As one of the big draws of Frightfest 2014, The Last Showing offered several elements that were impossible to resist as a horror fan. Staged in an empty cinema with the legendary Robert Englund channelling a mixture of Tobin Bell (Saw) and Robin Williams (One Hour Photo) as a disgruntled projectionist, The Last Showing played its cards with calculated finesse, elevating itself above the host of other straight to DVD horrors continuously crawling out of the woodwork.
While the hype was undoubtedly down to ‘Freddy’ starring as a lead role again, the films success can be equally attributed to award winning commercials and music video director Phil Hawkins, with a script and pragmatic skill that helped realise the budgets fullest potential, while offering genre deconstruction and moments of real ‘horror’ for good measure. Catching up with the writer / director at the The Last Showing premiere at Frightfest 2014, Flickfeast spoke to the energetic chap about meta – horror, shooting in a Vue Cinema and working with the iconic character actor Robert Englund.
Flickfeast:Apart from perhaps Demons (1985), It has been a while since we have seen horror set pieces staged in a cinema. Was the rogue projectionist / cinema plot always your starting point and how did your ideas develop from concept to realisation.
Phil Hawkins: The idea of setting a scary movie inside a cinema was the starting point but originally Robert Englund’s character wasn’t a projectionist. He was actually a cinema manager but after a few drafts it really wasn’t working. I ended up chatting with a few projectionists during the writing process and suddenly everything clicked into place. It was a great opportunity to not only set a scary movie in a familiar place but also allowed us to comment on changes to the film industry and horror genre through the eyes of someone who has projected them and worked in a cinema all of his life.
FF: It’s great to see Robert Englund in a lead role again too. How did you attract him to the project and how was the experience working with him to build his character Stuart.
PH:It was about the script for him. I thought it would be brilliant to have Robert play the projectionist – he was perfect for it. A horror legend commenting on the genre in the film? It’s hopefully great fun for the audience. It gives an extra dimension to that character that nobody else could bring. But, as we were a low budget British film, I never thought we’d be able to get him. We decided just to send it anyway and see what happened. Apparently his agent called him in the middle of the night and said he had to read it. Before I knew it I was on the phone to the guy that scared the crap out of me as a kid talking about how much he loved the script and the character… It was a real honour.
FF:The meta – horror elements I also expect will be very appealing in a context of the popular You’re Next (2011) and Cabin in the Woods (2012). How did this genre commentary factor into the script from your choice of the movie the characters initially see (Hills Have Eyes 2) to other parodied tropes and clichés.
PH: I loved Cabin in the Woods. It actually came out just before we were about to make The Last Showing and I was petrified watching the film thinking I’d have to rewrite! Thankfully they’re very different but cousins of the meta-horror sub-genre. I actually started out writing a very standard slasher set in a cinema… It’s a rite of passage for a director to make a horror so I thought this would be it. However, I hated it. It was dull and formulaic but probably the kind of movie that would have been made! It got me thinking about the genre and how it’s changed. Then I started a page one rewrite about someone trying to make a horror movie… It allowed me to shine a light on the genre and hopefully twist those audience expectations of the genre. The film ends up being more of a psychological horror but I guess that’s what personally scares me more than gore and blood. Featuring The Hills Have Eyes 2 was also an important script and tone element. It was important to “movie horror” in contrast to the “real” horror that’s about to happen to them. It’s a pretty shockingly bad film but was perfect to show those horror cliches – the body in the closet, the women going up the stairs etc – almost as a prelude to the way, I hope, The Last Showing uses those beats.
FF: Despite being low budget the film has a very slick cinematic style. What was your approach production wise in elevating your movie to compete with other well financed flicks.
PH: Thank you! I’m glad you noticed the style. It was very important to us to shoot a British low budget movie that didn’t look like a typical British low budget movie! I’m bored of seeing movies that are handheld, rough and have no visual or cinematic style. There isn’t a handheld shot in our movie! About 90% was shot from a crane. I really wanted to shoot the film like a mini studio movie and give the audience a cinematic experience. Maybe it comes from my commercials background and my love of Spielberg but every single shot was thought out beforehand to best inform either the character, story or to influence the way in which I wanted the audience to feel. It was tough to pull off on our schedule and budget but my DoP Ed Moore and producer Alex Baranska really felt strongly too so we really pushed to make it work.
FF: In the films trailer Englund’s character states: ‘In my day horror is about what people didn’t see that was scary’. What are your opinions on the modern ‘horror’ genre … Are you a purist like Stuart? Are there any directions you wish to take it in future projects?
PH: I am actually… although don’t get me wrong, there’s been some brilliant horror in recent memory. The Orphanage, for example, was a brilliant film. I think it’s because I find psychological horror scarier than the slasher. My favourites are classics like Rosemary’s Baby and Carrie. Although I thought the first Saw was brilliant, I find torture porn movies (like Stuart says in the film) a little sick instead of scary. I love movies that mess with your mind.
FF: The Last Showing is also having its world premiere at Frightfest. What do you hope Frightfest audiences will take away from the film?
PH: It depends if people like The Last Showing! I run a production company with the producer of the film Alex Baranska. We have a brilliant, fun more conventional horror set at a wedding on our slate. I’m not sure I’ll have the time to direct that one but it’s something we’ll definitely look to produce. We also have a supernatural period horror close to being financed too. So, as a company, we definitely look out for horror that we hope audiences will enjoy but personally I think I’m more about the thriller. I’m directing an American project next and we have a great action thriller called BAPTISM based on a novel and set on the London Underground. That’s looking like a late summer 2015 shoot.
The Last Showing is available now on Blu-ray, DVD and digital