Oh, The Horror! recently conducted an exclusive interview with lifelong horror fan and Hollywood scribe, Todd Farmer. His post-Jason X work has seen him working on everything from The Messengers for Sam Raimi's Ghost House Pictures to writing a cult comic book series (Alien Pig Farm 3000) along with Steve Niles and actor Thomas Jane. The ever-fun screenwriter’s latest project has him undertaking the task of remaking a popular Slasher movie classic from the peak year of 1981.
Interview by: Wes R.
Oh, The Horror!: Having written Jason X, The Messengers, and now the remake of My Bloody Valentine, I think we can safely assume that you're a horror buff. What are some of the horror films that truly inspire you?
Todd Farmer: I consider any movie that scares me to be a horror. Best to get that out of the way. Thus, when I saw Jaws as a kid during a free HBO weekend and started climbing the back of the couch when that old fisherman was trying to scramble up the broken dock...well, I was hooked. Alien? Sheesh, the trailer alone, with that egg and the green light pulsing as it cracks and the voiceover, "In space no one can hear you scream" was enough to send my overly active brain into a spin. Then there's the small fact that my mother was a closet scary movie fanatic but wouldn't let me watch them. Which meant I made it my life's work to see The Shining, Rosemary's Baby and The Omen over and over. And Mom was right. They screwed me up.
OTH: Being an obvious Friday the 13th fan, were you also a fan of the original My Bloody Valentine and some of the other fan-favorite "one-shot" slasher movies of the same time period?
TF: Yes, but I've always been a faithful member of the “Church of Originals”. Friday the 13th, Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, My Bloody Valentine, Curtains, April Fool’s Day. I just don't want to see the same thing over and over again. I'm not a huge fan of sequels but I do love a sequel with balls. And if you're gonna remake a movie then do what the original couldn't or didn't. For instance, if I were writing Jason Takes Manhattan, guess what Jason would take that the original didn't take? Manhattan. Has anyone remade a sequel yet? Oh, it's coming I'm sure.
OTH: A sequel or remake of My Bloody Valentine has been talked about for many years by its original producers, Andre' Link and John Dunning. Now a remake is finally happening. How did you come to be attached?
TF: I guess it started a dozen years ago in a jail cell north of Tijuana. I was still with the Bureau and Patrick Lussier was working Canadian CIA. It's a long story that ends with my having a permanent piece of shrapnel in my spleen and Patrick being to this day known throughout South America as "Browhanda ho" which translates to "Pale Canadian who drinks the blood of liars." Ah. Good times. Patrick and I have been friends since. So, just before the strike, while he was working on a different film for Lionsgate, he asked me to look at a couple scenes in the script. That apparently led to my name coming up during Bloody Valentine discussions. Then the writers went on strike so I returned to contract work for the Bureau, which didn't last because their Health Care has really taken a dive over the last ten years. Fortunately, Lionsgate cut an early deal with the WGA, which allowed me to take a crack at Valentine.
Patrick and I dove in and it was suddenly just like old times. Like stealthing our way through the jungles of the Sahara. Thought the Sahara was a desert did you? Moron. Should have seen it before we got there. I turned in my draft, Lionsgate wrote Paradise 3-D and Jaime King a couple of checks and suddenly we had ourselves a greenlight.
OTH: Horror fans have been burned in recent years by bad remakes such as Psycho, Prom Night, and The Fog, yet there are also many remakes that have become classics (The Fly, The Thing). With this in mind, when the task of remaking My Bloody Valentine came to be on your plate, what were your initial thoughts in handling the material?
TF: Excellent question. I look at The Fly and The Thing and I'm overwhelmed. They weren't made to cash in on a name. They were made because there was a brilliant new idea on top of a classic premise. Today's remakes aren't like that (I don't count Psycho because it was sort of an odd science project). I think most writers will tell you that they prefer writing original ideas. But some cat with a calculator ran the numbers a few years back and discovered that movies with name recognition make more money than those without. It's a pain but it's the current Hollywood we all have to deal with.
But I think there's another reason that yesterday's remakes feel like better moves than today's. When I watch The Fly, I can taste Cronenberg. When I watch The Thing, it is eat up with Carpenter. They feel like complete stories. They feel like they are of one vision. You can feel the passion behind them. I mean, shouldn't I feel a little bit of Carpenter in the remake of The Fog? I don't. Just feels like movie by committee. Prom Night, The Hitcher, they all feel the same to me. They don't feel at all timeless. Seeing them once...is enough. But if I were to flick on the tele right now to find The Fly or The Thing currently playing...I'd stop writing and watch. Wouldn't you?
My initial thought for Valentine was "no movie by committee". I went into this to collaborate with the director, and that's what I did.
OTH: When this project was first announced, many fans (myself included) assumed that it would be an in-name-only remake along the lines of the straight-to-DVD April Fools Day, ignoring all the great characters and spooky setting that made the original such a favorite among slasher fans. How "faithful" is the My Bloody Valentine remake to the original? For instance, is Hanniger Mine used as the setting? Are Harry Warden, Axel, Hollis (aka: the coolest "fat-guy-who-gets-the-hottest-chick-in-the-movie" character in all of horror history) and the rest of the gang featured?
TF: Hey, I assumed the same thing. In fact, I told my tenpercenters when they first mentioned the project that I wasn't interested. It wasn't until Patrick mentioned his involvement that I knew it would be treated with respect. And it has been. Harry, Axel and crew will make more than a couple of visits to the Hanniger Mines.
OTH: Having listened to your comments on the Jason X DVD audio commentary track, it's clear that the creative process from the written page to the finished film was often a difficult one. How has your experience working on My Bloody Valentine been?
TF: I think perhaps the biggest problem with getting a movie from the page to the screen is the difference in basic wiring between the creative types and them what think they are the creative types but instead wear suits. Creative types are constantly looking to make the story better while never forgetting what was great in the first place. Them what think they are creative types but instead wear suits are also constantly trying to make the story better but unfortunately DO forget what was great in the first place. Not their fault. Just a difference in wiring.
Patrick and I built on Zane Smith's already strong script. We forged a solid story as well as realistic, unique and often flawed characters. We got a greenlight and the movie prepping began. Then, as often happens, them what were just trying to help, forgot what was so great in the first place. I'd be lying if I said there wasn't some 11th hour turmoil. I've seen it happen before. In fact, I've seen it happen on every movie I've ever been on. It's the reason forum after forum complains that today's movies aren't as good as yesterday's. It's the reason so many movies feel thrown together at the last second. And sadly I've never seen a script recover...until now. Patrick Lussier is simply a master of all that is cool. He's the real deal, my friends. He's Charlie Heston surrounded by damn dirty apes. He kicked in the door and announced that he'd come here to kick ass for the Lord. And he did. He told me he'd fix it. He told me he'd make it better, and he did. Not only did he manage to take it back to what was great, he made it better.
OTH: It has been announced that the film will be released to theaters in 3-D. Did you write the script and death scenes knowing this in advance, or was the 3-D decision made long after your script was already completed?
TF: I knew it was 3-D going in, and that was a well hidden secret for a time. There were certain other killers of the slasher genre, like that dirty dog in the Hockey Mask, who we wanted to keep in the 2-D dark as long as possible. And while most of our focus was on story and characters, there was no escaping the ongoing IMs, phone calls and emails that started with, "omg, I just thought of something that will look unbelievable in 3-D."
That said, I gotta ask...have you seen the new 3-D? Today's 3-D? Because we've come a long way since written Friday the 13th 3-D and Jaws 3-D. It's a whole new world out there. My Bloody Valentine 3-D is ALL 3-D, ALL THE TIME. None of that flat, flat, flat, suddenly something flies at you. The whole experience is in 3-D. Like Harry Potter looking into the pensieve. You, as a viewer, are completely immersed in it. It's hard to explain. You sort of just have to experience it because Hi-Def 3-D is simply mind-blowing. You are going to love it.
OTH: Though fans adore it, the original My Bloody Valentine never really lived up to its name, thanks to the MPAA. You came up with some pretty great death scenes in Jason X, so how does this remake fare in that department? Will fans truly get a 'bloody' Valentine this time around?
TF: We always knew we'd be R. Hard R. There was never any escaping it, nor did we want to. And as for kills, Jason X is an episode of "Blue's Clues" compared My Bloody Valentine 3-D. You and I discussed this way back when. With the exception of the face freeze and the screw, Jason X was actually pretty tame. My Bloody Valentine's rabid. And hungry. And pissed off. I wish I could take all the credit but I can't. There were already some brilliant deaths when I came on board. And Patrick, as nice as he is, would often IM and start spelling out a death in his head that more often than not resulted in my throwing up in my mouth a little bit. That's actually a good sign. And, of course, I might have come up with one or two little jewels myself.
OTH: If I were to name the two most common words that fans seem to use when describing why they love the original My Bloody Valentine, I would say "creepy" and "atmospheric". In regard to the characters and tone of the film, did you aim to go more for scares, sheer brutality, or camp?
TF: There's no camp. There's some real humor that comes out of real situations but no camp. It's still creepy and still atmospheric. These are real people facing real scares and real brutality. And when I say "real" I mean quirky and flawed and loving and pissed off and brilliant. And much of that brilliance is due to the actors. Jensen Ackles is a force of nature, always surprising you with his choices. Patrick calls him a young Steve McQueen. Kerr Smith brings a depth and intellect that I'm not used to seeing in his generation of actors. The movie is better with him in the role. Jaime King is beautiful with a smile that melts and breaks your heart at the same time. This was an emotionally and physically demanding role which she nailed. Betsy, Edi, Kevin, Tom, Megan...all in all it's humbling to have a cast like this giving performances like they've given.
OTH: For pretty obvious reasons, the original has been called "the most Canadian movie ever made". Will the remake share this Canadian flavor or is it more American in nature?
TF: Did I mention that Patrick was Canadian CIA? Canadian CIA who is currently visiting DC, so it could well be a toss up at this point. Once I see a cut, I'll let you know where we stand.
OTH: Can we look forward to another Todd Farmer bit part or cameo appearance in My Bloody Valentine? I mean, how awesome would it be to be able to say that you've been killed on-screen by both Jason Voorhees AND Harry Warden?
TF: There's a chance...oh alright, yes. I'm in the movie. In a very powerful scene, shortly after cutting his hand off, I proclaim to Jensen's character that I am his father.
OTH: Sub-genres of horror often come and go as frequently as clothing fads and hair styles. The current "torture porn" craze is pretty much on its last legs, yet, the slasher movie has maintained consistent, multiple comebacks over the decades. What do you think it is about this formula that keeps audiences and fans coming back for more, and how challenging was it to write a movie like this, knowing that there are literally hundreds of similar films out there with similar stalk-and-slash scares?
TF: I think there are basic genre structures that will always survive the times. It's the reason “Law and Order” will likely outlive all of us. And Slasher is a basic genre structure. If you break it down, slasher lives at the heart of some of our favorite scary movies. Silence of the Lambs is a slasher. You can call it a thriller all day long but you are just fooling yourself. Watch it again. It's got the gore. It's got the female lead. It's got the stalking. Slasher. The bells and whistles and wrapping paper will always come and go and change but the core will always remain solid.
And here's a little trick. When it's fun, it is never challenging. The first draft I wrote of Jason X was fun. The first draft of The Messengers was fun. My draft of My Bloody Valentine was fun. Zane had already created some brilliant moments. And Patrick's vision was very clear. Our time spent chained to iChat paid off. It just all came together. It's like magic when it happens. No. It is magic when it happens.
OTH: Do you have any new projects coming up that should be on every horror fan's radar?
TF: Patrick and I have another movie to work on after My Bloody Valentine. We don't know what it is yet. We haven't been hired to do it yet, but it will happen. I'm currently writing Monkey's Paw for RKO Pictures. It's the most disturbing script I've ever written partly due to the executive I'm working with. It's no secret that I consider most executives to be little more than company tax deductions but Kevin Cornish may well be one of the young guns with the brains to save Hollywood from its own destruction.
Let's see, what else? Tim Bradstreet and I are writing Devil's Commandos for Thomas Jane to star and direct. Messengers II wrapped last month. Great gig. Was a pleasure from start to finish. And if you think Sam Raimi is cool, yer wrong. He's coolest.
I keep hearing rumors that Clock Tower is about to start shooting but I'm the first of four writers on that one so I doubt there's much of me left in it. I'm also writing two animated series based on video games. One for Spike and one for the Sci-fi Channel. Pretty fun actually. Actors, producers, execs, they all get to dabble in different genres. Writers and directors tend to get stuck in just one. Don't get me wrong, I adore horror. Always will. But it’s nice to write something different for a change.
OTH: Thank you very much for your time, Todd. Best of luck to you on My Bloody Valentine 3-D and all your future projects.
TF: My pleasure, guys.
My Bloody Valentine 3-D is scheduled for release on January 23, 2009. (1) Ratings: