Director Corin Hardy is in a pretty good place right now. His Irish monster movie, The Hallow, is hitting cinemas across the UK this week, and it’s also just been announced that his reboot of The Crow, which looked like it might be cancelled after the studio filed for bankruptcy a couple of months ago, is back on track again. No better time, then, to sit down for a long chat about films and fairytales…
I saw The Hallow a few months ago and loved it – it’s really scary, and it’s got brilliant monsters. Tell me a bit about how you came up with the mythology?
Well, my mission was to try and create a new or a fresh spin on a monster for a horror movie. I looked at fairytales and fairytale mythology, and tried to bring that into reality. I didn’t want to do Gothic fairy movie, although I’m a big fan of them. But I thought that we hadn’t really seen a reality-based, intense survival movie with fairies in. If you read fairy mythology – and I’d gone into a lot of Irish mythology – they’re really kind of devious, misch — no, not even mischievous, terrifying creatures that will wreck human lives and families by stealing our children or our wives or our husbands. So I was looking at ways I could translate ideas and mythology in more of a visceral, visual way for a film.
So you started with the monster.
Yeah, I was thinking, ‘well, what would a fairy look like?’ because that would be the first question when I was having meetings with producers, ‘what does the creature look like?’
So this [pointing to a book of concept art and production stills on the table in front of him] is a book of doodles and ideas for set pieces and storyboards, and I singled out certain ones. Like, I’d love to replicate a banshee somehow, but to work out why it might’ve become a banshee, and to have changelings, a couple having their child taken and replaced and not knowing if it was theirs or not. That, as a core idea, drove the narrative. The scriptwriting was a case of balancing the mythology into a grounded reality. So some of my ideas didn’t make it in. [pointing out one specific sketch] This was an idea for a banshee that was growing into the bottom of the forest, but some stuff we just couldn’t afford.
How much of the creature effects were done practically? Looking at these pictures, it seems like quite a lot…
Well, first of all, it was a case of saying, ‘let’s try and do everything as real as we can get away with’, from the locations to the choice of actors to the cinematography. I want it to feel real so you can look at it and think “yeah, that is a real forest”, it’s not green screened. So we’d tried to do the creatures as practically as we could.
Because fairies have a humanoid quality, I thought we’d try and work out ways of off-setting the human. I’d spent quite a while casting five different performers to play [the Hallows], with different attributes like contortionism, mountain climbing, parkour; one of them was an animal movement specialist. And then we tried out different ways of off-setting the form, with faces built on top of their heads and extensions added to their limbs.
So it was based on practical effects, and that’s something I always loved as a kid. I wanted to be a monster maker. I was inspired by Rick Baker, Rob Bottin, Dick Smith, and Stan Winston, but now we’ve got the amazing ability to use visual effects and CGI to augment what’s there. It wasn’t a case of going ‘alright, we’ll do the creatures in CGI afterwards’; that would’ve been a massive mistake, I think. I would always have been fearful that we couldn’t achieve what pulls you in and makes you feel like something’s actually real. It’s a case of mixing techniques up: there’s prosthetics, animatronics, puppetry, visual effects, limited CGI, and a lot of makeup effects.
I was going to ask how you get your actors to seem genuinely terrified, but part of the answer might be having some of these creatures actually there on the set.
It is, it definitely helps having stuff there, as much as it helps being in a real forest at night or going into a real lake at four in the morning in Ireland to get an authentic performance. But then it’s down to them performing and finding their own ways to be scared of things that aren’t necessarily in front of them. As much as these things were creepy, and it helped having them lurking down in the forest, they still have to do their job as actors and find their own fear.
That’s where you tap into that emotional core that you’re talking about, the idea of having your child taken, which, if you’re a parent, is probably the most terrifying thing you can imagine.
So the film is now showing at cinemas around the country, and it showed at FrightFest, didn’t it?
Yeah. FrightFest, and I’ve just come off a tour of Europe, I’ve been to Portugal, Vienna, Strasboug, then Korea, LA, New York… all over the place. It’s been good to see the audience’s reactions.
Are they just terrified?
It’s just been a real nice balance. You get this energy with a horror movie, don’t you? People settle in and then they’re on for the ride, or if you balls it up, they’re not, but luckily they have been. I’m part of that audience, so I was hoping that I’d get people going!
A lot of my friends say they don’t like going to cinemas any more because they don’t like having other people making noise around them, but for me, that’s part of the point. Especially with horror movies, having other people around you reacting is what makes it fun.
Yeah, I think it’s really sad. I mean, all these great advances in our technology that are separating us to sit in our rooms on our own, it’s crazy. To me, the cinema is still a special trip. When we were kids and we were taken to the cinema it was a special outing and I still see it like that, like ‘wow, cool, I can go to the cinema this week.’
What were the films that kickstarted your love of movies, then?
First of all, I’m pretty sure it was when I saw King Kong when I was 6, at my grandmother’s house. I got put to bed and I remember turning the TV on and not knowing what it was. You just never knew what films were back then. And it was this giant monster in a jungle and I was terrified – but glued to it, and then moved to tears by the end of it. That was followed by Ray Harryhausen monster movies. There’s something about seeing a live action movie with a creature that’s rendered in such a way.
And then films like Alien, and The Thing, and The Exorcist, and Evil Dead 2 and all of these great films like The Fly, Nightmare On Elm Street, Halloween. Generally the 70s and 80s horror movies, there’s a golden block of them, and now you still get some coming through…
But specifically, what they have in common is they’re pre-CGI. There’s a lot more of them, too, I mean, American Werewolf In London as well.
That’s probably my favourite film of all time.
Yeah, mine too. That transformation sequence has never been bettered. And it’s in broad daylight, in a room! I was in Sitges and I was lucky enough to meet Rick Baker briefly, and I told him about The Hallow and its practical effects, and he shook my hand.
Back to The Hallow, then – you shot in Ireland, and in real locations. What was the biggest challenge in all that?
It was really difficult but I loved it all. Because it was real, you felt much more excited to go out in the rain in a Land Rover with a bunch of lights and people dressed up in rubber suits crawling around the forest at night, than being in a studio with a green screen. So it was tough: the weather, the night shoots, we had real babies, we had animatronic babies, my own baby that was born two weeks before the shoot, and then dogs…
Way to make life difficult for yourself.
Yeah, but ultimately you want to make a film that taps into people’s primal core and if they sniff out something that feels like a CGI world then immediately… well, I don’t feel affected by that, so I was like, let’s try and do everything for real and then tweak stuff if we have to.
You thanked Kevin Lehane in the credits. I loved Grabbers, so I was curious – what was his involvement?
Kevin’s a very talented writer, and we geek out about horror a lot. He was at an early screening of the film, and he gave us some good advice. One of the things I wanted to include was a quote from the Book of Invasions at the beginning which I asked Kevin to help write.
Obviously you are a horror fan, how do you feel about the genre at the moment?
I think this is one of the best years in a long time. I don’t know whether it’s just that I’ve been touring festivals so I’m aware of what’s coming, but since The Babadook and It Follows, there’s been a whole bunch that I’ve been pleased to be touring with.
I’m a big fan of Deathgasm, which is a great New Zealand heavy metal horror movie, lots of practical effects and it’s a good horror comedy as well. Green Room, which is a survival movie; Baskin; I’ve got a whole list!
Horror’s in a good place. And personally I’m finding myself more interested in – partly harking to classic movies, in the sense of, with The Hallow I wasn’t trying to change the horror game, I wanted to do a classic tale that was a bit timeless – but also trying to bring a fresh approach to it. And also to get away from what I’m not a fan of, which is found footage and those low resolution kind of horror movies. I mean, horror moves in fads, and I’m a big fan of The Exorcist but now I feel like I’ve seen enough ghost girl possessions. I’m always looking for something fresh, and I also love seeing things on a big scale and creatures. I’m a big fan of what Guillermo Del Toro does and how he creates sincere, beautifully made genre movies with a lot of research and mythology. There’s no-one doing what he does.
I love that he doesn’t do irony, it’s always completely sincere.
Yeah, there’s definitely a place for that. I’m more into that heartfelt kind of horror.
Horror has this stigma of being cheap and it makes money, but that’s never been my way in. That was one of the challenges with The Hallow, doing it practically on the budget we had and the time we had to do it in. These days, getting people to invest money in a film, in pre-production – I thought it’d be quite easy, it’s a couple in a house with a baby and a dog and some creatures. But actually then there’s all these exterior night shoots and these creatures that we’re trying to render in a real way.
So… [I point at some photos on the table, where Hardy is dressed as Eric Draven] shall we talk about The Crow?
This was when I was 17, 18. I was obsessed with The Crow, and I have been ever since. The Crow graphic novel and the film all came out at a time when I was at art school and I was in my late teens and it was the superhero that really appealed to me. I grew up on Spider-man and the Hulk, but the Crow was the one I connected most with. So it’s a dream come true to be making it.
Where are you with it now?
Well, we were deep in pre-production up until mid-June, I had full sets being built and a whole production coming together, and we’re just restarting that.
I appreciate you probably can’t say too much, but – are you going back to the graphic novel? How are you approaching it?
Yeah, I mean, I probably wouldn’t get involved if it was about remaking the movie. I don’t like the idea of remaking movies. There are certain movies you can remake because they were a great idea but not done to a high standard, but I think The Crow is a really special movie.
But the graphic novel is an iconic piece of work by James O’Barr, and that was as inspiring as the movie they made. So I’ve gone back to that and found a lot more depth and details. My version is authentically replicating that.
Can you tell me anything specific, maybe something that wasn’t in the other film that you want to bring out in yours?
Let me show you… [opens his sketchbook to some concept art] I can’t tell you what I’m going to do, but this is part of it. [flicks through pages] The minute I got involved, I started drawing, and obviously it’s a great challenge. I didn’t set out to do sequels or remakes but this is a very special project, so I want to make something as deep and dark and romantic and violent as you’d want from a Crow movie.
Finally, then, we ask everybody this, but – what’s your favourite Jason Statham movie?
Whoa, that’s a curveball. My favourite Jason Statham movie is… the one that he’s going to make where he’s in a horror movie. Maybe he can become some kind of a monster? I’m trying to think what I’ve seen! Probably it’d have to be Crank.
Crank is great! You can go with Crank. But what kind of monster do you think Jason Statham should be?
He’d be a monster that kicks people’s arse in a gravelly voice.
Corin Hardy, thank you very much!
The Hallow opens in select UK cinemas on 13 November.
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