Exclusive “PATRICK: EVIL AWAKENS” Set Visit, Part Two: The Veterans
Mark Hartley’s PATRICK: EVIL AWAKENS, in theaters and on VOD today from Phase 4 Films (see first part of this set report here), is a de facto reunion of sorts for several people who worked on the first one, including costume designer Aphrodite Kondos and of course producer Antony I. Ginnane, who must be credited as the driving force behind the whole project.
Ringing in a full generational change, however, Fango literally bumps into Summer De Roche—the filmmaking daughter of original PATRICK scripter Everett De Roche—as she’s shooting the reboot’s making-of documentary. Throw in Australian screen legend Grant Page, now in his 51st year of stuntwork, and you’d be hard-pressed to find any other Aussie production with such a specific wealth of experience. But it’s veteran British actor Charles Dance whom Fango first speaks to on the set.
Dance has racked up a series of genre credits that should make him familiar to Fangorians and all other sorts of film enthusiasts. His more prominent roles include turns in ALIEN 3, LAST ACTION HERO and UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING, and he’s appeared in GAME OF THRONES, done shorts and lent his voice to this year’s video game THE WITCHER 3: THE WILD HUNT. He describes himself as “a working slut,” but has no prior knowledge of the original PATRICK—a situation he intends to maintain. “It would serve no purpose,” says the actor, whose own take on the ruthless Dr. Roget, owner of the clinic housing the comatose, telekinetic Patrick, seems rock-solid. “He’s misguided and driven by his quest for scientific glory, but not as clever as he thinks he is. He believes in the whole process of electroconvulsive therapy, and doesn’t believe in this telekinesis. He believes that the waking up of dormant neurons will let the brain repair itself.
“Running out of money is something else that drives him,” Dance continues. “He’s got to come up with something pretty special; otherwise, there isn’t going to be any more funding for his clinic. It’s all pretty much in the script, which impressed me. If it poses questions, I try to get answers to those questions, but it’s pretty clear who this guy is. I don’t need to know what school he went to or what his relationship with his mother was like. None of that is important at all.”
Indeed, Dance welcomes the presence of scripter Justin King on set, while acknowledging that it’s rare to have the writer around while filming. “One reason is that a lot of the time, writers are not treated with the respect they should be given. But there’s a great collaborative feel on this film, which is as it should be. Film is a collaborative art, when it rises to the heights of art. And that comes down from Mark [Hartley]; he creates an environment where people are encouraged to contribute. He knows exactly what he wants, but he’s amenable, and so is Justin. And that’s great, because we’re all trying to put something on the screen.”
Dance claims to be a serious fan of horror movies as long as they’re genuinely frightening, a category he has no problem placing PATRICK in. “Mark is a very clever guy. I’ve seen a little bit of an assemblage he did, and it puts the hairs on the back of your neck up. The set has a great Gothic atmosphere, and that helps get me in the mood for Dr. Roget.“
While Dance observes that Patrick spits in his presence, following the original film’s lead, he won’t go any further in describing Roget’s relationship with his dangerous patient, other than to say that frogs are involved. “Every film presents some kind of challenge. It’s a grave mistake to get blasé and complacent about this strange job we do. Whether we’re doing Chekov or something of this nature, we have to make it as believable as possible. Horror is a serious business, so you have to take it seriously. It’s not a challenge like going down a coal mine for 12 hours a day, or doing brain surgery; we’re pretending, but we hope we pretend with a degree of credibility.”
While Page notes that the original PATRICK, which he worked on, was rather short of stunts, he says of the new film, “Patrick gets quite casual with gravity. The interesting thing about this movie is that it has gone completely into the modern age. Where the old PATRICK was all about making things happen to people, making them do silly things, now it’s all about electronics. It’s all on the mobile phone, it’s all on the computer, and in a way, that makes it more believable. It’s quite scary, because when you look at these situations, you think, “Ooh, maybe that could happen.” The old one was definitely a fantasy, but now it’s got a touch of reality to it.”
Page also points out that the atmospheric set has had a great impact on the overall production, “because when you look at a film, part of the feeling you get out of it comes from the visuals, and when they are as complete as they are here, it pushes the performances to another level.”
As for where the new PATRICK might push the envelope regarding cutting-edge stuntwork, Page observes, “In a sense, there’s nothing new—there’s just re-adapting all the old ideas in a different way, to come up with a new mixes to make the cake. I don’t know that there could be anything totally innovative because, particularly in action, you’re just working with people and objects.
“What I do find now,” he continues, “is that the new stuntpeople tend to come from a physics teaching background, so they’re quite able to understand and give you what you want, whereas in the modern major films, they’ve created machinery to do the same thing. I always find that machinery can fail, machinery can break down; hands on ropes, eyes watching, a feeling for what they want, will always come out better. There’s one computer you can’t beat, and it’s sitting behind your eyes.”
Costumer Kondos draws her own comparisons between this PATRICK and its predecessor, in which the hospital setting was much more antiseptic. “I think that was partly because Richard Franklin, the original director, had a real passion for Hitchcock and for that sort of suspense thriller. He was the kind of director who really focused on the drama and building up the tension in a very Hitchcockian sort of way. Mark has a completely different visual aesthetic; he’s taking it into a Gothic realm, which is darker, moodier, more evocative, aspiring to that specific genre.
“Also, Richard was a pretty straightforward storyteller, and the ’70s were a time when we didn’t have digital effects. Everything was done in camera, which limited what we could do. It was all practical, and it had to be largely understandable, because we didn’t have the leap of faith we have now. Over the last 35 years, we’ve been educated into thinking in the digital way, so our mind fills in a lot more gaps than it used to. Our pleasure zones need to be more and more satisfied, and that’s perfect for this sort of thriller. What Mark intends to do with digital enhancement in certain scenes will certainly help with that.”
And Kondos’ own work has adapted to the new PATRICK aesthetic as well. “The costume design has to fit in with the Roget Clinic, which is a forgotten medical establishment. The clothes that appear in this environment have no relevance to the original; we’ve designed outfits that could be ’50s, could be ’40s, could be ’70s. They allude to a bygone era, and were designed with this institute as a forgotten Gothic outpost in mind. Once you step out of the Roget Clinic, life is normal; it’s very real, almost overly real. Not in a heightened sort of magic-realist way, but with everyone wearing very normal clothes. When you step into the clinic, you’re profoundly aware that you’re not in the real world. That’s what’s exciting about this film—that it takes you places.”
In charge of creating and maintaining that environment is the perpetually busy and modest production designer Robbie Perkins, rushing around from room to room on the soundstage. An avowed non-horror fan, he nonetheless reveals that he’d watched DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK—shot, like PATRICK, at Docklands Studios Melbourne—the night before, “just to compare approaches.” Genre devotee or not, there’s no doubt that Perkins, whose work has also been seen in Jamie Blanks’ NATURE’S GRAVE, knows how to create atmospheric sets. “The whole effect of the building is that it’s supposed to be a family mansion that has taken over an old convent,” he says. “We have realistic wood-panel walls and wallpaper, etc., and it’s all heavily aged, with a religious undertone.”
Before departing, Perkins notes, “I think this one has a much more sinister look, and is not quite as clichéd in style as DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK. The whole storyline and the way it is treated here provides a much more stylish overall effect, when combined with the direction and the camerawork.”
Finally, it’s time to get some words with Ginnane, the Australian genre-film mainstay who apparently worked longer to get the new PATRICK off the ground than it took to set up the original, and is thrilled with the team assembled for the new version. “Mark, Robbie and Garry [Richards, DP] have formed a pretty awesome triangle,” he says, “in terms of a singular vision and being unanimous in the way they work together to bring Mark’s vision to life. On one hand, they’ve captured a lot of the essence of the original PATRICK, but they’re also taking it in a whole bunch of new directions. It is an eerie thing, actually, seeing and hearing things that we saw 30, 35 years ago. Much of the text has changed, but some hasn’t; some of the great lines are still there, and there’s no other way to describe hearing them being re-articulated by three great new actors [Dance, Sharni Vinson as Nurse Kathy Jacquard and Rachel Griffiths as Matron Cassidy].”
Ginnane, who is also moving forward on a remake of his notorious action gorefest TURKEY SHOOT (a.k.a. ESCAPE 2000), hesitates to make any deeper comparisons between the two PATRICKs. “Honestly, I think it will be more fun for those who have not seen the original to just take this one as it is, and for the aficionados to make those analyses for themselves. In today’s suspense stories, you have to deal with things like cell phones and computers, which we didn’t have to address in the ’70s. It makes the writing somewhat more complex. We did want to take a little bit out of the Roget Clinic and make it more like REBECCA or SPELLBOUND or one of those Hitchcock films. I always saw the first PATRICK as a bit of a cross between PSYCHO and CARRIE, and I see a lot of REBECCA in the new one.
“I suppose the other thing is that people will find this movie to be a little pacier than the original,” Ginnane concludes. “In the ’70s, films like PATRICK and others were able to have a reasonably slow burn in the first 25-35 minutes. We’re not turning it into a BOURNE IDENTITY or anything like that, but there is a faster start to the story, and then the rest of the picture follows the original.”