and play scary. But while we were writing, Scream came out and suddenly everyone was like ‘OK all movies have to be self-referential, all movies have to be aware’, so everything changed and went in that direction. At the time I was horrified by the sudden change! I’ve grown softer now as some people like Jason X which is great while others hate it so I’ve learnt to embrace it.
My Bloody Valentine was a remake of a 1980 slasher film that had largely been forgotten about. What attracted you and how difficult was it during that post Scream era to come up with something original to entertain genre fans?
We had so much fun with it that it never felt like any sort of challenge! We knew going in that we liked the original movie and that it wasn’t a bunch of teenagers -these characters were adults and there was a love triangle in the middle which was interesting. We thought let’s stay on this love triangle, let’s stay on this adult story and at the same time create a whodunit and keep them guessing. We knew it would be a 3D movie, so once we had the story and the characters we said ‘what if we do this part in 3D to make it look interesting.’ It made for a fun movie.
There are nods to the original My Bloody Valentine: the decapitated head spinning in the dryer for example…
Yeah the stuff we loved from the original we wanted to keep for both the fans and because we knew that not everybody had seen the original as it wasn’t a big movie. And fans would recognise them and they’d be happy but the people who’d never seen the movie before would think that we were geniuses for coming up with this really interesting stuff!
Drive Angry is a sci-fi revenge thriller with an anti hero in the mould of other Seventies anti heroes. Where did this idea stem from and why the sci-fi edge?
When we finished My Bloody Valentine, which was basically the first live action 3D movie, we wanted to do more. We had a lot of success and knew 3D would be here for a while so [the director] Patrick Lussier suggested what about a 3D movie with cars? We both had loved the old Seventies road movies growing up and so we just told this old down and dirty movie about this guy who breaks out of prison and pops because someone has killed his daughter. Then I suggested why doesn’t he break out of hell instead of prison?
And what about Hellraiser? Are you still attached and if so any indication where this might be heading?
As far as I know we’re attached but often the writers are the last to know if they’re still attached. There’s nothing more that can be done with it. They have three different concepts from us and I like them all.
I read you were thinking about going back and exploring the Cenobites’ world?
We certainly had involvement from Pinhead and the plan was to bring Doug [Bradley] back and hopefully we can still tell that story. I would love people to see it. We did some really interesting and fun things with that. What was interesting is that we created a story that was full of twists and turns in that you think you’re watching one movie and by the end of it you realise you’re watching something completely different.
Perhaps in a Cabin in the Woods kind of way where you think you’re watching something and then it turns out it’s something else?
That is true. I loved The Cabin In The Woods. I understand exactly why a lot of people hated it and that just makes me laugh when I hear that because I love that movie.
There are a lot of religious undertones concerning re-birth in your movies. Is this a conscious thing?
It’s absolutely conscious because [frequent writer/director collaborator] Patrick Lussier and I tend to fall on both sides of the religious debate. I won’t tell you who’s on which side but when that happens it makes for some wonderful story elements. One of us is always saying God is wonderful and one is saying God is not and so when you bring those two forces together you can tell some excellent stories. The Omen and The Exorcist are great due to their religious aspects.
Is this what attracted you to Hellraiser: those overt religious undertones?
It did indeed! What’s funny about Hellraiser is that it was the first of it’s kind and it was just right there in your face. That was a fun one and we did some really interesting things with it and I hope that we get to tell that story one day because I would love people to see it.
Have you also been working on The Crow too?
No, the director on the horror thriller I scripted Monkey’s Paw [F Javier Gutierrez] left to work on The Crow and when he’s done with that he’ll return. So I haven’t had any involvement at this stage.
Can you tell us a bit about Monkey’s Paw?
It’s based on a short story. Ages ago RKO Pictures actually made a movie called Monkey’s Paw and it’s an hour long but the problem is nobody can find it so it probably doesn’t exist anymore.
They had me do a remake to retell the story. Well I changed it and it’s not a re-telling of the short story but loosely based on it. It’s basically a folk tale and one of the darkest I’ve ever written because it’s grounded in reality and very believable. It concerns flawed husband and wife characters but that’s all I can say at the moment.
Anyone in mind for casting?
It’s too early but I’m good friends with Thomas Jane and we have toyed with the idea of him playing the lead. I also talked to Jaime King who was in My Bloody Valentine about a lead role too. It’s just too early to say, but I like to work with people I’ve worked with before and who I’ve had good relationships with.
Todd Farmer is hosting a Screenwriting Master Class at the Gold Coast Film Festival, held 22-23 April 2013. Pick up Drive Angry on DVD for £3.85 or on Blu-ray for £8 from Amazon.co.uk