Posts Tagged With: Graham Humphreys

Back To The House Of Pain: A Second Look At David Gregory’s LOST SOUL Documentary…

… albeit a very short one.

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BD. Regions A/B/C. Severin. Unrated.

No, the Severin release of Gregory’s Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey Of Richard Stanley’s Island Of Dr Moreau (2014) hasn’t given me cause to reconsider the enthusiastic endorsement I gave it elsewhere on this blog, it’s just that I’ve now had the opportunity to view the bonus features common to both this and the Nucleus releases and thought that, while possibly interested in hearing about them, you might be more likely to read this than go back to the original review in hope of an update.

Plenty of extras here to keep you out of mischief, kicking off with lengthy interview out takes from Richard Stanley and other contributors that give you the chance to second guess Gregory’s edit. Then Stanley talks us through a gallery of Graham Humphrey’s original conceptual art, providing plentiful further hints as to the film that might have been. In the audio featurette Barbara Steele Recalls Moreau, Barbara Steele er, recalls her brief stint on the still-Stanley directed Dr Moreau and sharing fags with a “Rangatang.” In Boar Man Diary manimal extra Neil Young goes all Jackanory on the patio, reading from his on set-diaries. Most interesting revelation? Rob Morrow was acting up “… because he’s a cunt!” (on a set where there was, by all accounts, no shortage of lady parts.) David hunts for Moreau’s compound in Cairns, Australia with the aid of eminent botanists in The hunt For The Compound and, of course, you get a trailer.

There’s an archive interview with John Frankenheimer, in which he claims that H G Wells would have liked his picture better than Erle Kenton’ celebrated 1932 version of Dr Moreau (hmmm…) and, while attempting to pour oil on the troubled waters of his working relationship with Brando and Kilmer, takes time out for a verbal swipe at Stanley. Stanley returns the compliment (and expresses himself freely on the subject of Val Kilmer, too) in the featurette The Beast Of Morbido (a 2014 festival in Puebla, Mexico 2014 where Stan Winston protegé Bruce Spaulding Fuller made the renegade director up as a beast man.) Stanley’s verdict on Marlon Brando is more nuanced… apparently Marlon had been in The Business and suffered its obnoxiousness so long that he developed a rosy-tinted view of the world outside it whereas Stanley insists (before leading the festival attendees in a spirited recitation of The Law) that the world is populated with hyenas and you’re better off living in seclusion on top of The Cathars’ mountain. Amen to that…

There are further Severin editions of this film available, the most covetable of all, I guess, being the Special 3-disc House Of Pain Edition, which also features Die Insel Der Verschollenen (Island of the Lost), a recently discovered 1921 German adaptation of Wells’ classic yarn…  the “H.G. Wells On Film” featurette, featuring expert Sylvia Hardy… Richard Stanley on Wells and a bonus audio CD in which Stanley Reads “The Island Of Dr. Moreau”… maybe I’ll be reviewing that one for you, one of these days.

Am I not a man?

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The House Of Pains In The Arse… LOST SOUL: THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY’S ISLAND OF DR MOREAU (2014) Reviewed

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BD. Region B. Nucleus. 15

“For what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his soul?” Mark 8:36

On 10.11.(18)71, on the shores of  Lake Tanganyika, the Welsh journalist and explorer Henry Morton Stanley locates the missing missionary  David Livingstone, (allegedly) addressing him with the celebrated words: “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” Stanley is almost as well remembered for his efforts to discover the source of the Nile but a discreet veil is often drawn over his collaboration in the “development” of the Congo Basin (i.e. ruthless genocide of countless Congolese) under the auspices of King Leopold II of the Belgians. Stanley becomes a Knight of The British Empire in 1899.

Published in 1896, The Island of Doctor Moreau is H. G. Wells’ dark tale of accelerated evolution, a stark warning about naked science untrammeld by human scruple or social responsibility and uncomfortable pre-echo of what eugenic science would “achieve” in the 1930s.

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In 1899 Wells falls out with his friend Joseph Conrad, believing that Heart Of Darkness, the latter’s novella of imperialist excess, had been ripped off of The Island of Doctor Moreau with ivory trader Kurtz standing in for Moreau. Others have identified Belgian soldier Leon Rom and his brutal modus operandi in The Congo as “inspiration” for the character of Kurtz.

In 1924, Creationist B. H. Shadduck ridicules the idea of human evolution in a tract entitled Jocko-Homo Heavenbound.

Erle C. Kenton’s original (and still greatest) adaptation of Wells’ cautionary tale, Island Of Lost Souls (1932), features chilling performances from Charles Laughton as the Doc and Bela Lugosi as “Sayer of The Law” (not to mention the Panther Woman, Kathleen Burke’s unforgettable incarnation of forbidden allure.)

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In 1938, at the Institute for Hereditary Biology and Racial Hygiene in Frankfurt, Josef Mengele’s genetics research earns him a cum laude doctorate in medicine in 1938. Five years later he is appointed “Chief Physician” to the Romany population of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Dieter Laser’s move from separating conjoined twins to sewing separate people together in The Human Centipede (2009) reflects just one of Mengele’s unwelcome “contributions” to medical science.

In 1977 Don Taylor’s Island Of Dr. Moreau features a predictably solid performance from Burt Lancaster in the Moreau role but is otherwise a reasonably engaging action yarn with little philosophical substance. In the same year, on the flip side of their Mongoloid single on Stiff Records, Devo issue Jocko Homo in support of their “de-evolution” schtick. Lugosi’s most memorable line from Erle Kenton’s film – “Are we not Men?”-  is repeated throughout the track.

Francis Ford Coppola’s overblown Apocalypse Now (1979) filters Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness through the dark lens of the Vietnam War. Kurtz, now a renegade U.S. Colonel, is played by Marlon Brando.
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In 1996, Sir Henry Morton Stanley’s great grandson, up-and-coming horror director Richard Stanley, begins shooting his dream project for New Line, a vision of Dr Moreau intended to more accurately reflect his own take on the Wells novel than was managed in Don Taylor’s version or such schlocky variants as Eddie Romero’s Twilight People (1972) or Marino Girolami’s Zombie Holocaust (1980.) In an example of de-evolution that would gladden the hearts of Devo, Doctor Moreau is to be played… Marlon Brando.

Kenton’s Island Of Lost Souls, which preceded by a short head actual Nazi atrocities more awful than anything he or Wells could ever have imagined, is one of the greatest horror movies ever made, in fact – to paraphrase Brian Clough – it might just possibly be “in The Top One.” How to top that? By putting a visionary but unproven maverick talent (still living down a plagiarism charge relating to his debut feature Hardware) in to bat against monstrously massive star egos, ever changing production demands from a studio in the throes of an identity crisis and, just to make things interesting, extreme (bordering on Biblical) weather?  It was always likely that Richard Stanley’s stint directing The Island Of Dr Moreau wouldn’t end well, but how very badly it ended has become the stuff of legend…

… and now the subject of a fascinating documentary. David Gregory’s Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey Of Richard Stanley’s Island Of Dr Moreau (2014) rehearses the already well-known facts (Stanley was sacked after something like three days, failed to take the plane ride home that New Line booked for him and went native, subsequently turning up on set, mischief in mind, under cover of an extra’s bestial costume) but piles on the detail in compiling its post mortem report of an impossible cinematic hybrid running out of control then expiring via the gonzo surgical slices of movie executives (“Monkey Men all, in business suits.”)

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As with Wells’ source material itself, of course, alternative versions of the truth are possible and it has to be said that Gregory gives most of his screen time over to Stanley himself and those sympathetic to his cause, notably conceptual artist Graham Humphreys, actress Fairuza Balk and fangirl journo Kier-La Janisse… it’s also patently clear that Gregory himself is very much in Stanley’s camp, though he’s careful to present as balanced a picture as possible. The suggestion is acknowledged, for example, that Stanley just wasn’t temperamentally up to handling such a unit and although John Frankenheimer (Stanley’s martinet replacement) and Brando are dead (who could possibly claim to know what the latter really thought, anyway?) and Val Kilmer presumably unapproachable, Gregory doesn’t shy away from presenting hostile witnesses. Of the two New Line execs ultimately responsible for TIODM, Stanley’s champion Mike De Luca is conspicuously and eloquently absent while his opposite number Bob Shaye is given free rein to vent the misgivings he entertained about Stanley from day one. Having interviewed Richard Stanley (though regrettably he failed to greet me with the words “Bob Freudstein, I presume!”) and found him to be every bit as otherworldly as reputed, I’m tickled that Shaye chose to seize, as irrefutable evidence of his irredeemable oddball status, upon the guy’s four sugar coffees … God knows what Shaye would make of the diabetes-inducing brews favoured here at The House Of Freudstein!

After nearly losing his pet project to Roman Polanski on the eve of shooting, Stanley made a personal pitch to Brando, backed up with ritual magick performed by a sympathetic adept. When his magus fell ill, though, Stanley’s felt his grip on the production beginning to wane and the eyes of the hyenas on his hotel wallpaper staring at him… more prosaically, male lead Kilmer was, by all accounts, conducting himself on the set like a complete prick.

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Having granted us story board glimpses of the film that might have been, Gregory details the debacle that ultimately unfolded, depicting a Hollywood location shoot (this one in Cairns, Australia) as something scarcely less hubristic than a mad scientist’s lab or some white supremacist’s twisted imperial wet dream… nobody is killed but more than one career is dealt a mortal blow. Whatever onset mischief Stanley might have surreptitiously wrought to undermine Frankenheimer becomes a moot point in the face of the film’s stars’ antics… Kilmer strutting around like an insufferable self-perceived ubermensch, the Zen-like Brando puncturing the production’s pretensions and, via his promotion of court jester Nelson (Ratman) de La Rosa, inventing Mini-Me into the bargain!

Frankenheimer duly delivered his compromised sack of cinematic goods to the suits, who expressed themselves relieved that it was (by their calculations) going to lose them less money than if Stanley had continued at its helm… and the critics commenced to rave, their brickbats ranging from “train wreck” to “worst film ever made.” Perhaps “Twilight Of The Idols” would have been a more apposite jibe…

Meanwhile Stanley dwells on in splendid, Moreau like isolation atop Mount  Montségur in the Ariège department of southwestern France, where the Cathars (who had their own very definite ideas about the integral status of the human body) took their crackpot, heroic final stand in 1244. It’s possible that Stanley is more comfortable anyway as a cult foot note than he could ever be operating among the bland conformity of low-fat latte Hollywood… who knows, had the dice been loaded differently or the runes cast more assiduously in his favour, he could have become as big a player as that other misfit maverick, Tarantino… could have been a contender (now who said that?) Gregory, who has distributed Stanley’s earlier films, collaborated with him on 2011 portmanteau effort The Theatre Bizarre and seems to have conceived this doc at least partly as a comeback launcher, might well believe that such a move is still potentially on and again… who knows?

The once and future horror Hotshot’s thematic concerns certainly aren’t showing any signs of receding into irrelevance. This year alone, the US National Institute of Health announced that it was considering the funding of “chimera” research projects intended to generate organs from human / animal hybrids and it was recently announced that a human baby has been conceived with genetic material from three parents.

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“The Horror! The Horror!”

Note: The DVD screener I was sent for the purposes of this review comprised only the main feature. When Lost Soul hits the shelves (approximately the same time as I type these words) it will boast a raft of attractive extras, making this winning Nucleus release an even more essential purchase.

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God Of Quad… The GRAHAM HUMPHREYS Interview, Part 2

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“So where’s Part 1?”, you might well be asking. Well, the short answer is that it’s in issue 170 of Dark Side magazine where it coincided with the Halloween 2015 launch of Drawing Blood, the coffee table tome of Graham’s collected works. This second instalment was supposed to follow in DS in short order but, for reasons too boring to go into, it didn’t. Read that in conjunction with this for the full effect and I hope you feel it’s been worth the wait…

Graham as we discussed last time, you’ve worked in so many fields but I think your forte, as amply demonstrated in your new book Drawing Blood (https://www.proudonline.co.uk.), has got to be the quad poster. Is that a fair
comment?

Certainly the earlier stuff and yeah, I do love that format. People sometimes ask me, on a private commission or for a very low budget film, what I think would be the best format to use and if you want to create a link with the classic British film poster, then it has to be a quad. People are really fond of them although they’ve now given way to the American One Sheet format… we’ve lost the quad!

That’s one of the things I was going to ask you about, because I never go to the cinema these days but thinking back to the last few times I did go, all I saw was these American One Sheets…

Quads still get designed but they’re becoming increasingly rare, you’re more likely to see them outside of an Arthouse cinema than anything else. It is largely the One Sheet you see now, which is really just a quad turned on its side.

Which is more to do with getting some Hollywood star across in portrait aspect… it’s not the same effect at all, though, is it?

Quads were always 30 by 40 inches. You can spot I’m a designer because I know that the bottom three inches were traditionally left blank… that’s where the
cinemas would paste over the venue information.

… “for one week only”…

… or the screening times or whatever, so you’d always have those bottom three inches left clear, which made it more like 40″ x 27″ which, if you turn it on its side, is the American One Sheet. The other thing that killed it off, of course, was home video; reformatting stuff from a quad for a video cover always presented problems… translating the imagery for The Evil Dead and A Nightmare On Elm Street, for example, into the dimensions of a video box. You’d have to bloody repaint everything, though what you’d do now of course is use photoshop and recomp the whole thing. I’ve done that a few times and it’s not the best way of working but sometimes in those circumstances, you know… what can you do? When you do that you lose whatever it is that made your original image work in the first place. Unusually, with Elm Street 2, I’d already wised up to this idea for the video cover so the image of Freddy over the bus was really the campaign as far as I was concerned, the quad couldn’t be used on the video cover and I didn’t have to rush out another piece of artwork I wasn’t happy with (though conversely I had to rush out the quad, to the detriment of quality!)

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The Evil Dead quad even contains a reference to the film’s video release, doesn’t it? That’s an even more explicit nod as to how things were going… that moment of transition, caught right there, on the poster…

Yeah, it was the first simultaneous theatrical and video release, I believe. It’s funny, I do remember painting that bit of information on the poster and I hadn’t even thought about a video cover, to be honest. I just thought, why not turn it on its side for the box? I don’t understand why people don’t do that more often. Arrow did it with a couple of releases, possibly a few other companies as well… I mean, we’ve produced some classic quads, so what’s the problem? I can explain… at the time, all these videos were displayed in stores and people would browse through them, they obviously had to have their titles at the top because that’s the you read them, if they were at the bottom people would just miss the wording. Putting together video sleeves was all about how they were going to be displayed on shelves.

Nik Powell and Steve Woolley were breaking rules left, right and centre at Palace… was this just your good fairy waving her wand at the right time, that they were the kind of people who would look at an unproven artist like you, whereas many others wouldn’t have?

Absolutely, it’s always about luck and being in the right place at the right time. Had I not wandered into Palace’s office at that particular moment in the ’80s, then I have no idea where things would be now. I would have continued to drag my folio around, I’m sure I would have found work eventually. I would have found my way into horror one way or the other because that was my goal.

That was the dream of the kid who spent all his time sketching skulls and Daleks in his school books…

Ha ha, my real dream was to do Hammer posters!

Some of those were beautiful…

They were and some of them were awful, when they started cheap-skating…

I remember the She double bill quad was really great… and She coupled with One Million Years B.C.

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Yeah, but they got to a point were they could get these visuals from the films and wouldn’t bother with art work. The later posters were often visuals, not finished illustrations, whereas the earlier ones were fantastic because the illustrators who put them together took such care…

But you’ve done work, e.g. Dust Devil or From Dusk Till Dawn, which mostly consists of photoshopped images from the film… I imagine that’s a lot less satisfying than coming up with an original artwork concept.

A defining chapter in the history of the film poster! The moment when photoshop changed everything and people became beholden to comping images together and how easily and cheaply it could be done. So much cheaper that the splicing of large format transparencies and painstaking retouching with dyes. I believe this is when the process of dumbing down posters truly began. It eliminated the artists and put creativity in the hands of keyboard operators. Illustration has become confusing to people. I remember submitting painted artwork for a low budget film and the sales company got back to me, saying they’d taken it to film markets and people were confused, not sure if it was an animation or not… this kind of visual illiteracy saddens me and I’ll shout about it any chance I get. I mean, you can go back to older posters… the example I always use is the Saul Bass design for Vertigo…  particularly distinctive, or The Man With The Golden Arm – it’s abstract, not at all literal, you can’t look at it and simply know the film… you see the star names on it but on the poster for Man With The Golden Arm, there’s no picture of Frank Sinatra…

… shooting up on the poster.

Exactly… exactly…

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And Vertigo… obviously it’s about a man who suffers this fear of heights but it’s about so much more than that, the whole story is so allegorical…

It is…

… how could you actually portray that literally on a poster?

I guess at that time if you had the name Hitchcock on a poster, it was going to get some recognition anyway, but if you could do that then, how come you can’t do it now? There is no mystery, no tease, just rows of plastic looking clones. Well, if it costs so much to make a film these days they want as many bums on seats as possible and everything is reduced to these lowest common denominators… so much poster art is just about pretty faces these days, nothing else.

Yeah, that was the end of my poster boy career, when they started insisting on pretty faces…

Ha ha, there’s always surgery!

Hm, my Dark Side earnings wouldn’t really stretch to that…

There’s a lot of it about at the moment… if it works for them, why not us?

Well, Kim Novak’s looking a bit odd these days…

I’m sure, yeah.

We’ve already talked about some of your influences. Somebody I used to love from back in the old “video nasties” days was the Italian poster artist Enzo Sciotti. Were you familiar with his stuff or at all influenced by it?

It’s a name I saw recently and it might be that it was mentioned in Tom Hodge’s Video cover art book, but no, I can’t say…

His artwork appeared on all those Fulci quads, he did the original artwork for Phenomena… the amazing quad for Demons and so on…

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Humphreys does Fulci, above and below.

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Then I know the work if not the name! And it is amazing stuff. I recall that Mike Lee at Vipco used to release all these Italian films and some of it used to have this beautiful artwork. I don’t know how they did it because I’m sure they had no money…

… pretty much like the films themselves…

… was it cheap to get work done in Italy?  Maybe that’s that’s just the way it was, maybe people didn’t need to earn as much to live well. At some point in the late ‘80s I was doing illustrations for a book and the art director for that was himself an illustrator. He was working on a major project and doing all this stuff in black and white that was being sent to Italy to be worked on by colourists. He said he couldn’t do it here because literally nobody could afford to do that quality of work. So there must be a pool of incredible talent over there. I’ve got a feeling that some of those guys went through special schools devoted to illustration and certainly way back in the day that was what happened here and in America. There’s a book called Film Freak by my friend Christopher Fowler and he talks about a couple of these guys, he’d been to these studios where they had apprenticeships in illustration… essentially a factory where somebody might just handle certain aspects of an illustration then it will get handed on to another guy, he would do maybe the portraiture, or the hands, or the background …

Just like the Italian masters used to do it in The Renaissance…

Yeah, exactly and that’s a practice which has long since finished over here. It’s kind of a shame, it would have been great to go through an apprenticeship with Vic Fair or Tom Chantrell or any of those other great names in British film poster art…. that’s all gone, unfortunately

Another thing I was wondering about was the influence on your work of funfair art…

Yeah? Where does that come from, do you think?

Well, going back to the famous Evil Dead quad, it’s got this kind of… boldness and luridness that you see on funfair rides.

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It’s interesting that you mention that. When I was at college I had this fascination with fair grounds. I was at college in Salisbury and there’s a large market square right in the middle of town, hemmed in by buildings as opposed to in a muddy field or open carpark, it was a very urban funfair. They had the kind of stuff you can now see at Victorian steam fares as well as the strange 1970s stuff with horrible disco
things going on and there’d always be a ghost train, still very much the old fashioned ones… in later years I began to see ghost trains with images from The Evil Dead and Elm Street, or of Jason or Michael Myers, contemporary attempts to update stuff and I found that quite disappointing because once you got inside you’d find it’s still the same old crap anyway, with heavily soiled skeletons dangling from the ceiling and knotted ropes… I remember going to a fair ground at the end of the pier in Weston Super Mare when I was 8 or 9 with my dad and granddad, that was the first time I ever went on a ghost train, I was petrified but they had the weirdest things in there, I’ve never seen anything quite like it ever again…  like Gunther von Hagens’ plastinated corpses. You know the work?

I have and that guy really gets on my nerves… but that’s beside the point, please go on…

…. it had lots of stuff like that, like shrivelled corpses in cages and they made good use of the UV lights as well, it was weird, not the traditional Dracula / Frankenstein stuff that you might expect. It was like going into hell, it was horrible, it’s really stayed with me. It wasn’t just the colours, it was the weirdness of the whole thing, I suppose… slightly psychedelic and yet somehow like a Victorian freak show. In those days, at the end of the pier they still had a lot of those old penny machines where you could watch somebody being hanged or electrocuted, various unpleasant things … all these execution tableaux in wax…. so that probably stayed with me. The fairground thing has had an influence there, a fascination I had when I was at college and it probably has played out a bit in the work, without me being particularly aware.

Graham, do you always watch the films you’re illustrating or do you ever get pushed for time and say: “Just give me a collection of stills and I’ll knock up a little
montage of the greatest hits…”?

Generally I watch the film – and I think traditionally that was always the way… certainly when I worked on The Evil Dead I was invited to watch it at The Scala in a specially arranged screening and I’d actually attended a Scala preview of Elm Street before I was asked to work on it. I know that some illustrators don’t necessarily watch the film but I feel that I have to because I want to know why certain things are in there. I must admit there were a couple of times when I did DVD covers for Tartan when a film would not be available to watch in any form, but I’d be given a whole bunch of stills and end up using the best images for the most dynamic poses… sometime later when I’d get a copy of the film with my cover, I’d watch it and think: “Hang on, that person’s not even in the film!” So I don’t like to do that, it’s quite dangerous…

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You’re in danger of having a Stuart Maconie moment…

Ha, ha… any image that you use has to have some narrative thread and if it doesn’t, it’s all a bit pointless. If you try to encapsulate a film in one single image then what you’re looking for are the most visually appealing elements, but you’re also trying to indicate what’s going on, there has to be some sort of meaning to it. Having a single portrait isn’t enough, there has to be some kind of element in there that conveys something more than a star portrait.

It was quite a change of pace from what you’re normally doing to the “Pervert’s Guide” movies… how do you “find a cinematic identity” for those? That’s a completely different kettle of cinematic fish, isn’t it? It’s not schlock, it’s real high-brow cinema, cinema analysing cinema…

I imagine somebody at Tartan recommended me to Sophie Fiennes because they had distributed her film Hoover Street Revival, which was about Grace Jones’ brother and his pastoral work in New York. Anyway, Sophie wanted somebody she could trust to put something together, something professional with hopefully a little bit extra as well. So we had a meeting, she talked about her project and watched the DVDs. She did have an idea of how it should look, constructivist, maybe using just text, but the Slavoj Zizek character was such an interesting one anyway, he needed to be in there. I was very keen on this image of him in the boat with the seagulls (a pastiche of The Birds, one of the films examined in the series), but I also thought we could create this little graphic, multiple silhouette of him gesticulating – there’s a lot of movement going on and I thought this image of him with his arms flailing around might add some dynamism.

You’ve done some great stuff for Jodorowsky films and I believe that The Jod himself was particularly delighted with what you did for the UK re-release of El Topo…

Yeah, yeah…

.. and you mentioned earlier that Sam Raimi wrote some nice stuff for your book. Is it the norm that you get this kind of positive feedback, or do you wish that this would happen more often?

It really depends on the circumstances, how accessible that person is and how “hands on” they are in the promotion of their film… the Jodorowsky comment I got directly from him, because he was at the BFI for a screening of El Topo, which Tartan had re-released, so I was introduced to him…”Aaah!… This is my favourite poster for this film!” He approved!

I was hoping you’d met him, I mean, what a larger-than-life character… is he as fascinating a guy as he seems?

He is. But there were other people around so it wasn’t an exclusive audience but I did get to sit next to him and get a tarot card reading! Because his English had some limitations he used an interpreter, which made conversation a little stilted. I really wanted to talk to him about our shared interest in Tibet. He’s produced these wonderful graphic novels in the White Lama series and obviously has a fascination with the region, as far back as El Topo in which you can hear Tibetan sacred chanting… El Topo had been described as “the world’s first Buddhist Western”.

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As for Sam Raimi, I got to meet him when he was over here promoting Evil Dead 2 and he told me how much he’d liked my artwork for the first film and he knew the Palace Pictures poster campaign was instrumental in the film being a UK success. We were like a couple of overexcited fan boys  talking about old horror movies! It was great making contact again recently and getting permission to proceed with reproducing the art in Drawing Blood. He remembered meeting me all those years ago and said that he owned all the rights to The Evil Dead so it would be no problem. You don’t always get feedback and there have been times, way back, when it’s not been so positive. People largely know what they are going to get, hopefully a bit more as well. So feedback tends to be positive because there are no surprises. The only times it’s ever been been fraught are perhaps when there’s been no money and you’ve been working with absolutely nothing at all… misunderstandings can happen. There are always jobs that are going to go wrong, it happens to everybody. You just brush yourself down, go on to the next one and try not to worry about it.

I remember doing an album cover years ago, in fact it was about the same time as I was doing The Evil Dead… it was for The Lords Of The New Church, their first album, a big thing for them (and for me!) I considered myself lucky to be working with them because I’d seen them live, loved their records and the imagery. It was great to meet Stiv Bators, a true genius, and he was very enthusiastic about collaborating on the visuals but he really wanted a homage to Salvador Dali – as great an artist as he might be I was disappointed, because in my head the album sleeve was going to be the greatest Hammer poster ever. There had been a photo shoot with The Lords sitting around a decadent, aristocratic banquet… lit with all these fantastic colours, lurid purples, greens and reds – it looked fantastic, but when Stiv said: “I really want THIS!” and showed me a Dali painting with all these muddy greys, browns and stuff… oh god, there goes my palette… so I did the best that I could under those circumstances and ended up relatively happy with the finished painting. When the NME reviewed the album I remember rushing out to buy it, excitedly, wondering if they’d mention the cover and they mentioned virtually nothing else, talking about how awful it was, “cack surrealism” and so on…

“Don’t blame me… Stiv made me do it!”

It’s funny, I met the guy who wrote that review about three months later, when the NME used some of my art work and he told me “I absolutely love it mate, I’ve always loved your work!”, to which I replied: “Strange, you didn’t always seem to like it that much” and reminded him of the LOTNC album cover. He said: ” Oh… was that you? Well it wasn’t THAT crap, I must have been having a bad day…”

… and taking it out on you. Probably the director you’ve worked closest with has been Richard Stanley.

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That all came about through Palace Pictures. I was always going to the office quite late to do bits and pieces for them and one night I was in this Soho pub with Steve and Nik and they said: “We’ve got this low budget horror film we might be doing with a young, first time director… would you be interested in doing the storyboards?” I said that I’d never done storyboards before but they said that’s fine, they couldn’t afford to pay a professional story board artist anyway! The implication being that if I did the job I’d learn soon enough and they’d save their money. So I met Richard at the office of a company called Wicked Films, who were acting as his agent. They produced ads and music videos, so I guess Richard has already been doing music videos for them as the script for Hardware was A Wicked Film Production (with the financing of Palace Pictures, via Miramax). Wicked had their ideas about what the film was going to be and obviously Richard had his own vision… anyway I met him and was immediately intriguing. He’d literally just come back from Afghanistan, where he’d been shooting a documentary.

He always reminds me of that old TV series, if you remember it, Kung Fu… with the David Carradine character wandering the globe with just this pack on his back…

Ha ha, yeah. I gather that some of the stuff in Hardware was drawn from his own experience and of course what we didn’t realise at the time was that he’d been holed up with the Mujahideen, in their fight against the invading Russians. Well those guys became the Taliban and of course things took a drastic turn after that. We hit it off once he realised that I’d painted the UK art work for Phenomena, or Creepers as it was known over here! That was his favourite poster…

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… it’s one of my favourites, too…

… thank you! Anyway he was very excited that I might get involved and the other favourable thing in his eyes was that I’d already read the script and produced some sketches of how I thought the robot should look. So that was signed and sealed, we started storyboarding probably a week later but the thing was, I was quite busy in the daytime working on other stuff and Richard was doing music videos in the day, working on a rewrite of the script as well and trying to cast people, so the only time we had to storyboard was in the evening. I’d go to the office at about 7 pm and we’d both need something to eat so we’d go to this pizzeria next door to Wicked Films, have dinner and beers then go to the office about 10 o’clock. Then Richard would talk at length, discussing the scenes and we’d get to storyboard for an hour. Then I’d get a night bus home, get up in the morning and do it all over again – for three weeks, so it was a slow process and I didn’t get much sleep. Richard was living in the office at the time – his laundry was all over the place, but also an extensive collection of soundtrack LPs and videos – plenty of fuel!

At what stage did it become apparent that there was going to be a problem with the script’s similarity to a story in 2000 AD comic?

I guess it must have been when the film was in the process of being released, I think somebody at Palace had mentioned it but I was oblivious to the whole thing. The film contained elements from Richard’s film student days in South Africa, he’s well read and he’s a big fan of Moebius, obsessed with Herzog’s films … there are many, many other influences in there and I guess he could have seen that comic at some point and it could all have become part of the mix. I’ve never seen the comic myself so can’t really pass comment…

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It looks pretty close, whether it’s plagiarism or something more subtle than that…

It almost goes back to something I said earlier in that you might find some of the same story even further back in some old science fiction magazines like Fantastic or Amazing Stories and it’s difficult to pinpoint when an idea is completely original or where, maybe, it’s a mixture of different influences… or a common source.

It’s all been settled, anyway…

Yeah, it was settled.

I was going to ask you how you took to storyboarding but I guess the answer is readily discernible from the fact that you storyboarded two more films for Richard…

We found our pace working together, certainly in terms of our mutual interest in horror and other films and I think he knew that I understood the kind of things he was trying to do. He obviously felt comfortable working with me so when Dust Devil was green lit, he wanted me to storyboard and of course that led on to The Island of Dr Moreau. He requested my appointment as story board artist rather than New Line’s regular guy who was obviously a better story board artist than I could ever be, but apparently it didn’t gel creatively with Richard at all. He’d obviously expressed his misgivings, that’s when the producer of Dr Moreau got in touch with me and said: “Look, Richard would like to work with you, are you available to fly out to America?” He said that New Line were happy with the original artist but this was very much about keeping Richard happy. It wasn’t to do with the ability of the other, guy it was to do with personalities and making sure that Richard was content with the process.

So you were actually on the Dr Moreau set?

I went to LA for 3 weeks and we were staying at a little hotel together, just off Sunset Strip, near the New Line office. He was involved in the casting process and getting all these people together, in meetings all day long, but also preparing this one scene with Barbara Steele in a hospital location… I ended up doing some minor pieces of work that were intended to appear in the sequence, cognitive recognition cards that she would hold up to the orang utan but of course, none of that ever made it into the final film. I did go along to meet Richard on location with these cards, freshly painted that morning and I saw Barbara disappearing into a trailer… and I met the orang utan, briefly!

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So that was the only time I was ever actually involved in any kind of filming.  We got to hang out with Fairuza Balk, she was filming The Craft at that time and heavily involved in playing a witch, she’d completely immersed herself in this character, both on and off set. That was quite extraordinary and – I’ve already mentioned the Tibetan thing – she had a Tibetan mantra tattooed on her back – which she showed me. I really liked her a lot, she was great, scary fun but she had a terrible time in Australia when they were shooting.

So you just missed Barbara and you met the orang utan… but were you granted an audience with Marlon?

Not at all, no. At a later point I went to Cairns in Australia and did three weeks there. Again, Richard and I were put up in this luxurious jungle house… it was interesting to just be part of… something that you knew was probably going to fall apart quickly. I’d met the art director and the costume designer Norma who, it turned out, was very good friends with Barbara Steele and I think had introduced Richard to her. Norma was someone I really got on well with, in fact she was the first person to contact me when things started going belly up. I got this letter saying that things were going very badly, they were having a terrible time…  all these concepts Richard had about how the dog men should look had been thrown out the window – the Hawaiian shirts, the loud ties and stuff… she actually sent me me one of the bad taste ties – which I’ve fallen in love with… it’s horrible! When the ties went I knew things were going really wrong!

And of course legend has it that when John Frankenheimer ousted Richard as director, he burned all your storyboards… is that true?

0IOLS.jpgWell, this is what I was told. Richard has since said that he’s got them. The thing is, we would do them and they’d be photocopied so I don’t know whether he destroyed the originals and Richard had photo copies, or what. Certainly Richard had a number of them in the documentary Lost Soul, I don’t know how many he’s got. We never actually finished storyboarding the whole film anyway because there wasn’t enough time. What we did storyboard were all the key scenes, anything involving effects and other key moments … including Brando’s death scene, which of course went out the window and became something else. Anyway, it was a fantastic opportunity for me to go to L.A. and to Cairns, a shame that all these things never came to pass. William Hootkins, whom I’d met when we were were shooting Hardware, also got in touch when he’d come back from Australia, talking about the horrors that went on there, how his character had been sidelined…

That film has become the horror equivalent of one of those unmade Orson Welles projects or something …

Ha ha, yeah.

… legendary stuff. What would the prospects be for somebody like you starting off today, doing art work and hoping to make a living out of it? Presumably the opportunities have been significantly reduced…

I don’t know how to approach this as a subject any more because I have absolutely no idea how this would work now. For me it was a whole different world and a whole different way of being. Obviously there was no internet, I had all my work in a little folio that I could drag around with me and the only way you could see people was to phone them up to arrange a meeting, it was the only way it would ever happen. So I spent a lot of time on the phone, just going through the directory, you know, trying to find out who people where. You could buy a magazine and look through the list of editors and contributors and find the art directors and that’s how you know who to ring and ask for, so it was a very lengthy process. Nowadays you can put art on a disc and send it, e-mail it, send people a link, it’s easy and you can be seen all over the world in a matter of seconds. For myself I’ve found Facebook to be absolutely brilliant and that has certainly been a huge factor in my work over the last couple of years, just getting stuff to the right audience.

Do you see any new talent coming through via these new forums?

Well there’s a lot of illustration work going on out there, all over the place! and I find it really hard to judge now because I don’t know whether it’s going to be used… a lot of it is stuff that people do for themselves and maybe they’ll get a commission out of it. It just doesn’t work like it did when I was setting out. It’s probably more organic now in a lot of ways but the difficulty is in actually making a living out of it. I have an agent who represents me and I used to get about half of my work through him… now it’s less, I get my work largely through contacts and knowing people, friends of friends, that kind of thing… but my agent will not take on an illustrator unless they have a guaranteed income already in place, he cannot guarantee anyone a living through illustration anymore. 10 years ago that would be different, 20 years ago you’d go to an agency and if they thought they could sell your work, they’d take you on and you’d earn a living through that agency. That doesn’t happen now. I think people are either working from home, or their parents’ home, or they have a partner who can support them… maybe they’re independently wealthy…

Or maybe they’re hacking it at the day job then coming home and getting the brushes out…

There is that but when you’re working to a tight brief, to a tight deadline, it’s difficult to do that and another job. For myself, I know that the pay for this work is basically the same as it was 20 years ago, so in real terms that’s gone right down…

… a situation that’s all too familiar to me…

It’s a shame because there is a lot of talent out there…. I say that people aren’t visually literate anymore and in terms of film campaigns, that seems to be the case. Certainly in terms of the executives and the people commissioning the work, that seems to be the case but there are other outlets now that weren’t around back in the day so everything’s changed. You have the internet if you know how to use it and there are people like Mondo. There are means and outlets now but DVD and Blu-ray covers… that work’s not going to be around for ever.

That’s really on the way out, isn’t it?

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It’s the same with book covers, I used to do a lot of those but not anymore. More prevalent are the private commissions, that’s ultimately where it’s going to be because there are people of my age who have grown up through the VHS period and like the same things, that have now the income to commission or simply buy prints. That’s the way it’s going but at the same time, you’ll always get young film makers who can look back and get the nuts and bolts of painted imagery, understand that there is so much more to a poster than just using photographs, so who knows?

It does mean that if anyone comes to me for advice I’ll always, always take the time to help out because I think it’s very important to pass stuff on. I don’t want people to make the mistakes I’ve made in the past and if at the same time I can help anybody in the way they approach their work, I’ll always do that. I’ve visited colleges and delivered talks on story boarding and illustration – anything like that
which I’m asked to do, I always will, because it’s very important that people get this information first hand.

This is partly the point of ‘Drawing Blood’, it’s not an ego trip, it’s all about examining a short history of illustration work from a certain point in time that has actually survived. I want it to inspire other people to paint, to think: “I could do that!” … because that’s where I began, looking at poster art and thinking: “I want to do that… Yeah, I COULD do that.”

Thanks a lot for your time, Graham and I’m sure the book will do very well for you.

Thanks… you’re very welcome.

https://www.proudonline.co.uk
http://www.grahamhumphreys.com

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