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Q&A: Director, Producer on in-progress “HELLRAISER” Doc, “LEVIATHAN”

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There’s one person you have to thank for the continued longevity of all your favorite franchises. No, this person doesn’t reside within the impenetrable fortress of Hollywood. This person is you.  The horror fan.  Give yourself a well- deserved pat on the back.  You’ve earned it. The demand of horror fandom has kept legendary franchises alive with sequels, prequels, remakes and reboots – albeit much to the chagrin of your average Joe Cineplex goer. Now, in what may very well be the ultimate demonstration of loving commitment yet, is the current trend of exhaustive fan made documentaries that draw accounts from everyone to the iconic stars to the hardworking crew that helped make it all happen.  Following suit after stellar labour of love retrospectives NEVER SLEEP AGAIN and CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES is LEVIATHAN: THE STORY OF HELLRAISER ANG HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II from Viper Fulms and Cult Screenings. 

Producer Gary Smart and Director Kevin McDonagh have been working hard to track down as many names involved in the production Clive Barker’s legendary shocker and it’s much loved sequel to bring HELLRAISER fans the lovingly comprehensive dissection that they deserve. From iconic franchise star Doug Bradley to the stop-motion animation crew and even some names that have remained frustratingly silent since the films’ release like Clare Higgins and Andrew Robinson, LEVIATHAN boasts an impressive roll call of interviewees that only continues to grow. Could this mean some revelations for long time Cenobite fans? Fresh perspectives of this scope may change the way you see the films from now on.

Despite the LEVIATHAN team being in the midst of an exhausting and arduous schedule, Smart and McDonagh found some precious down time to bring this fan up to speed on what is shaping up to be the final word on the much beloved boundary pushing 1987 original and its sequel.

Gary Smart – Producer

FANGORIA: How long have you been a fan of HELLRAISER and HELLBOUND?

GARY SMART: As far back as I can remember, to be honest. I’ve always been a fan! Probably the second film more than the first.

FANG: How come?

SMART: I think I saw the second film first and I love the character of Channard. I think he’s a great character!

FANG: So why make a documentary that focuses on primarily the first two films?

Producer Gary Smart

Producer Gary Smart

SMART: Probably because parts one and two are one film, aren’t they? In a sense the story continues and you could just view those two films alone with how it finishes at the end with the death of Pinhead. As a UK-based production company, most of the cast and the crew are from the UK, so it makes it easier for us obviously with travelling all over the world to find those people involved.

FANG: How did you first become involved with LEVIATHAN?

SMART: I co-wrote THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD with Christian Sellers, and because of that I ended up being asked to write the documentary called MORE BRAINS. We did that and it worked quite well. I started a company about a year ago and that was called cult screenings and what we do was put on cult films in Birmingham and our second event was HELLRAISER 1 &2. We ended up having Kenneth Crannham, Simon Bamford, Nicholas Vince come to the show and do a Q&A. After that, we went to the pub and thought ‘No one has done a documentary on HELLRAISER, let’s just try it and since it’s just snowballed and we haven’t looked back really!

FANG: Has production been going well?

SMART: Yeah! Perfect! We’re still filming at the moment. So far, it has been absolute mayhem.

FANG: What’s been the toughest part of putting it all together?

SMART: Getting to the people, probably. Even though most of them are UK based we’re still kind working on certain people to get. The problem you’ve got is that certain people have agents around them to protect them from people like us, there’s also an element of people who are out to make money a little bit which is a shame. Some people have been easy to get hold of; really kind of forthcoming, absolutely fantastic people. Others have been quite difficult. We’re still working on a few people now. That’s probably been the biggest drawback.  If you would speak to that person directly, tell them what we’re doing and tell them why we’re doing it, it would be so much easier. Going through somebody who’s there to make money because they are an agent and they want to make their percentage. They don’t see it as a fan thing or celebration of a film, celebration of an actor or production crew.

FANG: Any sign of Clive getting involved at all?

SMART: We’ve had a conversation with Clive’s people. Again, it’s the people around him and trying to get through those barriers. They’re quite supportive, but it’s all about trying to pin him down and get him in front of a camera with us. I know that a few years ago, there was going to be another documentary called HELLRAISER: UNEARTHED. What we’ve heard is that things went sour in that Clive was involved but it was a US based company that was doing it and ninety per cent of the cast and crew were UK based. So if you’re over in the States and are going to do a documentary on what really are British films, then you’re going to have to come over here to do interviews. We’re lucky because there are only five people over in the states to get, everyone else is here. We’ve already got Andrew Robinson sorted, who played Larry. He very rarely talks about HELLRAISER, and he very rarely does shows now because he’s a teacher at university.

FANG: Have you had much help from the original production staff with stuff like archival footage?

SMART: We’ve had a lot of imagery and some video clips from Jeff Portas, who was one of the lead make up guys with Bob Keen. Fortunately enough he’s kept his archival images that fans wouldn’t really see unless they were friends with Jeff.  The problem we’ve got to a degree is editing this because it’s looking at a three and a half hour runtime.  We’ve interviewed people and it’s literally two hours footage on each person. So we’ve done thirteen/fourteen people so far. That’s about twenty eight hours, plus there’s another fifteen, sixteen people to go. There’s going to be so much left over. It’s going to be so difficult to try and get the narrative in and get everybody involved in it without short-changing people.

Kevin McDonagh – Director

FANG: Is it safe to assume you’ve been a HELLRAISER fan for a while?

KEVIN MCDONAGH:  Actually, I wasn’t a huge HELLRAISER fan growing up. I’d seen the first one a couple of times when I was younger and the second one only the once. They hadn’t initially made a huge impact on me at the ripe old age of about 15, if I’m honest.

At that age I was probably expecting another Freddy or Jason-type film and HELLRAISER is far from that, so while I wasn’t disappointed with the films, they never really struck a chord with me

It wasn’t until last summer (2013) when I saw them at a film screening event that I had a chance to really look at them again and saw that there was a lot more to them than I initially thought, and really enjoyed them.

FANG: How did you end up on directing duties for LEVIATHAN?

MCDONAGH:   It was fairly soon after the event when it was mentioned that there hadn’t been an in-depth documentary about the making of the films. The guys organizing the screening event were eager to get the ball rolling, especially having contact with a large number of the cast and crew already.

I’m a huge fan of documentaries about the making of films, regardless of the genre or even films I necessarily enjoyed. In fact, I’ve even watched making of films I haven’t even seen, as I have a huge interest in the mechanical, creativity and story of film production. I particularly enjoy film retrospectives on films that are older as often the cast and crew are able to be more candid about their experience and not so focused on promoting the film.

So when the conversation quickly turned from the idea to the decision to go out and make a documentary, I put my hat into the ring to direct and it was decided fairly quickly that I was the guy they wanted.

For me it was a great chance to explore the film and learn as we go. The rest of the team had a much more in-depth knowledge of the films, so my less educated perspective meant I was full of questions that needed answering.

FANG: Why make a documentary focusing on just the first two?

MCDONAGH:  It was pretty clear to everyone one that the first two films are a joint piece. They follow straight on from each other, and Clive’s involvement in both and what he had hoped to happen with the story meant they were two parts of a full story. The following films moved on slightly, changing focus from Julia to Pinhead as the focal character, so they seem more like episodic stories rather than a true continuation of Clive’s original idea.

Also, nine films is a lot to cover in a documentary and even the hardest of hardcore fans wouldn’t want to sit through what would doubtless be a 12 hour piece.  Though the following films are something we’ve talked about exploring in a follow up piece, if the first one is a success.

ClareHigginsLeviathan

FANG: How has production been?

MCDONAGH:  Surprisingly smooth (touch wood). so many of the cast and crew jumped on board instantly and those we have tracked down and approached subsequently have been more than willing to tell their stories. The support has been amazing and so the information and stories we’ve been unearthing have been really interesting and funny in many cases. Alot of the crew have never been interviewed either about HELLRAISER or about any of their work, ever. The days have been long but that’s been down to how engaging the interviews have been and the fact that we just want to keep asking questions and knowing more.

FANG: Have you uncovered many revelations that may surprise HELLRAISER fans?

MCDONAGH:  The most common thing we’ve been learning is just how much camaraderie there was amongst all department and people on the team. Clive clearly lead from the front with his creativity, warmth and his generosity to people who got involved, many of whom were on their first ever film. There was a real sense of all working together and pushing for the same goal. The fondness with which everyone seems to remember the experience (including the challenges) is really inspiring. Personally, I think it shows on screen.

FANG: Why do you think the series’ appeal has endured the way it has?

MCDONAGH:  This is something we ask all our guests, and everyone gives a different answer, which is interesting but also makes it hard to tie down when trying to explore a film’s history. And I’m no different. Personally I think what keeps the films alive and what draws audiences to them is how engaging the characters are. While the films have a lot of fantasy horror elements, the audience is deeply invested in the main characters, particularly Julia (Clare Higgins) as she gets drawn further into this world in an attempt to save the man she…. loves…. or rather lusts after. That in itself says a lot about her husband, when a half dead, skinless monster is more appealing than he is. Throw into that some classic archetypes such as the young girl, the evil step mother (at least evil from Kirsty’s point of view) and the ‘Dragon in the Castle’ element of Frank and it’s easy to see why audiences keep coming back to the films.

FANG: The bar has been set pretty high for genre documentaries lately, can we expect a similar scope from LEVIATHAN?

MCDONAGH:  We like to think we’re creating something as interesting, engaging and in depth as other documentaries. Film fans seem to all have different wants when it comes to their beloved films, so striking a balance between film production, story and character analysis,  exploring the world of the film and candid stories from the cast a crew is a tough act, that probably explains the lengthy interview sessions. What we’ve not been short of is engaging and interesting material. The crew is also extremely professional and experienced, so technically the production looks good. We set our standards very high in all areas and we still find ourselves enthused and interested with each guest we meet, so hopefully that will translate onto the screen, but I guess the proof will be in the pudding.

FANG: If LEVIATHAN is successful, can we hope to see a film on the remaining films in the saga?

MCDONAGH:  It’s definitely a possibility. As i said, we’ve talked about it and we’ve picked up a lot of information along the way about the rest of the franchise. I guess audience demand will help push us one way or another, but if the feeling was strong enough I’d definitely sign on to make further documentaries about HELLRAISER.

– Aaron Williams

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