Ahead of the World premiere screening of REBORN at Arrow Video FrightFest Halloween, Julian Richards discusses the torturerous challenges of DADDY’S GIRL, why he wishes every actress was like Barbara Crampton and future plans, including directing the English language remake of RABIES.
Q: After six years away from directing, you have two films, REBORN and DADDY’S GIRL poised for distribution. Why these two very different films now?
My previous film SHIVER was completed in 2012 and it took longer for me to get back into the directing saddle because of commitments I had to my sales company Jinga Films. The company was growing quickly and needed more of my time and energy. We had grown from handling three films a year to handling ten films a year and our titles were getting stronger. At the same time my wife and I decided to have a family and in 2016 we became parents to twins. I think we both underestimated how demanding parenthood would be, and understandably, I lost momentum with the directing projects that i was developing.
But I had no intention of giving up on directing and was always on the lookout for new opportunities. The first, DADDY’S GIRL came from an unexpected source; an Indian broadcaster Zee Studios, based in Dubai who approached me to help them put together a slate of three horror films that they planned to shoot in Eastern Europe. I sent them three scripts from which they chose DADDY’S GIRL for me to direct and OPEN 24 HOURS for Padraig Reynolds to direct. My sales company Jinga Films represents two of Padraig’s earlier films RITES OF SPRING and WORRY DOLLS, so I was happy to share this opportunity with him.
The next opportunity came during Cannes when I was asked by John Penney and Brian Yuzna to recommend directors for REBORN, a feature they were planning to produce in Los Angeles. I recommended myself, gave feedback on the screenplay and was quickly hired for the project. Of course, the idea of directing two feature films in 12 months whilst raising twins was daunting, but I had lost time to make up for, and with the support of my wife, Rosana, I (we) somehow managed to do it.
Q: DADDY’S GIRL is a contentious, challenging film, to say the least. Did you have reservations about the storyline, given the way the film industry is shifting morally and sexually?
The screenplay for DADDY’S GIRL that went into production is different from the original screenplay. The original had a Haute Tension-esque twist whereby several characters in the story turn out to be the same character, the protagonist, with many events taking place inside her mind. It was this deeply psychological context that attracted me to the script, but the producers didn’t like it and so it was removed. Without this twist, and with the torture scenes actually happening rather than being the machinations of a deranged mind, the project was in danger of becoming just another torture porn film, and being a sales agent as well as a director, I was acutely aware of the problems this might cause, particularly post #metoo. So, I introduced a new theme to the story, making both the killer and the cop Iraq war veterans and linking the torture to Abu Ghraib, turning the film into a metaphor for the anxieties of post Iraq war America. When I directed the torture scenes, I panned away or cut away from anything too extreme or degrading, focusing instead on the protagonist as she watches. Re-action is stronger than action, and horror is more effective when left to the imagination. The producers did question my direction, they wanted less clothes and more torture, but I did not want to make an exploitation film and personally I felt uncomfortable taking the material in this direction. Ultimately DADDY’S GIRL is not a film about a bad guy torturing women, it is a film about a captive women staving off the desire to commit suicide and choosing to survive instead.
Q: Jemma Dallender puts in a brave, compelling performance. What she your first choice for the role?
Actually, we first cast Jemma as the vigilante, but when two of the actresses cast to play Zoe pulled out we had to re-shuffle our cast and offered Jemma the lead. She jumped at the opportunity because she had never played a character like that before.
Q: You extract an equally commanding performance from Barbara Crampton in REBORN. What was it like working with such a genre legend?
When I read the script for REBORN, Barbara was the first actress I thought about for the part of Lena, so I was really pleased when she agreed to board the project. Actually another actress was already attached to the project but had to leave just before we started shooting, so when Barbara arrived she only had a couple of days to prepare. It was a fraught start to the production but she was like the cavalry coming to the rescue.
Barbara gives commanding performances in all her films, so all a director has to do is cast her and provide her with a good script with good dialogue. Occasionally I would step in and ask for a little less or a little more, but generally speaking, you just roll the camera on Barbara and often you get what you need in one or two takes. Working with Barbara is therefore a director’s dream. She comes fully prepared and is willing to go above the call of duty to get the best result for the film. I wish every actress were like Barbara...
Q: Even though REBORN is a violent supernatural thriller, at heart it’s a moving story of a young woman’s search and reunion with her birth mother. How did you find balancing the emotional narrative with the brutal tone of its visual effects?
It was the mother, daughter reunion aspect of the story that attracted me to REBORN. The script had a strong, dramatic, emotional through-line which reminded me of Frankenstein. Most horror scripts don’t have such a strong dramatic ingredient, so I knew that this was something special. However, the script was lacking in strong horror beats, so I did a directors pass, ramping up the kill scenes in which Tess uses her electro-kinetic power. The Omen franchise became an influence here, dramatic family scenes intercut with inventive murder set pieces. Of course, Carrie was also an influence, as was The Fury and Scanners. The film has a strong sense of nostalgia for the genre, so I introduced a meta-horror ending to give it a contemporary twist.
Q: Juggling a career as a film director with that of running an established sales and distribution company (Jinga) must be a constant challenge. How do you do it? Do both give you equal satisfaction?
I moved into sales after making THE LAST HORROR MOVIE. I put a lot of my own money into that film and needed to make sure that I got it back. I also wanted to learn more about the business side of films and sales seemed to be the most immediate and accessible way to do that. I never intended to switch career, but I did need to do something that would provide me with a more reliable income. Jinga went from strength to strength and by the time we released A SERBIAN FILM in 2012, we had established ourselves as one of the key genre companies in the World. It was, and still is, an incredible learning curve and it compliments my film-making in many ways.
I think the opportunity to direct DADDY’S GIRL and REBORN came because of my experience in sales, so although Jinga initially diverted me away from directing, it ultimately provided opportunities that I might not have got going through the conventional employment channels such as agents and managers.
Q: You made a massive impact with THE LAST HORROR MOVIE and many people are still hankering for a sequel. Is this on the cards?
I did toy with the idea, about doing something with Max on Facebook and Twitter etc., but technology and social habits are evolving so quickly that I was concerned that any script that we came up with would be dated by the time it got made. Also, the market has changed. There is not much of an appetite for found footage, and crime films are less popular than supernatural. If somebody out there has a viable idea and wants to write a sequel to THE LAST HORROR MOVIE, I would certainly consider making it.
Q: When you look at the Jinga library, are there any films you would have liked to have made?
Well, A SERBIAN FILM does spring to mind, but actually no, I don’t think I’m capable of that level of transgression. The three films I would choose are STILL/BORN, OUR EVIL and THE HOUSE AT THE END OF TIME. All have a strong family drama at their core which gives them a greater sense of reality, despite the supernatural events wreaking havoc elsewhere in their stories.
Q: You come from Wales but your last film shot there was the BAFTA Cymru award-winning SUMMER SCARS. Do you plan to return to your homeland to make more movies?
The first opportunity I got to direct a feature came from Wales, when I received lottery finance from Film Agency Wales to make DARKLANDS, which is arguably the first Welsh horror movie and which has been credited as kickstarting a new wave of UK genre production which continues to this day. Film Agency Wales also supported SUMMER SCARS, and without this support I may not have been able to achieve the level of success that I have obtained, so I owe them and Wales a huge debt of gratitude. I would love to make more films in Wales, particularly films that focus on Welsh history, myth and folklore. If any writers out there have a script that I could shoot in Wales, please send it my way and I would be happy to read it.
Q: Finally, what’s next for Julian Richards?
I am in talks with Israeli production company UCM to co-produce and direct the English language re-make of RABIES and I am also developing an action thriller based on the terrorist attack on British holiday makers in Tunisia. I am also involved as a co-producer with the English language re-make of THE HOUSE AT THE END OF TIME which is currently in development at Good Fear.
REBORN has its World Premiere at Arrow Video FrightFest Halloween, Cineworld, Leicester Square on 8 Nov, 10.40am.